The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant adverse impact on Cambodia’s economy. Despite a surge of cases in 2021, Cambodia’s economy demonstrated resilience in some sectors (agriculture, manufacturing) and showed signs of gradual recovery from the previous year’s economic disruptions, achieving 2.2 percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth. This follows a 3.1 percent contraction of its GDP in 2020. Having adopted a “living with COVID” stance to reopen its economy and attract international tourists, the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) in March 2022 dropped all quarantine and testing requirements for fully vaccinated travelers. The World Bank predicts Cambodia’s GDP growth to rebound to 4.5 percent in 2022.
The RGC has made attracting investment from abroad a top priority, and in October 2021 passed a new Law on Investment. Foreign direct investment (FDI) incentives available to investors include 100 percent foreign ownership of companies, corporate tax holidays, reduced corporate tax rates, duty-free import of capital goods, and no restrictions on capital repatriation. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government enacted economic recovery measures to boost competitiveness and support the economy, including a long-awaited Competition Law, a Public-Private Partnership Law, and provided tax breaks to the hardest hit businesses, such as those in the tourism and restaurant sectors. The government also delayed the implementation of a capital gains tax to 2024 and established an SME Bank of Cambodia to support small- and medium-sized enterprises.
Despite these incentives, Cambodia has not attracted significant U.S. investment. Apart from the country’s relatively small market size, other factors dissuading U.S. investors include: systemic corruption, a limited supply of skilled labor, inadequate infrastructure (including high energy costs), a lack of transparency in some government approval processes, and preferential treatment given to local or other foreign companies that engage in acts of corruption or tax evasion or take advantage of Cambodia’s weak regulatory environment. Foreign and local investors alike lament the government’s failure to adequately consult the business community on new economic policies and regulations. In light of these concerns, on November 10, 2021, the U.S. Departments of State, Treasury, and Commerce issued a business advisory to caution U.S. businesses currently operating in, or considering operating, in Cambodia to be mindful of interactions with entities involved in corrupt business practices, criminal activities, and human rights abuses. Notwithstanding these challenges, several large American companies maintain investments in the country, for example, Coca-Cola’s $100 million bottling plant and a $21 million Ford vehicle assembly plant slated to open in 2022.
In recent years, Chinese FDI — largely from state-run or associated firms — has surged and has become a significant driver of growth in Cambodia. Chinese businesses, many of which are state-owned enterprises, may not assess the challenges in Cambodia’s business environment in the same manner as U.S. businesses. In 2021, Cambodia recorded FDI inflows of $655 million, with approximately 52 percent reportedly coming from the PRC.
Physical infrastructure projects, including commercial and residential real estate developments, continue to attract the bulk of FDI. However, there has been some increased investments in manufacturing, including garment and travel goods factories, as well as agro-processing.
In 2022, both the Cambodia-China Free Trade Agreement (CCFTA) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement entered into force.
Climate change remains a critical issue in Cambodia due to its vulnerability to extreme weather occurrences, high rates of deforestation, and low environmental accountability.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Cambodia has a liberal foreign investment regime and actively courts FDI. In 2021, the RGC enacted a new Law on Investment to attract more FDI in emerging sectors including agro-processing, electronics/machinery, health, industrial parts, infrastructure, and green energy. The government permits 100 percent foreign ownership of companies in most sectors. In a handful of sectors, such as cigarette manufacturing, movie production, rice milling, and gemstone mining and processing, foreign investment is subject to local equity participation or prior authorization from authorities. While there is little or no official legal discrimination against foreign investors, some foreign businesses report disadvantages vis-a-vis Cambodian or other foreign rivals that engage in acts of corruption or tax evasion or take advantage of Cambodia’s weak regulatory environment.
The Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) is the principal government agency responsible for providing incentives to stimulate investment. Investors are required to submit an investment proposal to either the CDC or the Provincial-Municipal Investment Sub-committee to obtain a Qualified Investment Project (QIP) status depending on capital level and location of the investment in question. QIPs are then eligible for specific investment incentives.
The CDC also serves as the secretariat to Cambodia’s Government-Private Sector Forum (G-PSF), a public-private consultation mechanism that facilitates dialogue within and among 10 government/private sector working groups.
Cambodia has created special economic zones (SEZs) to further facilitate foreign investment. As of 2021, there are 25 SEZs in Cambodia. These zones provide companies with access to land, infrastructure, and services to facilitate the set-up and operation of businesses. Services provided include utilities, tax services, customs clearance, and other administrative services designed to support import-export processes. Cambodia offers incentives to projects within the SEZs such as tax holidays, zero rate VAT, and import duty exemptions for raw materials, machinery, and equipment. The primary authority responsible for Cambodia’s SEZs is the Cambodia Special Economic Zone Board (CSEZB). The largest of its SEZs is in Sihanoukville and hosts primarily Chinese companies.
There are few limitations on foreign control and ownership of business enterprises in Cambodia. Foreign investors may own 100 percent of investment projects except in the sectors mentioned above. According to Cambodia’s new Law on Investment and related sub-decrees, there are no limitations based on shareholder nationality nor discrimination against foreign investors except for land ownership as stipulated in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia.
For property, land title must be held by one or more Cambodian citizens. For state-owned enterprises, the Law on Public Enterprise provides that the Cambodian government must directly or indirectly hold more than 51 percent of the capital or veto rights in state-owned enterprises.
For agriculture investments, foreign investors may request economic land concessions, if they meet certain criteria including provisions on land use, productivities, job creation, and environmental protection and natural resource management.
There are some limitations on the employment of foreigners in Cambodia. A QIP allows employers to obtain visas and work permits for foreign citizens as skilled workers, but the
employer may be required to prove to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training that the skillset is not available among Cambodia workers. The Cambodian Bar has periodically taken actions to restrict or impede the work of foreign lawyers or foreign law firms in the country.
The OECD Investment Policy Review of Cambodia in 2018 is available at the following link.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) last reviewed Cambodia’s trade policies in 2017, which can be found at this link.
All businesses are required to register with the Ministry of Commerce (MOC), the General Department of Taxation (GDT), and the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training (MOLVT). Registration with MOC is possible through an online business registration portal at this link, while the GDT’s online portal is also available here. To further facilitate the process, the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) in 2020 launched the “Single Portal” – found at here, where businesses can register at the three ministries through a single online platform.
In addition, new businesses may also be required to register with other relevant ministries governing their sector and business activities. For example, travel agencies must also register with the Ministry of Tourism, and private universities must also register with the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport.
There are no restrictions on Cambodian citizens investing abroad. Some Cambodian companies have invested in neighboring countries – notably, Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar. Cambodia’s foreign direct investment abroad reached approximately $127 million in 2020.
3. Legal Regime
Cambodia’s regulatory system, while improving, still lacks transparency. This is the result of a lack of legislation and the limited capacity of key institutions, which is further exacerbated by a weak court system. Investors often complain that the decisions of Cambodian regulatory agencies are inconsistent, arbitrary, and influenced by corruption. For example, in May 2016, in what was perceived as a populist move, the government set caps on retail fuel prices, with little consultation with petroleum companies. In April 2017, the National Bank of Cambodia introduced an interest rate cap on loans provided by the microfinance industry with no consultation with relevant stakeholders. More recently, investors have regularly expressed concern overdraft legislation that has not been subject to stakeholder consultations.
Cambodian ministries and regulatory agencies are not legally obligated to publish the text of proposed regulations before their enactment. Draft regulations are only selectively and inconsistently available for public consultation with relevant non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private sector, or other parties before their enactment. Approved or passed laws are available on websites of some ministries but are not always up to date. The Council of Jurists,
the government body that reviews laws and regulations, publishes a list of updated laws and regulations on its website.
Businesses are not required to have audited financial statements or publish their financial reports unless they are financial institutions (banks/microfinance institutions) or publicly listed companies.
The RGC does not mandate companies to make environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosures with respect to investments.
As a member of ASEAN since 1999, Cambodia is required to comply with certain rules and regulations regarding free trade agreements with the 10 ASEAN member states. These include tariff-free importation of information and communication technology (ICT) equipment, harmonizing custom coding, harmonizing the medical device market, as well as compliance with tax regulations on multi-activity businesses, among others.
As a member of the WTO since 2004, Cambodia has both drafted and modified laws and regulations to comply with WTO rules. Relevant laws and regulations are notified to the WTO legal committee only after their adoption. A list of Cambodian legal updates in compliance with the WTO is described in the above section regarding Other Investment Policy Reviews.
The Cambodian legal system is primarily based on French civil law. Under the 1993 Constitution, the King is the head of state and the elected Prime Minister is the head of government. Legislative power is vested in a bicameral parliament, while the judiciary makes up the third branch of government. Contractual enforcement is governed by Decree Number 38 D Referring to Contract and Other Liabilities. More information on this decree can be found at this link.
Although the Cambodian Constitution calls for an independent judiciary, both local and foreign businesses report problems with inconsistent judicial rulings, corruption, and difficulty enforcing judgments. For these reasons, many commercial disputes are resolved through negotiations facilitated by the Ministry of Commerce, the Council for the Development of Cambodia, the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, and other institutions. Foreign investors often build into their contracts clauses that dictate that investment disputes must be resolved in a third country, such as Singapore.
Cambodia’s new Law on Investment, passed in October 2021, regulates the approval process for FDI and provides incentives to potential investors, both domestic and foreign. Sub-decree No. 111 (2005) lays out detailed procedures for registering a QIP with the CDC and provincial/municipal investment subcommittees.
The new Law on Investment introduces an online registration process for QIP applications and shortens the timeline for the CDC’s issuance of a Registration Certificate to 20 working days. The portal for QIP registration with CDC can be found at this link.
Information about investment procedures and incentives in Cambodia may be found on the CDC’s website.
Cambodia’s Competition Law was signed in October 2021, following the enactment of a Law on Consumer Protection in 2019. Cambodia’s Consumer Protection Competition and Fraud Repression Directorate-General (CCF), is mandated to enforce these laws and investigate complaints. When disputes arise, individuals or businesses can file complaints with the CCF, with courts acting as the final arbitrator.
Land rights are a contentious issue in Cambodia, complicated by the fact that most property holders do not have legal documentation of their ownership because of the policies and social upheaval during Khmer Rouge era in the 1970s. Numerous cases have been reported of influential individuals or groups acquiring land titles or concessions through political and/or financial connections and then using force to displace communities to make way for commercial enterprises.
In late 2009, the National Assembly approved the Law on Expropriation, which sets broad guidelines on land-taking procedures for public interest purposes. It defines public interest activities to include construction, rehabilitation, preservation, or expansion of infrastructure
projects, and development of buildings for national defense and civil security. These provisions include construction of border crossing posts, facilities for research and exploitation of natural resources, and oil pipeline and gas networks. Property can also be expropriated for natural disasters and emergencies, as determined by the government. Legal procedures regarding compensation and appeals are expected to be established in a forthcoming sub-decree, which is under internal discussion at the Ministry of Economy and Finance.
The government has shown willingness to use tax issues for political purposes. For instance, in 2017, a U.S.-owned independent newspaper had its bank account frozen purportedly for failure to pay taxes. It is believed that, while the company may have had some tax liability, the General Department of Taxation inflated the assessment to pressure the newspaper to halt operations. The action took place in the context of a widespread government crackdown on independent media in the country.
Cambodia’s 2007 Law on Insolvency is intended to provide collective, orderly, and fair satisfaction of creditor claims from debtor properties and, where appropriate, the rehabilitation of the debtor’s business. The law applies to the assets of all businesspeople and legal entities in Cambodia.
In 2012, Credit Bureau Cambodia (CBC) was established to create a more transparent credit market in the country. CBC’s main role is to provide credit scores to banks and financial institutions and to improve access to credit information.
4. Industrial Policies
Cambodia’s new Law on Investment offers varying types of investment incentives for projects that meet specified criteria. Investors seeking incentives as part of a QIP must submit an application to the CDC and pay an application fee of KHR 7 million (approximately $1,750), which covers securing necessary approvals, authorizations, licenses, or registrations from all relevant ministries and entities, including stamp duties.
The new Law on Investment provides investment incentives to QIPs classified into three types: basic incentives, additional incentives, and special incentives. Basic incentives include income tax exemptions, special depreciation rates, and eligibility for customs duty exemptions and VAT exemptions for the import of construction equipment and materials. Additional incentives include VAT exemptions for the purchase of locally produced production inputs, while special incentives may be granted to investment projects that have a high potential to contribute to national economic development.
Investment projects located in designated special promotion zones or export-processing zones are also entitled to the same incentives. More information about the criteria and investment areas eligible for incentives can be found at the following link.
The CDC is required to seek approval from the Council of Ministers for investment proposals that involve capital of $50 million or more, politically sensitive issues, the exploration and exploitation of mineral or natural resources, or infrastructure concessions. The CDC is also required to seek approval for investment proposals that will have a negative impact on the environment or the government’s long-term strategy.
To facilitate the country’s development, the Cambodian government has shown great interest in increasing exports via geographically defined special economic zones (SEZs). Cambodia is currently drafting a Law on Special Economic Zones, which is now undergoing technical review within the CDC. There are currently 25 special SEZs, which are located in Phnom Penh, Koh Kong, Kandal, Kampot, Sihanoukville, and the borders of Thailand and Vietnam. The main investment sectors in these zones include garments, shoes, bicycles, food processing, auto parts, motorcycle assembly, and electrical equipment manufacturing.
Cambodia permits investors to hire foreign nationals for employment as managers, technicians, or skilled workers if the qualifications/expertise are not available in Cambodia. According to Cambodia’s Labor Law, the number of foreign employees should not exceed ten percent of the total number of Cambodian employees. In practice, Cambodia can request an increase in this allotment from the Ministry of Labor.
Cambodia does not have any forced localization policy that obligates foreign investors to use domestic contents in goods or technology. Cambodia also does not currently require foreign information technology providers to turn over source code.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Mortgages exist in Cambodia and Cambodian banks often require certificates of property ownership as collateral before approving loans. The mortgage recordation system, which is handled by private banks, is generally considered reliable.
Cambodia’s 2001 Land Law provides a framework for real property security and a system for recording titles and ownership. Land titles issued prior to the end of the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-79) are not recognized due to the severe dislocations that occurred during that period. The government is making efforts to accelerate the issuance of land titles, but in practice, the titling system is cumbersome, expensive, and subject to corruption. Most property owners lack documentation proving ownership. Even where title records exist, recognition of legal titles to land has not been uniform, and there are reports of court cases in which judges have sought additional proof of ownership.
Foreigners are constitutionally forbidden to own land in Cambodia; however, the 2001 Land Law allows long and short-term leases to foreigners. Cambodia also allows foreign ownership in multi-story buildings, such as condominiums, from the second floor up.
Infringement of intellectual property rights (IPR) is prevalent in Cambodia. Counterfeit apparel, footwear, cigarettes, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, and consumer goods, and pirated software, music, and books are some of the examples of IPR-infringing goods found in the country.
Though Cambodia is not a major center for the production or export of counterfeit or pirated materials, local businesses report that the problem is growing because of the lack of enforcement. To date, Cambodia has not been listed by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative in its annual Special 301 Report, which identifies trade barriers to U.S. companies due to the IPR environment.
To combat the trade in counterfeit goods, the Cambodian Counter Counterfeit Committee (CCCC) was established in 2014 under the Ministry of Interior to investigate claims, seize illegal goods, and prosecute counterfeiters. The Economic Police, Customs, the Cambodia Import-Export Inspection and Fraud Repression Directorate General, and the Ministry of Commerce also have IPR enforcement responsibilities; however, the division of responsibility among each agency is not clearly defined. This causes confusion to rights owners and muddles the overall IPR environment. Though there has been an increase in the number of seizures of counterfeit goods in recent years, in general such actions are not taken unless a formal complaint is made.
In 2020, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office concluded a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Cambodia on accelerated patent recognition, creating a simplified procedure for U.S. patents to be registered in Cambodia. The patent recognition application form can be found at this link.
For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see the World Intellectual Property Organization’s country profiles at this link.
6. Financial Sector
To address the need for capital markets in Cambodia, the Cambodia Securities Exchange (CSX) was founded in 2011 and started trading in 2012. Though the CSX is one of the world’s smallest securities markets, with nine listed companies, it has taken steps to increase the number of listed companies, including attracting SMEs. In 2021, market capitalization stood at $2.4 billion, and the daily trading value averaged $246,000.
In September 2017, the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) adopted a regulation on the Conditions for Banking and Financial Institutions to be listed on CSX. The regulation sets additional requirements for banks and financial institutions that intend to issue securities to the public. This includes prior approval from the NBC and minimum equity of KHR 60 billion (approximately $15 million).
Cambodia’s bond market is at the beginning stages of development. The regulatory framework for corporate bonds was bolstered in 2017 through the publication of several regulations covering public offering of debt securities, the accreditation of bondholders’ representatives, and the accreditation of credit rating agencies. The country’s first corporate bond was issued in 2018, and there are currently eight corporate bonds listed on the CSX. There is currently no sovereign bond market, but the government has stated its intention of making government securities available to investors in 2022.
The NBC regulates the operations of Cambodia’s banks. Foreign banks and branches are freely allowed to register and operate in the country. There are 54 commercial banks, 10 specialized banks (set up to finance specific turn-key projects such as real estate development), 79 licensed microfinance institutions (MFIs), and five licensed microfinance deposit taking institutions in Cambodia. The NBC has also granted licenses to 17 financial leasing companies and one credit bureau company to improve transparency and credit risk management and encourage lending to small- and medium-sized enterprise customers.
The banking sector’s assets, including those of MFIs, rose 16 percent year-over-year in 2020 to KHR 241 trillion ($59.4 billion) and customer loans increased 15 percent to KHR 151 trillion ($37.3 billion). In 2020, the number of deposit accounts reached 8.9 million (out of a population of roughly 17 million), while credit accounts reached 3.2 million.
The government does not use the regulation of capital markets to restrict foreign investment. Banks have been free to set their own interest rates since 1995, and increased competition
between local institutions has led to a gradual lowering of interest rates from year to year. However, in April 2017, at the direction of Prime Minister Hun Sen, the NBC capped interest rates on loans offered by MFIs at 18 percent per annum. The move was designed to protect borrowers, many of whom are poor and uneducated, from excessive interest rates.
In March 2016, the NBC doubled the minimum capital reserve requirement for banks to $75 million for commercial banks and $15 million for specialized banks. Based on the new regulations, deposit-taking microfinance institutions now have a $30 million reserve requirement, while traditional microfinance institutions have a $1.5 million reserve requirement.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NBC adopted measures to maintain financial stability and ensure liquidity in the banking system. These measures included allowing banks to maintain their capital conservation buffer at 50 percent, reducing the reserve requirement rate, and allowing banks to restructure loans for clients impacted by COVID.
Financial technology (Fintech) in Cambodia is developing rapidly. Available technologies include mobile payments, QR codes, and e-wallet accounts for domestic and cross-border payments and transfers. In 2012, the NBC launched retail payments for checks and credit remittances. A “Fast and Secure Transfer” (FAST) payment system was introduced in 2016 to facilitate instant fund transfers. The Cambodian Shared Switch (CSS) system was launched in October 2017 to facilitate the access to network automated teller machines (ATMs) and point of sale (POS) machines.
In February 2019, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) cited Cambodia for being “deficient” with regard to its anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) controls and policies and included Cambodia on its “grey list.” The RGC committed to working with FATF to address these deficiencies through a joint action plan, although Cambodia remains on the grey list as of 2022. Should Cambodia not take appropriate action, FATF could move it to the “black list,” which could negatively impact the cost of capital as well as the banking sector’s ability to access international capital markets.
In addition to Cambodia’s weak AML/CFT regime, vulnerabilities include a largely cash-based, dollarized economy and porous borders. Both legal and illicit transactions, regardless of size, are frequently conducted outside of regulated financial institutions. Cash proceeds from crime are readily channeled into land, housing, luxury goods and vehicles, and other forms of property, without passing through the banking sector. Moreover, a lack of judicial independence and transparency constrains effective enforcement of laws against financial crimes. The judicial branch lacks efficiency and cannot assure impartiality, and judicial officials, up to and including the chief of the Supreme Court, have simultaneously held positions in the political ruling party. Refer to Section II: “Illicit Finance and Corrupt Activities in Cambodia” of the U.S. government’s Cambodia Business Advisory on High-Risk Investments and Interactions released on November 10, 2021, for more information.
Cambodia does not have a sovereign wealth fund.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
There is a small but growing awareness of responsible business conduct (RBC) and corporate social responsibility (CSR) among businesses in Cambodia despite the fact that the government does not have explicit policies to promote them. RBC and CSR programs are most commonly found at larger and multinational companies in the country. U.S. companies, for example, have implemented a wide range of CSR activities to promote skills training, the environment, general health and well-being, and financial education. These programs have been warmly received by both the public and the government.
A number of economic land concessions in Cambodia have led to high profile land rights cases. The Cambodian government has recognized the problem, but in general, has not effectively and fairly resolved land rights claims. The Cambodian government does not have a national contact point for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) multinational enterprises guidelines and does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.
Cambodia ranks among the most vulnerable countries to climate change, and environmental problems such as deforestation and natural resource exploitation are increasingly rampant. Despite growing number of legal environmental frameworks, regulatory enforcement remains weak. The government estimates Cambodia could lose over $15 billion or 10 percent of its GDP by 2050 due to the impacts of climate change.
In the Global Green Growth Index 2019, Cambodia obtained a score of 34.5 points, revealing a gap to reach the sustainability target of 100. “Green economic opportunities dimension” scores the lowest among all dimensions at 5.9, due to low green trade, green employment, and green innovation.
Cambodia has a complex and overlapping series of legislative and regulatory measures that govern environmental protection. A Royal Decree in 1993 defined the country’s first protected areas. The Law on Environmental Protection and Natural Resource Management was promulgated in 1996, followed by subsequent environment-related sub-decrees on water, air, noise, land, forests, and fisheries. The government has also released its National Strategic Plan on Green Growth 2013–2030, Cambodia Climate Change Strategic Plan 2014-2023, and the National Environment Strategy and Action Plan 2016–2023. In 2020, the government issued ministerial proclamation (Prakas) No. 021 on the Classification of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Development Project 2020, an implementing measure of a Sub-Decree on the 1999 EIA Process, which requires all public and private companies to have environmental protection contracts and conduct environmental impact assessments. Cambodia unveiled its Long-term Strategy for Carbon Neutrality 2050 at the end of 2021. The Environmental and Natural Resources Code remains in draft and has not yet been finalized.
These laws and regulations do not have specific goals or targets for private companies to reach and most have yet to be widely and effectively implemented. Corruption, lack of transparency and accountability, and poor enforcement remain the major barriers to Cambodia’s transition to sustainable development.
The new Law on Investment redefines incentives for priority sectors: environmental management, biodiversity conservation, the circular economy, green energy, and technology contributing toward climate change adaptation and mitigation. Details on how the incentives are to be determined are to be spelled out in a forthcoming sub-decree.
Corruption in Cambodia is endemic and widespread. An increase in foreign investment from investors willing to engage in corrupt practices, combined with sometimes opaque official and unofficial investment processes, further drives the overall rise in corruption. In its Global Competitiveness Report 2019, the World Economic Forum ranked Cambodia 134th out of 141 countries for incidence of corruption. Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perception index ranked Cambodia 157 of 180 countries globally, the lowest ranking among ASEAN member states.
Those engaged in business have identified corruption, particularly within the judiciary, customs services, and tax authorities, as one of the greatest deterrents to investment in Cambodia. Foreign investors from countries that overlook or encourage bribery have significant advantages over foreign investors from countries that criminalize such activity. In light of these concerns, on November 10, 2021, the U.S. Departments of State, Treasury, and Commerce issued a business advisory to caution U.S. businesses currently operating in, or considering operating, in Cambodia to be mindful of interactions with entities involved in corrupt business practices, criminal activities, and human rights abuses.
Cambodia adopted an Anti-Corruption Law in 2010 to combat corruption by criminalizing bribery, abuse of office, extortion, facilitation payments, and accepting bribes in the form of
donations or promises. Under the law, all civil servants must also declare their financial assets to the government every two years. Cambodia’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), established the same year, has investigative powers and a mandate to provide education and training to government institutions and the public on anti-corruption compliance. Since its formation, the ACU has launched a few high-profile prosecutions against public officials, including members of the police and judiciary, and has tackled the issue of ghost workers in the government, in which salaries are collected for non-existent employees.
The ACU, in collaboration with the private sector, has also established guidelines encouraging companies to create internal codes of conduct prohibiting bribery and corrupt practices. Companies can sign an MOU with the ACU pledging to operate corruption-free and to cooperate on anti-corruption efforts. Since the program started in 2015, more than 80 private companies have signed an MOU with the ACU. In 2018, the ACU completed a first draft of a code of conduct for public officials, which has not yet been finalized.
Despite the passage of the Anti-Corruption Law and creation of the ACU, enforcement remains weak. Local and foreign businesses report that they must often make informal payments to expedite business transactions. Since 2013, Cambodia has published the official fees for public services, but the practice of paying additional fees remains common.
Cambodia ratified the UN Convention against Corruption in 2007 and endorsed the Action Plan of the Asian Development Bank / OECD Anti-Corruption Initiative for Asia and the Pacific in 2003. Cambodia is not a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery.
Om Yentieng President, Anti-Corruption Unit
No. 54, Preah Norodom Blvd, Sangkat Phsar Thmey 3, Khan Daun Penh, Phnom Penh
Transparency International Cambodia
#13 Street 554, Phnom Penh
10. Political and Security Environment
Incidents of violence directed at businesses are rare. The Embassy is unaware of any incidents of political violence directed at U.S. or other non-regional interests. In the past, authorities have used force to disperse protestors.
Nevertheless, political tensions remain. After relatively competitive communal elections in June 2017, where Cambodia’s opposition party won 43 percent of available seats, the government banned the opposition party and imprisoned its leader on charges of treason. With no meaningful opposition, the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) swept the 2018 national elections, winning all 125 parliamentary seats. The government has also taken steps to limit free speech and stifle independent media, including forcing independent news outlets and radio stations to cease operations. While there are few overt signs the country is growing less secure today, the possibility for insecurity exists going forward, particularly if COVID-driven economic problems persist and if a large percentage of the population remains disenfranchised.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on Cambodia’s labor sector. In particular, Cambodia’s garment and manufacturing sector, which is heavily reliant on global supply chains for inputs and on demand from the United States and Europe, experienced severe disruptions due to COVID-19. Cambodia’s labor force numbers about 9.2 million people. A small number of Vietnamese, Thai, and Bangladeshi migrant workers are employed in Cambodia, and in recent years Chinese-run infrastructure projects and other businesses imported an increasing number of Chinese laborers, who typically earn more than their Cambodian counterparts. Cambodia’s garment sector employs 800,000 people, mostly female. Most of Cambodia’s factories producing for export are foreign-owned, and top managers are also almost all foreign.
Around 65 percent of the population is under the age of 30. The United Nations estimates that around 300,000 new job seekers enter the labor market each year. The agricultural sector employs about 40 percent of the labor force.
The country has a substantial number of informal workers. Estimates vary, but only 19 percent of the nearly 9.2 million-strong workforce enjoy social protection under the National Social Security Fund, with the remaining 81 percent therefore meeting a common definition of informal workers. Such workers dominate the agricultural sector. These workers are not covered by wage, hour and occupational safety and health laws and inspections.
Cambodia’s 2016 Trade Union Law (TUL) erects barriers to freedom of association and the rights to organize and bargain freely. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has stated publicly that the law could hinder Cambodia’s obligations to international labor conventions 87 and 98. To address those concerns, Cambodia passed an amended TUL in early 2020, but the amended law does not fully address ILO, NGO, and union concerns about the law’s curbs on freedom of association. In addition, Cambodia has only implemented and enforced a minimum wage in the export garment and footwear sectors. All labor laws apply in Cambodia’s SEZs, but independent unions report that zone and SEZ factory management are often hostile to unions and that union formation and activity is particularly difficult in SEZs.
Unresolved labor disputes are mediated first on the shop floor, after which they are brought to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training. If reconciliation fails, then the cases may be brought to the Arbitration Council, an independent state body that interprets labor regulations in collective disputes, such as when multiple employees are dismissed. Since the 2016 Trade Union Law went into force, Arbitration Council cases have decreased from over 30 per month to fewer than five.
A strike and demonstration at Cambodia’s largest casino and hotel complex that began in December 2021 has drawn global attention from the ILO, international unions, and media, and may pose an investment risk. Rights groups and the ILO have expressed concerns in particular about the criminalization of peaceful union activity; government authorities charged 11 union leaders and members with “incitement” and put them in pre-trial detention for more than two months. In response to this dispute and broader concerns over freedom of association, the ILO sent a fact-finding mission to Cambodia in March 2022.
14. Contact for More Information
Economic and Commercial Officer
U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh
No. 1, Street 96, Sangkat Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Phone: (855) 23-728-000
Singapore maintains an open, heavily trade-dependent economy that plays a critical role in the global supply chain. The government utilized unprecedented levels of public spending to support the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Singapore supports predominantly open investment policies and a robust 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. 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 fourth-least corrupt nation globally. The U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA), which entered 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 (FDI) in Singapore in 2020 totaled $270 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.
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, integrated systems, as well as sustainability, 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 34 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. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government introduced more programs to partially subsidize wages and the cost to firms of recruiting, hiring, and training local workers
Singapore plans to reach net-zero by or around mid-century but faces alternative energy diversification challenges in setting 2050 net-zero carbon emission targets. Singapore launched its national climate strategy – the Singapore Green Plan 2030 – in February 2021, and focuses on increased sustainability, carbon emissions reductions, fostering job and investment opportunities, and increasing climate resilience and food security.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign 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 April, the top three Singapore-listed SOEs (DBS, Singtel, CapitaLand Investment Limited) accounted for 15.6 percent of the Singapore Exchange (SGX) capitalization. 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 EDB, which provides feedback to other government agencies to ensure that infrastructure and public services remain efficient and cost competitive. EDB maintains 18 international offices, including in 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.
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 Ministry of 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 providing 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, Singapore had 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. In December 2021, IMDA also extended license and granted rights for TPG Telecom to build 5G networks. 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.
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 5 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 5 percent per shareholder and requires that directors be Singaporean citizens. Newspaper companies must issue two classes of shares, ordinary and management, with the latter available only to Singaporean 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, IMDA’s predecessor, the 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, and in September 2021 IMDA suspended the license of alternative news website The Online Citizen with immediate effect for allegedly failing to declare its sources of funding.
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, alternative news websites, and as of recent posts about COVID-19 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. On January 31, 2020, the Singaporean government temporary lifted the exemption of social media platforms, search engines and Internet intermediaries from complying with POFMA, with the goal of combatting false information on the evolving COVID-19 situation.
In September, the Ministry of Home Affairs introduced the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (FICA) to strengthen the country’s ability to “prevent, detect, and disrupt foreign interference” in domestic politics conducted through hostile information campaigns and the use of local proxies. The bill was passed in October 2021 and expanded the government’s powers and tools to control “foreign influence,” but has yet to take effect. Under FICA, the minister for home affairs could compel internet and social media service providers to disclose information, remove online content, block user accounts, and take “countermeasures” against “politically significant persons” who are or are suspected of working on behalf of or receiving funding from “foreign political organizations” and “foreign principals.” While the government provided assurances that “legitimate business activities” would not be targeted by the legislation, opposition parties, foreign businesses, and civil society groups expressed concerns about the law’s expansion of executive powers and potential impacts on the rights to freedom of expression, association, participation in public affairs, and privacy.
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 (owned by Temasek Holdings), SPH Radio (owned by SPH Media Limited), and So Drama! Entertainment (owned by the 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 Singaporean 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.
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, 30 foreign full-service licensees and 97 wholesale banks operated in Singapore. An additional 21 merchant banks were 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, there were 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 (Bank of America, Citibank, JP Morgan Chase Bank). 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 (Citibank). 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 performed 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).
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 Singaporean 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 FLP and SLP, 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 JLVs 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 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.
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 bookkeeping, accounting, taxation, 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.
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. In 2021, a number of the electricity retailers withdrew from selling electricity due to high natural gas prices globally, resulting in unfavorable market conditions.
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.
The OECD and UN 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 February. The 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)
As of June 2021, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) World Investment Report assessed how Singapore fared during the global COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent recovery. (https://unctad.org/system/files/official-document/wir2021_en.pdf)
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.
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
In May 2021, DBS Bank (DBS), SGX, Standard Chartered and Temasek started a joint venture to establish a global exchange and marketplace for high-quality carbon credits, called Climate Impact X (CIX).
In March, SGX and OCBC established a low-carbon index to analyze the top 50 free-float market capitalization companies based on fossil fuel engagement in an effort to improve sustainable financing. This index plans to exclude companies with high involvement in the fossil fuel sector.
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 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 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 United States in international comparisons according to the World Justice Project (http://worldjusticeproject.org/rule-of-law-index). The prescribed accounting standards for Singapore-incorporated companies applying to be listed in the public market 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 2021. 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).
Singapore was the 2018 chair of 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.
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’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 2021 Rule of Law Index by World Justice Project, it is ranked 17th in the world overall, third on order and security, fourth on regulatory enforcement, third in absence of corruption, eighth on civil justice, seventh on criminal justice, 32nd on constraints on government powers, 34th on open government, and 38th on fundamental rights. The judicial system remains independent of the executive branch and the executive does not interfere in judiciary matters.
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 entered into force in August 2018, establishes a comprehensive regulatory framework for cybersecurity. The act provides the Commissioner of Cyber Security with powers toinvestigate, 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, authorizing officers to enter premises, installing software, and taking 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 (October 2021), 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.”
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 USSFTA 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.
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.
Singapore has bankruptcy laws allowing both debtors and creditors to file a bankruptcy claim. 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 and entered into force in July 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
In 2021, the government announced a plan to deploy 60,000 Electric Vehicle (EV) charging points by 2030. The government anticipates 20,000 EVs will be located within private premises, while the remaining 40,000 will be in public parking areas. As part of this initiative, the government started the Vehicle Common Charger Grant to provide up to approximately $2,750 per charger for installations in non-commercial private developments that are accessible to the public.
The Energy Market Authority (EMA) released the “Charting the Energy Transition to 2050” report in March, which set out three decarbonization scenarios for Singapore’s power sector. The government planned to utilize public-private partnerships to develop low carbon hydrogen, geothermal, solar, and nuclear technologies in addition to electricity imports to reach net-zero carbon emissions by or around 2050.
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, NRF, and EDB) provide venture capital co-funding for startups and commercialization of intellectual property.
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 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 information technology providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption. The industry regulator is the IMDA.
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 continues to review 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 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
Property rights and interests are enforced in Singapore. Residents have access to mortgages and liens, with reliable recording of properties.
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. In 2020, MAS increased the asset encumbrance limit of a locally incorporated bank’s total assets from four percent to 10 percent. The banking industry has made suggestions to allow the use of covered bonds in repossession transactions with the central bank. http://www.mas.gov.sg/regulations/notices/notice-648
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. Singapore is the global hub for patent filing activity and innovation.
Effective January 1, 2020, all patent applications must be fully examined by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore 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 55 in the world in the 2022 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 2021, the index noted that piracy levels remain high for a developed, high-income economy. 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 2021 Special 301 Report, but Shopee, a Singapore-headquartered e-commerce company, is named in USTR’s 2021 Review of Notorious Markets. On the trade of counterfeit and pirated goods, stakeholders also continue to report dissatisfaction with enforcement in Singapore, including concerns about the lack of coordination between Singapore’s Customs authorities and the Singapore Police Force’s IPR Branch. 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
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 17 percent in 2020 to $3.3 trillion (4.7 trillion Singapore dollars (SGD)), according to MAS’s Singapore Asset Management Survey 2020.
The government facilitates the free flow of financial resources into product and factor markets, and the 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.
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 some 40 percent in 2021. 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.” The non-performing loans ratio (NPL ratio) of Singapore’s banking system was 3 percent in the third quarter of 2021.
Foreign banks require licenses to operate in the country. The tiered license system 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 – 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 to exchange the information.
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 $2.48 million in 2020 to $3.94 billion in 2021. 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 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).
The government 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 $600 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 2021, while Asia (excluding Japan) accounts for 26 percent, the Eurozone 9 percent, Japan 8 percent, and UK 5 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 2021, Temasek’s portfolio value reached $267 billion, and its asset exposure to Singapore is 24 percent; 40 percent in the rest of Asia, and 20 percent in Americas. 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 state-owned enterprises (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 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.
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 UN 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 Wildlife Fund (WWF) 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 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 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 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. 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 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 recommendations on combating of money laundering and terrorism financing.
Singapore plans to reach net-zero by or around mid-century but faces alternative energy diversification challenges in setting 2050 net-zero carbon emission targets. Singapore’s national climate strategy focuses on increased sustainability, carbon emissions reductions, fostering job and investment opportunities, and increasing climate resilience and food security https://www.greenplan.gov.sg/. According to the National Climate Change Secretariat, the government plans to spend approximately $750 million from 2019 to 2023 to support Singaporean companies become more energy efficient and improve competitiveness. A link to national mitigation strategies can be found here. https://www.nccs.gov.sg/faqs/mitigation-action/
The Energy Conservation Act requires large industry and transportation sector companies that consume more than 15 gigawatt-hours (or 54 terajoules) of energy per year to appoint an energy manager, monitor and report energy usage, submit plans for energy efficiency improvements to appropriate agencies, conduct energy assessments periodically to identify improvement opportunities, implement structured energy management systems, and ensure new or retrofitted energy intensive facilities are designed to be energy efficient.
Singapore actively enforces its strong anti-corruption laws, and corruption is not cited as a concern for foreign investors. Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perception Index ranks Singapore fourth of 180 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 FDI 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.
Contact at government agency or agencies are responsible for combating corruption:
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 92 regularly contested parliamentary seats. Singaporean opposition Workers’ Party, which currently holds nine regularly contested parliamentary seats, does not usually espouse views that are radically different from mainstream public opinion. The opposition Progress Singapore Party, which is represented in parliament since 2020 after winning two additional parliamentary seats reserved to the best performing losing candidates, advocates for more protectionist policies.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
In December 2021, Singapore’s labor market totaled 3.64 million workers; this includes about 1.24 million foreigners, of whom about 84 percent are basic skilled or semi-skilled workers. The overall unemployment rate was 2.3 percent as of January. 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. In 2020, females had an employment rate of 73.2 percent compared to males of 87.9 percent. Females accounted for 46.3 percent of the resident labor force as of June 2020. The Council for Board Diversity reported that as of December 2021, women’s representation on boards of the largest 100 companies listed on the Singapore Exchange increased over the previous year to 18.9 percent. Representation of women also increased on statutory boards to 29.7 percent but declined slightly on registered NGOs and charities to 28.4 percent. Singapore’s adjusted gender pay gap was 6 percent as of the most recent data in 2018 but occupational segregation continued.
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. The quota reduction does not apply to those on Employment Passes (EPs) which are high skilled workers making above $39,750 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 increased marginally with the partial reopening of borders after easing of COVID-19 restrictions but 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 10 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 latest budget, as well as an unprecedented number of supplementary budgets during the initial COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. 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, 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 EP and S Pass. MOM has increased minimum salaries multiple times, restricting the ability of some companies to hire foreign workers, including spouses of employment pass holders. From September 2023, it will be raised to $3,500 for new EP applicants ($3,850 for those in the financial services sector) and $2,100 for new S Pass applicants ($2,450 for those in the financial services sector). 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. It was announced in Budget 2022 that the DRC will be reduced from 87.5 percent to 83.3 percent from January 2024. 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 (FCF), 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.
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 its 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. 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 former minister in the Prime Minister’s Office. As of June, the NTUC had more than 1 million members. 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 Workplace 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 implemented in the cleaning, security, elevator maintenance, and landscape sectors and have been raised progressively. 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 and the Ministry of Home Affairs are responsible for combating labor trafficking and improving working conditions for workers, and generally enforce 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 their abilities to change employers without the consent of the current employer are limited. 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.
Under the 1966 Investment Guarantee Agreement with Singapore, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) (Now the Development Finance Corporation) 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 an 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, 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.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source*
USG or international statistical source
USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment
Outward Direct Investment
British Virgin Islands
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
14. Contact for More Information
Aw Wen Hao
27 Napier Road
Switzerland and Liechtenstein
Switzerland is welcoming to international investors, with a positive overall investment climate. The Swiss federal government enacts laws and regulations governing corporate structure, the financial system, and immigration, and concludes international trade and investment treaties. However, Switzerland’s 26 cantons (analogous to U.S. states) and largest municipalities have significant independence to shape investment policies locally, including incentives to attract investment. This federal approach has helped the Swiss maintain long-term economic and political stability, a transparent legal system, extensive and reliable infrastructure, efficient capital markets, and an excellent quality of life for the country’s 8.6 million inhabitants. Many U.S. firms base their European or regional headquarters in Switzerland, drawn to the country’s modest corporate tax rates, productive and multilingual workforce, and well-maintained infrastructure and transportation networks. U.S. companies also choose Switzerland as a gateway to markets in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and beyond. Furthermore, U.S. companies select Switzerland because of favorable and less restrictive labor laws compared to other European locations as well as availability of a skilled workforce.
In 2019, the World Economic Forum rated Switzerland the world’s fifth most competitive economy. This high ranking reflects the country’s sound institutional environment and high levels of technological and scientific research and development. With very few exceptions, Switzerland welcomes foreign investment, accords national treatment, and does not impose, facilitate, or allow barriers to trade. According to the OECD, Swiss public administration ranks high globally in output efficiency and enjoys the highest public confidence of any national government in the OECD. The country’s competitive economy and openness to investment brought Switzerland’s cumulative inward direct investment to USD 1.4 trillion in 2020 (latest available figures) according to the Swiss National Bank, although nearly half of this amount is invested in regional hubs or headquarters that further invest in other countries.
In order to address international criticism of tax incentives provided by Swiss cantons, the Federal Act on Tax Reform and Swiss Pension System Financing (TRAF) entered into force on January 1, 2020. TRAF obliges cantons to offer the same corporate tax rates to both Swiss and foreign companies, while allowing cantons to continue to set their own cantonal tax rates and offer incentives for corporate investment. These can be deductions or preferential tax treatment for certain types of income (such as for patents), or expenses (such as for research and development). Switzerland joined the Statement of the OECD/G20 Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Sharing (BEPS) in July 2021. It intends to implement the BEPS effective minimum corporate tax rate of 15 percent by January 2024, after a referendum to amend the Swiss constitution.
Personal income and corporate tax rates vary widely across Switzerland’s cantons. Effective corporate tax rates ranged between 11.85 and 21.04 percent in 2021, according to KPMG. In Zurich, for example, the combined effective corporate tax rate (including municipal, cantonal, and federal taxes),was 19.7 percent in 2021. The United States and Switzerland have a bilateral tax treaty.
Key sectors that have attracted significant investments in Switzerland include information technology, precision engineering, scientific instruments, pharmaceuticals, medical technology, and machine building. Switzerland hosts a significant number of startups. A new “blockchain act” came fully into force in August 2021, which is expected to benefit Switzerland’s already sizeable ecosystem for companies in blockchain and distributed ledger technologies.
There are no “forced localization” laws designed to require foreign investors to use domestic content in goods or technology (e.g., data storage within Switzerland). Switzerland follows strict privacy laws and certain personal data may not be collected in Switzerland.
Switzerland is a highly innovative economy with strong overall intellectual property protection. Switzerland enforces intellectual property rights linked to patents and trademarks effectively, and new amendments to the country’s Copyright Act to strengthen copyright enforcement on the internet came into force in April 2020.
There are some investment restrictions in areas under state monopolies, including certain types of public transportation, telecommunications, postal services, alcohol and spirits, aerospace and defense, certain types of insurance and banking services, and the trade in salt. The Swiss agricultural sector remains protected and heavily subsidized.
Liechtenstein’s investment conditions are identical in most key aspects to those in Switzerland, due to its integration into the Swiss economy. The two countries form a customs union, and Swiss authorities are responsible for implementing import and export regulations.
Both Liechtenstein and Switzerland are members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA, which also includes Iceland and Norway). EFTA is an intergovernmental trade organization and free trade area that operates in parallel with the European Union (EU). Liechtenstein participates in the EU single market through the European Economic Area (EEA), unlike Switzerland, which has opted for a set of bilateral agreements with the EU instead.
Liechtenstein has a stable and open economy employing 40,328 people in 2020 (latest figures available), exceeding its domestic population of 39,055 and requiring a substantial number of foreign workers. In 2020, 70.6 percent of the Liechtenstein workforce were foreigners, mainly Swiss, Austrians and Germans, most of whom commute daily to Liechtenstein. Liechtenstein was granted an exception to the EU’s Free Movement of People Agreement, enabling the country not to grant residence permits to its workers.
Liechtenstein is one of the world’s wealthiest countries. Liechtenstein’s gross domestic product per capita amounted to USD 162,558 in 2019 (latest data available). According to the Liechtenstein Statistical Yearbook, the services sector, particularly in finance, accounts for 63 percent of Liechtenstein’s jobs, followed by the manufacturing sector (particularly mechanical engineering, machine tools, precision instruments, and dental products), which employs 36 percent of the workforce. Agriculture accounts for less than one percent of the country’s employment.
Liechtenstein’s corporate tax rate, at 12.5 percent, is one of the lowest in Europe. Capital gains, inheritance, and gift taxes have been abolished. The Embassy has no recorded complaints from U.S. investors stemming from market restrictions in Liechtenstein. The United States and Liechtenstein do not have a bilateral income tax treaty.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
With the exception of its agricultural sector, foreign investment into Switzerland is generally not hampered by significant barriers, with no reported discrimination against foreign investors or foreign-owned investments. Incidents of trade discrimination do exist, for example with regards to agricultural goods such as bovine genetics products.
A Swiss government-affiliated non-profit organization, Switzerland Global Enterprise (S-GE), has a nationwide mandate to attract foreign business to Switzerland on behalf of the Swiss Confederation. S-GE promotes Switzerland as an economic hub and fosters exports, imports, and investments. Some city and cantonal governments offer access to an ombudsman, who may address a wide variety of issues involving individuals and the government, but does not focus exclusively on investment issues.
Foreign and domestic enterprises may freely establish, acquire, and dispose of interests in business enterprises in Switzerland. In August 2021, the Swiss government released a broad framework for a future foreign direct investment (FDI) screening regime. A draft bill is expected to be issued for public consultation in 2022. The bill is expected to focus on any mergers or acquisitions by foreign interests, but with a particular focus on foreign state-owned or state-related investors, regardless of the sector involved. For foreign private-sector investors, no list has been published indicating any specific sectors that would be subject to mandatory reporting and approval.
There are some investment restrictions in areas under state monopolies, including certain types of public transportation, postal services, alcohol and spirits, aerospace and defense, certain types of insurance and banking services, and the trade in salt. Restrictions (in the form of domicile requirements) also exist in air and maritime transport, hydroelectric and nuclear power, operation of oil and gas pipelines, and the transportation of explosive materials. Additionally, the following legal restrictions apply within Switzerland:
Corporate boards: A company registered in Switzerland must be represented by at least one person domiciled in Switzerland. This can be either a member of the board of directors or a member of the executive board (article 718 para. 4 of the Code of Obligations). Foreign-controlled companies often meet this requirement by nominating Swiss directors. However, the manager of a company need not be a Swiss citizen, and company shares may be controlled by foreigners. Further, since January 1, 2021, larger publicly listed companies headquartered in Switzerland must fill at least 30 percent of their board positions with women. Companies have five years to meet this requirement, otherwise they will be required to state the reasons and outline planned remediation measures in their compensation report to shareholders. The establishment of a commercial presence by persons or enterprises without legal status under Swiss law requires a cantonal establishment authorization. These requirements do not generally pose a major hardship or impediment for U.S. investors.
Hostile takeovers: Swiss corporate equity can be issued in the form of either registered shares (in the name of the holder) or bearer shares. Provided the shares are not listed on a stock exchange, Swiss companies may, in their articles of incorporation, impose certain restrictions on the transfer of registered shares to prevent hostile takeovers by foreign or domestic companies (article 685a of the Code of Obligations). Hostile takeovers can also be annulled by public companies under certain circumstances. The company must cite in its statutes significant justification (relevant to the survival, conduct, and purpose of its business) to prevent or hinder a takeover by a foreign entity. Furthermore, public corporations may limit the number of registered shares that can be held by any shareholder to a percentage of the issued registered stock. Under the public takeover provisions of the 2015 Federal Act on Financial Market Infrastructures and Market Conduct in Securities and Derivatives Trading and its 2019 amendments, a formal notification is required when an investor purchases more than three percent of a Swiss company’s shares. An “opt-out” clause is available for firms that do not want to be taken over by a hostile bidder, but such opt-outs must be approved by a super-majority of shareholders and must take place well in advance of any takeover attempt.
Banking: Those wishing to establish banking operations in Switzerland must obtain prior approval from the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA), a largely independent agency administered under the Swiss Federal Department of Finance. FINMA promotes confidence in financial markets and works to protect customers, creditors, and investors. FINMA approval of bank operations is generally granted if the following conditions are met: reciprocity on the part of the foreign state; the foreign bank’s name must not give the impression that the bank is Swiss; the bank must adhere to Swiss monetary and credit policy; and a majority of the bank’s management must have their permanent residence in Switzerland. Otherwise, foreign banks are subject to the same regulatory requirements as domestic banks.
Banks organized under Swiss law must inform FINMA before they open a branch, subsidiary, or representation abroad. Foreign or domestic investors must inform FINMA before acquiring or disposing of a qualified majority of shares of a bank organized under Swiss law. If exceptional temporary capital outflows threaten monetary policy, the Swiss National Bank, the country’s independent central bank, may require other institutions to seek approval before selling foreign bonds or other financial instruments.
Insurance: A federal ordinance requires the placement of all risks physically situated in Switzerland with companies located in the country. Therefore, it is necessary for foreign insurers wishing to provide liability coverage in Switzerland to establish a subsidiary or branch in-country.
U.S. investors have not identified any specific restrictions that create market access challenges for foreign investors.Other Investment Policy Reviews
The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) September 2017 Trade Policy Review of Switzerland and Liechtenstein includes investment information. Other reports containing elements referring to the investment climate in Switzerland include the OECD Economic Survey of January 2022.
The Swiss government-affiliated non-profit organization Switzerland Global Enterprise (SGE) has a mandate to attract foreign business to Switzerland on behalf of the Swiss Confederation. SGE promotes Switzerland as an economic hub and fosters exports, imports, and investments. Larger regional offices include the Greater Geneva-Berne Area (which covers large parts of Western Switzerland), the Greater Zurich Area, and the Basel Area. Cantonal and regional Chambers of Commerce provide similar support. Each canton has a business promotion office dedicated to helping facilitate real estate location, beneficial tax arrangements, and employee recruitment plans. These regional and cantonal investment promotion agencies do not require a minimum investment or job-creation threshold in order to provide assistance. However, these offices generally focus resources on attracting medium-sized or larger entities with the potential to create higher numbers of jobs in their region.
The Swiss government’s online portal (“easygov”) is Switzerland’s online registration website and includes links to the main local interlocutors for business related questions: https://www.easygov.swiss/easygov/#/
Switzerland has a dual system for granting work permits and allowing foreigners to create their own companies in Switzerland. Employees who are citizens of the EU/EFTA area can benefit from the EU Free Movement of Persons Agreement. Permits for people from countries outside the EU/EFTA area, such as U.S. citizens, are restricted to highly qualified personnel. U.S. citizens who want to become self-employed in Switzerland must meet Swiss labor market requirements. The criteria for admittance, which usually do not create unusual hindrances for U.S. persons, are contained in:
Setting up a company in Switzerland requires registration at the relevant cantonal Commercial Registry. The cost for registering a company can range considerably, from a few hundred Swiss francs in the case of sole proprietorships or joint partnerships, to higher registration costs for limited liability companies or corporations. A list of Swiss federal fees generally applied for small and medium-sized companies is available at https://www.kmu.admin.ch/kmu/en/home/concrete-know-how/setting-up-sme/starting-business/commercial-register%20/registration-costs.html. However, additional cantonal fees can add significantly to total registration costs, and Public Notary fees may also be necessary, which can also vary considerably by canton.
Other steps/procedures for registration include: 1) placing paid-in capital in an escrow account with a bank; 2) drafting articles of association in the presence of a notary public; 3) filing a deed certifying the articles of association with the local commercial register to obtain a legal entity registration; 4) paying the stamp tax at a post office or bank after receiving an assessment by mail; 5) registering for VAT; and 6) enrolling employees in the social insurance system (federal and cantonal authorities).
While Switzerland does not explicitly promote or incentivize outward investment, Switzerland’s export promotion agency Switzerland Global Enterprise facilitates overseas market entry for Swiss companies through its Swiss Business Hubs in several countries, including the United States. Switzerland does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.
3. Legal Regime
The Swiss government uses transparent policies and effective laws to foster a competitive investment climate. Proposed laws and regulations are open for three-month public comment from interested parties, interest groups, cantons, and cities before being discussed within the bicameral parliament or promulgated by the appropriate regulatory authority. Authorities take comments into account carefully, particularly since proposals may be subject to optional or automatic referenda that allow Swiss voters to reject or accept the proposals. Only in rare instances – such as the case of the extension of a moratorium until 2025 on planting GMO crops – are regulations reviewed on the basis of political or customer preferences rather than solely on the basis of scientific analysis.
Switzerland is not a member of the European Union. However, Switzerland adopts many EU standards in line with a series of agreements with the EU.
The WTO concluded in 2017 that Switzerland has regularly notified its draft technical regulations, ordinances, and conformity assessment procedures to the WTO TBT Committee. Switzerland has been a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) since 2015.
Swiss civil law is codified in the Swiss Civil Code (which governs the status of individuals, family law, inheritance law, and property law) and in the Swiss Code of Obligations (which governs contracts, torts, commercial law, company law, law of checks and other payment instruments). Switzerland’s civil legal system is divided into public and private law. Public law governs the organization of the state, as well as the relationships between the state and private individuals or other entities, such as companies. Constitutional law, administrative law, tax law, criminal law, criminal procedure, public international law, civil procedure, debt enforcement, and bankruptcy law are sub-divisions of public law. Private law governs relationships among individuals or entities. Intellectual property law (copyright, patents, trademarks, etc.) is an area of private law. Labor is governed by both private and public law.
All cantons have a high court, which includes a specialized commercial court in four cantons (Zurich, Bern, St. Gallen and Aargau). The organization of the judiciary differs by canton; smaller cantons have only one court, while larger cantons have multiple courts. Cantonal high court decisions can be appealed to the Swiss Supreme Court. The court system is independent, competent, and fair.
Switzerland is party to a number of bilateral and multilateral treaties governing the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments. The Lugano Convention, a multilateral treaty tying Switzerland to European legal conventions, entered into force in 2011 (replacing an older legal framework by the same name). A set of bilateral treaties is also in place to handle judgments of specific foreign courts. While no such agreement is in place between the United States and Switzerland, Switzerland operates under the New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Law, meaning local courts must enforce international arbitration awards under specific circumstances.
The major laws governing foreign investment in Switzerland are the Swiss Code of Obligations, the Lex Friedrich/Koller, Switzerland’s Securities Law, the Cartel Law and the Financial Market Infrastructure Act. There is currently no specific screening of foreign investment beyond a normal anti-trust review. However, Parliament instructed the Federal Council to prepare a foreign investment screening mechanism in March 2020. The Federal Council decided on the basic tenets of Switzerland’s future investment screening mechanism in August 2021, and a draft law is expected to go to Parliament in 2022, with the earliest potential date for entry into force in 2023. There are few sectoral or geographic incentives or restrictions; exceptions are described below in the section on performance requirements and incentives.
There is no pronounced interference in the court system that should affect foreign investors.
The Swiss Competition Commission and the Swiss Takeover Board review competition-related concerns, and regularly decide on questions concerning mergers, market access, abuse of market position, and other matters affecting competitive advantage. In May and July 2021, the Competition Commission decided on cases involving collusive behavior in public and private tenders in the field of electrical installation and maintenance, and fined Ford Credit Switzerland for unlawful coordination of leasing conditions. The Competition Commission found an amicable conclusion with a German tobacco producer which colluded with several European partners distributors export pans to Switzerland.
Decisions by the Swiss Competition Commission may be appealed to the Federal Administrative Court, those by the Swiss Takeover Board to the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA).
A revision to the Swiss Cartel Act came into force in January 2022, regarding the conduct of companies with relative market power, the freedom of powerful companies to set prices, and geo-blocking practices applies. Under the revised law, all Swiss competition law rules against the abuse of a dominant position will apply not only to dominant companies, but also to companies with relative market power. A new category of abusive pricing by dominant companies and companies with relative market power was also introduced. Further, the geo-blocking of Swiss customers in distance selling and e-commerce is now prohibited.
There are no known cases of expropriation within Switzerland.
Switzerland’s bankruptcy law, the Federal Act on Debt Enforcement and Bankruptcy of 11 April 1889 (in German, French and Italian), does not criminalize bankruptcy. Under the bankruptcy law, the same rights and obligations apply to foreign and Swiss contract holders. Swiss authorities provide information about Swiss residents and companies regarding debts registered with the debt collection register.
The Swiss Federal Statute on Private International Law (PILS, Art. 166-175, in force since January 1, 1989) governs Swiss recognition of foreign insolvency proceedings, including bankruptcies, foreign composition, and arrangements. Swiss law requires reciprocity for recognition of foreign insolvency.
4. Industrial Policies
Many of Switzerland’s cantons make significant use of financial incentives to attract investment to their jurisdictions. Some of the more forward-leaning cantons have in the past waived taxes for new firms for up to ten years. However, after criticism by the OECD and European Union, the Federal Council proposed tax reform measures to create an internationally compliant, competitive tax system that became known as “Tax Reform and AHV Financing” (TRAF), which entered into force in January 2020. TRAF obliged Swiss cantons to offer the same corporate tax rates to both Swiss and foreign companies, while allowing cantons to continue to set their own cantonal rates and offer incentives for corporate investment. This can be deductions and preferential tax treatment for certain types of income, such as patents, or expenses, such as research and development.
In its latest locational quality survey in 2021, Credit Suisse noted that many cantons offer attractive tax rates, and that the relative advantage of low corporate tax rates between cantons has declined. Under TRAF, effective tax rates of between 12 and 15 percent including municipal, cantonal and federal tax can be expected in most cantons, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. In Zurich, which is sometimes used as a reference point for corporate location tax calculations within Switzerland due to its role as a prominent business center, the combined effective corporate tax rate stood at 19.7% in 2021. The implementation of the OECD/G20 corporate global minimum tax rate of 15%, planned to come in force in Switzerland in January 2024, would decrease Switzerland’s relative tax advantage even further. The Swiss government estimates that 3,000-4,000 companies based in Switzerland would be affected, including 250 Swiss-owned companies. Although countries are likely to have some differences in how they calculate corporate profits, a number of Swiss cantons could come under pressure to raise their corporate tax rates once the measure comes into force. Personal income tax rates may also vary widely across the 26 cantons.
Producers of renewable electricity (wind, solar, geothermal and biomass) may benefit from various subsidies, e.g. feed-in tariffs for electricity production, or investment subsidies covering a certain percentage of the investment costs. Large-scale hydropower plants may benefit from special subsidies and other support. Further subsidies are available for geothermal exploration projects, and for the improvement of energy efficiency and ecological rehabilitation. Subsidies for large-scale solar plants are under review in Parliament.
Switzerland’s free ports remain an important hub particularly for art works and collectibles from all over the world. The country has taken steps in recent years to strengthen anti-money laundering measures and minimize the risks of abuse in free ports, to ensure that processes are in line with international standards.
Switzerland does not mandate local employment, but the work of foreign nationals is subject to work permit regulations. Employees who are citizens of the EU/EFTA area can benefit from the EU Free Movement of Persons Agreement. Permits for people from countries outside the EU/EFTA area, such as U.S. citizens, are restricted to highly qualified personnel.
There are no “forced localization” laws designed to require foreign investors to use domestic content in goods or technology (e.g. data storage within Switzerland). In a June 2017 court decision regarding a 2014 Federal Council decision to exclude a foreign competitor from bidding on services related to the government’s critical infrastructure, the court ruled in favor of the Swiss state-owned enterprise involved in the bid. U.S. companies have to date not voiced concerns.
Switzerland follows strict privacy laws and certain data may not be collected in Switzerland, as it is deemed personal and “worthy of protection.” The collection of certain data may need to be registered at the office of the Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner. Some foreign companies have located data centers in Switzerland due to the country’s strict privacy rules and neutrality. In April 2018, FINMA published an outsourcing circular clarifying regulations for data storage for the banking and insurance sector at: https://www.finma.ch/en/documentation/circulars/.
On September 8, 2020, the Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner (FDPIC) of Switzerland issued an opinion concluding that the Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield Framework does not provide an adequate level of protection for data transfers from Switzerland to the United States pursuant to Switzerland’s Federal Act on Data Protection (FADP). Privacy Shield had provided a framework for companies in both countries since 2017 to comply with data protection requirements when transferring personal data from Switzerland to the United States in support of transatlantic commerce. The Swiss action followed a July 2020 judgment by the Court of Justice of the European Union declaring in the Schrems II case as “invalid” the European Commission’s Decision 2016/1250 of 12 July 2016 on the adequacy of the protection provided by the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield. As a result of the FDPIC opinion, organizations wishing to rely on the Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield to transfer personal data from Switzerland to the United States should seek guidance from the FDPIC or legal counsel. Like the EU decision, the FDPIC left open the possibility of data transfers under the EU’s standard contractual clauses. The United States and the European Union announced in March 2022 that they had agreed in principle on a new Trans-Atlantic Data Privacy Framework to foster trans-Atlantic data flows and address the concerns raised by the Court of Justice of the European Union. The Trans-Atlantic Data Privacy Framework will have a strong impact on a new U.S.-Swiss data privacy framework as well.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Physical property rights are recognized and enforced within Switzerland. Restrictions on the acquisition of real estate by persons abroad are regulated in the Federal Law on the Acquisition of Real Property by Persons Abroad (Permit Act) and the Permit Ordinance. In general, persons abroad require a permit from the competent cantonal authority to acquire real estate. However, not all foreign nationals require a permit; the decisive factor is the nationality, and in some circumstances also the residence status of the foreign person. EU/EFTA nationals and cross-border commuters do not need a permit. Third-country nationals with a residence permit in Switzerland only need a permit for the purchase of second homes or properties for rent.
U.S. citizens resident in Switzerland can face obstacles opening obtaining a mortgage. In Switzerland, mortgages may be contingent on whether or not the applicant can obtain a life insurance policy, but U.S. citizens have reported that insurance companies scrutinize applications involving U.S. citizens in great detail due to potential liabilities. This creates additional burdens on mortgage lenders, which may as a result refuse mortgages services to U.S. citizens or offer them at significantly higher rates.
Squatting is considered trespassing according to Art. 186 of the Swiss Criminal Code. A partial revision of the Civil Code and the Code of Civil Procedure with the aim of improving the protection of property owners and facilitating expulsions in cases of unlawful squatting is ongoing. Substantial and procedural amendments to the law are pending Parliamentary review and approval.
A revision of the Swiss Copyright Act came into force on April 1, 2020, intending to address specific difficulties in Switzerland’s system of online copyright protection and provisions to facilitate civil and criminal enforcement, particularly regarding online infringement. It is now allowed to collect internet protocol (IP) addresses, and the revision also implemented a “take down and stay down” provision. The United States is monitoring the implementation, interpretation, and effectiveness of the newly enacted legislation. In addition, cable TV operators and broadcasters reached an agreement in May 2021 on a tariff for time-shifting services, which came into force on January 1, 2022.
Federal customs authorities in Switzerland have the authority to seize counterfeit goods, upon request from the IPR holder or from related interest groups (e.g. professional associations). Goods can be seized for 10 days if there is reasonable suspicion that they are counterfeit. Provisional measures can also be obtained from a Swiss court to ensure evidence is not destroyed. If the destruction of goods is requested by an IPR holder, the owner of the goods can dispute that claim in writing within 10 days. The boom in online trade and tighter border controls during the health crisis have led to a major increase in the number of counterfeit goods seized by federal customs. In 2021, Swiss Customs conducted 5,959 interventions to seize counterfeit commercial goods, up 34 percent from the number of cases in 2020. After travel restrictions eased again, the number of items seized increased again to 33,285 in 2021 from 18,788 in 2020 , most of which were counterfeit bags and watches. In 2021, a total of 11,263 consignments of unauthorized pharmaceuticals were seized, the large majority of which were unauthorized erectile dysfunction medications.
The Swiss government’s attitude toward foreign portfolio investment and market structures is positive, resulting in high global rankings by many indices.
The SIX Swiss stock exchange based in Zurich is a significant international stock market based on market capitalization.
Switzerland is home to a sophisticated banking system that provides a high degree of service to both foreign and domestic entities. Switzerland also has an effective regulatory system that encourages and facilitates portfolio investment. The Swiss Bankers Association, which has nearly 300-member financial institutions, estimated that Switzerland’s banking sector managed assets amounting to approximately USD 8.4 trillion in 2020. Switzerland is the global market leader in cross-border private banking, accounting for a quarter of all cross-border assets under management worldwide. The largest banks, UBS and Credit Suisse, have total assets of approximately USD 1 trillion and USD 826 million, respectively, while Raiffeisen Switzerland holds about USD 260 billion and Zurich Cantonal Bank holds roughly USD 209 billion. Switzerland’s independent central bank is the Swiss National Bank (SNB).
U.S. citizens who are resident in Switzerland may face difficulties in opening bank accounts at Swiss banks, as some banks seek to avoid the administrative costs of complying with additional regulatory and administrative procedures required for the accounts of U.S. persons under accepted disclosure rules. Many banks, especially smaller ones, assess that the additional compliance costs involved with U.S. citizens exceed the potential benefit they would receive from U.S. accountholder business. As a result, these banks offer limited or no services to U.S. citizens.
U.S.-owned companies have also reported that Swiss banks treat them unequally as compared to companies owned by shareholders of other nationalities. One multinational corporation reported that its Swiss subsidiary has long held a corporate account in Switzerland, but the bank was unwilling to set up a business account for its U.S. parent company. In another case, a consortium of international citizens resident in Switzerland, including U.S. citizens, purchased a Swiss company, but reported that the Swiss company’s bank refused to maintain its corporate account as long as there were U.S. citizen shareholders.
In 2018, the Swiss government created a blockchain task force and endorsed a report on the legal framework for blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) in the financial sector, with the goal of creating favorable conditions for Switzerland to evolve as a leading location for fintech and DLT companies while maintaining anti-money laundering controls. The new “blockchain act,” consisting of company law reforms came into force in February 2021, while legislation on financial market infrastructure upgrades came into force in August 2021. This opens the doors to a fully regulated cryptocurrency and digital securities industry in Switzerland. There are now a wide range of companies in Switzerland that can create and list DLT-compatible digital securities. . In September 2021, for the first time a license was issued in Switzerland for infrastructure to facilitate the trading of digital securities in the form of tokens and their integrated settlement. SIX Digital Exchange AG was authorized to act as a central securities depository, and the associated company SDX Trading AG to act as a stock exchange.
Switzerland does not have a sovereign wealth fund or an asset management bureau.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
The Swiss Confederation is the largest or sole shareholder in Switzerland’s five state-owned enterprises (SOEs), active in the areas of ground transportation (SBB), information and communication (Swiss Post, Swisscom), defense (RUAG, which was divided into two companies in January 2020 – see below), and aviation / air traffic control (Skyguide). These companies are typically responsible for “public function mandates,” but may also cover commercial activities (e.g., Swisscom in the area of telecommunications).
These SOEs typically have commercial relationships with private industry. Private sector competitors can compete with the SOEs under the same terms and conditions with respect to access to markets, credit, and other business operations. Additional publicly owned enterprises are controlled by the cantons in the areas of energy, water supply, and a number of subsectors. SOEs and canton-owned companies may benefit from exclusive rights and privileges (some of which are listed in Table A 3.2 of the most recent WTO Trade Policy Review – https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp455_e.htm).
Switzerland is a party to the WTO Government Procurement Agreement (GPA). Some areas are partly or fully exempted from the GPA, such as the management of drinking water, energy, transportation, telecommunications, and defense. Private companies may encounter difficulties gaining business in these exempted sectors.
In the aftermath of a 2016 cyberattack, the Federal Council reviewed Swiss defense and aerospace company RUAG’s structure in light of cybersecurity concerns for the Swiss military, and decided in June 2018 to split the company. RUAG was split into two holding companies as of January 1, 2020. A smaller company, MRO Switzerland, remains state-owned and provides essential technology and systems support to the Swiss military. A larger company, RUAG International, includes non-armaments aviation and aerospace businesses, and will be gradually fully privatized in the medium term, according to the Swiss government.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
The Swiss Confederation and Swiss companies are generally aware of the importance of pursuing due diligence to responsible business conduct (RBC) and demonstrating corporate social responsibility (CSR). In response to criticism from civil society about the business practices of Swiss companies abroad, the Swiss government commissioned a series of reports on the government’s role in ensuring CSR, particularly in the commodities sector, and in December 2016 published a national action plan in conjunction with its commitments under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (https://www.admin.ch/gov/en/start/documentation/media-releases.msg-id-64884.html). In June 2017, the Swiss government concluded that Switzerland promotes voluntary principles, such as the upholding of human rights standards, and also supports including mandatory CSR market incentives, such as minimum conditions for the protection of workers abroad, in forthcoming legislation. In January 2020, the Swiss government approved the CSR Action Plan 2020-2023, which covers sixteen measures – particularly promoting sustainability reporting and due diligence by companies, stakeholder dialogue, and the alignment of private section CSR instruments with the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.
In November 2020, a referendum known as the “Responsible Business Initiative,” which would have placed new obligations on Swiss companies to protect human rights and the environment internationally, was narrowly rejected by Swiss voters. Instead, a proposal of Parliament came into force in January 2022, obliging covered companies to report on environmental and labor issues, human rights and the fight against corruption and to exercise due diligence with regard to conflict minerals and child labor. After a one-year transition period, the new reporting obligations will apply as of 2023, and companies will submit their first reports in2024. Also, Swiss companies involved in minerals extraction abroad are required to source all minerals in compliance with international labor standards and applicable environmental laws, and must report on measures to ensure their international activities do not involve or support child labor.
In March 2021, Swiss voters approved a free trade agreement between Indonesia and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), of which Switzerland is a member. The agreement requires that any palm oil imported under preferential tariffs be produced sustainably. This is said to be the first-ever agreement of its type that links trade preferences to sustainable methods of production.
Switzerland ranked 3rd out of 180 countries in the 2020 Yale University-based Environmental Performance Index (EPI).
The Swiss government implements the OECD Due Diligence Guide for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict and High-Risk Areas. Switzerland is a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and supports the Better Gold Initiative, which promotes responsible gold mining in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. Switzerland’s Point of Contact for the OECD Guidelines at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) may be contacted at: https://mneguidelines.oecd.org/ncps/switzerland.htm. Information about the Swiss Better Gold Association is available at: https://www.swissbettergold.ch.
Switzerland has signed a number of nonbinding agreements outlining best practices for corporations, including the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights and the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers. The latter was the result of a multi-stakeholder initiative launched by Switzerland.
Switzerland is also a signatory state of the Montreux Document, a non-binding instrument on the obligations of states under international law with regard to the activities of private military and security companies.
In 2019, Switzerland set a 2050 target for net-zero emissions, and in January 2021 it adopted a corresponding Long-Term Climate Strategy, which sets out climate policy guidelines up to 2050 and establishes strategic targets for key sectors. The strategy presents development scenarios and strategic targets up to 2050 for the buildings, industry, transport, agricultural and food sectors, financial markets, aviation, and the waste industry. Additionally, in February 2020, Switzerland updated and enhanced its nationally determined contribution (NDC) to reflect the latest findings by the IPCC indicating a need to reduce global CO2 emissions by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and to achieve full carbon neutrality by 2050 in order to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
In June 2021, the Swiss population rejected a revision of the country’s CO2 Act in a referendum. The revised Act aimed to further reduce CO2 output in Switzerland by at least 50% by 2030 in line with the commitments made under the Paris Climate Agreement. However, observers believe the Act was rejected because it relied strongly on new taxes on fossil fuels, which were argued to disproportionately affect residents of rural areas. The Federal Council introduced a new revision of the CO2 Act to parliament in December 2021, relying more on incentives investments rather than taxes.
In August 2021, the Federal Council set the parameters for future binding disclosure requirements in line with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). Public companies, banks, and insurance companies with 500 or more employees more than CHF 20 million (USD 2.13 million) in total assets, or more than CHF 40 million ($4.25 million) in turnover will be required to publicly report on all climate issues. A draft law should be prepared by mid-2022. The Swiss government also issued guidance that asset managers should publish their methodology and strategy for weighing climate and environmental risks when managing clients’ assets.
Switzerland currently ranks 5 out of 34 countries in ITIF’s Global Energy Innovation Index, and 19 out of 76 countries in MIT’s Technology Review’s Green Future Index. Switzerland currently ranks 8 out of 29 European countries in the Global Green Growth Index of the Global Green Growth Institute.
Switzerland is ranked 7th of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2021, reflecting low perceptions of corruption in society. Under Swiss law, officials are not to accept anything that would “challenge their independence and capacity to act.” In case of non-compliance the law foresees criminal penalties, including imprisonment for up to five years, for official corruption, and the government generally implements these laws effectively. The bribery of public officials is governed by the Swiss Criminal Code (Art. 322), while the bribery of private individuals is governed by the Federal Law Against Unfair Competition. The law defines as granting an “undue advantage” either in exchange for a specific act, or in some cases for future behavior not related to a specific act. Some officials may receive small gifts valued at no more than CHF 200 or CHF 300 for an entire year, which are not seen as “undue.” However, officials in some fields, such as financial regulators, may receive no advantages at all. Transparency International has recommended that a maximum sum should be set at the federal level.
Investigating and prosecuting government corruption is a federal responsibility. A majority of cantons require members of cantonal parliaments to disclose their interests. A joint working group comprising representatives of various federal government agencies works under the leadership of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs to combat corruption. Some multinational companies have set up internal hotlines to enable staff to report problems anonymously.
Switzerland ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2009. Swiss government experts believe this ratification did not result in significant domestic changes, since passive and active corruption of public servants was already considered a crime under the Swiss Criminal Code.
A review by the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) in 2017 recommended the adoption of a code of ethics/conduct, together with awareness-raising measures, for members of the federal parliament, judges, and the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to avoid conflict of interests. These measures needed to be accompanied by a reinforced monitoring of members of parliament’s compliance with their obligations. In March 2018, the OECD Working Group on Bribery in International Business Transactions recommended that Switzerland adopt an appropriate legal framework to protect private sector whistleblowers from discrimination and disciplinary action, to ensure that sanctions imposed for foreign bribery against natural and legal persons are effective, proportionate, and dissuasive, and to ensure broader and more systematic publication of concluded foreign bribery cases. The OECD Working Group positively highlighted Switzerland’s proactive policy on seizure and confiscation, its active involvement in mutual legal assistance, and its role as a promoter of cooperation in field of foreign bribery. Regarding detection, the OECD Working Group commended the key role played by the Swiss Financial Intelligence Unit (MROS) in detecting foreign bribery.
A number of Swiss federal administrative authorities are involved in combating bribery. The Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) deals with issues relating to the OECD Convention. The Federal Office of Justice deals with those relating to the Council of Europe Convention, while the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (MFA) deals with the UN Convention. The power to prosecute and judge corruption offenses is shared between the relevant Swiss canton and the federal government. For the federal government, the competent authorities are the Office of the Attorney General, the Federal Criminal Court, and the Federal Police. In the cantons, the relevant actors are the cantonal judicial authorities and the cantonal police forces.
In 2001, Switzerland signed the Council of Europe’s Criminal Law Convention on Corruption. In 1997, Switzerland signed the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, which entered into force in 2000. Switzerland signed the UN Convention against Corruption in 2003. Switzerland ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention in 2009.
In order to implement the Council of Europe convention, the Swiss parliament amended the Penal Code to make bribery of foreign public officials a federal offense (Title Nineteen “Bribery”); these amendments entered into force in 2000. In accordance with the revised 1997 OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, the Swiss parliament amended legislation as of 2001 on direct taxes of the Confederation, cantons, and townships to prohibit the tax deductibility of bribes.
Switzerland maintains an effective legal and policy framework to combat domestic corruption. U.S. firms investing in Switzerland have not raised with the Embassy any corruption concerns in recent years.
“Watchdog” Organization Contact:
Transparency International Switzerland
P.O. Box 8509
3001 Bern / Switzerland
Ph. +41 31 382 3550
10. Political and Security Environment
There is minimal risk from civil unrest in Switzerland. Protests do occur in Switzerland, but authorities carefully monitor protest activities. Urban areas regularly experience demonstrations, mostly on global trade and political issues, and some occasionally sparked by U.S. foreign policy. Protests held during the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) occasionally draw participants from several countries in Europe. Historically, demonstrations have been peaceful, with protestors registering for police permits. Protestors have blocked traffic; spray-painted areas with graffiti, and on rare occasions, clashed with police. Political extremist or anarchist groups sometimes instigate civil unrest. Right-wing activists have targeted refugees/asylum seekers/foreigners, and more recently have organized protests against COVID-19 restrictions. Meanwhile, left-wing activists (who historically have demonstrated a greater propensity toward violence) usually target organizations involved with globalization, alleged fascism, and alleged police repression. Swiss police have at their disposal tear gas and water cannons, which are rarely used.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
The Swiss labor force is highly educated and highly skilled. The Swiss economy is capital intensive and geared toward high value-added products and services. In 2021, 77.2 percent of the workforce was employed in services, 20.4 percent in manufacturing, and 2.4 percent in agriculture. Full-time work compared to part-time work is more prevalent among foreign workers than among Swiss workers: 40.4 percent of the Swiss population works part-time, compared to 27.8 percent of the foreign working population. Part-time work is three times more common among women than men. Wages in Switzerland are among the highest in the world. Switzerland continues to observe International Labor Organization (ILO) core conventions. Government regulations cover maximum work hours, minimum length of holidays, sick leave, compulsory military service, contract termination, and other requirements. There is no federal minimum wage law.
Foreigners fill not only low-skilled, low-wage jobs, but also highly technical positions in the manufacturing and service industries. In 2021, foreigners account for 26.4 percent of Switzerland’s labor force estimated at about 4.7 million people. Many foreign nationals are long-time Swiss residents who have not applied for or been granted Swiss citizenship. Foreign seasonal workers take many lower-wage jobs in agriculture. Switzerland has one of the smallest informal economies in Europe, accounting for approximately 6% of GDP since 2016.
In the wake of a 2014 referendum to impose limits on immigration, the government introduced a series of measures aimed at bringing traditionally underemployed groups into the labor market – women, older job seekers, refugees, and temporarily accepted asylum seekers. In 2018 the Federal Council implemented a parliamentary decision that companies in sectors with more than 5 percent unemployment provide information on job openings to government-run employment centers, which make the openings available to cross-border commuters and EU nationals as well.
Trade union density – the percentage of the workforce represented by trade unions – is on the decline in Switzerland, according to OECD data. From over 20 percent in 2000, trade union density had fallen to 14.4 percent by 2018, according to the OECD (latest data available). Labor-management relations are generally constructive, with a general willingness on both sides to settle disputes by negotiation rather than labor action. According to the Federal Office of Statistics, some 581 collective agreements were in force in Switzerland in March 2018 (latest data available). Of these, approximately 64 percent concern the services sector, 34 percent the manufacturing sector, and one percent the agricultural sector; these are usually renewed without major difficulties. Trade unions continue to promote a wider coverage of collective agreements for the Swiss labor force. Although the number of workdays lost to strikes in Switzerland is among the lowest in the OECD, Swiss trade unions have encouraged workers to strike on several occasions in recent years. A general prohibition on strikes by Swiss public servants was repealed in 2000, although restrictions remain in place in a few cantons. The Federal Council may now only restrict or prohibit the right to strike where it affects the security of the state, external relations, or the supply of vital goods to the country.
In difficult economic times, employers may temporarily shift full-time employees to part-time by registering with cantonal authorities and justifying reductions as necessary to business activities. This practice, known as Kurzarbeit (“short-time work”), allows for the government to make partial salary payments through the unemployment insurance fund. Employees can reject the shift to part-time work, but risk dismissal in that case. Kurzarbeit became widespread with the onset of the COVD-19 crisis and the temporary shutdown of wide segments of the Swiss economy in 2020. By October 2021 this was drastically reduced to 48,264 affected employees from 7,917 companies, compared to 1.91 million employees in May and 219,388 in October 2020. . The Swiss government has continued expanded financial support for the Kurzarbeit program throughout the pandemic.
Switzerland’s average unemployment rate was 4.8 percent in 2020 under ILO Labor Force Survey methodology, while according to Swiss authorities registered unemployment in 2021 was 3.0 percent. Cantons bordering EU countries experience higher unemployment rates than Switzerland as a whole.
14. Contact for More Information
U.S. Embassy in Bern, Sulgeneckstrasse 19, 3003 Bern
+41 31 357 7011
Foreign direct investment (FDI) continues to be of vital importance to Vietnam, as a means to support post-COVID economic recovery and drive the government’s aspirations to achieve middle-income status by 2045. As a result, the government has policies in place that are broadly conducive to U.S. investment. Factors that attract foreign investment include government commitments to fight climate change issues, free trade agreements, political stability, ongoing economic reforms, a young and increasingly urbanized and educated population, and competitive labor costs. According to the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI), which oversees investment activities, at the end of December 2021 Vietnam had cumulatively received $241.6 billion in FDI.
In 2021, Vietnam’s once successful “Zero COVID” approach was overwhelmed by an April outbreak that led to lengthy shutdowns, especially in manufacturing, and steep economic costs. However, the government reacted quickly to launch a successful national vaccination campaign, which enabled the country to switch from strict lockdowns to a “living with COVID” policy by the end of the year. The Government of Vietnam’s fiscal stimulus, combined with global supply chain shifts, resulted in Vietnam receiving $19.74 billion in FDI in 2021 – a 1.2 percent decrease over the same period in 2020. Of the 2021 investments, 59 percent went into manufacturing – especially in electronics, textiles, footwear, and automobile parts industries; 8 percent in utilities and energy; 15 percent in real estate; and smaller percentages in other industries. The government approved the following major FDI projects in 2021: Long An I and II LNG Power Plant Project ($3.1 billion); LG Display Project in Hai Phong ($2.15 billion); O Mon II Thermal Power Plant Factory in Can Tho ($1.31 billion); Kraft Vina Paper Factory in Vinh Phuc ($611.4 million); Polytex Far Eastern Vietnam Co., Ltd Factory Project ($610 million).
At the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) Vietnam’s Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh made an ambitious pledge to reach net zero emissions by 2050, by increasing use of clean energy and phasing out coal-fueled power generation. In January 2022 Vietnam introduced new regulations that place responsibility on producers and importers to manage waste associated with the full life cycle of their products. The Government also issued a decree on greenhouse gas mitigation, ozone layer protection, and carbon market development in Vietnam.
Vietnam’s recent moves forward on free trade agreements make it easier to attract FDI by providing better market access for Vietnamese exports and encouraging investor-friendly reforms. The EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) entered into force August 1, 2020. Vietnam signed the UK-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement entered into force May 1, 2021. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) entered into force January 1, 2022 for ten countries, including Vietnam. These agreements may benefit U.S. companies operating in Vietnam by reducing barriers to inputs from and exports to participating countries, but also make it more challenging for U.S. exports to Vietnam to compete against competitors benefiting from preferential treatment.
In February 2021, the 13th Party Congress of the Communist Party approved a ten-year economic strategy that calls for shifting foreign investments to high-tech industries and ensuring those investments include provisions relating to environmental protection. On January 1, 2021, Vietnam’s Securities Law and new Labor Code Law, which the National Assembly originally approved in 2019, came into force. The Securities Law formally states the government’s intention to remove foreign ownership limits for investments in most industries. The new Labor Code includes several updated provisions including greater contract flexibility, formal recognition of a greater part of the workforce, and allowing workers to join independent workers’ rights organizations, though key implementing decrees remain pending. On June 17, 2020, Vietnam passed a revised Law of Investment and a new Public Private Partnership Law, both designed to encourage foreign investment into large infrastructure projects, reduce the burden on the government to finance such projects, and increase linkages between foreign investors and the Vietnamese private sector.
Despite a comparatively high level of FDI inflow as a percentage of GDP – 7.3 percent in 2020 – significant challenges remain in Vietnam’s investment climate. These include widespread corruption, entrenched State Owned Enterprises (SOE), regulatory uncertainty in key sectors like digital economy and energy, weak legal infrastructure, poor enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPR), a shortage of skilled labor, restrictive labor practices, and the government’s slow decision-making process.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
FDI continues to play a key role in upholding the country’s economy. Vietnam Customs reported that FDI companies exported $247 billion worth of goods in 2021, representing 73.6 percent of total exports, a 21.1 percent increase over 2020. The government, at both central and municipal levels, actively seeks to welcome FDI.
The Politburo issued Resolution 55 in 2019 to increase Vietnam’s attractiveness to foreign investment. This Resolution aims to attract $50 billion in new foreign investment by 2030. In 2020, the government revised laws on investment and enterprise, in addition to passing the Public Private Partnership Law, to further the goals of this Resolution. The revisions encourage high-quality investments, use and development of advanced technologies, and environmental protection mechanisms.
While Vietnam’s revised Law of Investment says the government must treat foreign and domestic investors equally, foreign investors have complained about having to cross extra hurdles to get ordinary government approvals. The government continues to have foreign ownership limits (FOLs) in industries Vietnam considers important to national security. In January 2020, the government removed FOLs on companies in the electronic payment sector and reformed electronic payments procedures for foreign firms. Some U.S. investors report that these changes have provided more regulatory certainty, which has, in turn, instilled greater confidence as they consider long-term investments in Vietnam. U.S. investors continue to cite concerns about confusing tax regulations and retroactive changes to laws – including tax rates, tax policies, and preferential treatment of state-owned enterprises (SOEs). U.S. companies also reported facing difficulties in extending/renewing investment certificates – citing prolonged periods of non-responsiveness from government agencies. In 2021, a survey by the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Hanoi listed the need for “administrative reforms that streamline regulations and promote transparency” as the top key element of a roadmap for a sustainable growth in Vietnam.
The Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) is the country’s national agency charged with promoting and facilitating foreign investment; most provinces and cities also have local equivalents. MPI and local investment promotion offices provide information and explain regulations and policies to foreign investors. They also inform the Prime Minister and National Assembly on trends in foreign investment. However, U.S. investors should still consult legal counsel and/or other experts regarding issues on regulations that are unclear.
Vietnam’s senior leaders often meet with foreign governments and private-sector representatives to emphasize Vietnam’s attractiveness as an FDI destination. The semiannual Vietnam Business Forum includes meetings between foreign investors and Vietnamese government officials. The U.S.-ASEAN Business Council (USABC), AmCham, and other U.S. associations also host multiple yearly missions for their U.S. company members, which allow direct engagement with senior government officials. Foreign investors in Vietnam have reported that these meetings and dialogues have helped address obstacles.
Both foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises in Vietnam and engage in most forms of legal remunerative activity in non-regulated sectors.
Vietnam has some statutory restrictions on foreign investment, including FOLs or requirements for joint partnerships, projects in banking, network infrastructure services, non-infrastructure telecommunication services, transportation, energy, and defense. The new Decree 31/2021/ND-CP dated 26 March 2021 provides a list of 25 business lines in which foreigners are prohibited to invest and 59 other business lines subjected to market access requirements. By law, the Prime Minister can waive these FOLs on a case-by-case basis. In practice, however, when the government has removed or eased FOLs, it has done so for the whole industry sector rather than for a specific investment.
MPI plays a key role with respect to investment screening. All FDI projects required approval by the People’s Committee in the province in which the project would be located. By law, large-scale FDI projects must also obtained the approval of the National Assembly before investment can proceed. MPI’s approval process includes an assessment of the investor’s legal status and financial strength; the project’s compatibility with the government’s long- and short-term goals for economic development and government revenue; the investor’s technological expertise; environmental protection; and plans for land use and land clearance compensation, if applicable. The government can, and sometimes does, stop certain foreign investments if it deems the investment harmful to Vietnam’s national security.
The following FDI projects also require the Prime Minister’s approval: airports; grade 1 seaports (seaports the government classifies as strategic); casinos; oil and gas exploration, production, and refining; telecommunications/network infrastructure; forestry projects; publishing; and projects that need approval from more than one province. In 2021, the government removed the requirement that the Prime Minister needs to approve investments over $271 million or investments in the tobacco industry.
The Government of Vietnam has several initiatives in progress to implement administrative reforms, such as building e-Government platforms and single window services. In May 2021, USAID and the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) released the Provincial Competitiveness Index (PCI) 2020 Report, which examined trends in economic governance. This annual report provides an independent, unbiased view on the provincial business environment by surveying over 8,500 domestic private firms on a variety of business issues. Overall, Vietnam’s median PCI score improved, reflecting the government’s efforts to improve economic governance and the quality of infrastructure, as well as a decline in the prevalence of corruption.
Vietnam’s nationwide business registration site is here. In addition, as a member of the UNCTAD international network of transparent investment procedures, information on Vietnam’s investment regulations can be found online (Vietnam Investment Regulations Website). The website provides information for foreign and national investors on administrative procedures applicable to investment and income generating operations, including the number of steps, name, and contact details of the entities and persons in charge of procedures, required documents and conditions, costs, processing time, and legal and regulatory citations for seven major provinces.
The government does not have a clear mechanism to promote or incentivize outward investment, nor does it have regulations restricting domestic investors from investing abroad. According to a preliminary report from the General Statistics Office, Vietnam invested $819 million in 134 projects abroad in 2020. By the end of 2020, total outward FDI investment from Vietnam was $21 billion in more than 1,400 projects in 78 countries. Laos received the most outward FDI, with $5 billion, followed by Russia and Cambodia with $2.8 billion and $2.7 billion, respectively. The main sectors of outward investment for Vietnam are mining, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, telecommunication, and energy.
3. Legal Regime
U.S. companies continue to report that they face frequent and significant challenges with inconsistent regulatory interpretation, irregular enforcement, and an unclear legal framework. AmCham members have consistently voiced concerns that Vietnam lacks a fair legal system for investments, which affects U.S. companies’ ability to do business in Vietnam. The 2020 PCI report documented companies’ difficulties dealing with land, taxes, and social insurance issues, but also found improvements in procedures related to business administration and anti-corruption.
Accounting systems are inconsistent with international norms, and this increases transaction costs for investors. The government had previously said it intended to have most companies transition to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) by 2020. Unable to meet this target, the Ministry of Finance in March 2020 extended the deadline to 2025.
In Vietnam, the National Assembly passes laws, which serve as the highest form of legal direction, but often lack specifics. Ministries provide draft laws to the National Assembly. The Prime Minister issues decrees, which provide guidance on implementation. Individual ministries issue circulars, which provide guidance on how a ministry will administer a law or decree.
After implementing ministries have cleared a particular law to send the law to the National Assembly, the government posts the law for a 60-day comment period. However, in practice, the public comment period is sometimes truncated. Foreign governments, NGOs, and private-sector companies can, and do, comment during this period, after which the ministry may redraft the law. Upon completion of the revisions, the ministry submits the legislation to the Office of the Government (OOG) for approval, including the Prime Minister’s signature, and the legislation moves to the National Assembly for committee review. During this process, the National Assembly can send the legislation back to the originating ministry for further changes. The Communist Party of Vietnam’s Politburo reserves the right to review special or controversial laws.
In practice, drafting ministries often lack the resources needed to conduct adequate data-driven assessments. Ministries are supposed to conduct policy impact assessments that holistically consider all factors before drafting a law, but the quality of these assessments varies.
The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) oversees administrative procedures for government ministries and agencies. The MOJ has a Regulatory Management Department, which oversees and reviews legal documents after they are issued to ensure compliance with the legal system. The Law on the Promulgation of Legal Normative Documents requires all legal documents and agreements to be published online and open for comments for 60 days, and to be published in the Official Gazette before implementation.
Business associations and various chambers of commerce regularly comment on draft laws and regulations. However, when issuing more detailed implementing guidelines, government entities sometimes issue circulars with little advance warning and without public notification, resulting in little opportunity for comment by affected parties. In several cases, authorities allowed comments for the first draft only and did not provide subsequent draft versions to the public. The centralized location where key regulatory actions are published can be found here .
The Ministry of Finance has provisions laws instructing public companies to produce an annual report disclosing their environmental, social and corporate governance policies. In 2016, the State Securities Commission of Vietnam, in cooperation with the International Finance Corporation, published an Environmental and Social Disclosure Guide which encourages independent external assurance. While almost all public companies in Vietnam now perform an environmental and social impact assessment when investing in a new project, many see this exercise as merely procedural.
While general information is publicly available, Vietnam’s public finances and debt obligations (including explicit and contingent liabilities) are not transparent. The National Assembly set a statutory limit for public debt at 65 percent of nominal GDP, and, according to official figures, Vietnam’s public debt to GDP ratio at the end of 2021 was 43.7 percent – down from 53.3 percent the previous year. However, the official public-debt figures exclude the debt of certain large SOEs. This poses a risk to Vietnam’s public finances, as the government is liable for the debts of these companies. Vietnam could improve its fiscal transparency by making its executive budget proposal, including budgetary and debt expenses, widely and easily accessible to the general public long before the National Assembly enacts the budget, ensuring greater transparency of off-budget accounts, and by publicizing the criteria by which the government awards contracts and licenses for natural resource extraction.
Vietnam’s legal system mixes indigenous, French, and Soviet-inspired civil legal traditions. Vietnam generally follows an operational understanding of the rule of law that is consistent with its top-down, one-party political structure and traditionally inquisitorial judicial system, though in recent years the country has begun gradually introducing elements of an adversarial system.
The hierarchy of the country’s courts is: 1) the Supreme People’s Court; 2) the High People’s Court; 3) Provincial People’s Courts; 4) District People’s Courts, and 5) Military Courts. The People’s Courts operate in five divisions: criminal, civil, administrative, economic, and labor. The Supreme People’s Procuracy is responsible for prosecuting criminal activities as well as supervising judicial activities.
Vietnam lacks an independent judiciary and separation of powers among Vietnam’s branches of government. For example, Vietnam’s Chief Justice is also a member of the Communist Party’s Central Committee. According to Transparency International, there is significant risk of corruption in judicial rulings. Low judicial salaries engender corruption; nearly one-fifth of surveyed Vietnamese households that have been to court declared that they had paid bribes at least once. Many businesses therefore avoid Vietnamese courts as much as possible.
The judicial system continues to face additional problems: for example, many judges and arbitrators lack adequate legal training and are appointed through personal or political contacts with party leaders or based on their political views. Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable, and appeals are adjudicated in the national court system. Through a separate legal mechanism, individuals and companies can file complaints against enforcement actions under the Law on Complaints.
The 2005 Commercial Law regulates commercial contracts between businesses. Specific regulations prescribe specific forms of contracts, depending on the nature of the deals. If a contract does not contain a dispute-resolution clause, courts will have jurisdiction over a dispute. Vietnamese law allows dispute-resolution clauses in commercial contracts explicitly through the Law on Commercial Arbitration. The law follows the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) model law as an international standard for procedural rules.
Vietnamese courts will only consider recognition of civil judgments issued by courts in countries that have entered into agreements on recognition of judgments with Vietnam or on a reciprocal basis. However, with the exception of France, these treaties only cover non-commercial judgments.
The legal system includes provisions to promote foreign investment. Vietnam uses a “negative list” approach to approve foreign investment, meaning foreign businesses are allowed to operate in all areas except for six prohibited sectors – from which domestic businesses are also prohibited. These include illicit drugs, wildlife trade, prostitution, human trafficking, human cloning, and debt collection services.
The law also requires that foreign and domestic investors be treated equally in cases of nationalization and confiscation. However, foreign investors are subject to different business-licensing processes and restrictions, and companies registered in Vietnam that have majority foreign ownership are subject to foreign-investor business-license procedures.
The Ministry of Planning and Investment enacted Circular No. 02/2022/TT-BKHĐT, which came into effect on April 1, 2022, guiding the supervision and investment assessments of foreign investment activities in Vietnam, providing a common template. It also examines the implementation of financial obligations towards the State; the execution of legal provisions on labor, foreign exchange control, environment, land, construction, fire prevention and fighting and other specialized legal regulations; the financial situation of the foreign-invested economic organization; and other provisions related to the implementation of investment projects.
The 2019 Labor Code, which came into effect January 1, 2021, provides greater flexibility in contract termination, allows employees to work more overtime hours, increases the retirement age, and adds flexibility in labor contracts.
The Law on Investment, revised in June 2020, stipulated that Vietnam would encourage FDI through financial incentives in the areas of university education, pollution mitigation, and certain medical research. The Public Private Partnership Law, passed in June 2020, lists transportation, electricity grid and power plants, irrigation, water supply and treatment, waste treatment, health care, education, and IT infrastructure as prioritized sectors for FDI and public-private partnerships.
Vietnam has a “one-stop-shop” website for investment that provides relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors.
The Vietnam Competition and Consumer Authority (“VCCA”) of MOIT reviews transactions subject to complaints for competition-related concerns. In 2021, VCCA reported that 125 merger control notifications, most of which related to real estate, have been submitted since 2019. Thirty percent of cases notified involved offshore transactions. The VCCA clarified that the Vietnam merger control regime seeks to regulate only relevant transactions that may have an anticompetitive impact on Vietnamese markets, especially those that enable enterprises to hold a dominant or monopoly position and heighten the risk of an abuse of dominance.
Under the law, the government of Vietnam can only expropriate investors’ property in cases of emergency, disaster, defense, or national interest, and the government is required to compensate investors if it expropriates property. Under the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement, Vietnam must apply international standards of treatment in any case of expropriation or nationalization of U.S. investor assets, which includes acting in a non-discriminatory manner with due process of law and with prompt, adequate, and effective compensation. The U.S. Mission in Vietnam is unaware of any current expropriation cases involving U.S. firms.
Under the 2014 Bankruptcy Law, bankruptcy is not criminalized unless it relates to another crime. The law defines insolvency as a condition in which an enterprise is more than three months overdue in meeting its payment obligations. The law also provides provisions allowing creditors to commence bankruptcy proceedings against an enterprise and procedures for credit institutions to file for bankruptcy. According to the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Report, Vietnam ranked 122 out of 190 for resolving insolvency. The report noted that it still takes five years on average to conclude a bankruptcy case in Vietnam. The Credit Information Center of the State Bank of Vietnam provides credit information services for foreign investors concerned about the potential for bankruptcy with a Vietnamese partner.
4. Industrial Policies
Foreign investors are exempt from import duties on goods imported for their own use that cannot be procured locally, including machinery; vehicles; components and spare parts for machinery and equipment; raw materials; inputs for manufacturing; and construction materials. Remote and mountainous provinces and special industrial zones are allowed to provide additional tax breaks and other incentives to prospective investors.
Investment incentives, including lower corporate income tax rates, exemption of some import tariffs, or favorable land rental rates, are available in the following sectors: advanced technology; research and development; new materials; energy; clean energy; renewable energy; energy saving products; automobiles; software; waste treatment and management; and primary or vocational education.
The government rarely issues guarantees for financing FDI projects; when it does so, it is usually because the project links to a national security priority. Joint financing with the government occurs when a foreign entity partners with an SOE. The government’s reluctance to guarantee projects reflects its desire to stay below a statutory 65 percent public debt-to-GDP ratio cap, and a desire to avoid incurring liabilities from projects that would not be economically viable without the guarantee. This has delayed approval of many large-scale FDI projects.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT) is seeking to implement a Direct Power Purchase Agreement (DPPA) pilot scheme which, for the first time, will enable renewable energy generators to directly sell clean electricity to private-sector customers. Under current electricity regulations in Vietnam, Electricity Vietnam (EVN) has a statutory monopoly over the transmission, distribution, wholesale, and retail of electricity and is also the sole off taker in the market. The pilot scheme is expected to run from 2022 to 2024 and support Vietnam’s transition in the liberalization of Vietnam’s wholesale and retail electricity markets. It is anticipated that DPPAs will be introduced into the market on a permanent basis from 2025 onwards.
Vietnam has prioritized efforts to establish and develop different kinds of foreign trade zones (FTZs) over the last decade. Industrial Zones (IZs) are dedicated areas for industrial activities; Export Processing Zones (EPZs) are specific kind of IZ, focused on export-oriented production and activities. Vietnam currently has more than 350 IZs and EPZs. Many foreign investors report that it is easier to implement projects in IZs than in other types of zoned land because they do not have to be involved in site clearance and infrastructure construction. Enterprises in FTZs pay no duties when importing raw materials if they export the finished products. Customs warehouse companies in FTZs can provide transportation services and act as distributors for the goods deposited.
Additional services relating to customs declaration, appraisal, insurance, reprocessing, or packaging require the approval of the provincial customs office. In practice, the time involved for clearance and delivery of goods by provincial custom officials can be lengthy and unpredictable. Companies operating in economic zones are entitled to more tax reductions as measures to incentivize investments.
According to the Law on Investment (LOI) 2020, Article 11 “Guarantees for business investment activities,” the State cannot require investors to:
Give priority to purchase or use of domestic goods/services; or only purchase or use goods/services provided by domestic producers/service providers;
Achieve a certain export target; restrict the quantity, value, types of goods/services that are exported or domestically produced/provided;
Import a quantity/value of goods that is equivalent to the quantity/value of goods exported; or balance foreign currencies earned from export to meet import demands;
Reach a certain rate of import substitution;
Reach a certain level/value of domestic research and development;
Provide goods/service at a particular location in Vietnam or overseas; and
Have the headquarters situated at a location requested by a competent authority.
There are additional market entry requirements and limitations for investments in “conditional” sectors listed in Appendix IV of the LOI. As of March 2022, MPI and respective ministries and regulatory agencies are working to specify detailed conditions for each sector. All investors, foreign or domestic, must obtain formal approval, in the form of business licenses or other certifications, to satisfy “necessary conditions for reasons of national defense, security or order, social safety, social morality, and health of the community.”
In addition, the LOI 2020 also introduces the regulation of sectors “with market entry restrictions,” including: (i) Percentage ownership limits; (ii) Restrictions on the form of investment; (iii) Restrictions on the scope of business and investment activities; (iv) Financial capacity of the investors and partners; and (v) Other conditions under international treaties and Vietnamese law. As of March 2022, MPI is drafting additional guidance to specify conditions for each sector.
In addition to market access conditions, the LOI 2020 adds two additional conditions for foreign investors investing in or acquiring capital/share in a Vietnamese company as follows:
The investment must not compromise national defense and security of Vietnam; and
The investment must comply with the conditions relating to the use of sea-lands, borderlands, and coastal lands in accordance with the applicable laws.
The term “national defense and security” is not defined under the LOI 2020; this ambiguity gives regulatory agencies considerable flexibility to restrict investment activities in sensitive sectors or locations. Future investment projects could also be ratified based on other laws, National Assembly Resolution, Ordinance, National Assembly Standing Committee’s Resolution, Government Decree and international treaties, which has been creating complexity and volatility in Vietnam’s business investment.
For existing investment projects, the extension of the investment term will not be granted to any project using outdated technology, having any potential negative impact on the environment, or involving any exploitation of natural resources.
On January 1, 2019, the Law on Cybersecurity (LOCS) came into effect, requiring cross-border services to store data of Vietnamese users in Vietnam and establish local presence, despite sustained international and domestic opposition to the regulation. The government committed to consider comments from the U.S. government, companies, and trade associations and promised to consult with the U.S. government before finalization. In September 2020, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) released a partial draft Decree to guide the implementation of the LOCS, which requires foreign services providers to localize their data and establish local presence only when they violate Vietnamese laws and fail to cooperate with MPS to address their violations. However, local companies must comply with data localization requirements, which would cause unnecessary burdens for local companies and foreign business partners. The draft Decree is also expected to prescribe procedures for law enforcement to handle digital evidence, which may include source code and/or access to encryption, to serve criminal investigation. As of March 2022 the latest version of the draft Decree is reportedly with the Office of the Government for the Prime Minister’s approval.
In early 2020, the MPS released a draft outline of the Personal Data Protection Decree (PDPD) and then published the first full draft in February 2021 for public comment. Industry and human rights activists have major concerns about data localization provision for personal data, including requirements for local presence, licensing, and registration procedures. If implemented as written, the heavy-handed regulations of cross-border transfer of personal data would affect a wide range of Internet companies. In February 2022, Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam announced that the GVN sent the draft Decree to National Assembly, specifically to the National Assembly Standing Committee, for further review. The Prime Minister set out the deadline of May 2022 for the approval of the Decree and also tasked the MPS to start developing a new Law on Data Privacy.
5. Protection of Property Rights
The State collectively owns and manages all land in Vietnam, and therefore neither foreigners nor Vietnamese nationals can own land. However, the government grants land-use and building rights, often to individuals. According to the Ministry of National Resources and Environment (MONRE), as of September 2018 – the most recent time period in which the government has made figures available – the government has issued land-use rights certificates for 96.9 percent of land in Vietnam. If land is not used according to the land-use rights certificate or if it is unoccupied, it reverts to the government. If investors do not use land leased within 12 consecutive months or delay land use by 24 months from the original investment schedule, the government is entitled to reclaim the land. Investors can seek an extension of delay but not for more than 24 months. Vietnam is building a national land-registration database, and some localities have already digitized their land records.
State protection of property rights are still evolving, and the law does not clearly demarcate circumstances in which the government would use eminent domain. Under the Housing Law and Real Estate Business Law of November 2014, the government can take land if it deems it necessary for socio-economic development in the public or national interest if the Prime Minister, the National Assembly, or the Provincial People’s Council approves such action. However, the law loosely defines “socio-economic development.”
Disputes over land rights continue to be a significant driver of social protests in Vietnam. Foreign investors also may be exposed to land disputes through merger and acquisition activities when they buy into a local company or implement large-scale infrastructure projects.
Foreign investors can lease land for renewable periods of 50 years, and up to 70 years in some underdeveloped areas. This allows titleholders to conduct property transactions, including mortgages on property. Some investors have encountered difficulties amending investment licenses to expand operations onto land adjoining existing facilities. Investors also note that local authorities may seek to increase requirements for land-use rights when current rights must be renewed, particularly when the investment in question competes with Vietnamese companies.
Vietnam does not have a strong record on protecting and enforcing intellectual property (IP). Fractured authority and lack of coordination among ministries and agencies responsible for enforcement are the primary obstacles, and capacity constraints related to enforcement persist, in part, due to a lack of resources and IP expertise. Vietnam has no specialized IP courts and judges, thus continuing to rely heavily on administrative enforcement actions, which have consistently failed to deter widespread counterfeiting and piracy.
There were some positive developments in 2020-2021, such as the issuance of a national IP strategy, public awareness campaigns and training activities, and reported improvements on border enforcement in some parts of the country. The 2005 IP Law is currently under revision with amendments planned to be passed in May 2022. It is expected that the law would bring Vietnam’s IP regulations in line with its commitments under the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA). However, IP enforcement continues to be a challenge.
The United States is closely monitoring and engaging with the Vietnamese government in the ongoing implementation of amendments to the Penal Code, particularly with respect to criminal enforcement of IP violations. Counterfeit goods are widely available online and in physical markets. In addition, issues persist with online piracy (including the use of piracy devices and applications to access unauthorized audiovisual content), book piracy, lack of effective criminal measures for cable and satellite signal theft, and both private and public-sector software piracy.
Vietnam’s system for protecting against the unfair commercial use and unauthorized disclosure of undisclosed tests or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical products needs further clarification. The United States is monitoring the implementation of IP provisions of the CPTPP, and the EVFTA. The EVFTA grandfathered prior users of certain cheese terms from the restrictions in the geographical indications provisions of the EVFTA, and it is important that Vietnam ensure market access for prior users of those terms who were in the Vietnamese market before the grandfathering date of January 1, 2017.
In its international agreements, Vietnam committed to strengthen its IP regime and is in the process of drafting implementing legislation and other measures in a number of IP-related areas, including in preparation for acceding to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. In September 2019, Vietnam acceded to the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs, and the United States will monitor implementation of that agreement.
The United States, through the U.S.-Vietnam Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) and other bilateral fora, continues to urge Vietnam to address IP issues and to provide interested stakeholders with meaningful opportunities for input as it proceeds with these reforms. The United States and Vietnam signed a Customs Mutual Assistance Agreement in December 2019, which will facilitate bilateral cooperation in IP enforcement.
For more information, please see the following reports from the U.S. Trade Representative:
For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles .
6. Financial Sector
The government generally encourages foreign portfolio investment. The country has two stock markets: the Ho Chi Minh City Stock Exchange (HOSE), which lists publicly traded companies, and the Hanoi Stock Exchange, which lists bonds and derivatives. The Law on Securities, which came into effect January 1, 2021, states that Vietnam Exchange, a parent company to both exchanges, with board members appointed by the government, will manage trading operations. Vietnam also has a market for unlisted public companies (UPCOM) at the Hanoi Securities Center.
Although Vietnam welcomes portfolio investment, the country sometimes has difficulty in attracting such investment. Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) classifies Vietnam as a Frontier Market, which precludes some of the world’s biggest asset managers from investing in its stock markets.
Vietnam did not meet its goal to be considered an “emerging market” in 2020 and pushed back the timeline to 2025. Foreign investors often face difficulties in making portfolio investments because of cumbersome bureaucratic procedures. Furthermore, in the first three months of 2021, surges in trading frequently crashed the HOSE’s decades-old technology platform, resulting in investor frustration. Vietnam put into place the HOSE’s interim trading platform in July 2021, provided by FPT Corporation – Vietnam’s largest information technology service company – that has addressed HOSE’s overload issues while awaiting the new trading system purchased from the South Korean Exchange (KRX). The new system is expected to begin official operations in late 2022 and meet the requirements for Vietnam’s stock trading, including market information, market surveillance, clearing, settlement and depository and registration.
There is enough liquidity in the markets to enter and maintain sizable positions. Combined market capitalization at the end of 2021 was approximately $334 billion, equal to 92 percent of Vietnam’s GDP, with the HOSE accounting for $250 billion, the Hanoi Exchange $21 billion, and the UPCOM $60 billion. Bond market capitalization reached over $64 billion in 2021, the majority of which were government bonds held by domestic commercial banks.
Vietnam complies with International Monetary Fund (IMF) Article VIII. The government notified the IMF that it accepted the obligations of Article VIII, Sections 2, 3, and 4, effective November 8, 2005.
Local banks generally allocate credit on market terms, but the banking sector is not as sophisticated or capitalized as those in advanced economies. Foreign investors can acquire credit in the local market, but both foreign and domestic firms often seek foreign financing since domestic banks do not have sufficient capital at appropriate interest rate levels for a significant number of FDI projects.
Vietnam’s banking sector has been stable since recovering from the 2008 global recession. Nevertheless, the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV), Vietnam’s central bank, estimated in 2020 that 30 percent of Vietnam’s population is underbanked or lacks bank accounts due to a preference for cash, distrust in commercial banking, limited geographical distribution of banks, and a lack of financial acumen. The World Bank’s Global Findex Database 2017 (the most recent available) estimated that only 31 percent of Vietnamese over the age of 15 had an account at a financial institution or through a mobile money provider.
The COVID-19 pandemic increased strains on the financial system as an increasing number of debtors were unable to make loan payments. However, low capital cost, together with credit growth rally, increased bank profits in 2021 by 25 percent compared to 2020. At the end of 2021, the SBV reported that the percentage of non-performing loans (NPLs) in the banking sector was 1.9 percent, up from 1.7 percent at the end of 2020.
By the end of 2021, per SBV, the banking sector’s estimated total assets stood at $651 billion, of which $268 billion belonged to seven state-owned and majority state-owned commercial banks – accounting for 41 percent of total assets in the sector. Though classified as joint-stock (private) commercial banks, the Bank of Investment and Development Bank (BIDV), Vietnam Joint Stock Commercial Bank for Industry and Trade (VietinBank), and Joint Stock Commercial Bank for Foreign Trade of Vietnam (Vietcombank) all are majority-owned by SBV. In addition, the SBV holds 100 percent of Agribank, Global Petro Commercial Bank (GPBank), Construction Bank (CBBank), and Oceanbank.
Currently, the total foreign ownership limit (FOL) in a Vietnamese bank is 30 percent, with a 5 percent limit for non-strategic individual investors, a 15 percent limit for non-strategic institutional investors, and a 20 percent limit for strategic institutional partners.
The U.S. Mission in Vietnam did not find any evidence that a Vietnamese bank had lost a correspondent banking relationship in the past three years; there is also no evidence that a correspondent banking relationship is currently in jeopardy.
Vietnam does not have a sovereign wealth fund.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
The 2020 Enterprises Law, which came into effect January 1, 2021, defines an SOE as an enterprise that is more than 50 percent owned by the government. Vietnam does not officially publish a list of SOEs.
In 2018, the government created the Commission for State Capital Management at Enterprises (CMSC) to manage SOEs with increased transparency and accountability. The CMSC’s goals include accelerating privatization in a transparent manner, promoting public listings of SOEs, and transparency in overall financial management of SOEs.
SOEs do not operate on a level playing field with domestic or foreign enterprises and continue to benefit from preferential access to resources such as land, capital, and political largesse. Third-party market analysts note that a significant number of SOEs have extensive liabilities, including pensions owed, real estate holdings in areas not related to the SOE’s ostensible remit, and a lack of transparency with respect to operations and financing.
Vietnam officially started privatizing SOEs in 1998. The process has been slow because privatization typically transfers only a small share of an SOE (two to three percent) to the private sector, and investors have had concerns about the financial health of many companies. Additionally, the government has inadequate regulations with respect to privatization procedures.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
Companies are required to publish their corporate social responsibility activities, corporate governance work, information of related parties and transactions, and compensation of management. Companies must also announce extraordinary circumstances, such as changes to management, dissolution, or establishment of subsidiaries, within 36 hours of the event.
Most multinational companies implement Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs that contribute to improving the business environment in Vietnam, and awareness of CSR programs is increasing among large domestic companies. The VCCI conducts CSR training and highlights corporate engagement on a dedicated website in partnership with the UN.
AmCham also has a CSR group that organizes events and activities to raise awareness of social issues. Non-governmental organizations collaborate with government bodies, such as VCCI and the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA), to promote business practices in Vietnam in line with international norms and standards.
The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative was introduced to Vietnam many years ago but the government has not officially participated in it. Overall, the government has not defined responsible business conduct (RBC), nor has it established a national plan or agenda for RBC. The government has yet to establish a national point of contact or ombudsman for stakeholders to get information or raise concerns regarding RBC. The new Labor Code, which came into effect January 1, 2021, recognizes the right of employees to establish their own representative organizations, allows employees to unilaterally terminate labor contracts without reason, and extends legal protection to non-written contract employees. For a detailed description of regulations on worker/labor rights in Vietnam, see the Department of State’s 2020 Human Rights Report.
Vietnam participates in the OECD Southeast Asia Regional Program since its launch in 2014 and has cooperated in several policy reviews with the OECD, notably Investment Policy Reviews (2009 and 2018), Clean Energy Finance (2021), and the Vietnam Economic Review (forthcoming). Vietnam also participates in the OECD-Southeast Asia Corporate Governance Initiative. Engagement with businesses will include activities in the agriculture (with a focus on seafood), garment and footwear sectors, and building resilient supply chains. Vietnam doesn’t have any domestic measures requiring supply chain due diligence for companies that source minerals that may originate from conflict-affected areas.
Vietnam’s Law on Consumer Protection is largely ineffective, according to industry experts. A consumer who has a complaint on a product or service can petition the Association for Consumer Protection (ACP) or district governments. ACP is a non-governmental, volunteer organization that lacks law enforcement or legal power, and local governments are typically unresponsive to consumer complaints. The Vietnamese government has not focused on consumer protection over the last several years.
Vietnam allows foreign companies to work in private security. Vietnam has not ratified the Montreux Documents, is not a supporter of the International Code of Conduct or Private Security Service Providers and is not a participant in the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers’ Association (ICoCA).
Vietnamese legislation clearly specifies businesses’ responsibilities regarding environmental protection. The revised 2020 Environmental Protection Law, which came into effect on January 1, 2022, states that environmental protection is the responsibility and obligation of all organizations, institutions, communities, households, and individuals. The law also specifies that manufacturers bear two responsibilities, including responsibility for waste recycling and responsibility for waste treatment.
The Penal Code, revised in 2017, includes a chapter with 12 articles regulating different types of environmental crimes. In accordance with the Penal Code, penalties for infractions carry a maximum of 15 years in prison and a fine equivalent to $650,000. However, enforcement remains a problem. To date, no complaint or request for compensation due to damages caused by pollution or other environmental violations has ever been successfully resolved in court due to difficulties in identifying the level of damages and proving the relationship between violators and damages.
In the past several years, there have been high-profile, controversial instances of impacts on human rights by commercial activities – particularly over the revocation of land for real estate development projects. Government suppression of these protests ranged from intimidation and harassment via the media (including social media) to imprisonment. There are numerous examples of government-supported forces beating protestors, journalists, and activists covering land issues. Victims have reported they are unable to press claims against their attackers.
At COP 26, the Prime Minister announced Vietnam’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050. Right after the event, Vietnam established a National Steering Committee on Implementation of COP 26 Commitments headed by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has requested all relevant ministries to study and develop programs to fulfill Vietnam’s commitments. Vietnam issued a climate change strategy in 2011 that will be valid through 2030, with “a vision” to 2050, and it has reviewed implementation for the 2011-2020 period. Vietnam is revising the strategy to achieve the net zero commitment, with the new version expected to be released by the end of 2022. The country is also updating its Nationally Determined Contributions in line with its net zero emission commitment.
On October 1, 2021, Vietnam issued its National Strategy on Green Growth in the 2021-2030 Period, with a Vision to 2050. The strategy sets specific goals on GHG reductions and tasks various Ministries to develop specific plans and strategies. The strategy also targets at a 35 per cent green procurement proportion of the total public procurement.
On February 7, 2022, Vietnam approved the National Biodiversity Strategy for the 2021-2030 period. Vietnam will increase the size of its protected and restored natural eco-systems under the new strategy, aiming to conserve and use biodiversity as a sustainable response to the effects of climate change.
The New Decree 08/ND-CP issued in January 2022 regulating in details the implementation of the 2020 Environment Protection Law has specified three groups of environmental businesses that will be qualified for incentives, including businesses involved in the waste collection, treatment, re-use or recycling; businesses manufacturing or supplying technologies, equipment, products and services serving the environmental protection and non-business operations related to the environmental protection such as application of best technologies earlier than regulated, installation of waste water, air quality monitoring systems earlier than scheduled. The incentives listed under the Decree include investment capital support from Environmental Protection Funds, Vietnam Development Fund, preferential terms for taxes, fees and charges, and land support.
Vietnam has laws to combat corruption by public officials, and they extend to all citizens. Communist Party of Vietnam General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong has made fighting corruption a key focus of his administration, and the CPV regularly issues lists of Party and other government officials that have been disciplined or prosecuted. Trong recently expanded the campaign to include “anti-negativity,” described loosely as acts that can cause public anger or reputational harm to the CPV. Nevertheless, corruption remains rife. Corruption is due, in large part, to low levels of transparency, accountability, and media freedom, as well as poor remuneration for government officials and inadequate systems for holding officials accountable. Competition among agencies for control over businesses and investments has created overlapping jurisdictions and bureaucratic procedures that, in turn, create opportunities for corruption.
The government has tasked various agencies to deal with corruption, including the Central Steering Committee for Anti-Corruption (chaired by the General Secretary Trong), the Government Inspectorate, and line ministries and agencies. Formed in 2007, the Central Steering Committee for Anti-Corruption has been under the purview of the CPV Central Commission of Internal Affairs since February 2013. The National Assembly provides oversight on the operations of government ministries. Civil society organizations have encouraged the government to establish a single independent agency with oversight and enforcement authority to ensure enforcement of anti-corruption laws.
Contact at the government agency or agencies that are responsible for combating corruption: Mr. Phan Dinh Trac Chairman of Communist Party Central Committee Internal Affairs 4 Nguyen Canh Chan, Ba Dinh, Hanoi Tel: +84 0804-3557
Contact at a watchdog organization: Ms. Nguyen ThiKieuVien Executive Director ,Towards Transparency International National Floor 4, No 37 Lane 35, Cat Linh Street, Dong Da, Hanoi, Vietnam Tel: +84-24-37153532
10. Political and Security Environment
Vietnam is a unitary single-party state, and its political and security environment is largely stable. Protests and civil unrest are rare, though there are occasional demonstrations against perceived or real social, environmental, labor, and political injustices.
In August 2019, online commentators expressed outrage over the slow government response to an industrial fire in Hanoi that released unknown amounts of mercury. Other localized protests in 2019 and early 2020 broke out over alleged illegal dumping in waterways and on public land, and the perceived government attempts to cover up potential risks to local communities.
Citizens sometimes protest actions of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), usually online. For example, in June 2019, when PRC Coast Guard vessels harassed the operations of Russian oil company Rosneft in Block 06-01, Vietnam’s highest-producing natural gas field, Vietnamese citizens protested via Facebook and, in a few instances, in public.
In April 2016, after the Formosa Steel plant discharged toxic pollutants into the ocean and killed a large number of fish, affected fishermen and residents in central Vietnam began a series of regular protests against the company and the government’s lack of response to the disaster. Protests continued into 2017 in multiple cities until security forces largely suppressed the unrest. Many activists who helped organize or document these protests were subsequently arrested and imprisoned.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Although Vietnam has made some progress on labor issues in recent years, including, in theory, allowing the formation of independent unions, the sole union that has any real authority is the state-controlled Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL). Workers will not be able to form independent unions legally until the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA) issues guidance on implementation of the 2019 Labor Code, including decrees on procedures to establish and join independent unions, and to determine the level of autonomy independent unions will have in administering their affairs. MOLISA expects to issue this guidance in 2022.
Vietnam has been a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO) since 1992 and has ratified seven of the core ILO labor conventions (Conventions 100 and 111 on discrimination, Conventions 138 and 182 on child labor, Conventions 29 and 105 on forced labor, and Convention 98 on rights to organize and collective bargaining). In June 2020 Vietnam ratified ILO Convention 105 – on the abolition of forced labor – which came into force July 14, 2021. The EVFTA also requires Vietnam to ratify Convention 87, on freedom of association and protection of the right to organize, by 2023.
Labor dispute resolution mechanisms vary depending on situations. Individual labor disputes and rights-based collective labor disputes must go through a defined process that includes labor conciliation, labor arbitration, and a court hearing. Only interest-based collective labor disputes may legally be pursued via demonstration, and only after undergoing through conciliation and arbitration. However, in practice strikes organized by ad hoc groups at individual facilities are not uncommon, and are usually resolved through negotiation with management. In 2021 there were 105 strikes nationwide, 20 fewer than in 2020 as reported by VGCL.
According to Vietnam’s General Statistics Office (GSO), in 2021 there were 50.7 million people participating in the formal labor force in Vietnam out of over 74.9 million people aged 15 and above, around 1.4 million lower than 2020. The labor force is relatively young, with workers 15-39 years of age accounting for half of the total labor force. 61.6 percent of women in the working age participate to the labor force in comparison to 74.3 percent of men in the working age while 65.3 percent of people in the working age in the urban areas participate in the labor force in comparison to 69.3 percent in the rural areas.
Estimates on the size of the informal economy differ widely. The IMF states 40 percent of Vietnam’s laborers work on the informal economy; the World Bank puts the figure at 55 percent; the ILO puts the figure as high as 79 percent if agricultural households are included. Vietnam’s GSO stated that among 53.4 million employed people, 20.3 million people worked in the informal economy.
An employer is permitted to dismiss employees due to technological changes, organizational changes (in cases of a merger, consolidation, or cessation of operation of one or more departments), when the employer faces economic difficulties, or for disruptive behavior in the workplace. There are no waivers on labor requirements to attract foreign investment.