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Austria

Executive Summary

Austria has a well-developed market economy that welcomes foreign direct investment, particularly in technology and R&D. The country benefits from a skilled labor force, and a high standard of living, with its capital, Vienna, consistently placing at the top of global quality-of-life rankings.

With more than 50 percent of its GDP derived from exports, Austria’s economy is closely tied to other EU economies, especially that of Germany, its largest trading partner. The United States is Austria’s third-largest trading partner. The economy features a large service sector and an advanced industrial sector specialized in high-quality component parts, especially for vehicles. The agricultural sector is small but highly developed.

The COVID-19 crisis deeply affected Austria’s economy, contributing to a forecasted GDP decrease of -7.4% in 2020 and an increase in the unemployment rate from 4.5% to 5.4% at the end of 2020. A prolonged lockdown at the start of 2021 will delay Austria’s economic recovery, with GDP growth forecast at +2.0% in 2021 and +5.1% in 2022.

The country’s location between Western European industrialized nations and growth markets in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe (CESEE) has led to a high degree of economic, social, and political integration with fellow European Union (EU) member states and the CESEE.

Some 220 U.S. companies have investments in Austria, represented by around 300 subsidiaries, and many have expanded their original investment over time. U.S. Foreign Direct Investment into Austria totaled approximately EUR 12.2 billion (USD 13.7 billion) at the end of 2019, according to the Austrian National Bank, and U.S. companies support over 16,500 jobs in Austria. Austria offers a stable and attractive climate for foreign investors.

The most positive aspects of Austria’s investment climate include:

  • Relatively high political stability;
  • Harmonious labor-management relations and low incidence of labor unrest;
  • Highly skilled workforce;
  • High levels of productivity and international competitiveness;
  • Excellent quality of life for employees and high-quality health, telecommunications, and energy infrastructure.

Negative aspects of Austria’s investment climate include:

  • A large public sector and a complex regulatory system with extensive bureaucracy;
  • Relatively low levels of private venture capital;
  • Low-to-moderate innovation dynamics;
  • A relatively high overall tax burden;

Key sectors that have historically attracted significant investment in Austria:

  • Automotive;
  • Pharmaceuticals;
  • ICT and Electronics;
  • Financial.

Key issues to watch:

After a summer virtually free of COVID-19 restrictions, infection rates spiked in fall 2020 with Austria reporting the highest global rate of infections per 100,000 people in November 2020. The government mandated a full lockdown from early November 2020 to early February 2021. Hotels and restaurants remained largely closed in early 2021, with few exceptions, and the tourism sector, which accounts for 15 percent of the country’s GDP, was at a standstill. A combination of high reliance on tourism and exports, low consumption levels, and a high number of lockdown days (79 in 2020, compared to 45 in Germany), significantly hindered the economic recovery. Austria’s recovery is likely to be slower than many other EU countries.

The high degree of government assistance kept many firms afloat that may otherwise have filed for bankruptcy. The number of insolvency procedures decreased by 27% in 2020, compared to 2019. Austria may witness a significant spike in bankruptcies once the government scales back assistance measures.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 15 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 27 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 19 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 7.64 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 51,460 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Austrian government welcomes foreign direct investment, particularly when such investments have the potential to create new jobs, support advanced technology fields, promote capital-intensive industries, and enhance links to research and development.

There are limited restrictions on foreign investment. American investors have not complained of discriminatory laws against foreign investors. Austria strengthened its national security investment screening law, lowering the threshold at which government approval of the transaction is required to 10 percent foreign ownership for sensitive sectors. Please see the “Laws and Regulations on Foreign Investment” section below for further details. The corporate tax rate, a 25 percent flat tax, is above the OECD average of 21.5 percent. The government announced plans to reduce it to 21 percent in 2024 but the global pandemic may delay these plans. U.S. citizens and investors have occasionally reported that it is difficult to establish and maintain banking services since the U.S.-Austria Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) Agreement went into force in 2014, as some Austrian banks have been reluctant to take on this reporting burden.

Potential investors should also be aware of Austria’s lengthy environmental impact assessments in their investment decision-making. Some sectors also suffer from heavy regulation that may affect certain investments. For example, the requirement that over 50 percent of an energy provider must be publicly owned places a potential cap on investments in the energy sector. Strict liability and co-existence regulations in the agriculture sector restrict research and virtually outlaw the cultivation, marketing, or distribution of biotechnology crops. The mining and transportation sectors are also heavily regulated.

Austria’s national investment promotion organization, the Austrian Business Agency (ABA), is a useful first point of contact for foreign companies interested in establishing operations in Austria. It provides comprehensive information about Austria as a business location, identifies suitable sites for greenfield investments, and consults in setting up a company. ABA provides its services free of charge.

The Austrian Economic Chamber (WKO) and the American Chamber of Commerce in Austria (Amcham) are also good resources for foreign investors. Both conduct annual polls of their members to measure their satisfaction with the business climate, thus providing early warning to the government of problems identified by investors.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

There are limited restrictions on foreign ownership of private businesses in Austria. A local managing director must be appointed to any newly established enterprise. For non-EU citizens to establish and own a business, the Austrian Foreigner’s Law mandates a residence permit that includes the right to run a business. Many Austrian trades are regulated, and the right to run a business in regulated trade sectors is only granted when certain preconditions are met, such as certificates of competence, and recognition of foreign education.

Austria’s updated national security investment screening law, strengthened in July 2020, retains an investment screening process to review potential high-risk foreign acquisitions of 25% or more of a company essential to the country’s infrastructure, lowering the threshold to 10% ownership for sensitive sectors (see the “Laws and Regulations on Foreign Investment” section below for further details). In April 2019, the EU Regulation on establishing a framework for the screening of foreign direct investments entered into force. It creates a cooperation mechanism through which EU countries and the European Commission will exchange information and raise concerns related to specific investments which could potentially threaten the security of other EU countries.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Not applicable.

Business Facilitation

While the World Bank ranked Austria as the 27th best country in 2020 with regard to “ease of doing business” (www.doingbusiness.org ), starting a business takes time and requires many procedural steps (Austria ranked 127th in this category in 2020). The average time to set up a company is 21 days, while the average time in OECD high income countries is 9.2 days.

In order to register a new company or open a subsidiary in Austria, a company must first be listed on the Austrian Companies Register at a local court. The next step is to seek confirmation of registration from the Austrian Economic Chamber (WKO) establishing that the company is really a new business. The investor must then notarize the “declaration of establishment,” deposit a minimum capital requirement with an Austrian bank, register with the tax office, register with the district trade authority, register employees for social security, and register with the municipality where the business will be located. Finally, membership in the WKO is mandatory for all businesses in Austria.

For sole proprietorships, it is possible under certain conditions to use an online registration process via government websites in the German language to either found or register a company: https://www.usp.gv.at/Portal.Node/usp/public/content/gruendung/egruendung/269403.html : or www.gisa.gv.at/online-gewerbeanmeldung . It is advisable to seek information from ABA or the WKO before applying to register a firm.

The website of the ABA contains further details and contact information and is intended to serve as a first point of contact for foreign investors in Austria: https://investinaustria.at/en/starting-business/ .

Outward Investment

The Austrian government encourages outward investment. Advantage Austria, the “Austrian Foreign Trade Service” is a special section of the WKO that promotes Austrian exports and also supports Austrian companies establishing an overseas presence. Advantage Austria operates six offices in the United States (Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and San Francisco). Overall, it has about 100 trade offices in 70 countries across the world, reflecting Austria’s strong export focus and the important role the WKO plays. (https://www.wko.at/service/aussenwirtschaft/aussenwirtschaftscenter.html#heading_aussenwirtschaftscenter ) The Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs and the WKO run a joint program called “Go International,” providing services to Austrian companies that are considering investing for the first time in foreign countries. The program provides grants for market access costs and provides “soft subsidies,” such as counseling, legal advice, and marketing support.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

There is currently no investment agreement between the United States and Austria. Austria has Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) in force with: Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Egypt, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iran, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Republic of Korea, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Libya, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Namibia, Oman, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Yemen.

Austria was not among the 23 EU countries that signed the agreement for the termination of intra-EU bilateral investment treaties on May 5, 2020. Austria agreed with the European Commission to terminate its 12 bilateral intra-EU BITS (as did the other Member States), but negotiations on the date of termination are ongoing with these Member States.

Austria and the United States are parties to a bilateral double taxation convention covering income and corporate taxes, which went into effect in January 1998. Another bilateral double taxation convention (covering estates, inheritances, gifts and generation-skipping transfers) has been in effect since 1982 (amended in 1999). Austria and the United States signed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) Agreement on April 29, 2014, covering U.S. citizen account holders in Austria. The FATCA Agreement went into force December 9, 2014. Austria has 90 additional double taxation treaties in force with other countries. Two other Austrian agreements, with Switzerland and Liechtenstein, on cooperation in the areas of taxation and financial markets (which entered into force in January and April 2013 respectively) cover the treatment of anonymous accounts from Austrian citizens in those countries.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Austria’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms.

Federal ministries generally publish draft laws and regulations, including investment laws, for public comment prior to their adoption by Austria’s cabinet and/or Parliament. Relevant stakeholders such as the “Social Partners” (Economic Chamber, Agricultural Chamber, Labor Chamber, and Trade Union Association), the Federation of Industries, and research institutions are invited to provide comments and suggestions for improvement, which may be taken into account before adoption of laws. These comments are publicly available. Austria’s nine provinces can also adopt laws relevant to investments; their review processes are generally less extensive, but local laws are less important for investments than federal laws. The judicial system is independent from the executive branch, helping ensure the government follows administrative processes. The government is required to follow administrative processes and its compliance is monitored by the courts, primarily the Court of Auditors. Individuals can file proceedings against the government in Austria’s courts, if the government did not act in accordance with the law. Similarly, the public prosecution service can file cases against the government.

Draft legislation by ministries (“Ministerialentwürfe”) and resulting government draft laws and parliamentary initiatives (“Regierungsvorlagen und Gesetzesinitiativen”) can be accessed through the website of the Austrian Parliament: https://www.parlament.gv.at/PAKT/  (all in German). The parliament also publishes a history of all law-making processes. All final Austrian laws can be accessed through a government database, partly in English: https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/defaultEn.aspx .

The effectiveness of regulations is not reviewed as a regular process, only on an as-needed basis. Austrian regulations governing accounting provide U.S. investors with internationally standardized financial information. In line with EU regulations, listed companies must prepare their consolidated financial statements according to the International Financial Reporting Standards (IAS/IFRS) system.

Public finances are transparent and easily accessible, through the Finance Ministry’s website, Austria’s Central Bank, and various economic research institutes. Overall, Austria has no legal restrictions, formally or informally, that discriminate against foreign investors.

International Regulatory Considerations

Austria is a member of the EU. As such, its laws must comply with EU legislation and the country is therefore subject to European Court of Justice (ECJ) jurisdiction. Austria is a member of the WTO and largely follows WTO requirements. Austria has ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) but has not taken specific actions to implement it.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Austrian legal system is based on Roman law. The constitution establishes a hierarchy, according to which each legislative act (law, regulation, decision, and fines) must have its legal basis in a higher legislative instrument. The full text of each legislative act is available online for reference. All final Austrian laws can be accessed through a government database, partly in English: https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/defaultEn.aspx .

Commercial matters fall within the competence of ordinary regional courts except in Vienna, which has a specialized Commercial Court. The Commercial Court also has nationwide competence for trademark, design, model, and patent matters. There is no special treatment of foreign investors, and the executive branch does not interfere in judicial matters.

The legal system provides an effective means for protecting property and contractual rights of nationals and foreigners. Sensitive cases must be reported to the Ministry of Justice, which can issue instructions for addressing them. Austria’s civil courts enforce property and contractual rights and do not discriminate against foreign investors. Austria allows for court decisions to be appealed, first to a Regional Court and in the last instance, to the Supreme Court.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Austria has national security restrictions on investments in industries designated as critical infrastructure, technology, resources, and industries with access to sensitive information and involved in freedom and plurality of the media. The government must approve any foreign acquisition of a 25% or higher stake in any companies that generally fall within these areas. The threshold is 10% for sensitive sectors, defined as military goods and technology, operators of critical energy or digital infrastructure and water, system operators charged with guarding Austria’s data sovereignty and R&D in medicine and pharmaceutical products. Additional screenings are required when an investor in the above categories plans to increase the stake above the thresholds of 25% or 50%. The investment screening review period generally takes 1-2 months. The Austrian government has reported an increase in filed applications since the law was implemented but has not reported any rejected applications under the new law.

There is no discrimination against foreign investors, but businesses are required to follow numerous local regulations. Although there is no requirement for participation by Austrian citizens in ownership or management of a foreign firm, at least one manager must meet Austrian residency and other legal requirements. Expatriates may deduct certain expenses (costs associated with moving, maintaining a double residence, education of children) from Austrian-earned income.

The “Law to Support Investments in Municipalities” (published in the Federal Law Gazette, 74/2017, available online in German only on the federal legal information system www.ris.bka.gv.at ), allows federal funding of up to 25 percent of the total investment amount of a project to “modernize” a municipality. The Austrian government also introduced several investment incentives, due to COVID-19 (see the “Investment Incentives” section for details). The Austrian Business Agency serves as a central contact point for companies looking to invest in Austria. It does not serve as a one-stop-shop but can help answer any questions potential investors may have (https://investinaustria.at/en/ )

Competition and Antitrust Laws

Austria’s Anti-Trust Act (ATA) is in line with EU anti-trust regulations, which take precedence over national regulations in cases concerning Austria and other EU member states. The Austrian Anti-Trust Act prohibits cartels, anticompetitive practices, and the abuse of a dominant market position. The independent Federal Competition Authority (FCA) and the Federal Anti-trust Prosecutor (FAP) are responsible for administering anti-trust laws. The FCA can conduct investigations and request information from firms. The FAP is subject to instructions issued by the Justice Ministry and can bring actions before Austria’s Cartel Court. Additionally, the Commission on Competition may issue expert opinions on competition policy and give recommendations on notified mergers. The most recent amendment to the ATA was in 2017. This amendment facilitated enforcing private damage claims, strengthened merger control, and enabled appeals against verdicts from the Cartel Court.

Companies must inform the FCA of mergers and acquisitions (M&A). Special M&A regulations apply to media enterprises, such as a lower threshold above which the ATA applies, and the requirement that media diversity must be maintained. A cartel court is competent to rule on referrals from the FCA or the FCP. For violations of anti-trust regulations, the cartel court can impose fines of up to the equivalent of 10 percent of a company’s annual worldwide sales. The independent energy regulator E-Control separately examines antitrust concerns in the energy sector but must also submit cases to the cartel court.

Austria’s Takeover Law applies to friendly and hostile takeovers of corporations headquartered in Austria and listed on the Vienna Stock Exchange. The law protects investors against unfair practices, since any shareholder obtaining a controlling stake in a corporation (30 percent or more in direct or indirect control of a company’s voting shares) must offer to buy out smaller shareholders at a defined fair market price. The law also includes provisions for shareholders who passively obtain a controlling stake in a company. The law prohibits defensive action to frustrate bids. The Shareholder Exclusion Act allows a primary shareholder with at least 90 percent of capital stock to force out minority shareholders. An independent takeover commission at the Vienna Stock Exchange oversees compliance with these laws. Austrian courts have also held that shareholders owe a duty of loyalty to each other and must consider the interests of fellow shareholders in good faith.

Expropriation and Compensation

According to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Austrian Civil Code, property ownership is guaranteed in Austria. Expropriation of private property in Austria is rare and may be undertaken by federal or provincial government authorities only based on special legal authorization “in the public interest” such as land use planning, and infrastructure project preparations. The government can initiate such a procedure only in the absence of any other alternatives for satisfying the public interest; when the action is exclusively in the public interest; and when the owner receives just compensation. For example, in 2017-18, the government expropriated Hitler’s birth house in order to prevent it from becoming a place of pilgrimage for neo-Nazis, paying the former owner €1.5 million (USD 1.8 million) in compensation. The expropriation process is non-discriminatory toward foreigners, including U.S. firms. There is no indication that further expropriations will take place in the foreseeable future.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Austria is a member of both the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID) and the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, meaning local courts must enforce foreign arbitration awards in Austria. There is no specific domestic legislation in this regard, but local courts must enforce arbitration decisions where the affected companies have their business locations.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Austria is a member of the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL). Its arbitration law largely conforms to the UNCITRAL model law. The main divergence is that an award may only be set aside if the arbitral procedure is not in accordance with Austrian public policy.

Austria does not have a BIT or FTA with the United States. There is no special domestic arbitration body.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Vienna International Arbitral Center of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber acts as Austria’s main arbitration institution, handling both national and international cases. Legislation is modeled after the UNCITRAL model law (see above). The New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (NYC) overrides most of Austria’s domestic provisions, where applicable, and Austrian courts are consistent in applying it.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Austrian Insolvency Act contains provisions for business reorganization and bankruptcy proceedings. Reorganization requires a restructuring plan and the debtor to be able to cover costs or advance some of the costs up to a maximum of EUR 4,000 (USD 4,480). The plan must offer creditors at least 20 percent of what is owed, payable within two years of the date the debtor’s obligation is determined. The plan must be approved by a majority of all creditors and a majority of creditors holding at least 50 percent of all claims.

If the restructuring plan is not accepted, a bankruptcy proceeding is begun. Bankruptcy proceedings take place in court upon application of the debtor or a creditor; the court appoints a receiver for winding down the business and distributing proceeds to the creditors. Bankruptcy is not criminalized, provided the affected person performed all his documentation and reporting obligations on time and in accordance with the law.

Due to COVID-19, Austria provided an extension for initiating bankruptcy proceedings for companies becoming technically bankrupt between March 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021. The court may, upon application of any of the parties involved, extend procedural deadlines by 90 days. For applications filed by December 31, 2020, the deadline for paying the 20 percent owed to creditors has been extended to three years, instead of two.

Austria’s major commercial association for the protection of creditors in cases of bankruptcy is the “KSV 1870 Group”, www.ksv.at , which also carries out credit assessments of all companies located in Austria. Other European-wide credit bureaus, particularly “CRIF” and “Bisnode”, also monitor the Austrian market.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Financial incentives and business subsidies provided by Austrian federal, state, and local governments to promote investments are equally available to domestic and foreign investors and include tax incentives, preferential loans, loan guarantees, and grants. Most incentives are targeted to investments that meet specified criteria, including job-creation, use of cutting-edge technology, improving regional infrastructure, strengthening SMEs, promoting research and development, supporting environmental protection, and promoting startups. Tax allowances for advanced employee training and R&D expenditures are also available, as are financing options for start-ups and cash grants. The Austrian Labor Market Service (AMS) offers grants for job creation and personnel development training.

Various government agencies in Austria offer incentives for research and development (R&D) activities (up to 50 percent of the investment amount). The incentives are also available for foreign-owned enterprises. The agencies providing incentives include: The Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) (https://www.ffg.at/en ); the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), which is the country’s central body for the promotion of basic research (https://www.fwf.ac.at/en/ ); and AWS (above). The latter also provides guarantees of up to EUR 25 million over 5 to 10 years for investments in Austria, with a focus on small and medium-sized companies.

Foreign investors in Austria can also benefit from government support measures designed for companies affected by COVID-19, including: a hardship fund for sole proprietorships; a COVID-19 assistance fund which provides EUR 15 billion (USD $16.8 billion) in loan guarantees; banking measures to increase liquidity; and a short-time work (Kurzarbeit) program which allows staff working hours to be reduced by up to 90%, with the government paying up to 90% of the salary cost. The government also established a EUR 100 million (USD 112 million) COVID-19 assistance package for startups, where it matches one-to-one private (including foreign) investments in Austrian startups, and a EUR 50 million (USD 56 million) venture capital fund (also open for foreign investors), where it guarantees 50% of the fund’s investment. More information can be found here: https://investinaustria.at/en/downloads/covid-19.php 

From September 2020 to February 2021 the government offered an “investment premium” for all new investments up to EUR 50 million (USD 60 million) in Austria with the exception of certain sectors (e.g. investments detrimental for climate protection, buildings, financial assets, etc.). The program provided a subsidy of up to 14% of investments in greening, digitalization, and health, and 7% of all other investments. The initiative was expanded and extended due to high demand and another extension or a new program is possible.

Austria’s Wirtschaftsservice (AWS) is the governmental institution that provides most federal government financial incentives for businesses. Information on targeted investment incentives is available at https://www.aws.at/en/. More detailed information on investment incentives and promotion in English language is also available on the ABA website (see chapter 1) at http://investinaustria.at/en/ .

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Not applicable

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

While there is no requirement for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption, EU and Austrian data protection stipulations apply. The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as adopted by Austria in 2018, places restrictions on companies’ ability to store and use customer data. It also requires specific user consent, in order for companies to send out promotional materials (previously, implied consent was sufficient). Transmission of customer or business-related data is therefore subject to EU GDPR regulations. Austria’s Data Protection Authority is in charge of enforcing all GDPR-related matters, which include GDPR rules on data storage. In October 2019, the DPA imposed a fine of EUR 18 million (USD 20.2 million) on Austria’s Postal Service Company (PSC) for illegal use of customer data, which included collecting and selling data on party affiliations. The postal service was ordered to delete the data concerned, but in December 2020 the Federal Administrative Court annulled the fine, saying the DPA should have fined individual managers rather than the PSC.

The Austrian government may impose performance requirements when foreign investors seek financial or other assistance from the government, although there are no performance requirements to apply for tax incentives. There is no requirement that Austrian nationals hold shares in foreign investments or for technology transfer, and no requirement for foreign investors to use domestic content in the production of goods or technology.

If investors want to employ foreign workers from outside the EU in Austria, they need to apply for a work permit with the immigration authority in one of the Austrian provinces. The Austrian Labor Service (AMS) then certifies whether there is no comparable person in the pool of registered unemployed persons in Austria, which is a prerequisite for employing non-EU workers. This does not apply to senior management positions, researchers, highly qualified personnel, and a limited set of other categories.

Austria offers several non-immigrant business visa classifications, including intra-company transfers/rotational workers, and employees on temporary duty. Recruitment of long-term, overseas specialists or those with managerial duties is governed by a points-based immigration scheme to attract skilled workers and specialists in individual sectors (points are available for qualification, education, age, and language skills). This Red-White-Red card (RWR) model allows firms to react flexibly to rising demand for talent in different occupations. It is available to highly qualified individuals, qualified specialists/craftsmen in certain understaffed professions (qualified labor and registered nurse jobs), and key personnel/professionals. Applicants must have an offer of employment to apply for the RWR. Highly qualified individuals holding U.S. citizenship may apply locally in Austria or opt to find a potential employer from abroad and have the company apply in Austria on their behalf.

Austrian immigration law requires those applying for residency permits in some categories to take German language courses and exams. There is a specific visa category under the RWR model for founders of start-up enterprises to support Austria’s push to expand its innovation economy.

A less bureaucratic alternative is the EU Blue Card, which entitles applicants to a fixed-term settlement of 24 months and employment is tied to a specific employer. However, there is a threshold of a gross annual income of at least one and a half times the average gross annual income for full-time employees (in 2021: at least EUR 65,579 (USD 78,039); annual salary plus special payments).

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Austrian legal system protects secured interests in property. For any real estate agreement to be effective, owners must register with the land registry. Mortgages and liens must also be registered. As a rule, property for sale must be unencumbered. In case of rededication of land, approval of the land transfer commission or the office of the state governor is required. The land registry is a reliable system for recording interests in property, and access to the registry is public.

Non-EU/EEA citizens need authorization from administrative authorities of the respective Austrian province to acquire land. Provincial regulations vary, but in general there must be a public (economic, social, cultural) interest for the acquisition to be authorized. Often, the applicant must guarantee that he does not want to build a vacation home on the land in order to receive the required authorization.

Further details on registering property in Austria, where the country generally scores well, can be found in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, where Austria ranks above OECD high-incomes countries on quality, time and procedures of land administration, and slightly behind them on costs. https://www.doingbusiness.org/en/data/exploreeconomies/austria#DB_rp 

Intellectual Property Rights

Austria has a strong legal structure to protect intellectual property rights (IPR), including patent and trademark laws, a law protecting industrial designs and models, and a copyright law. Austria is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and party to several international IPR conventions. Austria also participates in the Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) program with the USPTO (started in 2014), which allows filing of streamlined applications for inventions determined to be patentable in other participating countries.

Austria’s Copyright Act conforms to EU directives on IPR. It grants authors exclusive rights to publish, distribute, copy, adapt, translate, and broadcast their work. The law also regulates copyrights of digital media (restrictions on private copies), works on the Internet, protection of computer programs, and related damage compensation. Infringement proceedings, however, can be time-consuming and costly. Austria is still in the process of implementing the EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market (2019/790); the government is currently incorporating input from rights holders and aims to adopt the Austrian legislation by June 2021. Austrian Internet providers must prevent access to illegal music and streaming platforms once they are made aware of a copyright violation. They must also block workaround websites from these platforms.

Austria has a law against trade in counterfeit articles. In 2020, Austrian customs authorities confiscated pirated goods worth EUR 24.0 million (USD 26.9 million), which is a six-fold increase from the previous year.

Austria is not listed in USTR’s Special 301 Report or Notorious Markets List, but its trade secrets regime has historically been a concern for some U.S. businesses. Austrian and U.S. companies have voiced specific concerns about both the scope of protection and the difficulty of adjudicating breaches. Following years of steady U.S. government advocacy, and because Austria was required to implement the 2016 EU Directive on Trade Secrets, the country improved its trade secrets regime in the Law Against Unfair Competition (entered into force in February 2019) to address these concerns. The most relevant change in the law is a requirement for safeguarding the confidentiality of trade secrets (and other business confidential information) in court procedures. The new law also defines injunctive relief and claims for damages in case of breach of trade secrets. The 2020 government program includes a plan to further toughen prosecution of trade secrets violations that have an impact on Austria as a business location and to tackle industrial espionage, but no specific actions to implement the plan have been taken to date.

For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IPR offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Austria has sophisticated financial markets that allow foreign investors access without restrictions. The government welcomes foreign portfolio investment. The Austrian National Bank (OeNB) regulates portfolio investments effectively.

Austria has a national stock exchange that currently includes 61 companies on its regulated market and several others on its multilateral trading facility (MTF). The Austrian Traded Index (ATX) is a price index consisting of the 20 largest stocks on the market and forms the most important index of Austria’s stock market. The size of the companies listed on the ATX is roughly equivalent to those listed on the MDAX in Germany. The market capitalization of Austrian listed companies is small compared to the country’s western European counterparts, accounting for 30% of Austria’s GDP, compared to 54% in Germany or 148% in the United States.

Unlike the other market segments in the stock exchange, the Direct Market and Direct Market Plus segments, targeted at SMEs and young, developing companies, are subject only to the Vienna Stock Exchange’s general terms of business, not more stringent EU regulations. These segments have lower reporting requirements but also greater risk for investors, as prices are more likely to fluctuate, due to the respective companies’ low level of market capitalization and lower trading volumes.

Austria has robust financing for product markets, but the free flow of resources into factor markets (capital, raw materials) could be improved. Overall, financing is primarily available through banks and government-sponsored funding organizations with relatively little private venture capital available. The Austrian government is aware of this but has taken few tangible steps to improve the availability of private venture capital.

Austria is fully compliant with IMF Article VIII, all financial instruments are available, and there are no restrictions on payments. Credit is available to foreign investors at market-determined rates. Austria’s financial system ranked 30th in the 2019 World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, out of 141 countries examined, compared to 28th place in 2018 and 30th in 2017.

Money and Banking System

Austria has one of the most fragmented banking networks in Europe, with more than 3,500 branch offices registered in 2020, yet is considered to be one of the most stable in the world. The banking system is highly developed, with worldwide correspondent banks and representative offices and branches in the United States and other major financial centers. Large Austrian banks also have extensive networks in Central and Southeast European (CESEE) countries and the countries of the former Soviet Union. Total assets of the banking sector amounted to EUR 1.02 trillion (USD 1.1 trillion) in 2019 (approximately 2.5 times the country’s GDP). Approximately EUR 400 million of banking sector assets are held by Austria’s two largest banks, Erste Group and Raiffeisen Bank International (RBI). Austria’s banking sector is managed and overseen by the Austrian National Bank (OeNB) and the Financial Market Authority (FMA). Four Austrian banks with assets in excess of EUR 30 billion (USD 34 billion) are subject to the Eurozone’s Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM), as is Sberbank Europe AG, a Russian bank subsidiary headquartered in Austria, and Addiko Bank AG due to their significant cross-border assets, as well as Volksbank Wien AG, due to its importance for the economy. All other Austrian banks continue to be subject to the country’s dual-oversight banking supervisory system with roles for the OeNB and the FMA, both of which are also responsible for policing irregularities on the stock exchange and for supervising insurance companies, securities markets, and pension funds. Foreign banks are allowed to establish operations in the country with no legal restrictions that place them at a disadvantage compared to local banks.

Due to U.S. financial reporting requirements, Austrian banks are very cautious in committing the time and expense required to accept U.S. clients and U.S. investors without clearly established U.S. corporate headquarters.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Austria has no restrictions on cross-border capital transactions, including the repatriation of profits and proceeds from the sale of an investment, for non-residents and residents. The Euro, a freely convertible currency and the only legal tender in Austria and 18 other Euro-zone member states, shields investors from exchange rate risks within the Euro-zone.

Remittance Policies

Not applicable

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Austria has no sovereign wealth funds.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Austria has two major wholly state-owned enterprises (SOEs): The OeBB (Austrian Federal Railways) and Asfinag (highway financing, building, maintenance, and administration). Other government industry holding companies are bundled in the government holding company OeBAG (http://www.oebag.gv.at )

The government has direct representation in the supervisory boards of its companies (commensurate with its ownership stake), and OeBAG has the authority to buy and sell company shares, as well as purchase minority stakes in strategically relevant companies. Such purchases are subject to approval from an audit committee consisting of government-nominated independent economic experts.

OeBAG holds a 53 percent stake in the Post Office, 51 percent in energy company Verbund, 33 percent in the gambling group Casinos Austria, 31.5 percent in the energy company OMV, 28 percent in the Telekom Austria Group, and a few other minor ventures. Local governments own the majority of utilities, Vienna International Airport, and more than half of Austria’s 264 hospitals and clinics.

Private enterprises in Austria can generally compete with public enterprises under the same terms and conditions with respect to market access, credit, and other such business operations as licenses and supplies. While most SOEs must finance themselves under terms similar to private enterprises, some large SOEs (such as OeBB) benefit from state-subsidized pension systems. As a member of the EU, Austria is also a party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) of the WTO, which indirectly also covers the SOEs (since they are entities monitored by the Austrian Court of Auditors).

The five major OeBAG-controlled companies (Postal Service, Verbund AG, Casinos Austria, OMV, Telekom Austria), are listed on the Vienna stock exchange. Senior managers in these companies do not directly report to a minister, but to an oversight board. That being said, the government often appoints management and board members who have strong political affiliations.

Privatization Program

The government has not privatized any public enterprises since 2007. Austrian public opinion is skeptical regarding further privatization and there are no indications of any government privatizations on the horizon. In prior privatizations, foreign and domestic investors received equal treatment. Despite a historical government preference for maintaining blocking minority rights for domestic shareholders, foreign investors have successfully gained full control of enterprises in several strategic sectors of the Austrian economy, including in telecommunications, banking, steel, and infrastructure. In March 2020, the government chose not to intervene when the Czech Sazka group increased its stake in the partially state-owned gambling group Casinos Austria to a majority share.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Austrian Responsible Business Conduct (RBC)/Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) standards are laid out in the Austrian Corporate Governance Codex, which is based on the EU Commission’s 2011 “Strategy for Corporate Social Responsibility.” The Austrian Standards Institute’s ONR 192500 acts as the main guidance for CSR and is based on the EU Commission’s published Strategy, which is also compliant with UN guidelines. Major Austrian companies follow generally accepted CSR principles and publish a CSR chapter in their annual reports; many also provide information on their health, safety, security, and environmental activities.

Austria adheres to the OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The Federal Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs serves as the National Contact Point: https://www.bmdw.gv.at/en/Topics/International/OECD-Guidelines-for-Multinational-Enterprises-and-the-Austrian-NCP.html 

The Ministry for Labor, Social Affairs, Health, and Consumer Protection is also represented in national and international CSR-relevant associations, and supports CSR initiatives while working closely together with the Austrian Standards Institute.

The Austrian export credit agency promotes information on CSR issues, principles and standards, including the OECD Guidelines, on its website. https://www.oekb.at/en/oekb-group/our-claim/corporate-governance.html 

Austria is a signatory to the Montreaux Document on Private Military and Security Companies, which it ratified in 2008.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Austria is a member of the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) and also ratified the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. As part of the UNCAC ratification process, Austria has implemented a national anti-corruption strategy. Central elements of the strategy are promoting transparency in public sector decisions and raising awareness of corruption. Corruption generally is not a major issue in Austria, which ranked 15th (out of 180 countries) in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index. Despite this ranking, the Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) February 2021 report criticized Austria for only fully implementing two of 19 recommendations since the last report was issued in 2017. The criticism largely focused on a lack of transparency on lobbying, receipt of donations, and the income of Members of Parliament. Austria is required to produce a progress report in September 2021.

Bribery of public officials, their family members and political parties, is covered under the Austrian Criminal Code, and corruption does not significantly affect business in Austria. However, the 2017 Ibiza scandal in which then-Vice Chancellor Heinz Christian Strache and right populist Freedom Party FPOe party chairman Johann Gudenus were filmed discussing providing government contracts in exchange for favors and party donations shook the public’s belief in the integrity of the political system. This was compounded by further revelations in 2019 that the FPOe had allegedly promised gambling licenses to Casinos Austria in exchange for placing a party loyalist on the company’s executive board. As of April 2021, prosecutors are also investigating allegations Finance Minister Bluemel (from the governing, center-right People’s Party, OeVP) may have facilitated an exchange of party donations by Casinos Austria subsidiary Novomatic, in exchange for government assistance with the company’s tax problems.

Anti-corruption cases are often characterized by slow-moving trials that drag on for years. The trial of former Finance Minister Grasser, which started in 2017, concluded in late 2020, with Grasser receiving a sentence of eight years in prison from the trial court judge. Grasser is appealing the sentence, with a ruling at the next instance (appellate level) in his case expected during the second half of 2021.

Bribing members of Parliament is considered a criminal offense, and accepting a bribe is a punishable offense with the sentence varying depending on the amount of the bribe. The 2018 Austrian Federal Contracts Act implements EU guidelines prohibiting participating in public procurement contracts if there is a potential conflict of interest and requires measures to be put in place to detect and prevent such conflicts of interest. This required public authorities to set up compliance management systems or amend their existing structures accordingly. Virtually all Austrian companies have internal codes of conduct governing bribery and potential conflicts of interest.

Corruption provisions in Austria’s Criminal Code cover managers of Austrian public enterprises, civil servants, and other officials (with functions in legislation, administration, or justice on behalf of Austria, in a foreign country, or an international organization), representatives of public companies, members of parliament, government members, and mayors. The term “corruption” includes the following in the Austrian interpretation: active and passive bribery; illicit intervention; and abuse of office. Corruption can sometimes include a private manager’s fraud, embezzlement, or breach of trust.

Criminal penalties for corruption include imprisonment ranging from six months to ten years, depending on the severity of the offence. Jurisdiction for corruption investigations rests with the Austrian Federal Bureau of Anti-Corruption and covers corruption taking place both within and outside the country. The Lobbying Act of 2013 introduced binding rules of conduct for lobbying. It requires domestic and foreign organizations to register with the Austrian Ministry of Justice. Financing of political parties requires disclosure of donations exceeding EUR 2,500 (USD 2,800). No donor is allowed to give more than EUR 7,500 (USD 8,400) and total donations to one political party may not exceed EUR 750,000 (USD 840,000) in a single year. Foreigners are prohibited from making donations to political parties. Private companies are subject to the Austrian Act on Corporate Criminal Liability, which makes companies liable for active and passive criminal offences. Penalties include fines up to EUR 1.8 million (USD 2.0 million).

To date, U.S. companies have not reported any instances of corruption inhibiting FDI.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contacts at government agencies responsible for combating corruption:

Wirtschafts- und Korruptionsstaatsanwaltschaft (Central Public Prosecution for Business Offenses and Corruption)
Dampfschiffstraße 4
1030 Vienna, Austria
Phone: +43-(0)1-52 1 52 0
E-Mail: wksta.leitung@justiz.gv.at

BAK – Bundesamt zur Korruptionsprävention und Korruptionsbekämpfung (Federal Agency for Preventing and Fighting Corruption)
Ministry of the Interior
Herrengasse 7
1010 Vienna, Austria
Phone: +43-(0)1-531 26 – 6800
E-Mail: BMI-III-BAK-SPOC@bak.gv.at

Contact at “watchdog” organization:

Transparency International – Austrian Chapter
Berggasse 7
1090 Vienna, Austria
Phone: +43-(0)1-960 760
E-Mail: office@ti-austria.at

10. Political and Security Environment

Generally, civil disturbances are rare and the overall security environment in the country is considered to be safe. There have been no incidents of politically motivated damage to foreign businesses. Austria suffered a terrorist attack on November 2, 2020, when a lone gunman shot and killed four civilians and injured 23 in the center of Vienna.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Austria has a well-educated and productive labor force of 4.1 million, of whom 3.6 million are employees and 500,000 are self-employed or farmers. In line with EU regulations, the free movement of labor from all member states is allowed.

The COVID-19 crisis has led to a spike in unemployment, which rose to 5.8% in February 2021, compared to 4.5% in 2019. At the same time, the number of people unemployed for longer than 12 months has increased by 83% over the past year, raising some concern that additional labor market initiatives will be required to reintegrate them in the job market. To combat the effects of lockdown-related business closures, the government implemented a reduced hours work program, enabling employers to reduce employees’ hours by up to 90%, with assistance to cover up to 80-90% of regular pay. The unemployment rate is expected to gradually decrease as the economy re-opens but it may take until the end of 2022 to reach pre-crisis levels.

Foreigners account for almost one-fifth of Austria’s labor force; around 800,000 foreign workers are employed in Austria. Migrant workers come largely from the CEE region, but there are also many workers who arrived during the Syrian refugee crisis who have entered the labor market. Migrants workers often occupy lower-paying jobs and make up a large percentage of workers in the tourism and healthcare sectors.

Youth unemployment is relatively low, compared to European reference countries. Austria’s successful dual-education apprenticeship system, combining on-the-job training with classroom instruction in vocational schools, has helped bring youth into the labor market. The program includes guaranteed placement by the Public Employment Service for those 15–24-year-olds who cannot find an apprenticeship. Austria has a well-balanced labor market but, like many of its neighbors, suffers from a shortage of skilled IT personnel, particularly in the banking and financial sector. Social insurance is compulsory in Austria and is comprised of health insurance, old-age pension insurance, unemployment insurance, and accident insurance. Employers and employees contribute a percentage of total monthly earnings to a compulsory social insurance fund. Austrian laws closely regulate terms of employment, including working hours, minimum vacation time, holidays, maternity leave, statutory separation notice, severance pay, dismissal, and an option for part-time work for parents with children under the age of seven.

Problematic areas include increased deficits in the pension and health insurance systems, the shortage of healthcare personnel to care for the increasing number of elderly, and escalating costs for retirement and long-term care. Due to its generous social welfare system, Austria has a high rate of employer non-wage labor costs, amounting to approximately 30% of gross wages. Labor laws are commonly adhered to and strictly enforced.

Labor-management relations are relatively harmonious in Austria, which traditionally enjoys a low incidence of industrial unrest. Strikes are uncommon with only two notable incidents over the past decade (2011, 2018). Additionally, all employees are automatically members of the Austrian Labor Chamber.

Collective bargaining revolves mainly around wages and fringe benefits. Approximately 90 percent of the labor force works under a collective bargaining agreement. In 2017, Austria implemented a national minimum wage of EUR 1,500 (approx. USD 1,700) per month, with monthly wages paid 14 times per year. This equates to an hourly wage of EUR 10.09 (approx. USD 11.50), placing Austria in the upper tier among European countries with a minimum wage, ahead of France, Germany and the UK.

Austrian law stipulates a 40-hour maximum workweek limit, but collective bargaining agreements also allow for a workweek of 38 or 38.5 hours per week. Firms may increase the maximum regular hours from 40 to 60 per week in special cases, with no more than 12 hours in a single day. Responsibility for agreements on flextime or reduced workweeks is at the company level. Overtime is paid at an additional 50 percent of the employee’s salary and, in some cases, such as work on public holidays, 100 percent. Austrian employees are generally entitled to five weeks of paid vacation (and an additional week after 25 years in the workforce); the rate of absence due to illness/injury averages 13 workdays annually.

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

OPIC programs are not available for Austria.

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) 2020 $428 billion 2020 $445 billion www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($B USD, stock positions) 2019 $13.70 2019 $7.64 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($B USD, stock positions) 2019 $13.76 2019 $6.25 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 45.8 2019 1.0% (flow) UNCTAD data available at https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html  

* Source for Host Country Data: Austrian Statistics Office (GDP); Austrian National Bank (FDI, published March 2020)

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 201,287 100% Total Outward 248,978 100%
Germany 54,040 27% The Netherlands 41,145 16%
The Netherlands 30,585 15% Germany 34,448 14%
Russia 26,061 13% Czech Republic 15,073 6%
Luxembourg 21,876 11% United States 13,773 5%
Switzerland 12,002 6i% Romania 10,090 4%
“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 368,776 100% All Countries 157,873 100% All Countries 210,904 100%
Luxembourg 64,898 18% Luxembourg 56,101 36% Germany 25,193 12%
Germany 54,439 15% Germany 29,235 19% France 23,440 11%
United States 35,558 10% United States 18,338 6% United States 17,249 8%
France 30.312 8% Ireland 18,335 6% Spain 16,099 8%
Ireland 23,850 6% France 6,872 4% The Netherlands 15,248 7%

14. Contact for More Information

NAME: Andreas Lerch
TITLE: Economic Specialist
ADDRESS OF MISSION/AIT: U.S. Embassy Vienna, Vienna 1090, Boltzmanngasse 16
TELEPHONE NUMBER: +43 1 31339-2387
EMAIL ADDRESS: lercha@state.gov

Belgium

Executive Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted the Belgian economy in 2020 and its effects will continue into 2021.  According to the National Bank of Belgium, real GDP contracted by 6.2% in 2020, and the impact on public finances led to a deficit of 10.1% of GDP and a national debt level of 115% of GDP.  Early economic forecasts for 2021 indicate that Belgium’s GDP might grow by as much as 3.9%, and the deficit will likely shrink to 7.6% of GDP.  Belgium will continue to rely on European Union financial support mechanisms, as well as interventions by its regional governments, as it aims to restart and rebuild the economy and implements a comprehensive economic recovery plan in the wake of the global health pandemic in 2021.

COVID-19 restrictions are likely to remain in place through 2021.  As Belgium’s vaccination plan gains momentum, however, those measures are expected to be rolled back.  Support measures, still ongoing at the beginning of 2021, should limit job losses (at least in the short term) and constrain the number of bankruptcies in the most affected sectors such as leisure, restaurants, hotels, and transport.

Belgium holds a unique position as a logistical hub and gateway to Europe, which will be of critical importance to jump-start the economy.  Since June 2015, the Belgian government has undertaken a series of measures to reduce the tax burden on labor and to increase Belgium’s economic competitiveness and attractiveness to foreign investment.  A July 2017 decision to lower the corporate tax rate from 35 to 25 percent further improved the investment climate.  As it stands, the center-left government that took office on October 1, 2020 will not reverse this decision.

Belgium boasts an open market well connected to the major economies of the world. As a gateway to Europe, host to major EU institutions, and a central location closely tied to the major European economies, Belgium is an attractive market and location for U.S. investors. Belgium is a highly developed, long-time economic partner of the United States that benefits from an extremely well-educated workforce, world-renowned research centers, and the infrastructure to support a broad range of economic activities

Belgium boasts a dynamic economy and attracts significant levels of investment in chemicals, petrochemicals, plastics and composites; environmental technologies; food processing and packaging; health technologies; information and communication; and textiles, apparel and sporting goods, among other sectors.  In 2020, Belgian exports to the United States were worth $29 billion, and the U.S. market represented Belgium’s 5th largest export destination.  Of note, major Belgian exports included chemicals (65.6%), machinery and equipment (9.7%), and transport equipment (4.5%).  In 2020, the United States ranked as Belgium’s 4th largest supplier of imports with a total value of imported goods of nearly $27 billion.  Major U.S. exports to Belgium included chemicals (38.5%), transport equipment (12.9%) and machinery and equipment (12%).

To fully realize Belgium’s employment potential, it will be critical to address the fragmentation of the labor market. Job growth accelerated in Belgium prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (+6.9% in the period 2014-2019), driven by the cyclical recovery and the positive impact of past economic and market reforms.  Large regional disparities in unemployment rates persist, however, and there is a significant skills mismatch in several key sectors.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 15 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 46 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 22 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 $63.2 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $48,030 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Belgium maintains an open economy and its prosperity remains highly dependent on international trade.  Since World War II, making Belgium attractive to foreign investors has been the cornerstone of successive Belgian governments’ foreign and commercial policy.  Competence over policies that weigh on the attractiveness of Belgium as a destination for foreign direct investment (FDI) lie predominantly with the federal government, which is responsible for developing domestic competition policy, wage setting policies, labor law and most energy and fiscal policies.  Attracting FDI is, however, a responsibility of Belgium’s three regional governments and their investment promotion agencies: Flanders Investment and Trade (FIT), Wallonia Foreign Trade and Investment Agency (AWEX), and Brussels Invest and Export (BIE).  One of their most visible activities is the organization of the Royal Trade Missions.  In October 2021, a Royal Trade Mission led by Princess Astrid is planned to visit Atlanta, New York City, and Boston.  Neither the federal government nor the regional governments currently maintain a formal dialogue with investors.

There are no laws in place that discriminate against foreign investors.  Belgian authorities are developing a national security-based investment screening law, which will not likely be finalized and delivered to Parliament for a vote before the second half of 2021.  The Belgian government, however, has coordinated with the European Commission on its investment screening mechanism.  In practice, this arrangement allows the European Commission to issue opinions when an investment poses a threat to the security or public order of more than one member state.  Furthermore, the regulation sets certain requirements for EU member states that wish to maintain or adopt a screening mechanism at the national level.  Member states will keep the last word on whether or not a specific investment should or should not be allowed in their territory.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

There are currently no limits on foreign ownership or control in Belgium and there are no distinctions between Belgian and foreign companies when establishing or owning a business, or setting up a remunerative activity.  The forthcoming investment screening mechanism may establish some limits based on national security.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In July 2019 the OECD published an in-depth productivity review of Belgium:

https://www.oecd.org/belgium/in-depth-productivity-review-of-belgium-88aefcd5-en.htm

Belgium was included in the WTO Trade Policy Review of the European Union, which took place February 18-20, 2020: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp495_e.htm

Business Facilitation

In order to set up a business in Belgium, one must:

1. Deposit at least 20% of the initial capital with a Belgian credit institution and obtain a standard certification confirming that the amount is held in a blocked capital account;

2. Deposit a financial plan with a notary, sign the deed of incorporation and the by-laws in the presence of a notary, who authenticates the documents and registers the deed of incorporation. The authentication act must be drawn up in either French, Dutch or German (Belgium’s three official languages); and

3. Register with one of the Registers of legal entities, VAT and social security at a centralized company docket and obtain a company number.

In most cases, the business registration process can be completed within one week (https://www.business.belgium.be/en/setting_up_your_business).  The process is bureaucratic and can be challenging for foreigners, particularly if they do not speak the language of the region.  Assistance from the regional Investment Authorities (see below) is recommended; these authorities are competitive and will offer support and incentives to companies considering establishing in their territory.  Contacting the office of the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service at the U.S. Embassy in Brussels for assistance is also recommended.

Based on the number of employees, the projected annual turnover and the shareholder class, a company will qualify as a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) according to the meaning of the Promotion of Independent Enterprise Act of February 10, 1998.  For a small or medium-sized enterprise, registration will only be possible once a certificate of competence has been obtained. The person in charge of the daily management of the company must prove his or her knowledge of business management, with diplomas and/or practical experience.  In the Global Enterprise Register, Belgium currently scores 7 out of 10 for ease of setting up a limited liability company.

Business facilitation agencies provide for equitable treatment of women and under-represented minorities in the economy.

A company is expected to allow trade union delegations if it employs 20 or more full-time equivalents (FTEs).

The three Belgian regions each have their own investment promotion agency, whose services are available to all foreign investors:

Flanders: Flanders Investment & Trade, https://www.flandersinvestmentandtrade.com/en

Wallonia: Invest in Wallonia, http://www.investinwallonia.be/home

Brussels: Brussels Invest & Export, http://why.brussels/

Outward Investment

Belgium does not actively promote outward investment.  There are no restrictions for domestic investors to invest in certain countries, other than those that fall under UN or EU sanction regimes.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Belgian government has adopted a generally transparent competition policy.  The government has implemented tax, labor, health, safety, and other laws and policies to avoid distortions or impediments to the efficient mobilization and allocation of investment, comparable to those in other EU member states.  Draft bills are never made available for public comment, but have to go through an independent court for vetting and consistency.  Belgium publishes all its relevant legislation and administrative guidelines in an official Gazette, called Le Moniteur Belge (www.moniteur.be).

Foreign and domestic investors in some sectors face stringent regulations designed to protect small- and medium-sized enterprises.  Recognizing the need to streamline administrative procedures in many areas, in 2015 the federal government set up a special task force to simplify official procedures.  It also agreed to streamline laws regarding the telecommunications sector into one comprehensive volume after new entrants in this sector had complained about a lack of transparency.  Additionally the government strengthened its Competition Policy Authority with a number of academic experts and additional resources. Traditionally, scientific studies or quantitative analysis conducted on the impact of regulations are made publicly available for comment. However, not all stakeholder comments received by regulators are made public.

Accounting standards are regulated by the Belgian law of January 30, 2001, and balance sheet and profit and loss statements are in line with international accounting norms. Cash flow positions and reporting changes in non-borrowed capital formation are not required.  However, contrary to IAS/IFRS standards, Belgian accounting rules do require an extensive annual policy report.

International Regulatory Considerations

Belgium is a founding member of the EU, whose directives and regulations are enforced.  On May 25, 2018, Belgium implemented the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (EU) 2016/679, an EU regulation on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union.

Through the European Union, Belgium is a member of the WTO, and notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).  Belgium does not maintain any measures that are inconsistent with the Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMs) obligations.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Belgium’s (civil) legal system is independent of the government and is a means for resolving commercial disputes or protecting property rights.  Belgium has maintained a wide-ranging codified law system since 1830.  Specialized commercial courts apply the existing commercial and contractual laws. As in many countries, Belgian courts labor under a growing caseload and ongoing budget cuts causing backlogs and delays. There are several levels of appeal.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Payments and transfers within Belgium and with foreign countries require no prior authorization. Transactions may be executed in euros as well as in other currencies.

Belgium has no debt-to-equity requirements.  Dividends may be remitted freely except in cases in which distribution would reduce net assets to less than paid-up capital.  No further withholding tax or other tax is due on repatriation of the original investment or on the profits of a branch, either during active operations or upon the closing of the branch.

There are three different regional Investment Authorities:

Flanders: www.flandersinvestmentandtrade.com

Wallonia; www.awex.be

Brussels: https://be.brussels/brussels

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The contact address for competition-related concerns:

Federal Competition Authority

City Atrium, 6th floor

Vooruitgangsstraat 50

1210 Brussels

tel: +32 2 277 5272

fax: +32 2 277 5323

email: info@bma-abc.be

EU member states are responsible for competition and anti-trust regulations if there are no cross-border dimensions. If cross-border effects are present, EU law applies and European institutions are competent.

Expropriation and Compensation

There are no outstanding expropriation or nationalization cases in Belgium with U.S. investors. There is no pattern of discrimination against foreign investment in Belgium.

When the Belgian government uses its eminent domain powers to acquire property compulsorily for a public purpose, current market value is paid to the property owners. Recourse to the courts is available if necessary.  The only expropriations that occurred during the last decade were related to infrastructure projects such as port expansions, roads, and railroads.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Belgium is a member of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and regularly includes provision for ICSID arbitration in investment agreements.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The government accepts binding international arbitration of disputes between foreign investors and the state. There have been no public investment disputes involving a U.S. citizen within the past 10 years.  Local courts are expected to enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government.  To date, there has been no evidence of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Alternative Dispute Resolution is not mandatory by law and is therefore not commonly used in disputes, except for matters where the determination by an expert is sought, whether appointed by the parties in agreement or in accordance with a contractual clause or appointed by the court in the context of dispute resolution.

Belgium has no domestic arbitration bodies.  Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards. Judgments of foreign courts are recognized and enforceable under the local courts.  There are no reports or complaints targeting Court proceedings involving State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) or alleged favoritism for them.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Belgian bankruptcy law is governed by the Bankruptcy Act of 1997 and is under the jurisdiction of the commercial courts.  The commercial court appoints a judge-auditor to preside over the bankruptcy proceeding and whose primary task is to supervise the management and liquidation of the bankrupt estate, in particular with respect to the claims of the employees.  Belgian bankruptcy law recognizes several classes of preferred or secured creditors.  A person who has been declared bankrupt may subsequently start a new business unless the person is found guilty of certain criminal offences that are directly related to the bankruptcy.  The Business Continuity Act of 2009 provides the possibility for companies in financial difficulty to enter into a judicial reorganization.  These proceedings are to some extent similar to Chapter 11 as the aim is to facilitate business recovery.  In the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Index, Belgium ranks number 9 (out of 190) for the ease of resolving insolvency.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Since the August 1980 law on regional devolution in Belgium, investment incentives and subsidies have been the responsibility of Belgian’s three regions: Brussels, Flanders, and Wallonia.  Nonetheless, most tax measures remain under the control of the federal government, as do the parameters (social security, wage agreements) that govern general salary and benefit levels.  In general, all regional and national incentives are available to foreign and domestic investors alike.   The federal government does not have a practice of issuing guarantees or jointly financing foreign direct investment projects.

Belgian investment incentive programs at all levels of government are limited by EU regulations and are normally kept in line with those of the other EU member states.  The European Commission has tended to discourage certain investment incentives in the belief that they distort the single market, impair structural change, and threaten EU convergence, as well as social and economic cohesion.   In January 2016, the European Commission ordered Belgium to reclaim up to USD 900 million in tax breaks from 36 companies (12 of which are U.S. companies) going as far back as 2004.  The Belgian Government had given these breaks to companies through a series of one-off fiscal rulings. The scheme had reduced the corporate tax base of the companies by between 50% and 90% to discount for excess profits that allegedly resulted from being part of a multinational group. However, in a February 14, 2019 ruling, the EU General Court decided that the excess profit ruling was not a State-aid scheme.  Observers note that the ruling is based on a procedural defect from the European Commission, and highlight that the General Court did not per se validate the excess profit ruling. Belgium challenged the EC decision legally and won, but the EC has appealed the ruling.

In their investment policies, the regional governments emphasize innovation promotion, research and development, energy savings, environmental protection, exports, and most of all, employment.  The three regional agencies have staff specializing in specific regions of the world, including the United States, and have representation offices in different countries.  In addition, the Finance Ministry established a foreign investment tax unit in 2000 to provide assistance and to make the tax administration more “user friendly” for foreign investors.

It is permitted for companies established in Belgium, foreign or domestic, to deduct from their taxable profits a percentage of their adjusted net assets linked to the rate of the Belgian long-term state bond.  This permits companies to deduct the “notional” interest rate that would have been paid on their locally invested capital had it been borrowed at a rate of interest equal to the current rate the Belgian government pays on its 10-year bonds.  This amount is deducted from profits, thus lowering nominal Belgian corporate taxes.  Even though this system was made slightly less attractive in the recent past, it remains an important tool to stimulate investment in Belgium.

As of 2019, corporate groups may aggregate gains and losses from multiple Belgian subsidiaries or branches and pay taxes on the total amount of profit.  As a result, companies generating low profits while operating a subsidiary at a loss will no longer be taxed.

Dividend distributions are generally subject to a 30% withholding tax.  However, reduced rates are possible, and a full exemption can be claimed if the dividends are distributed by a Belgian tax-resident company to a receiving firm that:

  • was established in Belgium or an EU member state;
  • directly holds 10% of the capital of the distributing company;
  • has maintained this holding for at least one year with no interruptions; and
  • is appropriately incorporated in a cross-border situation.

Withholding taxes on dividends paid to corporate shareholders in treaty countries are no longer taxed in Belgium. Dividends distributed by subsidiaries of companies in Belgium are 100% tax exempt.

More information about the Belgian tax system can be requested at:

Federal Public Service Finance –
Foreign Investment Cell
Parliament Corner, Wetstraat 24 B-1000 Brussel, België
Tel: 02 579 38 66 – Fax: +32 257 951 12
e-mail: taxinvest@minfin.fed.be
Web: http://taxinvest.belgium.be

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

There are no foreign trade zones or free ports as such in Belgium.  However, the country utilizes the concept of customs warehouses.  A customs warehouse is approved by the customs authorities where imported goods may be stored without payment of customs duties and VAT.  Only non-EU goods can be placed under a customs warehouse regime.  In principle, non-EU goods of any kind may be admitted, regardless of their nature, quantity, country of origin or destination.  Individuals and companies wishing to operate a customs warehouse must be established in the EU and obtain authorization from the customs authorities.  Authorization may be obtained by filing a written request and by demonstrating an economic need for the warehouse.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Performance requirements in Belgium usually relate to the number of jobs created. There are no national requirement rules for senior management or boards of directors. There are no known cases where export targets or local purchase requirements were imposed, with the exception of the military offset programs that were reintroduced under Prime Minister Verhofstadt in 2006.  While the government reserves the right to reclaim incentives if the investor fails to meet employment commitments, enforcement is rare.  However, in 2012, with the announced closure of an automotive plant in Flanders, the Flanders regional government successfully reclaimed training subsidies that had been provided to the company.

There is currently no requirement for foreign IT providers to share source code and/or provide access to surveillance agencies.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Property rights in Belgium are well protected by law, and the courts are independent and considered effective in enforcing property rights. Mortgages and liens exist through a reliable recording system operated by the Belgian notaries.

However, on the World Bank’s 2020 ranking on the ease for registering property, Belgium ranks only 139th out of a total of 190 countries.

Intellectual Property Rights

Belgium generally meets very high standards for the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR). The EU has issued a number of directives to promote the protection and enforcement of IPR, which EU Member States are required to implement.  National laws that do not conflict with those of the EU also apply.  Belgium is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and so party to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).  Belgium is also a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and party to many of its treaties, including the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.

IPR is administered by the Belgian Office of Intellectual Property (OPRI), which is part of the Directorate-General for Economic Regulation  in the Ministry for Economic Affairs:  https://economie.fgov.be/en/themes/intellectual-property/institutions-and-actors/belgian-office-intellectual  This office manages and provides Belgian IPR titles, oversees public awareness campaigns, drafts legislation, and advises Belgian authorities with regard to national and international issues.  The Belgian Ministry of Justice is responsible for enforcement of IPR.  Belgium experiences a rate of commercial and digital infringement – particularly internet music piracy and illegal copying of software – similar to most EU Member States.

Belgium is not included on USTR’s Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IPR offices, please see the WIPO’s country profiles at  http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Belgium has policies in place to facilitate the free flow of financial resources. Credit is allocated at market rates and is available to foreign and domestic investors without discrimination. Belgium is fully served by the international banking community and is implementing all relevant EU financial directives. At the same time, in 2020 Belgium ranked 67th out of 190 for “getting credit” on the World Bank’s “Doing Business” rankings, and in the bottom quintile among OECD high income countries.

The Belgian city of Bruges established the world’s first stock market almost 600 years ago, and the Belgian bourse is well-established today. On Euronext, a company may increase its capital either by capitalizing reserves or by issuing new shares. An increase in capital requires a legal registration procedure, and new shares may be offered either to the public or to existing shareholders. A public notice is not required if the offer is to existing shareholders, who may subscribe to the new shares directly. An issue of bonds to the public is subject to the same requirements as a public issue of shares: the company’s capital must be entirely paid up, and existing shareholders must be given preferential subscription rights.  Details on the shareholders of the Bel20 (benchmark stock market index of Euronext Brussels) can be found on http://www.gresea.be/Qui-sont-les-actionnaires-du-BEL-20.

In 2016, the Belgian government passed legislation to improve entrepreneurial financing through crowdfunding and more flexible capital venture rules.

Money and Banking System

Because the Belgian economy is directed toward international trade, more than half of its banking activities involve foreign countries. Belgium’s major banks are represented in the financial and commercial centers of dozens of countries by subsidiaries, branch offices, and representative offices. The country does have a central bank, the National Bank of Belgium (NBB), whose governor is also a member of the Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB).  Being a Eurozone member state, the NBB is part of the Euro system, meaning that it has transferred the sovereignty over monetary policy to the ECB.

Belgium has one of highest number of banks per capita in the world. Following a review of the 2008 financial crisis, the Belgian government decided in 2012 to shift the authority of bank supervision from the Financial Market Supervision Authority (FMSA) to the NBB. In 2017, supervision of systemically important Belgian banks shifted to the ECB. The country has not lost any correspondent banking relationships in the past three years, nor are there any correspondent banking relationships currently in jeopardy.

Since the introduction of the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM), the vast majority of the Belgian banking sector’s assets are held by banks that come under SSM supervision, including the “significant institutions” KBC Bank, Belfius Bank, Argenta, AXA Bank Europe, Bank of New-York Mellon and Bank Degroof/Petercam. Other banks governed by Belgian law – such as BNP Paribas Fortis and ING Belgium – are also subject to SSM supervision as they are subsidiaries of non-Belgian “significant institutions.”

In 2018, the banking sector conducted its business in a context of gradual economic recovery and persistently low interest rates. That situation had two effects: it put pressure on the sector’s profitability and caused a credit default problem in some European banks. The National Bank of Belgium designated eight Belgian banks as domestic systemically important institutions, and divided them into two groups according to their level of importance. A 1.5% capital surcharge was imposed on the first group (BNP Paribas Fortis, KBC Group and Belfius Bank). The second group (AXA Bank Europe, Argenta, Euroclear and The Bank of New York Mellon) is required to hold a supplementary capital buffer of 0.75%. These surcharges are being phased in over a three-year period.

Under pressure from the European Union, bank debt has decreased in volume overall, from close to 1.6 trillion euros in 2007 to just over 1 trillion euros in 2018, according to the National Bank of Belgium, particularly in the risky derivative markets.

It remains to be seen how the economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis will impact banks on a long-term basis in Belgium.

Belgian banks use modern, automated systems for domestic and international transactions. The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) is headquartered in Brussels. Euroclear, a clearing entity for transactions in stocks and other securities, is also located in Brussels.

Opening a bank account in the country is linked to residency status.  The U.S. FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) requires Belgian banks to report information on U.S. account holders directly to the Belgian tax authorities, who then release the information to the IRS.

With regard to cryptocurrencies, the National Bank of Belgium has no central authority overseeing the network.

Unlike most other EU countries, there are no cryptocurrency ATMs, and the NBB has repeatedly warned about potential adverse consequences of the use of cryptocurrencies for financial stability.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Payments and transfers within Belgium and with foreign countries require no prior authorization. Transactions may be executed in euros as well as in other currencies.

Remittance Policies

Dividends may be remitted freely except in cases in which distribution would reduce net assets to less than paid-up capital. No further withholding tax or other tax is due on repatriation of the original investment or on the profits of a branch, either during active operations or upon the closing of the branch.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Belgium has a sovereign wealth fund (SWF) in the form of the Federal Holding and Investment Company (FPIM-SFPI), a quasi-independent entity created in 2004 and now mainly used as a vehicle to manage the banking assets which were taken on board during the 2008 banking crisis. The SWF has a board whose members reflect the composition of the governing coalition and are regularly audited by the “Cour des Comptes” or national auditor. At the end of 2019, its total assets amounted to € 2.35 billion.  The majority of the funds are invested domestically. Its role is to allow public entities to recoup their investments and support Belgian banks. The SWF is required by law to publish an annual report and is subject to the same domestic and international accounting standards and rules. The SWF routinely fulfills all legal obligations. However, it is not a member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Belgium has approximately 80,000 employees working in SOEs, mainly in the railways, telecoms and general utility sectors. There are also several region-owned enterprises where the regions often have a controlling majority.  Private enterprises are allowed to compete with SOEs under the same terms and conditions, but since the EU started to liberalize network industries such as electricity, gas, water, telecoms and railways, there have been regular complaints in Belgium about unfair competition from the former state monopolists. Complaints have ranged from lower salaries (railways) to lower VAT rates (gas and electricity) to regulators with a conflict of interest (telecom). Although these complaints have now largely subsided, many of these former monopolies are now market leaders in their sector, due mainly to their ability to charge high access costs to legacy networks that were fully amortized years ago.

Privatization Program

Belgium currently has no scheduled privatizations. There are ongoing discussions about the relative merits of a possible privatization of the state-owned bank Belfius and the government share in telecom operator Proximus. There are no indications that foreign investors would be excluded from these eventual privatizations.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The Belgian government encourages both foreign and local enterprises to follow generally accepted Corporate Social Responsibility principles such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The Belgian government also encourages adherence to the OECD Due Diligence guidance for responsible supply chains of minerals from conflict-affected areas.

When it comes to human rights, labor rights, consumer and environmental protection, or laws/regulations which would protect individuals from adverse business impacts, the Belgian government is generally considered to enforce domestic laws in a fair and effective manner.

There is a general awareness of corporate social responsibility among producers and consumers. Boards of directors are encouraged to pay attention to corporate social responsibility in the 2009 Belgian Code on corporate governance. This Code, also known as the “Code Buysse II” was  drafted by a group of independent corporate experts and stresses the importance of sound entrepreneurship, good corporate governance, an active board of directors and an advisory council. It deals with unlisted companies and is complementary to existing Belgian legislation. However, adherence to the” Code Buysse II” is not factored into public procurement decisions. For listed companies, far stricter guidelines apply, which are monitored by the Financial Services and Markets Authority.

drafted by a group of independent corporate experts and stresses the importance of sound entrepreneurship, good corporate governance, an active board of directors and an advisory council. It deals with unlisted companies and is complementary to existing Belgian legislation. However, adherence to the” Code Buysse II” is not factored into public procurement decisions. For listed companies, far stricter guidelines apply, which are monitored by the Financial Services and Markets Authority.

Belgium is part of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Resources to Report Corruption

Belgian anti-bribery legislation was revised completely in March 1999, when the competence of Belgian courts was extended to extraterritorial bribery. Bribing foreign officials is a criminal offense in Belgium. Belgium has been a signatory to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention since 1999, and is a participating member of the OECD Working Group on Bribery.  The Working Group’s Phase 3 review of Belgium in 2013 called on Belgium to address the lack of resources available for fighting foreign bribery.

Under Article 3 of the Belgian criminal code, jurisdiction is established over offenses committed within Belgian territory by Belgian or foreign nationals. Act 99/808 added Article 10 related to the code of criminal procedure. This Article provides for jurisdiction in certain cases over persons (foreign as well as Belgian nationals) who commit bribery offenses outside the territory of Belgium. Various limitations apply, however. For example, if the bribe recipient exercises a public function in an EU member state, Belgian prosecution may not proceed without the formal consent of the other state.

Under a 1999 Belgian law, the definition of corruption was extended considerably. It is considered passive bribery if a government official or employer requests or accepts a benefit for him or herself or for somebody else in exchange for behaving in a certain way. Active bribery is defined as the proposal of a promise or benefit in exchange for undertaking a specific action. Until 1999, Belgian anti-corruption law did not cover attempts at passive bribery. The most controversial innovation of the 1999 law was the introduction of the concept of “private  corruption,” or corruption among private individuals.

corruption,” or corruption among private individuals.

Corruption by public officials carries heavy fines and/or imprisonment between five and ten years. Private individuals face similar fines and slightly shorter prison terms (between six months and two years). The current law not only holds individuals accountable, but also the company for which they work. Contrary to earlier legislation, the 1999 law stipulates that payment of bribes to secure or maintain public procurement or administrative authorization through bribery in foreign countries is no longer tax deductible. Recent court cases in Belgium suggest that corruption is most serious in government procurement and public works contracting.  American companies have not, however, identified corruption as a barrier to investment.

The responsibility for enforcing corruption laws is shared by the Ministry of Justice through investigating magistrates of the courts, and the Ministry of the Interior through the Belgian federal police, which has jurisdiction in all criminal cases. A special unit, the Central Service for Combating Corruption, has been created for enforcement purposes but continues to lack the necessary staff. Belgium is also an active participant in the Global Forum on Asset Recovery.

The Belgian Employers Federation encourages its members to establish internal codes of conduct aimed at prohibiting bribery. To date, U.S. firms have not identified corruption as an obstacle to FDI.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

Belgium has signed and ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention of 1998, and is also party to the OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

Office of the Federal Prosecutor of Belgium
Transparency International Belgium
Resources to Report Corruption
Wolstraat 66-1 – 1000 Brussels
T 02 55 777 64

Transparency Belgium
Nijverheidsstraat 10, 1000 Brussels
Tel: +32 (0)2 893 2584
email:  infoa@transparencybelgium.be 

10. Political and Security Environment

Belgium is a peaceful, democratic nation comprising federal, regional, and municipal political units: the Belgian federal government, the regional governments of Flanders, Wallonia, the Brussels capital region, and 581 communes (municipalities). Political divisions do exist between the Flemish and the Walloons, but they are addressed in democratic institutions and generally resolved through compromise. The Federal Council of Ministers, headed by the prime minister, remains in office as long as it retains the confidence of the lower house (Chamber of Representatives) of the bicameral parliament.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The Belgian labor force is generally well trained, highly motivated and very productive. Workers have an excellent command of foreign languages, particularly in Flanders. There is a low unemployment rate among skilled workers, such as local managers. Enlargement of the EU in May 2004 and January 2007 facilitated the entry of skilled workers into Belgium from new member states. Non-EU nationals must apply for work permits before they can be employed. Minimum wages vary according to the age and responsibility level of the employee and are adjusted for the cost of living.

Belgian workers are highly unionized and usually enjoy good salaries and benefits. Belgian wage and social security contributions, along with those in Germany, are among the highest in Western Europe.  For 2019, Belgium’s harmonized unemployment figure was 5.4 percent, below the EU average of 6.4 percent (OECD). High wage levels and pockets of high unemployment coexist, reflecting both strong productivity in new technology sector investments and weak skills of Belgium’s long-term unemployed, whose overall education level is significantly lower than that of the general population. There are also significant differences in regional unemployment levels (2019 figures):  3.3 percent in Flanders, against 7.2 percent in Wallonia and 12.7 percent in Brussels.  As a consequence of high wage costs, employers have tended to invest more in capital than in labor. At the same time, a shortage exists of workers with training in computer hardware and software, automation and marketing, increasing wage pressures in these sectors.

Belgium’s comprehensive social security package is composed of five major elements: family allowance, unemployment insurance, retirement, medical benefits and a sick leave program that guarantees salary in event of illness. Currently, average employer payments to the social security system stand at 25 percent of salary while employee contributions comprise 13 percent. In addition, many private companies offer supplemental programs for medical benefits and retirement.

Belgian labor unions, while maintaining a national superstructure, are, in effect, divided along linguistic lines. The two main confederations, the Confederation of Christian Unions and the General Labor Federation of Belgium, maintain close relationships with the Christian Democratic and Socialist political parties, respectively. They exert a strong influence in the country, politically and socially. A national bargaining process covers inter-professional agreements that the trade union confederations negotiate biennially with the government and the employers’ associations. In addition to these negotiations, bargaining on wages and working conditions takes place in the various industrial sectors and at the plant level. About 51 percent of employees from the public service and private sector are labor union members. A cause for concern in labor negotiation tactics is isolated cases where union members in Wallonia have resorted to physically forcing management to stay in their offices until an agreement can be reached.

Firing a Belgian employee can be very expensive. An employee may be dismissed immediately for cause, such as embezzlement or other illegal activity, but when a reduction in force occurs, the procedure is far more complicated. In those instances where the employer and employee cannot agree on the amount of severance pay or indemnity, the case is referred to the labor courts for a decision. To avoid these complications, some firms include a “trial period” (of up to one year) in any employer-employee contract. Belgium is a strict adherent to ILO labor conventions.

Belgium was one of the first countries in the EU to harmonize its legislation with the EU Works Council Directive of December 1994. Its flexible approach to the consultation and information requirements specified in the Directive compares favorably with that of other EU member states.

In 2015, the Belgian government increased the retirement age from the current age of 65 to 66 as of 2027 and 67 as of 2030.  Under the 2015 retirement plan, various schemes for early retirement before the age of 65 will be gradually phased out, and unemployment benefits will decrease over time as an incentive for the unemployed to regain employment.

Wage increases are negotiated by sector within the parameters set by automatic wage indexation and the 1996 Law on Competitiveness. The purpose of automatic wage indexation is to establish a bottom margin that protects employees against inflation: for every increase in consumer price index above 2 percent, wages must be increased by (at least) 2 percent as well. The top margin is determined by the competitiveness law, which requires the Central Economic Council (CCE) to study wage projections in neighboring countries and make a recommendation on the maximum margin that will ensure Belgian competitiveness. The CCE is made up of civil society organizations, primarily representatives from employer and employee organizations, and its mission is to promote a socio-economic compromise in Belgium by providing informed recommendations to the government. The CCE’s projected increases in neighboring countries have historically been higher than their real increases, however, and have caused Belgium’s wages to increase more rapidly than its neighbors. Since 2016 however, that wage gap has decreased substantially.

Belgian labor law provides for dispute settlement procedures, with the labor minister appointing an official as mediator between the employers and employee representatives.

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) N/A N/A 2019 $533.09 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $63.2 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $70.1 BEA data available at 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 1.8% UNCTAD data available athttps://stats.unctad.org/handbook/EconomicTrends/Fdi.html

* Source for Host Country Data:

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 577,139 100% Total Outward 676,434 100%
The Netherlands 148,230 25.68% The Netherlands 212,974 31.48%
France 143,865 24.81% Luxembourg 160,221 23.68%
Luxembourg 118,209 20.48% United Kingdom 111,605 16.49%
Switzerland 43,679 7.56% France 58,891 8.7%
United States 28,881 5% Germany 13,828 2.04%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

https://data.imf.org/?sk=B981B4E3-4E58-467E-9B90-9DE0C3367363&sId=1481577785817 )

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 625,416 100% All Countries 150,319 100% All Countries 474,534 100%
France 102,426 16,37% United States 44,641 29,69% France 89,995 18,96%
Germany 94,007 15,03% Luxembourg 42,745 28,43% Germany 88,120 18,56%
Luxembourg 82,703 13,22% France 12,432 8,27% The Netherlands 58,410 12,30%
The Netherlands 65,240 10,43% United Kingdom 8,644 5,75% Luxembourg 39,958 8,42%
United States 55,022 8,79% The Netherlands 6,830 4,54% Japan 33,450 7,04%

14. Contact for More Information

Pieter-Jan VAN STEENKISTE

Economic Specialist

Regentlaan, 27 – BE1000 Brussels

0032 475 706 529 vansteenkistepj@state.gov

vansteenkistepj@state.gov

Denmark

Executive Summary

Denmark is one of the world’s leading foreign investment destinations and ranks highly in indices measuring political, economic, and regulatory stability. It is a member of the European Union (EU), and Danish legislation and regulations conform to EU standards on virtually all issues. It maintains a fixed exchange rate policy, with the Danish Krone linked closely to the Euro. Denmark is a social welfare state with a thoroughly modern market economy heavily driven by trade in goods and services. Given that exports account for about 55 percent of GDP, the economic conditions of its major trading partners – the United States, Germany, Sweden, and the UK – have a substantial impact on Danish national accounts.

Denmark is a net exporter of food, fossil fuels, chemicals, and wind power, but its manufacturing sector depends on raw material imports. Within the EU, Denmark is among the strongest supporters of liberal trade policy. Transparency International regularly ranks Denmark as having among the world’s lowest levels of perceived public sector corruption.

Denmark’s underlying macroeconomic conditions are healthy, and the investment climate is sound. Denmark is strategically situated to link continental Europe with the Nordic and Baltic countries. Transport and communications infrastructures are efficient. Denmark is among world leaders in high-tech industries such as information technology, life sciences, clean energy technologies, and shipping.

Denmark initiated several compensation schemes to blunt the worst of the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. By mid-April 2021, Denmark has committed up to 28.8 percent of GDP, or DKK 670 billion (USD 103 billion), in liquidity measures through postponed tax payments, loans and guarantees, and provided fiscal stimulus worth DKK 135 billion (USD 20.7 billion), which the Ministry of Finance estimate sustained 80,000 jobs, about three percent of the workforce. The Danish economy suffered a contraction of 3.3 percent of GDP in 2020. A protracted recovery is likely, and some business leaders call for longer-term measures to stimulate inward investment and support the export sector.

The entrepreneurial climate, including female-led entrepreneurship, is robust.

New legislation establishing a Foreign Investment Screening mechanism to ensure critical infrastructure integrity goes into effect on July 1, 2021Implementing regulations were in development when this report was published. The legislation does not apply to Greenland or to the Faroe Islands.

Note: Additional information on the investment climates in the constituent parts of the Kingdom of Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, can be found at the end of this report.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 1 of 180 www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 4 of 190 www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 6 of 131 www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 8,992 apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 63,950 data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

As a small country with an open economy, Denmark is highly dependent on foreign trade and investment. Exports comprise the most significant component (55 percent) of GDP. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) ranks Denmark as the world’s second-most attractive business location after Singapore and the leading nation in the Nordic region. The EIU characterizes Denmark’s business environment as among the most attractive globally, reflecting an excellent infrastructure, a friendly policy towards private enterprise and competition, low bureaucracy, and a well-developed digital sector. Principal concerns include low productivity growth, a high personal tax burden, and limited competition in the retail sector. Overall, however, operating conditions for companies are broadly favorable. Denmark ranks highly in multiple categories, including its political and institutional environment, macroeconomic stability, foreign investment policy, private enterprise policy, financing, and infrastructure.

As of January 2021, the EIU rated Denmark an “AA” country on its Country Risk Service, with a stable outlook. Sovereign risk is rated “A,” and political risk “AAA.” Denmark ranked tenth out of 140 on the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Report, fourth on the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business ranking, and seventh on the EIU 2020 Democracy Index. Denmark has an AAA rating from Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s, and Fitch Group. “Invest in Denmark,” an agency of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and part of the Danish Trade Council, provides detailed information to potential investors. Invest in Denmark has prioritized six sectors in its strategy to attract foreign investment: Tech, Cleantech, Life Science, Food, Maritime, and Design & Innovation. The website for the agency is www.investindk.com .

Corporate tax records of all companies, associations, and foundations that pay taxes in Denmark were made public beginning in December 2012 and are updated annually. The corporate tax rate is 22 percent.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

As an EU member state, Denmark is bound by EU rules on the free movement of goods, capital, persons, and certain services. Denmark welcomes foreign investment and does not distinguish between EU and other investors. There are no additional permits required by foreign investors, nor any reported bias against foreign companies from municipal or national authorities.

Denmark’s central and regional governments actively encourage foreign investment on a national-treatment basis, with relatively few foreign control limits. The Danish government has presented legislation to establish a foreign investment screening mechanism, which is expected to come into force on July 1, 2021.

A foreign or domestic private entity may freely establish, own, and dispose of a business enterprise in Denmark. The capital requirement for establishing a corporation (Aktieselskab A/S) or Limited Partnership (Partnerselskab P/S) is DKK 400,000 (approx. USD 61,000) and for establishing a private limited liability company (Anpartsselskab ApS) DKK 40,000 (approx. USD 6,100).

As of April 15, 2019, it is no longer possible to set up an “Entrepreneurial Company” (IVS). This company type, which required a starting capital of only DKK 1 (USD 0.15), was structured to allow entrepreneurs a cheap and straightforward way to incorporate with limited liability. Due to repeated instances of fraud and unintended use of the IVS, this vehicle was abolished within Denmark but is still available in Greenland. In 2019, the capital requirements to set up a Private Limited Company were lowered, which brought Denmark more in line with other Scandinavian countries. No restrictions apply regarding the residency of directors and managers.

Since October 2004, any private entity may establish a European public limited company (SE company) in Denmark. The legal framework of an SE company is subject to Danish corporate law, but it is possible to change the nationality of the company without liquidation and re-founding. An SE company must be registered at the Danish Business Authority if its official address is in Denmark. The minimum capital requirement is EUR 120,000 (approx. USD 137,000).

Danish professional certification and/or local Danish experience are required to provide professional services in Denmark. In some instances, Denmark may accept equivalent professional certification from other EU or Nordic countries on a reciprocal basis. EU-wide residency requirements apply to the provision of legal and accountancy services.

Ownership restrictions apply to the following sectors:

  • Oil and Gas: Requires 20 percent Danish government participation on a “non-carried interest” basis.
  • Defense: The Minister of Justice must approve foreign investment in defense companies doing business in Denmark if such investment exceeds 40 percent of the equity or more than 20 percent of the voting rights, or if the investment gives the foreign interest a controlling share. This approval is generally granted unless there are security or other foreign policy considerations weighing against approval.
  • Maritime Services: There are foreign (non-EU resident) ownership requirements on Danish-flagged vessels other than those owned by an enterprise incorporated in Denmark. Ships owned by Danish citizens, Danish partnerships, or Danish limited liability companies are eligible for registration in the Danish International Ships Register (DIS). Vessels owned by EU or European Economic Area (EEA) entities with a genuine, demonstrable link to Denmark are also eligible for registration. Foreign companies with a significant Danish interest can register a ship in the DIS.
  • Civil Aviation: For an airline to be established in Denmark, it must have majority ownership and be effectively controlled by an EU state or a national of an EU state, unless otherwise provided for through an international agreement to which the EU is a signatory.
  • Financial Services: Non-resident financial institutions may engage in securities trading on the Copenhagen Stock Exchange only through subsidiaries incorporated in Denmark.
  • Real Estate: Ownership of holiday homes, also known as summer houses, is restricted to Danish citizens. Such homes are generally located along the Danish coastline and may not be used as full-year residences. On a case-by-case basis, the Ministry of Justice may waive the citizenship requirement for those with close familial, linguistic, cultural, or other close connections to Denmark or the specific property. In general, EU and EEA citizens may purchase full-year residential property or real estate that supports self-employment without obtaining prior authorization from the Ministry of Justice. Companies domiciled in an EU or an EEA Member State that have set up or will set up subsidiaries or agencies or will provide services in Denmark may, in general, also purchase real property in Denmark without prior authorization. Non-EU/EEA citizens must obtain authorization from the Ministry of Justice to purchase real estate in Denmark, which is generally granted to those with permanent residence in Denmark or who have lived in Demark for a consecutive period of five years.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The most recent United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) review of Denmark occurred in March 2013 and is available here:  unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/webdiaeia2013d2_en.pdf . There is no specific mention of Denmark in the latest WTO Trade Policy Review of the European Union, revised in December 2019.

The EU Commission’s European Semester documents for Denmark are available here:  ec.europa.eu/info/business-economy-euro/economic-and-fiscal-policy-coordination/eu-economic-governance-monitoring-prevention-correction/european-semester/european-semester-your-country/denmark_en  while a 2017 Foreign Investment Regulation review by DLA Piper can be found here:  www.dlapiper.com/~/media/files/insights/publications/2017/11/denmark.pdf

Denmark ranked first out of 180 in Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index. It received a ranking of four out of 190 for “Ease of Doing Business” in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report, placing it first in Europe. In the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness report for 2019, Denmark was ranked 10 out of 141 countries.

The World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) Global Innovation Index ranked Denmark 6 out of 131 in 2020.

Business Facilitation

The Danish Business Authority (DBA) is responsible for business registrations in Denmark. As a part of the Danish Business Authority, “Business in Denmark,” provides information on relevant Danish rules and online registrations to foreign companies in English. The Danish business registration website, www.virk.dk , is the principal digital tool for licensing and registering companies in Denmark and offers a business registration process that is clear and complete.

Registration of sole proprietorships and partnerships is free of charge. For other types of businesses, online registration costs DKK 670 (approx. USD 103). Registration by email or post costs DKK 2150 (approx. USD 329).

The process for establishing a new business is distinct from that of registration. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ “Invest in Denmark” program provides a step-by-step guide to establishing a business at www.investindk.com/-/media/invest-in-denmark/publications/business-conditions/investindk-fact-sheet-step-by-step-web.ashx , along with other relevant resources at . The services are free of charge and available to all investors, regardless of country of origin.www.investindk.com/Downloads. The services are free of charge and available to all investors, regardless of country of origin.

Processing time for establishing a new business varies depending on the chosen business entity. Establishing a Danish Limited Liability Company (ApS), for example, generally takes four to six weeks for a standard application. Establishing a sole proprietorship (Enkeltmandsvirksomhed) is more straightforward, with processing generally taking about one week.

Those providing temporary services in Denmark must provide their company details to the Registry of Foreign Service Providers (RUT). The website ( www.virk.dk ) provides English guidance on registering a service with RUT. A digital employee’s signature, referred to as a NemID, is required for those wishing to register a foreign company in Denmark. A CPR number (a 10-digit personal identification number) and valid ID are needed to obtain a NemID. Danish citizenship is not a requirement.

Denmark defines small enterprises as those with fewer than 50 employees. Annual revenue or the yearly balance sheet total must be lower than DKK 89 million (approx. USD 13.6 million) or DKK 44 million (approx. USD 6.7 million), respectively. Medium-sized enterprises cannot have more than 250 employees. Limits on annual revenue or the yearly balance sheet total are DKK 313 million (approx. USD 47.9 million) or DKK 156 million (approx. USD 23.9 million).

Outward Investment

Danish companies are not restricted from investing abroad, and Danish outward investment has exceeded inward investments for more than a decade.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Denmark’s judicial system is highly regarded and considered fair. Its legal system is independent of the government’s legislative branch and includes written and consistently applied commercial and bankruptcy laws. Secured interests in property are recognized and enforced. The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2019 Global Competitiveness Report ranked Denmark as the world’s tenth most competitive economy and fourth among EU member states, characterizing it as having among the best functioning and most transparent institutions in the world. Denmark ranks high on specific WEF indices related to macroeconomic stability (1st), labor market (3rd), business dynamism (3rd), institutions (7th), ICT adoption (9th), and skills (3rd).

To facilitate business administration, Denmark maintains only two “legislative days” per year—January 1 and July 1—as the only days when new laws and regulations affecting the business sector can come into effect. Danish laws and policies granting national treatment to foreign investments are designed to increase FDI in Denmark. Denmark consistently applies high standards to health, environment, safety, and labor laws. Danish corporate law is generally in conformity with current EU legislation. The legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are relatively transparent and follow international standards.

Bureaucratic procedures are streamlined and transparent; proposed laws and regulations are published in draft form for public comment. Public finances and debt obligations are transparent.

The Ministry of Taxation publishes and updates annually all companies’ corporate tax records. Greenland and the Faroe Islands retain autonomy for their respective tax policies.

The government uses transparent policies and effective laws to foster competition and establish “clear rules of the game,” consistent with international norms and applicable equally to Danish and foreign entities. The Danish Competition and Consumer Authority works to make markets well-functioning so that businesses compete efficiently on all parameters. The Authority is a government agency under the Danish Ministry of Industry, Business, and Financial Affairs. It enforces the Danish Competition Act. This Act, along with Danish consumer legislation, aims to promote efficient resource allocation in society, promote efficient competition, create a level playing field for enterprises, and protect consumers.

Publicly listed companies in Denmark must adhere to the Danish Financial Statements Act when preparing their annual reports. The accounting principles are International Accounting Standards (IAS), International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), and Danish Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Financial statements must be prepared annually. The Danish Financial Statements Act covers all businesses.

Private limited companies, public limited companies, and corporate funds are obliged to prepare financial statements under accounting classes determined by company size:

  • Small businesses (Class B): Less than an annual average of 50 full-time employees and total assets not exceeding DKK 44 million (USD 6.7 million) or net revenue not exceeding DKK 89 million (USD 13.6 million) during the fiscal year.
  • Medium-sized enterprises (Class C medium): Less than an annual average of 250 full-time employees and total assets not exceeding DKK 156 million (USD 23.9 million) or net revenue not exceeding DKK 313 million (USD 47.9 million) during the fiscal year.
  • Large companies (Class C large): Companies that are neither small nor medium companies.

According to the Danish Financial Statements Act, personally owned businesses, personally owned general partnerships (multiple owners), and general funds are characterized as Class A; there is no requirement to prepare financial statements unless the owner voluntarily chooses to do so.

All government draft proposed regulations are published at “Høringsportalen” ( www.hoeringsportalen.dk ) and are available for comment from interested parties. Following the comment period, the government may revise draft regulations before publication on the Danish Parliament’s website ( www.ft.dk ). Final regulations are published at www.lovtidende.dk  and www.ft.dk . All ministries and agencies are required to publish proposed regulations. Denmark has a World Bank composite score of 4.75″ for the Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance, on a zero to five scale. Concerning governance, the World Bank suggests the following areas for improvement:

  • Affected parties cannot request reconsideration or appeal adopted regulations to the relevant administrative agency.
  • There is no existing requirement that regulations be periodically reviewed to see whether they should be revised or eliminated.

International Regulatory Considerations

Denmark adheres to the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMs); no inconsistencies have been reported.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Denmark’s decision-making power is divided into the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The principles of separation of power and an independent judiciary help ensure democracy and Danish citizens’ legal rights. The district courts, the high courts, and the Supreme Court represent the Danish legal system’s three basic levels. The legal system also comprises other institutions with special functions, e.g., the Maritime and Commercial Court.

For further information, please see:  domstol.dk/om-os/english/the-danish-judicial-system/  

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The government agency “Invest in Denmark” is part of the Danish Trade Council and is situated within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The agency provides detailed information to potential investors. The website for the agency is  investindk.com . The Faroese government promotes Faroese trade and investment through its website  faroeislands.fo/economy-business . For further information concerning Greenland’s investment potential, please see Greenland Holding at  www.venture.gl  or the Greenland Tourism & Business Council at  visitgreenland.com .

As an EU member state, Denmark is bound by EU rules on the free movement of goods, capital, persons, and certain services. Denmark welcomes foreign investment and does not distinguish between EU and other investors. There are no additional permits required of foreign investors, nor any reported biases against foreign companies from municipal or national authorities.

The Danish government has presented legislation to establish a foreign investment screening mechanism, which is expected to enter into force on July 1, 2021. The screening mechanism would be in line with the EU investment screening framework encouraging member states to screen foreign investments in critical infrastructure and other sensitive sectors.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Danish Competition and Consumer Authority (CCA) reviews transactions for competition-related concerns. According to the Danish Competition Act, the CCA requires notification of mergers and takeovers if the aggregate annual revenue in Denmark of all undertakings involved is more than DKK 900 million (USD 137.7 million) and the aggregate yearly revenue in Denmark of each of at least two of the undertakings concerned is more than DKK 100 million (USD 15.3 million), or if the aggregate annual revenue in Denmark of at least one of the undertakings involved is more than DKK 3.8 billion (USD 581.5 million) and the aggregate yearly worldwide revenue of at least one of the other undertakings concerned is more than DKK 3.8 billion (581.5 million). When a merger results from the acquisition of parts of one or more undertakings, the calculation of the revenue referred to shall only comprise the share of the revenue of the seller or sellers that relates to the assets acquired. Merger control provisions are contained in Part Four of the  Danish Competition Act and in the Executive Order on the Notification of Mergers . Revenue is calculated under the Executive Order on the Calculation of Turnover in the Competition Act .

A full notification of a merger must include the information and documents specified in the full notification form, Annex 1 – Information for Full Notification of Mergers . A simplified notification of a merger must include the information and documents specified in the simplified notification form, Annex 2 – Information for Simplified Notification of Mergers . From August 1, 2013, merger fees are payable for merger notifications submitted to the Competition and Consumer Authority. The fee for a simplified notification amounts to DKK 50,000 (USD 7,650). The fee for a full notification amounts to 0.015 percent of the aggregate annual turnover in Denmark of the undertakings involved; this fee is capped at DKK 1,500,000 (USD 230,000).

Additional information concerning notification of mergers is available in the Guidelines to the Executive Order on Notification of Mergers and on Merger Fees . More general information on Danish merger control can be found in the Merger Guidelines .

A merger or takeover is subject to approval by the CCA. Large-scale mergers also require approval from EU competition authorities.

Expropriation and Compensation

By law, private property can only be expropriated for public purposes, in a non-discriminatory manner, with reasonable compensation, and under established principles of international law. There have been no recent expropriations of significance in Denmark.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

There have been no significant investment disputes in Denmark in recent years. Denmark has been a member of the World Bank-based International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) since 1968. The ICSID Convention has been extended to include the Faroe Islands. Denmark is a party to the 1958 (New York) Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, meaning local courts must enforce international arbitration awards that meet specific criteria. Subsequent Danish legislation makes international arbitration of investment disputes binding in Denmark. Denmark declared in 1976 that the New York Convention applies to the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Denmark is a party to the 1961 European Convention on International Commercial Arbitration and to the 1962 Agreement relating to the application of this Convention. Denmark adopted the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration in 1985.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

N/A

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

N/A

Bankruptcy Regulations

Monetary judgments under the bankruptcy law are made in freely convertible Danish Kroner. The bankruptcy law addresses creditors’ claims in the following order: (1) costs and debt accrued during the treatment of the bankruptcy; (2) costs, including the court tax, relating to attempts to find a solution other than bankruptcy; (3) wage claims and holiday pay; (4) excise taxes owed to the government; and (5) all other claims. In the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report, Denmark ranks 6th in “resolving insolvency.”

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Performance incentives are available to both foreign and domestic investors. Examples include grants or preferential financing in designated regional development areas. Investments in Greenland may be eligible for incentives as well. Foreign subsidiaries located in Denmark can participate in government-financed or subsidized research programs on a national-treatment basis.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The only free port in Denmark is the Copenhagen Free Port, operated by the Port of Copenhagen. The Port of Copenhagen and the Port of Malmö (Sweden) merged their commercial operations in 2001, including the free port activities, in a joint company named CMP. CMP is one of the largest port and terminal operators in the Nordic Region and one of the largest Northern European cruise ship ports; it occupies a key position in the Baltic Sea Region for the distribution of cars and transit of oil. The facilities in the Free Port are mainly used for tax-free warehousing of imported goods, for exports, and for in-transit trade. Tax and duties are not payable until cargo leaves the Free Port. The processing of cargo and the preparation and finishing of imported automobiles for sale can freely be set up in the Free Port. Manufacturing operations can be established with permission of the customs authorities, which is granted if special reasons exist for having the facility in the Free Port area. The Copenhagen Free Port welcomes foreign companies establishing warehouse and storage facilities.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Performance requirements are applied only in connection with investments in hydrocarbon exploration, where concession terms typically require a fixed work program, including seismic surveys and, in some cases, exploratory drilling, consistent with applicable EU directives. Performance requirements are primarily designed to protect the environment, mainly by encouraging reduced energy and water use. Several environmental and energy requirements are universally applied to households as well as businesses in Denmark, both foreign and domestic. For instance, Denmark was the first of the EU countries, in January 1993, to introduce a carbon dioxide (CO2) tax on business and industry. This includes specific reimbursement schemes and subsidy measures to reduce the costs for businesses, thereby safeguarding competitiveness.

Performance requirements are governed by Danish legislation and EU regulations. Potential violations of the rules governing this area are punishable by fines or imprisonment.

Performance requirements are applied uniformly to domestic and foreign investors.

The Danish government does not follow “forced localization” policies, nor does it require foreign IT providers to turn over source code or provide access to surveillance. The Danish Data Protection Agency, a government agency, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry for Culture are the entities involved with data storage.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Property rights in Denmark are well protected by law and in practice. Real estate is chiefly financed through the well-established Danish mortgage bond credit system, the security of which compares to that of government bonds. To comply with the covered bond definition in the EU Capital Requirements Directive (CRD), the Danish mortgage banking regulation was amended effective July 1, 2007. With the amended Danish mortgage banking regulation, commercial banks now have the same opportunities as mortgage banks and ship-financing institutions to issue covered bonds. Only issuers that have been granted a license from the Danish Financial Supervisory Authority (FSA) are permitted to issue Danish covered bonds.

Secured interests in property are recognized and enforced in Denmark. All mortgage credits in real estate are recorded in local public registers of mortgages. Except for interests in cars and commercial ships, which are also publicly recorded, other property interests are generally unrecorded. The local public registers are a reliable system of recording security interests. Denmark is ranked 11th in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 Report for its ease of “registering property.” Denmark ranked 10th out of 129 countries in the Property Rights Alliance’s International Property Rights Index 2020, and 6th in its region.

Intellectual Property Rights

Intellectual property rights (IPR) in Denmark are well protected and enforced. Denmark has ratified and adheres to key international conventions and treaties concerning protection of IPR , including the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and several treaties administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), including the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.

For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IPR offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at www.wipo.int/directory/en .

A list of attorneys in Denmark known to accept foreign clients can be found at dk.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/attorneys.  This list of attorneys and law firms is provided by the American Embassy as a convenience to U.S. citizens. It is not intended to be a comprehensive list of attorneys in Denmark, and the absence of an attorney from the list is in no way a reflection on competence. A complete list of attorneys in Denmark, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands may be found at the Danish Bar Association web site: www.advokatnoeglen.dk .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Denmark has fully liberalized foreign exchange flows, including those for direct and portfolio investment purposes. Credit is allocated on market terms and is freely available. Denmark adheres to its IMF Article VIII obligations. The Danish banking system is under the regulatory oversight of the Financial Supervisory Authority. Differentiated voting rights – A and B stocks – are used to some extent, and several Danish companies are controlled by foundations, which can restrict potential hostile takeovers, including foreign takeovers.

The Danish stock market functions efficiently. In 2005, the Copenhagen Stock Exchange became part of the integrated Nordic and Baltic marketplace, OMX Exchanges, which is headquartered in Stockholm. Besides Stockholm and Copenhagen, OMX also includes the stock exchanges in Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius. To increase the access to capital for primarily small companies, the OMX in December 2005 opened a Nordic alternative marketplace – “First North” – in Denmark. In February 2008, the exchanges were acquired by the NASDAQ-OMX Group. In the World Economic Forum 2019 report, Denmark ranks 11th out of 141 on the metric “Financial System”.

The Danish stock market is divided into four different branches/indexes. The C25 index contains the 25 most valuable companies in Denmark. Other large companies with a market value exceeding EUR 1 billion (USD 1.1 billion) are in the group of “Large Cap,” companies with a market value between EU 150 million (USD 171) and 1 billion Euro (USD 1.14 billion) belong to the “Mid Cap” segment, while companies with a market value smaller than EU 150 million belong to “Small Cap” group.

Money and Banking System

The major Danish banks are rated by international agencies, and their creditworthiness is rated as high by international standards. The European Central Bank and the Danish National Bank reported that Denmark’s major banks have passed stress tests by considerable margins.

Denmark’s banking sector is relatively large; based on the ratio of consolidated banking assets to GDP, the sector is three times bigger than the national economy. By January 2021, the total of Danish shares valued DKK 3.82 trillion (USD 584 billion) and were owned 52.5 percent by foreign owners and 47.5 percent by Danish owners, including 13 percent held by households and 7 percent by the government. The three largest Danish banks – Danske Bank, Nordea Bank Danmark, and Jyske Bank – hold approximately 75 percent of the total assets in the Danish banking sector.

The primary goal of the Central Bank (Nationalbanken) is to maintain the peg of the Danish currency to the Euro – with allowed fluctuations of 2.25 percent. It also functions as the general lender to Danish commercial banks and controls the money supply in the economy.

As occurred in many countries, Danish banks experienced significant turbulence in 2008 – 2009. The Danish Parliament subsequently passed a series of measures to establish a “safety net” program, provide government lending to financial institutions in need of capital to uphold their solvency requirements, and ensure the orderly winding down of failed banks. The Parliament passed an additional measure, the fourth Bank Package, in August 2011, which sought to identify systemically important financial institutions, ensure the liquidity of banks which assume control of a troubled bank, support banks acquiring troubled banks by allowing them to write off obligations of the troubled bank to the government, and change the funding mechanism for the sector-funded guarantee fund to a premiums-based, pay-as-you-go system. According to the Danish Government, Bank Package 4 provides mechanisms for a sector solution to troubled banks without senior debt holder losses but does not supersede earlier legislation. As such, senior debt holder losses are still a possibility in the event of a bank failure.

On October 10, 2013, the Danish Minister for Business and Growth concluded a political agreement with broad political support which, based on the most recent financial statements, identified specific financial institutions as “systemically important” (SIFI). The SIFI in Denmark at the end of 2019 were Danske Bank A/S, Nykredit Realkredit A/S, Jyske Bank A/S, Nordea Kredit Realkredit A/S, Sydbank A/S, Spar Nord Bank A/S and DLR Kredit A/S. These were identified based on three quantitative measures: 1) a balance sheet to GDP ratio above 6.5 percent; 2) market share of lending in Denmark above 5 percent; or 3) market share of deposits in Denmark above three percent. If an institution is above the requirement of any one of the three measures, it will be considered systemically important and must adhere to the stricter requirements on capitalization, liquidity, and resolution. The Faroese SIFI are P/F BankNordik, Betri Banki P/F and Norðoya Sparikassi, while Grønlandsbanken is the only SIFI in Greenland.

Experts expect a revision of the Danish system of troubled financial institution resolution mechanisms in connection with a decision to join the EU Banking Union. The national payment system, “Nets” was sold to a consortium consisting of Advent International Corp., Bain Capital LLC, and Danish pension fund ATP in March 2014 for DKK 17 billion (USD 2.60 billion). Nets went public with an IPO late 2016.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Exchange rate conversions throughout this document are based on the 2020 average exchange rate where Danish Kroner (DKK) 6.5343703 = 1 USD.

There are no restrictions on converting or transferring funds associated with an investment into or out of Denmark. Policies in place are intended to facilitate the free flow of capital and to support the flow of resources in the product and services markets. Foreign investors can obtain credit in the local market at normal market terms, and a wide range of credit instruments is available.

Denmark has not adopted the Euro currency. The country meets the EU’s economic convergence criteria for membership and can join if it wishes to do so. Denmark conducts a fixed exchange rate policy with the Danish Krone linked closely to the Euro within the ERM II framework. The Danish Krone (DKK; plural: Kroner, in English, “the Crown”) has a fluctuation band of +/- 2.25 percent of the central rate of DKK 746.038 per 100 Euro. The Danish Government supports inclusion in a European Banking Union, if it can be harmonized with the Danish Euro opt-out and there is a guarantee that the Danish mortgage finance system will be allowed to continue in its present form.

The Danish political reservation concerning Euro participation can only be abolished by national referendum, and Danish voters have twice (in 1992 and 2000) voted it down. The government has stated that it supports adopting the Euro in principle, but no referendum is expected for the foreseeable future. Regular polling on this issue shows a majority of public opinion remains in favor of keeping the Krone. According to the Stability and Growth Pact, a Euro country’s debt to GDP ratio cannot exceed 60 percent and budget deficit to GDP ratio cannot exceed three percent.

Denmark’s debt to GDP ratio is projected to have increased from 33.3 percent in 2019 to 43.5 percent in 2020 (final statistics for 2020 were pending when this report was published). Denmark is also projected to have run a 3.5 percent budget deficit in 2020, after running a 3.8 percent budget surplus in 2019 and a 0.7 percent surplus in 2018.

Remittance Policies

N/A

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Denmark maintains no sovereign wealth funds.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Denmark is party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO). State owned entities (SOEs) hold dominant positions in rail, energy, utilities, and broadcast media in Denmark. Large-scale public procurement must go through public tender in accordance with EU legislation. Competition from SOEs is not considered a barrier to foreign investment in Denmark. As an OECD member, Denmark promotes and upholds the OECD Corporate Governance Principals and subsidiary SOE Guidelines.

Privatization Program

Denmark has no current plans to privatize its SOEs.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

As an OECD member, Denmark promotes, through the Danish Business Authority, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Denmark’s National Contact Point can be reached at:  mneguidelines.oecd.org/National-Contact-Points-Website-Contact-Details.pdf 

From January 1, 2016, the largest companies must account for their responsible business conduct, including with respect to human rights and to reducing the climate impact of the company’s activities. Additionally, target figures for the gender composition of the Board of Directors, as well as policies for increasing the proportion of the underrepresented gender at the company’s management levels, must be reported (Danish Financial Statements Act, sections 99a and 99b). From January 2018, the mandate also applies to medium-sized businesses (exempting small- and micro-companies).

The Danish Business Authority published a National Action Plan to advance Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) in Denmark in 2012, covering the 2012 – 2015 period. It contained 42 initiatives focusing on business-driven CSR. In October 2019, the government launched a public hearing process to “investigate how reporting can be made more comparable and create more transparency for the benefit of society and the companies themselves. The purpose is to increase transparency about whether companies are living up to their corporate social responsibility, that sustainable companies have better access to investment and that companies experience a positive value from their CSR reporting.” The government received recommendations in October 2020 and is working on new initiatives. The government hosts  www.csrkompasset.dk/  (English language version  www.csrcompass.com/ ), a free online tool that can help companies implement responsible supply chain management. The tool is targeted at small and medium-sized production, trade, and service companies. The structure of the CSR Compass and its advice and guidelines are in line with national and international trends and best practice standards, including the UN Global Compact, OECD’s guidelines for multinational companies, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), the Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI), the Danish Ethical Trading Initiative (DIEH), and the Danish Council on Corporate Social Responsibility’s guidelines for responsible supply chain management.

Denmark is a signatory of the Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies.

Additional Resources 

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Denmark is perceived as the least corrupt country in the world according to the 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International, which has local representation in Denmark. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for combating corruption, which is covered under the Danish Penal Code. Penalties for violations range from fines to imprisonment of up to four years for a private individual’s involvement and up to six years for a public employee’s involvement. Since 1998, Danish businesses cannot claim a tax deduction for the cost of bribes paid to officials abroad.

Denmark is a signatory to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery, the UN Anticorruption Convention, and a participating member of the OECD Working Group on Bribery. In the Working Group’s 2015 Phase 3 follow-up report on Denmark, the Working Group concluded “that Denmark has partially implemented most of its Phase 3 recommendations. However, concerns remain over Denmark’s enforcement of the foreign bribery offence.”

Resources to Report Corruption

Resources to which corruption may be reported:

The Danish State Prosecutor for Serious Economic and International Crime
Kampmannsgade, 11604 København V
Phone: +45 72 68 90 00
Fax: +45 45 15 01 19
Email:  saoek@ankl.dk 

To report any knowledge of corruption within Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs development assistance agency DANIDA projects or among staff, or DANIDA partners: um.dk/en/danida-en/about-danida/Danida-transparency/anti-corruption/report-corruption/  

“Watchdog” Organization:

Transparency International Danmark
c/o CBS
Dalgas Have 15, 2. sal, lokale 2c008
2000 Frederiksberg
The Secretariat is manned by Rosa Bisgaard and Oliver Kofod Nørgård, who can be reached at  sekretariatet@transparency.dk 

Contact at Embassy Copenhagen responsible for combating corruption:

Aaron Daviet
Political Officer
U.S. Department of State
Dag Hammarskjolds Alle 24, 2100 Copenhagen, Denmark
+45 3341 7100
CopenhagenICS@state.gov 

10. Political and Security Environment

Denmark is a politically stable country. Incidents involving politically motivated damage to projects or installations are very rare. The EIU rates Denmark “AAA” for political risk.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The Danish labor force is generally well-educated and efficient. English language skills are good, and English is considered a natural second language among a very high proportion of Danes. The labor market is stable and flexible. U.S. companies operating in Denmark have indicated that Danish rules on hiring and firing employees generally enable employers to adjust the workforce quickly to changing market conditions.

The Danish labor force amounted to approximately 2.86 million people at the end of 2020. Of these, 891,000 (Q4, 2019) are employed in the public sector. Denmark’s OECD-harmonized unemployment rate was 6.1 percent in February 2021, lower than the EU-27’s rate of 7.5 percent and OECD average of 6.66 percent.

The public sector in Denmark is large and accounts for about 25 percent of the labor force. The labor force participation rate for women is among the highest in the world. In 2019, 75.6 percent of working-age women participated in the labor force, and the employment rate was 72.9 percent. The working-age male labor force participation rate and employment rate were 79.2 percent and 76.7 percent, respectively.

The Danish labor force is highly organized, with approximately 75 percent belonging to a union. Labor disputes and strikes occur only sporadically. In general, private sector labor/ management relations are excellent, based on dialogue and consensus rather than confrontation. Working conditions are established through a complex system of legislation and organizational agreements, where most aspects of wage and working conditions are determined through collective bargaining rather than legislation.

The contractual work week for most wage earners is 37.5 hours. By law, employees are entitled to five weeks of paid annual leave. In practice, most of the labor force has the right to six weeks of paid annual leave, gained through other labor market agreements.

Denmark has well-functioning unemployment insurance and sick-pay schemes, self-financed or financed by the state. Maternity leave in Denmark is 52 weeks, 18 of which are reserved for the mother (four weeks prior to birth, 14 after) and two for the father, while the remainder may be divided between the parents as they see fit. Employers are obliged to pay salary for at least 14 weeks, while the government supports the rest of the leave. Forthcoming EU legislation will earmark eight of the 52 weeks’ leave to fathers. The legislation is expected to be enacted in member states before 2022.

Danish wages are high by international standards and have prompted the use of capital-intensive technologies in many sectors. Some investors report that the high average wage level is detrimental to Danish competitiveness. Although high wages and generous benefits, including time off, reduce competitiveness, high productivity and low direct costs to employers can result in per employee costs that are lower than in other industrialized countries. Nominal wages increased by 2.3 percent from Q4 2019 to Q4 2020, while inflation was 0.4 percent, enhancing real wage increases. Nominal wages were forecast to increase significantly annually towards 2022, but the current situation makes forecasts highly uncertain.

Generally, personal income tax rates in Denmark are among the highest in the world. However, foreign employees making more than an amount specified annually by the Danish Immigration Service and certain researchers may choose to be subject to a 27 percent income tax rate, plus a labor market contribution amounting to 32.84 percent income tax in the first seven years of working in Denmark. Certain conditions must be fulfilled for key employees to be eligible for the 27 percent tax rate: for example, since January 1, 2020, wages must total at least DKK 69,600 (USD 10,650) per month before the deduction of labor market contributions and after Danish labor market supplementary pension contributions. There are also limits based on an individual’s previous work history in the Danish labor market. Compared with the general Danish progressive income tax system, this is an attractive incentive. Further information can be obtained from Danish embassies or from the Danish Immigration Service ( www.nyidanmark.dk ).

Danish work permits are not required for citizens of EU countries. U.S. companies have reported that in general, work permits for foreign managerial staff may be readily obtained. However, permits for non-managerial workers from countries outside the EU and the Nordic countries are granted only if substantial professional or labor-related conditions warrant. Special rules detailed by the Danish Immigration Service in its “Positive List Scheme” apply to certain professional fields experiencing a shortage of qualified manpower. The list is updated twice annually. Foreigners who have been hired in the designated fields will be immediately eligible for residence and work permits. The minimum educational level required for a position on the Positive List is a Professional Bachelor’s degree, e.g., pedagogue. In some cases, a Danish authorization must be obtained. This is explicitly stated on the Positive List. (E.g., non-Danish trained doctors must be authorized by the Danish Patient Safety Authority.) Professions covered by the Positive List Scheme included engineers, scientists, doctors, nurses, IT specialists, marine biologists, lawyers, accountants and a wide range of other master’s or bachelor’s degree positions. As of 2021, the Pay Limit Scheme extends to positions with an annual pay of no less than DKK 445,000 (USD 68,100), regardless of the field or specific nature of the job. Persons who have been offered a highly paid job have particularly easy access to the Danish labor market through the Pay Limit Scheme. The length of work and residence permits granted under the Pay Limit Scheme depends on the length of the employment contract in Denmark. For permanent employment contracts, work permits are granted for an initial period of four years. After this period, the permit can be extended if the same job is held. There are several other schemes meant to make it easier for certified companies to bring employees with special skills or qualifications to Denmark. These schemes vary in duration and requirements.

Danish immigration law also allows issuance of residency permits of up to 18 months duration based on an individual evaluation, using a point system based on education, language skills and adaptability.

Denmark has ratified all eight ILO Core Conventions and been an ILO member since 1919.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Denmark
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 $350,000 2019 $350,000 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $16,508 2019 $8,992 BEA data available at apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $37,350 2019 $23,870 BEA data available at www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 $105,748 2019 30.4% UNCTAD data available atunctad.org/topic/investment/world-investment-report
* Source for Host Country Data: Statistics Denmark ( www.dst.dk )
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 185,100 100% Total Outward 283,461 100%
Sweden 26,300 14.2% United States 37,351 13.2%
Netherlands 18,700 10.1% United Kingdom 37,259 13.1%
Norway 18,200 9.8% Sweden 36,493 12.9%
United Kingdom 18,100 9.8% Germany 30,674 10.8%
United States 16,500 8.9% Singapore 16,631 5.9%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 567,534 100% All Countries 336,821 100% All Countries 230,712 100%
United States 179,992 32% United States 139,607 41% Germany 52,776 23%
Germany 64,051 11% Luxembourg 37,372 11% United States 40,385 18%
Luxembourg 40,298 7% Ireland 25,949 8% Sweden 23,818 10%
Ireland 35,464 6% United Kingdom 19,355 6% France 11,276 5%
Sweden 32,168 6% Japan 13,159 4% Ireland 9,515 4%

14. Contact for More Information

Kristen Stolt
Economic Officer
U.S. Embassy Denmark
Dag Hammarskjölds Alle 24,
2100 Copenhagen, Denmark
Email: CopenhagenICS@state.gov

Finland

Executive Summary

Finland is a Nordic country located north of the Baltic States bordering Russia, Sweden, and Norway, possessing a stable and modern economy, including a world-class investment climate. It is a member of the European Union and part of the euro area. The country has a highly skilled, educated, and multilingual labor force, with strong expertise in Information Communications Technology (ICT), shipbuilding, forestry, and renewable energy. Finland offers stability, functionality, high quality of living, and a highly developed digital infrastructure.

Key challenges for foreign investors include high personal and VAT tax rates, a rigid labor market and bureaucratic red tape in starting certain businesses and opening bank accounts, although in June 2016 the Government enacted a Competitiveness Pact that aims to reduce labor costs, increase hours worked, and introduce more flexibility into the wage bargaining system. An aging population and the shrinking working-age population are the most pressing issues that could limit growth opportunities for Finland.

During 2019, the total value of FDI grew by USD 15.1 billion to USD 85.5 billion, of which equity accounted for USD 69.63 billion and the value of debt capital for USD 15.9 billion. Sweden accounts for 28 percent of Finland’s FDI; Luxembourg – 15 percent; the Netherlands – 15 percent; Norway – 6 percent; and Denmark 5 percent. Approximately 82 percent of Finland’s FDI is from EU member states.

According to Ernst & Young’s Nordics Attractiveness Survey 2019, Finland secured a record high of 194 FDI projects; more projects than all the other Nordic countries combined in 2018. The 2019 survey was Finland’s seventh consecutive as the Nordic leader in new FDI projects – the largest category being Sweden-based businesses (53), followed by UK-based – 19; the United States – 18; Germany – 15; Norway – 13; and China – 13.

To attract investment over the years, the Government of Finland (GOF) cut the corporate tax rate in 2014 from 24.5 percent to 20 percent, simplified its residence permit procedures for foreign specialists, and created a one-stop-shop for foreign investors called Business Finland.

The U.S. Embassy in Helsinki, through the Foreign Commercial Service and Political/Economic Sections, is a strong partner for U.S. businesses that wish to connect to the Finnish market. Finland has vibrant telecommunication, energy, and biotech sectors, as well as Arctic expertise. With excellent transportation links to the Nordic-Baltic region and Russia, Finland is a developing transportation hub.

On January 1, 2018, Finpro, the Finnish trade promotion organization, and Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation, united to become Business Finland, which is now the single operator working to facilitate foreign direct investment in Finland. Business Finland is the Finnish government organization for innovation funding and trade, travel, and investment promotion. Business Finland’s 600 experts work in 40 offices abroad and in 16 offices in Finland.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 3 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 20 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 7 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 3,745 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 50,010 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Finnish government is open to foreign direct investment. There are no general regulatory limitations relating to acquisitions. A mixture of domestic and EU competition rules govern mergers and acquisitions. Finland does not preclude foreign investment, but some tax policies may make it unattractive to investors. Finnish tax authorities treat the movement of ownership of shares from a Finnish company to a foreign company as a taxable event, though Finland complies with EU directives that require it to allow such transactions based in other EU member states without taxing them.

Finland does not grant foreign-owned firms preferential treatment like tax holidays or other subsidies not available to all firms. Instead, Finland relies on policies that seek to offer both domestic and international firms better operating conditions, an educated labor force, and well-functioning infrastructure. Companies benefit from preferential trade arrangements through Finland’s membership in the EU and the World Trade Organization (WTO), in addition to the protection offered by Finland’s bilateral investment treaties with sixty-seven countries. The corporate income tax rate is 20 percent.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

The Regulation of the European Parliament and the Council on establishing a framework for the national security screening of high-risk foreign investments into the Union entered into force on April 10, 2019. At the moment, 17 Member States, including Finland, have national screening systems in place.

The law governing foreign investments is the Act on the Monitoring of Foreign Corporate Acquisitions in Finland (172/2012). The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment (TEM) monitors and confirms foreign corporate acquisitions. TEM decides whether an acquisition conflicts with “vital national interests” including securing national defense, as well as safeguarding public order and security. If TEM finds that a key national interest is jeopardized, it must refer the matter to the Council of State, which may refuse to approve the acquisition.

To meet the EU FDI screening regulation amendments to national legislation (the Act on the Screening of Foreign Corporate Acquisitions in Finland) entered into force in October 2020. National law continues to be premised on a positive attitude towards foreign investments, but authorities can exercise control over the ownership of companies considered essential in terms of the security of supply and national security and, if necessary, restrict foreign ownership in such companies. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment will act as the national contact point for cooperation and exchange of information between EU Member States and the European Union, and matters relating to the implementation of the EU Regulation establishing a framework for the screening of foreign direct investments. The Act also includes new provisions on the setting of conditions that attach to decisions of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment regarding the approval of corporate acquisitions, inadmissibility of matters, circumvention of the Act, and the disclosure of secret information to public authorities. In addition, it will be necessary to apply for an advance approval by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment when making corporate acquisitions in the security sector in the future.

In the non-military sector, Finnish companies considered critical for securing vital functions of society are subject to screening.

For defense acquisitions, monitoring applies to all foreign owners, who must apply for prior approval. “Defense” includes all entities that supply or have supplied goods or services to the Finnish Ministry of Defense, the Finnish Defense Forces, the Finnish Border Guard, as well as entities dealing in dual-use goods. The substantive elements in evaluating the application are identical to those applied to other corporate acquisitions.

In regards to defense industry, monitoring covers all foreign owners. In other sectors, screening only applies to foreign owners residing or domiciled outside the EU or EFTA. There are no formal requirements for the layout of the application and notification submitted to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment. However, the Ministry has drawn up instructions for preparing the application/notification. The application and notification must also be accompanied by a form containing the information required by the EU Regulation. Starting January 1, 2021, TEM charges a fee of EUR 5,000 for the processing of each application for confirming a foreign corporate acquisition. For more see: https://tem.fi/en/acquisition 

On February 26, 2019, the Finnish Parliament approved a law (HE 253/2018) that requires non-EU/ETA foreign individuals or entities to receive Defense Ministry permission before they purchase real estate in Finland. Even companies registered in Finland, but whose decision-making bodies are at least of one-tenth non-EU/ETA origin will have to seek a permit. The law, which took effect in early 2020, states that non-EU/ETA property purchasers can still buy residential housing and condominiums without restrictions. More info can be found here: https://www.defmin.fi/en/licences_and_services/authorisation_to_non-eu_and_non-eea_buyers_to_buy_real_estate#be2e4cd8 

Private ownership is common practice in Finland, and in most fields of business participation by foreign companies or individuals is unrestricted. When the government privatizes state-owned enterprises, both private and foreign participation is allowed except in enterprises operating in sectors related to national security.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Finland has been a member of the WTO and the EU since 1995. The WTO conducted its Trade Policy Review of the European Union (including Finland) in May 2017: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp457_e.htm .

Finland, in the past three years, has not undergone an investment policy review by the World Trade Organization (WTO), the United Nations Committee on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), or the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Business Facilitation

All businesses in Finland must be publicly registered at the Finnish Trade Register. Businesses must also notify the Register of any changes to registration information and most must submit their financial statements (annual accounts) to the register. The website is: https://www.prh.fi/en/kaupparekisteri.html . The Business Information System BIS (“YTJ” in Finnish, https://www.prh.fi/en/kaupparekisteri/rekisterointipalvelut/ytj.html ) is an online service enabling investors to start a business or organization, report changes, close down a business, or conduct searches.

Permits, licenses, and notifications required depend on whether the foreign entrepreneur originates from a Nordic country, the European Union, or elsewhere. The type of company also affects the permits required, which can include the registration of the right to residency, residence permits for an employee or self-employed person, and registration in the Finnish Population Information System. A foreigner may need a permit from the Finnish Patent and Registration Office to serve as a partner in a partnership or administrative body of a company. For more information: https://www.suomi.fi/company/responsibilities-and-obligations/permits-and-obligations . Improvements made in 2016 to the residence permit system for foreign specialists, defined as those with a specific field of expertise, a university degree, and who earn at least EUR 3,000 gross per month, should help attract experts to Finland. An online permit application ( https://enterfinland.fi/eServices ) available since November 2016 has made it easier for family members to acquire a residence permit. In December 2020, the Finnish Immigration Service reported that the average processing time for foreign specialist residency permits was two weeks. The practice of some trades in Finland requires only notification or registration with the authorities. Other trades, however, require a separate license; companies should confirm requirements with Finnish authorities. Entrepreneurs must take out pension insurance for their employees, and certain fields obligate additional insurance. All businesses have a statutory obligation to maintain financial accounts, and, with the exception of small companies, businesses must appoint an external auditor.

Finland ranks 20th according to the World Bank Group’s 2020 Doing Business Index; it ranked 31st on “Starting a Business” ( http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/finland ). According to a 2016 study (FDI Attractiveness Scoreboard) by the European Commission, Finland is the most attractive EU country for FDI in terms of the political, regulatory and legal environment.

Finland, together with Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands scored the highest ratings in EU’s Digital Economy and Society Index 2020 DESI, naming these countries the global leaders in digitalization. DESI summarizes relevant indicators on Europe’s digital performance and tracks the evolution of EU Member States in digital competitiveness.

Gender inequality is low in Finland, which ranks third in the 2020 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index. Finland has the lowest gender pay gap in the OECD, thanks to decades of gender friendly policies. The employment gap between disadvantaged groups and prime-age men is among the ten lowest in the OECD, albeit higher than in all the other Nordics.

Outward Investment

Business Finland, part of the Team Finland network, helps Finnish SMEs go international, encourages foreign direct investment in Finland, and promotes tourism. Business Finland has a staff of around 600 persons and nearly 40 offices abroad. It operates16 regional offices in Finland and focuses on agricultural technology, clean technology, connectivity, e-commerce, education, ICT and digitalization, mining, and mobility as a service. While many of Business Finland’s programs are export-oriented, they also seek to offer business and network opportunities. More info here: https://www.businessfinland.fi/en/do-business-with-finland/home /. In 2018, the Ministry of Education and Culture launched the Team Finland Knowledge network to enhance international education and research cooperation and the export of Finnish educational expertise.

The government does not generally restrict domestic investors from investing abroad. The only exceptions are linked to matters of national security and national defense. The Defense Ministry is responsible for approving exports of arms for military use, while the National Police Board grants permission for the export of civilian weapons and the Foreign Ministry oversees exports of dual-use products. Export control seeks to promote responsible export of Finnish technology and to prevent the use of Finnish technology for the development of WMDs, for undesirable military ends, for uses against the interests of Finland, or for purposes that violate human rights.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Securities Market Act (SMA) contains regulations on corporate disclosure procedures and requirements, responsibility for flagging share ownership, insider regulations and offenses, the issuing and marketing of securities, and trading. The clearing of securities trades is subject to licensing and is supervised by the Financial Supervision Authority. The SMA is at https://www.finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/2012/en20120746_20130258.pdf .

See the Financial Supervisory Authority’s overview of regulations for listed companies here: https://www.finanssivalvonta.fi/en/capital-markets/issuers-and-investors/regulation-of-listed-companies/ . Finland is currently not a member of the UNCTAD Business Facilitation Program https://businessfacilitation.org/ .

The Act on the Openness of Public Documents establishes the openness of all records in the possession of officials of the state, municipalities, registered religious communities, and corporations that perform legally mandated public duties, such as pension funds and public utilities. Exceptions can only be made by law or by an executive order for reasons such as national security. For more information, see the Ministry of Justice’s page on Openness: https://oikeusministerio.fi/en/act-on-the-openness-of-government-activities . The Act on the Openness of Government Activities can be found here: https://www.finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/1999/en19990621 .

Finland ranks third on The World Justice Project (WJP) Rule of Law Index (2020) regarding constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice and criminal justice. For more, see: https://worldjusticeproject.org/our-work/research-and-data/wjp-rule-law-index-2020 . Finland ranks fourth on World Bank’s Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance: http://rulemaking.worldbank.org/en/data/explorecountries/finland .

Availability of official information in Finland is the best in the EU, according to a report by the Center for Data Information (2017). The newly established Digital and Population Data Services Agency (2020) is responsible for developing and maintaining the national open data portal https://www.avoindata.fi/en 

Finland joined the Open Government Partnership Initiative (OGP) in April 2013. The global OGP-initiative aims at promoting more transparent, effective, and accountable public administration. The goal is to develop dialogue between citizens and administration and to enhance citizen engagement. The OGP aims at concrete commitments from participating countries to promote transparency, to fight corruption, to citizen participation and to the use of new technologies. Finland’s 4th national Open Government Action Plan for 2019–2023 was published in September 2019.

The current Government Program (issued in December 2019) sets openness of public information, including open data, application programming interface APIs and open source software, as key goals of the administration.

The status of Finland’s public finances is available at Statistics Finland, Finland’s official statistics agency: https://www.stat.fi/til/jul_en.html 

The status of Finland’s national debt is available at the State Treasury: https://www.treasuryfinland.fi/statistics/statistics-on-central-government-debt/#2fcc85c1 

International Regulatory Considerations

Finland respects EU common rules and expects other Member States to do the same. The Government seeks to constructively combine national and joint European interests in Finland’s EU policy and seeks better and lighter regulation that incorporates flexibility for SMEs. The Government will not increase burdens detrimental to competitiveness during its national implementation of EU acts.

Finland, as a member of the WTO, is required under the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement) to report to the WTO all proposed technical regulations that could affect trade with other Member countries. In 2020, Finland submitted four notifications of technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures to the WTO and has submitted 103 notifications since 1995. Finland is a signatory to the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), which entered into force on February 22, 2017.

Finland follows European Union (EU) internal market practices, which define Finland’s trade relations both inside the EU and with non-EU countries. Restrictions apply to certain items such as products containing alcohol, pharmaceuticals, narcotics and dangerous drugs, explosives, etc. The import of beef cattle bred on hormones is forbidden. Other restrictions apply to farm products under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

In March 1997 EU commitments required the establishment of a tax border between the autonomously governed, but territorially Finnish, Aland Islands and the rest of Finland. As a result, the trade of goods and services between the Aland Islands and the rest of Finland is treated as if it were trade with a non-EU area. The Aland Islands belong to the customs territory of the EU but not to the EU fiscal territory. The tax border separates the Aland Islands from the VAT and excise territory of the EU. VAT and excise are levied on goods imported across the tax border, but no customs duty is levied. In tax border trade, goods can be sold with a tax free invoice in accordance with the detailed taxation instructions of the Finnish Tax Administration.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Finland has a civil law system. European Community (EC) law is directly applicable in Finland and takes precedence over national legislation. The Market Court is a special court for rulings in commercial law, competition, and public procurement cases, and may issue injunctions and penalties against the illegal restriction of competition. It also governs mergers and acquisitions and may overturn public procurement decisions and require compensatory payments. The Court has jurisdiction over disputes regarding whether goods or services have been marketed unfairly. The Court also hears industrial and civil IPR cases.

Amendments to the Finnish Competition Act (948/2011) entered into force on June 17, 2019, and on January 1, 2020. The amendments include, most notably, changes to the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority FCCA’s dawn raid practices, information exchange practices between national authorities and the calculation of merger control deadlines, which are now calculated in working days, rather than calendar days.

Finland is a party of the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards since 1962. The provisions of the Convention have been included in the Arbitration Act (957/1992).

The Oikeus.fi website ( https://oikeus.fi/en/index.html ) contains information about the Finnish judicial system and links to the websites of the independent courts, the public legal aid and guardianship districts, the National Prosecution Authority, the National Enforcement Authority Finland, and the Criminal Sanctions Agency.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

There is no primary or “one-stop-shop” website that provides all relevant laws, rules, procedures and reporting requirements for investors. A non-European Economic Area (EEA) resident (persons or companies) operating in Finland must obtain a license or a notification when starting a business in a regulated industry. A comprehensive list of regulated industries can be found at: https://www.suomi.fi/company/responsibilities-and-obligations/permits-and-obligations .

See also the Ministry of Employment and the Economy’s Regulated Trade guidelines: https://tem.fi/en/regulation-of-business-operations . The autonomously governed Aland Islands, however are an exception. Right of domicile is acquired at birth if it is possessed by either parent. Property ownership and the right to conduct business are limited to those with the right of domicile in the Aland Islands. The Aland Government can occasionally, grant exemptions from the requirement of right of domicile for those wishing to acquire real property or conduct a business in Aland. This does not prevent people from settling in, or trading with, the Aland Islands. Provided they are Finnish citizens, immigrants who have lived in Aland for five years and have adequate Swedish may apply for domicile and the Aland Government can grant exemptions.

The Competition Act allows the government to block mergers where the result would harm market competition. The Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority (FCCA) issued guidelines in 2011: https://www.kkv.fi/en/facts-and-advice/competition-affairs/merger-control/ .

EnterpriseFinland/Suomi.fi ( https://www.suomi.fi/company/ ) is a free online service offering information and services for starting, growing and developing a company. Users may also ask for advice through the My Enterprise Finland website: https://oma.yrityssuomi.fi/en . Finnish legislation is available in the free online databank Finlex in Finnish, where some English translations can also be found: https://www.finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/ .

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority FCCA protects competition by intervening in cases regarding restrictive practices, such as cartels and abuse of dominant position, and violations of the Competition Act and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). Investigations occur on the FCCA’s initiative and on the basis of complaints. Where necessary, the FCCA makes proposals to the Market Court regarding penalties. In international competition matters, the FCCA’s key stakeholders are the European Commission (DG Competition), the OECD Competition Committee, the Nordic competition authorities and the International Competition Network (ICN). FCCA rulings and decisions can be found in the archive in Finnish. More information at: https://www.kkv.fi/en/facts-and-advice/competition-affairs/ .

In September 2020, the Nordic Competition Authorities released a joint memorandum on digital platforms, setting out the Nordic perspective on issues of competition in digital markets in Europe. For more see: https://www.kkv.fi/globalassets/kkv-suomi/julkaisut/pm-yhteisraportit/nordic-report-2020-digital-platforms-and-the-potential-changes-to-competition-law-at-the-european-level.pdf

Expropriation and Compensation

Finnish law protects private property rights. Citizen property is protected by the Constitution which includes basic provisions in the event of expropriation. Private property is only expropriated for public purposes (eminent domain), in a non-discriminatory manner, with reasonable compensation, and in accordance with established international law. Expropriation is usually based on a permit given by the government or on a confirmed plan and is performed by the District Survey Office. An expropriation permit granted by the Government may be appealed against to the Supreme Administrative Court. Compensation is awarded at full market price, but may exclude the rise in value due only to planning decisions.

Besides normal expropriation according to the Expropriation Act, a municipality or the State has the right to expropriate land for planning purposes. Expropriation is mainly for acquiring land for common needs, such as street areas, parks and civic buildings. The method is rarely used: less than one percent of land acquired by the municipalities is expropriated. Credendo Group ranks Finland’s expropriation risk as low (1), on a scale from 1 to 7: https://www.credendo.com/country-risk/finland .

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

In 1969, Finland became a member state to the World Bank-based International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID; Washington Convention). Finland is a signatory to the Convention of the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The Finnish Arbitration Act (967/1992) is applied without distinction to both domestic and international arbitration. Sections 1 to 50 apply to arbitration in Finland and Sections 51 to 55 to arbitration agreements providing for arbitration abroad and the recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards in Finland. Of 260 parties in 2020, the majority (238) were from Finland. There have been no reported investment disputes in Finland in recent years.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Finland has a long tradition of institutional arbitration and its legal framework dates back to 1928. Today, arbitration procedures are governed by the 1992 Arbitration Act (as amended), which largely mirrors the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration of 1985 (with amendments, as adopted in 2006). The UNCITRAL Model law has not yet, however, been incorporated into Finnish Law.

Finland’s Act on Mediation in Civil Disputes and Certification of Settlements by Courts (394/2011) aims to facilitate alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and promote amicable settlements by encouraging mediation, and applies to settlements concluded in other EU member states: https://www.finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/2011/en20110394.pdf . In June 2016, the Finland Arbitration Institute of the Chamber of Commerce (FAI) launched its Mediation Rules under which FAI will administer mediations: https://arbitration.fi/mediation/mediation_rules/ .

Any dispute in a civil or commercial matter, international or domestic, which can be settled by agreement may be referred to arbitration. Arbitration is frequently used to settle commercial disputes and is usually faster than court proceedings. An arbitration award is final and binding. FAI promotes the settlement of disputes through arbitration, commonly using the “FAI Arbitration/Expedited Arbitration Rules”, which were updated in 2020: https://arbitration.fi/arbitration/guidelines-and-instructions/ 

The Finland Arbitration Institute (FAI) appoints arbitrators both to domestic and international arbitration proceedings, and administers domestic and international arbitrations governed by its rules. It also appoints arbitrators in ad hoc cases when the arbitration agreement so provides, and acts as appointing authority under the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules. The Finnish Arbitration Act (967/1992) states that foreign nationals can act as arbitrators. For more information see: https://arbitration.fi/arbitration/ 

Finland signed the UN Convention on Transparency in Treaty-based Investor-State Arbitration (“Mauritius Convention”) in March 2015. Under these rules, all documents and hearings are open to the public, interested parties may submit statements, and protection for confidential information has been strengthened.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Finnish Bankruptcy Act was amended and the amendments took effect on July 1, 2019. The main objectives of these amendments were to simplify, digitize and speed-up bankruptcy proceedings. The amended Bankruptcy Act allows administrators to send notices and invitations to creditor addresses registered in the Trade Register. This will improve accessibility for foreign companies that have established a branch in Finland. Administrators of bankruptcy and restructuring proceedings must upload data and documentation to the bankruptcy and restructuring proceedings case management system (KOSTI). KOSTI is available only for creditors located in Finland due to the strong ID requirements.

The Reorganization of Enterprises Act (1993/47), https://www.finlex.fi/fi/laki/kaannokset/1993/en19930047 , establishes a legal framework for reorganization with the aim to provide an alternative to bankruptcy proceedings. The Act excludes credit and insurance institutions and certain other financial institutions. Recognition of restructuring or insolvency processes initiated outside of the EU requires an exequatur from a Finnish court.

The bankruptcy ombudsman, https://www.konkurssiasiamies.fi/en/index.html , supervises the administration of bankruptcy estates in Finland. The Act on the Supervision of the Administration of Bankruptcy Estates dictates related Finnish law: https://www.konkurssiasiamies.fi/material/attachments/konkurssiasiamies/konkurssiasiamiehentoimistonliitteet/6JZrLGPN1/Act_on_the_Supervision_of_the_Administration_of_Bankruptcy_Estates.pdf .

Finland can be considered creditor-friendly; enforcement of liabilities through bankruptcy proceedings as well as execution outside bankruptcy proceedings are both effective. Bankruptcy proceedings are creditor-driven, with no formal powers granted to the debtor and its shareholders. The rights of a secured creditor are also quite extensive.

According to data collected by the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report, resolving insolvency takes 11 months on average and costs 3.5 percent of the debtor’s estate. The average recovery rate is 88 cents on the dollar. Globally, Finland ranked first of 190 countries on the ease of resolving insolvency in the Doing Business 2020 report : https://www.doingbusiness.org/content/dam/doingBusiness/country/f/finland/FIN.pdf

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Foreign-owned companies in Finland are eligible for government and EU incentives on an equal footing with Finnish-owned companies. Support is given in the form of grants, loans, tax benefits, equity participation, guarantees, and employee training.

Assistance is administered through one of Finland’s Centers for Economic Development, Transport, and the Environment (ELY) that provide advisory, training, and expert services as well as grant funding for investment and development projects. Investment aid can be granted to companies in the regional development areas, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Large companies may also qualify if they have a major employment impact in the region. Aid to business development can be granted to improve or facilitate the company’s establishment and operation, know-how, internationalization, product development or process enhancement. Subsidies for start-up companies are available for establishing and expanding business operations during the first 24 months. Transport aid may be granted for deliveries of goods produced to sparsely populated areas. Energy subsidies can be granted to companies for investments in energy efficiency and conservation. EU finance is largely also channeled through the ELY Centers. http://www.ely-keskus.fi/en/web/ely-en/business-and-industry;jsessionid=0B09A1B237B74FAC485AAD7C8E068DBF .

Business Finland provides low-interest loans and grants to challenging and innovative projects potentially leading to global success stories. The organization offers funding for research and development work carried out by companies, research organizations, and public sector service providers in Finland. Besides funding technological breakthroughs, Business Finland emphasizes also service-related, design, business, and social innovations. Startups and both SMEs and large companies can benefit from Business Finland incentives.

A company can use guarantees from the state-owned financing company Finnvera: https://www.finnvera.fi/eng/start/applying-for-financing/when-setting-up-a-business?source=3165 . Finnvera offers services to businesses in most sectors and is also Finland’s official Export Credit Agency (ECA).

Business Finland helps foreign investors set up a business in Finland. Its services are free of charge, and range from data collection and matchmaking to location management. Business Finland’s innovation funding provides low-interest loans and grants to challenging and innovative projects potentially leading to global success stories. The organization offers funding for research and development work carried out by companies, research organizations, and public sector service providers in Finland. https://www.investinfinland.fi/our-services .

Support for innovative business ventures can also be obtained from the Foundation for Finnish Inventions: https://www.wipo.int/members/en/details.jsp?country_id=57 

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Free trade zone area regulations have been harmonized in the EU by the Community Customs Code. The European Union Customs Code UCC, its Delegated Act and Implementing Act entered into force on May 1, 2016, and will be implemented gradually; the free zone of control type II was abolished and the operator authorizations were changed into customs warehouse authorizations on Customs’ initiative. The Code also allows the processing of non-Union goods without import duties and other charges. For more see: https://tulli.fi/en/businesses/customs-declarations/entry-and-temporary-storage 

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

There are no performance requirements or commitments imposed on foreign investment in Finland. However, to conduct business in Finland, some residency requirements must be met. The Limited Liability Companies (LLC) Act of Finland is at: http://finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/2006/en20060624 . A LLC must be reported for registration within three months from the signing of the memorandum of association: https://www.prh.fi/en/kaupparekisteri/yrityksen_perustaminen/osakeyhtio.html . There is no forced localization policy for foreign investments in Finland.

The legal basis for the limitation on admission of third country nationals for the purpose of employment is set out in the Council Resolution C274/3 of 1994. Labor Market Tests (LMT) are mechanisms that aim to ensure that migrant workers are only admitted after employers have seriously and unsuccessfully searched for local workers. As a tool to manage labor migration and to facilitate entry of certain categories of third-country national workers, Finland applies various exemptions from the LMT for certain categories of worker, according to national labor market needs. These categories include: highly qualified workers or top specialists, inter-corporate transferees (ICTs), posted workers, persons holding high ranking positions, sports professionals, workers in the field of research, science, art, and culture. LMT for persons already working in Finland and transferring to other sectors was removed in June 2019 in order to improve the labor mobility of foreign citizens already in the labor market.

Finland participates actively in the development of the EU’s Digital Single Market and, aside from privacy issues, encourages a light regulatory approach in this area. Since May 2018, data transfers from Finland to non-EU countries must abide by EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (EU) 2016/679. Finland supports the EU Commission’s view on promoting European digitalization and creating a single market for data. In March 2020, the Ministry of Transport and Communications appointed a data economy implementation and monitoring group, with task of continue exerting influence and to coordinate the work of different administrative sectors. The working group is also tasked with exerting influence both internationally and at the EU level. The objective is for Finland’s view on the principles and development of the data economy will be noted internationally.

In February 2021, an Advisory Board for Network Security to assess and develop the security of domestic communications networks and to support decision-making by the authorities was established. The Board operation is based on the new provisions of the Act on Electronic Communications Services that entered into force in early 2021, and is part of the implementation of the EU guidelines and toolbox in Finland.

Personal data may be transferred across borders per the Finnish Personal Data Act (PDA) at: http://finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/1999/en19990523 ), which states that personal data may be transferred outside the European Union or the European Economic Area only if the country in question guarantees an adequate level of data protection. Office of the Data Protection Ombudsman legislation is at: https://tietosuoja.fi/en/organisations .

In November 2020, the Office of the Data Protection Ombudsman and the Finnish Information Society Development Center TIEKE started a pilot program providing micro enterprises and SMEs with information and tools to help ensure effective data protection. More information here: https://tietosuoja.fi/en/-/data-protection-opening-doors-into-europe-for-smes 

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Finnish legal system protects and enforces property rights and secured interests in property, both movable and real. Finland ranked first of 129 countries in the Property Rights Alliance 2020 International Property Rights Index (IPRI) which concentrates on a country’s legal and political environment, physical property rights, and intellectual property rights (IPR).

Mortgages exist in Finland and can be applied to both owned and rented real estate. Finland ranks 34th out of 190 countries in the ease of Registering Property according to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report. In Finland, real property formation, development, land consolidation, cadastral mapping, registration of real properties, ownership and legal rights, real property valuation, and taxation are all combined within one basic cadastral system (real estate register) maintained by the National Land Survey: https://www.maanmittauslaitos.fi/en/real-property .

Intellectual Property Rights

The Finnish legal system protects intellectual property rights (IPR), and Finland adheres to numerous related international agreements. One of Prime Minister Marin’s goals is to draft a National IPR Strategy for Finland.

Treaties: Finland is a member of the World International Property Organization (WIPO) and party to a number of its treaties, including the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the WIPO Copyright Treaty, the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty, and the International Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations (Rome Convention). Finland is party to the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

Copyrights: The Finnish Copyright Act can be found at: https://wipolex.wipo.int/en/text/397616 . Guidelines applicable for international use were published in 2016 and can be found at: https://www.cupore.fi/en/publications/cupore-s-publications/assessing-the-operation-of-copyright-and-related-rights-systems-141052-14122016 . Distribution of information on copyright and surveillance of rights is performed by the Copyright Information and Anti-Piracy Centre (CIAPC).

Trademarks: The new Finnish Trademarks Act entered into force in May 2019. With this Act, Finland implemented the revised EU Trademark Directive, enforces the Singapore Treaty on the Law of Trademarks, and brings the 1964 trademark regulations up to date. Provisions concerning collective marks and control marks are included in the Act, which nullified the Act on Collective Marks. The Act also includes amendments to related legislation such as the Finnish Company Names Act, the Criminal Code, and relevant procedural acts. Trademark applicants or proprietors not domiciled in Finland are required to have a representative resident in the European Economic Area. Finland is party to the Madrid Protocol.

Trade secrets: In August 2018, Finland adopted a new Trade Secrets Act to incorporate the provisions of the EU Directive 2016/943 on Trade Secrets. The new Act replaces the Unfair Business Practices Act and provides harmonized definitions at the EU level for trade secrets, their lawful and unlawful acquisition, and their use and disclosure. The Act also includes a whistleblower provision according to which a person (e.g. an employee) is allowed to disclose a trade secret in order to reveal malpractice or illegal activity, so long as it is done to protect the public interest and the person has significant reasons to reveal the information. The Trade Secrets Act can be found at: https://www.finlex.fi/fi/laki/alkup/2018/20180595  (available only in Finnish and Swedish).

Patents: Patent rights in Finland are consistent with international standards, and a granted patent is valid for 20 years. The Finnish Patent and Registration Office (PRH) website contains unofficial translations in English of the Patents Act, Patents Decree, and Patent Regulations https://www.prh.fi/en/patentit/lainsaadantoa.html . The regulatory framework for process patents filed before 1995, and pending in 1996, denied adequate protection to many of the top-selling U.S. pharmaceutical products currently on the Finnish market. For this reason, Finland was placed on USTR’s Special 301 Report Watch List in 2009 but was removed in 2015 when the term for relevant patents expired.

Designs: Finland is party to the Locarno Agreement and the Hague Agreement for Industrial Designs, and design are protected by the Finnish Registered Designs Act. The Designs Register at the Finnish Patent and Registration Office (PRH) contains entries about national designs, i.e. design rights, applied for and registered in Finland: https://mallioikeustietopalvelu.prh.fi/en .

Finnish Customs officers have ex-officio authority to seize and destroy counterfeit goods. IPR enforcement in Finland is based on EU Regulation 608/2013. In 2020, according to the Grey Economy Crime statistics, Finnish customs authorities inspected 119,337 suspected counterfeit goods (with a value of USD 240 million). The number and value of counterfeit goods detained by Finnish Customs have been in decline since 2013. The long-term trend indicates a decline in counterfeit goods detected in large volume shipments. However, due to increased online purchases, small volume shipments via postal and express freight traffic have increased in number, and these are more difficult to screen for counterfeits.

Finland is mentioned in USTR’s 2020 Notorious Markets List for reportedly hosting a Flokinet server associated with infringing activity.

The link to WIPO’s list of IPR legislation can be found at: https://wipolex.wipo.int/en/legislation/profile/FI .

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles here: https://www.wipo.int/directory/en/details.jsp?country_code=FI .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Finland is open to foreign portfolio investment and has an effective regulatory system. According to the Bank of Finland, in end December 2020 Finland had USD 126 billion worth of official reserve assets, mainly in foreign currency reserves and securities. Credit is allocated on market terms and is made available to foreign investors in a non-discriminatory manner, and private sector companies have access to a variety of credit instruments. Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms.

The Helsinki Stock Exchange is part of OMX, referred to as NASDAQ OMX Helsinki (OMXH). NASDAQ OMX Helsinki is part of the NASDAQ OMX Nordic division, together with the Stockholm, Copenhagen, Iceland, and Baltic (Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius) stock exchanges.

Finland accepts the obligations under IMF Article VIII, Sections 2(a), 3, and 4 of the Fund’s Articles of Agreement. It maintains an exchange system free of restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions, except for those measures imposed for security reasons in accordance with Regulations of the Council of the European Union.

Money and Banking System

Banking is open to foreign competition. At the end of 2019, there were 246 credit institutions operating in Finland and total assets of the domestic banking groups and branches of foreign banks operating in Finland amounted to USD 859 billion. For more information see: https://www.finanssiala.fi/en/publications/finnish-banking-in-2019/ 

Foreign nationals can in principle open bank accounts in the same manner as Finns. However, banks must identify customers and this may prove more difficult for foreign nationals. In addition to personal and address data, the bank often needs to know the person’s identifier code (i.e. social security number), and a number of banks require a work permit, a certificate of studies, or a letter of recommendation from a trustworthy bank, and details regarding the nature of transactions to be made with the account. All authorized deposit-taking banks are members of the Deposit Guarantee Fund, which guarantees customers’ deposits to a maximum of EUR 100,000 per depositor.

In 2019 the capital adequacy ratio of the Finnish banking sector was 21.3 percent, above the EU average. Measured in Core Tier 1 Capital, the ratio was 17.6 percent. The capital adequacy of the Finnish banking sector remains well above the EU average. The Finnish banking sector’s return on equity (ROE) was 4.9 percent, slightly below the average ROE for all EU banking sectors (5.4 percent). Standard & Poor’s in March 2021 reaffirmed Finland’s AA+ long term credit rating and stable outlook while Fitch kept Finland’s credit rating at AA+ in November 2020. Moody’s kept Finland’s credit rating unchanged at Aa1 in July 2020. The Finnish banking sector is dominated by four major banks (OP Pohjola, Nordea, Municipality Finance and Danske Bank), which together hold 81 percent of the market.

Nordea, which relocated its headquarters from Sweden to Finland in 2018, has the leading market position among household and corporate customers in Finland. The relocation increased the Finnish banking sector to over three times the size of Finland’s GDP. Nordea is Europe’s 21st largest bank (2020) in terms of balance sheet. Consequently, Finland’s banking sector is one of Europe’s largest relative to the size of the national economy.

Nordea became a member of the “we.trade” consortium in November 2017, a blockchain based trade platform for customers of the European wide consortium of banks signed up for the platform. “we.trade” makes domestic and cross-border commerce easier for European companies by harnessing the power of distributed ledger and block chain technology. Commercially launched in January 2019, the we.trade’s technology is currently licensed by 16 banks across 15 countries.

The Act on Virtual Currency providers (572/2019) entered into force in May, 2019. The Financial Supervisory Authority (FIN-FSA) acts as the registration authority for virtual currency providers. The primary objective of the Act is to introduce virtual currency providers into the scope of anti-money laundering regulation. Only virtual currency providers meeting statutory requirements are able to carry on their activities in Finland.

The Finnish Tax Administration released guidelines on the taxation of cryptocurrency in May 2018, updates were made in October 2019, and new guidelines were released in January 2020 : https://www.vero.fi/en/detailed-guidance/guidance/48411/taxation-of-virtual-currencies3/ 

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Finland adopted the Euro as its official currency in January 1999. Finland maintains an exchange system free of restrictions on the making of payments and transfers for international transactions, except for those measures imposed for security reasons.

Remittance Policies

There are no legal obstacles to direct foreign investment in Finnish securities or exchange controls regarding payments into and out of Finland. Banks must identify their customers and report suspected cases of money laundering or the financing of terrorism. Banks and credit institutions must also report single payments or transfers of EUR 15,000 or more. If the origin of funds is suspect, banks must immediately inform the National Bureau of Investigation. There are no restrictions on current transfers or repatriation of profits. Residents and non-residents may hold foreign exchange accounts. There is no limit on dividend distributions as long as they correspond to a company’s official earnings records.

Travelers carrying more than EUR 10,000 must make a declaration upon entering or leaving the EU. As a Financial Action Task Force (FATF) member, Finland observes most of FATF’s 40 recommendations. In its Mutual Evaluation Report of Finland, released April 16, 2019, FATF concluded that Finland’s measures to combat money laundering and terrorist financing are delivering good results, but that Finland needs to improve supervision to ensure that financial and non-financial institutions are properly implementing effective AML/CFT controls. To improve supervision, a money laundering supervision register of the State Administrative Agency (AVI) and a register of beneficial owners controlled by the Finnish Patent and Registration Office were set up on July 1, 2019. In addition, the responsibility of preparing amendments to the Act on Preventing Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing was transferred to the Ministry of Finance (in charge of national FATF coordination) on January 1, 2019. FATF’s Mutual Evaluation Report of Finland, April 2019: http://www.fatf-gafi.org/countries/d-i/finland/documents/mer-finland-2019.html .

In Finland, the Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive was implemented, among other things, by means of the Act on the Bank and Payment Accounts Control System, which entered into force on May 1, 2019. In accordance with the Act, Customs has established a bank and payment accounts register and issue a regulation on a data retrieval system, which entered into force on September 1, 2020. The Ministry of the Interior has set up a legislative project to implement the EU directive on access to financial information at national level. The directive contains rules to facilitate the use of information held in bank account registries by the authorities for the purpose of preventing, detecting, investigating or prosecuting certain offences.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Solidium is a holding company that is fully owned by the State of Finland. Although it is not explicitly a sovereign wealth fund, Solidium’s mission is to manage and increase the long-term value of the listed shareholdings of the Finnish State. Solidium is a minority owner in 12 listed companies; the market value of Solidium’s equity holdings is approximately USD 10.46 billion (March 2021), https://www.solidium.fi/en/holdings/holdings/ 

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) in Finland are active in chemicals, petrochemicals, plastics and composites; energy and mining; environmental technologies; food processing and packaging; industrial equipment and supplies; marine technology; media and entertainment; metal manufacturing and products; services; and travel. The Ownership Steering Act (1368/2007) regulates the administration of state-owned companies: https://www.finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/2007/en20071368 .

In general, SOEs are open to competition except where they have a monopoly position, namely in alcohol retail and gambling. The Ownership Steering Department in the Prime Minister’s Office has ownership steering responsibility for Finnish SOEs, and is responsible for Solidium, a holding company wholly owned by the State of Finland and a minority owner in nationally important listed companies.

The Government of Finland GOF, directly or through Solidium, is a significant owner in 16 companies listed on the Helsinki stock exchange. The market value of all State direct shareholdings was approximately USD 28 billion as of March 2021. More info can be found here: https://vnk.fi/en/government-ownership-steering/value-of-state-holdings . The GOF has majority ownership of shares in two listed companies (Finnair and Fortum) and owns shares in 33 commercial companies: https://vnk.fi/en/state-shareholdings-and-parliamentary-authorisations  (March 2021). The Finnish State development company Vake will be turned into a Climate Fund, focusing on combating climate change, driving digitalization and advancing low-carbon industry. More information can be found here: https://vake.fi/en/ 

Finnish state ownership steering complies with the OECD Principles of Corporate Governance.

The Parliamentary Advisory Council in the Prime Minister’s Office serves in an advisory capacity regarding SOE policy; it does not make recommendations regarding the actual business in which the individual companies are engaged. The government has proposed changing its ownership levels in several companies and increasing the number of companies steered by the Prime Minister’s Office. Parliament decides the companies in which the State may relinquish its sole ownership (100 percent), its control of ownership (50.1 percent) or minority ownership (33.4 percent of votes). For more see https://vnk.fi/en/government-ownership-steering/ownership-policy 

In April 2020, the Government issued a new resolution on ownership policy, which will guide state-owned companies for the duration of the government term (until spring 2023). The Government Resolution on ownership policy will continue to pursue a predictable, forward-looking ownership policy that safeguards the strategic interests of the state. State ownership will be assessed from the perspectives of overall benefit to the national economy, development of the operations and value of companies, and the efficient distribution of resources. The new Government Resolution on ownership policy strongly emphasizes the fight against climate change, the use of digitalization and issues of corporate social responsibility.

Finland opened domestic rail freight to competition in early 2007, and in July 2016, Fenniarail Oy, the first private rail operator on the Finnish market, began operations. In November 2020, Estonian based Openrail Finland’s rail freight operations started in Finland. Passenger rail transport services will be opened to competition in stages, starting with local rail services in southern Finland. Based on an agreement between Finnish State Railways (VR) and the Ministry of Transport and Communications, VR has exclusive rights to provide passenger transport rail services in Finland until the end of 2024. The exclusive right applies to all passenger rail transport in Finland, excluding the commuter train transport services, provided by the Helsinki Regional Transport Agency (HSL). HSL put its commuter train transport services out for tender in February 2020, VR won the tender and will continue provide passenger rail service for the next ten years. The value of southern Finland commuter train services is USD 67 million per year, with 200 000 daily passengers. Three wholly state-owned enterprises will be separated from Finnish State Railways (VR) to create a level playing field for all operators: a rolling stock company, a maintenance company, and a real estate company. Cross-border transportation between Finland and Russia was opened to competition in December 2016. Trains to and from Russia can be operated by any railroad with permission to operate in the EU. This was earlier VR’s exclusive domain. Fenniarail Oy has an agreement with VR regarding information exchange between authorities in Finland and Russia, approvals of rail wagons on the Finnish rail network and the safety of rail wagons. The agreement was signed in January 2017 for an initial trial period.

Privatization Program

Parliament makes all decisions identifying the companies in which the State may relinquish sole ownership (100 percent of the votes) or control (minimum of 50.1 percent of the votes), while the Government decides on the actual sale. The State has privatized companies by selling shares to Finnish and foreign institutional investors, through both public offerings and directly to employees. Sales of direct holdings of the State totaled USD 2.89 billion (2007 – 2021). Solidium’s share sales totaled some USD 7.17 billion ( 2007 – 2021). According to the present Government Program, the proceeds from the sale of state assets are primarily to be used for the repayment of central government debt. Up to 25%, but no more than USD 168 million of any annual revenues exceeding USD 448 million, may be used for projects designed to strengthen the economy and promote growth.

The Government issued a new resolution on state-ownership policy in May 2016, seeking to ensure that corporate assets held by the State are put to more efficient use to boost economic growth and employment.

More info about state ownership can be found here : https://vnk.fi/en/government-ownership-steering .

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The Government promotes Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) through the Ministry of Employment and the Economy CSR Guidelines ( https://tem.fi/en/key-guidelines-on-csr ). The Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility acts as the Finnish National Contact Point (NCP) for the effective implementation of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (MNEs), together with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment: https://tem.fi/en/handling-specific-instances-of-the-oecd-guidelines-for-multinational-enterprises .

The government’s SOE policy establishes CSR as a core value of SOEs. Finnish companies perceive that the central component of responsible business conduct or corporate responsibility is to conduct due diligence to ensure compliance with law and regulations. There are no national codes for CSR in Finland; rather, Finnish companies and public authorities have promoted global CSR codes, such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises; the UN Global Compact for Business and Human Rights; ILO principles; EMAS; ISO standards; and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).

The Directive of the European Parliament and the Council on the disclosure of non-financial information has been implemented via amendments to the Finnish Accounting Act, requiring affected organizations to report on their CSR. The obligation to report non-financial information and corporate responsibility reports apply to large public interest entities i.e. listed companies, credit institutions and insurance companies with more than 500 employees. In addition, turnover must be greater than USD 48 million or balance sheet exceed more than USD 24 million.

Importing tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold from conflict zones into the EU requires new procedures from businesses as of January 2021. The Act on the placing on the market of conflict minerals and their ores, which entered into force on January 1, 2021, improves the transparency of supply chains, and brings Finland’s conflict minerals regime into line with EU regulations.

Tukes, the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency, is the competent authority in Finland and Customs is given tasks related to the implementation of the Act. For more information: https://tukes.fi/en/industry/conflict-minerals .

Finland is committed to the implementation of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, and the tripartite declaration of principles concerning multinational enterprises and social policy by the ILO.

Finland has joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which supports improved governance in resource-rich countries. Finland is not a member of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights Initiative.

Finland is a supporter of the Montreux Document on pertinent international legal obligations and good practices for states related to operations of private military and security companies during armed conflict, but not a member of ICoCA, the international Code of Conduct for Private Security Service providers’ Association.

Labor and environmental laws and regulations are not waived to attract or retain investments and the Government published a guide to socially responsible public procurement in November 2017: http://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/handle/10024/160318 .

The Corporate Responsibility Network (FiBS) is the leading corporate responsibility network in Finland and has more than 300 members: https://www.fibsry.fi/briefly-in-english/ . The Human Rights Center (HRC), administratively linked to the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman, encourages foreign and local enterprises to follow the most important international norms: https://www.humanrightscentre.fi/monitoring/ .

The Securities Market Association, https://cgfinland.fi/en/ , developed and updated (2019) the Finnish Corporate Governance Code for companies listed on the Helsinki Stock Exchange: https://business.nasdaq.com/list/Rules-and-Regulations/European-rules/nasdaq-helsinki/index.html .

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

The National Risk Assessment of 2018 does not list corruption as a risk in Finland, nor does the 2017 Security Strategy for Society and there is no dedicated national anti-corruption strategy. In April 2020, the Ministry of Justice appointed an anti-corruption working group to draft Finland’s Anti-Corruption Strategy 2020-2023. The term of the working group ends in March 2023.

Over the past decade, Finland has ranked in the top three on Transparency International’s (TI) Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). In 2020, Finland was ranked third on the CPI. In 2020, TI however stated that Finland scores high on the CPI but isn’t spared from corruption. Gaps in Finland’s anti-money laundering supervisory framework could make Finland, along with other Nordic countries, very attractive to corrupt individuals and money launderers. In addition, Finland demonstrates “little to no enforcement against foreign bribery”, TI concluded.

Corruption in Finland is covered by the Criminal Code and penalties range from fines to imprisonment of up to four years. The Criminal Code divides bribery offences into two categories, giving of bribes to public officials or acceptance of bribes and giving or acceptance of bribes in business. Finland has statutory tax rules concerning non-deductibility of bribes. Finland does not have an authority specifically charged to prevent corruption, instead several authorities and agencies contribute to anti-corruption work.. The Ministry of Justice coordinates anti-corruption matters, but Finland’s EU anti-corruption contact is the Ministry of the Interior. The National Bureau of Investigation also monitors corruption, while the tax administration has guidelines obliging tax officials to report suspected offences, including foreign bribery, and the Ministry of Finance has guidelines on hospitality, benefits, and gifts. The Ministry of Justice describes its anti-corruption efforts at https://oikeusministerio.fi/en/anti-corruption-activities .

In 2020, Ministry of Employment and Economy released an Anti-Corruption guide intended for companies, especially SMEs, to provide them with guidance and support for promoting good business practices and corruption-free business relations both in Finland and abroad. For more see: https://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/162227/MEAE_guidelines_2b_2020_ENG_Anti_corruption_guide_for_SMES_07052020.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y 

The Ministry of Justice is maintaining an Anti-Corruption.fi website, https://korruptiontorjunta.fi/en/home , providing both ordinary citizens and professional operators with impartial and fact-based information on corruption and its prevention in Finland. The goal is a transparent, impartial, and corruption-free culture and society.

The Act on a Candidate’s Election Funding (273/2009) delineates election funding and disclosure rules. The Act requires presidential candidates, Members of Parliament, and Deputy Members to declare total campaign financing, the financial value of each contribution, and donor names for donations exceeding EUR 1,500: https://www.finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/2009/en20090273.pdf . The Act on Political Parties (10/1969) concerning the funding of political parties is at: https://www.finlex.fi/fi/laki/kaannokset/1969/en19690010.pdf . The National Audit Office of Finland keeps a register containing election-funding disclosures at: http://www.vaalirahoitusvalvonta.fi/en/index.html . Election funding disclosures must be filed with the National Audit Office of Finland within two months of election results being confirmed.

Finland does not regulate lobbying; there is no requirement for lobbyists to register or report contact with public officials. However, in March 2020, a parliamentary working group was set up to establish a transparency lobbying register. I The ethical Guidelines of the Finnish Prosecution Service can be found from a new website that was opened on October 1, 2019. https://syyttajalaitos.fi/en/the-ethical-guidelines .

The following are ratified or in force in Finland: the Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime; the Council of Europe Civil Law Convention on Corruption; the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption; the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime; and, the UN Anticorruption Convention. Finland is a member of the European Partners against Corruption (EPAC).

Finland is a signatory to the OECD Convention on Anti-Bribery. In October 2020, the OECD working group on bribery said it recognizes Finland’s commitment to combat corruption, but is concerned about lack of foreign bribery enforcement. For more see Finland’s 4th evaluation report: http://www.oecd.org/corruption/Finland-phase-4-follow-up-report-ENG.pdf .

In October 2020, the Council of Europe’s anticorruption body GRECO (Group of States against Corruption) addressed 14 recommendations to Finland on preventing corruption and promoting integrity in central governments (top executive functions) and compliance with these recommendations. For more see GRECO’s 5th evaluation round, Finland compliance report: https://rm.coe.int/fifth-evaluation-round-preventing-corruption-and-promoting-integrity-i/1680a0b0ca . The National Bureau of Investigation is responsible for the investigation of organized and international crimes, including economic crime and corruption, and operates an anti-corruption unit to detect economic offences. The Ministry of Justice has set up a specialist network, the anti-corruption cooperation network, which meets a few times a year to discuss and exchange information. The committee drafted an anti-corruption strategy for Finland and submitted it to the Ministry of Justice in 2017. The government has not yet adopted the strategy. Finnish Defense Forces, the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Finnish Center for Integrity in Sports joined the anti-corruption network in 2020.

At the beginning of 2017, the Public Procurement Act based on the new EU directives on public procurement entered into force. Under the law, a foreign bribery conviction remains mandatory grounds for exclusion from public contracts.

Resources to Report Corruption

Markku Ranta-Aho
Head of Financial Crime Division
National Board of Investigation
P.O. Box 285, 01310 Vantaa, Finland
markku.ranta-aho@poliisi.fi 

Salla Nazarenko
Chairperson
Transparency Finland
info@transparency.fi 

10. Political and Security Environment

While instances of political violence in Finland are rare, extremism exists, and anti-immigration and anti-Semitic incidents do occur. In 2019, 15 anti-Semitic acts of vandalism against the Israeli Embassy over an 18-month period prompted an official demarche. The neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) is banned in Finland, as is its Facebook page. There were a few anti-Semitic incidents on International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the beginning of 2020, but the banning of NRM and COVID-19 have led to a marked decline in anti-Semitic incidents over the past year.

It is illegal in Finland to share violent content such as footage of Christchurch massacre, but it is still being disseminated and no one has been prosecuted. In August 2017, a stabbing attack took place in central Turku, in southwest Finland in which two pedestrians were killed and eight injured. Finnish authorities considered the attack a terrorist act and its perpetrator was convicted on terrorism charges, making it the first incident of its kind in Finland since the end of World War II.

According to the Finnish Intelligence Service (SUPO) 2020 yearbook, released in March 2021, the danger of extreme right-wing terrorism has grown in Finland, and SUPO has identified far-right operators with the capacity and motivation to mount a terrorist attack. Some indications of concrete preparation have also emerged. The threat of radical Islamist terrorism has remained at the previous level.

The Fund for Peace (FFP) ranked Finland as the most stable country in the world again in 2020 based on political, social, and economic indicators including public services, income distribution, human rights, and the rule of law. Marsh’s Political Risk Map 2020, exploring the changing risk environment, highlighting the implications for firms operating globally, rates Finland as a broadly stable country, scoring 78.8 (out of 100) in its Short-Term Political Risk Index (STPRI). Finland scores particularly well in the ‘security and external threats’ and ‘social stability’ sub-components of the scores, but its ‘policy-making process’ and ‘policy continuity’ scores are somewhat suppressed by “the unwieldy nature of the five-party coalition that was formed after the April 2019 parliamentary elections”.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Finland has a long tradition of trade unions. The country has a unionization rate of 67 percent, and approximately 90 percent of employees in Finland participate in the collective bargaining system. Extensive tripartite cooperation between the government, employer’s groups, and trade unions characterize the country’s labor market system. Any trade union and employers’ association may make collective agreements, and the Ministry decides on the validity of the agreement. The Act on Employment Contracts regulates employment relationships regarding working hours, annual leave, and safety conditions, although minimum wages, actual working hours, and working conditions are determined to a large extent through collective agreements instead of parliamentary legislation. Collective bargaining and collective labor agreements are generally binding. In recent years, local labor market partners have been given more flexibility to enforce the collective agreements. In Fall 2020, the government decided to commission a report on measures to strengthen the trust and negotiating competence required for local collective bargaining within both generally binding collective agreements and normally binding collective agreements. The aim is to develop and advance local collective bargaining through the system of collective agreements.

Finland adheres to most ILO conventions; enforcement of worker rights is effective. Freedom of association and collective bargaining are guaranteed by law, which provides for the right to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law prohibits anti-union discrimination and any obstruction of these rights. The National Conciliator under the Ministry of Employment and the Economy assists negotiating partners with labor disputes. The arbitration system is based on the Act on Mediation in Labor Disputes and the Labor Court is the highest body for settlement. The ILO’s Finland Country profile can be found here: http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=1000:11110:0::NO:11110:P11110_COUNTRY_ID:102625 .

The Ministry of Employment and the Economy is responsible for drafting labor legislation and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is responsible for enforcing labor laws and regulations via the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) authorities of the OSH Divisions at the Regional State Administrative Agencies, which operate under the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. Finnish authorities adequately enforce contract, wage, and overtime laws. New legislation concerning the hiring of foreign workers in Finland entered into force on June 18, 2016. Its objective is to intensify monitoring and to ensure improved compliance with the terms of employment in Finland. Finland allows the free movement of EU citizen workers. During 2019, there were 107 strikes in Finland, compared to 166 in 2018.

In September 2019, Statistics Finland reported that between 2010 and 2018, the number of working-age people has fallen by 122,000 persons, and during the next two decades the working age population is expected to decrease more slowly or by 111,000 persons by 2040. In March 2020, Statistics Finland reported that the number of persons aged at least 70 in Finland at the end of 2019 was 874 000 (or 16% of the population). The number of persons aged 70 or more has grown by 100,000 in three years.

The government reformed social protection and unemployment security to encourage people to accept job offers, shorten unemployment periods, reduce structural unemployment, and save public resources. The unemployed are granted a labor market subsidy, which, if linked to earnings as is the case for about 60 percent of the unemployed, guarantees moderate income for a period up to 400 working days. Those without jobs after the 400-day period need to demonstrate that they are actively pursuing employment to continue receiving benefits. The period of eligibility was shortened from 500 days to 400 days starting on January 1, 2017, except for those with a work history shorter than three years (reduced to 300 days), and for those aged over 58 (remains 500 days).

On January 1, 2017, Finnish authorities introduced a two-year, nationwide, statutory and randomized universal basic income trial. The goal was to determine whether a basic income, received without conditions, incentivizes recipients to seek paid work. The government concluded that the basic income experiment did not increase the employment of participants, but it did improve mental wellbeing, confidence, and life satisfaction. The study found a mild positive effect on employment, particularly in certain categories, such as families with children.

In 2017, the center-right government of Juha Sipila introduced the “Activation Model” (AM), which mimicked the Danish unemployment insurance system. The AM became effective on January 1, 2018 and was applied to basic (flat-rate) unemployment benefits (paid by the Social Insurance Institution, Kela) and income-related schemes (paid by unemployment funds). The aim of the AM was to tighten the conditions for benefit eligibility, in order to encourage activation of the unemployed, reduce the duration of periods in unemployment and increase the employment rate. AM experiences were mixed, and union opposed the action vigorously. Ministry of Social Affairs and Health abolished the activation model for unemployment security starting January 1, 2020.

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 $268.972 2019 $269.296 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $0.704 bn 2019 $3.745 bn BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $3.86 bn 2019 $14.826 bn BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 31.8 % 2019 29.26% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html 
  

* Source for Host Country Data:

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 85,821 100% Total Outward 146,470 100%
Sweden 24,259 28.3% The Netherlands 35,579 24.3%
Luxembourg 12,644 14.7% Sweden 28,842 19.7%
The Netherlands 12,593 14.7% Ireland 23,589 16.1%
Norway 5,464 6.4% Norway 7,394 5.0%
China, P.R., Mainland 4,153 4.8% Denmark 7,391 5.0%
“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 386,524 100% All Countries 238,719 100% All Countries 147,802 100%
United States 67,238 17% Ireland 54,623 23% Sweden 20,904 14%
Ireland 60,273 16% United States 51,713 22% United States 15,524 11%
Luxenbourg 52,416 14% Luxenbourg 46,845 20% Denmark 13,554 9%
Sweden 33,699 9% Caymand Islands 16,675 7% Germany 13,531 9%
Denmark 20,571 5% Sweden 12,793 5% France 12,947 9%

14. Contact for More Information

HelsinkiPolEconAll@state.gov 

Germany

Executive Summary

As Europe’s largest economy, Germany is a major destination for foreign direct investment (FDI) and has accumulated a vast stock of FDI over time.  Germany is consistently ranked as one of the most attractive investment destinations based on its stable legal environment, reliable infrastructure, highly skilled workforce, positive social climate, and world-class research and development.

Foreign investment in Germany mainly originates from other European countries, the United States, and Japan, although FDI from emerging economies (and China) has grown over 2015-2018 from low levels. The United States is the leading source of non-European FDI in Germany.

The German government continues to strengthen provisions for national security screening of inward investment in reaction to an increasing number of high-risk acquisitions of German companies by foreign investors in recent years, particularly from China.  In 2018, the government lowered the threshold for the screening of investments, allowing authorities to screen acquisitions by foreign entities of at least 10 percent of voting rights of German companies that operate or provide services related to critical infrastructure. The amendment also added media companies to the list of sensitive businesses.

Further amendments enacted in 2020 to implement the 2019 EU FDI Screening Regulation, which Germany strongly supported, include to:

a) facilitate a more pro-active screening based on “prospective impairment” of public order or security by an acquisition, rather than a de facto threat, b) take into account the impact on other EU member states, and c) formally suspend transactions during the screening process.

Furthermore, acquisitions by foreign government-owned or -funded entities will now trigger a review, and the healthcare industry will be considered a sensitive sector to which the stricter 10% threshold applies. A further amendment, in force since May 2021, introduced a list of sensitive sectors and technologies (similar to the current list of critical infrastructure) including artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, specialized robots, semiconductors, additive manufacturing and quantum technology, among others. Foreign investors who seek to acquire at least 10% of voting rights of a German company in one of those fields would be required to notify the government and potentially become subject to an investment review.

German legal, regulatory, and accounting systems can be complex but are generally transparent and consistent with developed-market norms.  Businesses operate within a well-regulated, albeit relatively high-cost, environment. Foreign and domestic investors are treated equally when it comes to investment incentives or the establishment and protection of real and intellectual property.  Foreign investors can rely on the German legal system to enforce laws and contracts; at the same time, this system requires investors to closely track their legal obligations. New investors should ensure they have the necessary legal expertise, either in-house or outside counsel, to meet all national and EU regulations.

German authorities are committed to fighting money laundering and corruption.  The government promotes responsible business conduct and German SMEs are aware of the need for due diligence.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 9 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 22 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 9 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 148,259 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 48,580 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The German government and industry actively encourage foreign investment. U.S. investment continues to account for a significant share of Germany’s FDI. The 1956 U.S.-Federal Republic of Germany Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation affords U.S. investors national treatment and provides for the free movement of capital between the United States and Germany. As an OECD member, Germany adheres to the OECD National Treatment Instrument and the OECD Codes of Liberalization of Capital Movements and of Invisible Operations.  The Foreign Trade and Payments Act and the Foreign Trade and Payments Ordinance provide the legal basis for the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy to review acquisitions of domestic companies by foreign buyers, to assess whether these transactions pose a risk to the public order or national security (for example, when the investment pertains to critical infrastructure).  For many decades, Germany has experienced significant inbound investment, which is widely recognized as a considerable contributor to Germany’s growth and prosperity. The investment-related challenges facing foreign companies are broadly the same as face domestic firms, e.g relatively high tax rates, stringent environmental regulations, and labor laws that complicate hiring and dismissals. Germany Trade and Invest (GTAI), the country’s economic development agency, provides extensive information for investors: https://www.gtai.de/gtai-en/invest

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Under German law, a foreign-owned company registered in the Federal Republic of Germany as a GmbH (limited liability company) or an AG (joint stock company) is treated the same as a German-owned company. There are no special nationality requirements for directors or shareholders.

Companies which seek to open a branch office in Germany without establishing a new legal entity, (e.g., for the provision of employee placement services, such as providing temporary office support, domestic help, or executive search services), must register and have at least one representative located in Germany.

Germany maintains an elaborate mechanism to screen foreign investments based on national security grounds. The legislative basis for the mechanism (the Foreign Trade and Payments Act and Foreign Trade and Payments Ordinance) has been amended several times in recent years in an effort to tighten parameters of the screening as technological threats evolve, particularly to address growing interest by foreign investors in both Mittelstand (mid-sized) and blue chip German companies. Amendments to implement the 2019 EU Screening Regulation are already in force or have been drafted as of March 2021. One major change in the amendments allows for authorities to make “prospective impairment” of public order and security the new trigger for an investment review, in place of the former standard (which requires a de facto threat).

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Bank Group’s “Doing Business 2020” Index provides additional information on Germany’s investment climate. The American Chamber of Commerce in Germany also publishes results of an annual survey of U.S. investors in Germany (“AmCham Germany Transatlantic Business Barometer”, https://www.amcham.de/publications).

Business Facilitation

Before engaging in commercial activities, companies and business operators must register in public directories, the two most significant of which are the commercial register (Handelsregister) and the trade office register (Gewerberegister).

Applications for registration at the commercial register, which is available under  www.handelsregister.de , are electronically filed in publicly certified form through a notary.  The commercial register provides information about all relevant relationships between merchants and commercial companies, including names of partners and managing directors, capital stock, liability limitations, and insolvency proceedings.  Registration costs vary depending on the size of the company. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020, the median duration to register a business in Germany is 8 days.

Germany Trade and Invest (GTAI), the country’s economic development agency, can assist in the registration processes ( https://www.gtai.de/gtai-en/invest/investment-guide/establishing-a-company/business-registration-65532 ) and advises investors, including micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), on how to obtain incentives.

In the EU, MSMEs are defined as follows:

  • Micro-enterprises:  less than 10 employees and less than €2 million annual turnover or less than €2 million in balance sheet total.
  • Small enterprises:  less than 50 employees and less than €10 million annual turnover or less than €10 million in balance sheet total.
  • Medium-sized enterprises:  less than 250 employees and less than €50 million annual turnover or less than €43 million in balance sheet total.

U.S.-based traders, who seek to sell in Germany, e.g., via commercial platforms, are required to register with one specific tax authority in Bonn, which can lead to significant delays due to capacity issues.

Outward Investment

Germany’s federal government provides guarantees for investments by Germany-based companies in developing and emerging economies and countries in transition in order to insure them against political risks. In order to receive guarantees, the investment must have adequate legal protection in the host country. The Federal Government does not insure against commercial risks. In 2020, the government issued investment guarantees amounting to €900 million for investment projects in 13 countries, with the majority of those in China and India.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Germany has transparent and effective laws and policies to promote competition, including antitrust laws. The legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are complex but transparent and consistent with international norms.

Public consultation by federal authorities is regulated by the Joint Rules of Procedure, which specify that ministries must consult early and extensively with a range of stakeholders on all new legislative proposals. In practice, laws and regulations in Germany are routinely published in draft for public comment. According to the Joint Rules of Procedure, ministries should consult the concerned industries’ associations , consumer organizations, environmental, and other NGOs. The consultation period generally takes two to eight weeks.

The German Institute for Standardization (DIN), Germany’s independent and sole national standards body representing Germany in non-governmental international standards organizations, is open to German subsidiaries of foreign companies.

International Regulatory Considerations

As a member of the European Union, Germany must observe and implement directives and regulations adopted by the EU. EU regulations are binding and enter into force as immediately applicable law. Directives, on the other hand, constitute a type of framework law that is to be transposed by the Member States in their respective legislative processes, which is regularly observed in Germany.

EU Member States must transpose directives within a specified period of time. Should a deadline not be met, the Member State may suffer the initiation of an infringement procedure, which could result in steep fines. Germany has a set of rules that prescribe how to break down any payment of fines devolving to the Federal Government and the federal states (Länder). Both bear part of the costs. Payment requirements by the individual states depend on the size of their population and the respective part they played in non-compliance.

The federal states have a say over European affairs through the Bundesrat (upper chamber of parliament). The Federal Government must inform the Bundesrat at an early stage of any new EU policies that are relevant for the federal states.

The Federal Government notifies draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) through the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

German law is both stable and predictable.  Companies can effectively enforce property and contractual rights.  Germany’s well-established enforcement laws and official enforcement services ensure that investors can assert their rights.  German courts are fully available to foreign investors in an investment dispute.

The judicial system is independent, and the government does not interfere in the court system.  The legislature sets the systemic and structural parameters, while lawyers and civil law notaries use the law to shape and organize specific situations.  Judges are highly competent and impartial. International studies and empirical data have attested that Germany offers an effective court system committed to due process and the rule of law.

In Germany, most important legal issues and matters are governed by comprehensive legislation in the form of statutes, codes and regulations.  Primary legislation in the area of business law includes: the Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, abbreviated as BGB), which contains general rules on the formation, performance and enforcement of contracts and on the basic types of contractual agreements for legal transactions between private entities;

  • the Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, abbreviated as BGB), which contains general rules on the formation, performance and enforcement of contracts and on the basic types of contractual agreements for legal transactions between private entities;
  • the Commercial Code (Handelsgesetzbuch, abbreviated as HGB), which contains special rules concerning transactions among businesses and commercial partnerships;
  • the Private Limited Companies Act (GmbH-Gesetz) and the Public Limited Companies Act (Aktiengesetz), covering the two most common corporate structures in Germany – the ‘GmbH’ and the ‘Aktiengesellschaft’; and
  • the Act on Unfair Competition (Gesetz gegen den unlauteren Wettbewerb, abbreviated as UWG), which prohibits misleading advertising and unfair business practices.

Apart from the regular courts, which hear civil and criminal cases, Germany has specialized courts for administrative law, labor law, social law, and finance and tax law.  Many civil regional courts have specialized chambers for commercial matters. In 2018, the first German regional courts for civil matters (in Frankfurt and Hamburg) established Chambers for International Commercial Disputes introducing the possibility to hear international trade disputes in English.  Other federal states are currently discussing plans to introduce these specialized chambers as well. In November 2020, Baden-Wuerttemberg opened the first commercial court in Germany with locations in Stuttgart and Mannheim, with the option to choose English language proceedings.

The Federal Patent Court hears cases on patents, trademarks, and utility rights which are related to decisions by the German Patent and Trademarks Office.  Both the German Patent Office (Deutsches Patentamt) and the European Patent Office are headquartered in Munich.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy may review acquisitions of domestic companies by foreign buyers in cases where investors seek to acquire at least 25 percent of the voting rights to assess whether these transactions pose a risk to the public order or national security of the Federal Republic of Germany. In the case of acquisitions of critical infrastructure and companies in sensitive sectors, the threshold for triggering an investment review by the government is 10 percent. The Foreign Trade and Payments Act and the Foreign Trade and Payments Ordinance provide the legal basis for screening investments. In 2019, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy screened a total of 106 foreign acquisitions. In at least one case it prohibited an acquisition – the planned takeover of German wireless communications technology developer IMST GmbH by Chinese state-owned defense company CASIC in December 2020. However, even without a formal decision, the mere prospect of rejection has reportedly caused foreign investors to pull out of prospective deals in the past. All national security decisions by the ministry can be appealed in administrative courts.

There is no general requirement for investors to obtain approval for any acquisition unless the target company poses a potential national security risk, such as operating or providing services relating to critical infrastructure, , is a media company, or operates in the health sector. The threshold for initiating such an investment review is an acquisition of at least 10 percent of voting rights. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy may launch a review within three months after obtaining knowledge of the acquisition; the review must be concluded within four months after receipt of the full set of relevant documents. An investor may also request a binding certificate of non-objection from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in advance of the planned acquisition to obtain legal certainty at an early stage. If the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy does not open an in-depth review within two months from the receipt of the request, this certificate shall be deemed as granted.

Special rules additionally apply for the acquisition of companies that operate in sensitive security areas, including defense and IT security. In contrast to the cross-sectoral rules described above, all sensitive acquisitions must be notified in written form including basic information of the planned acquisition, the buyer, the domestic company that is subject of the acquisition and the respective fields of business. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy may open a formal review procedure if a foreign investor seeks to acquire at least 10 percent of voting rights of a German company in a sensitive security area within three months after receiving notification, or the acquisition shall be deemed as approved. If a review procedure is opened, the buyer is required to submit further documents. The acquisition may be restricted or prohibited within three months after the full set of documents has been submitted.

The German government has continuously amended domestic investment screening provisions in recent years to transpose the relevant EU framework and address evolving security risks. An amendment in June 2017 clarified the scope for review and gave the government more time to conduct reviews, in reaction to an increasing number of acquisitions of German companies by foreign investors with apparent ties to national governments. The amended provisions provide a clearer definition of sectors in which foreign investment can pose a threat to public order and security, including operators of critical infrastructure, developers of software to run critical infrastructure, telecommunications operators or companies involved in telecom surveillance, cloud computing network operators and service providers, and telematics companies, and which are subject to notification requirements. The new rules also extended the time to assess a cross-sector foreign investment from two to four months, and for investments in sensitive sectors, from one to three months, and introduced the possibility of retroactively initiating assessments for a period of five years after the conclusion of an acquisition. Indirect acquisitions such as those through a Germany- or EU-based affiliate company are now also explicitly subject to the new rules.

With further amendments in 2020, Germany implemented the 2019 EU Screening Regulation.

The amendments a) introduced a more pro-active screening based on “prospective impairment” of public order or security by an acquisition, rather than a de facto threat, b) take into account the impact on other EU member states, and c) formally suspend transactions during the screening process.

a) introduced a more pro-active screening based on “prospective impairment” of public order or security by an acquisition, rather than a de facto threat, b) take into account the impact on other EU member states, and c) formally suspend transactions during the screening process.

Furthermore, acquisitions by foreign government-owned or -funded entities now trigger a review, and the healthcare industry is now considered a sensitive sector to which the stricter 10% threshold applies. In May 2021, a further amendment entered into force which introduced a list of sensitive sectors and technologies (similar to the current list of critical infrastructures), including artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, specialized robots, semiconductors, additive manufacturing and quantum technology. Foreign investors who seek to acquire at least 10% of ownership rights of a German company in one those fields would be required to notify the government and potentially become subject to an investment review. The screening can now also take into account “stockpiling acquisitions” by the same investor, “atypical control investments” where an investor seeks additional influence in company operations via side contractual agreements, or combined acquisitions by multiple investors, if all are controlled by one foreign government.

The Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy provides comprehensive information on Germany’s investment screening regime on its website in English: https://www.bmwi.de/Redaktion/EN/Artikel/Foreign-Trade/investment-screening.html 

https://www.bmwi.de/Redaktion/EN/Artikel/Foreign-Trade/investment-screening.html 

The German Economic Development Agency (GTAI) provides extensive information for investors, including about the legal framework, labor-related issues and incentive programs, on their website: http://www.gtai.de/GTAI/Navigation/EN/Invest/investment-guide.html .

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Federal and state investment incentives – including investment grants, labor-related and R&D incentives, public loans, and public guarantees – are available to domestic and foreign investors alike. Different incentives can be combined. In general, foreign and German investors must meet the same criteria for eligibility.

Germany Trade & Invest (GTAI), Germany’s federal economic development agency, provides comprehensive information on incentives in English at: https://www.gtai.de/gtai-en/invest/investment-guide/incentive-programs .

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

There are currently two free ports in Germany operating under EU law: Bremerhaven and Cuxhaven. The duty-free zones within the ports also permit value-added processing and manufacturing for EU-external markets, albeit with certain requirements. All are open to both domestic and foreign entities. In recent years, falling tariffs and the progressive enlargement of the EU have eroded much of the utility and attractiveness of duty-free zones.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

In general, there are no requirements for local sourcing, export percentage, or local or national ownership. In some cases, however, there may be performance requirements tied to an incentive, such as creation of jobs or maintaining a certain level of employment for a prescribed length of time.

U.S. companies can generally obtain the visas and work permits required to do business in Germany. U.S. citizens may apply for work and residential permits from within Germany. Germany Trade & Invest offers detailed information online at https://www.gtai.de/gtai-en/invest/investment-guide/coming-to-germany .

There are no general localization requirements for data storage in Germany. However, the invalidation of the Privacy Shield by the European Court of Justice in July 2020 has led to increased calls for data storage in Germany, e.g., with regard to U.S. cloud service providers used by digital health app developers. In recent years, German and European cloud providers have also sought to market the domestic location of their servers as a competitive advantage.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The German Government adheres to a policy of national treatment, which considers property owned by foreigners as fully protected under German law. In Germany, mortgage approvals are based on recognized and reliable collateral. Secured interests in property, both chattel and real, are recognized and enforced. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, it takes an average of 52 days to register property in Germany.

The German Land Register Act dates back to 1897. The land register mirrors private real property rights and provides information on the legal relationship of the estate. It documents the owner, rights of third persons, as well as liabilities and restrictions. Any change in property of real estate must be registered in the land registry to make the contract effective. Land titles are now maintained in an electronic database and can be consulted by persons with a legitimate interest.

Intellectual Property Rights

Germany has a robust regime to protect intellectual property rights (IPR). Legal structures are strong and enforcement is good. Nonetheless, internet piracy and counterfeit goods remain issues, and specific infringing websites are occasionally included in USTR’s Notorious Markets Reviews. Germany has been a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) since 1970. The German Central Customs Authority annually publishes statistics on customs seizures of counterfeit and pirated goods. The statistics for 2019 can be found under: https://www.zoll.de/SharedDocs/Broschueren/DE/Die-Zollverwaltung/jahresstatistik_2019.html.

Germany is party to the major international IPR agreements: the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Universal Copyright Convention, the Geneva Phonograms Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the Brussels Satellite Convention, the Rome Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Many of the latest developments in German IPR law are derived from European legislation with the objective to make applications less burdensome and allow for European IPR protection. Germany is currently drafting legislation to implement EU Directive 2019/790 on Copyright and Related Rights in the Digital Single Market, including an ancillary copyright law for publishers.

The following types of protection are available:

Copyrights: National treatment is granted to foreign copyright holders, including remuneration for private recordings. Under the TRIPS Agreement, Germany grants legal protection for U.S. performing artists against the commercial distribution of unauthorized live recordings in Germany. Germany is party to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty and WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty, which came into force in 2010. Most rights holder organizations regard German authorities’ enforcement of IP rights as effective. In 2008, Germany implemented the EU Directive (2004/48/EC) on IPR enforcement with a national bill, thereby strengthening the privileges of rights holders and allowing for improved enforcement action. Germany is currently drafting legislation to implement EU Directive 2019/790 on Copyright and Related Rights in the Digital Single Market.

Trademarks: National treatment is granted to foreigners seeking to register trademarks at the German Patent and Trade Mark Office. Protection is valid for a period of ten years and can be extended in ten-year periods. It is possible to register for trademark and design protection nationally in Germany or for an EU Trade Mark and/or Registered Community Design at the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). These provide protection for industrial design or trademarks in the entire EU market. Both national trademarks and European Union Trade Marks (EUTMs) can be applied for from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) as part of an international trademark registration system, or the applicant may apply directly for those trademarks from EUIPO at https://euipo.europa.eu/ohimportal/en/home .

Patents: National treatment is granted to foreigners seeking to register patents at the German Patent and Trade Mark Office. Patents are granted for technical inventions that are new, involve an inventive step, and are industrially applicable. However, applicants having neither a domicile nor an establishment in Germany must appoint a patent attorney in Germany as a representative filing the patent application. The documents must be submitted in German or with a translation into German. The duration of a patent is 20 years from the patent application filing date. Patent applicants can request accelerated examination under the Global Patent Prosecution Highway (GPPH) when filing the application, provided that the patent application was previously filed at the USPTO and that at least one claim had been determined to be patentable. There are a number of differences between U.S. and German patent law, including the filing systems (“first-inventor-to-file” versus “first-to-file”, respectively), that a qualified patent attorney can explain to U.S. patent applicants. German law also offers the possibility to register designs and utility models.

If a U.S. applicant seeks to file a patent in multiple European countries, this may be accomplished through the European Patent Office (EPO) which grants European patents for the contracting states to the European Patent Convention (EPC). The 38 contracting states include the entire EU membership and several additional European countries; Germany joined the EPC in 1977. It should be noted that some EPC members require a translation of the granted European patent in their language for validation purposes. The EPO provides a convenient single point to file a patent in as many of these countries as an applicant would like: https://www.epo.org/applying/basics.html . U.S. applicants seeking patent rights in multiple countries can alternatively file an international Patent Coordination Treaty (PCT) application with the USPTO.

Trade Secrets: Trade secrets are protected in Germany by the Law for the Protection of Trade Secrets, which has been in force since April 2019 and implements the 2016 EU Directive (2016/943). According to the law, the illegal accessing, appropriation, and copying of trade secrets, including through social engineering, is prohibited. Explicitly exempt from the law is “reverse engineering” of a publicly available item, and appropriation, usage, or publication of a trade secret to protect a “legitimate interest”, including journalistic research and whistleblowing. The law requires that companies have to implement “adequate confidentiality measures” for information to be protected as a trade secret under the law. Owners of trade secrets are entitled to omission, compensation, and information about the culprit, as well as the destruction, return and recall, and ultimately the removal of the infringing products from the market.

For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IPR offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

Country resources:

For additional information about how to protect IPR in Germany, please see Germany Trade & Invest website at https://www.gtai.de/gtai-en/invest/investment-guide/the-legal-framework/patents-licensing-trade-marks-65372 .

Statistics on the seizure of counterfeit goods are available through the German Customs Authority (Zoll): https://www.zoll.de/SharedDocs/Broschueren/DE/Die-Zollverwaltung/statistik_gew_rechtsschutz_2019.html;jsessionid=F8B0524DFF4F1ADF99DEBB858E4CAD31.internet412?nn=305648

https://www.zoll.de/SharedDocs/Broschueren/DE/Die-Zollverwaltung/statistik_gew_rechtsschutz_2019.html;jsessionid=F8B0524DFF4F1ADF99DEBB858E4CAD31.internet412?nn=305648

Investors can identify IPR lawyers in AmCham Germany’s Online Services Directory: https://www.amcham.de/services/overview/member-services/address-services-directory/  (under “legal references” select “intellectual property.”)

Businesses can also join the Anti-counterfeiting Association (APM) http://www.markenpiraterie-apm.de/index.php?article_id=1&clang=1 

http://www.markenpiraterie-apm.de/index.php?article_id=1&clang=1 

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

As an EU member state with a well-developed financial sector, Germany welcomes foreign portfolio investment and has an effective regulatory system. Germany has a very open economy, routinely ranking among the top countries in the world for exports and inward and outward foreign direct investment. As a member of the Eurozone, Germany does not have sole national authority over international payments, which are a shared task of the European Central Bank and the national central banks of the 19 member states, including the German Central Bank (Bundesbank). A European framework for national security screening of foreign investments, which entered into force in April 2019, provides a basis under European law to restrict capital movements into Germany on the basis of threats to national security. Global investors see Germany as a safe place to invest, as the real economy – up until the COVID-19 crisis– continued to outperform other EU countries.German sovereign bonds continue to retain their “safe haven” status.

Listed companies and market participants in Germany must comply with the Securities Trading Act, which bans insider trading and market manipulation. Compliance is monitored by the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) while oversight of stock exchanges is the responsibility of the state governments in Germany (with BaFin taking on any international responsibility). Investment fund management in Germany is regulated by the Capital Investment Code (KAGB), which entered into force on July 22, 2013. The KAGB represents the implementation of additional financial market regulatory reforms, committed to in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. The law went beyond the minimum requirements of the relevant EU directives and represents a comprehensive overhaul of all existing investment-related regulations in Germany with the aim of creating a system of rules to protect investors while also maintaining systemic financial stability.

Money and Banking System

Although corporate financing via capital markets is on the rise, Germany’s financial system remains mostly bank-based. Bank loans are still the predominant form of funding for firms, particularly the small- and medium-sized enterprises that comprise Germany’s “Mittelstand,” or mid-sized industrial market leaders. Credit is available at market-determined rates to both domestic and foreign investors, and a variety of credit instruments are available. Legal, regulatory and accounting systems are generally transparent and consistent with international banking norms. Germany has a universal banking system regulated by federal authorities, and there have been no reports of a shortage of credit in the German economy. After 2010, Germany banned some forms of speculative trading, most importantly “naked short selling.” In 2013, Germany passed a law requiring banks to separate riskier activities such as proprietary trading into a legally separate, fully capitalized unit that has no guarantee or access to financing from the deposit-taking part of the bank. Since the creation of the European single supervisory mechanism (SSM) in November 2014, the European Central Bank directly supervises 21 banks located in Germany (as of January 2021) among them four subsidiaries of foreign banks.

Germany supports a global financial transaction tax and is pursuing the introduction of such a tax along with other EU member states.

Germany has a modern and open banking sector that is characterized by a highly diversified and decentralized, small-scale structure. As a result, it is extremely competitive, profit margins notably in the retail sector are low and the banking sector considered “over-banked” and in need of consolidation. The country’s “three-pillar” banking system consists of private commercial banks, cooperative banks, and public banks (savings banks/Sparkassen and the regional state-owned banks/Landesbanken). This structure has remained unchanged despite marked consolidation within each “pillar” since the financial crisis in 2008/9. The number of state banks (Landesbanken) dropped from 12 to 5, that of savings banks from 446 in 2007 to 374 at the end of 2019 and the number of cooperative banks has dropped from 1,234 to 814. Two of the five large private sector banks have exited the market (Dresdner, Postbank). The balance sheet total of German banks dropped from 304 percent of GDP in 2007 to about 265 percent of end-2019 GDP with banking sector assets worth €9.1 trillion. Market shares in corporate finance of the banking groups remained largely unchanged (all figures for end of 2019): Credit institutions 27 percent (domestic 17 percent, foreign banks 10 percent), savings banks 31 percent, state banks 10 percent, credit cooperative banks 21 percent, promotional banks 6 percent.

The private bank sector is dominated by globally active banks Deutsche Bank (Germany’s largest bank by balance sheet total) and Commerzbank (fourth largest bank), with balance sheets of €1.3 trillion and €466.6 billion respectively (2019 figures). Commerzbank received €18 billion in financial assistance from the federal government in 2009, for which the government took a 25 percent stake in the bank (now reduced to 15.6 percent). Merger talks between Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank failed in 2019. The second largest of the top ten German banks is DZ Bank, the central institution of the Cooperative Finance Group (after its merger with WGZ Bank in July 2016), followed by German branches of large international banks (UniCredit Bank or HVB, ING-Diba), development banks (KfW Group, NRW.Bank), and state banks (LBBW, Bayern LB, Helaba, NordLB).

German banks’ profitability deteriorated in the years prior to the COVID-19 crisis due to the prevailing low and negative interest rate environment that narrowed margins on new loans irrespective of debtors’ credit worthiness, poor trading results and new competitors from the fintech sector, and low cost efficiency. In 2018, according to the latest data by the Deutsche Bundesbank (Germany’s central bank), German credit institutions reported a pre-tax profit of €18.9 billion or 0.23 percent of total assets. Their net interest income remained below its long-term average to €87.2 billion despite dynamic credit growth (19 percent since end-2014 until end-2019 in retail and 23 percent in corporate loans) on ongoing cost-reduction efforts. Thanks to continued favorable domestic economic conditions, their risk provisioning has been at an all time low. Their average return on equity before tax in 2018 slipped to 3.74 percent (after tax: 2.4 percent) (with savings banks generating a higher return, big banks a lower return, and Landesbanken a –2.45 percent return). Both return on equity and return on assets were at their lowest level since 2010.

Brexit promptedsome banking activities to relocate from the United Kingdom to the EU, with many foreign banks (notably U.S. and Japanese banks) choosing Frankfurt as their new EU headquarters. Their Core Tier 1 equity capital ratios improved as did their liquidity ratios, but no German large bank has been able to organically raise its capital for the past decade.

In 2020, the insolvency of financial services provider WireCard revealed certain weaknesses in German banking supervision. WireCard, which many viewed as a promising innovative format for the processing of credit card transactions, managed to conceal inadequate equity from supervisory authorities while also inflating its actual turnover. The Wirecard insolvency led to the replacement of the head of banking supervisory authority BaFin and triggered both an ongoing overhaul of the German banking supervision and a continuing parliamentary investigation.

It remains unclear how the COVID-19 crisis will affect the German banking sector. Prior to the pandemic, the bleaker German economic outlook prompted a greater need for value adjustment and write-downs in lending business. German banks’ ratio of non-performing loans was low going into the crisis (1.24 percent). In March 2020, the German government provided large-scale asset guarantees to banks (in certain instances covering 100 percent of the credit risk) via the German government owned KfW bank to avoid a credit crunch. So far, German banks have come through the crisis unscathed thanks to extensive liquidity assistance from the ECB, moratoria and fiscal support for the economy. Nevertheless, 25 German banks were downgraded in 2020 and many more were put on negative watch, though CDS spreads for the two largest private banks have fallen dramatically since the height of the crisis in March 2020 and are currently around pre-COVID levels. The second and third COVID-waves, however, are likely to take a toll on credit institutions and 2021 could prove to be the toughest test for banks since the 2008/9 global financial crisis. According to the Bundesbank, loan defaults by German banks could quadruple to 0.8 percent of the loan portfolio (or €13 billion). The Bundesbank’s focus in particular is on aircraft loans. According to Bloomberg’s calculations, the major German regional banks have lent €15 billion for aircraft financing. At Deka alone, the asset manager of the savings banks, the ratio of non-performing loans in aircraft financing is at a relatively high 7.7 percent.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

As a member of the Eurozone, Germany uses the euro as its currency, along with 18 other EU countries. The Eurozone has no restrictions on the transfer or conversion of its currency, and the exchange rate is freely determined in the foreign exchange market.

The Deutsche Bundesbank is the independent central bank of the Federal Republic of Germany. It has been a part of the Eurosystem since 1999, sharing responsibility with the other national central banks and the European Central Bank (ECB) for the single currency, and thus has no scope to manipulate the bloc’s exchange rate. Germany’s persistently high current account surplus – the world’s second largest in 2020 at USD 261 billion (6.9 percent of GDP) – has shrunk for the fifth year in a row. Despite the decrease, the persistence of Germany’s surplus remains a matter of international controversy. German policymakers view the large surplus as the result of market forces rather than active government policies, while the European Commission (EC) and IMF have called on authorities to rebalance towards domestic sources of economic growth by expanding public investment, using available fiscal space, and other policy choices that boost domestic demand.

Germany is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and is committed to further strengthening its national system for the prevention, detection and suppression of money laundering and terrorist financing. Federal law is enforced by regional state prosecutors. Investigations are conducted by the Federal and State Offices of Criminal Investigations (BKA/LKA). The administrative authority for imposing anti-money laundering requirements on financial institutions is the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin).

The Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) – located at the General Customs Directorate in the Federal Ministry of Finance – is the national central authority for receiving, collecting and analyzing reports of suspicious financial transactions that may be related to money laundering or terrorist financing. On January 1, 2020, legislation to implement the 5th EU Money Laundering Directive and the European Funds Transfers Regulation (Geldtransfer-Verordnung) entered into force. The Act amends the German Money Laundering Act (Geldwäschegesetz – GwG) and a number of further laws. It provides, inter alia, the FIU and prosecutors with expanded access to data. On March 9, 2021 the Bundestag passed an anti-money laundering law seeking to improve Germany’s criminal legal framework for combating money laundering while simultaneously implementing the EU’s 6th Money Laundering Directive (EU 2018/1673 – hereafter “the Directive”). The Directive lays down minimum rules on the definition of criminal offenses and sanctions to combat money laundering. The law goes beyond the minimum standard set out in the Directive by broadening the definition of activities that could be prosecuted as money laundering offenses. Previously, the money laundering section in the German Criminal Code was designed to criminalize acts in connection with a list of serious “predicate offenses,” the underlying crime generating illicit funds, e.g., drug trafficking. The new law dispenses with the previously defined list, allowing any crime to be considered as a “predicate offense” to money laundering (the “All- Crimes Approach”). This is a paradigm shift in German criminal law, and implements an additional priority laid out in Germany’s “Strategy to Combat Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing” adopted in 2019.

The number of suspected money laundering and terrorist financing cases rose sharply in 2019 from 77.000 suspicious activity reports (SARs) to 114.914 according to the 2019 annual report of FIU (a new record and 12-fold that of 2009). The vast majority (98 percent) of suspicious transaction reports were filed by German banks and other financial institutions in order to avoid legal risks after a court ruling that held anti-money laundering (AML) officers personally liable, thus including many “false positives”. At the same time, the activities resulted in just 156 criminal charges, 133 indictments and only 54 verdicts.

In its annual report 2018, the FIU noted an “extreme vulnerability” in Germany’s real estate market to money laundering activities. Transparency International found that about €30 billion in illicit funds were funneled into German real estate in 2017. The results of the first concerted action by supervisory authorities of the German federal states in the automotive industry in 2019, for example, were sobering: only 15 percent of car dealers had implemented AML provisions, the rest had deficiencies, showing the “need for further sensitization.” The report also noted a slight upward trend in the number of SARs related to crypto assets. Around 760 SARs cited “anomalies in connection with cryptocurrencies”, as reporting noted, especially the forwarding of funds to trading platforms abroad for the exchange of funds into cryptocurrencies. However, the FIU itself has come under criticism. Financial institutions deplore the quality of its staff and the effectiveness of its work. The Institute of Public Auditors in Germany (IDW) criticizes that the precautions taken to prevent money laundering in high-risk industries outside the financial sector are monitored much less intensively. A review of the FIU scheduled for 2020 has been postponed due to the pandemic.

There is no difficulty in obtaining foreign exchange.

Remittance Policies

There are no restrictions or delays on investment remittances or the inflow or outflow of profits.

Germany is the largest remittance-sending country in the EU, making up almost 18% of all outbound personal remittances of the EU-27 (Eurostat). Migrants in Germany posted USD 25.1 billion (0.6 percent of GDP) abroad in 2019 (World Bank). Remittance flows into Germany amounted to around USD 16.5 billion in 2019, approximately 0.4 percent of Germany’s GDP.

The issue of remittances played a role during the German G20 Presidency in 2017. During its presidency, Germany passed an updated version of its “G20 National Remittance Plan.” The document states that Germany’s focus will remain on “consumer protection, linking remittances to financial inclusion, creating enabling regulatory frameworks and generating research and data on diaspora and remittances dynamics.” The 2017 “G20 National Remittance Plan” can be found at https://www.gpfi.org/publications/2017-g20-national-remittance-plans-overview 

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The German government does not currently have a sovereign wealth fund or an asset management bureau.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The formal term for state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in Germany translates as “public funds, institutions, or companies,” and refers to entities whose budget and administration are separate from those of the government, but in which the government has more than 50 percent of the capital shares or voting rights. Appropriations for SOEs are included in public budgets, and SOEs can take two forms, either public or private law entities. Public law entities are recognized as legal personalities whose goal, tasks, and organization are established and defined via specific acts of legislation, with the best-known example being the publicly-owned promotional bank KfW (Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau). KfW’s mandate is to promote global development. The government can also resort to ownership or participation in an entity governed by private law if the following conditions are met: doing so fulfills an important state interest, there is no better or more economical alternative, the financial responsibility of the federal government is limited, the government has appropriate supervisory influence, and yearly reports are published.

Government oversight of SOEs is decentralized and handled by the ministry with the appropriate technical area of expertise. The primary goal of such involvement is promoting public interests rather than generating profits. The government is required to close its ownership stake in a private entity if tasks change or technological progress provides more effective alternatives, though certain areas, particularly science and culture, remain permanent core government obligations. German SOEs are subject to the same taxes and the same value added tax rebate policies as their private sector competitors. There are no laws or rules that seek to ensure a primary or leading role for SOEs in certain sectors or industries. However, a white paper drafted by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy in November 2019 outlines elements of a national industrial strategy, which includes the option of a temporary state participation in key technology companies as “last resort”. Private enterprises have the same access to financing as SOEs, including access to state-owned banks such as KfW.

The Federal Statistics Office maintains a database of SOEs from all three levels of government (federal, state, and municipal) listing a total of 18,566 entities for 2018, or 0.5 percent of the total 3.5 million companies in Germany. SOEs in 2018 had €609 billion in revenue and €583 billion in expenditures. 41 percent of SOEs’ revenue was generated by water and energy suppliers, 12 percent by health and social services, and 11 percent by transportation-related entities. Measured by number of companies rather than size, 88 percent of SOEs are owned by municipalities, 10 percent are owned by Germany’s 16 states, and 2 percent are owned by the federal government.

The Federal Finance Ministry is required to publish a detailed annual report on public funds, institutions, and companies in which the federal government has direct participation (including a minority share) or an indirect participation greater than 25 percent and with a nominal capital share worth more than €50,000. The federal government held a direct participation in 104 companies and an indirect participation in 433 companies at the end of 2018, most prominently Deutsche Bahn (100 percent share), Deutsche Telekom (32 percent share), and Deutsche Post (21 percent share). Federal government ownership is concentrated in the areas of infrastructure, economic development, science, administration/increasing efficiency, defense, development policy, culture. As the result of federal financial assistance packages from the federally-controlled Financial Market Stability Fund during the global financial crisis of 2008/9, the federal government still has a partial stake in several commercial banks, including a 15.6 percent share in Commerzbank, Germany’s second largest commercial bank. In 2020, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the German government acquired shares of several large German companies, including CureVac, TUI and Lufthansa, in an attempt to prevent companies from filing for insolvency or, in the case of CureVac, support vaccine research in Germany.

The 2019 annual report (with 2018 data) can be found here: https://www.bundesfinanzministerium.de/Content/DE/Downloads/Broschueren_Bestellservice/2020-05-14-beteiligungsbericht-des-bundes-2019.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=28

https://www.bundesfinanzministerium.de/Content/DE/Downloads/Broschueren_Bestellservice/2020-05-14-beteiligungsbericht-des-bundes-2019.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=28

Publicly-owned banks constitute one of the three pillars of Germany’s banking system (cooperative and commercial banks are the other two). Germany’s savings banks are mainly owned by the municipalities, while the so-called Landesbanken are typically owned by regional savings bank associations and the state governments. Given their joint market share, about 40 percent of the German banking sector is publicly owned. There are also many state-owned promotional/development banks which have taken on larger governmental roles in financing infrastructure. This increased role removes expenditures from public budgets, particularly helpful in light of Germany’s balanced budget rules, which took effect for the states in 2020.

A longstanding, prominent case of a partially state-owned enterprise is automotive manufacturer Volkswagen, in which the state of Lower Saxony owns the third-largest share in the company of around 12 percent but controls 20 percent of the voting rights. The so-called Volkswagen Law, passed in 1960, limited individual shareholder’s voting rights in Volkswagen to a maximum of 20 percent regardless of the actual number of shares owned, so that Lower Saxony could veto any takeover attempts. In 2005, the European Commission successfully sued Germany at the European Court of Justice (ECJ), claiming the law impeded the free flow of capital. The law was subsequently amended to remove the cap on voting rights, but Lower Saxony’s 20 percent share of voting rights was maintained, preserving its ability to block hostile takeovers.

Privatization Program

Germany does not have any privatization programs at this time. German authorities treat foreigners equally in privatizations of state-owned enterprises.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

In December 2016, the Federal Government passed the National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights (NAP). The action plan aims to apply the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights to the activities of German companies nationally as well as globally in their value and supply chains. The 2018 coalition agreement for the 19th legislative period between the governing Christian Democratic parties, CDU/CSU, and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) stated its commitment to the action plan, including the principles on public procurement. It further stated that, if the NAP 2020’s effective and comprehensive review came to the conclusion that the voluntary due diligence approach of enterprises was insufficient, the government would initiate legislation for an EU-wide regulation. With results of the review showing a majority of companies do not sufficiently fulfill due diligence requirements, the government has since sought to pass a national supply chain law to ensure businesses take responsibility for their supply chains and their operations do not impinge upon human rights. Draft legislation passed by the government in March 2021 is currently in the parliamentary process.

Germany adheres to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises; the National Contact Point (NCP) is housed in the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy. The NCP is supported by an advisory board composed of several ministries, business organizations, trade unions, and NGOs. This working group usually meets once a year to discuss all Guidelines-related issues. The German NCP can be contacted through the Ministry’s website: https://www.bmwi.de/Redaktion/EN/Textsammlungen/Foreign-Trade/national-contact-point-ncp.html .

There is general awareness of environmental, social, and governance issues among both producers and consumers in Germany, and surveys suggest that consumers increasingly care about the ecological and social impacts of the products they purchase. In order to encourage businesses to factor environmental, social, and governance impacts into their decision-making, the government provides information online and in hard copy. The federal government encourages corporate social responsibility (CSR) through awards and prizes, business fairs, and reports and newsletters. The government also organizes so called “sector dialogues” to connect companies and facilitate the exchange of best practices, and offers practice days to help nationally as well as internationally operating small- and medium-sized companies discern and implement their entrepreneurial due diligence under the NAP. To this end it has created a website on CSR in Germany ( http://www.csr-in-deutschland.de/EN/Home/home.html  in English). The German government maintains and enforces domestic laws with respect to labor and employment rights, consumer protections, and environmental protections. The German government does not waive labor and environmental laws to attract investment.

Social reporting is voluntary, but publicly listed companies frequently include information on their CSR policies in annual shareholder reports and on their websites.

Civil society groups that work on CSR include Amnesty International Germany, Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland e. V. (BUND), CorA Corporate Accountability – Netzwerk Unternehmensverantwortung, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Germanwatch, Greenpeace Germany, Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NABU), Sneep (Studentisches Netzwerk zu Wirtschafts- und Unternehmensethik), Stiftung Warentest, Südwind – Institut für Ökonomie und Ökumene, TransFair – Verein zur Förderung des Fairen Handels mit der „Dritten Welt“ e. V., Transparency International, Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband e.V., Bundesverband Die Verbraucher Initiative e.V., and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF, known as the „World Wildlife Fund“ in the United States).

Additional Resources 

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Among industrialized countries, Germany ranks 9th out of 180, according to Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index. Some sectors including the automotive industry, construction sector, and public contracting, exert political influence and political party finance remains only partially transparent. Nevertheless, U.S. firms have not identified corruption as an impediment to investment in Germany. Germany is a signatory of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and a participating member of the OECD Working Group on Bribery.

Over the last two decades, Germany has increased penalties for the bribery of German officials, corrupt practices between companies, and price-fixing by companies competing for public contracts. It has also strengthened anti-corruption provisions on financial support extended by the official export credit agency and has tightened the rules for public tenders. Government officials are forbidden from accepting gifts linked to their jobs. Most state governments and local authorities have contact points for whistle-blowing and provisions for rotating personnel in areas prone to corruption. There are serious penalties for bribing officials and price fixing by companies competing for public contracts.

According to the Federal Criminal Office, in 2019, 50 percent of all corruption cases were directed towards the public administration (down from 73 percent in 2018), 39 percent towards the business sector (up from 18 percent in 2018), 9 percent towards law enforcement and judicial authorities (up from 7 percent in 2018), and 2 percent to political officials (unchanged compared to 2018).

Parliamentarians are subject to financial disclosure laws that require them to publish earnings from outside employment. Disclosures are available to the public via the Bundestag website (next to the parliamentarians’ biographies) and in the Official Handbook of the Bundestag. Penalties for noncompliance can range from an administrative fine to as much as half of a parliamentarian’s annual salary. In early 2021, several parliamentarians stepped down due to inappropriate financial gains made through personal relationships to businesses involved in the procurement of face masks during the initial stages of the pandemic.

Donations by private persons or entities to political parties are legally permitted. However, if they exceed €50,000, they must be reported to the President of the Bundestag, who is required to immediately publish the name of the party, the amount of the donation, the name of the donor, the date of the donation, and the date the recipient reported the donation. Donations of €10,000 or more must be included in the party’s annual accountability report to the President of the Bundestag.

State prosecutors are generally responsible for investigating corruption cases, but not all state governments have prosecutors specializing in corruption. Germany has successfully prosecuted hundreds of domestic corruption cases over the years, including large scale cases against major companies.

Media reports in past years about bribery investigations against Siemens, Daimler, Deutsche Telekom, Deutsche Bank, and Ferrostaal have increased awareness of the problem of corruption. As a result, listed companies and multinationals have expanded compliance departments, tightened internal codes of conduct, and offered more training to employees.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

Germany was a signatory to the UN Anti-Corruption Convention in 2003. The Bundestag ratified the Convention in November 2014.

Germany adheres to and actively enforces the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention which criminalizes bribery of foreign public officials by German citizens and firms. The necessary tax reform legislation ending the tax write-off for bribes in Germany and abroad became law in 1999.

Germany participates in the relevant EU anti-corruption measures and signed two EU conventions against corruption. However, while Germany ratified the Council of Europe Criminal Law Convention on Corruption in 2017, it has not yet ratified the Civil Law Convention on Corruption.

Resources to Report Corruption

There is no central government anti-corruption agency in Germany. Responsibilities in fighting corruption lies with the federal states.

Contact at “watchdog” organization:

Hartmut Bäumer, Chair
Transparency International Germany
Alte Schönhauser Str. 44, 10119 Berlin
+49 30 549 898 0
office@transparency.de 
https://www.transparency.de/en/ 

The Federal Criminal Office publishes an annual report on corruption: “Bundeslagebild Korruption” – the latest one covers 2019. https://www.bka.de/DE/AktuelleInformationen/StatistikenLagebilder/Lagebilder/Korruption/korruption_node.html;jsessionid=95B370E07C3C5702B4A4AAEE8EAC8B3F.live0601

https://www.bka.de/DE/AktuelleInformationen/StatistikenLagebilder/Lagebilder/Korruption/korruption_node.html;jsessionid=95B370E07C3C5702B4A4AAEE8EAC8B3F.live0601

10. Political and Security Environment

Political acts of violence against either foreign or domestic business enterprises are extremely rare. Isolated cases of violence directed at certain minorities and asylum seekers have not targeted U.S. investments or investors.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The German labor force is generally highly skilled, well-educated, and productive. Before the economic downturn caused by COVID-19, employment in Germany had risen for the thirteenth consecutive year and reached an all-time high of 45.3 million in 2019, an increase of 402,000 (or 0.9 percent) from 2018—the highest level since German reunification in 1990. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, employment fell to 44.8 million in 2020.

Simultaneously, unemployment had fallen by more than half since 2005, and, in 2019, reached the lowest average annual value since German reunification. In 2019, around 2.34 million people were registered as unemployed, corresponding to an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent, according to Germany Federal Employment Agency calculations. Using internationally comparable data from the European Union’s statistical office Eurostat, Germany had an average annual unemployment rate of 3.2 percent in 2019, the second lowest rate in the European Union. For the pandemic year 2020, the Federal Employment Agency reports an average unemployment rate of 5.9% with an average 2.7 million unemployed in 2020. This is an increase of 429,000 over 2019. However, long-term effects on the labor market, and the economy as a whole, due to COVID-19 are not yet fully observable. All employees are by law covered by the federal unemployment insurance that compensates for the lack of income for up to 24 months. A government-funded temporary furlough program allows companies to decrease their workforce and labor costs with layoffs and has helped mitigate a negative labor market impact in the short term. The government made intense use of this program, which enrolled at peak times in 2020 more than six million employees. The government, through the national employment agency, has spent more than 22 billion euros on this program, which it considers the main tool to keep unemployment low during the COVID-19 economic crisis. The government extended the program for all companies already meeting its conditions by the end of 2020 to December 31, 2021.

Germany’s national youth unemployment rate was 5.8 percent in 2019, the lowest in the EU. The German vocational training system has gained international interest as a key contributor to Germany’s highly skilled workforce and its sustainably low youth unemployment rate. Germany’s so-called “dual vocational training,” a combination of theoretical courses taught at schools and practical application in the workplace, teaches and develops many of the skills employers need. Each year, there are more than 500,000 apprenticeship positions available in more than 340 recognized training professions, in all sectors of the economy and public administration. Approximately 50 percent of students choose to start an apprenticeship. The government is promoting apprenticeship opportunities, in partnership with industry, through the “National Pact to Promote Training and Young Skilled Workers.”

An element of growing concern for German business is the aging and shrinking of the population, which (absent large-scale immigration) will likely result in labor shortages. Official forecasts at the behest of the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs predict that the current working age population will shrink by almost 3 million between 2010 and 2030, resulting in an overall shortage of workforce and skilled labor. Labor bottlenecks already constrain activity in many industries, occupations, and regions. The government has begun to enhance its efforts to ensure an adequate labor supply by improving programs to integrate women, elderly, young people, and foreign nationals into the labor market. The government has also facilitated the immigration of qualified workers.

Labor Relations

Germans consider the cooperation between labor unions and employer associations to be a fundamental principle of their social market economy and believe this has contributed to the country’s resilience during the economic and financial crisis. Insofar as job security for members is a core objective for German labor unions, unions often show restraint in collective bargaining in weak economic times and often can negotiate higher wages in strong economic conditions. In an international comparison, Germany is in the lower midrange with regards to strike numbers and intensity. All workers have the right to strike, except for civil servants (including teachers and police) and staff in sensitive or essential positions, such as members of the armed forces.

Germany’s constitution, federal legislation, and government regulations contain provisions designed to protect the right of employees to form and join independent unions of their choice. The overwhelming majority of unionized workers are members of one of the eight largest unions — largely grouped by industry or service sector — which are affiliates of the German Trade Union Confederation (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB). Several smaller unions exist outside the DGB. Overall trade union membership has, however, been in decline over the last several years. In 2020, total DGB union membership amounted to less than 6 million. IG Metall is the largest German labor union with 2.2 million members, followed by the influential service sector union Ver.di (1.9 million members).

The constitution and enabling legislation protect the right to collective bargaining, and agreements are legally binding to the parties. In 2019, 52 percent of non-self-employed workers were covered by a collective wage agreement.

By law, workers can elect a works council in any private company employing at least five people. The rights of the works council include the right to be informed, to be consulted, and to participate in company decisions. Works councils often help labor and management to settle problems before they become disputes and disrupt work. In addition, “co-determination” laws give the workforce in medium-sized or large companies (corporations, limited liability companies, partnerships limited by shares, co-operatives, and mutual insurance companies) significant voting representation on the firms’ supervisory boards. This co-determination in the supervisory board extends to all company activities.

From 2010 to 2019, real wages grew by 1.2 percent on average. Generous collective bargaining wage increases in 2019 (+3.2 percent) and the increase of the federal Germany-wide statutory minimum wage to €9.35 (USD 10.15) on January 1, 2020, led to 2.6 percent nominal wage increase. Real wages grew by 1.2 percent in 2019. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, real wages fell in 2020 by 1% over the previous year (preliminary figures).

Labor costs increased by 3.4 percent in 2019. With an average labor cost of €35 (USD 41.20) per hour, Germany ranked seventh among the 27 EU-members states (EU average: €27.40/USD 32.26) in 2019.

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) 2020 €3.332,230 2019 $3.861,000 Federal Statistical Office, www.destatis.de

www.worldbank.org/en/country

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) 2018 €98,909 2019 $148,259 Bundesbank
BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 €361,401 2019 $521,979 Bundesbank,
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 1.6% 2019 1.0% Federal Statistical Office, Bundesbank,
UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html   

* Source for Host Country Data: Federal Statistical Office, www.destatis.de; Bundesbank, www.bundesbank.de   

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 $1,023,358 100% Total Outward $1,754,585 100%
Luxembourg $189,366 18.5% United States $310,971 17.7%
The Netherlands $178,883 17.5% Luxembourg $213,181 12.1%
United States $119,195 11.6% The Netherlands $201,183 11.5%
Switzerland $84,618 8.3% United Kingdom $140,310 8.0%
United Kingdom $74,000 7.2% France $101,516 5.8%
“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 $3,706,904 100% All Countries $1,346,852 100% All Countries $2,360,052 100%
Luxembourg $688,255 19% Luxembourg $558,479 41% France $365,233 15%
United States $485,817 13% United States $211,170 16% United States $274,648 12%
France $459,604 12% Ireland $151,491 11% The Netherlands $266,276 11%
The Netherlands $307,341 8% France $94,371 7% United Kingdom $148,535 6%
Ireland $221,856 6% Switzerland $60,256 4% Spain $133,980 6%

14. Contact for More Information

Foreign Commercial Service
Pariser Platz 2, 14191 Berlin, Germany
+49-(0)30-8305-2940
Email: feedback@usembassy.de 

India

Executive Summary

The Government of India continued to actively court foreign investment. In the wake of COVID-19, India enacted ambitious structural economic reforms, including new labor codes and landmark agricultural sector reforms, that should help attract private and foreign direct investment. In February 2021, the Finance Minister announced plans to raise $2.4 billion though an ambitious privatization program that would dramatically reduce the government’s role in the economy. In March 2021, parliament further liberalized India’s insurance sector, increasing the foreign direct investment (FDI) limits to 74 percent from 49 percent, though still requiring a majority of the Board of Directors and management personnel to be Indian nationals.

In response to the economic challenges created by COVID-19 and the resulting national lockdown, the Government of India enacted extensive social welfare and economic stimulus programs and increased spending on infrastructure and public health. The government also adopted production linked incentives to promote manufacturing in pharmaceuticals, automobiles, textiles, electronics, and other sectors. These measures helped India recover from an approximately eight percent fall in GDP between April 2020 and March 2021, with positive growth returning by January 2021.

India, however, remains a challenging place to do business. New protectionist measures, including increased tariffs, procurement rules that limit competitive choices, sanitary and phytosanitary measures not based on science, and Indian-specific standards not aligned with international standards, effectively closed off producers from global supply chains and restricted the expansion in bilateral trade.

The U.S. government continued 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.

 
Measure Year Index/ Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perception Index 2020 86 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/en/countries/india
World Bank’s Doing Business Report: “Ease of Doing Business” 2019 63 of 190   https://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings?region=south-asia
Innovation Index 2020 48 of 131 https://www.wipo.int/global_innovation_index/en/2020
U.S. FDI in partner country (Million. USD stock positions) 2019 45,883 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm?Area=612&UUID=67171087-ee34-4983-ac05-984cc597f1f4
World Bank GNI per capita (USD) 2019 2120 https://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 most sectors, and (2) legislative action for insurance, pension funds, and state-owned enterprises in the coal sector. FDI proposals in sensitive sectors, however, require the additional approval of the Home Ministry.

DPIIT, under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, is India’s chief investment regulator and policy maker. 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-directinvestment/foreigndirectinvestment-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 lead ministries and stakeholders. There however have been multiple incidents where relevant stakeholders reported 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 mandated that insurance companies retain “Indian management and control.” In the parliament’s 2021 budget session, the Indian government approved increasing the FDI caps in the insurance sector to 74 percent from 49 percent. However, the legislation retained the “Indian management and control” rider. In the August 2020 session of parliament, the government approved reforms that opened the agriculture sector to FDI, as well as allowed direct sales of products and contract farming, though implementation of these changes was temporarily suspended in the wake of widespread protests. In 2016, India allowed up to 100 percent FDI in domestic airlines; however, the issue of substantial ownership and effective control (SOEC) rules that mandate majority control by Indian nationals have not yet been clarified. A list of investment caps is accessible at: http://dipp.nic.in/foreign-directinvestment/foreign-directinvestment-policy .

Screening of FDI

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 and applies in most sectors. 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. The government route includes sectors deemed as strategic including defense, telecommunications, media, pharmaceuticals, and insurance. In August 2019, the government announced a new package of liberalization measures and brought a number of sectors including coal mining and contract manufacturing under the automatic route.

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 are available at: http://dipp.nic.in/publications/fdistatistics. 

Other Investment Policy Reviews

OECD’s Indian Economic Snapshot: http://www.oecd.org/economy/india-economic-snapshot/ 

WTO Trade Policy Review: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp503_e.htm 

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 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, 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 the case of major projects, Prime Minister Modi started the Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation (PRAGATI initiative) – a digital, multi-modal platform to speed the government’s approval process. As of January 2020, a total of 275 project proposals worth around $173 billion across ten states were cleared through PRAGATI. Prime Minister Modi personally monitors the process to ensure compliance in meeting PRAGATI project deadlines. The government also launched an Inter-Ministerial Committee in late 2014, 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 of stalled projects from business chambers and affected companies.

Outward Investment

The Ministry of Commerce’s India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF) claimed in March 2020 that outbound investment from India had undergone a considerable change in recent years in terms of magnitude, geographical spread, and sectorial composition. Indian firms invest in foreign markets primarily through mergers and acquisition (M&A). According to a Care Ratings study, corporate India invested around $12.25 billion in overseas markets between April and December 2020. The investment was mostly into wholly owned subsidiaries of companies. In terms of country distribution, the dominant destinations were the Unites States ($2.36 billion), Singapore ($2.07 billion), Netherlands ($1.50 billion), British Virgin Islands ($1.37 billion), and Mauritius ($1.30 million).

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

India adopted a new model Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) in December 2015, following several adverse rulings in international arbitration proceedings. The new model BIT does not allow foreign investors to use investor-state dispute settlement methods, and instead requires foreign investors first to exhaust all local judicial and administrative remedies before entering international arbitration. The Indian government also served termination notices for existing BITs with 73 countries.

In September 2018, Belarus became the first country to execute a new BIT with India, based on the new model BIT, followed by the Taipei Cultural & Economic Centre (TECC) in December 2019, and Brazil in January 2020. India has also entered into a BIT negotiation with the Philippines and joint interpretative statements are under discussion with Iran, Switzerland, Morocco, Kuwait, Ukraine, UAE, San Marino, Hong Kong, Israel, Mauritius, and Oman.

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).

The complete list of agreements can be found at: https://investmentpolicy.unctad.org/international-investment-agreements/countries/96/india 

Bilateral Taxation Treaties

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

https://www.irs.gov/pub/irstrty/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 in 2021 for higher FDI thresholds in the insurance sector came with a requirement of “Indian management and control.” On most occasions the rules are framed after thorough discussions by 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. However, in some instances the rules have been framed without following any consultative process.

In 2017, India began assessing a six percent “equalization levy,” or withholding tax, on foreign online advertising platforms with the ostensible goal of “equalizing the playing field” between resident service suppliers and non-resident service suppliers. However, its provisions did not provide credit for taxes paid in other countries for services supplied in India. In February 2020, the FY 2020-21 budget included an expansion of the “equalization levy,” adding a two percent tax to the equalization levy on foreign e-commerce and digital services provider companies. Neither the original 2017 levy, nor the additional 2020 two percent tax applied to Indian firms. In February 2021, the FY 2021-22 budget included three amendments “clarifying” the 2020 equalization levy expansion that will significantly extend the scope and potential liability for U.S. digital and e-commerce firms. The changes to the levy announced in 2021 will be implemented retroactively from April 2020. The 2020 and 2021 changes were enacted without prior notification or an opportunity for public comment.

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’s 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 1995, 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 for 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 judiciary provides for an integrated system of courts to administer both central and state laws. The judicial system includes the Supreme Court as the highest national court, as well as 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 provides 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.

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 has issued guarantees to investments but only in cases 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). 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. According to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, as of October 2020, 426 SEZ’s have been approved and 262 SEZs were operational. 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. 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-principal approval. In addition, eight investment regions along the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DIMC) have also been established as NIMZs. 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. 

The GOI’s revised Foreign Trade Policy, which will be effective for five years starting April 1, 2021, is expected to include a new regionally focused District Export Hubs initiative in addition to existing SEZs and NIMZs

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:

a. The bidder shall furnish the authorization certificate by the domestic manufacturer for selling domestically manufactured electronic products.

b. 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.

c. 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 ($3,000) or one percent of the value of the Domestically Manufactured Electronic Product being procured, subject to a maximum of INR 500,000 ($7,500), 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 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. RBI policy overwhelmingly and disproportionately has affected 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 anti-money-laundering/combatting the financing of terrorism (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 Personal Data Protection Bill (PDPB) in December 2019 which has remained pending in Parliament. The PDPB would require “explicit consent” as a condition for the cross-border transfer of sensitive personal data, requiring users to fill out separate forms for each company that held their data. Additionally, Section 33 of the bill would require a copy of all “sensitive personal data” and “critical personal data” to be stored in India, potentially creating redundant local data storage. The localization of all “sensitive personal data” being processed in India could directly impact IT exports. In the current draft no clear criteria for the classification of “critical personal data” has been included. The PDPB also would grant wide authority for a newly created Data Protection Authority to define terms, develop regulations, or otherwise provide specifics on key aspects of the bill after it becomes a law. Reports on Non-Personal Data and the implementation of a New Information Technology Rule 2021 with Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code added further uncertainty to how existing rules will interact with the PDPB and how non-personal data will be handled. 5.Protection of Property Rights

Netherlands

Executive Summary

The Netherlands consistently ranks among the world’s most competitive industrialized economies. It offers an attractive business and investment climate and remains a welcoming location for business investment from the United States and elsewhere.

Strengths of the Dutch economy include the Netherlands’ stable political and macroeconomic climate, a highly developed financial sector, strategic location, well-educated and productive labor force, and high-quality physical and communications infrastructure. Investors in the Netherlands take advantage of its highly competitive logistics, anchored by the largest seaport and fourth-largest airport in Europe. In telecommunications, the Netherlands has one of the highest internet penetrations in the European Union (EU) at 96 percent and hosts one of the largest data transport hubs in the world, the Amsterdam Internet Exchange.

The Netherlands is among the largest recipients and sources of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the world and one of the largest historical recipients of direct investment from the United States. This can be attributed to the Netherlands’ competitive economy, historically business-friendly tax climate, and many investment treaties containing investor protections. The Dutch economy has significant foreign direct investment in a wide range of sectors including logistics, information technology, and manufacturing. Dutch tax policy continues to evolve in response to EU attempts to harmonize tax policy across member states.

In the wake of the worldwide 2007-2008 financial crisis, the Dutch government implemented significant reforms in key policy areas, including the labor market, the housing sector, the energy market, the pension system, and health care. Dutch reform policies were crafted in close consultation with key stakeholders, including business associations, labor unions, and civil society groups. This consultative approach, often referred to as the Dutch “polder model,” is how Dutch policy is generally developed.

Until the COVID-19 crisis, years of recovery and associated “catch-up” economic growth had placed the Dutch economy in a very healthy position, with successive years of a budget surplus, public debt that was well under 50 percent of GDP, and record-low unemployment of 3.5 percent. This allowed the Dutch government significant fiscal space to implement coronavirus relief measures aimed at specific commercial sectors and at the economy at large. The government’s economic relief package required nearly €60 billion in the first twelve months of the COVID-19 crisis.

Prior to COVID-19, the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB) forecast stable but low growth for the coming years, with annual GDP growth at around 1.5 percent. Although the pandemic caused a shock to Dutch GDP comparable in size to the 2009 European sovereign debt crisis, with an economic contraction of 3.7 percent, the CPB forecasts the economic recovery to accelerate in the second half of 2021 as vaccinations provide herd immunity and shuttered sectors open again for business; GDP is forecast to grow by 2.2 percent in 2021 and 3.5 percent in 2022. On average, annual economic growth over the next four years is estimated to be 2.2 percent of GDP, surpassing the 2019 level of GDP by late 2021. Although the CPB leaves some room for a more severe scenario, it forecasts that unemployment will rise as the economic relief measures wind down, from 3.8 percent in 2020 to a peak of 4.7 percent in 2022.

When measured by country of foreign parent, the Netherlands is the top destination for U.S. FDI abroad, per 2019, holding over $860 billion out of a total of $6 trillion total outbound U.S. investment – about 15 percent. For the Netherlands, inbound FDI from the United States represented 17 percent of total inbound FDI. Investment from the Netherlands contributed $487 billion FDI to the United States of the $4.5 trillion total inbound FDI– about 11 percent. For the Netherlands, outbound FDI to the United States represented 16 percent of all direct investment abroad.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 8 of 179 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 42 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 5 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 860,528 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 53,100 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Netherlands is the seventeenth largest economy in the world and the fifth largest in the European Union, with a gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019 of over USD 950 billion (810 billion euros). According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Netherlands is consistently among the three largest source and recipient economies for foreign direct investment (FDI) in the world, although the Netherlands is not the ultimate destination for the majority of this investment. Similarly, in its 2020 investment report, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) identified the Netherlands as the world’s fourth largest destination of global FDI inflows and the third largest source of FDI outflows.

The government of the Netherlands maintains liberal policies toward FDI, has established itself as a platform for third-country investment with some 145 investment agreements in force, and adheres to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Codes of Liberalization and Declaration on International Investment, including a National Treatment commitment and adherence to relevant guidelines.

The Netherlands is the recipient of eight percent of all FDI inflow into the EU. The Netherlands has become a key export platform and pan-regional distribution hub for U.S. firms. Roughly 60 percent of total U.S. foreign-affiliate sales in the Netherlands are exports, with the bulk of them going to other EU members. The nearly 3,000 U.S. owned corporations represent more than 20% of all foreign owned firms in the Netherlands and they create more than 200,000 jobs. Foreign owned firms operate predominantly in business services, wholesale, and retail sectors.

Although policy makers feared that Brexit would have an extremely negative impact on the Dutch economy, the Netherlands is benefitting from companies exiting the United Kingdom in search of an anchor location inside the EU Single Market. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) also relocated from London to Amsterdam. According to the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA), the number of companies interested in moving to or opening branches in the Netherlands because of Brexit increased from 80 in 2017 to 150 in 2018 to 250 in 2019. Approximately150 UK-based corporations are currently considering establishing a Dutch foothold in the European Union. The companies are mainly from the health, creative industry, financial services, and logistics sectors. The Dutch Authority for the Financial Markets (AFM) expects Amsterdam to emerge as a main post-Brexit financial trading center in Europe for automated trading platforms and other ‘fintech’ firms, as more of these companies cross the Channel to keep their European trading within the confines of the EU regulatory oversight.

Dutch tax authorities provide a high degree of customer service to foreign investors, seeking to provide transparent, precise tax guidance that makes long-term tax obligations more predictable. Advance Tax Rulings (ATR) and Advance Pricing Agreements (APA) are guarantees given by local tax inspectors regarding long-term tax commitments for a particular acquisition or greenfield investment. Dutch tax policy continues to evolve as the EU seeks to harmonize tax measures across member states. A more detailed description of Dutch tax policy for foreign investors can be found at https://investinholland.com/why-invest/incentives-taxes/ .

Dutch corporations and branches of foreign corporations are currently subject to a corporate tax rate of 25 percent on taxable profits, which puts the Netherlands in the middle third among EU countries’ corporate tax rates and below the tax rates of its larger neighbors. Profits up to USD 290,000 (245,000 euros) are taxed at a rate of 15 percent, this threshold will be raised to USD 470,000 (Euro 395,000) in 2022.

Dutch corporate taxation generally allows for exemption of dividends and capital gains derived from a foreign subsidiary. Surveys of the corporate tax structure of EU member states note that both the corporate tax rate and the effective corporate tax rate in the Netherlands are around the EU average. Nevertheless, the Dutch corporate tax structure ranks among the most competitive in Europe considering other beneficial measures such as the possibility for the tax authorities to provide corporations with clarity on future treatment of taxes via “advance” rulings and agreements such as ATR and/or APA. The Netherlands also has no branch profit tax and does not levy a withholding tax on interest and royalties.

Maintaining an investment-friendly reputation is a high priority for the Dutch government, which provides public information and institutional assistance to prospective investors through the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA) ( https://investinholland.com/ ). Historically, over a third of all “greenfield” FDI projects that NFIA attracts to the Netherlands originate from U.S. companies. Additionally, the Netherlands business gateway at https://business.gov.nl/  – maintained by the Dutch government – provides information on regulations, taxes, and investment incentives that apply to foreign investors in the Netherlands and clear guidance on establishing a business in the Netherlands. The NFIA maintains five regional offices in the United States (Washington, DC; Atlanta; Chicago; New York City; and San Francisco). The American Chamber of Commerce in the Netherlands ( https://www.amcham.nl/ ) also promotes U.S. and Dutch business interests in the Netherlands.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

With few exceptions, the Netherlands does not discriminate between national and foreign individuals in the establishment and operation of private companies. The government has divested its complete ownership of many public utilities, but in a number of strategic sectors, private investment – including foreign investment – may be subject to limitations or conditions. These include transportation, energy, defense and security, finance, postal services, public broadcasting, and the media.

Air transport is governed by EU regulation and subject to the U.S.-EU Air Transport Agreement. U.S. nationals can invest in Dutch/European carriers as long as the airline remains majority-owned by EU governments or nationals from EU member states. Additionally, the EU and its member states reserve the right to limit U.S. investment in the voting equity of an EU airline on a reciprocal basis that the United States allows for foreign nationals in U.S. carriers.

In concert with the European Union, the Dutch government is considering how to best protect its economic security but also continue as one of the world’s most open economies. The Netherlands has foreign investment and procurement screening mechanisms in place for certain vital sectors that could present national security vulnerabilities. The first such laws (one on investment screening per EU directive and one on unwanted outside influence in the telecommunications sector) passed in 2020. The government is in the process of expanding screening measures to cover sensitive technologies more broadly, and a formal policy, which will apply retroactively as well, should be presented to Parliament for approval before summer 2021. Among policymakers, foreign investment and procurement screening is considered a non-partisan issue with support across the political spectrum. There is no requirement for Dutch nationals to have an equity stake in a Dutch registered company.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The Netherlands has not recently undergone an investment policy review by the OECD, World Trade Organization (WTO), or UNCTAD.

Business Facilitation

All companies must register with the Netherlands’ Chamber of Commerce and apply for a fiscal number with the tax administration, which allows expedited registration for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with fewer than 50 employees: https://www.kvk.nl/english/registration/foreign-company-registration/ 

The World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Index ranks the Netherlands as number 24 in starting a business. The Netherlands ranks better than the OECD average on registration time, the number of procedures, and required minimum capital. The reports ranks the Netherlands first in terms of trading across borders, with zero costs and a small number of hours associated with border and documentary compliance, respectively.

The Netherlands business gateway at https://business.gov.nl/  – maintained by the Dutch government – provides a general checklist for starting a business in the Netherlands: https://business.gov.nl/starting-your-business/checklists-for-starting-a-business/how-to-start-a-business-in-the-netherlands-a-checklist/ .

The Dutch American Friendship Treaty (DAFT) from 1956 gives U.S. citizens preferential treatment to operate a business in the Netherlands, providing ease of establishment that most other non-EU nationals do not enjoy. U.S. entrepreneurs applying under the DAFT do not need to satisfy a strict, points-based test and do not have to meet pre-conditions related to providing an innovative product. U.S. entrepreneurs setting up a sole proprietorship only have to register with the Chamber of Commerce and demonstrate a minimum investment of 4,500 euros. DAFT entrepreneurs receive a two-year residence permit, with the possibility of renewal for five subsequent years.

Outward Investment

In order to sustain the top ten ranking of the Netherlands among the world’s largest exporting nations, the Ministry for International Trade and Development coordinates with the government and private sector trade promotion agencies in setting an annual ‘overseas trade mission’ agenda. The Netherlands Enterprise Agency ( https://english.rvo.nl/ ) has the lead in organizing a custom-tailored and topical format of trade missions to accompany State visits and other official delegations abroad. Participation in these missions is open to any enterprise established in the Netherlands.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

The Netherlands has bilateral investment treaties (BITs) or treaties that include investment chapters with more than 95 countries or regions including: Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Macau, Macedonia, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, Senegal, Serbia, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Surinam, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam, Yemen, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Follow these links for a continuously updated list, the legal status, and texts of these agreements: https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/documenten/rapporten/2020/10/15/landenlijst-investeringsbeschermingsovereenkomst-ibo 

The Netherlands has a bilateral taxation treaty with the United States. See: https://www.irs.gov/businesses/international-businesses/netherlands-tax-treaty-documents 

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Dutch commercial laws and regulations accord with international legal practices and standards; they apply equally to foreign and Dutch companies. The rules on acquisition, mergers, takeovers, and reinvestment are nondiscriminatory. The Social Economic Council (SER)–an official advisory body consisting of employers’ representatives, labor representatives, and government appointed independent experts–administers Dutch mergers and acquisitions rules. The SER’s rules serve to protect the interests of stakeholders and employees. They include requirements for the timely announcement of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and for discussions with trade unions.

As an EU member and Eurozone country, the Netherlands is firmly integrated in the European regulatory system, with national and European institutions exercising authority over specific markets, industries, consumer rights, and competition behavior of individual firms.

Financial markets are regulated in an interconnected EU and national system of prudential and behavioral oversight. The domestic regulators are the Dutch Central Bank (DNB) and the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Market (AFM). Their EU counterparts are the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA).

Traditionally, public consultation in drafting new laws is achieved by invitation of various civil society bodies, trade associations, and organizations of stakeholders. In addition, the SER has a formal mandate to provide the government with advice, both solicited and of its own accord. Recently, the SER has provided the government with advice on emissions reduction of greenhouse gases, energy transition, and pension reforms. New laws and regulations are subject to legal review by the Council of State and must be approved by the Second and First Chambers of Parliament.

International Regulatory Considerations

The Netherlands is a member of the WTO and does not maintain any measures that are inconsistent with obligations under Trade Related Investment Measures (TRIMs).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Dutch contract law is based on the principle of party autonomy and full freedom of contract. Signing parties are free to draft an agreement in any form and any language, based on the legal system of their choice. Dutch corporate law provides for a legal and fiscal framework that is designed to be flexible. This element of the investment climate makes the Netherlands especially attractive to foreign investors.

The Dutch civil court system has a chamber dedicated to business disputes, called the Enterprise Chamber. The Enterprise Chamber includes judges who are experts in various commercial fields. They resolve a wide range of corporate disputes, from corporate governance disputes to high-profile shareholder conflicts over mergers or hostile take-overs.

Since 2019, the Enterprise Chamber houses an English-language commercial court. The Netherlands Commercial Court (NCC) and its appellate chamber (NCCA) offer parties the opportunity to litigate in English and will provide judgments in English. Both the NCC and NCCA will focus primarily on major international commercial cases. See also: https://www.rechtspraak.nl/English/NCC/Pages/default.aspx 

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Dutch government has demonstrated a growing concern with the protection of its open, market-based economy against foreign state malign activity and currently the Netherlands is in the process of establishing a formal domestic investment screening mechanism as per EU directive.  In May 2020, the long-awaited investment screening law in the telecommunications sector came into force.  In December 2020, the law on establishing a framework for investment screening for all critical sectors came into force, aimed at protecting Dutch national security.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

Structural and regulatory reforms are an integral part of Dutch economic policy.  Laws are routinely developed for stimulating market forces, liberalization, deregulation, and tightening competition policy.

As an EU and Eurozone member, the Netherlands is firmly integrated in the European regulatory system with national and European institutions exercising authority over specific markets, industries, consumer rights, and competition behavior of individual firms.

The Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) provides regulatory oversight in three key areas:  consumer protection, post and telecommunications, and market competition.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Netherlands maintains strong protection on all types of property, including private and intellectual property rights, and the right of citizens to own and use property.  Expropriation of corporate assets or the nationalization of industry requires a special act of Parliament, as demonstrated in the nationalization of ABN AMRO during the 2008 financial crisis (the government returned it to public shareholding through a 2016 IPO).  In the event of expropriation, the Dutch government follows customary international law, providing prompt, adequate, and effective compensation, as well as ample process for legal recourse.

The U.S. Mission to the Netherlands is unaware of any recent expropriation claims involving the Dutch government and a U.S. or other foreign-owned company.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

As a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the Netherlands accepts binding arbitration between foreign investors and the state.  The Netherlands is one of the initial signatories of the New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (UNCITRAL) and permits local enforcement of arbitration judgments decided in other signatory countries.

The Hague is the seat of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), an intergovernmental organization that is not a court, but like the ICSID, is a facilitator of independent arbitral tribunals to resolve conflicts between PCA member states, including the United States.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The Embassy is not aware of any American company raising an investment dispute with the Netherlands over the last 10 years. According to the UNCTAD ISDS navigator database ( https://investmentpolicy.unctad.org/investment-dispute-settlement/country/148/netherlands/investor), the Netherlands is not involved in any investor-state dispute settlement proceedings with foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Netherlands has maintained a Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation with the United States since 1957 that provides for national treatment and free entry for foreign investors, with certain exceptions.  The Embassy is not aware of any American company raising an investment dispute with the Netherlands over the last 10 years.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Dutch bankruptcy law is governed by the Dutch Bankruptcy Code, which applies both to individuals and to companies.  The code covers three separate legal proceedings:  1) bankruptcy, which has a goal of liquidating the company’s assets; 2) receivership, aimed at reaching an agreement between the creditors and the company; and 3) debt restructuring, which is only available to individuals. The World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Index ranks the Netherlands as number seven in resolving insolvency.  The Netherlands ranks better than the OECD average on bankruptcy time, cost, and recovery rate.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

General requirements to qualify for investment subsidy schemes apply equally to domestic and foreign investors.  Industry-specific, targeted investment incentives have long been a tool of Dutch economic policy to facilitate economic restructuring and to promote economic priorities.  Such subsidies and incentives are spelled out in detailed regulations.  Subsidies are in the form of tax credits disbursed through corporate tax rebates or direct cash payments if there is no tax liability.  For an overview of government subsidies and investment programs, see:   http://english.rvo.nl/subsidies-programmes  .

FDI tends to be concentrated in growth sectors including information and communications technology (ICT), biotechnology, medical technology, electronic components, and machinery and equipment.  Investment projects are predominantly in value-added logistics, machinery and equipment, and food.

Since 2010, the government has shifted from traditional industrial support policies to a comprehensive approach to public/private financing agreements in areas where investment is deemed of strategic value.  Government, academia, and industry work together to determine recipient sectors for co-financed (public and private) R&D.  The government’s industrial policy focuses on nine “Top Sectors”:  creative industries, logistics, horticulture, agriculture and food, life sciences, energy, water, chemical industry, and high tech.  (For more information, see  https://www.government.nl/topics/enterprise-and-innovation/contents/encouraging-innovation  .)

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The Netherlands has no free trade zones (FTZs) or free ports where commodities can be processed or reprocessed tax-free.  However, FTZs exist for bonded storage, cargo consolidation, and reconfiguration of non-EU goods.  This reflects the key role that transport, transit, logistics, and distribution play in the Dutch economy.  Dutch Customs oversee a large number of customs warehouses, free warehouses, and free zones along many of the Netherlands trade routes and entry points.

Schiphol Airport handles over 1.7 million tons of goods per year for distribution, making it the third largest cargo airport in Europe, although during the COVID-19 crisis total freight handled dropped by 9%.  Specific parts of Schiphol are designated customs-free zones.  The Port of Rotterdam is Europe’s largest seaport by volume, handling over 37 percent of all cargo shipping on Europe’s Le Havre-Hamburg coastline and processing nearly 440 million tons of goods in 2020.  Many agents operate customs warehouses under varying customs regimes on the premises of the Port of Rotterdam.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

There are no trade-related investment performance requirements in the Netherlands and no requirements for employment of local capital or managerial personnel.

The Dutch government does not follow a “forced localization” policy and does not require foreign information technology (IT) providers to turn over source code or provide access to surveillance.  The Dutch Data Protection Authority (DPA) monitors and enforces Dutch legislation on the protection of personal data ( https://autoriteitpersoonsgegevens.nl/en ).  The Dutch DPA is active in the EU’s Article 29 Working Party, the collective of EU national DPAs.  The primary law on protection of personal data in the Netherlands is the Dutch law implementing EU directive 95/46/EC.  The new European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is directly applicable in member states, entered into force May 25, 2018, as part of the EU’s comprehensive reform on data protection. The Dutch DPA recognized U.S. firms that registered and self-certified with the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor program that began in 2000 and focused on safe transfer of personal data between the European Union and the United States.

On July 12, 2016, the European Commission issued an adequacy decision on the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield framework  https://www.privacyshield.gov/welcome ), which replaced the Safe Harbor program, providing a legal mechanism for companies to transfer personal data from the EU to the United States.  Although the Dutch government strongly supported Privacy Shield, a 2020 verdict of the European Court of Justice declared the Privacy Shield framework inadequate for the protection of personal data as it finds that U.S. intelligences services have overly broad powers of access. This verdict means that the transfer of personal data to the United States requires additional privacy measures in addition to the use of Binding Corporate Rules (BCR) and Standard Contractual Clauses (SCC) that were earlier deemed as sufficient arrangements in combination with Privacy Shield. The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) has published recommendations on how to ensure compliance with EU level of protection of personal data ( https://edpb.europa.eu/our-work-tools/public-consultations-art-704/2020/recommendations-012020-measures-supplement-transfer_en ).

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Netherlands fully complies with international standards on protection of real property.  The World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Index ranked the Netherlands 30 out of 190 countries in terms of property registration.  The number of procedures involved is at the OECD average, while the processing time of 2.5 days is nearly ten times faster than the OECD average.

The Netherlands’ Cadaster, Land Registry, and Mapping Agency (Cadaster) was established in 1832 to collect and register administrative and spatial data on real property.  The Cadaster is publicly available and can be accessed online ( https://www.kadaster.com/  ).

Intellectual Property Rights

The Netherlands is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and party to many of its treaties, including the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT), and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT).  The Netherlands generally conforms to accepted international practice for intellectual property rights (IPR), including the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).  Despite participating in negotiations on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) treaty, the Netherlands, like other EU member states, has stated it will not sign the treaty in its current form.  The EU has requested the European Court of Justice to advise on the compatibility of ACTA with existing European treaties, in particular with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

The Netherlands is a signatory to the European Patent Convention and so is a contracting state of the European Patent Organization.  In the Netherlands, patents for foreign investors are granted retroactively to the date of the original filing in the home country, provided the application is made through a Dutch patent lawyer within one year of the original filing date.  Dutch patents are valid for 20 years, in line with EU regulations.  Because the Netherlands and the United States are both party to the PCT, U.S. inventors may file for rights in the Netherlands using the PCT application.  Legal procedures exist for compulsory licensing if the patent is inadequately used after a period of three years, but these procedures have rarely been invoked.

With the implementation of EU Directive 2004/48 on the enforcement of IPR, rights holders have a number of instruments at their disposal to enforce their rights in civil court.  In addition to possible civil remedies, all IPR laws contain penal bylaws and reference to the Criminal Code.  In 2012, the Dutch Parliament passed legislation that strengthened oversight and coordination of seven different collective institutions that oversee control, administration, and remuneration for commercial use of IPR.  Policymakers agree on the need to raise public awareness of IPR rules and regulations and to strengthen enforcement.  The Dutch government has recognized the need to protect IPR, and law enforcement personnel have worked with industry associations to find and seize pirated software.  Current Dutch IPR legislation explicitly includes computer software under copyright statutes.

The Netherlands has resisted criminalizing online copyright infringement for personal use, instead placing a surcharge on the sales of blank media, such as CDs, DVDs, and USB storage devices, to remunerate rights holders for the downloading of material from legal and illegal sources alike.  A 2014 ruling by the EU Court of Justice requires the government to change this policy and ban online infringement, but since this ruling the Dutch Supreme Court has determined that the original Dutch law can stand albeit that the surcharge does not cover downloading from illegal sources. Thus, the Dutch law remains in place without alteration and is considered by the government to conform to the EU Court ruling.  No specific measures have since been taken by the government to actively pursue persons in violation of the law because the government considers enforcement of this law to be largely a matter for the civil courts.  Dutch associations for rights holders, such as Stichting Brein, focus their efforts on reducing the supply of illegal downloads rather than pursuing consumers who acquire illegal downloads.

The Netherlands is not included in the USTR Special 301 Report but is mentioned as hosting infringing websites in the 2020 Notorious Markets List, which also notes that Dutch law enforcement has assisted in seizing some domain names, thereby shutting down those infringing sites.

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at  https://www.wipo.int/directory/en/details.jsp?country_code=NL  .

Resources for Rights Holders

Contact at American Embassy The Hague:
Alex Mayer – Economic Officer
John Adams Park 1
2244 BZ Wassenaar
Telephone:  +31 (0)70 310 2270
E-mail:   MayerA@state.gov 

Country-Specific Resource:
BREIN Foundation
https://stichtingbrein.nl/   
P.O. Box 133
2130 AC Hoofddorp
The Netherlands
Telephone:  +31 (0)85 011 0150

American Chamber of Commerce in the Netherlands:
P.O. Box 15783
1001 NG Amsterdam
Telephone:  +31 (0)20 795 1840
Email:  office@amcham.nl 

Local lawyers list:   https://nl.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/attorneys/?_ga=2.237170691.2093708730.1527074319-1722725267.1486978519

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Netherlands is home to the world’s oldest stock exchange – established four centuries ago – and Europe’s first options exchange, both located in Amsterdam.  The Amsterdam financial exchanges are part of the Euronext group that operates stock exchanges and derivatives markets in Amsterdam, Brussels, Lisbon, and Paris. Dutch financial markets are fully developed and operate at market rates, facilitating the free flow of financial resources.  The Netherlands is an international financial center for the foreign exchange market, Eurobonds, and bullion trade.

The flexibility that foreign companies enjoy in conducting business in the Netherlands extends into the area of currency and foreign exchange.  There are no restrictions on foreign investors’ access to sources of local finance.

Money and Banking System

The Dutch banking sector is firmly embedded in the European System of Central Banks, of which the Dutch Central Bank (DNB) is the national prudential banking supervisor.  AFM, the Dutch securities and exchange supervisor, supervises financial institutions and the proper functioning of financial markets and falls under the EU-wide European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA). The highly concentrated Dutch banking sector is over three times as large as the rest of the Dutch economy, making it one of Europe’s largest banking sectors in relation to GDP.  Three banks, ING, ABN AMRO, and Rabobank, hold nearly 85 percent of the banking sector’s total assets.  The largest bank, ING, has a balance sheet of just over $1 trillion (€937 billion).

The DNB does not consider Bitcoin and similar cryptocurrencies to be legitimate currency, as they do not fulfill the traditional purpose of money as stable means of exchange or saving, and their value is not supported via central bank guarantee mechanisms.  DNB considers current cryptocurrencies to be risky investments that are especially vulnerable to criminal abuse and has begun requiring that providers of financial services related to exchange and deposit of cryptocurrencies register with the DNB, per anti-money laundering (AML) legislation.

The DNB acknowledges however that in the future, cash transactions will likely be replaced with digital transactions that require central bank-issued and -guaranteed cryptocurrencies.  Dutch society has already embraced cash-less commerce to a high degree – seventy percent of over-the-counter shopping is via PIN transactions and contactless payment – and DNB is participating with central banks from Canada, Japan, England, Sweden, Switzerland, and the Bank for International Settlements in research about a possible central bank-issued cryptocurrency.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Netherlands is a founding member of the EU and one of the first members of the Eurozone.  The European Central Bank supervises monetary policy, and the president of the Dutch Central Bank (DNB) sits on the European Central Bank’s Governing Council.

There are no restrictions on the conversion or repatriation of capital and earnings (including branch profits, dividends, interest, royalties), or management and technical service fees, with the exception of the nominal exchange-license requirements for nonresident firms.

Remittance Policies

The Netherlands does not impose waiting periods or other measures on foreign exchange for remittances.  Similarly, there are no limitations on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittance of profits or revenue.  The Netherlands, as a Eurozone member, does not engage in currency manipulation tactics. The Netherlands has been a member of the Financial Action Task Force) FATF since 1990 and – because of the membership of its Caribbean territories in the Caribbean FATF (C-FATF) – strongly supports C-FATF.

With the promulgation of additional, preventative anti-money laundering and counterfeiting legislation, the Netherlands has remedied many of the deficiencies revealed in a 2011 Mutual Evaluation Report.  As a result, FATF removed the Netherlands from its “regular follow-up process” in February 2014.  The Netherlands is preparing for its next mutual evaluation report in 2022. The State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) has listed the Netherlands as a “country of primary concern,” largely because the country is a major global trade and financial center and consequently an attractive venue for laundering funds generated by illicit activities.

More information can be found at  https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/21-00620-INLSR-Vol2_Report-FINAL.pdf [1 MB].

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Netherlands has no sovereign wealth funds.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The Dutch government maintains an equity stake in a small number of enterprises and some ownership in companies that play an important role in strategic sectors.  In particular, government-controlled entities retain dominant positions in gas and electricity distribution, rail transport, and the water management sector.  The Netherlands has an extensive public broadcasting network, which generates its own income through advertising revenues but also receives government subsidies. For a complete list of all 32 government-owned entities, please see:  https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/onderwerpen/staatsdeelnemingen/vraag-en-antwoord/in-welke-ondernemingen-heeft-de-overheid-aandelen 

Private enterprises are allowed to compete with public enterprises with respect to market access, credits, and other business operations such as licenses and supplies.  Government-appointed supervisory boards oversee state-owned enterprises (SOEs).  In some instances involving large investment decisions, SOEs must consult with the cabinet ministry that oversees them.  As with any other firm in the Netherlands, SOEs must publish annual reports, and their financial accounts must be audited. The Netherlands fully adheres to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of SOEs.

Privatization Program

There are no ongoing privatization programs in the Netherlands.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The Netherlands is a global leader in corporate social responsibility (CSR).  Principles of CSR are promoted and prescribed through a range of corporate, governmental, and international guidelines.  In general, companies carefully guard their CSR reputation and consumers are increasingly opting for products and services that are produced in an ethical and sustainable manner. The Netherlands adheres to OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy houses the National Contact Point (NCP) that promotes OECD guidelines and helps mediate concerns that persons, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and enterprises may have regarding implementation by a specific company.  For more information, visit  http://www.oecdguidelines.nl  .

The Dutch government strongly encourages foreign and local enterprises to follow UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which states that businesses have a social responsibility to respect the same human rights norms in other countries as they do in the Netherlands.

Under the law, there is no differentiation for men and women regarding equal access to investment.  Furthermore, no groups are excluded from participating in financial markets and the financial system.

The Netherlands has strong standards for corporate governance.  Publicly listed companies are required to publish audited financial reports.  As of 2017, the EU requires these companies to include a chapter on Responsible Business Conduct.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy established an independent networking organization on CSR called MVONederland in 2004.  MVONederland currently has over 2050 members, including SMEs, multinational corporations, and NGOs, as well as local and national administrative bodies.  See  https://www.mvonederland.nl/en/about-mvo-nederland/about-csr-corporate-sustainability-and-responsibility/  

The Dutch government also encourages companies to engage in CSR through incentive programs and by setting high standards.  Examples include:

  • The government reviews CSR activities of more than 500 corporations annually and presents an award to the company with the highest transparency score.
  • The government boosts the development of sustainable products through its own sustainable procurement policy.
  • Dutch companies can only join government trade missions if they have endorsed OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.
  • Companies that observe the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises are eligible for financial support for their international trade and investment activities.
  • The government supports the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), which helps companies make their international production chains more sustainable.
  • The government conducts sector-risk analyses to identify where problems are most likely to occur and target improvements.
  • The government has completed seven of 13 sector-wide Responsible Business Conduct Agreement it intends to make with the private sector in the area of international CSR.  The seven agreements cover textiles, banking, pensions, insurance, promotion of vegetable proteins, sustainable forestry, and gold.

The 2021 National Trade Estimate of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) referred to some Dutch sustainability criteria that can bring about trade impediments: “The Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) have developed standards for soybeans and wood pellets, respectively, that have been supported by the Dutch government and effectively require U.S. producers to meet onerous certification requirements. [… ] These criteria include a requirement for sustainability certification at the forest level, which effectively precludes reliance on the U.S. risk-based approach to sustainable forest management.  As a result of the implementation of the criteria, wood pellet exports to the Netherlands have not kept pace with demand.”

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

The Netherlands fully complies with international standards on combating corruption.  Transparency International ranked the Netherlands eighth in its 2020 Corruption Perception Index. Anti-bribery legislation to implement the 1997 OECD Anti-Bribery Convention (ABC) entered into effect in 2001.  The anti-bribery law reconciles the language of the ABC with the EU Fraud Directive and the Council of Europe Convention on Fraud.  Under the law, it is a criminal offense if one obtains foreign contracts through corruption.

At the national level, the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations and Ministry of Justice and Security have both taken steps to enhance regulations to combat bribery in the processes of public procurement and issuance of permits and subsidies.  Most companies have internal controls and/or codes of conduct that prohibit bribery.

Several agencies combat corruption.  The Dutch Whistleblowers Authority serves as a knowledge center, develops new instruments for tracking problems, and identifies trends on matters of integrity.  The Independent Commission for Integrity in Government is an appeals board for whistleblowers in government and law enforcement agencies.

The Netherlands signed and ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention and is party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

Resources to Report Corruption

The Government agency that aids and protects whistleblowers is the Dutch Whistleblowers Authority or “Huis for Klokkenluiders.”  The Whistleblowers Authority Act, which came into force in the Netherlands on July 1, 2016, underlies the establishment of the Whistleblowers Authority.  An English version of the Act can be found at  https://www.huisvoorklokkenluiders.nl/Publicaties/publicaties/2016/07/01/dutch-whistleblowers-act .

Huis for Klokkenluiders
Maliebaan 72
3581 CV Utrecht
The Netherlands
Website:  https://www.huisvoorklokkenluiders.nl/english  
Telephone: +31 (0)88 – 133 1000
E-mail  info@huisvoorklokkenluiders.nl 

The Dutch office of Transparency International is located in Amsterdam:
Transparency International Nederland
Offices at KIT:  Royal Tropical Institute, room d-3
Mauritskade 64
1092 AD Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Website:  https://www.transparency.nl/  
Telephone: +31 (0)6 81 08 36 27
E-mail:   communicatie@transparency.nl 

10. Political and Security Environment

Although political violence rarely occurs in the highly stable and consensus-oriented Dutch society, public debate on issues such as immigration and integration policy has been contentious.  While rare, there have been some politically and religiously inspired acts of violence.

The Dutch economy derives much of its strength from a stable business climate that fosters partnerships among unions, business organizations, and the government.  Strikes are rarely used as a way to resolve labor disputes.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The Netherlands has a strongly regulated labor market (over 75 percent of labor contracts fall under some form of collective labor agreement) that comprises a well-educated and multilingual workforce.  Labor/management relations in both the public and private sectors are generally good in a system that emphasizes the concept of social partnership between industry and labor.  Although wage bargaining in the Netherlands is increasingly decentralized, there still exists a central bargaining apparatus where labor contract guidelines are established.

The terms of collective labor agreements apply to all employees in a sector, not only union members.  To avoid surprises, potential investors are advised to consult with local trade unions prior to making an investment decision to determine which, if any, labor contracts apply to workers in their business sector.  Collective bargaining agreements negotiated in recent years have, by and large, been accepted without protest.

Every company in the Netherlands with at least 50 workers is required by law to institute a Works Council (“Ondernemingsraad”), through which management must consult on a range of issues, including investment decisions, pension packages, and wage structures.  The Social Economic Council has helpful programs on establishing employee participation that allow firms to comply with the law on Works Councils.  See  https://www.ser.nl/en/SER/About-the-SER/What-does-the-SER-do .

Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, the annual unemployment rate was forecast to be 3.2 percent in 2020, well below the EU average of 6.5 percent and less than half of Eurozone unemployment.  In March 2020, the Dutch government established various economic relief measures designed to preserve employment by providing Dutch corporations that suffer coronavirus-related problems with wage subsidies up to 90 percent. These measures been very effective in preserving jobs as unemployment in 2020 increased by a mere half percentage point to 3.7 percent and is expected to increase in 2021 (4.4 percent) and 2022 (4.7) percent as relief measures wind down and the labor market lags behind in economic recovery.

The working population consists of 9 million persons.  Workers are sought through government-operated labor exchanges, private employment firms, or direct hiring.  At 50 percent, the Netherlands has the highest share of part-time workers in its workforce of all EU member states (in 2017, the EU average of part-time workers was 19 percent).  A rise in female participation in the workforce led to a 37 percent increase in the share of part-time workers in the total working population.  Three-quarters of women and one quarter of men work less than a 36-hour week.  Labor market participation, especially by older workers, is growing, and the number of independent contractors is rapidly increasing.

To ensure continued economic growth and address the impact of an aging population, increased labor market participation is critical.  The age to qualify for a state pension (AOW) will increase from age 66 to 67 by 2024.  Governmental labor market policies are targeted at increasing productivity of the labor force, including the expansion of working hours.  For example, access to daycare is improving in order to raise the average number of hours per week worked by women (28 hours), which is 11 hours below the average of hours worked by men.

Effective January 1, 2021, the minimum wage for employees older than 20 years is €1,685 ($1,984) per month.

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

The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) does not operate in the Netherlands.  However, DFC insurance and funding are available for U.S. companies that partner with Dutch companies in third-country markets where DFC operates.  The Netherlands is a member of the World Bank Group’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).

Dutch-registered companies investing abroad can insure their investments against non-commercial risks through the privately owned Atradius Dutch State Business, N.V., which issues export credit insurance policies and guarantees to businesses on behalf of the Dutch government.  The legal basis for investment insurance is contained in the Framework Act for Financial Provisions.  Insurance covers assets and cash, as well as loans related to an investment.  Both new and (under certain circumstances) existing investments are eligible.

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 $950,000 2019 $907,000 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $976,000 2019 $860,500 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $866,450 2019 $487,100 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 170% (excluding SFI) 2019 193% UNCTAD data available at https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html

* Source for Host Country Data: Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB): GDP, Dutch Central Bank (DNB): FDI.

Note 1: Inbound stock/GDP ratio is calculated with exclusion of Special Financial Institutions (SFI) that transfer corporate global funds; including SFI, the ratio inbound stock of FDI/GDP is 480%.

Note 2: When excluding corporate SFI funds from inward and outward FDI stocks in the Netherlands, the numbers for 2019 show U.S. FDI in the Netherlands of $207 billion and Dutch FDI in the U.S. of $351 billion.

Note 3: For conversion of euros to USD, the Treasury official exchange rate for 2019 is used: 0.893.

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 4,369,712 100% Total Outward 5,582,402 100%
United States 978,966 22% United States 869,220 16%
Luxemburg 541,797 12% United Kingdom 655,547 12%
United Kingdom 400,433 9% Switzerland 405,260 7%
Germany 308,062 7% Luxemburg 331,577 6%
Switzerland 257,100 6% Germany 304,494 5%
“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 2,113,210 100% All Countries 1,025,378 100% All Countries 1,087,833 100%
United States 589,085 28% United States 395,534 39% Germany 204,257 19%
Germany 234,052 11% Luxembourg 100,93 10% United States 193,552 18%
France 206,486 10% Ireland 94,504 9% France 175,623 16%
Luxembourg 127,539 6% United Kingdom 63,382 6% Belgium 58,410 5%
Ireland 116,031 5% Cayman Islands 51,936 5% United Kingdom 51,505 5%

14. Contact for More Information

Gilles Everts
Economic Specialist
John Adams Part 1
2244 BZ Wassenaar
Telephone: +31 (0)70 3102276
Email: EvertsGE@state.gov

Singapore

Executive Summary

Singapore maintains an open, heavily trade-dependent economy. The economy is supported through unprecedented government spending and strong supply chains in key sectors, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The government’s predominantly open investment policies support a free market economy while actively managing and sustaining Singapore’s economic development. U.S. companies regularly cite transparency, business-friendly laws, tax structure, customs facilitation, intellectual property protection, and well-developed infrastructure as attractive investment climate features. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report ranked Singapore second overall in “ease of doing business,” while the World Economic Forum ranked Singapore as the most competitive economy globally. Singapore actively enforces its robust anti-corruption laws and typically ranks as the least corrupt country in Asia. In addition, Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index placed Singapore as the third-least corrupt nation globally. The U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA), which came into force in 2004, expanded U.S. market access in goods, services, investment, and government procurement, enhanced intellectual property protection, and provided for cooperation in promoting labor rights and environmental protections.

Singapore has a diversified economy that attracts substantial foreign investment in manufacturing (petrochemical, electronics, pharmaceuticals, machinery, and equipment) and services (financial, trade, and business). The government actively promotes the country as a research and development (R&D) and innovation center for businesses by offering tax incentives, research grants, and partnership opportunities with domestic research agencies. U.S. direct investment in Singapore in 2019 totaled USD 288 billion, primarily in non-bank holding companies, manufacturing, finance, and insurance. Singapore received more than double the U.S. FDI invested in any other Asian nation. The investment outlook was positive due to Singapore’s proximity to Southeast Asia’s developing economies. Singapore remains a regional hub for thousands of multinational companies and continues to maintain its reputation as a world leader in dispute resolution, financing, and project facilitation for regional infrastructure development. In 2020, U.S. companies pledged USD 6.9 billion in future investments (over half of all-investment commitments) in the country’s manufacturing and services sectors.

Singapore is poised to attract future foreign investments in digital innovation, pharmaceutical manufacturing, sustainable development, and cybersecurity. The Government of Singapore (hereafter, “the government”) is investing heavily in automation, artificial intelligence, and integrated systems under its Smart Nation banner and seeks to establish itself as a regional hub for these technologies. Singapore is also a well-established hub for medical research and device manufacturing.

Singapore relies heavily on foreign workers who make up more than 20 percent of the workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic was initially concentrated in dormitories for low-wage foreign workers in the construction and marine industries, which resulted in strict quarantine measures that brought the construction sector to a near standstill. The government tightened foreign labor policies in 2020 to encourage firms to improve productivity and employ more Singaporean workers, and lowered most companies’ quotas for mid- and low-skilled foreign workers. Cuts, which primarily target the service sector and foreign workers’ dependents, were taken despite industry concerns about skills gaps. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has introduced more programs to partially subsidize wages and the cost to firms of recruiting, hiring, and training local workers

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 3 of 178 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 2 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 8 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 287,951 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 59,590 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Singapore maintains a heavily trade-dependent economy characterized by an open investment regime, with some licensing restrictions in the financial services, professional services, and media sectors. The government was committed to maintaining a free market, but also actively plans Singapore’s economic development, including through a network of state wholly-owned and majority-owned enterprises (SOEs). As of March 31, 2021, the top three Singapore-listed SOEs accounted for 12.3 percent of total capitalization of the Singapore Exchange (SGX). Some observers have criticized the dominant role of SOEs in the domestic economy, arguing that they have displaced or suppressed private sector entrepreneurship and investment.

Singapore’s legal framework and public policies are generally favorable toward foreign investors. Foreign investors are not required to enter joint ventures or cede management control to local interests, and local and foreign investors are subject to the same basic laws. Apart from regulatory requirements in some sectors (See also: Limits on National Treatment and Other Restrictions), eligibility for various incentive schemes depends on investment proposals meeting the criteria set by relevant government agencies. Singapore places no restrictions on reinvestment or repatriation of earnings or capital. The judicial system, which includes international arbitration and mediation centers and a commercial court, upholds the sanctity of contracts, and decisions are generally considered to be transparent and effectively enforced.

The Economic Development Board (EDB) is the lead promotion agency that facilitates foreign investment into Singapore ( https:www.edb.gov.sg ). EDB undertakes investment promotion and industry development and works with foreign and local businesses by providing information and facilitating introductions and access to government incentives for local and international investments. The government maintains close engagement with investors through the EDB, which provides feedback to other government agencies to ensure that infrastructure and public services remain efficient and cost-competitive. The EDB maintains 18 international offices, including Chicago, Houston, New York, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.

Exceptions to Singapore’s general openness to foreign investment exist in sectors considered critical to national security, including telecommunications, broadcasting, domestic news media, financial services, legal and accounting services, ports, airports, and property ownership. Under Singaporean law, articles of incorporation may include shareholding limits that restrict ownership in such entities by foreign persons.

Telecommunications 

Since 2000, the Singapore telecommunications market has been fully liberalized. This move has allowed foreign and domestic companies seeking to provide facilities-based (e.g., fixed line or mobile networks) or services-based (e.g., local and international calls and data services over leased networks) telecommunications services to apply for licenses to operate and deploy telecommunication systems and services. Singapore Telecommunications (Singtel) – majority owned by Temasek, a state-owned investment company with the Minister for Finance as its sole shareholder – faces competition in all market segments. However, its main competitors, M1 and StarHub, are also SOEs. In April 2019, Australian company TPG Telecom began rolling out telecommunications services.  Approximately 30 mobile virtual network operator services (MVNOs) have also entered the market. The four Singapore telecommunications companies compete primarily on MVNO partnerships and voice and data plans.

As of April 2021, Singapore has 76 facilities-based operators offering telecommunications services. Since 2007, Singtel has been exempted from dominant licensee obligations for the residential and commercial portions of the retail international telephone services. Singtel is also exempted from dominant licensee obligations for wholesale international telephone services, international managed data, international intellectual property transit, leased satellite bandwidth (including VSAT, DVB-IP, satellite TV Downlink, and Satellite IPLC), terrestrial international private leased circuit, and backhaul services. The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) granted Singtel’s exemption after assessing the market for these services had effective competition. IMDA operates as both the regulatory agency and the investment promotion agency for the country’s telecommunications sector. IMDA conducts public consultations on major policy reviews and provides decisions on policy changes to relevant companies.

To facilitate the 5th generation mobile network (5G) technology and service trials, IMDA waived frequency fees for companies interested in conducting 5G trials for equipment testing, research, and assessment of commercial potential. In April 2020, IMDA granted rights to build nationwide 5G networks to Singtel and a joint venture between StarHub and M1. IMDA announced a goal of full 5G coverage by the end of 2025.  These three companies, along with TPG Telecom, are also now permitted to launch smaller, specialized 5G networks to support specialized applications, such as manufacturing and port operations.  Singapore’s government did not hold a traditional spectrum auction, instead charging a moderate, flat fee to operate the networks and evaluating proposals from the MVNOs based on their ability to provide effective coverage, meet regulatory requirements, invest significant financial resources, and address cybersecurity and network resilience concerns. The announcement emphasized the importance of the winning MVNOs using multiple vendors, to ensure security and resilience.  Singapore has committed to being one of the first countries to make 5G services broadly available, and its tightly managed 5G-rollout process continues apace, despite COVID-19.  The government views this as a necessity for a country that prides itself on innovation, even as these private firms worry that the commercial potential does not yet justify the extensive upfront investment necessary to develop new networks.

Media  

The local free-to-air broadcasting, cable, and newspaper sectors are effectively closed to foreign firms. Section 44 of the Broadcasting Act restricts foreign equity ownership of companies broadcasting in Singapore to 49 percent or less, although the act does allow for exceptions. Individuals cannot hold shares that would make up more than five percent of the total votes in a broadcasting company without the government’s prior approval. The Newspaper and Printing Presses Act restricts equity ownership (local or foreign) of newspaper companies to less than five percent per shareholder and requires that directors be Singapore citizens. Newspaper companies must issue two classes of shares, ordinary and management, with the latter available only to Singapore citizens or corporations approved by the government. Holders of management shares have an effective veto over selected board decisions.

Singapore regulates content across all major media outlets through IMDA. The government controls the distribution, importation, and sale of media sources and has curtailed or banned the circulation of some foreign publications. Singapore’s leaders have also brought defamation suits against foreign publishers and local government critics, which have resulted in the foreign publishers issuing apologies and paying damages. Several dozen publications remain prohibited under the Undesirable Publications Act, which restricts the import, sale, and circulation of publications that the government considers contrary to public interest. Examples include pornographic magazines, publications by banned religious groups, and publications containing extremist religious views. Following a routine review in 2015, the IMDA predecessor, Media Development Authority, lifted a ban on 240 publications, ranging from decades-old anti-colonial and communist material to adult interest content.

Singaporeans generally face few restrictions on the internet, which is readily accessible. The government, however, subjected all internet content to similar rules and standards as traditional media, as defined by the IMDA’s Internet Code of Practice. Internet service providers are required to ensure that content complies with the code. The IMDA licenses the internet service providers through which local users are required to route their internet connections. However, the IMDA has blocked various websites containing objectionable material, such as pornography and racist and religious-hatred sites. Online news websites that report regularly on Singapore and have a significant reach are individually licensed, which requires adherence to requirements to remove prohibited content within 24 hours of notification from IMDA. Some view this regulation as a way to censor online critics of the government.

In April 2019, the government introduced legislation in Parliament to counter “deliberate online falsehoods.” The legislation, called the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) entered into force on October 2, 2019, requires online platforms to publish correction notifications or remove online information that government ministers classify as factually false or misleading, and which they deem likely to threaten national security, diminish public confidence in the government, incite feelings of ill will between people, or influence an election. Non-compliance is punishable by fines and/or imprisonment and the government can use stricter measures such as disabling access to end-users in Singapore and forcing online platforms to disallow persons in question from using its services in Singapore. Opposition politicians, bloggers, and alternative news websites have been the target of the majority of POFMA cases thus far and many of them used U.S. social media platforms. Besides those individuals, U.S. social media companies were issued most POFMA correction orders and complied with them. U.S. media and social media sites continue to operate in Singapore, but a few major players have ceased running political ads after the government announced that it would impose penalties on sites or individuals that spread “misinformation,” as determined by the government.

Pay-Television 

Mediacorp TV is the only free-to-air TV broadcaster and is 100 percent owned by the government via Temasek Holdings (Temasek). Mediacorp reported that its free-to-air channels are viewed weekly by 80 percent of residents. Local pay-TV providers are StarHub and Singtel, which are both partially owned by Temasek or its subsidiaries. Local free-to-air radio broadcasters are Mediacorp Radio Singapore, which is also owned by Temasek Holdings, SPH Radio, owned by the publicly held Singapore Press Holdings, and So Drama! Entertainment, owned by the Singapore Ministry of Defense. BBC World Services is the only foreign free-to-air radio broadcaster in Singapore.

To rectify the high degree of content fragmentation in the Singapore pay-TV market and shift the focus of competition from an exclusivity-centric strategy to other aspects such as service differentiation and competitive packaging, the IMDA implemented cross-carriage measures in 2011, requiring pay-TV companies designated by IMDA to be Receiving Qualified Licensees (RQL) – currently Singtel and StarHub – to cross-carry content subject to exclusive carriage provisions. Correspondingly, Supplying Qualified Licensees (SQLs) with an exclusive contract for a channel are required to carry that content on other RQL pay-TV companies. In February 2019, the IMDA proposed to continue the current cross-carriage measures. The Motion Picture Association (MPA) has expressed concern this measure restricts copyright exclusivity. Content providers consider the measures an unnecessary interference in a competitive market that denies content holders the ability to negotiate freely in the marketplace, and an interference with their ability to manage and protect their intellectual property. More common content is now available across the different pay-TV platforms, and the operators are beginning to differentiate themselves by originating their own content, offering subscribed content online via personal and tablet computers, and delivering content via fiber networks.

Streaming services have entered the market, which MPA has found leads to a significant reduction in intellectual property infringements. StarHub and Singtel have both partnered with multiple content providers, including U.S. companies, to provide streaming content in Singapore and around the region.

Banking and Finance 

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) regulates all banking activities as provided for under the Banking Act. Singapore maintains legal distinctions between foreign and local banks and the type of license (i.e., full service, wholesale, and offshore banks) held by foreign commercial banks. As of April 2021, 30 foreign full-service licensees and 90 wholesale banks operated in Singapore. An additional 24 merchant banks are licensed to conduct corporate finance, investment banking, and other fee-based activities. Offshore and wholesale banks are not allowed to operate Singapore dollar retail banking activities. Only full banks and “Qualifying Full Banks” (QFBs) can operate Singapore dollar retail banking activities but are subject to restrictions on their number of places of business, ATMs, and ATM networks. Additional QFB licenses may be granted to a subset of full banks, which provide greater branching privileges and greater access to the retail market than other full banks. As of April 2021, there are 10 banks operating QFB licenses. China Construction Bank received the most recent QFB award in December 2020.

Following a series of public consultations conducted by MAS over a three year period, the Banking Act 2020 came into operation on February 14, 2020. The amendments include, among other things, the removal of the Domestic Banking Unit (DBU) and Asian Currency Unit (ACU) divide, consolidation of the regulatory framework of merchant banks, expansion of the grounds for revoking bank licenses and strengthening oversight of banks’ outsourcing arrangements. Newly granted digital banking licenses under foreign ownership apply only to wholesale transactions.

The government initiated a banking liberalization program in 1999 to ease restrictions on foreign banks and has supplemented this with phased-in provisions under the USSFTA, including removal of a 40 percent ceiling on foreign ownership of local banks and a 20 percent aggregate foreign shareholding limit on finance companies. The minister in charge of MAS must approve the merger or takeover of a local bank or financial holding company, as well as the acquisition of voting shares in such institutions above specific thresholds of 5, 12, or 20 percent of shareholdings.

Although Singapore’s government has lifted the formal ceilings on foreign ownership of local banks and finance companies, the approval for controllers of local banks ensures that this control rests with individuals or groups whose interests are aligned with the long-term interests of the Singapore economy and Singapore’s national interests. Of the 30 full-service licenses granted to foreign banks, three have gone to U.S. banks. U.S. financial institutions enjoy phased-in benefits under the USSFTA. Since 2006, only one U.S.-licensed full-service banks has obtained QFB status. U.S. and foreign full-service banks with QFB status can freely relocate existing branches and share ATMs among themselves. They can also provide electronic funds transfer and point-of-sale debit services and accept services related to Singapore’s compulsory pension fund. In 2007, Singapore lifted the quota on new licenses for U.S. wholesale banks.

Locally and non-locally incorporated subsidiaries of U.S. full-service banks with QFB status can apply for access to local ATM networks. However, no U.S. bank has come to a commercial agreement to gain such access. Despite liberalization, U.S. and other foreign banks in the domestic retail-banking sector still face barriers. Under the enhanced QFB program launched in 2012, MAS requires QFBs it deems systemically significant to incorporate locally. If those locally incorporated entities are deemed “significantly rooted” in Singapore, with a majority of Singaporean or permanent resident members, Singapore may grant approval for an additional 25 places of business, of which up to ten may be branches. Local retail banks do not face similar constraints on customer service locations or access to the local ATM network. As noted above, U.S. banks are not subject to quotas on service locations under the terms of the USSFTA.

Credit card holders from U.S. banks incorporated in Singapore cannot access their accounts through the local ATM networks. They are also unable to access their accounts for cash withdrawals, transfers, or bill payments at ATMs operated by banks other than those operated by their own bank or at foreign banks’ shared ATM network. Nevertheless, full-service foreign banks have made significant inroads in other retail banking areas, with substantial market share in products like credit cards and personal and housing loans.

In January 2019, MAS announced the passage of the Payment Services Bill after soliciting public feedback. The bill requires more payment services such as digital payment tokens, dealing in virtual currency, and merchant acquisition, to be licensed and regulated by MAS. In order to reduce the risk of misuse for illicit purposes, the new law also limits the amount of funds that can be held in or transferred out of a personal payment account (e.g., mobile wallets) in a year. Regulations are tailored to the type of activity preformed and addresses issues related to terrorism financing, money laundering, and cyber risks. In December 2020, MAS granted four digital bank licenses: two to Sea Limited and a Grab/Singtel consortium for full retail banking and two to Ant Group and the Greenland consortium (a China-based conglomerate).

Singapore has no trading restrictions on foreign-owned stockbrokers. There is no cap on the aggregate investment by foreigners regarding the paid-up capital of dealers that are members of the SGX. Direct registration of foreign mutual funds is allowed provided MAS approves the prospectus and the fund. The USSFTA relaxed conditions foreign asset managers must meet in order to offer products under the government-managed compulsory pension fund (Central Provident Fund Investment Scheme).

Legal Services 

The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) under the Ministry of Law oversees the regulation, licensing, and compliance of all law practice entities and the registration of foreign lawyers in Singapore. Foreign law firms with a licensed Foreign Law Practice (FLP) may offer the full range of legal services in foreign law and international law, but cannot practice Singapore law except in the context of international commercial arbitration. U.S. and foreign attorneys are allowed to represent parties in arbitration without the need for a Singapore attorney to be present. To offer Singapore law, FLPs require either a Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP) license, a Joint Law Venture (JLV) with a Singapore Law Practice (SLP), or a Formal Law Alliance (FLA) with a SLP. The vast majority of Singapore’s 130 foreign law firms operate FLPs, while QFLPs and JLVs each number in the single digits.

The QFLP licenses allow foreign law firms to practice in permitted areas of Singapore law, which excludes constitutional and administrative law, conveyancing, criminal law, family law, succession law, and trust law. As of December 2020, there are nine QFLPs in Singapore, including five U.S. firms. In January 2019, the Ministry of Law announced the deferral to 2020 of the decision to renew the licenses of five QFLPs, which were set to expire in 2019, so the government can better assess their contribution to Singapore along with the other four firms whose licenses were also extended to 2020. Decisions on the renewal considers the firms’ quantitative and qualitative performance such as the value of work that the Singapore office will generate, the extent to which the Singapore office will function as the firm’s headquarter for the region, the firm’s contributions to Singapore, and the firm’s proposal for the new license period.

A JLV is a collaboration between a Foreign Law Practice and Singapore Law Practice, which may be constituted as a partnership or company. The director of legal services in the LSRA will consider all the relevant circumstances including the proposed structure and its overall suitability to achieve the objectives for which Joint Law Ventures are permitted to be established. There is no clear indication on the percentage of shares that each JLV partner may hold in the JLV.

Law degrees from designated U.S., British, Australian, and New Zealand universities are recognized for purposes of admission to practice law in Singapore. Under the USSFTA, Singapore recognizes law degrees from Harvard University, Columbia University, New York University, and the University of Michigan. Singapore will admit to the Singapore Bar law school graduates of those designated universities who are Singapore citizens or permanent residents, and ranked among the top 70 percent of their graduating class or have obtained lower-second class honors (under the British system).

Engineering and Architectural Services 

Engineering and architectural firms can be 100 percent foreign-owned. Engineers and architects are required to register with the Professional Engineers Board and the Board of Architects, respectively, to practice in Singapore. All applicants (both local and foreign) must have at least four years of practical experience in engineering, of which two are acquired in Singapore. Alternatively, students can attend two years of practical training in architectural works and pass written and/or oral examinations set by the respective board.

Accounting and Tax Services 

Many major international accounting firms operate in Singapore. Registration as a public accountant under the Accountants Act is required to provide public accountancy services (i.e., the audit and reporting on financial statements and other acts that are required by any written law to be done by a public accountant) in Singapore, although registration as a public accountant is not required to provide other accountancy services, such as accounting, tax, and corporate advisory work. All accounting entities that provide public accountancy services must be approved under the Accountants Act and their supply of public accountancy services in Singapore must be under the control and management of partners or directors who are public accountants ordinarily resident in Singapore. In addition, if the accounting entity firm has two partners or directors, at least one of them must be a public accountant. If the business entity has more than two accounting partners or directors, two-thirds of the partners or directors must be public accountants.

Energy 

Singapore further liberalized its gas market with the amendment of the Gas Act and implementation of a Gas Network Code in 2008, which were designed to give gas retailers and importers direct access to the onshore gas pipeline infrastructure. However, key parts of the local gas market, such as town gas retailing and gas transportation through pipelines remain controlled by incumbent Singaporean firms. Singapore has sought to grow its supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG), and BG Singapore Gas Marketing Pte Ltd (acquired by Royal Dutch Shell in February 2016) was appointed in 2008 as the first aggregator with an exclusive franchise to import LNG to be sold in its re-gasified form in Singapore. In October 2017, Shell Eastern Trading Pte Ltd and Pavilion Gase Pte Ltd were awarded import licenses to market up to 1 million tons per annum or for three years, whichever occurs first. This also marked the conclusion of the first exclusive franchise awarded to BG Singapore Gas Marketing Pte Ltd.

Beginning in November 2018 and concluding in May 2019, Singapore launched an open electricity market (OEM). Previously, Singapore Power was the only electricity retailer. As of October 2019, 40 percent of resident consumers had switched to a new electricity retailer and were saving between 20 and 30 percent on their monthly bills.  During the second half of 2020, the government significantly reduced tariffs for household consumption and encouraged consumer OEM adoption. To participate in OEM, licensed retailers must satisfy additional credit, technical, and financial requirements set by Energy Market Authority in order to sell electricity to households and small businesses. There are two types of electricity retailers: Market Participant Retailers (MPRs) and Non-Market Participant Retailers (NMPRs). MPRs have to be registered with the Energy Market Company (EMC) to purchase electricity from the National Electricity Market of Singapore (NEMS) to sell to contestable consumers. NMPRs need not register with EMC to participate in the NEMS since they will purchase electricity indirectly from the NEMS through the Market Support Services Licensee (MSSL). As of April 2020, there were 12 retailers in the market, including foreign and local entities.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and local entities may readily establish, operate, and dispose of their own enterprises in Singapore subject to certain requirements. A foreigner who wants to incorporate a company in Singapore is required to appoint a local resident director; foreigners may continue to reside outside of Singapore. Foreigners who wish to incorporate a company and be present in Singapore to manage its operations are strongly advised to seek approval from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) before incorporation. Except for representative offices (where foreign firms maintain a local representative but do not conduct commercial transactions in Singapore) there are no restrictions on carrying out remunerative activities. As of October 2017, foreign companies may seek to transfer their place of registration and be registered as companies limited by shares in Singapore under Part XA (Transfer of Registration) of the Companies Act ( https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/CoA1967 ). Such transferred foreign companies are subject to the same requirements as locally incorporated companies.

All businesses in Singapore must be registered with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA). Foreign investors can operate their businesses in one of the following forms: sole proprietorship, partnership, limited partnership, limited liability partnership, incorporated company, foreign company branch or representative office. Stricter disclosure requirements were passed in March 2017 requiring foreign company branches registered in Singapore to maintain public registers of their members. All companies incorporated in Singapore, foreign companies, and limited liability partnerships registered in Singapore are also required to maintain beneficial ownership in the form of a register of controllers (generally individuals or legal entities with more than 25 percent interest or control of the companies and foreign companies) aimed at preventing money laundering.

While there is currently no cross-sectional screening process for foreign investments, investors are required to seek approval from specific sector regulators for investments in certain firms. These sectors include energy, telecommunications, broadcasting, the domestic news media, financial services, legal services, public accounting services, ports and airports, and property ownership. Under Singapore law, Articles of Incorporation may include shareholding limits that restrict ownership in corporations by foreign persons.

Singapore does not maintain a formalized investment screening mechanism for inbound foreign investment. There are no reports of U.S. investors being especially disadvantaged or singled out relative to other foreign investors.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Singapore underwent a trade policy review with the World Trade Organization (WTO) in July 2016, after which no major policy recommendations were raised. (https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/countries_e/singapore_e.htm )

The OECD and United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) released a joint report in February 2019 on the ASEAN-OECD Investment Program. The program aims to foster dialogue and experience sharing between OECD countries and Southeast Asian economies on issues relating to the business and investment climate. The program is implemented through regional policy dialogue, country investment policy reviews, and training seminars. (http://www.oecd.org/investment/countryreviews.htm )

The OECD released a Transfer Pricing Country Profile for Singapore in June 2018. The country profiles focus on countries’ domestic legislation regarding key transfer pricing principles, including the arm’s length principle, transfer pricing methods, comparability analysis, intangible property, intra-group services, cost contribution agreements, transfer pricing documentation, administrative approaches to avoiding and resolving disputes, safe harbors and other implementation measures. (https://www.oecd.org/tax/transfer-pricing/transfer-pricing-country-profile-singapore.pdf)

The OECD released a peer review report in March 2018 on Singapore’s implementation of internationally agreed tax standards under Action Plan 14 of the base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) project. Action 14 strengthens the effectiveness and efficiency of the mutual agreement procedure, a cross-border tax dispute resolution mechanism. (http://www.oecd.org/corruption-integrity/reports/singapore-2018-peer-review-report-transparency-exchange-information-aci.html )

As of April 2021, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has not conducted a policy review of Singapore’s intellectual property rights regime. (http://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/Investment%20Policy%20Reviews/Investment-Policy-Reviews.aspx )

Business Facilitation

Singapore’s online business registration process is clear and efficient and allows foreign companies to register branches. All businesses must be registered with ACRA through Bizfile, its online registration and information retrieval portal ( https://www.bizfile.gov.sg/),  including any individual, firm or corporation that carries out business for a foreign company. Applications are typically processed immediately after the application fee is paid, but could take between 14 to 60 days, if the application is referred to another agency for approval or review. The process of establishing a foreign-owned limited liability company in Singapore is among the fastest in the world.

ACRA ( www.acra.gov.sg ) provides a single window for business registration. Additional regulatory approvals (e.g., licensing or visa requirements) are obtained via individual applications to the respective ministries or statutory boards. Further information and business support on registering a branch of a foreign company is available through the EDB ( https://www.edb.gov.sg/en/how-we-help/setting-up.html ) and GuideMeSingapore, a corporate services firm Hawskford ( https://www.guidemesingapore.com /).

Foreign companies may lease or buy privately or publicly held land in Singapore, though there are some restrictions on foreign property ownership. Foreign companies are free to open and maintain bank accounts in foreign currency. There is no minimum paid-in capital requirement, but at least one subscriber share must be issued for valid consideration at incorporation.

Business facilitation processes provide for fair and equal treatment of women and minorities, and there are no mechanisms that provide special assistance to women and minorities.

Outward Investment

Singapore places no restrictions on domestic investors investing abroad. The government promotes outward investment through Enterprise Singapore, a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry. It provides market information, business contacts, and financial assistance and grants for internationalizing companies. While it has a global reach and runs overseas centers in major cities across the world, a large share of its overseas centers are located in major trading and investment partners and regional markets like China, India, the United States, and ASEAN.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The government establishes clear rules that foster competition. The USSFTA enhances transparency by requiring regulatory authorities to consult with interested parties before issuing regulations, and to provide advance notice and comment periods for proposed rules, as well as to publish all regulations. Singapore’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms.

Rule-making authority is vested in the parliament to pass laws that determine the regulatory scope, purpose, rights and powers of the regulator and the legal framework for the industry. Regulatory authority is vested in government ministries or in statutory boards, which are organizations that have been given autonomy to perform an operational function by legal statutes passed as acts of parliament, and report to a specific ministry. Local laws give regulatory bodies wide discretion to modify regulations and impose new conditions, but in practice agencies use this positively to adapt incentives or other services on a case-by-case basis to meet the needs of foreign as well as domestic companies. Acts of parliament also confer certain powers on a minister or other similar persons or authorities to make rules or regulations in order to put the act into practice; these rules are known as subsidiary legislation.  National-level regulations are the most relevant for foreign businesses. Singapore, being a city-state, has no local or state regulatory layers.

Before a ministry instructs the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to draft a new bill or make an amendment to a bill, the ministry has to seek in-principle approval from the cabinet for the proposed bill. The AGC legislation division advises and helps vet or draft bills in conjunction with policymakers from relevant ministries.  Public and private consultations are often requested for proposed draft legislative amendments. Thereafter, the cabinet’s approval is required before the bill can be introduced in parliament.  All bills passed by parliament (with some exceptions) must be forwarded to the Presidential Council for Minority Rights for scrutiny, and thereafter presented to the President for assent. Only after the President has assented to the bill does it become law.

While ministries or regulatory agencies do conduct internal impact assessments of proposed regulations, there are no criteria used for determining which proposed regulations are subjected to an impact assessment, and there are no specific regulatory impact assessment guidelines. There is no independent agency tasked with reviewing and monitoring regulatory impact assessments and distributing findings to the public. The Ministry of Finance publishes a biennial Singapore Public Sector Outcomes Review (http://www.mof.gov.sg/Resources/Singapore-Public-Sector-Outcomes-Review-SPOR ), focusing on broad outcomes and indicators rather than policy evaluation. Results of scientific studies or quantitative analysis conducted in review of policies and regulations are not made publicly available.

Industry self-regulation occurs in several areas, including advertising and corporate governance.  Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) (https://asas.org.sg/), an advisory council under the Consumers Association of Singapore, administers the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice, which focuses on ensuring that advertisements are legal, decent, and truthful. Listed companies are required under the Singapore Exchange (SGX) Listing Rules to describe in their annual reports their corporate governance practices with specific reference to the principles and provisions of the Code. Listed companies must comply with the principles of the Code, and, if their practices vary from any provisions of the Code, they must note the reason for the variation and explain how the practices they have adopted are consistent with the intent of the relevant principle. The SGX plays the role of a self-regulatory organization (SRO) in listings, market surveillance, and member supervision to uphold the integrity of the market and ensure participants’ adherence to trading and clearing rules. There have been no reports of discriminatory practices aimed at foreign investors.

Singapore’s legal and accounting procedures are transparent and consistent with international norms and rank similar to the U.S. in international comparisons (http://worldjusticeproject.org/rule-of-law-index ). The prescribed accounting standards for Singapore-incorporated companies applying to be or are listed in the public market, Singapore Exchange, are known as Singapore Financial Reporting Standards (SFRS(I)), which are identical to those of the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB). Non-listed Singapore-incorporated companies can voluntarily apply for SFRS(I). Otherwise, they are required to comply with Singapore Financial Reporting Standards (SFRS), which are also aligned with those of IASB. For the use of foreign accounting standards, the companies are required to seek approval of the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA).

For foreign companies with primary listings on the Singapore Exchange, the SGX Listing Rules allow the use of alternative standards such as International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) or the U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (U.S. GAAP). Accounts prepared in accordance with IFRS or U.S. GAAP need not be reconciled to SFRS(1). Companies with secondary listings on the Singapore Exchange need only reconcile their accounts to SFRS(I), IFRS, or U.S. GAAP.

Notices of proposed legislation to be considered by parliament are published, including the text of the laws, the dates of the readings, and whether or not the laws eventually pass. The government has established a centralized Internet portal (www.reach.gov.sg ) to solicit feedback on selected draft legislation and regulations, a process that is being used with increasing frequency. There is no stipulated consultative period.  Results of consultations are usually consolidated and published on relevant websites. As noted in the “Openness to Foreign Investment” section, some U.S. companies, in particular in the telecommunications and media sectors, are concerned about the government’s lack of transparency in its regulatory and rule-making process.  However, many U.S. firms report they have opportunities to weigh in on pending legislation that affects their industries.  These mechanisms also apply to investment laws and regulations.

The Parliament of Singapore website (https://www.parliament.gov.sg/parliamentary-business/bills-introduced ) publishes a database of all bills introduced, read, and passed in Parliament in chronological order as of 2006. The contents are the actual draft texts of the proposed legislation/legislative amendments. All statutes are also publicly available in the Singapore Statutes Online website (https://sso.agc.gov.sg ). However, there is no centralized online location where key regulatory actions are published. Regulatory actions are published separately on websites of Statutory Boards.

Enforcement of regulatory offences is governed by both acts of parliament and subsidiary legislation. Enforcement powers of government statutory bodies are typically enshrined in the act of Parliament constituting that statutory body. There is accountability to Parliament for enforcement action through question time, where members of parliament may raise questions with the ministers on their respective ministries’ responsibilities.

Singapore’s judicial system and courts serve as the oversight mechanism in respect of executive action (such as the enforcement of regulatory offences) and dispense justice based on law. The Supreme Court, which is made up of the Court of Appeal and the High Court, hears both civil and criminal matters. The Chief Justice heads the Judiciary. The President appoints the Chief Justice, the Judges of Appeal and the Judges of the High Court if she, acting at her discretion, concurs with the advice of the Prime Minister.

No systemic regulatory reforms or enforcement reforms relevant to foreign investors were announced in 2020. The Monetary Authority of Singapore focuses enforcement efforts on timely disclosure of corporate information, business conduct of financial advisors, compliance with anti-money laundering/combatting the financing of terrorism requirements, deterring stock market abuse, and insider trading. In March 2019, MAS published its inaugural Enforcement Report detailing enforcement measures and publishes recent enforcement actions on its website (https://www.mas.gov.sg/regulation/enforcement/enforcement-actions ).

International Regulatory Considerations

Singapore was the 2018 chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). ASEAN is working towards the 2025 ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint aimed at achieving a single market and production base, with a free flow of goods, services, and investment within the region. While ASEAN is working towards regulatory harmonization, there are no regional regulatory systems in place; instead, ASEAN agreements and regulations are enacted through each ASEAN Member State’s domestic regulatory system.  While Singapore has expressed interest in driving intra-regional trade, the dynamics of ASEAN economies are convergent.

The WTO’s 2016 trade policy review notes that Singapore’s guiding principle for standardization is to align national standards with international standards, and Singapore is an elected member of the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) Councils. Singapore encourages the direct use of international standards whenever possible. Singapore standards (SS) are developed when there is no appropriate international standard equivalent, or when there is a need to customize standards to meet domestic requirements. At the end of 2015, Singapore had a stock of 553 SS, about 40 percent of which were references to international standards. Enterprise Singapore, the Singapore Food Agency, and the Ministry of Trade and Industry are the three national enquiry points under the TBT Agreement. There are no known reports of omissions in reporting to TBT.

A non-exhaustive list of major international norms and standards referenced or incorporated into the country’s regulatory systems include Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project, Common Reporting Standards (CRS), Basel III, EU Dual-Use Export Control Regulation, Exchange of Information on Request, 27 International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions on labor rights and governance, UN conventions, and WTO agreements.

Singapore is signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). The WTO reports that Singapore has fully implemented the TFA (https://www.tfadatabase.org/members/singapore ).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Singapore’s legal system has its roots in English common law and practice and is enforced by courts of law. The current judicial process is procedurally competent, fair, and reliable. In the 2020 Rule of Law Index by World Justice Project, it is ranked overall twelfth in the world, first on order and security, third on regulatory enforcement, third in absence of corruption, sixth on civil and criminal justice, twenty-ninth on constraints on government powers, twenty-sixth on open government, and thirty-second on fundamental rights. Singapore’s legal procedures are ranked first in the world in the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business sub-indicator on contract enforcement which measures speed, cost, and quality of judicial processes to resolve a commercial dispute. The judicial system remains independent of the executive branch and the executive does not interfere in judiciary matters.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Singapore strives to promote an efficient, business-friendly regulatory environment. Tax, labor, banking and finance, industrial health and safety, arbitration, wage, and training rules and regulations are formulated and reviewed with the interests of both foreign investors and local enterprises in mind. Starting in 2005, a Rules Review Panel, comprising senior civil servants, began overseeing a review of all rules and regulations; this process will be repeated every five years. A Pro-Enterprise Panel of high-level public sector and private sector representatives examines feedback from businesses on regulatory issues and provides recommendations to the government. (https://www.mti.gov.sg/PEP/About)

The Cybersecurity Act, which came into force in August 2018, establishes a comprehensive regulatory framework for cybersecurity. The Act provides the Commissioner of Cyber Security with powers to investigate, prevent, and assess the potential impact of cyber security incidents and threats in Singapore.  These can include requiring persons and organizations to provide requested information, requiring the owner of a computer system to take any action to assist with cyber investigations, directing organizations to remediate cyber incidents, and, if safeguards have been met, authorizing officers to enter premises, and installing software and take possession of computer systems to prevent serious cyber-attacks in the event of severe threat. The Act also establishes a framework for the designation and regulation of Critical Information Infrastructure (CII). Requirements for CII owners include a mandatory incident reporting regime, regular audits and risk assessments, and participation in national cyber security stress tests. In addition, the Act will establish a regulatory regime for cyber security service providers and required licensing for penetration testing and managed security operations center (SOC) monitoring services. U.S. business chambers have expressed concern about the effects of licensing and regularly burdens on compliance costs, insufficient checks and balances on the investigatory powers of the authorities, and the absence of a multidirectional cyber threat sharing framework that includes protections from liability. Under the law, additional measures, such as the Cybersecurity Labelling Scheme, continue to be introduced.  Authorities stress that, “in view of the need to strike a good balance between industry development and cybersecurity needs, the licensing framework will take a light-touch approach.”

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) is a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry and is tasked with administering and enforcing the Competition Act. The act contains provisions on anti-competitive agreements, decisions, and practices; abuse of dominance; enforcement and appeals process; and mergers and acquisitions. The Competition Act was enacted in 2004 in accordance with U.S-Singapore FTA commitments, which contains specific conduct guarantees to ensure that Singapore’s government linked companies (GLC) will operate on a commercial and non-discriminatory basis towards U.S. firms. GLCs with substantial revenues or assets are also subject to enhanced transparency requirements under the FTA. A 2018 addition to the act gives the CCCS additional administrative power to protect consumers against unfair trade practices.

The most recent infringement decision issued by CCCS occurred in January 2019 when three competing hotel operators, including a major British hospitality company, exchanged “commercially sensitive” information. The operators were fined a total financial penalty of $1.1 million for conduct potentially resulting in reduced competitive pressure on the market. No other cases tied to commercial behavior in 2019 or the first quarter of 2020 have received penalties from CCCS.

Expropriation and Compensation

Singapore has not expropriated foreign-owned property and has no laws that force foreign investors to transfer ownership to local interests. Singapore has signed investment promotion and protection agreements with a wide range of countries. These agreements mutually protect nationals or companies of either country against certain non-commercial risks, such as expropriation and nationalization and remain in effect unless otherwise terminated. The USSFTA contains strong investor protection provisions relating to expropriation of private property and the need to follow due process; provisions are in place for an owner to receive compensation based on fair market value. No disputes are pending.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Singapore is party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) and the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitration Awards (1958 New York Convention). Singapore passed an Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act to implement the ICSID Convention in 1968. Singapore acceded to the 1958 New York Convention in August 1986 and gives effect to it via the International Arbitration Act (IAA). The 1958 New York Convention is annexed to the IAA as the Second Schedule. Singapore is bound to recognize awards made in any other country that is a signatory to the 1958 New York Convention. ( http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=3f833e8e-722a-4fca-8393-f35e59ed1440 )

Domestic arbitration in Singapore is governed by the Arbitration Act (Cap 10). The Arbitration Act was enacted to align the laws applicable to domestic arbitration with the model law.

Singapore is also a party to the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation, further referred to as the “Convention.” This Convention provides a process for parties to enforce or invoke an international commercial mediated settlement agreement once the conditions and requirements of the Convention are met. Singapore has put in place domestic legislation, the Singapore Convention on Mediation Bill 2020, which was passed in Parliament on 4 February 2020. On 25 February 2020, Singapore and Fiji were the first two countries to deposit their respective instruments of ratification of the Convention at the United Nations Headquarters. The Convention will enter into force six months after the third State deposits its instrument of ratification, acceptance and approval or accession. Singapore’s arbitration center settled a record high number of cases in 2020 and opened a New York City office.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

After Singapore’s accession to the New York Convention of 1958 on August 21, 1986, it re-enacted most of its provisions in Part III of the IAA. By acceding to the New York Convention, Singapore is bound to recognize awards made in any other country that is a signatory to the Convention. Singapore is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and, under the Reciprocal Enforcement of Commonwealth Judgments Act (RECJA), recognizes judgments made in the United Kingdom, as well as jurisdictions that are part of the Commonwealth and with which Singapore has reciprocal arrangements for the recognition and enforcement of judgments. The Act lists the countries with which such arrangements exist, and of the 53 countries that are members of the Commonwealth, nine have been listed. ( https://sso.agc.gov.sg/SL/RECJA1921-N1?DocDate=19990701 ) Singapore also has reciprocal recognition of foreign judgements with Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.

Singapore is party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention). Singapore passed an Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act to implement the ICSID Convention in 1968. The ICSID Convention has an enforcement mechanism for arbitration awards rendered pursuant to ICSID rules that is separate from the 1958 arbitration awards rendered pursuant to ICSID rules that is separate from the 1958 New York Convention. Investor-State dispute settlement provisions in Singapore’s trade agreements, including the USSFTA, refer to ICSIID rules as one of the possible options for resolving disputes. Investor-State arbitration under rules other than ICSID’s would result in an arbitration award that may be enforced using the 1958 New York Convention.

Singapore has had no investment disputes with U.S. persons or other foreign investors in the past ten years that have proceeded to litigation. Any disputes settled by arbitration/mediation would remain confidential. There have been no claims made by U.S. investors under the USSFTA. There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors. The government is investing in establishing Singapore as a global mediation hub.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Dispute resolution (DR) institutions include the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC), Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC), and the Singapore Chamber of Maritime Arbitration (SCMA). Singapore’s extensive dispute resolution institutions and integrated dispute resolution facilities at Maxwell Chambers have contributed to its development as a regional hub for alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. The SIAC is the major arbitral institution and its increasing caseload reflects Singapore’s policy of encouraging the use of alternative modes of dispute resolution, including arbitration.

Arbitral awards in Singapore, for either domestic or international arbitration, are legally binding and enforceable in Singapore domestic courts, as well as in jurisdictions that have ratified the 1958 New York Convention.

The International Arbitration Act (IAA) regulates international arbitrations in Singapore. Domestic arbitrations are regulated by the Arbitration Act (AA). The IAA is heavily based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law, with a few significant differences. For example, arbitration agreements must be in writing. This requirement is deemed to be satisfied if the content is recorded in any form, including electronic communication, regardless of whether the arbitration agreement was concluded orally, by conduct, or by other means (e.g. an arbitration clause in a contract or a separate agreement can be incorporated into a contract by reference). The AA is also primarily based on the UNCITRAL Model Law. There have been no reported complaints about the partiality or transparency of court processes in investment and commercial disputes.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Singapore has bankruptcy laws allowing both debtors and creditors to file a bankruptcy claim. Singapore ranks number 27 for resolving insolvency in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Index. While Singapore performed well in recovery rate and time of recovery following bankruptcies, the country did not score well on cost of proceedings or insolvency frameworks. In particular, the insolvency framework does not require approval by the creditors for sale of substantial assets of the debtor or approval by the creditors for selection or appointment of the insolvency representative.

Singapore has made several reforms to enhance corporate rescue and restructuring processes, including features from Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Amendments to the Companies Act, which came into force in May 2017, include additional disclosure requirements by debtors, rescue financing provisions, provisions to facilitate the approval of pre-packaged restructurings, increased debtor protections, and cram-down provisions that will allow a scheme to be approved by the court even if a class of creditors oppose the scheme, provided the dissenting class of creditors are not unfairly prejudiced by the scheme.

The Insolvency, Restructuring and Dissolution Act passed in 2018, but the expected effective date of the bill has been delayed from the first half of 2019 into 2020. It updates the insolvency legislation and introduces a significant number of new provisions, particularly with respect to corporate insolvency. It mandates licensing, qualifications, standards, and disciplinary measures for insolvency practitioners. It also includes standalone voidable transaction provisions for corporate insolvency and, a new wrongful trading provision. The act allows ‘out of court’ commencement of judicial management, permits judicial managers to assign the proceeds of certain insolvency related claims, restricts the operation of contractual ‘ipso facto clauses’ upon the commencement of certain restructuring and insolvency procedures, and modifies the operation of the scheme of arrangement cross class ‘cram down’ power. Authorities continue to seek public consultations of subsidiary legislation to be drafted under the act.

Two MAS-recognized consumer credit bureaus operate in Singapore: the Credit Bureau (Singapore) Pte Ltd and Experian Credit Bureau Singapore Pte Ltd. U.S. industry advocates enhancements to Singapore’s credit bureau system, in particular, adoption of an open admission system for all lenders, including non-banks. Bankruptcy is not criminalized in Singapore. ( https://www.acra.gov.sg/CA_2017/ )

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The EDB is the lead investment promotion agency facilitating foreign investment into Singapore ( https://www.edb.gov.sg ). The EDB undertakes investment promotion and industry development, and works with international businesses, both foreign and local, by providing information, connection to partners, and access to government incentives for their investments. The Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR) is Singapore’s lead public sector agency focused on economic-oriented research to advance scientific discovery and innovative technology. ( https://www.a-star.edu.sg ) The National Research Foundation (NRF) provides competitive grants for applied research through an integrated grant management system. ( https://researchgrant.gov.sg/pages/index.aspx ) Various government agencies (including Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS, NRF, and EDB) provide venture capital co-funding for startups and commercialization of intellectual property.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Singapore has nine free-trade zones (FTZs) in five geographical areas operated by three FTZ authorities. The FTZs may be used for storage and repackaging of import and export cargo, and goods transiting Singapore for subsequent re-export. Manufacturing is not carried out within the zones. Foreign and local firms have equal access to the FTZ facilities.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Performance requirements are applied uniformly and systematically to both domestic and foreign investors. Singapore has no forced localization policy requiring domestic content in goods or technology. The government does not require investors to purchase from local sources or specify a percentage of output for export. There are no rules forcing the transfer of technology. There are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption. The industry regulator is the IMDA, a statutory board under the Ministry of Communications and Information.

In May 2020, Singapore tightened requirements for hiring foreign workers, including raising minimum salary thresholds and additional enforcement of penalties for employers not giving “fair consideration” to local applicants before hiring foreign workers. Personal data matters are independently overseen by the Personal Data Protection Commission, which administers and enforces the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) of 2012. The PDPA governs the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data by the private sector and covers both electronic and non-electronic data. Singapore is currently reviewing the PDPA to ensure that it keeps pace with the evolving needs of businesses and individuals in a digital economy such as introducing an enhanced framework for the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data and a mandatory data breach notification regime.

Singapore does not have a data localization policy. Singapore participates in various regional and international frameworks that promote interoperability and harmonization of rules to facilitate cross-border data flows. The ASEAN Framework on Digital Data Governance (FDFG) is one example. Under FDFG, Singapore will focus on developing model contractual clauses and certification for cross border data flows within the ASEAN region. Another is Singapore’s participation in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Cross-Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) and Privacy Recognition for Processors systems, to facilitate data transfers for certified organizations across APEC economies.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Property rights and interests are enforced in Singapore. Residents have access to mortgages and liens, with reliable recording of properties. In the 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report, Singapore ranks first in the world in enforcing contracts and number 21st in registering property.

Foreigners are not allowed to purchase public housing in Singapore, and prior approval from the Singapore Land Authority is required to purchase landed residential property and residential land for development. Foreigners can purchase non-landed, private sector housing (e.g., condominiums or any unit within a building) without the need to obtain prior approval. However, they are not allowed to acquire all the apartments or units in a development without prior approval. These restrictions also apply to foreign companies.

There are no restrictions on foreign ownership of industrial and commercial real estate. Since July 2018, foreigners who purchase homes in Singapore are required to pay an additional effective 20 percent tax on top of standard buyer’s taxes. However, U.S. citizens are accorded national treatment under the FTA, meaning only second and subsequent purchases of residential property will be subject to 12 and 15 percent additional duties, equivalent to Singaporean citizens.

The availability of covered bond legislation under MAS Notice 648 has provided an incentive for Singapore financial institutions to issue covered bonds. Under Notice 648, only a bank incorporated in Singapore may issue covered bonds. The three main Singapore banks: DBS, OCBC, and UOB, all have in place covered bond programs, with the issues offered to private investors. The banking industry has made suggestions to allow the use of covered bonds in repossession transactions with the central bank and to increase the encumbrance limit, currently at four percent. ( http://www.mas.gov.sg/regulations/notices/notice-648 )

Intellectual Property Rights

Singapore maintains one of the strongest intellectual property rights regimes in Asia. The chief executive of Singapore’s Intellectual Property Office was elected director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in April 2020. However, some concerns remain in certain areas such as business software piracy, online piracy, and enforcement.

Effective January 1, 2020, all patent applications must be fully examined by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) to ensure that any foreign-granted patents fully satisfy Singapore’s patentability criteria. The Registered Designs (Amendment) Act broadens the scope of registered designs to include virtual designs and color as a design feature and will stipulate the default owner of designs to be the designer of a commissioned design, rather than the commissioning party.

The USSFTA ensures that government agencies will not grant regulatory approvals to patent- infringing products, but Singapore does allow parallel imports. Under the Patents Act, with regards to pharmaceutical products, the patent owner has the right to bring an action to stop an importer of “grey market goods” from importing the patent owner’s patented product, provided that the product has not previously been sold or distributed in Singapore, the importation results in a breach of contract between the proprietor of the patent and any person licensed by the proprietor of the patent to distribute the product outside Singapore and the importer has knowledge of such.

The USSFTA ensures protection of test data and trade secrets submitted to the government for regulatory approval purposes. Disclosure of such information is prohibited. Such data may not be used for approval of the same or similar products without the consent of the party who submitted the data for a period of five years from the date of approval of the pharmaceutical product and 10 years from the date of approval of an agricultural chemical. Singapore has no specific legislation concerning protection of trade secrets. Instead, it protects investors’ commercially valuable proprietary information under common law by the Law of Confidence as well as legislation such as the Penal Code (e.g., theft) and the Computer Misuse Act (e.g., unauthorized access to a computer system to download information). U.S. industry has expressed concern that this provision is inadequate.

As a WTO member, Singapore is party to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). It is a signatory to other international intellectual property rights agreements, including the Paris Convention, the Berne Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the Madrid Protocol, and the Budapest Treaty. The WIPO Secretariat opened a regional office in Singapore in 2005. ( http://www.wipo.int/about-wipo/en/offices/singapore/)  Amendments to the Trademark Act, which were passed in January 2007, fulfilled Singapore’s obligations in WIPO’s revised Singapore Treaty on the Law of Trademarks.

Singapore ranked 11th out of 53 in the world in the 2020 U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s International Intellectual Property (IP) Index. The index noted that Singapore’s key strengths include an advanced national IP framework and efforts to accelerate research, patent examination, and grants. The index also lauded Singapore as a global leader in patent protection and online copyright enforcement. Despite a decrease in estimated software piracy from 35 percent in 2009 to 27 percent in 2020, the index noted that piracy levels remain high for a developed, high-income country. Lack of transparency and data on customs seizures of IP-infringing goods is also noted as a key area of weakness.

Singapore does not publicly report the statistics on seizures of counterfeit goods and does not rate highly on enforcement of physical counterfeit goods, online sales of counterfeit goods or digital online piracy, according to the 2018 U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s International IP Index. Singapore is not listed in USTR’s 2020 Special 301 Report, but some Singapore-based online retailers are named in USTR’s 2019 Review of Notorious Markets. For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The government takes a favorable stance towards foreign portfolio investment and fixed asset investments. While it welcomes capital market investments, the government has introduced macro-prudential policies aimed at reducing foreign speculative inflows in the real estate sector since 2009. The government promotes Singapore’s position as an asset and wealth management center, and assets under management grew 5.4 percent in 2018 to USD 2.4 trillion (SD 3.4 trillion) – the latest year for which MAS conducted a survey.

The Government of Singapore facilitates the free flow of financial resources into product and factor markets, and the Singapore Exchange (SGX) is Singapore’s stock market. An effective regulatory system exists to encourage and facilitate portfolio investment. Credit is allocated on market terms and foreign investors can access credit, U.S. dollars, Singapore dollars (SGD), and other foreign currencies on the local market. The private sector has access to a variety of credit instruments through banks operating in Singapore. The government respects IMF Article VIII by refraining from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.

Money and Banking System

Singapore’s banking system is sound and well regulated by MAS, and the country serves as a financial hub for the region. Banks have a very high domestic penetration rate, and according to World Bank Financial Inclusion indicators, over 97 percent of persons held a financial account in 2017. (latest year available). Local Singapore banks saw net profits rise 27 percent in the last quarter of 2019. Banks are statutorily prohibited from engaging in non-financial business. Banks can hold 10 percent or less in non-financial companies as an “equity portfolio investment.” At the end of 2019, the non-performing loans ratio (NPL ratio) of the three local banks remained at an averaged 1.5 percent since the last quarter of 2018.

Foreign banks require licenses to operate in the country. The tiered licenses, for Merchant, Offshore, Wholesale, Full Banks and Qualifying Full Banks (QFBs) subject banks to further prudential safeguards in return for offering a greater range of services. U.S. financial institutions enjoy phased-in benefits under the USSFTA. Since 2006, U.S.-licensed full-service banks that are also QFBs have been able to operate at an unlimited number of locations (branches or off-premises ATMs) versus 25 for non-U.S. full service foreign banks with QFB status.

Under the OECD Common Reporting Standards (CRS), which has been in effect since January 2017, Singapore-based Financial Institutions (SGFIs) – depository institutions such as banks, specified insurance companies, investment entities, and custodial institutions – are required to: 1) establish the tax residency status of all their account holders; 2) collect and retain CRS information for all non-Singapore tax residents in the case of new accounts; and 3) report to tax authorities the financial account information of account holders who are tax residents of jurisdictions with which Singapore has a Competent Authority Agreement (CAA) to exchange the information. As of December 2019, Singapore has established more than 80 exchange relationships, include with the United States, established in September 2018.

U.S. financial regulations do not restrict foreign banks’ ability to hold accounts for U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens are encouraged to alert the nearest U.S. Embassy of any practices they encounter with regard to the provision of financial services.

Fintech investments in Singapore rose from USD 365 million in 2018 to USD 861 million in 2019. To strengthen Singapore’s position as a global Fintech hub, MAS has created a dedicated Fintech Office as a one-stop virtual entity for all Fintech-related matters to enable experimentation and promote an open-API (Application Programming Interfaces) in the financial industry. Investment in payments start-ups accounted for about 40 percent of all funds. Singapore has more than 50 innovation labs established by global financial institutions and technology companies.

MAS also aims to be a regional leader in blockchain technologies and has worked to position Singapore as a financial technology center. MAS and the Association of Banks in Singapore are prototyping the use of Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) for inter-bank clearing and settlement of payments and securities. Following a five-year collaborative project to understand the technology, a test network launched to facilitate collaboration in the cross-border blockchain ecosystem. Technical specifications for the functionalities and connectivity interfaces of the prototype network are publicly available. ( https://www.mas.gov.sg/schemes-and-initiatives/Project-Ubin ).

Alternative financial services include retail and corporate non-bank lending via finance companies, cooperative societies, and pawnshops; and burgeoning financial technology-based services across a wide range of sectors including: crowdfunding, initial coin offerings, and payment services and remittance. In January 2020, the Payment Services Bill went into effect, which will require all cryptocurrency service providers to be licensed with the intent to provide more user protection. Smaller payment firms will receive a different classification from larger institutions and will be less heavily regulated. Key infrastructure supporting Singapore’s financial market include interbank (MEP), Foreign exchange (CLS, CAPS), retail (SGDCCS, USDCCS, CTS, IBG, ATM, FAST, NETS, EFTPOS), securities (MEPS+-SGS, CDP, SGX-DC) and derivatives settlements (SGX-DC, APS) ( https://www.mas.gov.sg/regulation/payments/payment-systems )

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The USSFTA commits Singapore to the free transfer of capital, unimpeded by regulatory restrictions. Singapore places no restrictions on reinvestment or repatriation of earnings and capital, and maintains no significant restrictions on remittances, foreign exchange transactions and capital movements.

Singapore’s monetary policy has been centered on the management of the exchange rate since 1981, with the stated primary objective of promoting medium term price stability as a sound basis for sustainable economic growth. As described by MAS, there are three main features of the exchange rate system in Singapore: 1) MAS operates a managed float regime for the Singapore dollar with the trade-weighted exchange rate allowed to fluctuate within a policy band; 2) the Singapore dollar is managed against a basket of currencies of its major trading partners; and 3) the exchange rate policy band is periodically reviewed to ensure that it remains consistent with the underlying fundamentals of the economy.

Remittance Policies

There are no time or amount limitations on remittances. No significant changes to investment remittance were implemented or announced over the past year. Local and foreign banks may impose their own limitations on daily remittances.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Government of Singapore has three key investment entities: GIC Private Limited (GIC) is the sovereign wealth fund in Singapore that manages the government’s substantial foreign investments, fiscal, and foreign reserves, with the stated objective to achieve long-term returns and preserve the international purchasing power of the reserves. Temasek is a holding company wholly owned by the Ministry of Finance with investments in Singapore and abroad. MAS, as the central bank of Singapore, manages the Official Foreign Reserves, and a significant proportion of its portfolio is invested in liquid financial market instruments.

GIC does not publish the size of the funds under management, but some industry observers estimate its managed assets may exceed $400 billion. GIC does not invest domestically, but manages Singapore’s international investments, which are generally passive (non-controlling) investments in publicly traded entities. The United States is its top investment destination, accounting for 34 percent of GIC’s portfolio as of March 2020, while Asia (excluding Japan) accounts for 19 percent, the Eurozone 13 percent, Japan 13 percent, and UK 6 percent. Investments in the United States are diversified and include industrial and commercial properties, student housing, power transmission companies, and financial, retail and business services. GIC is a member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds. Although not required by law, GIC has published an annual report since 2008.

Temasek began as a holding company for Singapore’s state-owned enterprises, now GLCs, but has since branched out to other asset classes and often holds significant stake in companies. As of March 2020, Temasek’s portfolio value reached $226 billion, and its asset exposure to Singapore is 24 percent; 42 percent in the rest of Asia, and 17 percent in North America. According to the Temasek Charter, Temasek delivers sustainable value over the long term for its stakeholders. Temasek has published a Temasek Review annually since 2004. The statements only provide consolidated financial statements, which aggregate all of Temasek and its subsidiaries into a single financial report. A major international audit firm audits Temasek Group’s annual statutory financial statements. GIC and Temasek uphold the Santiago Principles for sovereign investments.

Other investing entities of government funds include EDB Investments Pte Ltd, Singapore’s Housing Development Board, and other government statutory boards with funding decisions driven by goals emanating from the central government.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Singapore has an extensive network of full and partial SOEs held under the umbrella of Temasek Holdings, a holding company with the Ministry of Finance as its sole shareholder. Singapore SOEs play a substantial role in the domestic economy, especially in strategically important sectors including telecommunications, media, healthcare, public transportation, defense, port, gas, electricity grid, and airport operations. In addition, the SOEs are also present in many other sectors of the economy, including banking, subway, airline, consumer/lifestyle, commodities trading, oil and gas engineering, postal services, infrastructure, and real estate.

The Government of Singapore emphasizes that government-linked entities operate on an equal basis with both local and foreign businesses without exception. There is no published list of SOEs.

Temasek’s annual report notes that its portfolio companies are guided and managed by their respective boards and management, and Temasek does not direct their business decisions or operations. However, as a substantial shareholder, corporate governance within government linked companies typically are guided or influenced by policies developed by Temasek. There are differences in corporate governance disclosures and practices across the GLCs, and GLC boards are allowed to determine their own governance practices, with Temasek advisors occasionally meeting with the companies to make recommendations. GLC board seats are not specifically allocated to government officials, although it “leverages on its networks to suggest qualified individuals for consideration by the respective boards,” and leaders formerly from the armed forces or civil service are often represented on boards and fill senior management positions. Temasek exercises its shareholder rights to influence the strategic directions of its companies but does not get involved in the day-to-day business and commercial decisions of its firms and subsidiaries.

GLCs operate on a commercial basis and compete on an equal basis with private businesses, both local and foreign. Singapore officials highlight that the government does not interfere with the operations of GLCs or grant them special privileges, preferential treatment or hidden subsidies, asserting that GLCs are subject to the same regulatory regime and discipline of the market as private sector companies. However, observers have been critical of cases where GLCs have entered into new lines of business or where government agencies have “corporatized” certain government functions, in both circumstances entering into competition with already existing private businesses. Some private sector companies have said they encountered unfair business practices and opaque bidding processes that appeared to favor incumbent, government-linked firms. In addition, they note that the GLC’s institutional relationships with the government give them natural advantages in terms of access to cheaper funding and opportunities to shape the economic policy agenda in ways that benefit their companies.

The USSFTA contains specific conduct guarantees to ensure that GLCs will operate on a commercial and non-discriminatory basis towards U.S. firms. GLCs with substantial revenues or assets are also subject to enhanced transparency requirements under the USSFTA. In accordance with its USSFTA commitments, Singapore enacted the Competition Act in 2004 and established the Competition Commission of Singapore in January 2005. The Competition Act contains provisions on anti-competitive agreements, decisions, and practices, abuse of dominance, enforcement and appeals process, and mergers and acquisitions.

Privatization Program

The government has privatized GLCs in multiple sectors and has not publicly announced further privatization plans, but is likely to retain controlling stakes in strategically important sectors, including telecommunications, media, public transportation, defense, port, gas, electricity grid, and airport operations. The Energy Market Authority is extending the liberalization of the retail market from commercial and industrial consumers with an average monthly electricity consumption of at least 2,000 kWh to households and smaller businesses. The Electricity Act and the Code of Conduct for Retail Electricity Licensees govern licensing and standards for electricity retail companies.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The awareness and implementation of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Singapore has been increasing since the formation of the Global Compact Network Singapore (GCNS) under the United Nations Global Compact network, with the goals of encouraging companies to adopt sustainability principles related to human and labor rights, environmental conservation, and anti-corruption. GCNS facilitates exchanges, conducts research, and provides training in Singapore to build capacity in areas including sustainability reporting, supply chain management, ISO 26000, and measuring and reporting carbon emissions.

A 2019 World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature survey showed a lack of transparency by Singapore companies in disclosing palm oil sources. However, there is growing awareness and the Southeast Asia Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil (Saspo) has received additional pledges in by companies to adhere to standards for palm oil sourcing set by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). A group of food and beverage, retail, and hospitality companies announced in January 2019 what the WWF calls “the most impactful business response to-date on plastics.” The pact, initiated by WWF and supported by the National Environment Agency, is a commitment to significantly reduce plastic production and usage by 2030.

In June 2016, the Singapore Exchange (SGX) introduced mandatory, comply-or-explain, sustainability reporting requirements for all listed companies, including material environmental, social and governance practices, from the financial year ending December 31, 2017 onwards. The Singapore Environmental Council (SEC) operates a green labeling scheme, which endorses environmentally friendly products, numbering over 3,000 from 2729 countries. The Association of Banks in Singapore has issued voluntary guidelines to banks in Singapore last updated in July 2018 encouraging them to adopt sustainable lending practices, including the integration of environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles into their lending and business practices. Singapore-based banks are listed in a 2018 Market Forces report as major lenders in regional coal financing.

Singapore has not developed a National Action Plan on business and human rights, but promotes responsible business practices, and encourages foreign and local enterprises to follow generally accepted CSR principles. The government does not explicitly factor responsible business conduct (RBC) policies into its procurement decisions.

The host government effectively and fairly enforces domestic laws with regard to human rights, labor rights, consumer protection, environmental protections, and other laws/regulations intended to protect individuals from adverse business impacts. The private sector’s impact on migrant workers and their rights, and domestic migrant workers in particular (due to the latter’s exemption from the Employment Act which stipulates the rights of workers), remains an area of advocacy by civil society groups. The government has taken incremental steps to improve the channels of redress and enforcement of migrant workers’ rights; however, key concerns about legislative protections remain unaddressed for domestic migrant workers. The government generally encourages businesses to comply with international standards. However, there are no specific mentions of the host government encouraging adherence to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance, or supply chain due diligence measures.

The Companies Act principally governs companies in Singapore. Key areas of corporate governance covered under the act include separation of ownership from management, fiduciary duties of directors, shareholder remedies, and capital maintenance rules. Limited liability partnerships are governed by the Limited Liability Partnerships Act. Certain provisions in other statutes such as the Securities and Futures Act are also relevant to listed companies. Listed companies are required under the Singapore Exchange Listing Rules to describe in their annual reports their corporate governance practices with specific reference to the principles and provisions of the Code of Corporate Governance (“Code”). Listed companies must comply with the principles of the Code and if their practices vary from any provision in the Code, they must explain the variation and demonstrate the variation is consistent with the relevant principle. The revised Code of Corporate Governance will impact Annual Reports covering financial years from January 1, 2019 onward. The revised code encourages board renewal, strengthens director independence, increases transparency of remuneration practices, enhances board diversity, and encourages communication with all stakeholders. MAS also established an independent Corporate Governance Advisory Committee (CGAC) to advocated good corporate governance practices in February 2019. The CGAC monitors companies’ implementation of the code and advises regulators on corporate governance issues.

There are independent NGOs promoting and monitoring RBC. Those monitoring or advocating around RBC are generally able to do their work freely within most areas. However, labor unions are tightly controlled and legal rights to strike are granted with restrictions under the Trade Disputes Act.

Singapore has no oil, gas, or mineral resources and is not a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). A small sector in Singapore processes rare minerals and complies with responsible supply chains and conflict mineral principles. Under the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) framework, it is a requirement for Corporate Service Providers to develop and implement internal policies, procedures and controls to comply with Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations on combating of money laundering and terrorism financing.

Additional Resources 

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Resources to Report Corruption

Singapore actively enforces its strong anti-corruption laws, and corruption is not cited as a concern for foreign investors. Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index ranks Singapore third of 178 countries globally, the highest-ranking Asian country. The Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), and the Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act provide the legal basis for government action by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), which is the only agency authorized under the PCA to investigate corruption offences and other related offences. These laws cover acts of corruption within Singapore as well as those committed by Singaporeans abroad. The anti-corruption laws extend to family members of officials, and to political parties. The CPIB is effective and non-discriminatory. Singapore is generally perceived to be one of the least corrupt countries in the world, and corruption is not identified as an obstacle to foreign direct investment in Singapore. Recent corporate fraud scandals, particularly in the commodity trading sector, have been publicly, swiftly, and firmly reprimanded by the government. Singapore is a signatory to the UN Anticorruption Convention, but not the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency or agencies are responsible for combating corruption:

Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau
2 Lengkok Bahru, Singapore 159047
+65 6270 0141  info@cpib.gov.sg

Contact at a “watchdog” organization:

Transparency International
Alt-Moabit 96
10559 Berlin, Germany +49 30 3438 200

10. Political and Security Environment

Singapore’s political environment is stable and there is no recent history of incidents involving politically motivated damage to foreign investments in Singapore. The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has dominated Singapore’s parliamentary government since 1959 and currently controls 83 of the 89 regularly contested parliamentary seats. Singaporean opposition parties, which currently hold six regularly contested parliamentary seats and three additional seats reserved to the opposition by the constitution, do not usually espouse views that are radically different from mainstream public opinion.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

In December 2020, Singapore’s labor market totaled 3.6 million workers; this includes about 1.4 million foreigners, of whom about 85 percent are basic skilled or semi-skilled workers. The labor market continues to be tight, with overall unemployment rate averaging in the 3.04 percent in 2020. The 2020 budget, announced in February and two subsequent supplementary budgets announced in March and April, provided for substantial wage and training support for all firms during the COVID-19 outbreak. In sectors, such as travel and tourism, the government offered temporary employment or training for workers placed on unpaid leave due to COVID-19. The 2021 budget continues this support, although at lower levels and in a more focused manner, since the government expects overall GDP growth to return. Local labor laws allow for relatively free hiring and firing practices. Either party can terminate employment by giving the other party the required notice. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) must approve employment of foreigners.

Since 2011, the government has introduced policy measures to support productivity increases coupled with reduced dependence on foreign labor. In Budget 2019, MOM announced a decrease in the foreign worker quota ceiling from 40 percent to 38 percent on January 1, 2020 and to 35 percent on January 1, 2021. The quota reduction does not apply to those on Employment Passes (EPs) which are high skilled workers making above $33,100 per year. In Budget 2020, the foreign worker quota was cut further for mid-skilled (“S Pass”) workers in construction, marine shipyards, and the process sectors from 20 to 18 percent by January 1, 2021. The quota will be further reduced to 15 percent on January 1, 2023. Singapore’s labor force fell for the first time in a decade and is expected to face significant demographic headwinds from an aging population and low birth rates, alongside restrictions on foreign workers. Singapore’s local workforce growth is slowing, heading for stagnation over the next ten years.

To address concerns over an aging and shrinking workforce, MOM has expanded its training and grant programs. The government included a number of individual and company subsidies for existing and new programs in the Budget 2020 and 2021, as well as an unprecedented number of supplementary budgets during the COVID-19 outbreak. An example of an existing program is SkillsFuture, a government initiative managed by SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), a statutory board under the Ministry of Education, designed to provide all Singaporeans with enhanced opportunities and skills-capacity building. SSG also administers the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ), a national credential system that trains, develops, assesses, and certifies skills and competencies for the workforce.

All foreigners must have a valid work pass before they can start work in Singapore, with EPs (for professionals, managers and executives), S Pass (for mid-level skilled staff), and Work Permits (for semi-skilled workers), among the most widely issued. Workers need to have a job with minimum fixed monthly salary and acceptable qualifications to be eligible for the Employment Pass and S Pass. MOM has increased minimum salaries restricting the ability of some companies to hire foreign workers, including spouses of employment pass holders. The government further regulates the inflow of foreign workers through the Foreign Worker Levy (FWL) and the Dependency Ratio Ceiling (DRC). The DRC is the maximum permitted ratio of foreign workers to the total workforce that a company can hire and serves as a quota on the hiring of foreign workers. The DRC varies across sectors. Employers of S Pass and Work Permit holders are required to pay a monthly FWL to the government. The FWL varies according to the skills, qualifications and experience of their employees. The FWL is set on a sector-by-sector basis and is subject to annual revisions. FWLs have been progressively increased for most sectors since 2012.

MOM requires employers to consider Singaporeans before hiring skilled professional foreigners. The Fair Consideration Framework, implemented in August 2014, affects employers who apply for EPs, the work pass for foreign professionals working in professional, manager, and executive (PME) posts. Companies have noted inconsistent and increasingly burdensome documentation requirements and excessive qualification criteria to approve EP applications. Under the rules, firms making new EP applications must first advertise the job vacancy in a new jobs bank administered by Workforce Singapore (WSG), ( http://www.mycareersfuture.gov.sg ) for at least 28 days. The jobs bank is free for use by companies and job seekers and the job advertisement must be open to all, including Singaporeans. Employers are encouraged to keep records of their interview process as proof that they have done due diligence in trying to look for a Singaporean worker. If an EP is still needed, the employer will have to make a statutory declaration that a job advertisement on http://www.mycareersfuture.gov.sg had been made. Smaller firms with 10 or fewer employees and jobs, which pay a fixed monthly salary of $10,609 or more, are exempt from the requirements, which were newly tightened and took effect from July 2018. The minimum fixed salary will be raised to $14,145 on May 1, 2021.

Consistent with Singapore’s WTO obligations, intra-corporate transfers (ICT) are allowed for managers, executives, and specialists who had worked for at least one year in the firm before being posted to Singapore. ICT would still be required to meet all EP criteria, but the requirement for an advertisement on http://www.mycareersfuture.gov.sg would be waived. In April 2016, MOM outlined measures to refine the work pass applications process, looking not only at the qualifications of individuals, but at company-related factors. Companies found not to have a “healthy Singaporean core, lacking a demonstrated commitment to developing a Singaporean core, and not found to be “relevant” to Singapore’s economy and society, will be labeled “triple weak” and put on a watch list. Companies unable to demonstrate progress may have work pass privileges suspended after a period of scrutiny. Since 2016, MOM has placed approximately 1,200 companies on the FCF Watchlist. The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices have worked with 260 companies to be successfully removed from the watchlist.

The Employment Act covers all employees under a contract of service, and under the act, employees who have served the company for at least two years are eligible for retrenchment benefits, and the amount of compensation depends on the contract of service or what is agreed collectively. Employers have to abide by notice periods in the employment contract before termination and stipulated minimum periods in the Employment Act in the absence of a notice period previously agreed upon, or provide salary in lieu of notice. Dismissal on grounds of wrongful conduct by the employee is differentiated from retrenchments in the labor laws and is exempted from the above requirements. Employers must notify MOM of retrenchments within five working days after they notify the affected employees to enable the relevant agencies to help affected employees find alternative employment and/or identify relevant training to enhance employability. Singapore does not provide unemployment benefits, but provides training and job matching services to retrenched workers.

Labor laws are not waived in order to attract or retain investment in Singapore. There are no additional or different labor law provisions in free trade zones.

Collective bargaining is a normal part of labor-management relations in all sectors. As of 2018 about 20 percent of the workforce was unionized. Foreign workers constituted approximately 15 percent of union members. Almost all unions are affiliated with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), the sole national federation of trade unions in Singapore, which has a close relationship with the PAP ruling party and the government. The current NTUC Secretary General is also a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office. Given that nearly all unions are NTUC affiliates, the NTUC has almost exclusive authority to exercise collective bargaining power on behalf of employees. Union members may not reject collective agreements negotiated between their union representatives and an employer. Although transfers and layoffs are excluded from the scope of collective bargaining, employers consult with unions on both problems, and the Taskforce for Responsible Retrenchment and Employment Facilitation issues guidelines calling for early notification to unions of layoffs. Data on coverage of collective bargaining agreements is not publicly available. The Industrial Relations Act (IRA) regulates collective bargaining. The Industrial Arbitration Courts must certify any collective bargaining agreement before it is deemed in effect and can deny certification on public interest grounds. Additionally, the IRA restricts the scope of issues over which workers may bargain, excluding bargaining on hiring, transfer, promotion, dismissal, or reinstatement of workers.

Most labor disagreements are resolved through conciliation and mediation by MOM. Since April 2017, the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) under MOM provides advisory and mediation services, including mediation for salary and employment disputes. Where the conciliation process is not successful, the disputing parties may submit their dispute to the IAC for arbitration. Depending on the nature of the dispute, the court may be constituted either by the President of the IAC and a member of the Employer and Employee Panels, or by the President alone. The Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT) was established under the Employment Claims Act (2016). To bring a claim before the ECT, parties must first register their claims at the TADM for mediation. Mediation at TADM is compulsory. Only disputes which remain unresolved after mediation at TADM may be referred to the ECT.

The ECT hears statutory salary-related claims, contractual salary-related claims, dismissal claims from employees, and claims for salary in lieu of notice of termination by all employers. There is a limit of $21,200 on claims for cases with TADM mediation, and $14,100 for all other claims. In March 2019, MOM announced that 85 percent of salary claims had been resolved by TADM between April 2017 and December 2018. Salary-related disputes that are not resolved by mediation are covered by the Employment Claims Tribunals under the State Courts. Industrial disputes may also submit their case be referred to the tripartite Industrial Arbitration Court (IAC). The IAC composed has two panels: an employee panel and a management panel. For a majority of dispute hearings, a court is constituted comprising the President of the IAC and a member each from the employee and employer panels’ representatives and chaired by a judge. In some situations, the law provides for compulsory arbitration. The court must certify collective agreements before they go into effect. The court may refuse certification at its discretion on the ground of public interest.

The legal framework in Singapore provides for some restrictions in the registration of trade unions, labor union autonomy and administration, the right to strike, who may serve as union officers or employees, and collective bargaining. Under the Trade Union Act (TUA), every trade union must register with the Registrar of Trade Unions, which has broad discretion to grant, deny, or cancel union registration. The TUA limits the objectives for which unions can spend their funds, including for contributions to a political party or for political purposes, and allows the Registrar to inspect accounts and funds “at any reasonable time.” Legal rights to strike are granted with restrictions under TUA. The law requires the majority of affected unionized workers to vote in favor of a strike by secret ballot, as opposed to the majority of those participating in the vote. Strikes cannot be conducted for any reason apart from a dispute in the trade or industry in which the strikers are employed, and it is illegal to conduct a strike if it is “designed or calculated to coerce the government either directly or by inflicting hardship on the community.” Workers in “essential services” are required to give 14 days’ notice to an employer before conducting a strike. Although workers, other than those employed in the three essential services of water, gas and electricity, may strike, no workers did so since 1986 with the exception of a strike by bus drivers in 2012, but NTUC threatened to strike over concerns in a retrenchment process in July 2020. The law also restricts the right of uniformed personnel and government employees to organize, although the president may grant exemptions. Foreigners and those with criminal convictions generally may not hold union office or become employees of unions, but the ministry may grant exemptions.

The Employment Act, which prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act (PHTA), strengthens labor trafficking victim protection, and governs labor protections. Other acts protecting the rights of workers include the Occupational Safety and Health Act and Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. Labor laws set the standard legal workweek at 44 hours, with one rest day each week, and establish a framework for workplaces to comply with occupational safety and health standards, with regular inspections designed to enforce the standards. MOM effectively enforces laws and regulations establishing working conditions and comprehensive occupational safety and health (OSH) laws and implements enforcement procedures and promoted educational and training programs to reduce the frequency of job-related accidents. Changes to the Employment Act took effect on April 1, 2019, including for extension of core provisions to managers and executives, increasing the monthly salary cap, transferring adjudication of wrongful dismissal claims from MOM to the ECT, and increasing flexibility in compensating employees working during public holidays (for more detail see https://www.mom.gov.sg/employment-practices/employment-act  ). All workers, except for public servants, domestic workers and seafarers are covered by the Employment Act, and additional time-based provisions for more vulnerable employees.

Singapore has no across the board minimum wage law, although there are some exceptions in certain low skill industries. Generally, the government follows a policy of allowing free market forces to determine wage levels. In specific sectors where wages have stagnated and market practices such as outsourcing reduce incentive to upskill workers and limit their bargaining power, the government has implemented Progressive Wage Models to uplift wages. These are currently implementing in the cleaning, security, elevator maintenance, and landscape sectors. The National Wage Council (NWC), a tripartite body comprising representatives from the government, employers and unions, recommends non-binding wage adjustments on an annual basis. The NWC recommendations apply to all employees in both domestic and foreign firms, and across the private and public sectors. While the NWC wage guidelines are not mandatory, they are published under the Employment Act and form the basis of wage negotiations between unions and management. The NWC recommendations apply to all employees in both domestic and foreign law firms, and across the public and private sectors. The level of implementation is generally higher among unionized companies compared to non-unionized companies.

MOM is responsible for combating labor trafficking and improving working conditions for workers, and generally enforces anti-trafficking legislation, although some workers in low-wage and unskilled sectors are vulnerable to labor exploitation and abuse. PHTA sets out harsh penalties (including up to nine strokes of the cane and 15 years’ imprisonment) for those found guilty of trafficking, including forced labor, or abetting such activities. The government developed a mechanism for referral of potential trafficking-in-persons activities, to the interagency taskforce, co-chaired by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Manpower. Some observers note that the country’s employer sponsorship system made legal migrant workers vulnerable to forced labor, because they cannot change employers without the consent of the current employer. MOM effectively enforces laws and regulations pertaining to child labor. Penalties for employers that violated child labor laws were subject to fines and/or imprisonment, depending on the violation. Government officials assert that child labor is not a significant issue. The incidence of children in formal employment is low, and almost no abuses are reported.

The USSFTA includes a chapter on labor protections. The labor chapter contains a statement of shared commitment by each party that the principles and rights set forth in Article 17.7 of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its follow-up are recognized and protected by domestic law, and each party shall strive to ensure it does not derogate protections afforded in domestic labor law as an encouragement for trade or investment purposes. The chapter includes the establishment of a labor cooperation mechanism, which promotes the exchange of information on ways to improve labor law and practice, and the advancement of effective implementation.

See the U.S. State Department Human Rights Report as well as the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report. (https://www.state.gov/reports-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/)

Under the 1966 Investment Guarantee Agreement with Singapore, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) offers insurance to U.S. investors in Singapore against currency inconvertibility, expropriation, and losses arising from war. Singapore became a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) in 1998. In March 2019, Singapore and the United States signed a MOU aimed at strengthening collaboration between the infrastructure agency of Singapore, Infrastructure Asia, and OPIC. Under the agreement, both countries will work together on information sharing, deal facilitation, structuring and capacity building initiatives in sectors of mutual interest such as energy, natural resource management, water, waste, transportation, and urban development. The aim is to enhance Singapore-based and U.S. companies’ access to project opportunities, while building on Singapore’s role as an infrastructure hub in Asia.

Singapore’s domestic public infrastructure projects are funded primarily via Singapore government reserves or capital markets, reducing the scope for direct project financing subsidies by foreign governments. 12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment  Insurance and Development Finance Programs

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) 2020 $374,131 2019 $372,063 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $358,888 2019 $287,951 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $18,295 2019 $21,060 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 394.3% 2020 469.3% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/topic/investment/world-investment-report  

* Source for Host Country Data: https://www.singstat.gov.sg/ 

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 1,465,070 100% Not Available Amount 100%
United States 297,065 20% Not Available Amount X%
Cayman Islands 157,225 11% Not Available Amount X%
British Virgin Islands 107,393 7% Not Available Amount X%
Japan 96,282 7% Not Available Amount X%
Bermuda 66,395 5% Not Available Amount X%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 1,421,608 100% All Countries 681,831 100% All Countries 739,777 100%
United States 376,454 26% United States 137,354 20% United States 239,100 32%
China 174,975 12% China 111,997 16% China 62,978 9%
Republic of Korea 60,368 4% Japan 39,856 6% Korea 33,534 5%
India 53,899 4% Cayman Islands 38,030 6% United Kingdom 23,488
Caymen Islands 52,216 4% India 31,684 5% India 22,215 3%

14. Contact for More Information

Martha Tipton
Economic Specialist
U.S. Embassy
27 Napier Road
Singapore 258508  +65 9069-8592
+65 9069-8592
Tiptonm@state.gov

South Korea

Executive Summary

The Republic of Korea (ROK) offers foreign investors political stability, public safety, world-class infrastructure, a highly skilled workforce, and a dynamic private sector.  Following market liberalization measures in the 1990s, foreign portfolio investment has grown steadily, exceeding 36 percent of the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) total market capitalization as of February 2021.

Studies by the Korea International Trade Association, however, have shown that the ROK underperforms in attracting FDI relative to the size and sophistication of its economy due to a complicated, opaque, and country-specific regulatory framework, even as low-cost producers, most notably China, have eroded the ROK’s competitiveness in the manufacturing sector.  A more benign regulatory environment will be crucial to foster innovations such as fifth generation (5G) mobile communications that enable smart manufacturing, autonomous vehicles, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things – technologies that could fail to mature under restrictive regulations that do not align with global standards.  The ROK government has taken steps to address regulatory issues over the last decade, notably with the establishment of a Foreign Investment Ombudsman to address the concerns of foreign investors.  In 2019, the ROK government created a “regulatory sandbox” program to spur creation of new products in the financial services, energy, and tech sectors.  Industry observers recommend additional procedural steps to improve the investment climate, including Regulatory Impact Analyses (RIAs) and wide solicitation of substantive feedback from foreign investors and other stakeholders.

The revised U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) entered into force January 1, 2019, and helps secure U.S. investors broad access to the ROK market.  Types of investment assets 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 in the establishment, acquisition, and operation of investments in the ROK.  Investors may elect to bring claims against the government for alleged breaches of trade rules under a transparent international arbitration mechanism.

The ROK’s COVID-19 response has been exemplary, serving as a global role model.  It has been science-driven, with the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency leading from day one; transparent, with public health experts briefing the public almost every day; and trusted, with public compliance on social distancing guidelines, including universal mask-wearing.  Largely due to successful handling of COVID-19, including through sound fiscal and monetary responses, the ROK was able to manage the pandemic without shutting down the economy, and GDP dropped a mere one percent in 2020.  The ROK government was also aggressive in pursuing economic stimulus, devoting more than USD 220 billion to stimulus in 2020.  As a result, the Korean domestic economy fared better than nearly all its OECD peers.  The risk of a COVID resurgence still looms, and Korea’s export-oriented economy remains vulnerable to external shocks, including supply chain disruptions, going forward.  The attention of the public, the government, and the health establishment has now turned to the task and logistics of mass vaccination.  In late February, the Moon administration launched the vaccination program nationwide, with the goal of achieving herd immunity by November.  President Moon has promised to inoculate all residents for free in 2021, beginning with front-line healthcare workers.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 33 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/cpi2020
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 5 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 10 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $61,822 https://www.selectusa.gov/servlet/servlet.FileDownload?file=015t0000000LKNs

https://www.bea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-07/dici0720_0.pdf

World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $33,790 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The ROK government welcomes 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 ROK government offers incentives to foreign companies bringing in technology and investments contributing to the ROK’s manufacturing sector.  Hurdles for foreign investors in the ROK include regulatory opacity, inconsistent interpretation of regulations, unanticipated regulatory changes, underdeveloped corporate governance, rigid labor policies, Korea-specific consumer protection measures, and the political influence of large conglomerates, known as chaebol.

The 1998 Foreign Investment Promotion Act (FIPA) is the principal 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 also includes:

  • Simplified procedures to apply to invest in the ROK;
  • 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;
  • Creation 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) facilitates foreign investment through its Invest KOREA office (also on the web at http://investkorea.org).  For investments exceeding 100 million won (about USD 88,000), KOTRA helps investors establish domestically-incorporated foreign-invested companies.  KOTRA and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) organize a yearly Foreign Investment Week to attract investment to South Korea.  In February 2021, Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee met with representatives of foreign-invested firms in the ROK and noted the critical role they play in the ROK economy and job creation.  The ROK’s key official responsible for FDI promotion and retention is the Foreign Investment Ombudsman.  The position is commissioned by the ROK President and heads a grievance resolution body that collects and analyzes concerns from foreign firms; coordinates reforms with relevant administrative agencies; and proposes new policies to promote foreign investment.  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 remunerative activity across many sectors of the economy.  However, under the Foreign Exchange Transaction Act (FETA), restrictions on foreign ownership remain for 30 industrial sectors, including three that are closed to foreign investment (see below).  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.

The following is a list of restricted sectors for foreign investment.  Figures in parentheses generally denote the Korean Industrial Classification Code, while those for 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.)
  • 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.)
  • Television program/content 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 Separately 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 areas (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://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp446_e.htm

The ROK has not undergone investment policy reviews 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 Korea Commission for Corporate Partnership and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (http://www.mogef.go.kr/) are charged with improving the business environment for minorities and women.  Some local governments provide guaranteed bank loans for women and/or the disabled.

Outward Investment

The ROK does not have any restrictions on outward investment.  The ROK has several institutions to assist small business and middle-market firms with such investments.

  • 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 funded by the ROK government, provides counseling and business introduction services to Korean SMEs considering investments in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region.
  • The Defense Acquisition Program Administration opened an office in 2019 to advise Korean defense SMEs on exporting unrestricted defense articles.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

As of March 2021, the ROK has 17 FTAs in force, encompassing trade with 57 countries including the United States, and 94 bilateral investment treaties.  The ROK has signed (but not ratified) additional FTAs in 2020 with 15 other countries, including 14 Asian countries under the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and a bilateral FTA with Indonesia; negotiations for bilateral FTAs with Cambodia and Israel have concluded, but the agreements are not yet signed.  Ongoing FTA negotiations include an ROK-China-Japan trilateral FTA, and bilateral FTAs with Ecuador, Mercado Común del Sur (Mercosur), the 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 Uzbekistan, the Eurasian Economic Union (Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan) and the Pacific Alliance (Mexico, Peru, Columbia, and Chile).  Separately, the ROK has entered into negotiations on a possible digital trade agreement with Singapore.  President Moon said in January 2021 his government will examine participation in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

As of March 2021, 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.

Despite formal tax agreements and dispute resolution mechanisms, U.S. investors have raised concerns about discrimination and lack of transparency in tax investigations by ROK authorities.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

ROK regulatory transparency has improved, due in part to Korea’s membership in the WTO and negotiated FTAs.  However, the foreign business community continues to face numerous rules and regulations unique to the ROK.  National Assembly legislation on environmental protection or the promotion of SMEs has created new trade barriers that disadvantage foreign companies.  Also, some laws and regulations lack sufficient detail and are subject to differing interpretations by government regulatory officials.  In other cases, ministries issue non-legally binding guidelines on implementation of regulations, yet these become the bases for legal decisions in ROK courts.  Regulatory authorities also issue oral or internal guidelines or other legally-enforceable dictates that prove burdensome for foreign firms.  Intermittent ROK government deregulation plans to eliminate oral guidelines or impose the same level of regulatory review as written regulations have not led to concrete changes.  Despite KORUS FTA provisions designed to address transparency issues, they remain persistent and prominent.

The ROK constitution allows both the legislative and executive branches to introduce bills.  Ministries draft subordinate statutes (presidential decrees, ministerial decrees, and administrative rules), which largely govern the procedural matters addressed by the respective laws.  Administrative agencies shape policies and draft bills on matters within their respective jurisdictions.  Drafting ministries must clearly define policy goals and complete regulatory impact assessments (RIAs).  When a ministry drafts a regulation, it must consult with other relevant ministries before it releases the regulation for public comment.  The constitution also allows local governments to exercise self-rule legislative authority to draft ordinances and rules within the scope of federal acts and subordinate statutes.  The enactment of laws 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 Government Legislation.  Since 2011, all publicly listed companies must follow International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS, or K-IFRS in the ROK).  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, authorities proposing 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 after 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 by the National Assembly without rigorous consideration of possible effects or solicitation of public comments.  The Official Gazette and the websites of relevant ministries and the National Assembly simultaneously post the Korean language text of draft acts and regulations, accompanied by executive summaries, for a 40-day comment period.  Comments are not made public, and firms may struggle to translate complex documentation, analyze, and respond adequately before the expiration of this period.  After the comment period, the Ministry of Government Legislation reviews the laws and regulations to ensure they conform to the constitution and monitors government adherence to the Regulation on Legislative Process.  While the Regulatory Reform Committee (RRC) reviews all laws and regulations to minimize government intervention in the economy and to abolish all economic regulations that fall short of international standards or hamper national competitiveness, the committee has been less active in recent years.

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.  Depending on the business sector in which a particular proposal falls, either MOTIE, the Ministry of Science and ICT, or the Financial Services Commission manages the program.  The program is open to Korean companies and foreign companies with Korean branch offices.  Websites and applications are only available in Korean.  The business community has welcomed this effort by regulators to spur innovation.

The ROK government 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.

The ROK’s public finances and debt obligations are generally transparent, with the exception of state-owned enterprise debt.

International Regulatory Considerations

The ROK has revised local regulations to implement commitments under international treaties and trade agreements.  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 intent 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 ROK government to encourage local regulators to employ more regulatory analytics, increase transparency, and improve compliance with international standards; however, unique local 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 of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).  The ROK amended the ministerial decree of the Customs Act in 2015, creating a committee charged with implementing the TFA.  The ROK is a global leader of modernized and streamlined procedures for transportation and customs clearance.  Industry sources report the Korea Customs Service enforces rules of origin issues largely in compliance with ROK obligations under its 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, and matters regarding contracts are covered by the Civil Act.  There are also three specialized courts in the ROK: patent, family, and administrative courts.  The ROK court system is independent and not subject to government interference in cases that may affect foreign investors.  Foreign court judgments, with the exception of foreign arbitral rulings that meet certain conditions, are not enforceable in the ROK.  Rulings by district courts can be appealed to higher courts and to the Supreme Court.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The ROK has a transparent legal system with a strong rule-of-law tradition and an independent judiciary.  FIPA is the principal basic law pertaining to foreign investment in the ROK.  The Invest KOREA website (http://investkorea.org) provides information on relevant laws, rules, and procedures for foreign investment in the ROK.

Laws and regulations enacted within the past year include:

  • On August 5, 2020, three new data protection laws took effect: the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA), the Promotion of Information Communications Network Utilization and Information Protection Act (the “Network Act”), and the Use and Protection of Credit Information Act (the “Credit Information Act”).  These laws are intended to strengthen privacy rights by reducing unnecessary collection of personal information and prohibiting its unauthorized use or disclosure.
  • On April 6, 2021, an amended Labor Standards Act (LSA) took effect. The amendments modify certain restrictions on allowable work hours for employees and add certain health and safety requirements for overtime labor.

Key pending/proposed laws and regulations as of April 2021 include:

  • On September 28, 2020, the Ministry of Justice proposed bills expanding the scope of class action lawsuits and to provide for punitive damages.
  • On December 9, 2020, the National Assembly passed amendments to the Trade Union and Labor Relations Adjustment Act (TULRAA). The revised TULRAA is intended to bring ROK law into compliance with International Labor Organization standards and is scheduled to take effect on July 6, 2021.
  • On January 6, 2021, the Personal Information Protection Committee (PIPC) of the National Assembly proposed an amendment to the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) to define how businesses may use personal information and to strengthen protection of personal information.
  • On January 8, 2021, the National Assembly passed the Serious Accident Penalty Act (SAPA), to take effect one year after promulgation. The SAPA establishes new health-and-safety obligations for businesses and executives and imposes stiff penalties on those that fail to comply.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

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

KFTC has a broad mandate that includes promoting competition, strengthening consumers’ rights, and creating a suitable environment for SMEs.  In addition to investigating corporate and financial restructuring, the KFTC can levy sizeable administrative fines for violations of law and for failure to cooperate with investigators.  Decisions by KFTC are subject to appeal in Korean courts.  As part of KORUS implementation, KFTC instituted a “consent decree” process in 2014, whereby firms can settle disputes with KFTC without resorting to the court system.

Over the last several years, a number of U.S. firms have raised concerns that KFTC targets foreign companies with aggressive enforcement.  An amendment to the MRFTA in September 2020 improved the administrative decision-making process by the KFTC, including permitting access to confidential business information, limited to outside legal counsel, in order to protect possible trade secrets.

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 public purposes such as urban redevelopment, new industrial complexes, or constructing roads, and claimants are afforded due process and compensation.  Private property expropriation in the ROK for public use is generally conducted in a non-discriminatory manner, with claimants compensated at or above market value.  Embassy Seoul is aware of one case in which a U.S. investor filed an investor-state dispute lawsuit in 2018 against the ROK government, claiming that the government had violated the KORUS FTA in expropriating the investor’s land.  The case was dismissed in the ROK judicial system on jurisdictional grounds in September 2019.  The ROK government 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.  While there are no specific domestic laws on enforcement, 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.  These bodies can call upon ROK courts to enforce an arbitrated settlement.  When drafting contracts, some firms choose arbitration by a third party such as the International Commercial Arbitration Association.  Companies have access to local expert legal counsel when drawing up contracts with a South Korean entity.  The KORUS FTA contains strong, enforceable investment provisions.  The United States also has a bilateral Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation with the ROK with general provisions pertaining to business relations and investment.  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.  As noted above, one U.S. investor filed an investor-state dispute (ISD) lawsuit in 2018 against the ROK government, claiming that the government had violated the KORUS FTA in expropriating the investor’s land.  The case was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds in September 2019.  A U.S. activist fund submitted a notice of arbitration over an ISD pertaining to the KORUS FTA, also in 2018.  This firm claimed to have suffered serious financial losses due to the merger of two large conglomerates, stating the ROK government illicitly intervened by mobilizing the National Pension Service as a large shareholder in the process of approving the merger.  Another U.S. investor filed for arbitration seeking compensation for losses incurred from the same controversial merger.  Both cases are pending before a United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) tribunal.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

ROK civil courts can adjudicate commercial disputes, though foreign firms note the following impediments to litigation:

  • Proceedings are conducted in Korean;
  • ROK law prohibits foreign lawyers who have not passed the Korean Bar Examination from representing clients in ROK courts;
  • Civil procedures common in the United States such as pretrial discovery do not exist in the ROK; and
  • During litigation of a dispute, courts may bar foreign citizens from leaving the country until the court reaches a decision.

Due to the expense and time required to obtain judgement, lawsuits are generally initiated 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.

Firms may also bring commercial disputes before 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, the KCAB assigns an arbitration panel consisting of one-to-three arbitrators to decide the case.  If either 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 Civil Procedure Act Article 217, local courts can enforce their terms.  ROK authorities emphasize non-discriminatory arbitration of disputes, but statistics on outcomes are unavailable.  Embassy Seoul is not aware of statistics on court rulings on investment disputes with state-owned enterprises.

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.  The Custodial Committee may grant voting rights among creditors.  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 190 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.  The Seoul Bankruptcy Court (SBC) has nationwide jurisdiction to hear major bankruptcy or rehabilitation cases and to provide effective, specialized, and consistent guidance in bankruptcy proceedings.  Any Korean company with debt equal to or above KRW 50 billion (about USD 44 million) and/or 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 businesses, factories, and research and development centers;
  • Reduced rent for land and site preparation;
  • Grants for establishment of community facilities for foreigners;
  • Reduced rent for state or public property; and
  • Preferential financial support for investing in major infrastructure projects.

Additionally, the ROK government provides 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.  The Seoul Metropolitan government provides separate support for SMEs, high-technology businesses, and the biomedical industry.

Note that corporate tax exemption for foreign direct investment is limited to firms registered by the end of 2018.  The ROK government 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 – 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); Gyeonggi (in Gyeonggi Province); Daegu/Gyeongbuk (in North Gyeongsang Province); East Coast (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 zones.  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 ROK requirements that firms hire local workers.  Foreigners planning to work during their stay in the ROK are required by law to apply for a visa.  Sponsoring employers file work permits and visa applications.  Hiring firms are required to confirm that prospective employees of foreign nationality have a valid work permit prior to making a job offer.  Once approved, the Ministry of Justice will issue a Certificate of Confirmation of Visa Issuance (CCVI) to the foreign worker.  The worker submits this certificate with the relevant visa application forms to the ROK embassy or consulate in the applicant’s country of residence.  Work visas are usually valid for one year, and issuance generally takes two to four weeks.  Changing a tourist visa to a work visa is not possible within the ROK; applicants for work visas must submit their applications to an ROK embassy or consulate.  The ROK has not imposed performance requirements on new foreign investment since 1992; there are no performance requirements regarding local content, local jobs, R&D activity, or domestic shares in the company’s capital.  Other conditions to invest in the ROK are elaborated in FIPA.

Recent ROK-specific security regulations on the use of cloud computing by public services (broadly defined) effectively deter U.S. firms from offering cloud services in the ROK.  In January 2016, the ROK government announced guidelines requiring Common Criteria Certification for cloud computing services for ROK government agencies or public institutions; the IT Security Certification Center may require disclosure of source code as part of Common Criteria Certification, which renders it difficult for U.S. cloud service providers to enter the Korean public cloud market.  Furthermore, restrictive ROK data privacy law governs any companies that collect, use, transfer, outsource, or process personal information.  The Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) imposes strict conditions on transferring personal information out of the country, requiring data controllers to obtain each end-user’s consent to transfer personal information out of the ROK.  In the case of overseas transfer of personal information for the purpose of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) outsourcing, the data controller may forgo obtaining each individual’s consent if the data controller discloses in its privacy policy certain information about the overseas transfer, including the purpose and destination of the overseas transfer; similar requirements apply to transfer of personal information of end-users to a third party within the ROK.  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 ICT vendors, and financial companies in the ROK must store customers’ financial transaction data locally in the ROK.  The Financial Services Commission sets Korea’s financial policies and directs the Financial Supervisory Service in the enforcement of those policies.  The ROK government and legislature are considering further restrictions on the use of personal information.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Property rights and interests are enforced under the Civil Act.  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 rights 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.  Squatters may have limited rights to cultivation of unoccupied land.

Intellectual Property Rights

Four ROK ministries share 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’s Special 301 Watch List in 2009, the ROK has become a regional leader of legal IPR frameworks  and enforcement of IPR.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism announced in January 2021 a plan to fully revise the Copyright Act to reflect a move toward online platforms.  The amendments aim to implement a system of extended collective licensing, remuneration management, adoption of rights of publicity, updated concepts of digital transmission, and data mining for promotion of machine learning and big data analysis.

Industry sources have expressed overall satisfaction with the ROK legal framework, calling the ROK a model for IPR protection in Asia.  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 by information owners, broadened scope of what constitutes “theft,” and increased statutory punishments for trade secret theft.  KIPO suspended 10,446 online transactions in 2020, up from 7,662 cases in 2019, and closed 394 illegal online shopping malls in 2020, up from 340 in 2019.  Since April 2019, KIPO rewards private citizens for reporting counterfeit goods for sale online, identifying 121,536 cases in 2019 and 126,542 in 2020.  KCS handled 176 border enforcement cases in 2020 for goods worth an estimated USD 237 million.  Trademark enforcement accounted for over 88 percent of cases, mostly for counterfeit watches, handbags, and apparel.  KCS focused its enforcement efforts on online overseas direct purchases, which rose 40 percent by volume and 20 percent by value year-on-year in 2020.  KCS also promoted IPR protection by posting public service announcements on public transportation and 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 may not sufficiently deter infringement activity.  Stakeholders continue to express concern about Korea’s pharmaceutical reimbursement policy, specifically that it is not conducted in a fair and transparent manner that fully recognizes the value of innovation.

The ROK was not listed in the 2020 Special 301 Report, nor were any ROK-based physical 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 the World Intellectual Property Organization’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The ROK has an effective regulatory system that encourages portfolio investment.  The Korea Exchange (KRX) is comprised of a stock exchange, futures market, and stock market following the 2005 merger of the Korea Stock Exchange, Korea Futures Exchange, and Korean Securities Dealers Automated Quotations (KOSDAQ) stock markets.  It is tracked by the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI).  There is sufficient liquidity in the market to enter and exit sizeable positions.  At the end of February 2021, over 2,400 companies were listed with a combined market capitalization of USD 2.2 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.  While non-resident foreigners can issue bonds in South Korean won, they are otherwise unable to borrow money 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 36.7 percent of benchmark KOSPI stocks and 9.9 percent of the KOSDAQ as of February 2021.  Foreign portfolio investment decreased slightly over the past year.  Foreign investors owned 31.7 percent of benchmark stocks and 7.7 percent of listed bonds, according to the Financial Services Commission in March 2021.  U.S. investors represent 41.4 percent of total foreign holdings, a gradual increase over the last three years.  The ROK Financial Services Commission in March 2020 banned the short-selling of stocks to stabilize stock price volatility during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The ban is currently set to expire in May 2021.

Money and Banking System

Financial sector reforms enacted to increase transparency and promote investor confidence are often cited as a reason for the ROK’s rapid rebound from the 2008 global financial crisis.  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 Korean banking system that helped cause and exacerbate the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis.  The ROK banking sector is healthy overall, with a low non-performing loan ratio of 0.28 percent at the end of 2020, dropping 0.09 percentage points from the prior year.  Korean commercial banks held more than USD 3.3 trillion in total assets at the end of 2020.  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 legal restrictions on a foreigner’s ability to establish a bank account in the ROK; however, commercial banks may refuse to accept foreign nationals as customers unless they show local residency or identification documents.  The Bank of Korea (BOK) is the central bank.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

All ROK banks, including branches of foreign banks, are permitted to deal in foreign exchange.   Applicants must notify foreign exchange banks in advance of applications for foreign investment.  In effect, these notifications are pro forma, and can be approved within hours.   Applications are 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 shipping and distribution sector.  According to the Foreign Exchange Transaction Act (FETA, as noted), transactions that could harm international peace or public order require additional monitoring or screening for concerns such as money laundering or gambling.  Three specific types of transactions are restricted:

  1. Non-residents are not permitted to buy won-denominated hedge funds, including forward currency contracts;
  2. The Financial Services Commission will not permit foreign currency borrowing by “non-viable” domestic firms; and
  3. The ROK government monitors and ensures 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.  In 2020, 77 percent of spot transactions in the market were between the U.S. dollar and South Korean won, while daily transaction (spot and future) was equal to USD 52.84 billion, down 5.3 percent from the previous year.  Exchange rates are generally determined by the market.  The U.S. Department of the Treasury assessed that ROK authorities had historically 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 a net forward position.  In its January 2020 report to Congress, the Treasury Department assessed that in 2018 and the first half of 2019, ROK government authorities on balance intervened to support the won through small net sales of foreign exchange.  The BOK’s most recent intervention report, released in December 2020 and covering the third quarter of 2020, showed zero net intervention.

Remittance Policies

The right to remit profits is granted at the same time as the original investment approval.  Banks control the pro forma approval process for FETA-defined open sectors.  For conditionally- or partially-restricted investments (as defined by FETA), the relevant ministry must approve both the initial investment and eventual remittance.  When foreign investment royalties or other payments are included in a technology licensing agreement, either a bank or the MOEF must approve the agreement and the projected stream of royalties.  Approvals are quick and routine.  An investor wishing to send 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 skew the national balance of payments, cause excessive fluctuation in interest or exchange rates, or threaten the stability of domestic financial markets.  To repatriate funds, firms must also present a stock valuation report issued by a recognized securities company or the ROK appraisal board.  There are no time restrictions 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 its Chief Executive Officer, the Minister of Economy and Finance, the Bank of Korea Governor, and six private sector members appointed by the ROK President.  KIC is on the Public Institutions Management Act (PIMA) list.  The KIC Act mandates that KIC manage assets entrusted by the ROK government and central bank; the KIC generally adopts a passive role as a portfolio investor.  The corporation’s assets under management stood at USD 183.1 billion at the end of 2020.  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 the economy.  There are 36 SOEs active in the energy, real estate, and infrastructure (i.e., railroad and 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 currently 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 3 of Appendix I to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA).  The state-owned Korea Land and Housing Corporation enjoys privileged status on state-owned real estate projects, notably housing.  The court system functions independently 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 information, number of employees, and average compensation figures.  The PIMA gives the Ministry of Economy and Finance oversight authority over many SOEs, mainly pertaining to administration and human resource management.  However, there is no singular government entity that exercises ownership rights over SOEs.  SOEs subject to PIMA must report to a cabinet minister.  Alternatively, the ROK President or relevant cabinet minister appoints a CEO or director, often from among senior government officials.  PIMA explicitly obligates SOEs to consult with government officials on budget, compensation, and key management decisions (e.g., pricing policy for energy and public utilities).  For other issues, government officials informally require either prior consultation or subsequent notification of SOE decisions.  Market analysts generally acknowledge the de facto independence of SOEs listed on local security markets, such as the Industrial Bank of Korea and Korea Electric Power Corporation; otherwise, SOEs are regarded either as fully-guaranteed by the government or as parts of the government.  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 in Korean at: http://www.alio.go.kr/home.html.  The ROK government does not confer advantages on SOEs competing in the domestic market.  Although the state-owned Korea Development Bank may enjoy lower financing costs because of a governmental guarantee, this does not appear to have a major effect on U.S. retail banks operating in Korea.

Privatization Program

Privatization of government-owned assets has historically faced protests by labor unions and professional associations, and has sometimes suffered a lack of interested buyers.  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 2.1 billion, and plans to sell its remaining stake gradually by 2022.  As of March 2021, the government holds a 17.25 percent stake in Woori Bank.  Most analysts do not expect significant movement toward 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 the FETA (see Section 1: Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment).  These programs have a public bidding process that is clear, non-discriminatory, and transparent.

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 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 ROK government promotes the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises online via seminars and by publishing and distributing promotional materials.  To enhance implementation, the ROK government established a National Action Plan overseen by the Ministry of Justice’s International Human Rights Division, designated a National Contact Point (NCP), and assigned the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board (KCAB) as the NCP Secretariat.  The KCAB handled 443 cases in 2019 with a total claim amount over USD 913 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.  Shareholder rights are protected by the Act on External Audit of Stock Companies 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 was revised in December 2020 to better protect minority 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 Solidarity.  The Korea Sustainability Investing Forum (KOSIF) was established in 2007 to promote and expand 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.

The ROK has no 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 obligated to follow regulations on conflict minerals by export destination countries.  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.  It 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, and other relevant laws on taxation, environment, labor, and bribery, as well as through the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.  The ROK is not a signatory to international agreements on private military or security industries, and the ROK’s small security sector focuses primarily on commercial contracts.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

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 terms of office.  The Act on Anti-Corruption and the Establishment and Operation of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission of 2008 (previously called the “Anti-Corruption Act”) concerns reporting of corruption allegations, protection of whistleblowers, and training and public awareness to prevent corruption; the act also establishes 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 33 out of 180 countries and territories in its 2020 Corruption Perception Index with a score of 61 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.  Former ROK presidents Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak were found guilty in separate corruption trials in 2018; the ROK Supreme Court upheld both verdicts in January 2021 and October 2020, respectively, and both remain imprisoned.  Political corruption at the highest levels of elected office has occurred despite more recent 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.  This 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 spouses of such persons.  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; the law also establishes an ACRC-operated reporting center.

A 2014 ferry disaster that resulted in the deaths of 304 passengers 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 for hiring former government officials.  This reform expanded the number of 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 government officials to accept government-affiliated or private sector positions, according to local press.  Most companies maintain an internal audit function to detect and prevent corruption.  The Board of Audit and Inspection, which monitors government expenditures, and the Public Service Ethics Committee, which monitors civil servants’ financial activities and disclosures are official agencies responsible for combating government corruption.  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.  The Act on the Prevention of Corruption and the Establishment and Management of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, along with and the Protection of Public Interest Reporters Act, protects nongovernment organizations and civil society groups reporting cases of corruption to government authorities.  In April 2018, laws were updated to allow individuals filing allegations of corruption to report cases through attorneys without disclosing their identities 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 ROK Financial Intelligence Unit cooperates with U.S. and UN efforts to disrupt 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 (7-dong), 20, Doum 5-ro, Sejong-si 339-012
Tel: +82-44-200-7151 (International Relations Division)
Fax: +82-44-200-7916
Email: acrc@korea.kr

Anti-corruption non-government organization:

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

Relations between the ROK and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) are tense 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 over 28,000 U.S. troops currently stationed in the ROK.  The presence of U.S. forces has ensured stability on the Korean Peninsula since 1953 and has enabled the ROK to grow into a modern, prosperous democracy boasting one of the world’s largest economies in 2020.  The two Koreas committed at an April 2018 inter-Korean summit to reduce military tensions on the border and to work toward a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.  Likewise, in the June 2018 Singapore Summit between former President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un, the United States and DPRK agreed to work toward the transformation of U.S.-DPRK relations, the construction of a lasting and 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.  A subsequent summit in Hanoi in February 2019 and a meeting at the inter-Korean Joint Security Area in June 2019 did not result in further breakthroughs.

The ROK’s relations with Japan remained strained in 2021, primarily due to 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 Japan’s subsequent tightening of export 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 Japanese retail chains.

Public health experts and economists gave the ROK government under President Moon Jae-in overall high marks on its management of the COVID-19 pandemic, as infections were kept to lower levels than many other OECD countries without the adoption of draconian restrictions.  In the first few years of the Moon administration the ruling Democratic Party (DP), with its near-super majority in the National Assembly, was able to unilaterally advance many of its policy priorities, particularly in the area of judicial reform.  By the start of 2021, steep rises in the price of housing and a string of scandals involving Moon’s senior officials and DP lawmakers, including a high-profile land speculation scandal that broke weeks before key by-elections in Seoul and Busan, damaged the standing of the ruling party and resulted in rising public support for the main opposition People Power Party.  Nevertheless, the Moon administration welcomed the arrival of the Biden-Harris administration and its renewed focus on strengthening strategic alliances, with both governments exploring renewed cooperation in topics such as climate change, public health, supply chain cooperation, and cyber issues.

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-affiliated 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 deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense in 2017 with protests continuing into 2021).  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 proceedings in 2016 and 2017.  The protests were peaceful and orderly.  The presidential by-election and transition that followed Park’s impeachment 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 then.  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 January 2021, with an employment rate (OECD standard) of approximately 57 percent.  The overall unemployment rate of 5.7 percent in January 2021 is much less than the 9.5 percent unemployment rate of youth aged 15-29.  The country has two major national labor federations.  As of December 2020, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) had 1,018,358 members, and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) had 1,044,672 members.  FKTU and KCTU 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 2021 at KRW 8,590,720 (approximately USD 8 per hour), a 21.5 percent increase from 2020.  According to Statistics Korea, non-regular workers received 62.8 percent of the wages of regular workers in 2020.  Non-regular workers on contracts stipulating monthly pay received KRW 1.73 million per month (about USD 1,575) while regular workers paid monthly received KRW 3.36 million (about USD 3,050).

For regular, full-time employees, the law provides for 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 benefits.  Regarding severance pay for regular workers, ROK law does not distinguish between firing versus laying off an employee for economic reasons.  Employers’ reliance on non-regular workers is partially explained by cost savings associated with dismissing regular full-time employees and re-hiring non-regular workers.  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 2020, the ROK increased its annual quota to 56,000 migrant workers.  At the end of 2020, approximately 181,073 foreigners were working under the EPS in the manufacturing, construction, agriculture, livestock, service, and fishing industries.

Legally, unions operate autonomously 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 2019 was 12.5 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 are free to 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 employees to recruit persons with disabilities for at least two percent of their workforce, and restrict large companies from participating in certain business categories.  Foreign companies operating in Free Economic Zones have greater flexibility to employ “non-regular” workers in a wider range of sectors for extended contractual periods.  ROK law affords workers the right of free association 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 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 offers arbitration and mediation services in response to dispute resolution requests submitted by employees, employers, or both parties together.  Labor inspectors from the Ministry of Employment and Labor also have certain legal authorities to participate in labor dispute settlement.  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 to serve 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 firms to convert non-regular workers employed longer than two years to permanent status.  The two-year rule went into effect for all businesses 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 contract employees every two years.  More information can be found in the Department of State’s Report on Human Rights Practices for 2020: https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/south-korea/.

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 1,646,330 2019 $1,646,739 https://data.worldbank.org/country/korea-rep
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $35,933 2019 $39,105 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $120,808 2019 $61,822 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 13.6% 2019 14.5% UNCTAD data available at

https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20
Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx

*ROK Sources: GDP – http://ecos.bok.or.kr (as of March 2021); inbound FDI – http://www.motie.go.kr (as of March 2021); outbound FDI – http://www.koreaexim.go.kr (as of March 2021); portfolio investment – http://www.fss.or.kr (as of March 2021)

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 $219,137 100% Total Outward $418,832 100%
Japan $53,951 24.6% United States $100,239 23.9%
United States $35,102 16% China, P.R. (Mainland) $82,323 19.7%
Netherlands $20,249 9.2% Vietnam $24,501 5.8%
Singapore $16,287 7.4% Cayman Islands $18,764 4.5%
United Kingdom $15,535 7% Singapore $18,653 4.5%

Note that ROK data differs significantly due to different calculation methods and data sources. 

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $572,011 100% All Countries $344,704 100% All Countries $227,308 100%
United States $254,129 44% United States $161,543 47% United States $92,586 41%
United Kingdom $36,100 6% Luxembourg $24,458 7% France $18,724 8%
Luxembourg $30,373 5% Japan $19,396 6% United Kingdom $16,901 7%
France $27,897 5% United Kingdom $19,199 6% Brazil $10,538 5%
Japan $26,878 5% Cayman Islands $14,024 4% Australia $9,944 4%

Note that ROK data differs significantly due to different calculation methods and data sources.

14. Contact for More Information

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

Sweden

Executive Summary

Sweden is generally considered a highly favorable investment destination.  Sweden offers an extremely competitive, open economy with access to new products, technologies, skills, and innovations.  Sweden also has a well-educated labor force, outstanding communication infrastructure, and a stable political environment, which makes it a choice destination for U.S. and foreign companies.  Low levels of corporate tax, the absence of withholding tax on dividends, and a favorable holding company regime are additional incentives for doing business in Sweden.

Sweden’s attractiveness as an investment destination is tempered by a few structural business challenges.  These include high personal and VAT taxes.  In addition, the high cost of labor, rigid labor legislation and regulations, a persistent housing shortage, and the general high cost of living in Sweden can present challenges to attracting, hiring, and maintaining talent for new firms entering Sweden.  Historically, the telecommunications, information technology, healthcare, energy, and public transport sectors have attracted the most foreign investment.  However, manufacturing, wholesale, and retail trade have also recently attracted increased foreign funds.

Overall, investment conditions remain largely favorable.  Sweden ranked tenth on the World Bank 2020 Doing Business Report, which highlighted Sweden’s overall business environment as among the most business friendly measured. In the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Competitiveness Report, Sweden was ranked eight out of 138 countries in overall competitiveness and productivity.  The report highlighted Sweden’s strengths: human capital (health, education level, and skills of the population), macroeconomic stability, and technical and physical infrastructure.  Bloomberg’s 2021 Innovation Index ranked Sweden fifth among the most innovative nations on earth; a pattern reinforced by Sweden ranked first on the European Commission’s 2020 European Innovation Scoreboard and second on the World Intellectual Property Organization/INSEAD 2020 Global Innovation Index.  Also in 2020, Transparency International ranked Sweden as one of the most corruption-free countries in the world – third out of 180.

Sweden is perceived as a creative place with interesting research and technology.  It is well equipped to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution with a superior IT infrastructure and is seen as a frontrunner in adopting new technologies and setting new consumer trends.  U.S. and other exporters can take advantage of a test market full of demanding, highly sophisticated customers.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 3 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 10 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 2 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 $38,787 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $55,780 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

There are no laws or practices that discriminate or are alleged to discriminate against foreign investors, including and especially U.S. investors, by prohibiting, limiting, or conditioning foreign investment in a sector of the economy (either at the pre-establishment (market access) or post-establishment phase of investment).  Until the mid-1980s, Sweden’s approach to direct investment from abroad was quite restrictive and governed by a complex system of laws and regulations.  Sweden’s entry into the European Union (EU) in 1995 largely eliminated all restrictions.  Restrictions to investment remain in the defense and other sensitive sectors, as addressed in the next section “Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment.”

The Swedish Government recognizes the need to further improve the business climate for entrepreneurs, education, and the flow of research from lab to market.  Swedish authorities have implemented a number of reforms to improve the business regulatory environment and to attract more foreign investment.  In addition, Sweden is implementing an EU investment screening regulation (EU Foreign Investment Screening Mechanism – adopted in March 2019), and plans to announce a national investment screening mechanism by the end of 2020 or early 2021.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

There are very few restrictions on where and how foreign enterprises can invest, and there are no equity caps, mandatory joint-venture requirements, or other measures designed to limit foreign ownership or market access.  However, Sweden does maintain some limitations in a select number of situations:

  • Accountancy: Investment in the accountancy sector by non-EU-residents cannot exceed 25 percent.
  • Legal services: Investment in a corporation or partnership carrying out the activities of an “advokat,” a lawyer, cannot be done by non-EU residents.
  • Air transport: Foreign enterprises may be restricted from access to international air routes unless bilateral intergovernmental agreements provide otherwise.
  • Air transport: Cabotage is reserved to national airlines.
  • Maritime transport: Cabotage is reserved to vessels flying the national flag.
  • Defense: Restrictions apply to foreign ownership of companies involved in the defense industry and other sensitive areas.
  • On January 1, 2020, Sweden enacted new regulations giving Swedish armed forces and security services authority to deny or revoke operating licenses to mobile radio providers that threaten national security.

Swedish company law provides various ways a business can be organized.  The main difference between these forms is whether the founder must own capital and to what extent the founder is personally liable for the company’s debt.  The Swedish Act (1992:160) on Foreign Branches applies to foreign companies operating through a branch and also to people residing abroad who run a business in Sweden.  A branch must have a president who resides within the European Economic Area (EEA).  All business enterprises in Sweden (including branches) are required to register at the Swedish Companies Registration Office, Bolagsverket.  An invention or trademark must be registered in Sweden in order to obtain legal protection.  A bank from a non-EEA country needs special permission from the Financial Supervisory Authority, Finansinspektionen,  to establish a branch in Sweden.  Sweden also adheres to EU regulations on investment screening and approval mechanisms for inbound foreign investment.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Sweden has in the past three years not undergone an investment policy review by the World Trade Organization (WTO), or the United Nations Committee on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), or the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Business Facilitation

Business Sweden’s Swedish Trade and Invest Council is the investment promotion agency tasked with facilitating business.  The services of the agency are available to all investors.

All forms of business enterprise, except for sole traders, have to be registered with the Swedish Companies Registration Office, Bolagsverket, before starting operations.  Sole traders may apply for registration in order to be given exclusive rights to the name in the county where they will be operating.  Online applications to register an enterprise can be made at https://www.bolagsverket.se/en and is open to foreign companies.  The process of registering an enterprise is clear and can take a few days or up to a few weeks, depending on the complexity and form of the business enterprise.  All business enterprises, including sole traders, need also to be registered with the Swedish Tax Agency, Skatteverket, before starting operations.  Relevant information and guides can be found at http://www.skatteverket.se.  Depending on the nature of business, companies may need to register with the Environmental Protection Agency, Naturvårdsverket, or, if real estate is involved, the county authorities.  Non-EU/EEA citizens need a residence permit, obtained from the Swedish Board of Migration, Migrationsverket, in order to start up and/or run a business.  A compilation of  Swedish government agencies  that work with registering, starting, running, expanding and/or closing a business can be found at http://www.verksamt.se.

Outward Investment

The Government of Sweden has commissioned the Swedish Exports Credit Guarantee Board (EKN) to promote Swedish exports and the internationalization of Swedish companies.  EKN insures exporting companies and banks against non-payment in export transactions, thereby reducing risk and encouraging the expansion of operations.  As part of its export strategy presented in 2015, the Swedish Government has also launched Team Sweden to promote Swedish exports and investment.  Team Sweden is tasked with making export market entry clear and simple for Swedish companies and consists of a common network for all public initiatives to support exports and internationalization.

The Government does not generally restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.  The only exceptions are related to matters of national security and national defense; the Inspectorate of Strategic Products (ISP) is tasked with control and compliance regarding the sale and export of defense equipment and dual-use products.  ISP is also the National Authority for the Chemical Weapons Convention and handles cases concerning targeted sanctions.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Sweden has concluded investment protection agreements with the following countries:

Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Nicaragua (signed but not in force), Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam, Yemen, and Zimbabwe (signed but not in force). Sweden does not have a bilateral investment treaty with the United States.

Sweden is a member of the EU.  The EU manages trade relations with third countries in the form of trade agreements.  A list of concluded free trade agreements can be found here: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/trade-policy/trade-agreements/

BITs with third countries are available at the following link: http://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/IIA/IiasByCountry#iiaInnerMenu

Sweden is a member of the European Union. On May 5, 2020 the European Union member states agreed to terminate all intra-EU BITs. The European Union has 56 Treaties with Investment Provisions (TIPs) in force. They are available at the following link: https://investmentpolicy.unctad.org/international-investment-agreements/groupings/28/eu-european-union-

Sweden and the United States signed a bilateral taxation treaty in 1994, which was amended in 2005.  More information is available at https://www.irs.gov/businesses/international-businesses/sweden-tax-treaty-documents

Sweden has concluded treaties of double taxation avoidance with the following countries:  Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Belarus, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Faeroe Islands, Finland, France, Gambia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Montenegro, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

As an EU member, Sweden has altered its legislation to comply with the EU’s stringent rules on competition.  The country has made extensive changes in its laws and regulations to harmonize with EU practices, all to avoid distortions in, or impediments to the efficient mobilization and allocation of investment.  The institutions of the European Union are publicly committed to transparent regulatory processes.  The European Commission has the sole right of initiative for EU regulations and publishes extensive, descriptive information on many of its activities.  More information can be found at: http://ec.europa.eu/atwork/decision-making/index_en.htm;
http://ec.europa.eu/smart-regulation/index_en.htm.

There are no informal regulatory processes managed by nongovernmental organizations or private sector associations.  Nongovernmental organizations and private sector associations may submit comments to government draft bills.  The submitted comments are made public in the public consultation process.

Rule-making and regulatory authority on a national level exists formally in the legislative branch, the Riksdag.  As a member of the EU, a growing proportion of legislation and regulation stem from the EU.  These laws apply in some case directly as national law or are put before the Riksdag to be enacted as national law.  The executive branch, the Government of Sweden, and its various agencies draft laws and regulations that are put before the Riksdag and are adopted on a national level when they enter into force.  Municipalities may draft regulations that are within their spheres of competence.  These regulations apply at the respective municipality only and may vary between municipalities.

Draft bills and regulations, which include investment laws, are made available for public comment through a public consultation process, along the lines of U.S. federal notice and comment procedures.  Current and newly adopted legislation can be found at the Swedish Parliament’s homepage and in the various government agencies dealing with the relevant regulation: http://www.riksdagen.se/sv/dokument-lagar/.  Key regulatory actions are published at Lagrummet: https://lagrummet.se/.  Lagrummet serves as the official site for information on Swedish legislation and provides information on legislation in the public domain, all statutes currently in force, and information on impending legislation.  “Post och Inrikes Tidningar” serves in certain aspects a similar role as the Federal Register in the U.S., through which public notifications are published.  The proclamations of “Post och Inrikes Tidningar” can be found at the Swedish Companies Registration Office (Bolagsverket): https://poit.bolagsverket.se/poit/PublikPoitIn.do.

The judicial branch and various agencies are tasked with regulation oversight and/or regulation enforcement.  The Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsmen, known as the Justitieombuds-männen (JO), are tasked to make sure that public authority complies with the law and follows administrative processes.  They also investigate complaints from the general public.

Regulations are reviewed on the basis of scientific and/or data-driven assessments.  The principle of public access to official documents, offentlighetsprincipen, governs the availability of the results of studies that are conducted by government entities and furthermore to comments made by government entities.  The principle provides the Swedish public with the right to study public documents as specified in the Freedom of the Press Act.

The status of Sweden’s public finances is available at Statistics Sweden, Sweden official statistics agency: https://www.scb.se/en/finding-statistics/statistics-by-subject-area/public-finances/.

The status of Sweden’s national debt is available at the Swedish National Debt Office (Riksgälden): https://www.riksgalden.se/en/statistics/statistics-regarding-swedens-central-government-debt/.

International Regulatory Considerations

As an EU-member, Sweden complies with EU-legislation in shaping its national regulations.

If a national law, norm, or standard is found to be in conflict with EU-law, then the national law is altered to be in compliance with EU-law.  Sweden adheres to the practices of WTO and coordinates its actions in regard to WTO with other EU-member countries as the EU-countries have a common trade policy.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Sweden’s legal system is based on the civil law tradition, common to Europe, and founded on classical Roman law, but has been further influenced by the German interpretation of this tradition.  Swedish legislation and Swedish agencies provide guidance on whether regulations or enforcement actions are appealable and adjudicated in the national court system.  Swedish courts are independent and free of influence from other branches of government, including the executive.  Sweden has a written commercial law and contractual law and there are specialized courts, such as commercial and civil courts.  The Swedish courts are divided into:

  • Courts of general jurisdiction (the District Courts, the Courts of Appeal, and the Supreme Court) which have jurisdiction with respect to civil and criminal cases;
  • Administrative courts (County Administrative Courts, Administrative Courts of Appeal, and the Supreme Administrative Court) which have jurisdiction with respect to issues of public law, including taxation;
  • Specialist courts for disputes within certain legal areas such as labor law, environmental law and market regulation.

Sweden is a signatory to the New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Law; foreign awards may be enforced in Sweden regardless of which foreign country the arbitral proceedings took place.  The main source of arbitration law in Sweden is the Swedish Arbitration Act, which contains both procedural and substantive regulations.  Sweden is a party to the Lugano and the Brussels Conventions, and, by its membership of the EU, Sweden is also bound by the Brussels Regulation on Jurisdiction and the Recognition and Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters.  An arbitral award is considered final and is not subject to substantive review by Swedish courts.  However, arbitral awards may be challenged for reasons set out in the Arbitration Act.  An award may, for example, be set aside after a challenge because of procedural errors, which are likely to have influenced the outcome.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

During the 1990s, Sweden undertook significant deregulation of its markets.  In a number of areas, including the electricity and telecommunication markets, Sweden has been on the leading edge of reform, resulting in more efficient sectors and lower prices.  Nevertheless, a number of practical impediments to direct investments remain.  These include a fairly extensive, though non-discriminatory, system of permits and authorizations needed to engage in many activities and the dominance of a few very large players in certain sectors, such as construction and food wholesaling.  Foreign banks, insurance companies, brokerage firms, and cooperative mortgage institutions are permitted to establish branches in Sweden on equal terms with domestic firms, although a permit is required.  Swedes and foreigners alike may acquire shares in any company listed on NASDAQ OMX.

Sweden’s taxation structure is straightforward and corporate tax levels are low.  In 2013, Sweden lowered its corporate tax from 26.3 percent to 22 percent in nominal terms and lowered it again to 21.4 percent in 2019.  The effective rate can be even lower as companies have the option of making deductible annual appropriations to a tax allocation reserve of up to 25 percent of their pretax profit for the year.  Companies can make pre-tax allocations to untaxed reserves, which are subject to tax only when utilized.  Certain amounts of untaxed reserves may be used to cover losses.  Due to tax exemptions on capital gains and dividends, as well as other competitive tax rules such as low effective corporate tax rates, deductible interest costs for tax purposes, no withholding tax on interest, no stamp duty or capital duties on share capital, and an extensive double tax treaty network, Sweden is among Europe’s most favorable jurisdictions for holding companies.  Unlisted shares are always tax-exempt, meaning there is no qualification time or minimum holding of votes or capital.  Listed shares are exempt if the holding represents at least 10 percent of the voting rights (or is contingent on the holder’s business) and the shares are held for at least one year. As part of a COVID-19 stimulus package, the government lowered the payroll tax for persons aged 19-23 from 31.42 percent to 19.73 percent.

Personal income taxes are among the highest in the world.  Since public finances have improved due to extensive consolidation packages to reduce deficits, the government has been able to reduce tax pressure as a percentage of GDP.  Though well below the national average in the EU area, public debt, as a share of GDP, rose to approximately 40 percent as a result of the enactment of several fiscal stimulus packages which aimed to boost the economy in the COVID-19 pandemic.  Significant tax increases in the near future remain unlikely.  One particular focus of the Swedish government has been tax reductions to encourage employers to hire the long-term unemployed.

Dividends paid by foreign subsidiaries in Sweden to their parent company are not subject to Swedish taxation.  Dividends distributed to other foreign shareholders are subject to a 30 percent withholding tax under domestic law, unless dividends are exempt or taxed at a lower rate under a tax treaty.  Tax liability may also be eliminated under the EU Parent Subsidiary Directive.  Profits of a Swedish branch of a foreign company may be remitted abroad without being subject to any other tax than the regular corporate income tax.  There is no exit taxation and no specific rules regarding taxation of stock options received before a move to Sweden.  Instead, cases of double taxation are solved by applying tax treaties and cover not only moves within the EU but all countries, including the United States.

For detailed tax guidance, see the Swedish Tax Administration’s website (in English): http://www.skatteverket.se/servicelankar/otherlanguages/inenglish.4.12815e4f14a62bc048f4edc.html

There is no primary or “one-stop-shop” website that provides relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors.  Business Sweden, Sweden’s official trade and investment organization, is the investment promotion agency tasked with developing business in Sweden.  The services of the agency are available to all investors.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

As an EU member, Sweden has altered its legislation to comply with the EU’s stringent rules on competition.  The competition law rules are contained in the Swedish Competition Act (2008:579), which entered into force in November 2008.  The fundamental antitrust provisions have been the same since 1993.  The Swedish Competition Authority (SCA) is the main enforcement authority of the Swedish Competition Act.  The agency adheres to transparent norms and procedures, which are made available on its homepage: https://www.konkurrensverket.se/en/omossmeny/about-us/uppgifter.  SCA decisions can be appealed to the administrative courts.  This can be done by submitting a written appeal to the Swedish Competition Authority within three weeks from the day the applicant received the SCA’s initial decision.

Expropriation and Compensation

Private property is only expropriated for public purposes, in a non-discriminatory manner, with fair compensation, and in accordance with established principles of international law.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Sweden is a member of the World Bank-based International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and includes ICSID arbitration of investment disputes in many of its bilateral investment treaties (BITs).  Sweden is a signatory to the New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Law.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

There have been no major disputes over investment in Sweden in recent years.  There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Swedish arbitration law is advanced and in line with current best practice of international arbitration.  The main source of arbitration law in Sweden is the Swedish Arbitration Act, which contains both procedural and substantive regulations. A revised version of the Swedish Arbitration Act (SAA) entered into force on March 1, 2019. The revised SAA intends to preserve Sweden’s position among Europe’s leading seats for international arbitration proceedings.

Sweden is a party to the Lugano and the Brussels Conventions and by its membership of the EU Sweden is bound by the Brussels Regulation on Jurisdiction and the Recognition and Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters.  An arbitral award is considered final and is not subject to substantive review by Swedish courts.  However, arbitral awards may be challenged for reasons set out in the Arbitration Act.  An award may, for example, be set aside after challenge because of procedural errors, which are likely to have influenced the outcome.  The Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce (SCC) has administered arbitrations under the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules for many years, usually acting as the Appointing Authority.  Parties to a dispute may adopt the Procedures by agreement before or after the dispute has arisen.

The SCC maintains different versions of the Procedures depending on which version of the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules applies to the arbitration agreement in question (1976 or 2010 versions).

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Swedish legislation on bankruptcy is found in a number of laws that came into force in different periods of time and to serve different purposes.  The main laws on insolvency are the Bankruptcy Act (1987:672) and the Company Reorganization Act (1996:764), but the Preferential Rights of Creditors Act (1970:979), the Salary Guarantee Act (1992:497), and the Companies Act (1975:1385) are equally important.  In 2010, Sweden strengthened its secured transactions system through changes to the Rights of Priority Act that give secured creditors’ claims priority in cases of debtor default outside bankruptcy.  According to data collected by the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report, resolving insolvency takes two years on average and costs nine percent of the debtor’s estate, with the most likely outcome being that the company will be sold as a going concern.  The average recovery rate is 78 cents on the dollar.  Globally, Sweden ranked 17 of 190 economies on the ease of resolving insolvency in the Doing Business 2020 report.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Swedish government offers certain incentives to set up a business in targeted depressed areas.  Loans are available on favorable terms from the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth, Tillväxtverket, and from regional development funds.  A range of regional support programs, including location and employment grants, low rent industrial parks, and economic free zones are available.  Regional development support is concentrated in the lightly populated northern two-thirds of the country.  In addition, EU grant and subsidy programs are generally available only for nationals and companies registered in the EU, usually on a national treatment basis. The Swedish government does not have a practice of issuing guarantees or jointly financing direct investment projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Sweden has foreign trade zones with bonded warehouses in the ports of Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö, and Jönköping.  Goods may be stored indefinitely in these zones without customs clearance, but they may not be consumed or sold on a retail basis.  Permission may be granted to use these goods as materials for industrial operations within a free trade zone.  The same tax and labor laws apply to foreign trade zones as to other workplaces in Sweden.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

As an EU Member State, Sweden adheres to the EU’s General Data Protection Directive (GDPR) (95/46/EC) which spells out strict rules concerning the processing of personal data.  Businesses must tell consumers that they are collecting data, what they intend to use it for, and to whom it will be disclosed.  Data subjects must be given the opportunity to object to the processing of their personal details and to opt-out of having them used for direct marketing purposes.  This opt-out should be available at the time of collection and at any point thereafter.  GDPR entered into force on May 18, 2018 – and it is a Regulation, i.e. directly applicable in member states.

The EU-U.S. Privacy Shield Frameworks were designed by the U.S. Government (Department of Commerce) and the European Commission to provide companies on both sides of the Atlantic with a mechanism to comply with data protection requirements when transferring personal data from the European Union to the United States in support of transatlantic commerce. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) in a July 16 ruling in the Schrems II case invalidated the legal basis for the U.S. Department of Commerce-managed EU-U.S. Privacy Shield framework (“Privacy Shield”) and imposed substantial burdens on parties using standard contractual clauses (SCCs).  Subsequent guidance from the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) threatens to impose additional obstacles to use of the SCCs to transfer personal data to the United States.  The United States continues to engage the European Commission to develop a new Privacy Shield mechanism and to ensure SCCs can be used for data transfers to the United States. For further information and guidance on the Privacy Shield Framework, please see: https://www.commerce.gov/privacyshield.

The Swedish Authority for Privacy Protection, Integritetsskyddsmyndigheteten, works to prevent encroachment upon privacy through information and by issuing directives and codes of statutes.  Integritetsskyddsmyndigheteten (IMY) also handles complaints and carries out inspections.  By examining government bills, IMY ensures that new laws and ordinances protect personal data in an adequate manner.  Further guidance and information is available in English on their website at https://www.imy.se/other-lang/in-english/. There are no measurements that prevent or unduly impede companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside Sweden’s territory.  Sweden imposes no performance requirements on presumptive foreign investors.

In general, there is no government policy that requires the hiring of nationals.  There is no excessively onerous visa, residence, work permit, or similar requirements inhibiting mobility of foreign investors and their employees.  Sweden does not follow “forced localization,” the policy in which foreign investors must use domestic content in goods or technology and there are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption.

Various municipal-level agencies and business associations have targeted U.S. cloud service providers in Sweden.  These entities have claimed that any information processed by a U.S. cloud provider is subject to U.S. government scrutiny through the CLOUD Act, limiting customers’ privacy.  This perception has adversely impacted U.S. cloud service providers’ sales in Sweden and given local cloud service firms an uneven advantage in the market.  In addition, this perception has spurred a two-year, government project to examine the options for the development of a Swedish government cloud, effectively halting U.S. cloud service sales as customers await the investigation’s outcome.  However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government’s exploration project has been delayed. The final project report is expected to be released on October 15, 2021.  The first part of the report was published on January 15, 2021.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Swedish law generally provides for adequate protection of real property.  Mortgages and liens exist, and the recording system is reliable.  Almost all land has clear title and unoccupied property ownership cannot revert to other owners.  Financial mechanisms are available in Sweden for securitization of properties for lending purposes and have been in use since the early 1990s.  Nordic banks account for the vast majority of secured lending transactions.  The Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority, Finansinpektionen, can provide further information regarding the regulations involved with securitization of properties at https://www.fi.se/en/.

Intellectual Property Rights

As a member of the European Union, Sweden adheres to a series of multilateral conventions on industrial, intellectual, and commercial property.

Patents:  Protection in all areas of technology may be obtained for 20 years.  Sweden is a party to the Patent Cooperation Treaty and the European Patent Convention of 1973; both entered into force in 1978.

Copyrights:  Sweden is a signatory to various multilateral conventions on the protection of copyrights, including the Berne Convention of 1971, the Rome Convention of 1961, and the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).  Swedish copyright law protects computer programs and databases.  Between 2005-2008, Sweden gained notoriety as a safe haven for internet piracy due to rapid internet connection speeds, a lag in implementing EU Directives, and weak enforcement efforts.  In 2009, however, Sweden implemented the EU’s Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive (IPRED) 2004/48/EC and increased its enforcement against internet piracy.  The last few years also saw the conviction of the operators behind the Pirate Bay.org, a notorious BitTorrent tracker for illegal file sharing, and an increase in legal file sharing.  Legislative measures combined with added resources for enforcement and the emergence of successful legal alternatives have all contributed to a substantial increase in music and film distribution by legal means since 2010.  In 2016, Sweden set up a Specialist Court for IPR-related cases, to further increase efficiency by pooling specialist competence. In 2020, severe copyright infringement was added to the criminal code, giving police and prosecutors additional enforcement tools, and increasing the maximum penalty for such crimes to six years imprisonment.

Trademarks:  Sweden protects trademarks under a specific trademark act (1960:644) and is a signatory to the 1989 Madrid Protocol.

Trade secrets:  Proprietary information is protected under Sweden’s patent and copyright laws unless acquired by a government ministry or authority, in which case it may be made available to the public on demand.

Designs:  Sweden is a party to the Paris Convention and the Locarno Agreement and designs are protected by the Swedish Design Protection Act, as well as the Council Regulation on Registered and Unregistered Designs.  Protection under the act lasts for renewable terms of one, or several five-year periods with a maximum protection of 25 years.

Sweden is not included in USTR’s Special 301 Report or Notorious Markets List.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Credit is allocated on market terms and is made available to foreign investors in a non-discriminatory fashion.  The private sector has access to a variety of credit instruments.  Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms.  NASDAQ-OMX is a modern, open, and active forum for domestic and foreign portfolio investment.  It is Sweden’s official stock exchange and operates under specific legislation.  Furthermore, the Swedish government is neutral toward portfolio investment and Sweden has a fully capable regulatory system that encourages and facilitates portfolio investments.

Money and Banking System

Several foreign banks, including Citibank, have established branch offices in Sweden, and several niche banks have started to compete in the retail bank market.  The three largest Swedish banks are Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEB), Svenska Handelsbanken, and Swedbank.  Nordea is the largest foreign bank and largest bank in Sweden, while Danske Bank is the second largest foreign bank and the fifth largest bank in Sweden.  A deposit insurance system was introduced in 1996, whereby individuals received protection of up to SEK 250,000 (USD 29,250) of their deposits in case of bank insolvency.  On December 31, 2010, the maximum compensation was raised to the SEK equivalent of 100,000 euro.

The banks’ activities are supervised by the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority, Finansinspektionen, http://www.fi.se, to ensure that standards are met.  Swedish banks’ financial statements meet international standards and are audited by internationally recognized auditors only.  The Swedish Bankers’ Association, http://www.bankforeningen.se, represents banks and financial institutions in Sweden.  The association works closely with regulators and policy makers in Sweden and Europe.  Sweden is not part of the Eurozone; however, Swedish commercial banks offer euro-denominated accounts and payment services.

On July 1, 2014, Sweden signed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) agreement with the U.S. Financial institutions in Sweden are now obligated to submit information in accordance with FATCA to the Swedish Tax Agency.  In February 2015, the Swedish Parliament decided on new laws and regulations needed to implement FATCA.  The Parliamentary decision means the government’s proposals in Bill 2014/15:41 were adopted, including for example, the introductions of:

  • a new law on the identification of reportable accounts with respect to the agreement;
  • changes to tax procedure act;
  • new legislation on the exchange of information with respect to the agreement; and
  • consequential amendments to the Income Tax Act and other laws.

The provisions entered into force on April 1, 2015.  For full text of Bill 2014/15:41, please see http://www.regeringen.se/contentassets/bd8cf7f897364944b35f5f30c099bc0c/genomforande-av-avtal-mellan-sveriges-regering-och-amerikas-forenta-staters-regering-for-att-forbattra-internationell-efterlevnad-av-skatteregler-och-for-att-genomfora-fatca-prop.-20141541.

Foreign banks or branches offering financial services must have an authorization from the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority, Finansinpektionen, to conduct operations.  As part of the authorization application process, FI reviews the firm’s capital situation, business plan, owners, and management.  Parts of the firm’s daily operations may also require authorization from FI.  The applicable regulatory code can be found at http://www.fi.se/en/our-registers/search-fffs/2009/20093/.

There are no reported losses of correspondent banking relationships in the past three years and there are no current correspondent banking relationships that are in jeopardy.  Foreigners have the right to open an account in a bank in Sweden provided he/she can identify him/herself and the bank conducts an identity check.  The bank cannot require the person to have a Swedish personal identity number or an address in Sweden.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Sweden adheres to a floating exchange rate regime and the national currency rate fluctuates.

Remittance Policies

Sweden does not impose any restrictions on remittances of profits, proceeds from the liquidation of an investment, or royalty and license fee payments.  A subsidiary or branch may transfer fees to a parent company outside of Sweden for management services, research expenditures, etc.  Funds associated with any form of investment can be freely converted into any world currency.  In general, yields on invested funds, such as dividends and interest receipts, may be freely transferred.  A foreign-owned firm may also raise foreign currency loans both from its parent corporation and credit institutions abroad.  There are no recent changes or plans to change investment remittance policies.  There are no time limitations on remittances.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Sweden does not maintain a sovereign wealth fund or similar entity.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The Swedish state is Sweden’s largest corporate owner and employer.  Forty-six companies are entirely or partially state-owned, of which two are listed on the Stockholm stock exchange, and have government representatives on their boards.  Approximately 129,000 people are employed by these companies, including associated companies.  Sectors, which feature State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), include energy/power generation, forestry, mining, finance, telecom, postal services, gambling, and retail liquor sales.  These companies operate under the same laws as private companies, although the government appoints board members, reflecting government ownership.  Like private companies, SOEs have appointed boards of directors, and the government is constitutionally prevented from direct involvement in the company’s operations.  Like private companies, SOE’s publish their annual reports, which are subject to independent audit.  Private enterprises compete with public enterprises under the same terms and conditions with respect to access to markets, credit, and other business operations.  Moreover, Sweden is party to the General Procurement Agreement (GPA) within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO).  Swedish SOEs adhere to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance for SOEs. Further information regarding the Swedish SOEs can be found here: http://www.regeringen.se/regeringens-politik/bolag-med-statligt-agande/.

Privatization Program

The current Sweden’s Government, voted into office in September 2014 and returned to office after the most recent general elections in 2018, has a mandate to divest or liquidate its holdings in Bilprovningen (Swedish Motor-Vehicle Inspection Company), Bostadsgaranti, Lernia, Orio (formerly Saab Automobile Parts), SAS, and Svensk Exportkredit (SEK).  If the Government of Sweden decides to divest or liquidate holdings, then a public bidding process would be implemented.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is widespread awareness of responsible business conduct (RBC) among both producers and consumers in Sweden.  All businesses are expected to comply with local laws and regulations, and to observe the international norms and principles for human rights, labor protection, sustainable development, and anti-corruption.  Firms that pursue RBC are viewed favorably, often publicizing their adherence to generally accepted RBC principles such as those contained in OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.  Volvo Trucks, for example, has collaborated with USAID in pursuing RBC efforts outside of Sweden.  The Swedish National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines can be found at:  https://www.regeringen.se/regeringens-politik/handel-och-investeringsframjande/nationella-kontaktpunkten/.  The Government of Sweden has adopted a platform for sustainable business, the term it uses for efforts related to RBC/CSR:
https://www.government.se/49b750/contentassets/539615aa3b334f3cbedb80a2b56a22cb/sustainable-business—a-platform-for-swedish-action.

Sweden effectively and fairly enforces domestic laws in relation to human rights, labor rights, consumer protection, environmental protections, and other laws/regulations intended to protect individuals from adverse business impacts.  There are no alleged/reported human or labor rights concerns relating to RBC that foreign businesses should be aware of, as for example, alleged instances of forced and/or child labor in domestic supply chains, forced evictions of indigenous peoples, or arrests of and violence against environmental defenders.

Sweden has put in place corporate governance, accounting, and executive compensation standards to protect shareholders.  Sweden is a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

Sweden is one of seventeen states that have finalized The Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies. It is a supporter of and participant in International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers’ Association (ICoCA).

Additional Resources 

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Investors have an extremely low likelihood of encountering corruption in Sweden.  While there have been cases of domestic corruption at the municipal level, most companies have high anti-corruption standards, and an investor would not typically be put in the position of having to pay a bribe to conduct business.

There are cases of Swedish companies operating overseas that have been charged with bribing foreign officials; however, these cases are relatively rare.  Although Sweden has comprehensive laws against corruption, and ratified the 1997 OECD Anti-bribery Convention, in June of 2012, the OECD Anti-Bribery Working Group has given an unfavorable review of Swedish compliance to the dictates of that Convention.  The group faulted Sweden for not having a single conviction of a Swedish company for bribery in the last eight years, for having unreasonably low fines, and for not re-framing their legal system so that a corporation could be charged with a crime.  Swedish officials object to the review, claiming that lack of convictions is not proof of prosecutorial indifference, but rather indicative of high standards of ethics in Swedish companies.  Over the last four years, two high-profile cases have involved Swedish companies. Telia Company’s operations in Uzbekistan received considerable public attention and cost the CEO and other senior officials their jobs.  Telia Company was in the process of divesting its operations in Uzbekistan following a probe by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) pertaining to illegal payments.  In September 2017, Telia Company reached an agreement to pay $965.8 million to settle U.S. and European criminal and civil charges that the company had paid bribes to win business in Uzbekistan.  In December 2019, Ericsson reached an agreement with the Department of Justice to pay more than $1 billion to resolve a foreign corrupt practices case which involved bribing government officials, falsifying books and records, and failing to implement reasonable internal accounting controls.  The resolutions covered criminal conduct in Djibouti, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Kuwait. Ericsson also entered into a three-year Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) with the DOJ. As part of this resolution, Ericsson agreed to engage an independent compliance monitor for three years. The monitor’s main responsibilities include reviewing Ericsson’s compliance with the terms of the settlement and evaluating Ericsson’s progress in implementing and operating its enhanced compliance program and accompanying controls as well as providing recommendations for improvements.

Sweden does not have a specific agency devoted exclusively to anti-corruption, but a number of agencies cooperate together.  A list of Sweden’s Public and Private Anti-Corruption Initiatives can be found at https://www.ganintegrity.com/portal/country-profiles/sweden.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

Sweden has signed and ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention (see list of signatories at http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/treaties/CAC/signatories.html).

Sweden is party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions (see list of signatories and their implementation reports at http://www.oecd.org/daf/anti-bribery/countryreportsontheimplementationoftheoecdanti-briberyconvention.htm).

Resources to Report Corruption

The National Anti-Corruption Group at the Swedish Police, Nationella anti-korruptionsgruppen, handles the investigation of corruption offenses and is engaged in prevention efforts.  Corruption claims can be reported to the Group by calling +46 114 14.

Watchdog organization:

Transparency International Sweden
Telephone: + 46 (0)72 74 45 558
E-mail address: info@transparency.se
www.transparency.se

10. Political and Security Environment

Sweden is politically stable and no changes are expected.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Sweden’s labor force of 5.5 million is disciplined, well educated, and highly skilled.  Approximately 68 percent of the Swedish labor force is unionized, although membership is declining.  Swedish unions have helped to implement business restructuring to remain competitive, and strongly favor employee education and technical advancements.  Management- labor cooperation is generally excellent and non-confrontational.  The National Mediation Office, which mediates labor disputes in Sweden, reported in its summary findings for 2020 that no working day was lost due to a strike in Sweden in 2020.

Foreign/migrant workers are covered by Swedish and EU labor laws.  Labor laws are not waived in order to attract or retain investment.  In general, there is no government policy that requires the hiring of nationals.

Sweden has a Co-determination at Work Act, which provides for labor representation on the boards of corporate directors once a company has reached more than 25 employees.  This law also requires management to negotiate with the appropriate union, or unions prior to implementing certain major changes in company activities.  It calls for a company to furnish information on many aspects of its economic status to labor representatives.  Labor and management usually find this system works to their mutual benefit.  The Co-determination at Work Act and the Employment Protection Act together set the rules for the adjustment employment to respond to fluctuating market conditions.  Severances and layoffs are based on seniority and are conducted in consultation with unions.  Unemployment insurance and other social safety net programs are available for workers laid off for economic reasons.  Government-sponsored training programs to facilitate the transition for unemployed persons into areas reporting labor shortages are available, but their scope is targeted.

The cost of doing business in Sweden is generally comparable to most OECD countries, though some country-specific cost advantages are present.  Overall salary costs have become increasingly competitive due to relatively modest wage increases over the last decade and a favorable exchange rate.  This development is even more pronounced for highly qualified personnel and researchers.

There is no fixed minimum wage by legislation.  Instead, wages are set by collective bargaining by sector.  The traditionally low-wage differential has increased in recent years as a result of increased wage setting flexibility at the company level.  Still, Swedish unskilled employees are relatively well paid, while well-educated Swedish employees are relatively less well paid compared to those in competitor countries.  The average increases in real wages in recent years have been high by historical standards, in large due to price stability.  Even so, nominal wages in recent years have been slightly above those in competitor countries, about 2 percent annually.  Employers must pay social security fees of about 31.5 percent.  The fee consists of statutory contributions for pensions, health insurance, and other social benefits.

Sweden has ratified most International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions dealing with worker’s rights, freedom of association, collective bargaining, and the major working conditions and occupational safety and health conventions.  More information on Sweden’s labor agreements and legislation in English can be found on the Swedish Trade Union Confederation’s website at http://www.lo.se/english/startpage.  There are no new labor related laws or regulations enacted during the last year, as well as any pending draft bills.

Sweden is a member of the European Union (EU).  The EU impacts Sweden’s trade relationship with the United States in that the EU has a common trade policy for all member countries.

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

The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, DFC, does not operate in Sweden.

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 $530,738 2019 $530,884 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $22,563 2019 $38,787 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $61,652 2019 $52,683 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 $63.1% 2019 64.5% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html
    

* Source for Host Country Data: Statistics Sweden (SCB).

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 340,853 100% Total Outward 410,493 100%
The Neth