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Armenia

Executive Summary

Over the past several years, Armenia has received respectable rankings in international indices that review country business environments and investment climates. Significant U.S. investments are present in Armenia, most notably ContourGlobal’s acquisition of the Vorotan Hydroelectric Cascade and Lydian International’s efforts to develop a major gold mine. U.S. investors in the banking, energy, pharmaceutical, information technology, and mining sectors, among others, have entered or acquired assets in Armenia. Armenia presents a variety of opportunities for investors, and the country’s legal framework and government policy aim to attract investment, but the investment climate is not without challenges. Obstacles include Armenia’s small market size, relative geographic isolation due to closed borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan, weaknesses in the rule of law and judiciary, and a legacy of corruption. Net foreign direct investment inflows are low. Armenia is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union, a customs union that brings Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia together in an integrated single market. In May 2015, Armenia signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with the United States. The TIFA establishes a United States-Armenia Council on Trade and Investment to discuss bilateral trade and investment and related issues. In November 2017, Armenia signed a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement with the European Union, which aims in part to improve Armenia’s investment climate and business environment.

Armenia imposes few restrictions on foreign control and rights to private ownership and establishment. There are no restrictions on the rights of foreign nationals to acquire, establish, or dispose of business interests in Armenia. Business registration procedures are straightforward. According to foreign companies, otherwise sound regulations, policies, and laws are sometimes undermined by problems such as the lack of independence, capacity, or professionalism in key institutions, most critically the judiciary. Armenia does not limit the conversion and transfer of money or the repatriation of capital and earnings. The banking system in Armenia is sound and well-regulated, but investors note that the financial sector is not highly developed. The U.S.-Armenia Bilateral Investment Treaty provides U.S. investors with a variety of protections. Although Armenian legislation offers protection for intellectual property rights, enforcement efforts and recourse through the courts require improvement.

Armenia experienced a dramatic change of government in April/May 2018. Parliamentary elections in December 2018 led to the exit from power of numerous parliamentarians known to have significant business holdings in Armenia and exercise outsized sway over large sections of the economy. An anti-corruption campaign is underway as part of efforts to eliminate systemic corruption. Overall, the competitive environment in Armenia is improving, but several businesses have reported that broader reforms across judicial, tax, customs, health, education, military, and law enforcement institutions will be necessary to shore up these gains. Despite progress in the fight against corruption and improvements in some areas that raise Armenia’s attractiveness as an investment destination, investors claim that numerous concerns remain and must be addressed to ensure a transparent, fair, and predictable business climate. An investment dispute in the country’s mining sector has attracted significant international attention and remains outstanding after several years.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 77 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 47 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/
en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 64 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2018 USD 7 million http://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 USD 4,230 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The government of Armenia officially welcomes foreign investment. The Ministry of Economy is the main government body responsible for the development of investment policy in Armenia. Armenia has achieved respectable rankings on some global indices measuring the country’s business climate. Armenia’s investment and trade policy is relatively open; foreign companies are entitled by law to the same treatment as Armenian companies. Armenia has strong human capital and a well-educated population, particularly in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, leading to significant investment in the high-tech and information technology sectors. Many international companies have established branches or subsidiaries in Armenia to take advantage of the country’s pool of qualified specialists and position within the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). However, many businesses have identified challenges with Armenia’s investment climate in terms of the country’s small market (with a population of less than three million), relative geographic isolation due to closed borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan, per capita gross national income of $4,230, and concerns related to weaknesses in the rule of law.

After a dramatic change of government in April/May 2018, major sectors of Armenia’s economy have ostensibly become more open to competition. Large businesses backed by oligarchic interests are notionally less able to draw on government support to prop up their market positions. An anti-corruption campaign was launched after the 2018 change of government, and a series of high-profile cases have resulted as part of efforts to eliminate systemic corruption. These developments serve to improve Armenia’s investment climate and competitive environment, though the fight against corruption needs to be institutionalized in the long term, especially in critical areas such as the judiciary, tax and customs operations, and health, education, military, and law enforcement sectors. Foreign investors are still concerned about the rule of law and equal treatment. U.S companies have also reported that the investment climate is tainted by a failure to enforce intellectual property rights. There have been concerns regarding the lack of an independent and strong judiciary, which undermines the government’s assurances of equal treatment and transparency and reduces access to effective recourse in instances of investment or commercial disputes. Representatives of U.S. entities have raised concerns about the quality of stakeholder consultation by the government with the private sector and government responsiveness in addressing concerns among the business community. The Armenian National Interests Fund and Investment Support Center are responsible for attracting and facilitating inward foreign direct investment.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

There are very few restrictions with regard to limitations on foreign ownership or control of commercial enterprises. There are some restrictions on foreign ownership within the media and commercial aviation sectors. Local incorporation is required to obtain a license for the provision of auditing services.

The Armenian government does not maintain investment screening mechanisms for foreign direct investment, though government approval is required to take advantage of certain tax and customs privileges.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In 2019, the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) published its first investment policy review for Armenia . The World Trade Organization (WTO) published a Trade Policy Review for Armenia  in 2018.

Business Facilitation

Armenia has traditionally fared well in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report.  The government has announced its commitment to addressing deficiencies that prevent Armenia from obtaining a higher ranking. Companies can register electronically at http://www.e-register.am/en/ .  This single window service was launched in 2011 and allows individual entrepreneurs and companies to complete name reservation, business registration, and tax identification processes all at once.  The application can be completed in one day. An electronic signature is needed in order to be able to register online. Foreign citizens can obtain an e-signature and more detailed information from the e-signature portal at https://www.ekeng.am/en/ .  In December 2019, the government launched a new e-regulations platform that provides a step-by-step guide for business and investment procedures. The platform is available at https://armenia.eregulations.org/ .

Outward Investment

The Armenian government does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Armenian government nominally uses transparent policies and laws to foster competition.  Some report that Armenia’s new government has pursued a more consistent execution of these laws and policies in an effort to improve market competition and remove informal barriers to market entry, especially for small- and medium-sized enterprises.  Armenia’s legislation on the protection of competition has been improved with clear definitions and newly introduced concepts on issues such as price manipulation, imposition of fines as a percentage of revenue versus fixed amounts, and penalties for state officials.  However, companies regard the efforts of the State Commission for the Protection of Economic Competition (SCPEC) alone as insufficient to ensure a level playing field. They indicate that improvements in other state institutions and authorities that support competition, like the courts, tax and customs, public procurement, and law enforcement, are necessary.  Numerous studies observe a continuing lack of contestability in local markets, many of which are dominated by a few incumbents. Banking supervision is relatively well developed and largely consistent with the Basel Core Principles. The Central Bank of Armenia is the primary regulator of the financial sector and exercises oversight over banking, securities, insurance, and pensions. Armenia has adopted IFRS as the accounting standard for enterprises. Data on Armenia’s public finances and debt obligations are broadly transparent, and the Ministry of Finance publishes periodic reports that are available online.

Safety and health requirements, most of them holdovers from the Soviet period, generally do not impede investment activities.  Nevertheless, investors consider bureaucratic procedures to be sometimes burdensome, and discretionary decisions by individual officials may present opportunities for petty corruption.  A unified online platform for publishing draft legislation was launched in March 2017 and is available at https://www.e-draft.am/en .  Proposed legislation is available for the public to view.  Registered users can submit feedback and see a summary of comments on draft legislation.  However, the time period devoted to public comments is often regarded as insufficient to solicit proper feedback.  The results of consultations have not been reported by the government in the past. The government maintains other portals, including http://www.e-gov.am  and http://www.arlis.am , that make legislation and regulations available to the public. Some regulations that affect Armenia are developed within the Eurasian Economic Commission, the executive body for the EAEU.

International Regulatory Considerations

Armenia is a member of the EAEU and adheres to relevant technical regulations.  Armenia’s entry into CEPA will lead it to pursue harmonization efforts with the EU on a range of laws, regulations, and policies relevant to economic affairs.  Armenia is also a member of the WTO, and the Armenian government notifies draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade.  Armenia is a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement and had already sent category “A”, “B,” and “C” notifications to the WTO.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Armenia has a hybrid legal system that includes elements of both civil and common law.  Although Armenia is developing an international commercial code, the laws regarding commercial and contractual matters are currently set forth in the civil code.  Thus, because Armenia lacks a commercial court, all disputes involving contracts, ownership of property, or other commercial matters are resolved by litigants in courts of general jurisdiction, which handle both civil and criminal cases.  Courts that handle civil matters may be overwhelmed by the volume of cases before them and are frequently seen by the public as corrupt.  Despite the ability of courts to use the precedential authority of the Court of Cassation and the European Court of Human Rights, many judges presiding over civil matters do not do so, increasing the unpredictability of civil court decisions in the eyes of investors.

Businesses tend to perceive that many Armenian courts suffer from low levels of efficiency, independence, and professionalism, which drives a need to strengthen the judiciary.  According to UNCTAD, rent seeking and inefficiencies are among the key constraints on investing and doing business in Armenia. Very often in proceedings when additional forensic expertise is requested, the court may suspend a case until the forensic opinion is received, a process that can take several months.  Businesses have noted that many judges at courts of general jurisdiction may be reluctant to make decisions without getting advice from higher court judges.  Thus, the public opinion is that decisions may be influenced by factors other than the law and merits of individual cases.  In general, the government honors judgments from both arbitration proceedings and Armenian national courts.

Due to the nature and complexity of commercial and contractual issues and the caseload of judges presiding over civil matters, many matters involving investment or commercial disputes take months or years to work their way through the civil courts.  In addition, businesses have complained of the inherent inefficiencies and institutional corruption of the courts. Even though the Armenian constitution provides investors the tools to enforce awards and their property rights, investors claim that there is little predictability in what a court may do.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Basic legal provisions covering foreign investment are specified in the 1994 Law on Foreign Investment.  Foreign companies are entitled by law to the same treatment as Armenian companies. A Law on Public-Private Partnership (PPP), adopted in 2019, establishes a framework for the government to attract investment for projects focused on infrastructure. However, Armenia must adopt secondary implementing legislation to clarify key aspects of the PPP framework, including comprehensive criteria for project selection.

The Investment Support Center is Armenia’s national authority for investment and export promotion.  It provides information to foreign investors on Armenia’s business climate, investment opportunities, and legislation; supports investor visits; and serves as a liaison for government institutions.  More information is available via the Investment Support Center’s website .

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

SCPEC reviews transactions for competition-related concerns.  Relevant laws, regulations, commission decisions, and more information can be found on SCPEC’s website .  Concentrations, including mergers, acquisitions of shares or assets, amalgamations, and incorporations, are subject to ex ante control by SCPEC in accordance with the law.  Whenever a concentration gives rise to concerns about harm to competition, including the creation or strengthening of a dominant position, SCPEC can prohibit such a transaction or impose certain remedies.  However, SCPEC’s investigative powers are understood to be limited, forcing SCPEC to rely primarily on document studies and requesting information from other state institutions. Armenia’s Law on Protection of Economic Competition has been amended several times in recent years to bring Armenia’s competition framework into alignment with EAEU and CEPA requirements.

Expropriation and Compensation

Under Armenian law, foreign investment cannot be confiscated or expropriated except in extreme cases of natural or state emergency upon obtaining an order from a domestic court.  According to the Armenian constitution, equivalent compensation is owed prior to expropriation.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Armenia is party to the ICSID Convention (Washington Convention) and Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention).

Under Article 5 of the Armenian constitution, international treaties ratified by Armenia take precedence over domestic law.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

According to the Law on Foreign Investment, all disputes that arise between a foreign investor and Armenia must be settled in Armenian courts.  A Law on Commercial Arbitration, enacted in 2007, provides a wider range of options for resolving commercial disputes. The U.S.–Armenia BIT provides that in the event of a dispute involving a U.S. investor and the state, the investor may take the case to international arbitration.  As of January 2020, two investment disputes brought against Armenia under the U.S.–Armenia BIT were pending with the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Commercial disputes may be brought before an Armenian or any other competent court, as provided by law or in accordance with party agreements.  Commercial disputes are heard in courts of general jurisdiction.  Specialized administrative courts adjudicate cases brought against state entities.  Decisions of general and administrative courts may be appealed first to the Civil Court of Appeal and Administrative Court of Appeal, and then to the Civil and Administrative Chamber of the Court of Cassation.

The Law on Arbitration Courts and Arbitration Procedures provides rules governing the settlement of disputes by arbitration.  In accordance with the New York Convention and Article 5 of the Armenian constitution, domestic courts must recognize foreign arbitral awards.

Armenia intends to develop an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanism that will include mediation and arbitration.  ADR could be used not only in commercial matters, including those involving mobile property and secured transactions, but also in cases involving family and labor disputes.   While ADR options are available to those who seek alternatives to litigation, they currently are not widely used or trusted.

Bankruptcy Regulations

According to the Law on Bankruptcy adopted in 2006, creditors and equity and contract holders (including foreign entities) have the right to participate and defend their interests in bankruptcy cases.  Armenia decided with the passage of a new Judicial Code in 2018 to adopt a new, specialized bankruptcy court, which began operations in 2019.  Creditors have the right to access all materials relevant to cases, submit claims to court, participate in meetings of creditors, and nominate candidates to administer cases.  Monetary judgments are usually made in local currency.  The Armenian Criminal Code defines penalties for false and deliberate bankruptcy, concealment of property or other assets of the bankrupt party, or other illegal activities during the bankruptcy process.  UNCTAD observes that Armenia’s framework for bankruptcy procedures needs improvement, adding that insolvency cases are expensive and almost always result in liquidation. Armenia amended its bankruptcy law in December 2019 intended to reduce the cost of bankruptcy proceedings. In addition, premiums have been set for bankruptcy managers for submitting financial recovery plans, as well as for the recovery of a bankrupt person, with the aim of raising rates of financial recovery.

According to the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Index, Armenia stands at 95 in the ranking of 190 economies on the ease of resolving insolvency.  Resolving insolvency takes 1.9 years on average and costs 11 percent of the debtor’s estate, with the most likely outcome being that the company will be broken up and sold.  The average recovery rate is 39.2 cents on the dollar.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Armenia offers incentives for exporters (e.g. no export duty, VAT refund on goods and services exported) and foreign investors (e.g. income tax holidays, the ability to carry forward losses indefinitely, VAT deferral, and exemptions from customs duties for investment projects).  Starting in 2018, the Armenian government began exempting imports of capital investment-related goods from VAT payments at the border. In 2015, the Armenian government began exempting from customs duties investment-related imports of equipment and raw materials from non-EAEU member countries.  VAT and customs duties exemptions are implemented by government decisions made on a case-by-case basis. Also, in accordance with the Law on Foreign Investment, several ad hoc incentives may be negotiated on a case-by-case basis for investments that are targeted at certain sectors of the economy or are of strategic interest. The government regularly signs memoranda of understanding or agreement with investors on the development of specific projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

In June 2011, Armenia adopted a Law on Free Economic Zones (FEZ), amended in October 2018, and developed several key regulations to attract foreign investments into FEZs:  exemptions from VAT, profit tax, customs duties, and property tax. The Alliance FEZ was opened in August 2013 to focus on high-tech industries, including information and communication technologies, electronics, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, architecture and engineering, industrial design, and alternative energy.  In 2014, the government expanded operations in the Alliance FEZ to include industrial production. In 2015, the Meridian FEZ, focused on jewelry production, watchmaking, and diamond cutting, opened in Yerevan. The Meghri FEZ, located on Armenia’s border with Iran, opened in 2017. A new FEZ, located in Hrazdan, opened in late 2018 and is focused on the high-tech and information technology sectors. Armenia has signaled an interest in developing logistics hubs, including one in Gyumri, to facilitate goods trade.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

There are no performance requirements for investment in terms of mandating local employment.  The processes for obtaining visas, residence, or work permits are straightforward. There are no government-imposed conditions on permission to invest.

Armenia does not follow any policy that would force foreign investors to use domestic content in goods and technology.  There are no requirements for foreign information technology providers to turn over source code or provide keys for encryption.  There are no requirements to store data within the country.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Armenian law protects secured interests in property, both personal and real.  Armenian law provides a basic framework for secured lending, collateral, and pledges and provides a mechanism to support modern lending practices and title registration.  According to Armenia’s constitution, foreign citizens are prohibited from owning land, though they may take out long-term leases. In the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business report, Armenia ranked 13th among 190 economies for the ease of registering property.  Lack of clear title to land is generally not an issue in Armenia. The World Bank observes that while all land plots in Armenia are mapped, some may not be formally registered with the body responsible for immovable property registration.

Intellectual Property Rights

Armenia has a strong legislative and regulatory framework to protect intellectual property rights (IPR) .  Domestic legislation, including the 2006 Law on Copyright and Related Rights, provides for the protection of copyright with respect to literary, scientific, and artistic works (including computer programs and databases), patents and other rights of invention, industrial design, know-how, trade secrets, trademarks, and service marks.  The Intellectual Property Agency (IPA) in the Ministry of Economy is responsible for granting patents and overseeing other IPR-related matters. The collective management organization ARMAUTHOR manages authors’ economic rights. Trademarks and patents require state registration by the IPA, but copyright does not.  There is no special trade secret law in Armenia, but the protection of trade secrets is covered by Armenia’s Civil Code. Formal registration is straightforward, the database of registered IPR is public, and applications to register IPR are published online for two months for comment by third parties. Armenia’s legislation is in compliance with the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

In 2005, Armenia created an IPR Enforcement Unit in the Organized Crime Department of the Armenian Police, which acts only based on complaints from right holders – it does not exercise ex-officio powers. The Armenian customs authorities track statistics related to the seizure of counterfeit goods, but the public reports are not regularly updated.

Despite the existence of relevant legislation and executive government structures, the concept of IPR remains unrecognized by a large part of the local population. The onus for IPR complaints rests with the offended party.  The police assert that the majority of cases are settled through out-of-court proceedings. While the Armenian government has made some progress on IPR issues, strengthening enforcement mechanisms remains necessary. UNCTAD reports that low awareness and poor monitoring of IPR violations harm the business climate.

A new Law on Copyright has been drafted.  It includes provisions from new international agreements (Marrakesh and Beijing Treaties) and clarifies numerous provisions in the current law.  Proposed legislative amendments to the Law on Patents and the Law on Inventions, Utility Models, and Industrial Designs have been drafted and were submitted by the government to parliament for approval in November 2019. The draft amendments for the Law on Patents strengthens the requirement for substantive examination before rights registration. The draft amendments for the Law on Inventions, Utility Models, and Industrial Designs includes some procedural changes, including publishing applications for industrial designs and objects during the state registration process.

Armenia is not included in USTR’s Special 301 Report or Notorious Markets List.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The banking system in Armenia is sound and well-regulated, but the financial sector is not highly developed, according to investors.  Banking sector assets account for over 80 percent of total financial sector assets. Financial intermediation tends to be poor. Nearly all banks require collateral located in Armenia, and large collateral requirements often prevent potential borrowers from entering the market.  U.S. businesses have noted that this creates a significant barrier for small- and medium-sized enterprises and start-up companies.

The Armenian government welcomes foreign portfolio investment and there is a supporting system and legal framework in place. Armenia’s securities market is not well developed and has only minimal trading activity through the Armenia Securities Exchange, though efforts to grow capital markets are underway. Liquidity sufficient for the entry and exit of sizeable positions is often difficult to achieve due to the small size of the Armenian market. The Armenian government hopes that as a result of pension reforms in 2014, which brought two international asset managers to Armenia, capital markets will play a more prominent role in the country’s financial sector.  Armenia adheres to its IMF Article VIII commitments by refraining from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions. Credit is allocated on market terms and foreign investors are able to access credit locally.

Money and Banking System

The banking sector is healthy, and indicators of financial soundness, including capital adequacy ratios and non-performing loan rates, have been broadly strong in recent years.  The sector is well capitalized and liquid. Dollarization, historically high for deposits and lending, has been falling in recent years. Non-performing loans have fallen to below 10 percent of total loans.  There are 17 commercial banks in Armenia and 14 universal credit organizations. There are extensive branch networks throughout Armenia. At the end of 2019, the top three Armenian banks by estimated total assets were Ameriabank (968 billion Armenian drams (AMD), or USD 2.01 billion), Armbusinessbank (782.1 billion AMD, or USD 1.63 billion), and Ardshinbank (721.7 billion AMD, or USD 1.5 billion).  The minimum capital requirement for banks is 30 billion AMD (62.5 million USD). There are no restrictions on foreigners to open bank accounts. Residents and foreign nationals can hold foreign currency accounts and import, export, and exchange foreign currency relatively freely in accordance with the Law on Currency Regulation and Currency Control. Foreign banks may establish a subsidiary, branch, or representative office, and subsidiaries of foreign banks are allowed to provide the same types of services as domestically-owned banks.

The Central Bank of Armenia (CBA) is responsible for the regulation and supervision of the financial sector.  The authority and responsibilities of the CBA are established under the Law on Central Bank of Armenia. Numerous other articles of legislation and supporting regulations provide for financial sector oversight and supervision.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Armenia has no limitations on the conversion and transfer of money or the repatriation of capital and earnings, including branch profits, dividends, interest, royalties, or management or technical service fees.  Most banks can transfer funds internationally within two to four days. Armenia maintains the Armenian dram as a freely convertible currency under a managed float. The AMD/USD exchange rate has proven generally stable in recent years, though it has not been without occasional sharp movements.

According to the Law on Currency Regulation and Currency Control, prices for all goods and services, property, and wages must be set in AMD.  There are exceptions in the law, however, for transactions between resident and non-resident businesses and for certain transactions involving goods traded at world market prices.  The law requires that interest on foreign currency accounts be calculated in that currency, but paid in AMD.

Remittance Policies

Armenia imposes no limitations on the conversion and transfer of money or the repatriation of capital and earnings, including branch profits, dividends, interest, royalties, lease payments, private foreign debt, or management or technical service fees.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Armenia does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Most of Armenia’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs) were privatized in the 1990s and early 2000s, but SOEs are still active in a number of sectors.  SOEs in Armenia operate as state-owned closed joint stock companies that are managed by the Department of State Property Management and state non-commercial organizations.  There are no laws or rules that ensure a primary or leading role for SOEs in any specific industry. Armenia is party to the WTO Government Procurement Agreement, and SOEs are covered under that agreement.  SOEs in Armenia are subject to the same tax regime as their private competitors, and private enterprises in Armenia can compete with SOEs under the same terms and conditions. The Department of State Property Management maintains a public list of state-owned closed joint stock companies on its website .

Privatization Program

Most of Armenia’s state owned enterprises were privatized in the 1990s and early 2000s.  Many of the privatization processes for Armenia’s large assets were reported to be neither competitive nor transparent, and political considerations in some instances prevailed over fair tender processes.  The current law on privatization, the fifth, is the Law on the 2017–2020 Program for State Property Privatization, which lists 47 entities for privatization. The Department of State Property Management oversees the management of the state’s shares in entities slated for privatization. Details of the privatization program are available on the Department of State Property Management website .

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is not a widespread understanding of responsible business conduct (RBC) in Armenia, but several larger companies with foreign ownership or management are introducing the concept. Initiatives, where they do exist, are primarily limited to corporate social responsibility efforts. However, RBC programs that do exist are viewed favorably.  Some civil society groups and business associations are playing a more active role to promote RBC and develop awareness. Armenia joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in March 2017 as a candidate country.  The first EITI national report for Armenia was published in January 2019. As part of its EITI membership aspirations, the government in March 2018 adopted a roadmap to disclose beneficial owners in the metal ore mining industry.  Relevant implementing legislation, including for beneficial ownership disclosure, was adopted in 2019.

Major pillars of corporate governance in Armenia include the Law on Joint Stock Companies, the Law on Banks and Banking Activity, the Law on Securities Market, and a Corporate Governance Code.  International observers note inconsistencies in this legislation and generally rate corporate governance practices as weak to fair. Specific areas for potential improvement cited by the local business community include improving internal and external auditing for firms, enhancing the powers of independent directors on company boards, and boosting shareholders’ rights. Armenia has outlined commitments to corporate governance reforms, including with regard to mandatory audit, accounting, and financial reporting, within the context of an ongoing Stand-By Arrangement with the International Monetary Fund.

Domestic laws and regulations related to labor, employment rights, consumer protection, and environmental protection are not always enforced effectively.  These laws and regulations cannot be waived to attract foreign investment.

9. Corruption

After a peaceful revolution in April/May 2018, the Armenian government has made eradicating corruption on of its highest priorities. The government’s anti-corruption agenda is outlined in a 2019–2022 strategy and implementation plan. These documents establish a new anti-corruption institutional framework with separate entities tasked with preventive and investigative functions, set out specific measures for strengthening these functions, and prioritize strategic communication and public education to give citizens ownership of anti-corruption reforms.

The government has increased corruption investigations against mid- and high-level government officials, including those appointed by the current government, since the revolution.  Numerous high-ranking officials have stated publicly that corruption within their respective institutions will no longer be tolerated. Though some report that the government has mainly targeted ex-government officials in corruption investigations, there is no indication that Armenia’s anti-corruption laws are being applied by the post-revolutionary government in a discriminatory manner.  Armenia’s anti-corruption laws extend to all Armenian citizens.

Corruption remains a significant obstacle to U.S. investment in Armenia, particularly as it relates to critical areas such as the justice system and concerns related to the rule of law, enforcement of existing legislation and regulations, and equal treatment.  Investors claim that the health, education, military, corrections, and law enforcement sectors lack transparency in procurement and have in the past used selective enforcement to elicit bribes. Judges presiding over civil matters are still widely perceived by the public to be corrupt and under the influence of former authorities.  Although bribery is illegal in Armenia, the government does not actively encourage private companies to establish internal codes of conduct. Several multinational companies, select local companies, and foreign and local companies working with international financial institutions have implemented corporate governance mechanisms to tackle corruption internally.  However, such corporate governance principles are not widely implemented among local companies.

According to Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index, Armenia received a score of 42 out of 100, ranking it 77th among 180 countries. This reflects an improvement by 28 places over 2018.

Armenia’s ability to counter, deter, and prosecute corruption is noted to be hindered by the lack of robust enforcement of official disclosure laws meant to prevent corrupt officials from entering and retaining positions of authority and influence.  The objective and systematic scrutiny of declarations by government officials has historically been lacking due to dysfunction within the Commission on Ethics of High-Ranking Officials and the delayed establishment of the Corruption Prevention Commission, which inherited this responsibility. According to international evaluations, Armenian authorities have limited capacities to investigate money laundering and bring such cases to prosecution.

Various laws, some updated as recently as 2018, prohibit the participation of civil and municipal servants, as well as local government elected officials such as mayors and councilors, in commercial activities.  However, powerful officials at the national, district, and local levels often acquire direct, partial, or indirect control over private firms. Such control is often exercised through a hidden partner or majority ownership of fully private parent companies. This involvement can also be indirect, including through close relatives and friends. According to foreign investors, these practices reinforce protectionism, hinder competition, and undermine the image of the government as a facilitator of private sector growth.  Because of the historical strong interconnectedness of the political and economic spheres, Armenia has often struggled to introduce legislation to encourage strict ethical codes of conduct and the prevention of bribery in business transactions. In 2016, Armenia adopted legislation on criminal penalties for illicit enrichment and noncompliance or fraud in filing declarations.

Armenia is a member of the UN Convention against Corruption.  While not a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, Armenia is a member of the OECD Anti-Corruption Network for Eastern Europe and Central Asia and has signed the Istanbul Action Plan.  A monitoring report released by the OECD in 2018 cited Armenia’s lack of enforcement of anti-corruption laws, together with the continued presence of oligopolistic interests in the economy, as points of serious concern. The report contains a series of recommendations, including to take bold measures to ensure judicial and prosecutorial independence and integrity, introduce corporate liability for corruption offenses, investigate and prosecute high-profile and complex corruption cases, and increase transparency and strengthen monitoring in public procurement.  Armenia is also a member of the global Open Government Partnership initiative.

No specific law exists to protect NGOs dealing with anti-corruption investigations.

Resources to Report Corruption

For investigating corruption:
Investigation Department of Corruption, Organized and Official Crimes
Special Investigation Service of Armenia
13A Vagharsh Vagharshyan Street
Yerevan, Armenia
+374 11 900 002
press@investigatory.am

For prosecuting corruption:
Artur Chakhoyan
Head of Department for Combating Corruption and Economic Crimes
RA Prosecutor General’s Office
5 V. Sargsyan Street
Yerevan, Armenia
+374 10 511 655
info@prosecutor.am

For financial and asset declarations of high-level officials:
Haykuhi Harutyunyan
Chairperson
Corruption Prevention Commission
24 Baghramyan Street
Yerevan, Armenia
hhcpcarmenia@gmail.com

Watchdog organization:
Sona Ayvazyan
Executive Director
Transparency International Anti-Corruption Center
12 Saryan Street
Yerevan, Armenia
+374 10 569 589
sona@transparency.am

10. Political and Security Environment

Armenia has a history of political demonstrations, some of which have turned into violent confrontations between the police and protesters.  However, the frequency of violent protests has significantly decreased. The last major violent protest occurred in July 2016, when an armed group, Sasna Tsrer, stormed and occupied a police compound in Yerevan.  Three police officers were killed as a result. During the two-week standoff that followed, Sasna Tsrer took hostage additional police and medical personnel, demanding political changes.  During the standoff, demonstrations in support of Sasna Tsrer took place in Yerevan and clashes between law enforcement officers and protesters occurred.  These clashes did not pose any damage to businesses. In 2018, Armenia experienced a peaceful revolution that led to a change of government.  Acts of peaceful civic disobedience in Yerevan and some other cities led to street closures, including on the road to Yerevan’s international airport, but did not impede the ordinary functioning of business or harm the country’s macroeconomic stability.  These actions did not result in any damage to projects or installations. It is unlikely that civil disturbances, should they occur, would be directed against U.S. businesses of the U.S. community.

Casualties continue to occur in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Intermittent gunfire and the occasional use of artillery systems, land mines, and mortars result in deaths and injuries each year along the line of contact and the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Engaging in commercial activities inside the Nagorno-Karabakh region can make it difficult to conduct business inside Azerbaijan or with the Azerbaijani government. The Azerbaijani government has suspended or threatened to suspend the operations of U.S. companies in Azerbaijan whose products or services are provided in Nagorno-Karabakh and has banned the entry into Azerbaijan of some persons who have visited Nagorno-Karabakh. The U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in the Nagorno-Karabakh region as U.S. government employees are restricted from traveling there. There have been no threats to commercial enterprises from violence along the line of contact or the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Armenia’s human capital is one of its strongest resources.  The labor force is generally well educated, particularly in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.  Almost one hundred percent of Armenia’s population is literate.  According to official information, enrollment in secondary school is over 90 percent, and enrollment in senior school (essentially equivalent to American high school) is about 85 percent.  Despite this, official statistics indicate a high rate of unemployment, at around 18 percent.  Unemployment is particularly pronounced among women and youth, and significant underemployment is also a problem.

Considerable foreign investment in Armenia has occurred in the high-tech sector.  High-tech companies have established branches or subsidiaries in Armenia to take advantage of the country’s pool of qualified specialists in electrical and computer engineering, optical engineering, and software design.  There is a shortage of workers with vocational training.  About 20 percent of the non-agricultural workforce is employed in the informal economy, primarily in the services sector. Armenian law protects the rights of workers to form and to join independent unions, with exceptions for personnel of the armed forces and law enforcement agencies.  The law also provides for the right to strike, with the same exceptions, and permits collective bargaining.  The law stipulates that workers’ rights cannot be restricted because of membership in a union.  It also differentiates between layoffs and firing with severance.  According to some reports, labor organizations remain weak because of employer resistance, high unemployment, and unfavorable economic conditions; collective bargaining is not common in Armenia.  Experts observe that the right to strike, although enshrined in the constitution, is difficult to realize due to mediation and voting requirements. However, since the 2018 change of government, there have been consistent reports of grassroots movements to create unions in various spheres, including for doctors, teachers, and academics. Still, traditional labor unions are generally inactive with the exception of those connected with the mining and chemical industries.  Labor laws cannot be waived to retain or attract investment.

The current Labor Code is considered to be largely consistent with international standards.  The law sets a standard 40-hour work week, with 20 days of mandatory annual paid leave.  However, there are consistent reports that many private sector employees, particularly in the service sector, are unable to obtain paid leave and are required to work more than eight hours a day without additional compensation.  The treatment of labor in FEZs is no different than elsewhere in the country. Employers are generally able to adjust employment in light of fluctuating market conditions. Severance in general does not exceed 60 working days.  Benefits for workers laid off for economic reasons are mostly limited to receiving qualification trainings and job search assistance.

Individual labor disputes can usually be resolved through courts; however, the courts are often overburdened, causing significant delays.  Collective labor disputes should be resolved through collective bargaining.  Armenia’s Health and Labor Inspection Body (HLIB) has a mandate to monitor health and occupational safety issues. In July 2019, following the appointment of new leadership, HLIB began to implement a series of actions to draft and adopt regulations and legislation in order to restart HLIB’s oversight on labor issues. These changes include the development of risk assessment methodologies, hiring additional staff, and approving the checklists required by law to undertake inspections. The fast pace of HLIB’s activities and the plan to increase the number of inspectors by as much as four times by the end of 2020 has been made possible by changes to labor legislation that give HLIB the responsibility for oversight over all Labor Code provisions from 2021 onward.

Amendments to the Labor Code that entered into force in 2015 clarified the procedures for making changes in labor contracts and further specified the provisions required in labor contracts, notably those relating to probationary periods, vacation, and wage calculations.

The current legal minimum wage is AMD 68,000 (approximately USD 135) per month.  Most companies pay an unofficial extra-month bonus for the New Year’s holiday.  Wages in the public sector are often significantly lower than those in the private sector.

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

The United States and Armenia have an investment incentive agreement, signed in 1992, that serves to mobilize private capital via the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC). DFC can help solve critical development challenges by mobilizing private capital as well as providing investors with financing, guarantees, political risk insurance, and support for private equity investment funds.  DFC’s predecessor organization, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, has been involved in several projects in Armenia, including the expansion of the Armenia Marriott Hotel in Yerevan and lending operations at several financial institutions. In 2019, OPIC concluded a deal to extend USD 10 million in financing to First Mortgage Company to expand the origination of long-term home mortgage loans.  Armenia is a member of the World Bank Group’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $13,649 2018 $12,433 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $228 2018 $7 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2018 $3 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 44% 2018 44% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

Source for Host Country Data: Statistical Committee of the Republic of Armenia

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 5,072 100% Total Outward 232 100%
Russia 1,735 34.2% Georgia 59 25.4%
United Kingdom 433 8.5% Latvia 56 24.1%
Jersey 372 7.3% Bulgaria 36 15.5%
North Macedonia 334 6.6% United States 3 1.3%
Cyprus 303 6.0% N/A N/A N/A
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Source:  IMF Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS) (2018)
A significant portion of outward investment is not specified by destination in the CDIS.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

Economic & Commercial Officer
U.S. Embassy Yerevan
American Avenue 1
Yerevan, Armenia
+374 10 494 200
YerevanBusiness@state.gov

Azerbaijan

Executive Summary

The overall investment climate in Azerbaijan continues to improve, although significant challenges remain.  Over the past few years, Azerbaijan’s government has sought to attract foreign investment, undertake reforms to diversify its economy, and stimulate private sector-led growth.  However, the Azerbaijani economy remains heavily dependent on oil and gas output, which account for roughly 90 percent of export revenue and over half of the state budget.  Real GDP grew 2.2 percent in 2019, primarily due to a ramp up in natural gas exports.  While the oil and gas sector has historically attracted the largest amount of foreign investment, the Azerbaijani government has targeted four non-oil sectors to diversify the economy: agriculture, tourism, information and communications technology (ICT), and transportation.  Measures taken in recent years to improve the business climate and reform the overall economy include eliminating redundant business license categories, empowering the popular “ASAN” government service centers with licensing authority, simplifying customs procedures, suspending certain business inspections, and reforming the tax regime.

Azerbaijan fell from 25th to 34th among 190 countries in the “Doing Business 2020” rating published by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation.  According to the report published on October 24, Azerbaijan carried out four successful reforms from May 2018 to May 2019, thereby fulfilling four out of five goals.  These reforms were related to registering property, obtaining credit, protecting minority investors, and enforcing contracts.  Due to these indicators, Azerbaijan was featured as one of the top 20 “reformer” countries.  However, progress remains slow on structural reforms required to create a diversified and competitive private sector, and corruption remains a major challenge for firms operating in Azerbaijan.  A small group of government-connected holding companies dominate the economy, enforcement of intellectual property rights is insufficient, and judicial transparency is lacking.

Under Azerbaijani law, foreign investments enjoy complete and unreserved legal protection and may not be nationalized or appropriated, except under specific circumstances.  Private entities may freely establish, acquire, and dispose of interests in business enterprises.  Foreign citizens, organizations, and enterprises may lease, but not own, land.  Azerbaijan’s government has not shown any pattern of discriminating against U.S. persons or entities through illegal expropriation.  The Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) between the United States and Azerbaijan provides U.S. investors with recourse to settle investment disputes using the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).  The average time needed to resolve international business disputes through domestic courts or alternative dispute resolution varies widely.

Azerbaijan considers travel to the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories unlawful.  Engaging in any commercial activities in Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories, whether directly or through business subsidiaries, can result in criminal prosecution and/or other legal action against individuals and/or businesses in Azerbaijan; it may also affect the ability to travel to Azerbaijan in the future.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 152 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 25 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 82 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 N/A http://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $4,050 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies towards Foreign Direct Investment

Over the past few years, the Azerbaijani government has actively sought to attract foreign investment.  Flows of foreign direct investment to Azerbaijan have risen steadily in recent years, primarily in the energy sector.  Foreign investment in the government’s priority sectors for economic diversification (agriculture, transportation, tourism, and ICT) has thus far been limited.

Foreign investments enjoy complete and unreserved legal protection under the Law on the Protection of Foreign Investment, the Law on Investment Activity, and guarantees contained within international agreements and treaties.  In accordance with these laws, Azerbaijan will treat foreign investors, including foreign partners in joint ventures, in a manner no less favorable than the treatment accorded to national investors.  Azerbaijan’s Law on the Protection of Foreign Investments protects foreign investors against nationalization and requisition, except under specific circumstances.  The Azerbaijani government has not shown any pattern of discriminating against U.S. persons or entities through illegal expropriation.

Azerbaijan’s primary body responsible for investment promotion is the Azerbaijan Export and Investment Promotion Agency (AzPromo).  AzPromo is a joint public-private initiative, established by the Ministry of Economy and Industry in 2003 to foster the country’s economic development and diversification by attracting foreign investment into the non-oil sector and stimulating non-oil exports.  A January 2018 decree called for new legislation, which has not yet been introduced, to ensure Azerbaijan conforms to international standards to protect foreign investor rights.  The Azerbaijani government meets regularly with the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) to solicit the input from the business community, particularly as part of AmCham’s biennial white paper process.  In 2018, AmCham reported the government accepted around 50 percent of the proposals put forth in their white paper.  The next white paper will be presented in 2020.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreigners are allowed to register business entities by opening a fully owned subsidiary, acquiring shares of an existing company, or creating a joint venture with a local partner.  Foreign companies are also permitted to operate in Azerbaijan without creating a local legal entity by registering a representative or branch office with the tax authorities.

Foreigners are not permitted to own land in Azerbaijan but are permitted to lease land and own real estate.  Under Azerbaijani laws, the state must retain a controlling stake in companies operating in the mining, oil and gas, satellite communication, and military arms sectors, limiting foreign or domestic private ownership to a 49 percent share of companies in these industries.  Foreign ownership in the media sector is also strictly limited.  Furthermore, a special license to conduct business is required for foreign or domestic companies operating in telecommunications, sea and air transportation, insurance, and other regulated industries.  Azerbaijan does not screen inbound foreign investment and U.S. investors are not specifically disadvantaged by any existing control mechanisms.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Azerbaijan has not conducted an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) investment policy review, a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) investment policy review, or a WTO Trade Policy Review.

Business Facilitation

Azerbaijani law requires all companies operating in the country to register.  Without formal registration, a company may not maintain a bank account, or clear goods through customs.  As part of the ongoing business law reforms, a “Single Window” principle was introduced January 1, 2008, significantly streamlining the registration process.  Businesses must now only register with the tax authorities, which takes approximately three days for commercial organizations.  Since 2011, companies have also been able to e-register at http://taxes.gov.az .

Azerbaijan ranked 34th and joined the top 20 “reformer” countries, according to the World Bank’s “Doing Business 2020” report.  Over the period from May 2018 to May 2019, the government implemented four reforms related to obtaining registration of real estate rights, obtaining loans, and protecting minority shareholders.  In addition, Azerbaijan made enforcing contracts easier by introducing an e-system allowing plaintiffs to file an initial complaint electronically and by adopting a consolidated law on voluntary mediation, according to the report.  The country has also improved its position in terms of “obtaining loans” indicator, climbing 21 spots to take first place.

Outward Investment

Azerbaijan does not actively promote or incentivize outward investment, though Azerbaijani entities, particularly the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) and the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan (SOFAZ), have invested in various countries, including the United States.  SOFAZ investment is typically limited to real estate, precious metals, and low-yield government securities.  SOCAR has invested heavily in oil and gas infrastructure and petrochemicals processing in Turkey and Georgia, as well as gas pipeline networks in Greece, Albania, and Italy as part of the Southern Gas Corridor that transports Azerbaijani gas to European markets.  The government does not restrict domestic investors from investing overseas.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Azerbaijan has signed 51 Bilateral Investment Treaties (BIT).  The 2001 BIT in force between the United States and Azerbaijan facilitates the reciprocal protection of investment.  Azerbaijan also has bilateral investment treaties currently in force with: Austria, Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine, UAE, the United Kingdom, and Uzbekistan.

Azerbaijan has free trade agreements (FTAs) with Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Moldova, and Belarus.  Under the FTAs, goods can be imported from those countries free of customs duties.

The United States signed a double taxation treaty with the USSR, to which Azerbaijan is considered a successor state.  The United States and Azerbaijan do not have a separate bilateral double taxation treaty.  The United States and Azerbaijan are parties to the OECD Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters.  Azerbaijan signed an intergovernmental agreement with the United States to implement the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) on October 9, 2015, based on the “IGA Model 1a” form.

Azerbaijan also has double taxation treaties with: Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Iran, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkey, UAE, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.  Treaties with Jordan, Spain, Sweden, Malta and Denmark are pending ratification by the parliament of Azerbaijan.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Azerbaijani central government is the primary source of regulations relevant to foreign businesses.  Azerbaijan’s regulatory system has improved in recent years, although enforcement is inconsistent and decision-making opaque.  Private sector associations do not play a significant role in regulatory processes.  Draft legislation is neither made available for public comment nor usually involves a public consultation process.  However, the government has engaged business organizations, such as the American Chamber of Commerce in Azerbaijan (AmCham), and consulting firms on various draft laws.  The website of Azerbaijan’s National Parliament, http://meclis.gov.az/ , lists all the country’s laws, but only in the Azerbaijani language.

Legal entities in Azerbaijan must adhere to the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).  These are only obligatory for large companies.  Medium-sized companies can choose between reporting based on IFRS or IFRS-SME standards, which are specially designed for large and medium enterprises.  Small and micro enterprises can choose between reporting based on IFRS, IFRS-SME, or simplified accounting procedures established by the Finance Ministry.

Several U.S. companies with operations and investments in Azerbaijan previously reported they had been subject to repeated tax audits, requests for prepayment of taxes, and court-imposed fines for violations of the tax code.  These allegations have markedly decreased since 2017.

On October 19, 2015, Azerbaijan suspended inspections of entrepreneurs for two years, but inspections still may occur if a complaint is lodged.  This suspension was subsequently extended through January 1, 2021.  Food and pharmaceutical products are not subject to this suspension order and are inspected for quality and safety.

The government has also simplified its licensing regime.  All licenses are now issued with indefinite validity through the ASAN service centers and must be issued within 10 days of application.  The Economy Ministry also reduced the number of activities requiring a license from 60 to 32.

International Regulatory Considerations

Azerbaijan has had observer status at the World Trade Organization (WTO) since 1997 but has not made significant progress toward joining the WTO for the past several years.  A working party on Azerbaijan’s succession to the WTO was established on July 16, 1997, and Azerbaijan began negotiations with WTO members in 2004.  The WTO Secretariat reports Azerbaijan is less than a quarter of the way to full membership.  In 2016, Azerbaijan imposed higher tariffs on a number of imported goods, including agricultural products, to promote domestic production and reduce imports.  In February 2020, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev made public remarks outlining Azerbaijan’s “cautious” approach to the WTO, saying that “the time [had] not come” for Azerbaijani membership.  Currently, Azerbaijan is negotiating bilateral market access with 19 economies.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Azerbaijan’s legal system is based on Civil Law.  Disputes or disagreements arising between foreign investors and enterprises with foreign investment, Azerbaijani state bodies and/or enterprises, and other Azerbaijani legal entities, are to be settled in the Azerbaijani court system or, upon agreement between the parties, in a court of arbitration, including international arbitration bodies.  The judiciary consists of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the appellate courts of the Republic of Azerbaijan, trial courts, and other specialized courts.  Trial court judgments may be appealed in appellate courts and the judgments of appellate courts can be appealed in the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country.  Under the Civil Procedure Code of Azerbaijan, appellate court judgments are published within three days of issuance, or within ten days in exceptional circumstances.  The Constitutional Court has the authority to review laws and court judgments for compliance with the Constitution.  In February 2016, Azerbaijan also established a Board of Appeal to address complaints filed by entrepreneurs against local executive authorities.

Businesses report problems with the reliability and independence of judicial processes in Azerbaijan.  While the government promotes foreign investment and the law guarantees national treatment, in practice investment disputes can arise when a foreign investor or trader’s success threatens well-connected or favored local interests.  According to Freedom House’s 2017 report, Azerbaijan’s court system is “subservient to the executive.”  The U.S. business community has complained about inconsistent application of regulations and non-transparent decision-making.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Foreign investment in Azerbaijan is regulated by a number of international treaties and agreements, as well as domestic legislation.  These include the BIT between the United States and Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijan-European Commission Cooperation Agreement, the Law on Protection of Foreign Investment, the Law on Investment Activity, the Law on Investment Funds, the Law on Privatization of State Property, the Second Program for Privatization of State Property, and sector-specific legislation.  Azerbaijani law permits foreign direct investment in any activity in which a national investor may also invest, unless otherwise prohibited (see “Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment” for further information).

A January 2018 Presidential decree called for drafting a new law on investment activities to conform to international standards.  The decree also established mechanisms to protect investor rights and regulate damages, including lost profit caused to investors.  The details of the proposed new law had not been publicized as of April 2020.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The State Service for Antimonopoly Policy and Consumer Protection under the Economy Ministry is responsible for implementing competition-related policy.  The law on Antimonopoly Activity was amended in April 2016 to introduce regulations on price fixing and other anti-competitive behavior.  Parliament began revising a new version of the Competition Code in late 2014, but it has not yet been adopted.  Azerbaijan’s antimonopoly legislation does not constrain the size or scope of the handful of large holding companies that dominate the non-oil economy.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Law on the Protection of Foreign Investments forbids nationalization and requisition of foreign investment, except under certain circumstances.  Nationalization of property can occur when authorized by parliamentary resolution, although there have been no known cases of official nationalization or requisition against foreign firms in Azerbaijan.  Requisition – by a decision of the Cabinet of Ministers – is possible in the event of natural disaster, an epidemic, or other extraordinary situation.  In the event of nationalization or requisition, foreign investors are legally entitled to prompt, effective, and adequate compensation.  Amendments made to Azerbaijan’s Constitution in September 2016 enabled authorities to expropriate private property when necessary for social justice and effective use of land.  According to Freedom House’s 2016 report, “[property] rights and free choice of residence are affected by government-backed development projects that often entail forced evictions, unlawful expropriations, and demolitions with little or no notice.”  The Azerbaijani government has not shown any pattern of discriminating against U.S. persons by way of direct expropriations.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Azerbaijan is a member of the International Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID convention) as well as the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.  The Supreme Court of Azerbaijan is responsible for recognizing and enforcing arbitral awards rendered pursuant to the Conventions.  While there are no specialized commercial courts in Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijan International Commercial Arbitration Court (AICAC) was established by a non-governmental organization in 2003 as an independent arbitral institution.  The AICAC, a third-party tribunal, is the only arbitration institution functioning in Azerbaijan, but public information on the case load of the AICAC is not available.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Azerbaijan has also ratified the European Convention on Foreign Commercial Arbitration dated April 21, 1961.  The BIT between the United States and Azerbaijan, which went into force in 2001, provides U.S. investors recourse to settle any investment dispute using the ICSID convention.  Azerbaijan has been a party to three ICSID cases, two of which (Barmek v. Azerbaijan and Fondel Metal Participations and B.V. v. Azerbaijan) were settled and one of which (Azpetrol v. Azerbaijan) was decided in favor of the State.  Thus far, the ICSID has not issued arbitral awards against the government of Azerbaijan.  Over the past 10 years, the U.S. Embassy in Baku has been notified of three investment dispute cases regarding U.S. citizens.  None of these cases, however, have been resolved.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

International arbitration in Azerbaijan is regulated by the Law on International Commercial Arbitration, based on the UNCITRAL model law.  Parties may select arbitrators of any nationality, the language of the proceedings, the national law to be applied, and the arbitration procedure to be used.  In cases in which parties did not stipulate the terms of the proceedings, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Azerbaijan will resolve the omission.  Azerbaijan has incorporated the provisions of the New York Convention into the Law on International Commercial Arbitration.  The Supreme Court may refuse to enforce a foreign arbitral award on specific grounds contained in Article 476 of the Civil Code.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Azerbaijan’s Bankruptcy Law applies only to legal entities and entrepreneurs, not to private individuals.  Bankruptcy proceedings may be initiated by either a debtor facing insolvency or by any creditor.  In general, the legislation focuses on liquidation procedures.  Bankruptcy law in Azerbaijan is under-developed, which restricts private sector economic development by deterring entrepreneurship.  Amendments to Azerbaijan’s bankruptcy law adopted in 2017 extended the obligations of bankruptcy administrators and defined new rights for creditors.  In the World Bank’s Doing Business Report’s section on resolving insolvency, Azerbaijan’s ranking decreased from 45 in 2019 to 47 in 2020 out of 190 countries.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Since early 2016, the government has introduced tax and investment incentives for entrepreneurs and legal entities in non-oil export sectors as part of the overall economic reform/diversification effort.  These measures include certain partial, temporary exemptions from corporate and property taxes; favorable tax treatment for manufacturing facilities and imports of manufacturing equipment; and subsidies for certain exports.  Investment certificate holders are exempt from paying 50 percent of the assessed income tax; 100 percent of the land tax; and 100 percent of customs duties on imported machinery, equipment, and devices.  Certificates are issued for seven years to projects in priority non-oil sectors.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

A government decree established a free trade zone (FTZ) next to the Port of Alat, located approximately 50 miles south of Baku in March 2016.  President Aliyev signed legislation setting forth the incentives and regulations governing the Alat FTZ in June 2018.  The law exempts all businesses in the FTZ from taxes and customs; charges the FTZ’s administration with setting up its own employment, migration, dispute resolution, and arbitration regulations; provides protections from nationalization; and guarantees the free flow of funds in and out of the FTA.  While the legal framework is in place, implementing regulations are still pending, and the FTZ is not operational.

The Ministry of Transport, Communications, and High Technologies has discussed plans to create other special economic zones, including a petrochemical complex and regional innovation zones to boost telecommunications sector development.  Currently, legal entities and individuals involved in entrepreneurial activities in one of five state-designated industrial or technological parks are exempt from income tax, property tax, land tax, and VAT on imported machinery and equipment until 2023.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The Azerbaijani government does not mandate local employment, although some energy sector Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs) in the oil sector include localization provisions.  While performance requirements are not generally imposed on new investments, the government is seeking to increase the number of value-added services and processes performed in Azerbaijan.  American companies have reported that government-connected companies often pressure current or potential partners to establish joint ventures, initiate local production of certain components, or otherwise invest in Azerbaijan in order to maintain or expand cooperation.

Azerbaijan does not have any data localization requirements.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

International organizations, foreign citizens, and foreign legal entities may not own land or be granted a purchase option on a lease, but they are permitted to lease land.  Following independence, the government implemented land reforms that divided state-owned farms into privately held small plots.  Due to poor record keeping and titling in rural areas, it is often difficult to determine definitively who owns a plot.  Amendments made to Azerbaijan’s Constitution in September 2016 enabled authorities to expropriate private property with compensation in instances where necessary for “social justice and efficient use of the land.”

Azerbaijan’s State Real Estate Registry Service at the Committee for Property Issues registers real estate.  April 2016 amendments to the Law on Immovable Property Register cut the time to register property from 20 to 10 working days.  The World Bank’s “Doing Business” Report ranked Azerbaijan 44 out of 190 countries in 2019 in its country rankings on the Ease of Registering Property.

Intellectual Property Rights

The legal structure for the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) in Azerbaijan is relatively strong, but experts and businesspeople report the level of enforcement within the country is weak, and U.S. companies routinely list weak enforcement of IPR as a key concern.  Piracy and blatant infringements of IPR of both digital and physical goods are commonplace and stifle foreign investment and local entrepreneurship.  The Business Software Alliance estimated the prevalence of software piracy at 84 percent in 2015, including in government ministries.  With strong Embassy encouragement, the government is taking steps to increase the use of licensed software in government institutions, but progress thus far has been limited.

IPR in Azerbaijan is regulated by the Law on Copyrights and Related Rights, the Law on Trademarks and Geographic Designations, the Law on Patents, the Law on the Topology of Integrated Microcircuits, the Law on Unfair Competition, and the Law on Securing Intellectual Property Rights and Combating Piracy.

Azerbaijan is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and party to the Paris Convention for Protection of Industrial Property, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.  Since Azerbaijan is not a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), it does not adhere to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).  In Azerbaijan, violation of IPR can result in civil, criminal, and administrative charges.  Azerbaijan tracks and reports on seizures of counterfeit goods but does not publish statistics on this effort.  Azerbaijan is not listed in USTR’s Special 301 Report, nor is it included in the Notorious Markets List.  For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Access to capital is a critical impediment to business development in Azerbaijan.  An effective regulatory system that encourages and facilitates portfolio investment, foreign or domestic, is not fully in place.  Though the Baku Stock Exchange opened in 2000, there is insufficient liquidity in the market to enter or exit sizeable positions.The Central Bank assumed control over all financial regulation in January 2020, following disbandment of a formerly independent regulator.  Non-bank financial sector staples such as capital markets, insurance, and private equity are in the early stages of development.  The Capital Market Modernization Project is an attempt by the government to build the foundation for a modern financial capital market, including developing market infrastructure and automation systems, and strengthening the legal and market frameworks for capital transactions.  One major hindrance to the stock market’s growth is the difficulty in encouraging established Azerbaijani businesses to adapt to standard investor-friendly disclosure practices, which are generally required for publicly listed companies.

Azerbaijan’s government and Central Bank do not restrict payments and transfers for international transactions.  Foreign investors are permitted to obtain credit on the local market, but smaller companies and firms without an established credit history often struggle to obtain loans on reasonable commercial terms.  Limited access to capital remains a barrier to development, particularly for small and medium enterprises.

Money and Banking System

The country’s financial services sector – of which banking comprises more than 90 percent – is underdeveloped, which constrains economic growth and diversification.  The drop in world oil prices in 2014/2015 and the resulting strain on Azerbaijan’s foreign currency earnings and the state budget exacerbated existing problems in the country’s banking sector and led to rising non-performing loans (NPLs) and high dollarization.  Subsequent reforms have improved overall sector stability.  President Aliyev signed a decree in February 2019 to provide partial relief to retail borrowers on foreign-currency denominated loans that meet certain criteria.

As of April 2020, 30 banks were registered in Azerbaijan, including 14 banks with foreign capital and two state-owned banks.  These banks employ 19,572 people and have a combined 508 branches and 2,659 ATMs nationwide.  Total banking sector assets stood at approximately USD $19.3 billion as of January 2020, with the top five banks holding almost 58 percent of this amount.

The banking sector is still recovering from the drop in world oil prices which began in in 2014/2015 and the resulting devaluations.  The Financial Markets Supervisory Agency closed 10 insolvent banks in 2016.  The government subsequently bailed-out the International Bank of Azerbaijan (IBA) which held approximately 40 percent of the country’s banking assets.  In January 2017, the Finance Ministry increased the government’s stake in the IBA from 54.96 percent to 76.73 percent.  The government undertook a substantial cleanup of IBA assets, transferring IBA’s non-performing assets at book value to AgrarKredit, a government-owned non-financial enterprise funded by the Central Bank.  The amount of transferred assets totaled USD 6 billion in 2015-2016 and a further USD 3 billion was transferred in 2017 (25 percent of 2016 GDP in total).  In May 2017, IBA entered formal restructuring, similar to U.S. Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and completed its restructuring process in September 2017.  IBA is still updating its commercial strategy.

Foreign banks are permitted in Azerbaijan and may take the form of representative offices, branches, joint ventures, and wholly owned subsidiaries.  These banks are subject to the same regulations as domestic banks, with certain additional restrictions.  Foreign individuals and entities are also permitted to open accounts with domestic or foreign banks in Azerbaijan.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Azerbaijan’s Central Bank officially adopted a floating exchange rate in 2016 but continues to operate under an “interim regime” that effectively pegs the exchange rate at AZN 1.7 per USD.  Azerbaijan’s foreign currency reserves are based on the reserves of the Central Bank, those of the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan (SOFAZ), and the assets of the State Treasury Agency under the Finance Ministry.  Foreign currency reserves of the Central Bank increased by 14 percent during 2019 and totaled $6.4 billion in January 2020.  Between January 2019 and January 2020, SOFAZ assets increased by 12 percent to reach $43.3 billion.

Foreign exchange transactions are governed by the Law on Currency Regulation.  The Central Bank administers the overall enforcement of currency regulation.  Currency conversion is carried out through the Baku Interbank Currency Exchange Market and the Organized Interbank Currency Market.

There are no statutory restrictions on converting or transferring funds associated with an investment into freely usable currency at a legal, market-clearing rate.  The average time for remitting investment returns is two to three business days.  Some requirements on disclosure of the source of currency transfers have been imposed to reduce illicit transactions.

Remittance Policies

Corporate branches of foreign investors are subject to a remittance tax of 10 percent on all profits derived from its business activities in Azerbaijan.  There have not been any recent changes or plans to change investment remittance policies that either tighten or relax access to foreign exchange for investment remittances.  There do not appear to be time limitations on remittances, including dividends, return on investment, interest and principal on private foreign debt, lease payments, royalties, and management fees.  Nor does there appear to be limits on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances of profits or revenue.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Azerbaijan’s sovereign wealth fund is the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan (SOFAZ).  Its mission is to transform hydrocarbon reserves into financial assets generating perpetual income for current and future generations and to finance strategically important infrastructure and social projects of national scale.  While its main statutory focus is investing in assets outside of the country, since it was established in 1999 SOFAZ has financed several socially-beneficial projects in Azerbaijan related to infrastructure, housing, energy, and education.  The government’s newly adopted fiscal rule places limits on pro-cyclical spending, with the aim of increasing hydrocarbon revenue savings.  SOFAZ publishes an annual report which it submits for independent audit.  The fund’s assets totaled USD $43.3 billion as of January 1, 2020.  More information is available at oilfund.az.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

In Azerbaijan, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are active in the oil and gas, power generation, communications, water supply, railway, and air passenger and cargo sectors, among others.  There is no published list of SOEs.  While there are no SOEs that officially have been delegated governmental powers, companies such as the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR), Azerenerji (the national electricity utility), and Azersu (the national water utility) – all of which are closed joint-stock companies with majority state ownership and limited private investment – enjoy quasi-governmental or near-monopoly status in their respective sectors.

SOCAR is wholly owned by the government of Azerbaijan and takes part in all oil and gas activities in the country.  It publishes regular reports on production volumes, the value of its exports, estimates of investments in exploration and development, production costs, the names of foreign companies operating in the country, production data by company, quasi-fiscal activities, and the government’s portion of production-sharing contracts.  SOCAR is also responsible for negotiating Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs) with all foreign partners for hydrocarbon development.  SOCAR’s annual financial reports are audited by an independent external auditor and include the consolidated accounts of all SOCAR’s subsidiaries, although revenue data is incomplete.

There have been instances where state-owned enterprises have used their regulatory authority to block new entrants into the market.  SOEs are, in principle, subject to the same tax burden and tax rebate policies as their private sector competitors.  However, in sectors that are open to both the private and foreign competition, SOEs generally receive a larger percentage of government contracts or business than their private sector competitors.  While SOEs regularly purchase or supply goods or services from private sector firms, domestic and foreign private enterprises have reported problems competing with SOEs under the same terms and conditions with respect to market share, information, products and services, and incentives.  Private enterprises do not have the same access (including terms) to financing as SOEs.  SOEs are also afforded material advantages such as preferential access to land and raw materials, advantages that are not available to private enterprises.  There is little information available on Azerbaijani SOEs’ budget constraints, due to the limited transparency in their financial accounts.

Privatization Program

A renewed privatization process started with the May 2016 presidential decree implementing additional measures to improve the process of state property privatization and the July 2016 decree on measures to accelerate privatization and improve the management efficiency of state property.  The State Committee on Property Issues launched a portal to provide privatization information, privatization.az, in July 2016.  The portal contains information about the properties, their addresses, location, and initial costs with the aim of facilitating privatization.  Azerbaijan’s current privatization efforts focus on smaller state-owned properties, and there are no active plans to privatize large SOEs.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Responsible business conduct (RBC) is a relatively new concept in Azerbaijan.  Producers and consumers tend not to prioritize responsible business conduct, including environmental, social, and governance issues.  No information is available on legal corporate governance, accounting, and executive compensation standards to protect shareholders in Azerbaijan.  Larger foreign entities tend to follow generally accepted RBC principles consistent with parent company guidelines and aim to educate their local partners, who generally consider basic charitable donations and paying taxes as acts of social responsibility.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Azerbaijan (AmCham) established a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Committee in October 2011 to encourage companies to embrace social responsibility through activities and dialogue with relevant stakeholders.  AmCham also published a corporate social responsibility guide on CSR for businesses in Azerbaijan.  In 2011, the Economy Ministry established standards for corporate governance, which included an evaluation methodology for these standards and a code of ethical behavior.  The Economy Ministry has been tasked with explaining the importance of corporate governance standards to entrepreneurs.  Some companies report that government restrictions on NGO registration have complicated CSR corporate social responsibility efforts.

Azerbaijan’s Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) status was downgraded from “compliant” to “candidate” in April 2015, due to concerns about Azerbaijani civil society’s ability to engage critically in the EITI process.  Following the EITI Secretariat’s evaluation in March 2017 that Azerbaijan had not sufficiently implemented required “corrective actions,” Azerbaijan withdrew from the EITI and established a domestic Extractive Industries Transparency Commission in April 2017 to ensure transparency and accountability in the extractive industries of the country.  The Commission has published two Reports on Transparency in the Extractive Industries.

9. Corruption

Corruption is a major challenge for firms operating in Azerbaijan and is a barrier to foreign investment, despite government efforts to reduce low-level corruption.  Azerbaijan does not require that private companies establish internal codes of conduct to prohibit bribery of public officials, nor does it provide protections to NGOs involved in investigating corruption.  U.S. firms have identified corruption in government procurement, licensing, dispute settlement, regulation, customs, and taxation as significant obstacles to investment.

The Azerbaijani government publicly acknowledges problems with corruption but has neither effectively nor consistently enforced anti-corruption laws nor regulations.  Azerbaijan has made modest progress in implementing a 2005 Anticorruption Law, which created a commission with the authority to require full financial disclosure from government officials.  The government has achieved a degree of success reducing red tape and opportunities for bribery through a focus on e-government and government service delivery through centralized ASAN service centers, which first opened in February 2013.  ASAN centers provide more transparent, efficient, and accountable services through a “one window” model that reduces opportunities for rent-seeking and petty government corruption and have become a model for other initiatives aimed at improving government service delivery.

Despite progress in reducing corruption in public services delivery, the civil service, public procurement apparatus, and the judiciary still suffer from corruption.  Tax reforms announced in January 2019 are partially aimed at reducing corruption in tax administration.

Azerbaijan signed and ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention and is a signatory to the Council of Europe Criminal and Civil Law Conventions.  Azerbaijan is not currently a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

Resources to Report Corruption

Kamal Jafarov
Acting Executive Secretary
Commission on Combating Corruption
Baku, Azerbaijan
(+994 12) 492-04-65
kamal.jafarov@antikorrupsiya.gov.az

10. Political and Security Environment

On multiple occasions in 2019, authorities selectively blocked mobile and fixed-line internet access, temporarily restricted access to foreign media and social networking sites, and imposed blocks on virtual private network (VPN) services, apparently in response to political protests.  Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty are among the sites permanently blocked in Azerbaijan.  The increase in frequency and lack of transparency regarding internet disruptions raise serious concerns about future Azerbaijani government efforts to control access to information in ways that impede foreign business interests.

There have been no known acts of political violence against U.S. businesses or assets, nor against any foreign owned entity.  It is unlikely that civil disturbances, should they occur, would be directed against U.S. businesses or the U.S. community.

A cease-fire with Armenia has been in effect since 1994 for the conflict surrounding the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.  However, intermittent gunfire along the cease-fire line and along the border with Armenia continues, often resulting in injuries and/or deaths.  There have been no threats to commercial enterprises from skirmishes in the border areas.  The Azerbaijani government has suspended or threatened to suspend the operations of U.S. companies in Azerbaijan if the companies’ products or services are provided in Nagorno-Karabakh.  Azerbaijan considers travel to the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding occupied territories unlawful.  Engaging in any commercial activities in Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding occupied territories, whether directly or through business subsidiaries, can result in criminal prosecution and/or other legal action being taken against individuals and/or businesses in Azerbaijan; it may also affect the ability to travel to Azerbaijan in the future.  Due to the existing state of hostilities, consular services are not available to U.S. citizens in Nagorno-Karabakh.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The 1999 Labor Code regulates overall labor relations and recognizes international labor rights.  The work week generally is 40 hours.  The right to strike exists, though industrial strikes are rare.  Azerbaijan is a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and has ratified more than 57 ILO Conventions.  In practice, labor unions are strongly tied to political interests of the government.  Collective bargaining is not practiced.  Azerbaijan has regulations to monitor labor abuses, health, and safety standards in low-wage assembly operations, but enforcement is less effective.

Employment relations are established by an employment contract, which, in most cases, does not necessarily indicate a fixed term of employment.  While a number of workers still work without contracts in Azerbaijan’s informal economy, recent tax and customs reforms have provided incentives for individuals to register their employment to benefit from state financial support.  Under national law, an employer must give an employee two months’ notice of termination, with certain exceptions.  An employee can terminate his/her employment contract at any time but must give one month’s notice.  Upon termination of formally registered employment, employers must pay departing employees monetary compensation for unused vacation leave.  A formally registered employee who becomes unemployed is entitled to 70 percent of his/her average monthly wage, calculated over the past 12 months at the last place of work.  An employee must have worked under a valid labor contract in order to obtain unemployment benefits.  The law “On Unemployment Insurance” signed in August 2017 allows for payments to unemployed individuals registered with the State Employment Fund.

Azerbaijan has an abundant supply of semi-skilled and unskilled laborers.  An estimated 40 percent of the Azerbaijani population works in agriculture, although this sector only contributes around 6 percent of the country’s GDP.  The construction sector tends to use temporary and contract workers; reportedly many of these workers’ agreements are not formally registered with the government.  The relatively limited supply of highly skilled labor is one of the biggest challenges in Azerbaijan’s labor market.  The average monthly wage as of January 2020 was AZN 712 ($418), and the official minimum wage increased in 2019 to AZN 250 ($147) per month, compared to the previous level of AZN 180 ($106) per month.

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

The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and the U.S. Export-Import (EXIM) Bank provide political risk insurance and financing and loan guarantees in Azerbaijan.  Azerbaijan is also a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).  The World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and other third-country institutions are active in providing financing and insurance for investment in Azerbaijan.

Over the past two decades, the DFC (through its predecessor, OPIC) has invested around $230 million in Azerbaijan across 24 business projects.  While Azerbaijan’s financial services sector has been a major area for investments, legacy OPIC-funded projects have included investments in the energy (such as the BTC oil pipeline completed in 2006), franchising, banking, microfinance, and hotel and hospitality sectors of Azerbaijan.  The DFC has repeatedly provided funds for numerous banks operating in Azerbaijan in order to expand their SME lending portfolios, including $4.8 million to Rabita Bank in 2008 and $7.3 million to Turan Bank in 2009.  In 2011, DFC predecessor OPIC provided MuganBank a loan guarantee for $10 million to expand its operations, targeting SME borrowers.  OPIC also provided USD $1 million and $3 million to FinDev and CredAgro for microfinance lending, respectively.  In 2012, OPIC provided loan insurance to Viator Microcredit Azerbaijan LLC ($500,000), NBCO Vision Fund Azercredit LLC ($2 million), and FinDev again ($1 million).  In 2013, OPIC signed a memorandum with Turan Bank for a loan in the amount of $7 million with a term of seven years for SME financing.  As of 2015, the DFC has active loan projects with two non-banking credit organizations, KredAgro and TBC Kredit.

In its 2014 annual report, EXIM Bank reported outstanding insurance and loan guarantees for Azerbaijan in the amount of $211.9 million, primarily in support of aviation sales.  In 2011, EXIM Bank closed a $116.6 million loan with a ten-year repayment period to finance the Azerbaijan space agency’s purchase of the AzerSat-1 satellite from Orbital Sciences.  In June 2015, EXIM Bank finalized a $211.9 million loan to finance Azerbaijan Airline’s purchase of Boeing commercial aircraft.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2018 $46,939 2017 $40,748 https://data.worldbank.org/
country/azerbaijan
 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) No reliable data BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) No reliable data BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP No reliable data 2017 76.6% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 
 

* Source for Host Country Data:  Azerbaijan State Statistical Committee

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $29,314 100% Total Outward $20,461 100%
United Kingdom $6,317 22% Turkey $10,761 53%
Turkey $5,797 20% Georgia $2,984 15%
Norway $3,063 10% Switzerland $1,237 6%
Iran $2,523 9% United Kingdom $1,013 5%
Cyprus $1,907 7% United States $594 3%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

Kyle Rohrich
Economic and Commercial Officer
U.S. Embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan
+994-12-488-3300
BakuCommercial@state.gov

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