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Costa Rica

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Costa Rica actively courts foreign direct investment (FDI), placing a high priority on attracting and retaining high-quality foreign investment.  There are some limitations to both private and foreign participation in specific sectors, as detailed in the following section.

The Foreign Trade Promotion Corporation (PROCOMER) as well as the Costa Rican Investment and Development Board (CINDE) lead Costa Rica’s investment promotion efforts.  CINDE has had great success over the last several decades in attracting and retaining investment in specific areas, currently services, advanced manufacturing, life sciences, light manufacturing, and the food industry.  In addition, the Tourism Institute (ICT) attends to potential investors in the tourism sector. CINDE and ICT are strong and effective guides and advocates for their client companies, prioritizing investment retention and maintaining an ongoing dialogue with investors.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Costa Rica recognizes and encourages the right of foreign and domestic private entities to establish and own business enterprises and engage in most forms of remunerative activity.  The exceptions are in sectors that are reserved for the state (legal monopolies – see #7 below “State Owned Enterprises, first paragraph) or that require participation of at least a certain percentage of Costa Rican citizens or residents (electrical power generation, transport services, professional services, and aspects of broadcasting).  Properties in the Maritime Zone (from 50 to 200 meters above the mean high-tide mark) may only be leased from the state and with residency requirements. In the areas of medical services, telecommunications, finance and insurance, state-owned entities dominate, but that does not preclude private sector competition. Costa Rica does not have an investment screening mechanism for inbound foreign investment, beyond those applied under anti-money laundering procedures.  U.S. investors are not disadvantaged or singled out by any control mechanism or sector restrictions; to the contrary, U.S. investors figure prominently among the various major categories of FDI.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The OECD accession process for Costa Rica beginning in 2015 has produced a series of changes by Costa Rica and recommendations by the OECD; within that context the OECD in April 2018 published the “OECD Economic Surveys Costa Rica 2018.” http://www.oecd.org/countries/costarica/oecd-economic-surveys-costa-rica-2018-eco-surveys-cri-2018-en.htm   .

In the same context, the OECD offers a number of recent publications relevant to investment policy: http://www.oecd.org/countries/costarica/  . As of April 2019, Costa Rica has passed 12 of the 22 technical bodies required for OECD accession, with the Investment Committee being one of the ten that remain.

Business Facilitation

Costa Rica’s single-window business registration website, crearempresa.go.cr  , brings together the various entities – municipalities and central government agencies – which must be consulted in the process of registering a business in Costa Rica.  A new company in Costa Rica must typically register with the National Registry (company and capital registry), Internal Revenue Directorate of the Finance Ministry (taxpayer registration), National Insurance Institute (INS) (basic workers’ comp), Ministry of Health (sanitary permit), Social Security Administration (CCSS) (registry as employer), and the local Municipality (business permit).  Crearempresa is rated 17th of 32 national business registration sites evaluated by “Global Enterprise Registration” (www.GER.co  ), which awards Costa Rica a relatively lackluster rating because Crearempresa has little payment facility and provides only some of the possible online certificates.

Traditionally, the Costa Rican government’s small business promotion efforts have tended to focus on participation by women and underserved communities.  The women’s institute INAMU, vocational training institute INA, MEIC, and the export promotion agency PROCOMER through its supply chain initiative have all collaborated extensively to promote small and medium enterprise with an emphasis on women’s entrepreneurship. In 2019, INA will launch a network of centers to support small and medium enterprises based upon the U.S. Small Business Development Center (SBDC) model.

The World Bank’s “Doing Business” evaluation for 2018, http://www.doingbusiness.org  , states that business registration takes nine steps in 22.5 days.  Notaries are a necessary part of the process and are required to use the Crearempresa portal when they create a company.  Women do not face explicitly discriminatory treatment when establishing a business.

Outward Investment

The Costa Rican government does not promote or incentivize outward investment.  Neither does the government discourage or restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Costa Rica has bilateral investment treaties (BITs) in force with Argentina, Canada, Chile, China, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, South Korea, the Netherlands, Paraguay, Qatar, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan and Venezuela.  Treaty texts are on the COMEX website (http://www.comex.go.cr/Tratados  ).  The investment chapter of CAFTA-DR includes all aspects of a BIT thereby making a separate BIT with the United States unnecessary.   United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) (http://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/IIA/IiasByCountry#iiaInnerMenu  ) features a parallel list of both signed investment treaties and those entered into force.

Costa Rica has in-force free trade agreements (FTA) with five groupings of countries.  The Central American Free Trade Agreement CAFTA-DR is with the United States, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Dominican Republic.  The European Union Association Agreement with Central America is with all EU members, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Panama. The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) free trade agreement is with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, Panama and Guatemala.  The free trade agreement with the Caribbean nations of CARICOM is with Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Barbados, Belize, and Jamaica.    With Costa Rica’s March 2019 ratification of the South Korea Central American Free Trade Agreement between South Korea, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, that FTA is now in force between Costa Rica and South Korea.  Costa Rica also has individual FTAs with Canada, Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Chile, China, and Singapore. Costa Rica in recent years has slowed the pace at which it has negotiated and signed new free trade agreements.

Costa Rican and U.S. tax authorities currently coordinate under the terms of two agreements, a Taxation Information Exchange Agreement (TIEA) signed in 1989, and a U.S-Costa Rica intergovernmental agreement titled “Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Costa Rica to Improve International Tax Compliance and to Implement FATCA” signed in December 2013 and expected to enter-into-force (EIF) during 2019.  Costa Rica has active bilateral or regional tax information exchange agreements with 16 other jurisdictions, in addition to a number of signed agreements that are not yet in force; see the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes for the full list: http://www.eoi-tax.org/jurisdictions/CR#agreements  .  Of those 16 agreements, two (Germany, Spain) are “Double Tax Conventions” that address overlapping tax obligations in addition to simple information exchange.  Costa Rica is also a party to the OECD “Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters,” which entered into force in August 2013: http://www.oecd.org/tax/exchange-of-tax-information/Status_of_convention.pdf .

In accordance with its international commitments to address the use of corporate tax havens, the Costa Rican government in 2013 adopted a new set of transfer pricing rules, followed by their implementation regulations [DGT-R-44-2016 published by the internal revenue department (DGT) of the Finance Ministry] in September 2016.  Large transnational companies must declare and justify the transfer-pricing methods they are using in a manner consistent with international norms.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Costa Rican laws, regulations, and practices are generally transparent and foster competition in a manner consistent with international norms, except in the sectors controlled by a state monopoly, where competition is explicitly excluded.  Publicly-traded companies adhere to International Accounting Standards Board standards under the supervision of SUGEVAL, the stock and bond market regulator.

Rule-making and regulatory authority is housed in any number of agencies specialized by function (telecom, financial, health, environmental) or location (municipalities, port authorities). Tax, labor, health, and safety laws, though highly bureaucratic, are not seen as unfairly interfering with foreign investment.  It is common to have Professional Associations that play a regulatory role. For example the Coffee Institute of Costa Rica (ICAFE), a private sector organization, promotes standardization of production models among national producers, roasters and exporters, as well as setting minimum market prices.

Costa Rica is a member of UNCTAD’s international network of transparent investment procedures (http://www.businessfacilitation.org  ). Within that context, the Ministry of Economy compiled the various procedures needed to do business in Costa Rica:  https://costarica.eregulations.org/  .  Foreign and national investors can find detailed information 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 basis justifying the procedures.

Accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are transparent and consistent with international norms.  The Costa Rican College of Public Accountants (Colegio de Contadores Públicos de Costa Rica -CCPA) is responsible for setting accounting standards for non-regulated companies in Costa Rica and adopted full International Financial Reporting Standards.  For more, see the international federation of accountants IFAC: https://www.ifac.org/about-ifac/membership/country/costa-rica  .

Regulations must go through a public hearing process when being drafted.  Draft bills and regulations are made available for public comment through public consultation processes that will vary in their details according to the public entity and procedure in question, generally giving interested parties sufficient time to respond.  The standard period for public comment on technical regulations is 10 days. As appropriate, this process is underpinned by scientific or data-driven assessments.

Regulations and laws, both proposed and final, for all branches of government are published digitally in the government registry “La Gaceta”:  https://www.imprentanacional.go.cr/gaceta/  .  The Costa Rican American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham – http://amcham.co.cr   ) and other business chambers closely monitor these processes and often coordinate responses as needed.

The government has mechanisms to ensure laws and regulations are followed.  The Comptroller General’s Office conducts operational as well as financial audits and as such provides the primary oversight and enforcement mechanism within the Costa Rican government to ensure that government bodies follow administrative processes.  Each government body’s internal audit office and, in many cases, the customer-service comptroller (Contraloria de Servicios) provide additional support.

There are several independent avenues for appealing regulatory decisions, and these are frequently pursued by persons or organizations opposed to a public sector contract or regulatory decision.  The avenues include the Comptroller General (Contraloria General de la República), the Ombudsman (Defensor de los Habitantes), the public services regulatory agency (ARESEP), and the constitutional review chamber of the Supreme Court.  The State Litigator’s office (Procuraduria General) is frequently a participant in its role as the government’s attorney.

The review and enforcement mechanisms described above have kept the regulatory system relatively transparent and free of abuse, but have also rendered the system for public sector contract approval exceptionally slow and litigious.  There have been several cases in which these review bodies have overturned already-executed contracts, thereby interjecting uncertainty into the process. Bureaucratic procedures are frequently long, involved and can be discouraging to new investors.

A similarly transparent process applies to proposed laws.  The Legislative Assembly generally provides sufficient opportunity for supporters and opponents of a law to understand and comment upon proposals.  To become law, a proposal must be approved by the Assembly by two plenary votes. The signature of ten legislators (out of 57) is sufficient after the first vote to send the bill to the Supreme Court for constitutional review within one month, although the court may take longer. 

International Regulatory Considerations

While Costa Rica does consult with its neighbors on some regulations through participation in the Central American Integration System SICA (http://www.sica.int/sica/sica_breve.aspx  ), Costa Rica’s lawmakers and regulatory bodies habitually refer to sample regulations or legislation from OECD members and others.  Costa Rica’s commitment to the OECD accession process accentuated this traditional use of best-practices and model legislation. Costa Rica regularly notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers in Trade (TBT).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Costa Rica uses the civil law system. The fundamental law is the country’s political constitution of 1949, which grants the unicameral legislature a particularly strong role.  Jurisprudence or case law does not constitute legal precedent but can be persuasive if used in legal proceedings. For example, the Chambers of the Supreme Court regularly cite their own precedents.  The civil and commercial codes govern commercial transactions. The courts are independent, and their authority is respected. The roles of public prosecutor and government attorney are distinct: the Chief Prosecuting Attorney or Attorney General (Fiscal General) operates a semi-autonomous department within the judicial branch while the government attorney or State Litigator (Procuraduria General) works within the Ministry of Justice and Peace in the Executive branch. Judgments and awards of foreign courts and arbitration panels may be accepted and enforced in Costa Rica through the exequatur process.  The Constitution specifically prohibits discriminatory treatment of foreign nationals.

The Costa Rican Judicial System is comprised of the civil, administrative, and criminal court structure.  The judicial system generally upholds contracts, but caution should be exercised when making investments in sectors reserved or protected by the Constitution or by laws for public operation.  Investments in state-protected sectors under concession mechanisms can be especially complex due to frequent challenges in the constitutional court of contracts permitting private participation in state enterprise activities. Furthermore, independent government agencies, including municipal governments, which grant construction permits, can issue permits or requirements that may contradict the decisions of other independent agencies, causing significant project delays.

Costa Rica’s commercial code details all business requirements necessary to operate in Costa Rica.  The laws of public administration and public finance contain most requirements for contracting with the state.

The legal process to resolve cases involving squatting on land can be especially cumbersome. Land registries are at times incomplete or even contradictory.  Buyers should retain experienced legal counsel to help them determine the necessary due diligence regarding the purchase of property.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Costa Rican websites are useful to help navigate laws, rules and procedures including that of the investment promotion agency CINDE, http://www.cinde.org/en   (labor regulations), the export promotion authority PROCOMER, http://www.procomer.com/ (incentive packages), and the Health Ministry, https://www.ministeriodesalud.go.cr/   (product registration and import/export).  In addition, the State Litigator’s office (www.pgr.go.cr   – the “SCIJ” tab) compiles relevant laws.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Several public institutions are responsible for consumer protection as it relates to monopolistic and anti-competitive practices.  The “Commission for the Promotion of Competition” (COPROCOM), a semi-autonomous agency housed in the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Commerce, is charged with investigating and correcting anti-competitive behavior across the economy. SUTEL, the Telecommunications Superintendence, shares that responsibility with COPROCOM in the Telecommunications sector.  Both agencies are charged with defense of competition, deregulation of economic activity, and consumer protection. COPROCOM is considered to be underfunded and weak; the OECD has repeatedly emphasized the need to reform COPROCOM in order to assure regulatory independence and sufficient operating budget. The government’s draft law to strengthen COPROCOM and give it more autonomy has faced considerable opposition.

Expropriation and Compensation

The three principal expropriating ministries in recent years have been the Ministry of Public Works – MOPT (highway rights-of-way), the Costa Rican Electrical Institute – ICE (energy infrastructure), and the Ministry of Environment and Energy – MINAE (National Parks and protected areas).  Expropriations generally conform to Costa Rica’s laws and treaty obligations, but there are allegations of expropriations of private land without prompt or adequate compensation.

Article 45 of Costa Rica’s Constitution stipulates that private property can be expropriated without proof that it is done for public interest.  The 1995 Law 7495 on expropriations further stipulates that expropriations require full and prior payment. The law makes no distinction between foreigners and nationals.  Provisions include: (a) return of the property to the original owner if it is not used for the intended purpose within ten years or, if the owner was compensated, right of first refusal to repurchase the property back at its current value; (b) a requirement that the expropriating institution complete registration of the property within six months; (c) a two-month period during which the tax office must appraise the affected property; (d) a requirement that the tax office itemize crops, buildings, rental income, commercial rights, mineral exploitation rights, and other goods and rights, separately and in addition to the value of the land itself;  (e) provision that upon full deposit of the calculated amount the government may take possession of land despite the former owner’s dispute of the price; and (f) provisions providing for both local and international arbitration in the event of a dispute. The expropriations law was amended in 1998, 2006, and 2015 to clarify and expedite some procedures, including those necessary to expropriate land for the construction of new roads.

There is no discernible bias against U.S. investments, companies, or representatives during the expropriations process.  Costa Rican public institutions follow the law as outlined above and generally act in a way acceptable to the affected landowners.  However, there are currently several cases in which landowners and government differ significantly in their appraisal of the expropriated lands’ value; in those cases, judicial processes took years to resolve.  In addition, landowners have, on occasion, been prevented from developing land which has not yet been formally expropriated for parks or protected areas; the courts will eventually order the government to proceed with the expropriations but the process can be long.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

In 1993, Costa Rica became a member state to the convention on International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention).  Costa Rica paid the awards resulting from unfavorable ICSID rulings, most recently in 2012 regarding private property belonging to a German national within National Park boundaries.

Costa Rica is a signatory of the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention).  Consequently, within the Costa Rican legal hierarchy the Convention ranks higher than local laws although still subordinate to the Constitution. Costa Rican courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards.  Judgments of foreign courts are recognized and enforceable under the local courts and the Supreme Court.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Disputes between investors and the government grounded in the government’s alleged actions or failure to act – termed investment disputes ‒ may be resolved administratively or through the legal system.

Under Chapter 10 of the CAFTA-DR agreement, Costa Rica legally obligated itself to answer investor arbitration claims submitted under ICSID or UNCITRAL, and accept the arbitration verdict.  To date there have been two claims by U.S. citizen investors under the provisions of CAFTA-DR. Extensive documentation for both cases is filed on the Foreign Trade Ministry (COMEX) website:  http://www.comex.go.cr/tratados/cafta-dr/  , under “documentos relevantes”. No local court denies or fails to enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government.

In some coastal areas of Costa Rica, there is a history of invasion and occupation of private property by squatters who are often organized and sometimes violent.  The Costa Rican police and judicial system have at times failed to deter or to peacefully resolve such invasions. It is not uncommon for squatters to return to the parcels of land from which they were evicted, requiring expensive and potentially dangerous vigilance over the land.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The right to solve disputes through arbitration is guaranteed in the Costa Rican Constitution. For years, the practical application was regulated by the Civil Procedural Code, which made it ineffective with no arbitration cases until 1998, the year the local arbitration law #7727 was enacted.  A 2011 law on International Commercial Arbitration (Law 8937), drafted from the UNCITRAL model law (version 2006), brought Costa Rica to a dual arbitration system, with two valid laws, one law for local arbitration and one for international arbitration. Under the local act, arbitration has to be conducted in Spanish and only attorneys admitted to the local Bar Association may be named as arbitrators.  All cases brought before an arbitration panel, under the rules of local arbitration centers, must be resolved within 155 days after the complaint is served to the defendant; if the case does not fall under such arbitration centers’ rules then the award must be rendered within two months of final statements of the parties.  Parties can withdraw their case or reach an out-of-court settlement before the arbitral tribunal delivers an award.  If the award meets the review criteria, the losing party has the option to request that the Costa Rican Supreme Court examine the award, but only on procedural matters and never on the merits.  Under the UNCITRAL Law for International Arbitration, proceedings may be held in English and foreign attorneys are authorized to serve as arbitrators. The following arbitration centers are in operation in Costa Rica:

  • Centro de Conciliacion y Arbitraje. Costa Rican Chamber of Commerce
  • Centro de Resolución de Controversias. Costa Rican Association of Engineers and Architects
  • Centro Internacional de Conciliación y Arbitraje. Costa Rican American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM)
  • Centro de Arbitraje y Mediación/Centro Iberoamericano de Arbitraje (CIAR).  Costa Rican Bar Association.

Beyond such arbitration options, law #7727 also facilitates courts’ enforcement of conciliation agreements reached under the law.  Some universities and municipalities operate “Casas de Justicia” (Justice Houses) open to the public and offering mediation and conciliation at no cost.  Law #8937 empowered local arbitration centers, beginning with that pertaining to the Engineers and Architects’ Association, to implement Dispute Board regulations, as a method to address construction disputes.

Outcomes in local courts do not appear to favor state-owned enterprises (SOEs) any more or less than other actors.  SOEs can sign arbitral agreements, but must follow strict public laws to obtain the permissions necessary and follow correct procedures, otherwise the agreement could be voided.  Once SOEs find themselves in arbitration, they are subject to the same standards and treatment as any other actor.

The most frequently heard complaint about Costa Rican court process is that litigation can be long and costly.  U.S. companies cite the unpredictability of outcomes as a source of rising judicial insecurity in Costa Rica. The legal system is significantly backlogged, and civil suits may take several years from start to finish.  Some U.S. firms and citizens satisfactorily resolved their cases through the courts, while others see proceedings drawn out over a decade without a final resolution.  Commercial arbitration has consequently become an increasingly common dispute resolution mechanism.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Costa Rican bankruptcy law, addressed in both the commercial code and the civil procedures code, is similar to corresponding U.S. law, according to local experts.  Title V of the civil procedures code outlines creditors’ rights and the processes available to register outstanding credits, administer the liquidation of the bankrupt company’s assets, and pay creditors according to their preferential status.  The Costa Rican system also allows for successive alternatives to full bankruptcy: “convenion preventivo” or arrangement with creditors; “administracion por intervencion” or administration through judicial intervention; “reorganizacion con intervencion judicial” or reorganization through judicial intervention; and finally bankruptcy.  As in the United States, penal law will also apply to criminal malfeasance in some bankruptcy cases. In the World Bank’s “resolving insolvency” ranking within the 2018 “Doing Business” report, Costa Rica ranked #134 of 190 (http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings  ).

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Corporations in Costa Rica, particularly those in the export and tourism sectors, generally enjoy a positive reputation within the country as engines of growth and practitioners of Responsible Business Conduct (RBC).  The Costa Rica government actively highlights its role in attracting high-tech companies to Costa Rica; the strong RBC culture that many of those companies cultivate has become part of that winning package. Large multinational companies commonly pursue RBC goals in line with their corporate goals and have found it beneficial to publicize RBC orientation and activities in Costa Rica.  Many smaller companies, particularly in the tourism sector, have integrated community outreach activities into their way of doing business. There is a general awareness of RBC among both producers and consumers in Costa Rica.

The Costa Rican government maintains and enforces laws with respect to labor and employment rights, consumer protection and environmental protection.  Costa Rica has no mineral extraction industry with its accompanying issues. Costa Rica encourages foreign and local enterprises to follow generally accepted RBC principles such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (MNE) and maintains a national contact point for OECD MNE guidelines within the Ministry of Foreign Trade (see http://www.oecd.org/investment/mne/ncps.htm  ).

Some Costa Rican government agencies took the principles of public-private partnership to heart by working with private companies in addressing specific social issues.  For example, since 2003 the Foundation Paniamor (www.paniamordigital.org  ) is the designated lead agency in Costa Rica guiding the network of 428 (through December 2018) tourism-related businesses which are signatories to the “Code of Conduct” an initiative of the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT).  The purpose of this code is to organize and direct the private sector’s work against the sexual commercial exploitation of children and adolescents.

10. Political and Security Environment

Since 1948, Costa Rica has not experienced significant domestic political violence. There are no indigenous or external movements likely to produce political or social instability.  However, Costa Ricans occasionally follow a long tradition of blocking public roads for a few hours as a way of pressuring the government to address grievances; the traditional government response has been to react slowly, thus giving the grievances time to air.  This practice on the part of peaceful protesters can cause logistical problems.

Crime increased in Costa Rica in recent decades and U.S. citizen visitors and residents are frequent victims.  While petty theft is the main problem, criminals show an increased tendency to use violence.   Please see the State Department’s Travel Advisory page for Costa Rica for the latest information —  https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/costa-rica-travel-advisory.html

Netherlands

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Netherlands is the sixteenth-largest economy in the world and the fifth largest in the European Monetary Union (the eurozone), with a gross domestic product (GDP) of over USD 900 billion (773 billion euros).  According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Netherlands is consistently among the three largest source and recipient economies for foreign direct investment (FDI) in the world, although the Netherlands is not the ultimate destination for the majority of this investment.  The government of the Netherlands maintains liberal policies toward FDI, has established itself as a platform for third-country investment with some 145 investment agreements in force, and adheres to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Codes of Liberalization and Declaration on International Investment, including a National Treatment commitment and adherence to relevant guidelines.

The Netherlands is the recipient of eight percent of all FDI inflow into the EU.  Of all EU member states, it is the top recipient of U.S. FDI, at over 16 percent of all U.S. FDI abroad as of 2017.  The Netherlands has become a key export platform and pan-regional distribution hub for U.S. firms. Roughly 60 percent of total U.S. foreign-affiliate sales in the Netherlands are exports, with the bulk of them going to other EU members.

In 2014, foreign-owned companies made inward direct investment worth USD 15.8 billion (14.2 billion euros) – just over 30 percent of total corporate investment in durable goods in the Netherlands.  Foreign investors provide 19 percent of Dutch employment in the private sector (860,200 jobs). U.S. firms contribute the most among foreign firms to employment, responsible for 214,000 jobs. In its 2017 investment report, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) identified the Netherlands as the world’s fifth largest destination of global FDI inflows and the third largest source of FDI outflows.

Although policy makers fear that a Brexit will be detrimental for the Dutch economy, so far the Netherlands is benefitting from companies exiting the United Kingdom in anticipation of Brexit.  According to the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA), the number of companies interested in moving to the Netherlands because of Brexit increased from 80 in 2017 to 150 in 2018 to 250 in 2019.  The companies are coming mainly from the health, creative industry, financial services, and logistics sectors.  The Dutch Authority for the Financial Markets (AFM) has predicted Amsterdam will emerge as a main post-Brexit financial trading center in Europe for automated trading platforms and other ‘fintech’ firms, allowing these companies to keep their European trading within the confines of the EU after Brexit.

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

Dutch corporations and branches of foreign corporations are currently subject to a corporate tax rate of 25 percent on taxable profits, which puts the Netherlands in the middle third among EU countries’ corporate tax rates and below the tax rates of its larger neighbors.  Profits up to USD 240,000 (200,000 euros) are taxed at a rate of 19 percent.  In October 2018, the Dutch government announced it would lower its corporate tax rate to 20.5 percent in 2021, with profits up to USD 240,000 taxed at a 15 percent rate from 2021 onwards.

Dutch corporate taxation generally allows for exemption of dividends and capital gains derived from a foreign subsidiary.  Surveys of the corporate tax structure of EU member states note that both the corporate tax rate and the effective corporate tax rate in the Netherlands are around the EU average.  Nevertheless, the Dutch corporate tax structure ranks among the most competitive in Europe considering other beneficial measures such as ATAs and/or APAs. The Netherlands also has no branch profit tax and does not levy a withholding tax on interest and royalties.

Maintaining an investment-friendly reputation is a high priority for the Dutch government, which provides public information and institutional assistance to prospective investors through the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA) (https://investinholland.com/  ). Historically, over a third of all “Greenfield” FDI projects that NFI attracts to the Netherlands originate from U.S. companies.  Additionally, the Netherlands business gateway at https://business.gov.nl/   – maintained by the Dutch government – provides information on regulations, taxes, and investment incentives that apply to foreign investors in the Netherlands and clear guidance on establishing a business in the Netherlands.

The NFIA maintains six regional offices in the United States (Washington, DC; Atlanta; Boston; Chicago; New York City; and San Francisco).  The American Chamber of Commerce in the Netherlands (https://www.amcham.nl/  ) also promotes U.S. and Dutch business interests in the Netherlands.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

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

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

In concert with the European Union, the Dutch government is considering how to best protect its economic security but also continue as one of the world’s most open economies.  The Netherlands has no formal foreign investment screening mechanism, but the government has begun discussions about developing targeted investment-screening for certain vital sectors that could represent national security vulnerabilities.  The government is in the process of finalizing legislation that will establish investment screening mechanisms in the first of those vital sectors: telecommunications. The Netherlands has certain limitations on foreign ownership in sectors that are deemed of vital national interest (transportation, energy, defense and security, finance, postal services, public broadcasting, and the media).  There is no requirement for Dutch nationals to have an equity stake in a Dutch registered company.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

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

Business Facilitation

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

The World Bank’s 2019 Ease of Doing Business Index ranks the Netherlands as number 22 in starting a business.  The Netherlands ranks better than the OECD average on registration time, the number of procedures, and required minimum capital.

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

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

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

Follow these links for a continuously updated list, the legal status, and texts of these agreements: https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/binaries/rijksoverheid/documenten/rapporten/2010/02/22/ibo-landenlijst/IBO+overzicht+Nederland+update+jan+2016.pdf 

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

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

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

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

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

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

International Regulatory Considerations

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

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Dutch contract law is based on the principle of party autonomy and full freedom of contract.  Signing parties are free to draft an agreement in any form and any language, based on the legal system of their choice.

Dutch corporate law provides for a legal and fiscal framework that is designed to be flexible.  This element of the investment climate makes the Netherlands especially attractive to foreign investors.

The Dutch civil court system has a chamber dedicated to business disputes, called the Enterprise Chamber.  The Enterprise Chamber includes judges who are experts in various commercial fields. They resolve a wide range of corporate disputes, from corporate governance disputes to high-profile shareholder conflicts over mergers or hostile take-overs.  In 2017, as part of its takeover bid of AkzoNobel, U.S. paint manufacturer PPG appealed the AkzoNobel Board’s decision to reject PPG’s takeover offer in the Commercial Court but was unsuccessful.

On January 1, 2019, the Enterprise Chamber established an English-language commercial court.  The Netherlands Commercial Court (NCC) and its appellate chamber (NCCA) offer parties the opportunity to litigate in English and will provide judgments in English.  Both the NCC and NCCA will focus primarily on major international commercial cases. See also: https://www.rechtspraak.nl/English/NCC/Pages/default.aspx  

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Dutch government has demonstrated a growing concern with the protection of its open, market-based economy against foreign state malign activity and currently the Netherlands is in the process of finalizing legislation that will allow for the establishment of formal investment screening mechanisms for certain vital sectors that could represent national security vulnerabilities.  In March 2019, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy (MOE) submitted to Parliament its long-awaited proposal for an investment screening law in the telecommunications sector. The law is expected to come into force in late 2019 or 2020. This would be the first law to establish an investor-screening mechanism in sectors of vital interest to Dutch national security.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

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

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

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

Expropriation and Compensation

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

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

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

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

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

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

Bankruptcy Regulations

Dutch bankruptcy law is governed by the Dutch Bankruptcy Code, which applies both to individuals and to companies.  The code covers three separate legal proceedings: 1) bankruptcy, which has a goal of liquidating the company’s assets; 2) receivership, aimed at reaching an agreement between the creditors and the company; and 3) debt restructuring, which is only available to individuals.

The World Bank’s 2019 Ease of Doing Business Index ranks the Netherlands as number 7 in resolving insolvency.  The Netherlands ranks better than the OECD average on bankruptcy time, cost, and recovery rate.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The Netherlands is a global leader in corporate social responsibility (CSR).  Principles of CSR are promoted and prescribed through a range of corporate, governmental, and international guidelines.  In general, companies carefully guard their CSR reputation and consumers are increasingly opting for products and services that are produced in an ethical and sustainable manner.

The Netherlands adheres to OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy houses the National Contact Point (NCP) that promotes OECD guidelines and helps mediate concerns that persons, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and enterprises may have regarding implementation by a specific company.  For more information, visit http://www.oecdguidelines.nl  .

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

The Netherlands has no special government programs that promote women empowerment or women’s access to investment.  Under the law, there is no differentiation for men and women regarding equal access to investment. Furthermore, no groups are excluded from participating in financial markets and the financial system.

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

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

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

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

The 2019 National Trade Estimate of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) does refer to the fact that some sustainability criteria developed in the Netherlands can bring about trade impediments:  “The Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) have developed standards for soybeans and wood pellets, respectively, that have been supported by the Dutch government and effectively require U.S. producers to meet onerous certification requirements. [… ] These criteria include a requirement for sustainability certification at the forest level, which effectively precludes reliance on the U.S. risk-based approach to sustainable forest management.  As a result of the implementation of the criteria, wood pellet exports to the Netherlands have dropped from 7 percent of total U.S. wood pellet exports in 2014 to less than one percent in 2018.”

10. Political and Security Environment

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

The Dutch economy derives much of its strength from a stable business climate by partnerships among unions, business organizations, and the government.  Strikes are rarely used as a way to resolve labor disputes. With ten workdays per 1000 employees lost to industrial action, the Netherlands ranks 10th on the list of OECD countries with the lowest incidence of strikes behind the United States (four days) and Germany (three days).

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