An official website of the United States Government Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Argentina

Executive Summary

Argentina presents investment and trade opportunities, particularly in infrastructure, health, agriculture, information technology, energy, and mining; however, soaring debt and a failure to implement critical structural reforms have prevented the country from maximizing its  economic potential, though the country has taken steps to diminish bureaucratic procedures. Market reactions to the 2019 Argentine presidential elections deepened the country’s economic crisis, stalling reform efforts and leading to a rollback of some market-driven growth policies and the imposition of capital and export controls.  In late 2019, the government reprofiled some of the country’s local law debt payments. Argentina’s economy contracted for the second year in a row in 2019, as unemployment and poverty grew and annual inflation rose to 53.8 percent.

Following a victory in the October 2019 general election, President Alberto Fernandez took office on December 10, 2019. His economic agenda at the beginning of 2020 focused on restructuring the country’s sovereign debt and providing support to vulnerable sectors. The Fernandez administration increased taxes on foreign trade, further tightened capital controls, and pulled back from former President Mauricio Macri’s fiscal austerity measures, expanding fiscal expenditures. Citing a need to preserve Argentina’s diminishing foreign exchange reserves and raise government revenues for social programs, the Fernandez administration passed a sweeping “economic emergency” law that included a 30 percent tax on purchases of foreign currency and all individual expenses incurred abroad, whether in person or online.

The country began a nationwide quarantine on March 20 to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, shortly after the first case was confirmed on March 3. As of early May, the government anticipated a 6.5 percent drop in real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth for 2020, though the full economic  impact will largely depend on how long quarantine restrictions last and whether the government reaches agreement with its private bondholders to avoid a sovereign default. The Argentine government issued a series of economic relief measures to mitigate the economic impact of the quarantine, primarily focusing on informal workers that account for approximately 40 percent of the labor force. The government’s self-declared insolvency has sharply limited its access to credit, obligating it to finance the pandemic-related stimulus measures by monetary issuance, which may hamper its efforts to restrain inflation and maintain a stable exchange rate. As a result of the crisis, industry and unions are analyzing changes to labor agreements and requesting government tax reforms.  U.S. companies frequently point to a high and unpredictable tax burden and rigid labor laws, which make responding to changing macroeconomic conditions more difficult, as obstacles to further investment in Argentina.  In April, the government reprofiled foreign currency local law debt.  In early May, the Minister of Economy announced the government has sought to restructure its debt to private creditors by May 22 and to reschedule its Paris Club debt.  The Minister also stated the government intends to seek a new program with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to which it owes $44 billion from a Standby arrangement the government signed in 2018.

In 2019, Argentina fell two places in the Competitiveness Ranking of the World Economic Forum (WEF), which measures how productively a country uses its available resources, to 83 out of 141 countries, and 12 out of the 20 countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region.  As a MERCOSUR member, Argentina signed a free trade and investment agreement with the EU in June 2019. Argentina has not ratified the agreement yet. In May, Argentina proposed slowing the pace and adjusting the negotiating parameters of MERCOSUR’s ongoing trade liberalization talks with South Korea, Canada, and other partners to help protect vulnerable populations and account for the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  Argentina ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement on January 22, 2018. Argentina and the United States continue to expand bilateral commercial and economic cooperation, specifically through the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), the Commercial Dialogue, and under the Growth in the Americas initiative, in order to improve and facilitate public-private ties and communication on trade, investment, energy, and infrastructure issues, including market access and intellectual property rights. More than 300 U.S. companies operate in Argentina, and the United States continues to be the top investor in Argentina with more than USD $15 billion (stock) of foreign direct investment as of 2018.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 66 of 183 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 126 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 73 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2018 15,196 https://www.bea.gov/data/
economic-accounts/international/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 12,390 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 Argentina has identified its top economic priorities as resolving its burdensome sovereign debt situation and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly by protecting vulnerable members of society.  When the Fernandez administration took office in late 2019, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade, and Worship became the lead governmental entity for investment promotion.  The Fernandez administration does not have a formal business roundtable or other dialogue established with international investors, although it does engage with domestic and international companies.

Some of the former Macri administration’s efforts to improve the investment climate had included reforms to simplify bureaucratic procedures in an effort to provide more transparency, reduce costs, and diminish economic distortions by adopting good regulatory practices.  Many of the planned public-private partnership projects for public infrastructure were delayed or canceled due to Argentina’s macroeconomic difficulties, as well as allegations of corruption in public works projects during the 2003-2015 period.  The Macri administration also had expanded economic and commercial cooperation with key partners, including Chile, Brazil, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Canada, and the United States, and deepened its engagement in international fora such as the G-20, the WTO, and the OECD.

Foreign and domestic investors generally compete under the same conditions in Argentina. The amount of foreign investment is restricted in specific, sectors such as aviation and media. Foreign ownership of rural productive lands, bodies of water, and areas along borders is also restricted.

Argentina has a national Investment and Trade Promotion Agency that provides information and consultation services to investors and traders on economic and financial conditions, investment opportunities, and Argentine laws and regulations. The agency also provides matchmaking services and organizes roadshows and trade delegations. Upon the change of administration, the government placed the Agency under the direction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) to improve coordination between the Agency and Argentina´s foreign policy. The Under Secretary for Trade and Investment Promotion of the MFA works as a liaison between the Agency and provincial governments and regional organizations. The new administration also created the National Directorate for Investment Promotion under the Under Secretary for Trade and Investment Promotion, making the Directorate responsible for promoting Argentina as an investment destination. The Directorate´s mission also includes determining priority sectors and projects and helping Argentine companies expand internationally and/or attract international investment.

The agency’s web portal provides information on available services (https://www.inversionycomercio.org.ar/es/home  ) Many of the 24 provinces also have their own provincial investment and trade promotion offices.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic commercial entities in Argentina are regulated by the Commercial Partnerships Law (Law 19,550), the Argentina Civil and Commercial Code, and rules issued by the regulatory agencies. Foreign private entities can establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity in nearly all sectors.

Full foreign equity ownership of Argentine businesses is not restricted, for the most part, with exception in the air transportation and media industries. The share of foreign capital in companies that provide commercial passenger transportation within the Argentine territory is limited to 49 percent per the Aeronautic Code Law 17,285. The company must be incorporated according to Argentine law and domiciled in Buenos Aires. In the media sector, Law 25,750 establishes a limit on foreign ownership in television, radio, newspapers, journals, magazines, and publishing companies to 30 percent.

Law 26,737 (Regime for Protection of National Domain over Ownership, Possession or Tenure of Rural Land) establishes that a foreigner cannot own land that allows for the extension of existing bodies of water or that are located near a Border Security Zone. In February 2012, the government issued Decree 274/2012 further restricting foreign ownership to a maximum of 30 percent of national land and 15 percent of productive land.  Foreign individuals or foreign company ownership is limited to 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) in the most productive farming areas. In June 2016, the Government of Argentina issued Decree 820 easing the requirements for foreign land ownership by changing the percentage that defines foreign ownership of a person or company, raising it from 25 percent to 51 percent of the social capital of a legal entity. Waivers are not available.

Argentina does not maintain an investment screening mechanism for inbound foreign investment. U.S. investors are not at a disadvantage to other foreign investors or singled out for discriminatory treatment.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Argentina was last subject to an investment policy review by the OECD in 1997 and a trade policy review by the WTO in 2013. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has not done an investment policy review of Argentina.

Business Facilitation

In 2019, stemming from the country’s deteriorating financial and economic situation, the Argentine government re-imposed capital controls on business and consumers, limiting their access to foreign exchange.  The capital controls and increases in taxes on exports and imports the Argentine government instituted at the end of 2019 have generated uncertainty in the business climate.

The Ministry of Production eased bureaucratic hurdles for foreign trade through the creation of a Single Window for Foreign Trade (“VUCE” for its Spanish acronym) in 2016. The VUCE centralizes the administration of all required paperwork for the import, export, and transit of goods (e.g., certificates, permits, licenses, and other authorizations and documents). The Argentine government has not fully implemented the VUCE for use across the country. Argentina subjects imports to automatic or non-automatic licenses that are managed through the Comprehensive Import Monitoring System (SIMI, or Sistema Integral de Monitoreo de Importaciones), established in December 2015 by the National Tax Agency (AFIP by its Spanish acronym) through Resolutions 5/2015 and 3823/2015. The SIMI system requires importers to submit detailed information electronically about goods to be imported into Argentina. Once the information is submitted, the relevant Argentine government agencies can review the application through the VUCE and make any observations or request additional information. The list of products subject to non-automatic licensing has been modified several times since the beginning of the SIMI system. In January 2020, the government moved 300 tariff lines from the automatic import licensing system to the non-automatic import licensing system.

The Argentine Congress approved an Entrepreneurs’ Law in March 2017, which allows for the creation of a simplified joint-stock company (SAS, or Sociedad por Acciones Simplifacada) online within 24 hours of registration. Detailed information on how to register a SAS is available at: https://www.argentina.gob.ar/produccion/crear-una-empresaAs  of April 2019, the online business registration process is only available for companies located in Buenos Aires.

Foreign investors seeking to set up business operations in Argentina follow the same procedures as domestic entities without prior approval and under the same conditions as local investors. To open a local branch of a foreign company in Argentina, the parent company must be legally registered in Argentina. Argentine law requires at least two equity holders, with the minority equity holder maintaining at least a five percent interest. In addition to the procedures required of a domestic company, a foreign company establishing itself in Argentina must legalize the parent company’s documents, register the incoming foreign capital with the Argentine Central Bank, and obtain a trading license.

A company must register its name with the Office of Corporations (IGJ, or Inspeccion General de Justicia). The IGJ website describes the registration process and some portions can be completed online (https://www.argentina.gob.ar/justicia/igj/guia-de-tramites  ). Once the IGJ registers the company, the company must request that the College of Public Notaries submit the company’s accounting books to be certified with the IGJ. The company’s legal representative must obtain a tax identification number from AFIP, register for social security, and obtain blank receipts from another agency. Companies can register with AFIP online at www.afip.gob.ar or by submitting the sworn affidavit form No. 885 to AFIP.

Details on how to register a company can be found at the Ministry of Productive Development’s website: https://www.argentina.gob.ar/produccion/crear-una-empresa . Instructions on how to obtain a tax identification code can be found at: https://www.argentina.gob.ar/obtener-el-cuit-por-internet.

The enterprise must also provide workers’ compensation insurance for its employees through the Workers’ Compensation Agency (ART, or Aseguradora de Riesgos del Trabajo). The company must register and certify its accounting of wages and salaries with the Secretariat of Labor, within the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security.

In April 2016, the Small Business Administration of the United States and the Ministry of Production of Argentina signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to set up small and medium sized business development centers (SBDCs) in Argentina.  Under the MOU, in June 2017, Argentina set up a SBDC in the province of Neuqueén to provide small businesses with tools to improve their productivity and increase their growth.

The Ministry of Productive Development offers attendance-based courses and online training for businesses. The training menu can be viewed at: https://www.argentina.gob.ar/produccion/capacitacion .

Outward Investment

The National Directorate for Investment Promotion under the Under Secretary for Trade and Investment Promotion at the MFA assists Argentine companies in expanding their business overseas, in coordination with the National Investment and Trade Promotion Agency. Argentina does not have any restrictions regarding domestic entities investing overseas, nor does it incentivize outward investment.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Secretary of Strategic Affairs under the Cabinet is in charge of transparency policies and the digitalization of bureaucratic processes as of December 2019.

Argentine government authorities and a number of quasi-independent regulatory entities can issue regulations and norms within their mandates. There are no informal regulatory processes managed by non-governmental organizations or private sector associations. Rulemaking has traditionally been a top-down process in Argentina, unlike in the United States where industry organizations often lead in the development of standards and technical regulations.  The Constitution establishes a procedure that allows for citizens to draft or propose legislation, which is subject to Congressional and Executive approval before being passed into law.

Ministries, regulatory agencies, and Congress are not obligated to provide a list of anticipated regulatory changes or proposals, share draft regulations with the public, or establish a timeline for public comment. They are also not required to conduct impact assessments of the proposed legislation and regulations.

All final texts of laws, regulations, resolutions, dispositions, and administrative decisions must be published in the Official Gazette (https://www.boletinoficial.gob.ar ), as well as in the newspapers and the websites of the Ministries and agencies. These texts can also be accessed through the official website Infoleg (http://www.infoleg.gob.ar/ ), overseen by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. Interested stakeholders can pursue judicial review of regulatory decisions.

In September 2016, Argentina enacted a Right to Access Public Information Law (27,275) that mandates all three governmental branches (legislative, judicial, and executive), political parties, universities, and unions that receive public funding are to provide non-classified information at the request of any citizen. The law also created the Agency for the Right to Access Public Information to oversee compliance.

During 2017, the government introduced new procurement standards including electronic procurement, formalization of procedures for costing-out projects, and transparent processes to renegotiate debts to suppliers. The government also introduced OECD recommendations on corporate governance for state-owned enterprises to promote transparency and accountability during the procurement process. (The regulation may be viewed at http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/verNorma.do?id=306769 .)

In April 2018, Argentina passed the Business Criminal Responsibility Law (27,041) through Decree 277. The decree establishes an Anti-Corruption Office in charge of outlining and monitoring the transparency policies with which companies must comply to be eligible for public procurement.

Under the bilateral Commercial Dialogue, Argentina and the United States discuss good regulatory practices, conducting regulatory impact analyses, and improving the incorporation of public consultations in the regulatory process. Similarly, under the bilateral Digital Economy Working Group, Argentina and the United States shared best practices on promoting competition, spectrum management policy, and broadband investment and wireless infrastructure development.

The Argentine government has sought to increase public consultation in the rulemaking process; however, public consultation is non-binding and has been done in an ad-hoc fashion. In 2017, the Government of Argentina issued a series of legal instruments that seek to promote the use of tools to improve the quality of the regulatory framework. Amongst them, Decree 891/2017 for Good Practices in Simplification establishes a series of tools to improve the rulemaking process. The decree introduces tools on ex-ante and ex-post evaluation of regulation, stakeholder engagement, and administrative simplification, amongst others. Nevertheless, no formal oversight mechanism has been established to supervise the use of these tools across the line of ministries and government agencies, which make implementation difficult and severely limit the potential to adopt a whole-of-government approach to regulatory policy, according to a 2019 OECD publication on Regulatory Policy in Argentina.

Some ministries and agencies developed their own processes for public consultation by publishing drafts on their websites, directly distributing the draft to interested stakeholders for feedback, or holding public hearings. In 2016 the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights launched the digital platform Justicia2020 (https://www.justicia2020.gob.ar/ ), to foster public involvement in the Judiciary reform process projected by 2020. Once the draft of a bill is introduced into the Argentine Congress, the full text of the bill and its status can be viewed online at the Chamber of Deputies website (http://www.diputados.gov.ar/ ), and that of the Senate (http://www.senado.gov.ar/ ).  The Fernandez government has begun developing its own justice sector reform proposals.

In November 2017, the Government of Argentina launched a new website to communicate how the government spends public funds in a user-friendly format (https://www.argentina.gob.ar/economia/transparencia/presupuesto ). The Argentine government also made an effort to improve citizens’ understanding of the budget, through the citizen’s budget “Presupuesto Ciudadano” website (https://www.minhacienda.gob.ar/onp/presupuesto_ciudadano/ ). The initiative aligns with the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT) and UN Resolution 67/218 on promoting transparency, participation, and accountability in fiscal policy.

Argentina requires public companies to adhere to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). Argentina is a member of UNCTAD’s international network of transparent investment procedures.

International Regulatory Considerations

Argentina is a founding member of MERCOSUR and has been a member of the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI for Asociacion Latinoamericana de Integracion) since 1980.  Once any of the decision-making bodies within MERCOSUR agrees on applying a certain regulation, each of the member countries has to incorporate it into its legislation according to its own legislative procedures. Once a regulation is incorporated in a MERCOSUR member’s legislation, the country has to notify MERCOSUR headquarters.

Argentina has been a member of the WTO since 1995, and it ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement in January 2018. Argentina notifies technical regulations, but not proposed drafts, to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade.  Argentina submitted itself to an OECD regulatory policy review in March 2018, which was released in March 2019.  The Fernandez administration has not actively pursued OECD accession.  Argentina participates in all 23 OECD committees.

Additionally, the Argentine Institute for Standards and Certifications (IRAM) is a member of international and regional standards bodies including the International Standardization Organization (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the Panamerican Commission on Technical Standards (COPAM), the MERCOSUR Association of Standardization (AMN), the International Certification Network (i-Qnet), the System of Conformity Assessment for Electrotechnical Equipment and Components (IECEE), and the Global Good Agricultural Practice network (GLOBALG.A.P.).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Argentina follows a Civil Law system. In 2014, the Argentine government passed a new Civil and Commercial Code that has been in effect since August 2015. The Civil and Commercial Code provides regulations for civil and commercial liability, including ownership of real and intangible property claims. The current judicial process is lengthy and suffers from significant backlogs. In the Argentine legal system, appeals may be brought from many rulings of the lower court, including evidentiary decisions, not just final orders, which significantly slows all aspects of the system. The Justice Ministry reported in December 2018 that the expanded use of oral processes had reduced the duration of 68 percent of all civil matters to less than two years.

According to the Argentine constitution, the judiciary is a separate and equal branch of government. In practice, there have been instances of political interference in the judicial process. Companies have complained that courts lack transparency and reliability, and that the Argentine government has used the judicial system to pressure the private sector. Media revelations of judicial impropriety and corruption feed public perception and undermine confidence in the judiciary.

Many foreign investors prefer to rely on private or international arbitration when those options are available. Claims regarding labor practices are processed through a labor court, regulated by Law 18,345 and its subsequent amendments and implementing regulations by Decree 106/98. Contracts often include clauses designating specific judicial or arbitral recourse for dispute settlement.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

According to the Foreign Direct Investment Law 21,382 and Decree 1853/93, foreign investors may invest in Argentina without prior governmental approval, under the same conditions as investors domiciled within the country. Foreign investors are free to enter into mergers, acquisitions, greenfield investments, or joint ventures. Foreign firms may also participate in publicly-financed research and development programs on a national treatment basis. Incoming foreign currency must be identified by the participating bank to the Central Bank of Argentina (www.bcra.gob.ar).

All foreign and domestic commercial entities in Argentina are regulated by the Commercial Partnerships Law (Law No. 19,550) and the rules issued by the commercial regulatory agencies. Decree 27/2018 amended Law 19,550 to eliminate regulatory barriers and reduce bureaucratic burdens, expedite and simplify processes in the public domain, and deploy existing technological tools to better focus on transparency. Full text of the decree can be found at (http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/305000-309999/305736/norma.htm ). All other laws and norms concerning commercial entities are established in the Argentina Civil and Commercial Code, which can be found at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/235000-239999/235975/norma.htm 

Further information about Argentina’s investment policies can be found at the following websites:

Ministry of Productive Development (https://www.argentina.gob.ar/produccion )

Ministry of Economy (https://www.argentina.gob.ar/economia )

The Central Bank of the Argentine Republic (http://www.bcra.gob.ar/ )

The National Securities Exchange Commission (http://www.cnv.gob.ar// )

The National Investment and Trade Promotion Agency (https://www.inversionycomercio.org.ar/es/home  )

Investors can download Argentina’s investor guide through this link: (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-086VB27JBjN0x0NmM4Y09GODA/view )

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The National Commission for the Defense of Competition and the Secretariat of Domestic Trade, both within the Ministry of Productive Development, have enforcement authority of the Competition Law (Law 25,156). The law aims to promote a culture of competition in all sectors of the national economy. In May 2018, the Argentine Congress approved a new Defense of Competition Law (Law 27,442). The new law incorporates anti-competitive conduct regulations and a leniency program to facilitate cartel investigation. The full text of the law can be viewed at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/verNorma.do?id=310241 .

In September 2014, Argentina amended the 1974 National Supply Law to expand the ability of the government to regulate private enterprises by setting minimum and maximum prices and profit margins for goods and services at any stage of economic activity. Private companies may be subject to fines and temporary closure if the government determines they are not complying with the law. Although the law is still in effect, the U.S. Government has not received any reports of it being applied since December 2015.

In March 2020, the Government of Argentina enacted the Supermarket Shelves Law (Law 27,545) that states that any single manufacturer and its associated brands cannot occupy more than 30 percent of a retailer’s shelf space devoted to any one product category.  The law’s proponents claim it will allow more space for SME-produced products, encourage competition, and reduce shortages. U.S. companies have expressed doubts about the law and how it will be applied in practice.

Expropriation and Compensation

Section 17 of the Argentine Constitution affirms the right of private property and states that any expropriation must be authorized by law and compensation must be provided. The United States-Argentina BIT states that investments shall not be expropriated or nationalized except for public purposes upon prompt payment of the fair market value in compensation.

Argentina has a history of expropriations under previous administrations. The most recent expropriation occurred in March 2015 when the Argentine Congress approved the nationalization of the train and railway system. A number of companies that were privatized during the 1990s under the Menem administration were renationalized under the Kirchner administrations. Additionally, in October 2008, Argentina nationalized its private pension funds, which amounted to approximately one-third of total GDP, and transferred the funds to the government social security agency.

In May 2012, the Fernandez de Kirchner administration nationalized oil and gas company Repsol-YPF. Most of the litigation between the Government of Argentina and Repsol was settled in 2016.  An American hedge fund still holds a claim against YPF and is in litigation in U.S. courts.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Argentina is signatory to the 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitration Awards, which the country ratified in 1989. Argentina is also a party to the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) Convention since 1994.

There is neither specific domestic legislation providing for enforcement under the 1958 New York Convention nor legislation for the enforcement of awards under the ICSID Convention. Companies that seek recourse through Argentine courts may not simultaneously pursue recourse through international arbitration.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The Argentine government officially accepts the principle of international arbitration. The United States-Argentina BIT includes a chapter on Investor-State Dispute Settlement for U.S. investors.

In the past ten years, Argentina has been brought before the ICSID in 54 cases involving U.S. or other foreign investors. Argentina currently has three pending arbitration cases filed against it by U.S. investors. For more information on the cases brought by U.S. claimants against Argentina, go to: https://icsid.worldbank.org/en/Pages/cases/AdvancedSearch.aspx #.

Local courts cannot enforce arbitral awards issued against the government based on the public policy clause. There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

Argentina is a member of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) and the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).

Argentina is also a party to several bilateral and multilateral treaties and conventions for the enforcement and recognition of foreign judgments, which provide requirements for the enforcement of foreign judgments in Argentina, including:

Treaty of International Procedural Law, approved in the South-American Congress of Private International Law held in Montevideo in 1898, ratified by Argentina by law No. 3,192.

Treaty of International Procedural Law, approved in the South-American Congress of Private International Law held in Montevideo in 1939-1940, ratified by Dec. Ley 7771/56 (1956).

Panama Convention of 1975, CIDIP I: Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration, adopted within the Private International Law Conferences – Organization of American States, ratified by law No. 24,322 (1995).

Montevideo Convention of 1979, CIDIP II: Inter-American Convention on Extraterritorial Validity of Foreign Judgments and Arbitral Awards, adopted within the Private International Law Conferences – Organization of American States, ratified by law No. 22,921 (1983).

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms can be stipulated in contracts. Argentina also has ADR mechanisms available such as the Center for Mediation and Arbitrage (CEMARC) of the Argentine Chamber of Trade. More information can be found at: http://www.intracen.org/Centro-de-Mediacion-y-Arbitraje-Comercial-de-la-Camara-Argentina-de-Comercio—CEMARC–/#sthash.RagZdv0l.dpuf .

Argentina does not have a specific law governing arbitration, but it has adopted a mediation law (Law 24.573/1995), which makes mediation mandatory prior to litigation. Some arbitration provisions are scattered throughout the Civil Code, the National Code of Civil and Commercial Procedure, the Commercial Code, and three other laws. The following methods of concluding an arbitration agreement are non-binding under Argentine law: electronic communication, fax, oral agreement, and conduct on the part of one party. Generally, all commercial matters are subject to arbitration. There are no legal restrictions on the identity and professional qualifications of arbitrators. Parties must be represented in arbitration proceedings in Argentina by attorneys who are licensed to practice locally. The grounds for annulment of arbitration awards are limited to substantial procedural violations, an ultra petita award (award outside the scope of the arbitration agreement), an award rendered after the agreed-upon time limit, and a public order violation that is not yet settled by jurisprudence when related to the merits of the award. On average, it takes around 21 weeks to enforce an arbitration award rendered in Argentina, from filing an application to a writ of execution attaching assets (assuming there is no appeal). It takes roughly 18 weeks to enforce a foreign award. The requirements for the enforcement of foreign judgments are set out in section 517 of the National Procedural Code.

No information is available as to whether the domestic courts frequently rule in cases in favor of state-owned enterprises (SOE) when SOEs are party to a dispute.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Argentina’s bankruptcy law was codified in 1995 in Law 24,522. The full text can be found at: http://www.infoleg.gov.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/25000-29999/25379/texact.htm . Under the law, debtors are generally able to begin insolvency proceedings when they are no longer able to pay their debts as they mature. Debtors may file for both liquidation and reorganization. Creditors may file for insolvency of the debtor for liquidation only. The insolvency framework does not require approval by the creditors for the selection or appointment of the insolvency representative or for the sale of substantial assets of the debtor. The insolvency framework does not provide rights to the creditor to request information from the insolvency representative but the creditor has the right to object to decisions by the debtor to accept or reject creditors’ claims. Bankruptcy is not criminalized; however, convictions for fraudulent bankruptcy can carry two to six years of prison time.

Financial institutions regulated by the Central Bank of Argentina (BCRA) publish monthly outstanding credit balances of their debtors; the BCRA National Center of Debtors (Central de Deudores) compiles and publishes this information. The database is available for use of financial institutions that comply with legal requirements concerning protection of personal data. The credit monitoring system only includes negative information, and the information remains on file through the person’s life. At least one local NGO that makes microcredit loans is working to make the payment history of these loans publicly accessible for the purpose of demonstrating credit history, including positive information, for those without access to bank accounts and who are outside of the Central Bank’s system. Equifax, which operates under the local name “Veraz” (or “truthfully”), also provides credit information to financial institutions and other clients, such as telecommunications service providers and other retailers that operate monthly billing or credit/layaway programs.

The World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Report ranked Argentina 111 among 190 countries for the effectiveness of its insolvency law. This is a drop of 10 places from its ranking of 101 in 2018. The report notes that it takes an average of 2.4 years and 16.5 percent of the estate to resolve bankruptcy in Argentina.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Government incentives do not make any distinction between foreign and domestic investors.

The Argentine government offers a number of investment prom otion programs at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels to attract investment to specific economic sectors such as capital assets and infrastructure, innovation and technological development, and energy, with no discrimination between national or foreign-owned enterprises. Some of the investment promotion programs require investments within a specific region or locality, industry, or economic activity. Some programs offer refunds on Value-Added Tax (VAT) or other tax incentives for local production of capital goods. The Investment and International Trade Promotion Agency provides cost-free assessment and information to investors to facilitate operations in the country. Argentina’s investment promotion programs and regimes can be found at: https://www.inversionycomercio.org.ar/es/inversores  http://www.inversionycomercio.org.ar/uploads/banco/archivos/1566396570-Agosto_2019-(VF).pdf , and https://www.argentina.gob.ar/produccion .

The National Fund for the Development of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises provides low cost credit to small and medium-sized enterprises for investment projects, labor, capital, and energy efficiency improvement with no distinction between national or foreign-owned enterprises. More information can be found at https://www.argentina.gob.ar/produccion/financiamiento 

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Productive Development launched several financial assistance programs for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) affected by the pandemic.

More information can be found at: https://www.argentina.gob.ar/produccion/medidas-pymes-covid .

The Ministry of Productive Development supports employment training programs that are frequently free to the participants and do not differentiate based on nationality.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Argentina has two types of tax-exempt trading areas: Free Trade Zones (FTZ), which are located throughout the country, and the more comprehensive Special Customs Area (SCA), which covers all of Tierra del Fuego Province and is scheduled to expire at the end of 2023.

Argentine law defines an FTZ as a territory outside the “general customs area” (GCA, i.e., the rest of Argentina) where neither the inflows nor outflows of exported final merchandise are subject to tariffs, non-tariff barriers, or other taxes on goods. Goods produced within a FTZ generally cannot be shipped to the GCA unless they are capital goods not produced in the rest of the country. The labor, sanitary, ecological, safety, criminal, and financial regulations within FTZs are the same as those that prevail in the GCA. Foreign firms receive national treatment in FTZs.

Merchandise shipped from the GCA to a FTZ may receive export incentive benefits, if applicable, only after the goods are exported from the FTZ to a third country destination. Merchandise shipped from the GCA to a FTZ and later exported to another country is not exempt from export taxes. Any value added in an FTZ or re-export from an FTZ is exempt from export taxes. For more information on FTZ in Argentina see: http://www.afip.gob.ar/zonasFrancas/ .

Products manufactured in the SCA may enter the GCA free from taxes or tariffs. In addition, the government may enact special regulations that exempt products shipped through the SCA (but not manufactured therein) from all forms of taxation except excise taxes. The SCA program provides benefits for established companies that meet specific production and employment objectives.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The Argentine national government does not have local employment mandates nor does it apply such schemes to senior management or boards of directors. However, certain provincial governments do require employers to hire a certain percentage of their workforce from provincial residents. There are no excessively onerous visa, residence, work permit, or similar requirements inhibiting mobility of foreign investors and their employees. Under Argentine Law, conditions to invest are equal for national and foreign investors. As of March 2018, citizens of MERCOSUR countries can obtain legal residence within five months and at little cost, which grants permission to work. Argentina suspended its method for expediting this process in early 2018.

Argentina has local content requirements for specific sectors. Requirements are applicable to domestic and foreign investors equally. Argentine law establishes a national preference for local industry for most government procurement if the domestic supplier’s tender is no more than five to seven percent higher than the foreign tender. The amount by which the domestic bid may exceed a foreign bid depends on the size of the domestic company making the bid. In May 2018, Argentina issued Law 27,437, giving additional priority to Argentine small and medium-sized enterprises and, separately, requiring that foreign companies that win a tender must subcontract domestic companies to cover 20 percent of the value of the work. The preference applies to procurement by all government agencies, public utilities, and concessionaires.  There is similar legislation at the sub-national (provincial) level.

In November 2016, the government passed a public-private partnership (PPP) law (27,328) that regulates public-private contracts. The law lowered regulatory barriers to foreign investment in public infrastructure projects with the aim of attracting more foreign direct investment. Several projects under the PPP initiative have been canceled or put on hold due to an ongoing investigation on corruption in public works projects during the last administration. The PPP law contains a “Buy Argentina” clause that mandates at least 33 percent local content for every public project.

Argentina is not a signatory to the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA), but it became an observer to the GPA in February 1997.

In July 2016, the Ministry of Production and Labor and the Ministry of Energy and Mining issued Joint Resolutions 123 and 313, which allow companies to obtain tax benefits on purchases of solar or wind energy equipment for use in investment projects that incorporate at least 60 percent local content in their electromechanical installations.  In cases where local supply is insufficient to reach the 60 percent threshold, the threshold can be reduced to 30 percent.  The resolutions also provide tax exemptions for imports of capital and intermediate goods that are not locally produced for use in the investment projects.

In 2016, Argentina passed law 27,263, implemented by Resolution 599-E/2016, which provides tax credits to automotive manufacturers for the purchase of locally-produced automotive parts and accessories incorporated into specific types of vehicles. The tax credits range from 4 percent to 15 percent of the value of the purchased parts.  The list of vehicle types included in the regime can be found here: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/260000-264999/263955/norma.htm . In 2018, Argentina issued Resolution 28/2018, simplifying the procedure for obtaining the tax credits. The resolution also establishes that if the national content drops below the minimum required by the resolution because of relative price changes due to exchange rate fluctuations, automotive manufacturers will not be considered non-compliant with the regime. However, the resolution sets forth that tax benefits will be suspended for the quarter when the drop was registered.

The Media Law, enacted in 2009 and amended in 2015, requires companies to produce advertising and publicity materials locally or to include 60 percent local content. The Media Law also establishes a 70 percent local production content requirement for companies with radio licenses. Additionally, the Media Law requires that 50 percent of the news and 30 percent of the music that is broadcast on the radio be of Argentine origin. In the case of private television operators, at least 60 percent of broadcast content must be of Argentine origin. Of that 60 percent, 30 percent must be local news and 10 to 30 percent must be local independent content.

Argentina establishes percentages of local content in the production process for manufacturers of mobile and cellular radio communication equipment operating in Tierra del Fuego province.  Resolution 66/2018 maintains the local content requirement for products such as technical manuals, packaging, and labeling. The percentage of local content required ranges from 10 percent to 100 percent depending on the process or item. In cases where local supply is insufficient to meet local content requirements, companies may apply for an exemption that is subject to review every six months. A detailed description of local content percentage requirements can be found at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/verNorma.do;jsessionid=0CA1B74C2D7EC353E66F1CC6CFD8B41D?id=255494 

There are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption, nor does the government prevent companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside the country’s territory.

Argentina does not have forced localization of content in technology or requirements of data storage in country.

There is no discrimination between domestic and foreign investors in investment incentives. There are no performance requirements. A complete guide of incentives for investors in Argentina can be found at: https://www.inversionycomercio.org.ar/es/inversores .

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Secured interests in property, including mortgages, are recognized in Argentina. Such interests can be easily and effectively registered. They also can be readily bought and sold. Argentina manages a national registry of real estate ownership (Registro de la Propiedad Inmueble) at http://www.dnrpi.jus.gov.ar/ . No data is available on the percent of all land that does not have clear title. There are no specific regulations regarding land lease and acquisition of residential and commercial real estate by foreign investors. Law 26,737 (Regime for Protection of National Domain over Ownership, Possession or Tenure of Rural Land) establishes the restrictions of foreign ownership on rural and productive lands, including water bodies. Foreign ownership is also restricted on land located near borders.

Legal claims may be brought to evict persons unlawfully occupying real property, even if the property is unoccupied by the lawful owner. However, these legal proceedings can be quite lengthy, and until the legal proceedings are complete, evicting squatters is problematic. The title and actual conditions of real property interests under consideration should be carefully reviewed before acquisition.

Argentine Law 26.160 prevents the eviction and confiscation of land traditionally occupied by indigenous communities in Argentina, or encumbered with an indigenous land claim. Indigenous land claims can be found in the land registry. Enforcement is carried out by the National Institute of Indigenous Affairs, under the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.

Intellectual Property Rights

The Government of Argentina adheres to some treaties and international agreements on intellectual property (IP) and belongs to the World Intellectual Property Organization and the World Trade Organization. The Argentine Congress ratified the Uruguay Round agreements, including the provisions on intellectual property, in Law 24425 on January 5, 1995.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s 2020 Special 301 Report identified Argentina on the Priority Watch List. Trading partners on the Priority Watch List present the most significant concerns regarding inadequate or ineffective IP protection or enforcement or actions that otherwise limit market access for persons relying on IP protection. For a complete version of the 2020 Report, see: https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/2020_Special_301_Report.pdf 

Argentina continues to present long-standing and well-known challenges to intellectual property (IP)-intensive industries, including those from the United States.  A key deficiency in the legal framework for patents is the unduly broad limitations on patent eligible subject matter.  Pursuant to a highly problematic 2012 Joint Resolution establishing guidelines for the examination of patents, Argentina rejects patent applications for categories of pharmaceutical inventions that are eligible for patentability in other jurisdictions, including in the United States.  Additionally, to be patentable, Argentina requires that processes for the manufacture of active compounds disclosed in a specification be reproducible and applicable on an industrial scale.  Stakeholders assert that Resolution 283/2015, introduced in September 2015, also limits the ability to patent biotechnological innovations based on living matter and natural substances.  These measures have interfered with the ability of companies investing in Argentina to protect their IP and may be inconsistent with international norms.  Another ongoing challenge to the innovative agricultural chemical and pharmaceutical sectors is inadequate protection against the unfair commercial use, as well as unauthorized disclosure, of undisclosed test or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for products in those sectors.  Finally, Argentina struggles with a substantial backlog of patent applications resulting in long delays for innovators seeking patent protection in the market.  Government-wide hiring restrictions that remain in place, going back to a hiring freeze in 2018, have resulted in a limited number of patent examiners.  The United States encourages Argentina to extend the National Institute of Industrial Property’s (INPI) participation in the Patent Prosecution Highway with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which expired in March.

Enforcement of IP rights in Argentina continues to be a challenge, and stakeholders report widespread unfair competition from sellers of counterfeit and pirated goods and services.  La Salada in Buenos Aires remains the largest counterfeit market in Latin America.  Argentine police generally do not take ex officio actions, prosecutions can stall and languish in excessive formalities, and, when a criminal case does reach final judgment, criminal infringers rarely receive deterrent sentences.  Hard goods counterfeiting and optical disc piracy are widespread, and online piracy continues to grow due to nearly nonexistent criminal enforcement against such piracy.  As a result, IP enforcement online in Argentina consists mainly of right holders trying to convince Argentine Internet service providers to agree to take down specific infringing works, as well as attempting to seek injunctions in civil cases, both of which can be time-consuming and ineffective.  Right holders also cite widespread use of unlicensed software by Argentine private enterprises and the government.

Argentina made limited progress in IP protection and enforcement in a year that saw a presidential transition.  INPI began accepting electronic filing of patent, trademark, and industrial designs applications in 2018 and is working toward transitioning to an all-electronic filing system by 2020.  Argentina continued to improve procedures for trademarks, with INPI reducing the time for a trademark opposition from an average of 3.5 years to one year.  On trademarks, the law provides for a fast track option that reduces the time to register a trademark to four months.  The United States welcomes and continues to monitor this change.  To further improve patent protection in Argentina, including for small and medium-sized enterprises, the United States urges Argentina to ratify the Patent Cooperation Treaty.  The United States encourages Argentina to provide transparency and procedural fairness to all interested parties in connection with potential recognition or protection of geographical indications, including in connection with trade agreement negotiations.

Argentina’s efforts to combat counterfeiting continue, but without systemic measures, illegal activity persists.  There have been reports of a resurgence of markets selling counterfeit and pirated goods, including at La Salada, the largest of these types of markets.  The United States encourages Argentina to create a national IP enforcement strategy to build on its successes and move to a sustainable, long-lasting initiative.  The United States also encourages legislative proposals to this effect, along the lines of prior bills introduced in Congress to provide for landlord liability and stronger enforcement on the sale of infringing goods at outdoor marketplaces such as La Salada, and to amend the trademark law to increase criminal penalties for counterfeiting carried out by criminal networks.  Argentina formally created the Federal Committee to Fight Against Contraband, Falsification of Trademarks, and Designations, formalizing the work on trademark counterfeiting under the National Anti-Piracy Initiative launched in 2017.  The United States encourages Argentina to expand this initiative to online piracy.  Revisions to the criminal code that had been submitted to Congress, including certain criminal sanctions for circumventing technological protection measures, have stalled.  The creation of a federal specialized IP prosecutor’s office and a well-trained enforcement unit could potentially help combat online piracy as well as prevent lengthy legal cases with contradictory rulings.  In June 2019, Argentina and the United States held a bilateral meeting under the Innovation and Creativity Forum for Economic Development, part of the U.S.-Argentina Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, to continue discussions and collaboration on IP topics of mutual interest.  The United States intends to monitor all the outstanding issues for progress and urges Argentina to continue its efforts to create a more attractive environment for investment and innovation.

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

While Argentina’s economic recession began in 2018, a new financial crisis emerged in August 2019 following the unexpected landslide victory of the opposition presidential candidate Alberto Fernandez, foreshadowing his likely victory in the general election.  In order to slow the outflow of dollars from its reserves, the Argentine Central Bank introduced tight capital controls prohibiting transfers and payments that are likely in conflict with IMF Article VIII in September 2019 and tightened them thereafter.  The Argentine government also implemented price controls and trade restrictions.  In December 2019, the new government passed an economic emergency law that created new taxes, increased export duties, and delegated broad powers to the Executive Branch, with the objectives of increasing social spending for the most vulnerable populations and negotiating revised terms for Argentina’s sovereign debt. All these measures have deteriorated the investment climate for local and foreign investors.

In April 2020, the government issued a decree postponing debt payments (both interest and principal) of dollar-denominated debt issued under local law until December 31, 2020. Following this measure, rating agencies downgraded Argentina’s country risk to selective, or restrictive, default.  The IMF characterized Argentina’s debt situation as “unsustainable” in a February 2020 statement.  On April 15, the government presented a formal offer to creditors and continued engaging in negotiations to avoid a default.

The Argentine Securities and Exchange Commission (CNV or Comision Nacional de Valores) is the federal agency that regulates securities markets offerings. Securities and accounting standards are transparent and consistent with international norms. Foreign investors have access to a variety of options on the local market to obtain credit. Nevertheless, the domestic credit market is small – credit is 16 percent of GDP, according to the World Bank. To mitigate the recessionary impact of the COVID-19 crisis, the government introduced low-cost lending credit lines (carrying negative real interest rates), and the Central Bank reduced banks’ minimum reserve requirements to encourage banks to expand credit, particularly to SMEs. The Buenos Aires Stock Exchange is the organization responsible for the operation of Argentina’s primary stock exchange, located in Buenos Aires city. The most important index of the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange is the MERVAL (Mercado de Valores).

U.S. banks, securities firms, and investment funds are well-represented in Argentina and are dynamic players in local capital markets. In 2003, the government began requiring foreign banks to disclose to the public the nature and extent to which their foreign parent banks guarantee their branches or subsidiaries in Argentina.

Money and Banking System

Argentina has a relatively sound banking sector based on diversified revenues, well-contained operating costs, and a high liquidity level. The main challenge for banks is to rebuild long-term assets and liabilities. Due to adverse international and domestic conditions, the economy has been in recession since 2018 with high inflation and interest rates. Credit to the private sector in local currency (for both corporations and individuals) decreased 18 percent in real terms in 2019. The anticipated deep recession combined with risks of accelerating inflation have raised concerns regarding the ability of banks to maintain healthy balances. The largest bank is the Banco de la Nacion Argentina. Non-performing private sector loans constitute less than six percent of banks’ portfolios. Private banks have total assets of approximately ARS 4,100 billion (USD $69 billion). Total financial system assets are approximately ARS 6,700 billion (USD $112 billion). The Central Bank of Argentina acts as the country’s financial agent and is the main regulatory body for the banking system.

Foreign banks and branches are allowed to establish operations in Argentina. They are subject to the same regulation as local banks. Argentina’s Central Bank has many correspondent banking relationships, none of which are known to have been lost in the past three years.

The Central Bank has enacted a resolution recognizing cryptocurrencies and requiring that they comply with local banking and tax laws. No implementing regulations have been adopted. Block chain developers report that several companies in the financial services sector are exploring or considering using block chain-based programs externally and are using some such programs internally. One Argentine NGO, through funding from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), is developing block chain-based banking applications to assist low income populations.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Beginning in September 2019, the Argentine Central Bank issued a series of decrees and norms regulating access to foreign exchange markets.  This series of measures that began with Decree 609/2019 imposes numerous restrictions.

Regarding individuals’ ability to purchase dollars, as of October 28, 2019 and pursuant to Communication A6815/2019, Argentine individuals may purchase no more than $200 per month on a rolling monthly basis if the purchase is done through the banking system, or $100 per month if the purchase is made in cash.  Purchases above that amount require BCRA approval.   In December 2019, the government imposed a 30 percent tax (known as the Impuesto para una Argentina Inclusiva y Solidaria, “PAIS”) on the purchase of foreign currency. The tax also applies to international online purchases from Argentina, paid with credit or debit cards.

Non-Argentine residents are required to obtain prior Central Bank approval to purchase in excess of $100 per month, except for certain bilateral or international organizations, institutions and agencies, diplomatic representation, and foreign tribunals.

Bank customers—whether individuals or companies—can freely withdraw the balances from their dollar accounts.  Companies and individuals will need to obtain prior clearance from the Central Bank before transferring funds abroad (including dividend payments or other distributions abroad, or to pay for services rendered to a company by foreign affiliates).  In the case of individuals, if transfers are made from their own foreign currency accounts in Argentina to their own accounts abroad, they do not need to obtain Central Bank approval.

Beginning in September 2019, exporters of goods are required to transfer proceeds to Argentina and settle in pesos.  Exporters must settle according to the following terms: exporters with affiliates (irrespective of the type of good exported) and exporters of certain goods (including cereals, seeds, minerals, and precious metals, among others) must convert their foreign currency proceeds to pesos within 15 days after the issuance of the permit for shipment; other exporters have 180 days to settle in pesos.  Irrespective of these deadlines, the obligation to transfer the funds to Argentina and settle in pesos must be complied with within five business days from the actual collection.  Argentine residents are required to transfer to Argentina and settle in pesos the proceeds from services exports rendered to non-Argentine residents that are paid in foreign currency either in Argentina or abroad, within five business days from collection thereof.

Payment of imports of goods and services from third parties requires Central Bank approval if the company needs to purchase foreign currency.  Payment of imports of goods and services from affiliates for an amount exceeding $2 million per month are subject to prior approval to purchase that foreign currency from the Central Bank.

Pre-cancellation of debt coming due abroad in more than three business days requires Central Bank approval to purchase dollars.

Per Resolution 36,162 of October 2011, locally registered insurance companies are mandated to maintain all investments and cash equivalents in the country. The BCRA limits banks’ dollar-denominated asset holdings to 5 percent of their net worth.

In January 2020, the Central Bank presented its monetary policy framework showing that the monetary and financial policies will be subject to the government’s objective of addressing current social and economic challenges. In particular, the Central Bank acknowledged that it will continue to provide financial support to the government (in foreign and domestic currency) as external credit markets remain closed. The Central Bank determined that a managed exchange rate is a valid instrument to avoid sharp fluctuations in relative prices, international competitiveness, and income distribution.  The Central Bank also noted the exchange rate policy should also facilitate the preemptive accumulation of international reserves.

In June 2018, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Argentina announced a Standby Arrangement agreement (SBA).  Three months after agreeing to a $50 billion SBA, Argentina and the IMF announced in September 2018 a set of revisions, including an increase in the line of credit by $7.1 billion.  This also front-loads the disbursement of funds and brings the program total to $57 billion. In July 2019, the IMF approved its fourth review allowing the government to withdraw about $5.4 billion, bringing total disbursements since June 2018 to approximately $44.1 billion. The Fernandez administration stated that it does not plan to request further disbursements from its current IMF program and will seek a new IMF program.

Remittance Policies

In response to the economic crisis in Argentina, the government introduced capital controls in September 2019.  Under these restrictions, companies in Argentina (including local affiliates of foreign parent companies) must obtain prior approval from the Central Bank to access the foreign exchange market to purchase foreign currency and to transfer funds abroad for the payment of dividends and profits, services and imports in excess of USD 2 million per month.  In January 2020, the Central Bank amended the regime for the payment of dividends abroad to non-residents. The new regime allows companies to access the foreign exchange market to transfer profits and dividends abroad without prior authorization of the BCRA, provided the following conditions are met:

(1) Profits and dividends have to be declared in closed and audited financial statements.

(1) Profits and dividends have to be declared in closed and audited financial statements.   (2)The dividends in foreign currency should not exceed the amount of dividends determined by the shareholders’ meeting in local currency.

(2)The dividends in foreign currency should not exceed the amount of dividends determined by the shareholders’ meeting in local currency.   (3)The total amount of dividends to be transferred cannot exceed 30 percent of the amount of new capital contributions made by non-residents into local companies since January 2020.

(3)The total amount of dividends to be transferred cannot exceed 30 percent of the amount of new capital contributions made by non-residents into local companies since January 2020.   (4) The resident entity must be in compliance with the last due filing of the Central Bank Survey of External Assets and Liabilities.

(4) The resident entity must be in compliance with the last due filing of the Central Bank Survey of External Assets and Liabilities.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Argentine government does not maintain a Sovereign Wealth Fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The Argentine government has state-owned enterprises (SOEs) or significant stakes in mixed-capital companies in the following sectors: civil commercial aviation, water and sanitation, oil and gas, electricity generation, transport, paper production, satellite, banking, railway, shipyard, and aircraft ground handling services.

By Argentine law, a company is considered a public enterprise if the state owns 100 percent of the company’s shares. The state has majority control over a company if the state owns 51 percent of the company’s shares. The state has minority participation in a company if the state owns less than 51 percent of the company’s shares. Laws regulating SOEs and enterprises with state participation can be found at http://www.saij.gob.ar/13653-nacional-regimen-empresas-estado-lns0001871-1955-03-23/123456789-0abc-defg-g17-81000scanyel .

Through the government’s social security agency (ANSES), the Argentine government owns stakes ranging from one to 31 percent in 46 publicly-listed companies. U.S. investors also own shares in some of these companies. As part of the ANSES takeover of Argentina’s private pension system in 2008, the government agreed to commit itself to being a passive investor in the companies and limit the exercise of its voting rights to 5 percent, regardless of the equity stake the social security agency owned. A list of such enterprises can be found at: http://fgs.anses.gob.ar/participacion .

State-owned enterprises purchase and supply goods and services from the private sector and foreign firms. Private enterprises may compete with SOEs under the same terms and conditions with respect to market share, products/services, and incentives. Private enterprises also have access to financing terms and conditions similar to SOEs. SOEs are subject to the same tax burden and tax rebate policies as their private sector competitors. SOEs are not currently subject to firm budget constraints under the law, and have been subsidized by the central government in the past. Between 2016 and 2019, the Government of Argentina reduced subsidies in the energy, water, and transportation sectors. However, in 2019 the Government postponed its subsidy reduction program and redesigned it several times, citing pressing macroeconomic issues. Argentina does not have regulations that differentiate treatment of SOEs and private enterprises. Argentina has observer status under the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement and, as such, SOEs are subject to the conditions of Argentina’s observance.

Argentina does not have a specified ownership policy, guideline or governance code for how the government exercises ownership of SOEs. The country generally adheres to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of SOEs. The practices for SOEs are mainly in compliance with the policies and practices for transparency and accountability in the OECD Guidelines. In 2018, the OECD released a report evaluating the corporate governance framework for the Argentine SOE sector relative to the OECD Guidelines, which can be viewed here: http://www.oecd.org/countries/argentina/oecd-review-corporate-governance-soe-argentina.htm .

Argentina does not have a centralized ownership entity that exercises ownership rights for each of the SOEs. The general rule in Argentina is that requirements that apply to all listed companies also apply to publicly-listed SOEs.

Privatization Program

The current administration has not developed a privatization program.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is an increasing awareness of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and responsible business conduct (RBC) among both producers and consumers in Argentina. RBC and CSR practices are welcomed by beneficiary communities throughout Argentina. There are many institutes that promote RBC and CSR in Argentina, the most prominent being the Argentine Institute for Business Social Responsibility (http://www.iarse.org/ ), which has been working in the country for more than 17 years and includes among its members many of the most important companies in Argentina.

Argentina is a member of the United Nation’s Global Compact. Established in April 2004, the Global Compact Network Argentina is a business-led network with a multi-stakeholder governing body elected for two-year terms by active participants. The network is supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Argentina in close collaboration with other UN Agencies. The Global Compact Network Argentina is the most important RBC/CSR initiative in the country with a presence in more than 20 provinces. More information on the initiative can be found at: http://pactoglobal.org.ar .

Foreign and local enterprises tend to follow generally accepted CSR/RBC principles. Argentina subscribed to the Declaration on the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises in April 1997.

Many provinces, such as Mendoza and Neuquen, have or are in the process of enacting a provincial CSR/RBC law. There have been many previously unsuccessful attempts to pass a CSR/RBC law. Distrust over the State’s role in private companies had been the main concern for legislators opposed to these bills.

In February 2019, the Argentine government joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

9. Corruption

Argentina’s legal system incorporates several measures to address public sector corruption.  The foundational law is the 1999 Public Ethics Law (Law 25,188), the full text of which can be found at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/verNorma.do?id=60847 .  A March 2019 report by the OECD’s Directorate for Public Governance underscored, however, that the law is heterogeneously implemented across branches of the government and that the legislative branch has not designated an application authority, approved an implementing regulation, or specified sanctions.  It also noted that Argentina has a regulation on lobbying, but that it only applies to the executive branch, and only requires officials to disclose meetings with lobbyists.  With regards to political parties, the report noted anonymous campaign donations are banned, but 90 percent of all donations in Argentina are made in cash, making it impossible to identify donors.  Furthermore, the existing regulations have insufficient controls and sanctions, and leave gaps with provincial regulations that could be exploited.

Within the executive branch, the government institutions tasked with combatting corruption include the Anti-Corruption Office (ACO), the National Auditor General, and the General Comptroller’s Office.  Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws, and the Ministry of Justice’s ACO is responsible for analyzing and investigating federal executive branch officials based on their financial disclosure forms—which require the disclosure of assets directly owned by immediate family members. The ACO is also responsible for investigating corruption within the federal executive branch or in matters involving federal funds, except for funds transferred to the provinces. While the ACO does not have authority to independently prosecute cases, it can refer cases to other agencies or serve as the plaintiff and request that a judge to initiate a case.

Argentina enacted a new Corporate Criminal Liability Law in November 2017 following the advice of the OECD to comply with its Anti-Bribery Convention. The full text of Law 27,401 can be found at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/295000-299999/296846/norma.htm . The new law entered into force in early 2018. It extends anti-bribery criminal sanctions to corporations, whereas previously they only applied to individuals; expands the definition of prohibited conduct, including illegal enrichment of public officials; and allows Argentina to hold Argentines responsible for foreign bribery. Sanctions include fines and blacklisting from public contracts. Argentina also enacted an express prohibition on the tax deductibility of bribes.

Official corruption remains a serious challenge in Argentina. In its March 2017 report, the OECD expressed concern about Argentina’s enforcement of foreign bribery laws, inefficiencies in the judicial system, politicization and perceived lack of independence at the Attorney General’s Office, and lack of training and awareness for judges and prosecutors. According to the World Bank’s worldwide governance indicators, corruption remains an area of concern in Argentina. In the latest Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) that ranks countries and territories by their perceived levels of corruption, Argentina ranked 66 out of 180 countries in 2019, an improvement of 19 places versus 2018. Allegations of corruption in provincial as well as federal courts remained frequent. Few Argentine companies have implemented anti-foreign bribery measures beyond limited codes of ethics.

In September 2016, Congress passed a law on public access to information. The law explicitly applies to all three branches of the federal government, the public justice offices, and entities such as businesses, political parties, universities, and trade associations that receive public funding. It requires these institutions to respond to citizen requests for public information within 15 days, with an additional 15-day extension available for “exceptional” circumstances. Sanctions apply for noncompliance.  As mandated by the law, the executive branch created the Agency for Access to Public Information in 2017, an autonomous office that oversees access to information.  In early 2016, the Argentine government reaffirmed its commitment to the Open Government Partnership (OGP), became a founding member of the Global Anti-Corruption Coalition, and reengaged the OECD Working Group on Bribery.

Argentina is a party to the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Convention against Corruption. It ratified in 2001 the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions (Anti-Bribery Convention). Argentina also signed and ratified the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and participates in UNCAC’s Conference of State Parties. Argentina also participates in the Mechanism for Follow-up on the Implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption (MESICIC).

Since Argentina became a party to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, allegations of Argentine individuals or companies bribing foreign officials have surfaced.  A March 2017 report by the OECD Working Group on Bribery indicated there were 13 known foreign bribery allegations involving Argentine companies and individuals as of that date.  According to the report, Argentine authorities investigated and closed some of the allegations and declined to investigate others.  The authorities determined some allegations did not involve foreign bribery but rather other offenses.  Several such allegations remained under investigation.

Resources to Report Corruption

Felix Pablo Crous
Director
Government of Argentina Anti-Corruption Office
Oficina Anticorrupción, 25 de Mayo 544, C1002ABL, Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires.
Phone: +54 11 5300 4100
Email: anticorrupcion@jus.gov.ar and http://denuncias.anticorrupcion.gob.ar/ 

Poder Ciudadano (Local Transparency International Affiliate)
Piedras 547, C1070AAK, Ciudad Autonoma de Buenos Aires
Phone: +54 11 4331 4925 ext 225
Fax: +54 11 4331 4925
Email: comunicaciones@poderciudadano.org
Website: http://www.poderciudadano.org 

10. Political and Security Environment

Demonstrations are common in metropolitan Buenos Aires and in other major cities and rural areas. Nevertheless, political violence is not widely considered a hindrance to the investment climate in Argentina.

Protesters regularly block streets, highways, and major intersections, causing traffic jams and delaying travel. While demonstrations are usually non-violent, individuals sometimes seek confrontation with the police and vandalize private property. Groups occasionally protest in front of the U.S. Embassy or U.S.-affiliated businesses. In February 2016, the Ministry of Security approved a National Anti-Street Pickets Protocol that provides guidelines to prevent the blockage of major streets and public facilities during demonstrations.  However, this protocol did not often apply to venues within the City of Buenos Aires (CABA), which fall under the city’s jurisdiction.  The CABA government often did not enforce security protocols against illegal demonstrations.

In December 2017, while Congress had called an extraordinary session to address the retirement system reforms, several demonstrations against the bill turned violent, causing structural damage to public and private property, injuries to 162 people (including 88 policemen), and arrests of 60 people. The demonstrations ultimately dissipated, and the government passed the bill.

Union disputes and politicized worker movements are common in CABA and the Provinces. Recently in 2019, and early 2020 following the election of the Fernandez administration foreign-owned diamond mining companies in Neuquen were targeted by work stoppages and insider attacks in failed attempts to intimidate and force employers to increase salaries and benefits. These protesters have seemingly been allowed to act without fear of response from local police forces, even after direct requests for assistance had been made. The companies believe the unions and protesters feel emboldened by the new government’s stance towards Western companies and were forced to shut down operations for weeks in December 2019 and January 2020, in fear of the safety of their personnel at the local headquarters. These issues were exacerbated by the familial connections of the local Federal Police Chief and the relevant union boss.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Argentine workers are among the most highly-educated and skilled in Latin America. Foreign investors often cite Argentina’s skilled workforce as a key factor in their decision to invest in Argentina. Argentina has relatively high social security, health, and other labor taxes, however, and high labor costs are among foreign investors’ most often cited operational challenges. The unemployment rate was 8.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019, according to official statistics. The government estimated unemployment for workers below 29 years old as roughly double the national rate. Analysts estimate one-third of Argentina’s salaried workforce was employed informally. Though difficult to measure, analysts believe including self-employed informal workers in the estimate would drive the overall rate of informality to 40 percent of the labor force.

Labor laws are comparatively protective of workers in Argentina, and investors cite labor-related litigation as an important factor increasing labor costs in Argentina. There are no special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws in the Foreign Trade Zones. Organized labor plays an important role in labor-management relations and in Argentine politics. Under Argentine law, the Ministry of Labor recognizes one union per sector per geographic unit (e.g., nationwide, a single province, or a major city) with the right to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement for that sector and geographic area. Roughly 40 percent of Argentina’s formal workforce is unionized. The Ministry of Labor ratifies collective bargaining agreements. Collective bargaining agreements cover workers in a given sector and geographic area whether they are union members or not, so roughly 70 percent of the workforce was covered by an agreement. While negotiations between unions and industry are generally independent, the Ministry of Labor often serves as a mediator. Argentine law also offers recourse to mediation and arbitration of labor disputes.

Tensions between management and unions occur. Many managers of foreign companies say they have good relations with their unions. Others say the challenges posed by strong unions can hinder further investment by their international headquarters. Depending on how sectors are defined, some activities such as oil and gas production or aviation involve multiple unions, which can lead to inter-union power disputes that can impede the companies’ operations.

During 2017, the government helped employers and workers agree on adjustments to collective bargaining agreements covering private sector oil and gas sector workers in Neuquen Province for unconventional hydrocarbon exploration and production. The changes were aimed at reducing certain labor costs and incentivizing greater productivity. Employers and unions reached similar agreements in the construction and automotive sectors.

The Fernandez government does not intend to pursue a broad labor reform bill, preferring instead to allow firms and workers to negotiate any adjustments to labor conditions through the collective bargaining process.  The Ministry of Labor has indicated interest in proposing a “gig economy” bill (ley de plataformas) that would extend basic labor rights to, e.g., delivery workers coordinated through information technology applications.   Labor-related demonstrations in Argentina occurred periodically in 2019. Reasons for strikes include job losses, high taxes, loss of purchasing power, and wage negotiations. Labor demonstrations may involve tens of thousands of protestors. Recent demonstrations have essentially closed sections of the city for a few hours. Demonstrations by airline employees caused significant flight delays or cancellations in recent months as well.

The Ministry of Labor has hotlines and an online website to report labor abuses, including child labor, forced labor, and labor trafficking. The Superintendent of Labor Risk (Superintendencia de Riesgos del Trabajo) has oversight of health and safety standards. Unions also play a key role in monitoring labor conditions, reporting abuses and filing complaints with the authorities. Argentina has a Service of Mandatory Labor Conciliation (SECLO), which falls within the Ministry of Labor. Provincial governments and the city government of Buenos Aires are also responsible for labor law enforcement.

The minimum age for employment is 16. Children between the ages of 16 and 18 may work in a limited number of job categories and for limited hours if they have completed compulsory schooling, which normally ends at age 18. The law requires employers to provide adequate care for workers’ children during work hours to discourage child labor. The Department of Labor’s 2018 Worst Form of Child Labor for Argentina can be accessed here:  https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/argentina 

The Department of State’s 2018 Human Rights Report for Argentina can be accessed here:  https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/argentina/

Argentine law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, nationality, religion, political opinion, union affiliation, or age. The law also prohibits employers, either during recruitment or time of employment, from asking about a worker’s political, religious, labor, and cultural views or sexual orientation. These national anti-discrimination laws also apply to labor relations and other social relations.

Argentina has been a member of the International Labor Organization since 1919.

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

The Argentine government signed a comprehensive agreement with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) in 1989. The agreement allows OPIC, now the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), to insure U.S. investments against risks resulting from expropriation, inconvertibility, war, or other conflicts affecting public order. In 2018, OPIC and the Government of Argentina signed six letters of interest.  Five additional award letters were signed in 2019 to advance key projects in support of Argentina’s economic growth.  The agreements support the infrastructure, energy, and transportation sectors.    Argentina is also a member of the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).

Argentina is also a member of the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) N/A N/A 2019 $432,241 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2018 $15,196 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 $901 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2018 14% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 
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 72,572 100% Total Outward 28,686 100%
United States 20,906 29% Uruguay 15,894 55%
Spain 11,954 16% United States 6,209 22%
The Netherlands 6.805 9% Mexico 1,405 5%
Brazil 4,059 6% Brazil 1,113 4%
Uruguay 3,916 5% Chile 754 3%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Section
U.S. Embassy Buenos Aires
Avenida Colombia 4300
(C1425GMN)
Buenos Aires, Argentina
+54-11-5777-4747
ECONBA@state.gov

Australia

Executive Summary

Australia is generally welcoming to foreign investment, which is widely considered to be an essential contributor to Australia’s economic growth and productivity.  The United States is by far the largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI) for Australia.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the stock of U.S. FDI totaled USD 163 billion in January 2019.

Mining and resources attract, by far, the largest share of FDI from the United States.  Real estate investment is the second largest recipient of FDI from the United States, although it remains much smaller than mining investment in absolute terms.  The Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement, which entered into force in 2005, establishes higher thresholds for screening U.S. investment for most classes of direct investment.

While welcoming toward FDI, Australia does apply a “national interest” test to qualifying investment through its Foreign Investment Review Board screening process.  Various changes to Australia’s foreign investment rules, primarily aimed at strengthening national security, have been made in recent years.  The Security of Critical Infrastructure Act 2018 and  the related Telecommunications Sector Security Reforms were both introduced in 2018 with the aim of increasing the security of critical infrastructure and protecting against foreign investments deemed to not be in Australia’s interests.  In March 2020 the Australian government announced all foreign direct investment would be reviewed for a six-month period, the government’s assumed timing for the COVID-19 crisis.  Despite the increased focus on foreign investment screening, the rejection rate for proposed investments has remained low and there have been no cases of investment from the United States having been rejected in recent years.

In response to a perceived lack of fairness, the Australian government tightened anti-tax avoidance legislation targeting multi-national corporations with operations in multiple tax jurisdictions.  While some laws have been complementary to international efforts to address tax avoidance schemes and the use of low-tax countries or tax havens, Australia has also gone further than the international community in some areas.

Australia has a strong legal system grounded in procedural fairness, judicial precedent, and the independence of the judiciary.  Property rights are well established and enforceable.  The establishment of government regulations typically requires consultation with impacted stakeholders and requires approval by a central regulatory oversight body before progressing to the legislative phase.  Anti-bribery and anti-corruption laws exist, and Australia performs well in measures of transparency.  Australia’s business environment is generally conducive to foreign companies operating in the country, and the country ranks 14th overall in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index.

The Australian government is strongly focused on boosting economic productivity, particularly through increased use of digital and other emerging technologies.  It recently released a Digital Economy Strategy, a Blockchain Roadmap, and a Critical Minerals Strategy, and has launched the new Australian Space Agency, among other initiatives.  U.S. involvement and investment in these fields is welcomed.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 12 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 14 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/
en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 22 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country (historical stock positions) 2018 USD 163 billion https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 USD 53,230 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Australia is generally welcoming to foreign direct investment (FDI), with foreign investment widely considered to be an essential contributor to Australia’s economic growth.  Other than certain required review and approval procedures for certain types of foreign investment described below, there are no laws that discriminate against foreign investors.

A number of investment promotion agencies operate in Australia.  The Australian Trade Commission (often referred to as Austrade) is the Commonwealth Government’s national “gateway” agency to support investment into Australia.  Austrade provides coordinated government assistance to promote, attract and facilitate FDI, supports Australian companies to grow their business in international markets, and delivers advice to the Australian Government on its trade, tourism, international education and training, and investment policy agendas.  Austrade operates through a number of international offices, with U.S. offices primarily focused on attracting foreign direct investment into Australia and promoting the Australian education sector in the United States.  Austrade in the United States operates from offices in Boston, Chicago, Houston, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.  In addition, state and territory investment promotion agencies also support international investment at the state level and in key sectors.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Within Australia, foreign and domestic private entities may establish and own business enterprises and may engage in all forms of remunerative activity in accordance with national legislative and regulatory practices.  See Section 4: Legal Regime – Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment below for information on Australia’s investment screening mechanism for inbound foreign investment.

Other than the screening process described in Section 4, there are few limits or restrictions on foreign investment in Australia.  Foreign purchases of agricultural land greater than AUD15 million (USD 9 million) are subject to screening.  This threshold applies to the cumulative value of agricultural land owned by the foreign investor, including the proposed purchase.  The agricultural land screening threshold does not, however, affect investments made under the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA).  The current threshold remains AUD 1.154 billion (USD 690 million) for U.S. non-government investors.  Investments made by U.S. non-government investors are subject to inclusion on the foreign ownership register of agricultural land and to Australian Tax Office (ATO) information gathering activities on new foreign investment.

The Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB), which advises Australia’s Treasurer, may impose conditions when approving foreign investments.  These conditions can be diverse and may include:  retention of a minimum proportion of Australian directors; certain requirements on business activities, such as the requirement not to divest certain assets; and certain taxation requirements.  Such conditions are in keeping with Australia’s policy of ensuring foreign investments are in the national interest.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Australia has not conducted an investment policy review in the last three years through either the OECD or UNCTAD system.  The WTO reviewed Australia’s trade policies and practices in 2019, and the final report can be found at https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp496_e.htm .

The Australian Trade Commission compiles an annual “Why Australia Benchmark Report” that presents comparative data on investing in Australia in the areas of Growth, Innovation, Talent, Location, and Business.  The report also compares Australia’s investment credentials with other countries and provides a general snapshot on Australia’s investment climate.  See   http://www.austrade.gov.au/International/Invest/Resources/Benchmark-Report .

Business Facilitation

Business registration in Australia is relatively straightforward and is facilitated through a number of government websites.  The Commonwealth Department of Industry, Innovation and Science’s business.gov.au web site provides an online resource and is intended as a “whole-of-government” service providing essential information on planning, starting, and growing a business.  Foreign entities intending to conduct business in Australia as a foreign company must be registered with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).  As Australia’s corporate, markets and financial services regulator, ASIC’s website provides information and guides on starting and managing a business or company in the country.

In registering a business, individuals and entities are required to register as a company with ASIC, which then gives the company an Australian Company Number, registers the company, and issues a Certificate of Registration.  According to the World Bank “Starting a Business” indicator, registering a business in Australia takes 2 days, and Australia ranks 7th globally on this indicator.

Outward Investment

Australia generally looks positively towards outward investment as a way to grow its economy.  There are no restrictions on investing abroad.  Austrade, Export Finance Australia (EFA), and various other government agencies offer assistance to Australian businesses looking to invest abroad, and some sector-specific export and investment programs exist.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Australian Government utilizes transparent policies and effective laws to foster national competition and is consultative in its policy making process.  The government generally allows for public comment of draft legislation and publishes legislation once it enters into force.  Details of the Australian government’s approach to regulation and regulatory impact analysis can be found on the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s website: https://www.pmc.gov.au/regulation 

Regulations drafted by Australian Government agencies must be accompanied by a Regulation Impact Statement when submitted to the final decision maker (which may be the Cabinet, a Minister, or another decision maker appointed by legislation).  All Regulation Impact Statements must first be approved by the Office of Best Practice Regulation (OBPR) which sits within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, prior to being provided to the relevant decision maker.  They are required to demonstrate the need for regulation, the alternative options available (including non-regulatory options), feedback from stakeholders, and a full cost-benefit analysis.  Regulations are subsequently required to be reviewed periodically.  All Regulation Impact Statements, second reading speeches, explanatory memoranda, and associated legislation are made publicly available on Government websites.  Australia’s state and territory governments have similar processes when making new regulations.

The Australian Government has tended to prefer self-regulatory options where industry can demonstrate that the size of the risks are manageable and that there are mechanisms for industry to agree on, and comply with, self-regulatory options that will resolve the identified problem.  This manifests in various ways across industries, including voluntary codes of conduct and similar agreements between industry players.

The Australian Government has recognized the impost of regulations and has undertaken a range of initiatives to reduce red tape.  This has included specific red tape reduction targets for government agencies and various deregulatory groups within government agencies.  In 2019, the Australian Government established a Deregulation Taskforce within its Treasury Department, stating its goal was to “drive improvements to the design, administration and effectiveness of the stock of government regulation to ensure it is fit for purpose.”

Australian accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are transparent and consistent with international standards.  Accounting standards are formulated by the Australian Accounting Standards Board (AASB), an Australian Government agency under the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act 2001.  Under that Act, the statutory functions of the AASB are to develop a conceptual framework for the purpose of evaluating proposed standards, make accounting standards under section 334 of the Corporations Act 2001, and advance and promote the main objects of Part 12 of the ASIC Act, which include reducing the cost of capital, enabling Australian entities to compete effectively overseas and maintaining investor confidence in the Australian economy.  The Australian Government conducts regular reviews of proposed measures and legislative changes and holds public hearings into such matters.

Australian government financing arrangements are transparent and well governed.  Legislation governing the type of financial arrangements the government and its agencies may enter into is publicly available and adhered to.  Updates on the Government’s financial position are regularly posted on the Department of Finance and Treasury websites.  Issuance of government debt is managed by the Australian Office of Financial Management, which holds regular tenders for the sale of government debt and the outcomes of these tenders are publicly available.  The Australian Government also publishes and adheres to strict procurement guidelines.  Australia formally joined the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement in 2019.

International Regulatory Considerations

Australia is a member of the WTO, G20, OECD, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and became the first Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) Dialogue Partner in 1974.  While not a regional economic block, Australia’s free trade agreement with New Zealand provides for a high level of integration between the two economies with the ultimate goal of a single economic market.  Details of Australia’s involvement in these international organizations can be found on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s website:      https://www.dfat.gov.au/trade/organisations/Pages/wto-g20-oecd-apec 

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Australian legal system is firmly grounded on the principles of equal treatment before the law, procedural fairness, judicial precedent, and the independence of the judiciary.  Strong safeguards exist to ensure that people are not treated arbitrarily or unfairly by governments or officials.  Property and contractual rights are enforced through the Australian court system, which is based on English Common Law.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Information regarding investing in Australia can be found in Austrade’s “Guide to Investing” at http://www.austrade.gov.au/International/Invest/Investor-guide .  The guide is designed to help international investors and businesses navigate investing and operating in Australia.

Foreign investment in Australia is regulated by the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975 and Australia’s Foreign Investment Policy.  The Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) is a non-statutory body, comprising independent board members advised by a division within the Treasury Department, established to advise the Treasurer on Australia’s foreign investment policy and its administration.  The FIRB screens potential foreign investments in Australia above threshold values, and based on advice from the FIRB, the Treasurer may deny or place conditions on the approval of particular investments above that threshold on national interest grounds.  In March 2020 the Treasurer announced thresholds would be reduced to zero for a six-month period covering the COVID-19 crisis.  In effect, this meant that all foreign investment would be screened over this period.

The Australian Government applies a “national interest” consideration in reviewing foreign investment applications.  Further information on foreign investment screening, including screening thresholds for certain sectors and countries, can be found at FIRB’s website: https://firb.gov.au/ .  Under the AUSFTA agreement, all U.S. greenfield investments are exempt from FIRB screening.

Australia has recently taken steps to increase the analysis of national security implications of foreign investment in certain sectors.  In January 2017, the Australian Government established the Critical Infrastructure Centre (CIC) to better manage the risks to Australia’s critical infrastructure assets.  A key role of the CIC is to advise the FIRB on risks associated with foreign investment in infrastructure assets, particularly telecommunications, electricity, water, and port assets.  While the CIC’s role in the foreign investment process signals the Government’s focus on these assets, its role is limited to providing advice to the Government; the approval framework itself was not changed when the CIC was established.   Further changes to investments in electricity assets and agricultural land were announced in early 2018.  Under these changes, electricity infrastructure is now formally viewed as “critical infrastructure”, and foreign purchases will face additional scrutiny and conditions, while agricultural land is now required to be “marketed widely” to Australian buyers before being sold to a foreign buyer. There have been no formal changes to rules governing foreign investments in data-intensive companies, however, the FIRB has publicly indicated it is paying close attention to such transactions, including in healthcare and data centers.

There have been very few instances of foreign investment applications being rejected by the Treasurer.  Of the 11,855 applications considered between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018 (the 2018 Australian financial year), only two were rejected; both related to residential real estate investment.  In November 2018, the Treasurer rejected the buyout of APA, a major gas pipeline owner in Australia, by the Hong Kong-based CKI Group, citing concerns that the purchase would create “undue concentration of foreign ownership by a single company group in our most significant gas transmission business.”  Analysis justifying rejections is typically not published by the Government.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) enforces the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 and a range of additional legislation, promotes competition, and fair trading, and regulates national infrastructure for the benefit of all Australians.  The ACCC plays a key role in assessing mergers to determine whether they will lead to a substantial lessening of competition in any market.  The ACCC also engages in consumer protection enforcement and has, in recent years, been given expanded responsibilities to monitor energy assets, the national gas market, and digital industries.

Expropriation and Compensation

Private property can be expropriated for public purposes in accordance with Australia’s constitution and established principles of international law.  Property owners are entitled to compensation based on “just terms” for expropriated property.  There is little history of expropriation in Australia.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Australia is a member of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) and the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.  The International Arbitration Act 1974 governs international arbitration and the enforcement of awards.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) is included in nine of Australia’s eleven FTAs and 18 of its 21 BITs.  AUSFTA establishes a dispute settlement mechanism for investment disputes arising under the Agreement.  However, AUSFTA does not contain an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism that would allow individual investors to bring a case against the Australian government.  Regardless of the presence or absence of ISDS mechanisms, there is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors in Australia.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Australia has an established legal and court system for the conduct or supervision of litigation and arbitration, as well as alternate dispute resolutions.  Australia is a leader in the development and provision of non-court dispute resolution mechanisms.  It is a signatory to all the major international dispute resolution conventions and has organizations that provide international dispute resolution processes.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Bankruptcy is a legal status conferred under the Bankruptcy Act 1966 and operates in all of Australia’s states and territories.  Only individuals can be made bankrupt, not businesses or companies.  Where there is a partnership or person trading under a business name, it is the individual or individuals who make up that firm that are made bankrupt.  Companies cannot become bankrupt under the Bankruptcy Act though similar provisions (called “administration and winding up”) exist under the Corporations Act 2001.  Bankruptcy is not a criminal offense in Australia.

Creditor rights are established under the Bankruptcy Act 1966, the Corporations Act 2001, and the more recent Insolvency Law Reform Act 2016.  The latter legislation commenced in two tranches over 2017 and aims to increase the efficiency of insolvency administrations, improve communications between parties, increase the corporate regulator’s oversight of the insolvency market, and “improve overall consumer confidence in the professionalism and competence of insolvency practitioners.”  Under the combined legislation, creditors have the right to:  request information during the administration process; give direction to a liquidator or trustee; appoint a liquidator to review the current appointee’s remuneration; and remove a liquidator and appoint a replacement.

Australia ranks 20th globally on the World Bank’s Doing Business Report “resolving insolvency” measure.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Commonwealth Government and state and territory governments provide a range of measures to assist investors with setting up and running a business and undertaking investment.  Types of assistance available vary by location, industry, and the nature of the business activity.  Austrade provides coordinated government assistance to attracting FDI and is intended to serve as the national point-of-contact for investment inquiries.  State and territory governments similarly offer a suite of financial and non-financial incentives.

The Commonwealth Government also provides incentives for companies engaging in research and development (R&D) and delivers a tax offset for expenditure on eligible R&D activities undertaken during the year.  R&D activities conducted overseas are also eligible under certain circumstances, and the program is jointly administered by AusIndustry (Government agency) and the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).  The Australian Government typically does not offer guarantees on, or jointly finance projects with, foreign investors.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Australia does not have any free trade zones or free ports.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

As a general rule, foreign firms establishing themselves in Australia are not subject to local employment or forced localization requirements, performance requirements and incentives, including to senior management and board of directors.  Proprietary companies must have at least one director resident in Australia, while public companies are required to have a minimum of two resident directors.  See Section 12 below for further information on rules pertaining to the hiring of foreign labor.

Under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2015, telecommunications service providers are required to retain and secure, for two years, telecommunications data (not including content); to protect retained data through encryption; and to prevent unauthorized interference and access.  The Bill limits the range of agencies that are able to access telecommunications data and stored communications, establishes a “journalist information warrants regime.”  Australia’s Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Act prohibits the transfer of health data out of Australia in some situations.

The Government introduced legislation to Parliament in 2018 that would require encrypted messaging services to provide decrypted communications to the Government for selected national security purposes (the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018).  This legislation is subject to review by a parliamentary committee at the time of writing.  Companies relying on secure encryption technologies have expressed concern about the impacts of this legislation on the security of the products and the lack of sufficient judicial oversight in reviewing government requests for access to encrypted data.

Australia has a strong framework for the protection of intellectual property (IP), including software source code.  Foreign providers are not required to provide source code to the Government in exchange for operating in Australia.  A current government enquiry is investigating the competition impacts of digital platforms, including the market implications of the algorithms used by these platforms and options for mandating the disclosure of these algorithms to regulators.

Companies are generally not restricted in terms of how they store or transmit data within their operations.  The exception to this is the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Act (2012) which does require that certain personal health information is stored in Australia.  The Privacy Act (1988) and associated legislation place restrictions on the communication of personal information between and within entities.  The requirements placed on international companies, and the transmission of data outside of Australia, are not treated differently under this legislation.  The Australian Attorney-General’s Department is the responsible agency for most legislation relating to data and storage requirements.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Strong legal frameworks protect property rights in Australia and operate to police corruption.  Mortgages are commercially available, and foreigners are allowed to buy real property subject to certain registration and approval requirements.  Property lending may be securitized, and Australia has one of the most highly developed securitization sectors in the world.  Beyond the private sector property market, securitization products are being developed to assist local and state government financing.  Australia has no legislation specifically relating to securitization, although issuers are governed by a range of other financial sector legislation and disclosure requirements.

Intellectual Property Rights

Australia generally provides strong intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and enforcement through legislation that, among other things, criminalizes copyright piracy and trademark counterfeiting.  Australia is not listed in USTR’s Special 301 Report and no Australian physical or online markets are identified in USTR’s 2019 Notorious Markets List.

Enforcement of counterfeit goods is overseen by the Australian Department of Home Affairs through the Notice of Objection Scheme, which allows the Australian Border Force to seize goods suspected of being counterfeit.  Penalties for sale or importation of counterfeit goods include fines and up to five years imprisonment.  The Australia Border Force reported seizing 190,000 individual items of counterfeit and pirated goods, worth approximately AUD 16.9 million (USD 11.8 million), during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, the last available year for which this data is provided.

IP Australia is the responsible agency for administering Australia’s responsibilities and treaties under the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).  Australia is a member of a range of international treaties developed through WIPO.  Australia does not have specific legislation relating to trade secrets, however common law governs information protected through such means as confidentiality agreements or other means of illegally obtaining confidential or proprietary information.

Australia was an active participant in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) negotiations and signed ACTA in October 2011.  It has not yet ratified the agreement.  ACTA would establish an international framework to assist Parties in their efforts to effectively combat the infringement of intellectual property rights, in particular the proliferation of counterfeiting and piracy.

Under the AUSFTA, Australia must notify the holder of a pharmaceutical patent of a request for marketing approval by a third party for a product claimed by that patent.  U.S. and Australian pharmaceutical companies have raised concerns that unnecessary delays in this notification process restrict their options for action against third parties that would infringe their patents if granted marketing approval by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).  In March 2020 the government announced changes to the notification process whereby generic product owners must notify the patent holder of an intent to market a new product at the point they lodge an application for evaluation with the TGA.  This significantly brings forward the notification point as generic owners were previously not required to notify a patent owner until after the evaluation had been completed.

The Australian Parliament introduced two amendments to the Copyright Act in 2018.  In June 2018, the Australian Parliament passed the Copyright Amendment (Service Providers) Bill 2017.  This amendment extends safe harbor provisions in the Act to the disability, education, library, archive, and cultural sectors, protecting organizations in these sectors from legal liability where they can demonstrate that they have taken reasonable steps to deal with copyright infringement by users of their online platforms.  However, the legislation specifically excludes online platforms such as Google and Facebook from safe harbor provisions.  Prior to this extension, the safe harbor provisions, set out in Division 2AA of Part V of the Copyright Act, applied only to carriage service providers.  Carriage service providers were broadly defined as telecommunications network providers, but do not include online platforms such as Google and Facebook.  Having passed the amendment, the Australian Government has indicated it will not revisit legislation to extend the safe harbor provisions to cover service providers in the near future.  In November 2018, the Australian Parliament passed the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2018.  This legislation reduces the threshold for capturing overseas online locations under the Copyright Act and makes it easier for individuals to seek injunctions against material distributed online, including against online search engines making that material publicly available.  The legislation allows the Communications Minister to exempt certain search engines or classes of search engines.

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

The Australian Government takes a favorable stance towards foreign portfolio investment with no restrictions on inward flows of debt or equity.  Indeed, access to foreign capital markets is crucial to the Australian economy given its relatively small domestic fixed income markets.  Australian capital markets are generally efficient and are able to provide financing options to businesses.  While the Australian equity market is one of the largest and most liquid in the world, non-financial firms do face a number of barriers in accessing the corporate bond market.  Large firms are more likely to use public equity, and smaller firms are more likely to use retained earnings and debt from banks and intermediaries.  Australia’s corporate bond market is relatively small, driving many Australian companies to issue debt instruments in the U.S. market.  Foreign investors are able to obtain credit from domestic institutions on market terms.

Money and Banking System

Australia’s banking system is robust, highly evolved, and international in focus.  Bank profitability is strong and has been supported by further improvements in asset performance. Total assets of Australian banks is USD 3.0 trillion and the sector has delivered an average annual return on equity of just over 11 percent.

According to Australia’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), the ratio of non-performing assets to total loans was just under one percent at the end of 2018, having remained at around that level for the last five years after falling from highs of nearly two percent following the Global Financial Crisis.  The RBA is responsible for monitoring and reporting on the stability of the financial sector, while the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) monitors individual institutions.  The RBA is also responsible for monitoring and regulating payments systems in Australia.

Further details on the size and performance of Australia’s banking sector are available on the websites of the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) and the RBA:

https://www.apra.gov.au/statistics 
https://www.rba.gov.au/chart-pack/banking-indicators.html 

Foreign banks are allowed to operate as a branch or a subsidiary in Australia.  Australia has generally taken an open approach to allowing foreign companies to operate in the financial sector, largely to ensure sufficient competition in an otherwise small domestic market.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Commonwealth Government formulates exchange control policies with the advice of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) and the Treasury.  The RBA, charged with protecting the national currency, has the authority to implement exchange controls, although there are currently none in place.

The Australian dollar is a fully convertible and floating currency.  The Commonwealth Government does not maintain currency controls or limit remittances.  Such payments are processed through standard commercial channels, without governmental interference or delay.

Remittance Policies

Australia does not limit investment remittances.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Australia’s main sovereign wealth fund, the Future Fund, is a financial asset investment fund owned by the Australian Government.  The Fund’s objective is to enhance the ability of future Australian Governments to discharge unfunded superannuation (pension) liabilities expected after 2020, when an ageing population is likely to place significant pressures on Government finances.  As a founding member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Fund (IFSWF), the Future Fund’s structure, governance and investment approach is in full alignment with the Generally Accepted Principles and Practices for Sovereign Wealth Funds (the “Santiago principles”).

The Future Fund’s investment mandate is to achieve a long-term return of at least inflation plus 4-5 percent per annum.  As of December 2019, the Fund’s portfolio consists of:  29 percent global equities, 7 percent Australian equities, 28 percent private equity (including 7 percent in infrastructure), and the remaining 36 percent in debt, cash, and alternative investments.

In addition to the Future Fund, the Australian Government manages five other specific-purpose funds:  the Disability Care Australia Fund, the Medical Research Future Fund, the Emergency Response Fund, the Future Drought Fund, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land and Sea Future Fund.  In total, these five funds have assets of AUD 44 billion (USD 27 billion), while the main Future Fund has assets of AUD 168 billion (USD 104 billion) as of December 31, 2019.

Further details of these funds are available at:  https://www.futurefund.gov.au/ 

7. State-Owned Enterprises

In Australia, the term used for a Commonwealth Government State-Owned Enterprise (SOE) is “government business enterprise” (GBE).  According to the Department of Finance, there are nine GBEs:  two corporate Commonwealth entities and seven Commonwealth companies.  (See: https://www.finance.gov.au/resource-management/governance/gbe/ )  Private enterprises are generally allowed to compete with public enterprises under the same terms and conditions with respect to markets, credit, and other business operations, such as licenses and supplies.  Public enterprises are not generally accorded material advantages in Australia.  Remaining GBEs do not exercise power in a manner that discriminates against or unfairly burdens foreign investors or foreign-owned enterprises.

Privatization Program

Australia does not have a formal and explicit national privatization program.  Individual state and territory governments may have their own privatization programs.  Foreign investors are welcome to participate in any privatization programs subject to the rules and approvals governing foreign investment.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is general business awareness and promotion of responsible business conduct (RBC) in Australia.  The Commonwealth Government states that companies operating in Australia and Australian companies operating overseas are expected to act in accordance with the principles set out in the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and to perform to the standards they suggest.  In seeking to promote the OECD Guidelines, the Commonwealth Government maintains a National Contact Point (NCP), the current NCP being currently the General Manager of the Foreign Investment and Trade Policy Division at the Commonwealth Treasury, who is able to draw on expertise from other government agencies through an informal inter-governmental network.  An ANCP Web site links to the “OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas” noting that the objective is to help companies respect human rights and avoid contributing to conflict through their mineral sourcing practices.  The Commonwealth Government’s export credit agency, EFA, also promotes the OECD Guidelines as the key set of recommendations on responsible business conduct addressed by governments to multinational enterprises operating in or from adhering countries.

Australia began implementing the principles of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in 2016.

9. Corruption

Australia maintains a comprehensive system of laws and regulations designed to counter corruption.  In addition, the government procurement system is generally transparent and well regulated.  Corruption has not been a factor cited by U.S. businesses as a disincentive to investing in Australia, nor to exporting goods and services to Australia.  Non-governmental organizations interested in monitoring the global development or anti-corruption measures, including Transparency International, operate freely in Australia, and Australia is perceived internationally as having low corruption levels.

Australia is an active participant in international efforts to end the bribery of foreign officials.  Legislation exists to give effect to the anti-bribery convention stemming from the OECD 1996 Ministerial Commitment to Criminalize Transnational Bribery.  Legislation explicitly disallows tax deductions for bribes of foreign officials.  At the Commonwealth level, enforcement of anti-corruption laws and regulations is the responsibility of the Attorney General’s Department.

The Attorney-General’s Department plays an active role in combating corruption through developing domestic policy on anti-corruption and engagement in a range of international anti-corruption forums.  These include the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group, APEC Anti-Corruption and Transparency Working Group, and the United Nations Convention against Corruption Working Groups.  Australia is a member of the OECD Working Group on Bribery and a party to the key international conventions concerned with combating foreign bribery, including the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions (Anti-Bribery Convention).

Under Australian law, it is an offense to bribe a foreign public official, even if a bribe may be seen to be customary, necessary, or required.  The maximum penalty for an individual is 10 years imprisonment and/or a fine of AUD 2.1 million (approximately USD 1.3 million).  For a corporate entity, the maximum penalty is the greatest of:  1) AUD 21 million (approximately USD 13.0 million); 2) three times the value of the benefits obtained; or 3) 10 percent of the previous 12-month turnover of the company concerned.

The legislation covering bribery of foreign officials is the Criminal Code Act 1995.  In 2019, the Commonwealth Government introduced an amendment to the Act that would expand the list of activities considered foreign bribery, but the amendment has not been legislated at the time of publishing.  Information on the amendment can be found at the following link: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Bills_Legislation/Bills_Search_Results/Result?bId=s1246 

A number of national and state-level agencies exist to combat corruption of public officials and ensure transparency and probity in government systems.  The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) has the mandate to prevent, detect and investigate serious and systemic corruption issues in the Australian Crime Commission, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Center, the CrimTrac Agency, and prescribed aspects of the Department of Agriculture.

Various independent commissions exist at the state level to investigate instances of corruption. Details of these bodies are provided below.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

Australia has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption and is a signatory to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

Resources to Report Corruption

Western Australia – Corruption and Crime Commission
86 St Georges Terrace
Perth, Western Australia
Tel. +61 8 9215 4888
https://www.ccc.wa.gov.au/

Queensland – Corruption and Crime Commission
Level 2, North Tower Green Square
515 St Pauls Terrace
Fortitude Valley, Queensland
Tel. +61 7 3360 6060
https://www.ccc.qld.gov.au/

Victoria – Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission
Level 1, North Tower, 459 Collins Street
Melbourne, Victoria
Tel. +61 1300 735 135
https://ibac.vic.gov.au

New South Wales – Independent Commission against Corruption
Level 7, 255 Elizabeth Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Tel. +61 2 8281 5999
https://www.icac.nsw.gov.au/

South Australia – Independent Commission against Corruption
Level 1, 55 Currie Street
Adelaide, South Australia
Tel. +61 8 8463 5173
https://icac.sa.gov.au

10. Political and Security Environment

Political protests (e.g., rallies, demonstrations, marches, public conflicts between competing interests) form an integral, though generally minor, part of Australian cultural life.  Such protests rarely degenerate into violence.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Australia’s unemployment rate has hovered between 5.0-5.3 percent for the last year, sitting at 5.1 percent in March 2020.   The impact of COVID-19 is expected to see this rise sharply, although the government has implemented large stimulus packages targeted to keeping businesses operating and employees in work.  Average weekly earnings for full time workers in Australia were AUD 1,659 (approximately USD 1,030) as of November 2019.  The minimum wage is set annually and is significantly higher than that of the United States (approximately twice the U.S. minimum wage).  Overall wage growth has been low in recent years, growing only slightly above the rate of inflation.

The Australian Government and its state and territory counterparts are active in assessing and forecasting labor skills gaps across industries.  Tertiary education is subsidized by both levels of governments, and these subsidies are based in part on an assessment of the skills needed by industry.  These assessments also inform immigration policy through the various working visas and associated skilled occupation lists.  Occupations on these lists are updated annually based on assessment of the skills most needed by industry.

Immigration has always been an important source for skilled labor in Australia.  The Department of Home Affairs publishes an annual list of occupations with skill shortages to be used by potential applicants seeking to work in Australia.  The visas available to applicants, and length of stay allowed for, differ by occupation.  The main working visa is the Temporary Skills Shortage visa (subclass 482).  Applicants must have a nominated occupation when they apply which is applicable to their circumstances, and applications are subject to local labor market testing rules.  These rules preference the hiring of Australian labor over foreign workers so long as local workers can be found to fill the advertised job.

Most Australian workplaces are governed by a system created by the Fair Work Act 2009.  Enterprise bargaining takes place through collective agreements made at an enterprise level covering terms and conditions of employment.  Such agreements are widely used in Australia.  A Fair Work Ombudsman assists employees, employers, contractors and the community to understand and comply with the system.  The Fair Work Act 2009 establishes a set of clear rules and obligations about how this process is to occur, including rules about bargaining, the content of enterprise agreements, and how an agreement is made and approved.  Unfair dismissal laws also exist to protect workers who have been unfairly fired from a job.  Australia is a founding member of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and has ratified 58 of the ILO’s conventions.

Chapter 18 of the AUSFTA agreement deals with labor market issues.  The chapter sets out the responsibilities of each party, including the commitment of each country to uphold its obligations as a member of the ILO and the associated ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up (1998).

There were 135 industrial disputes nationwide in 2019, down from 158 in 2018.  Total working days lost to disputes in 2019 fell 40 percent to 64,000 days.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) 2019 USD 1.18 trillion 2018 USD 1.43 trillion 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 (stock positions) 2018 USD 133 billion 2018 USD 163 billion https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States (stock positions) 2018 USD 75 billion 2018 USD 66 billion https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 51% 2018 48% https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 
 

*Australian Bureau of Statistics, based on most recently available data.  Year-end foreign investment data is published in May of the following year.

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 682,865 100% Total Outward 490,986 100%
USA 151,247 22% USA 85,161 22%
Japan 74,743 11% UK 83,749 14%
UK 69,696 10% New Zealand 39,808 11%
Netherlands 34,769 6% Canada 23,866 3%
China 28,306 5% Papua New Guinea 17,248 3%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 808,049 100% All Countries 503,254 100% All Countries 290,608 100%
United States 331,582 42% United States 237,697 47% United States 93,886 32%
United Kingdom 68,034 9% United Kingdom 37,575 7% United Kingdom 30,460 10%
Japan 40,307 5% Japan 24,267 5% Germany 20,360 7%
Cayman Islands 40,425 5% France 19,287 4% Japan 16,040 6%
Canada 30,068 4% Switzerland 10,085 2% Netherlands 12,930 4%

14. Contact for More Information

Deputy Economic Counselor Steven Dyokas
U.S. Embassy Canberra
21 Moonah Place, Yarralumla, ACT
+61 2 6214 5810
DyokasSM@state.gov

Burma

Executive Summary

Burma’s economic reforms since 2011 have created opportunities for investment throughout the country.  With a rich natural resource base, a young labor force, and prime geographic location, Burma has tremendous economic potential.  Recent reforms, such as opening up retail and wholesale trade to FDI, liberalizing the insurance sector, and streamlining business registrations are designed to increase foreign direct investment.

Many challenges remain, however, with Myanmar ranking 165 out of 190 countries on the World Bank’s index for the ease of doing business. Electricity shortages, limited infrastructure, and weak institutions continue to hinder foreign investment.  A continuing area of concern for foreigners involves investment in large-scale land projects. Property rights for large plots of land for investment commonly are disputed because ownership is not well established, particularly following a half-century of military expropriations. It is not uncommon for foreign firms to face complaints from local communities about inadequate consultation and compensation regarding land.

While still facing implementation challenges, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government has taken steps to counter government corruption and has called for greater transparency and foreign investment. In its 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index, Transparency International rated Burma 130 out of 175 countries. Investors might encounter corruption when seeking investment permits, during the taxation process, when applying for import and export licenses, or when negotiating land and real estate leases.

In January 2020, the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations (MIFER) announced tax exemptions for investments made in five priority sectors in all 14 states and regions in Burma as well as the capital territory. The tax exemption period is three, five, or seven years depending on the location. For a list of priority sectors by state and regions, please see MIFER’s website at: http://www.mifer.gov.mm/region

In November 2019, the Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM) announced that foreign banks will be allowed to apply for licenses to operate subsidiaries or branches. Under new directives, any foreign bank applying for a subsidiary license would be allowed to provide wholesale banking services at the start of operation. From January 2021, foreign banks with a subsidiary license will be allowed to offer retail banking services. The CBM will allow existing foreign bank branches to convert to subsidiaries starting from June 2020. In January 2020, the CBM announced foreign banks would be permitted to hold more than 35 percent of the capital in joint ventures with domestic banks.

In July 2019, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that foreign individuals and entities are permitted to hold up to 35 percent of the equity in Burmese companies listed on the Yangon Stock Exchange. As of March 2020, six companies are listed on the exchange.

In February 2020, the government passed a new Insolvency Law, which adopts the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law on cross-border insolvency, providing greater legal certainty on transnational insolvency issues.

While Burma’s Parliament passed four intellectual property laws in 2019 – the Trademark Law, Industrial Design Law, Patent Law, and Copyright Law – these laws have not yet entered into force at the time of this writing. The Burmese government is in the process of drafting implementing regulations and setting up an IP Office to administer the laws. Once in effect, the laws will likely improve intellectual property protection, and enforcement measures against intellectual property rights infringement. In March 2020, the government formed an IP Central Committee, chaired by a Vice-President, to oversee the IP Department. Establishing the committee is widely viewed as an important step in further developing Burma’s IPR protection regime.

The 2020 national elections will be important for potential investors to watch as will continued work by the government to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 130 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 165 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 N/A https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 98.34 https://www.dica.gov.mm/sites/dica.gov.mm/
files/document-files/yearly_country_4.pdf
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 USD 1,310 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment

Burma recognizes the value of investment to boost economic growth and development, and it is open to foreign investors in some sectors. That said, implementation of liberal investment laws and policies are often slowed and sometimes blocked by local rent-seeking economic actors who benefit from the status quo. In 2016, Burma passed the Myanmar Investment Law (MIL) to attract more investment from both foreign and domestic businesses. The MIL simplified the rules and regulations for investment to bring Burma more in line with international standards. The MIL includes a “negative list” of prohibited, restricted, and special sectors. Burma also has three Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in Thilawa, Dawei, and Kyauk Phyu with preferential policies for businesses that locate there, including “one-stop-shop” service. Of the three SEZs, Thilawa is the only SEZ currently in operation.

The new Companies Law went into effect on August 1, 2018. Under the law, foreign investment of up to 35 percent is allowed in domestic companies— which also opens the stock exchange to limited foreign participation.  It also updated and streamlined business regulations. The Companies Law makes it easier to start and operate small businesses and provides the government with tools to enforce corporate governance rules and regulations.

The Directorate for Investment and Company Administration (DICA), which is part of the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations (MIFER) serves as Burma’s investment promotion agency. DICA encourages and facilitates foreign investment by providing information, fostering networks between investors. DICA has its head office in Yangon and has 14 branches throughout the country, including in Nay Pyi Taw, Mandalay, Taunggyi, Mawlamyine, Pathein, Monywa, Dawei, Hpa-an, Bago, Magway, Loikaw, Myitkyina, Sittwe, and Hakha. DICA uses seminars, workshops, investment fairs and other events to promote investment, as well as its website: http://www.dica.gov.mm/en .

The government maintains active dialogue with chambers of commerce (including the American Chamber of Commerce) and foreign companies on investment.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Generally, foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in remunerative activity with some sectoral exceptions. Under Article 42 of the Myanmar Investment Law, the Burmese government restricts investment in certain sectors. Some sectors are only open to government or domestic investors. Other sectors require foreign investors to set up a joint-venture with a citizen of Burma or citizen-owned entity or obtain a recommendation from the relevant ministries.

The State-Owned Economic Enterprises Law, enacted in March 1989, stipulates that SOEs have the sole right to carry out a range of economic activities in certain sectors, including teak extraction, oil and gas, banking and insurance, and electricity generation. However, in practice many of these areas are now open to private sector investment. For instance, the 2016 Rail Transportation Enterprise Law allows foreign and local businesses to make certain investments in railways, including in the form of public-private partnerships.

More broadly, the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC), “in the interest of the State,” can make exceptions to the State-Owned Enterprises Law. The MIC has routinely granted exceptions, including through joint ventures or special licenses in the areas of insurance, banking (for domestic investors only), mining, petroleum and natural gas extraction, telecommunications, radio and television broadcasting, and air transport services.

As one of their key functions, the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA) and the MIC are responsible for screening inbound foreign investment to ensure it does not pose a risk to national security, as well asto make a determination that such investment sufficiently furthers Burma’s growth and development.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report includes an analysis of Burma’s investment sectors and business environment, and can be found at: https://www.doingbusiness.org/en/data/exploreeconomies/myanmar/

Business Facilitation

The government through the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA) provides limited business facilitation services.

The government instituted online company registration through “MyCo” (https://www.myco.dica.gov.mm ). Investors are able to submit forms, pay registration fees, and check availability of a company name through a searchable company registry on the “MyCo” website.

The Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) is responsible for verifying and approving certain investment proposals and regularly issues notifications about sector-specific developments. The MIC is comprised of representatives and experts from government ministries, departments and governmental and non-governmental bodies. Companies can use the DICA website to retrieve information on requirements for MIC permit applications and submit a proposal to the MIC. If the proposal meets the criteria, it will be accepted within 15 days. If accepted, the MIC will review the proposal and reach a decision within 90 days. The MIC issued a March 2016 statement granting authority to state and regional investment committees to approve any investment with capital of under USD 5 million.

Outward Investment

The Burmese government does not directly promote or incentivize outward investment. However, the Burmese business community has responded positively to U.S. investment messaging under SelectUSA promotional efforts.  The Burmese delegations to the SelectUSA U.S. Investment Summits in Washington, D.C. numbered 15 delegates in 2018 and 36 delegates in 2019, highlighting growing interest.  Tourism/hospitality, oil & gas, ICT, and food processing investment opportunities were of the most interest to the Burmese investors. Burma does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Regulatory and legal transparency continue to pose significant challenges for foreign investors in Burma. Most regulations relevant to foreign businesses are developed at the national level by the following ministries: Commerce; Planning, Finance, and Industry; Investment and Foreign Economic Relations; and Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation.

In the past, all regulations were subject to change with no advance or written notice, and without opportunity for public comment. Ministries are not legally obligated to share regulatory development plans with the public or conduct public consultations, though some ministries now hold limited public consultation before finalizing bills for parliamentary consideration or issuing new regulations. For instance, the government solicited public comments on the 2016 Investment Law, including the drafting of the rules and regulations, which went through three rounds of public consultations. In another example, the government conducted public consultations on the Gemstone Policy.

The Burmese government does publish new regulations and laws in government-run newspapers and “The State Gazette.” The Burmese government also publishes information online and has established websites through which businesses can access trade information and also sometimes posts new regulations on government ministry’s official Facebook page.

Foreign investors can appeal adverse regulatory decisions. The relevant ministry drafting the regulation has the mandate to appoint a regulatory body to manage a grievance system to resolve legal disputes and/or establish enforcement mechanisms. For instance, under the Myanmar Investment Law, the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) serves as the regulatory body and has the authority to impose penalties on any investor who violates or fails to comply with the law. Investors have the right to appeal any decision made by the MIC to the government within 60 days from the date of decision.

Public finance and debt obligations, exclusive of contingent liabilities are public and transparent. Budget reports are published on the Ministry of Planning, Finance, and Industry (MOPFI) website (https://www.mopfi.gov.mm/en/content/budget-news ). Burma has issued the annual Citizen Budget in the Burmese language since FY 2015-16. The Ministry of Planning, Finance, and Industry has published quarterly budget execution reports, six-month-overview-of-budget-execution reports, and annual budget execution reports on its website since FY 2015-16. However, details regarding the budget allocations for defense expenditures are not transparent. The Burmese government also publishes its debt obligation report on the Treasury Department’s Facebook page. (See: https://www.facebook.com/pages/biz/Treasury-Department-of-Myanmar-777018172438019/ ).

For more information on Burma’s regulatory transparency see: http://rulemaking.worldbank.org/en/data/explorecountries/myanmar 

International Regulatory Considerations

Burma has been a member of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) since July 1997. As an ASEAN member state, Burma’s regulatory systems are expected to conform to harmonization principles established in the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA) to support regional economic integration. Such principles include the removal of unnecessary technical barriers to trade; addressing relevant non-tariff measures among ASEAN member states; facilitation of trade; and upgrading of regulation to ensure safety, consumer health, environmental protection, consumer protection and meeting other social objectives. In an example of ASEAN regulatory harmonization, Burma officially joined the ASEAN Single Window in March 2020 with the launch of the National Single Window Routing Platform, which streamlines the import process by adopting the ASEAN Certificate of Origin Form D.

The Ministry of Commerce’s National Trade Portal and Repository contains all of Burma’s laws, processes, forms, and points of contact for trade.  This portal increases transparency in Burma and also meets Burma’s requirements under Articles 12 and 13 of the ATIGA. The Trade Portal can be found at: http://www.myanmartradeportal.gov.mm/index.php  .

While Burma is not currently in compliance with WTO notification requirements, the government has developed a WTO notification strategy that could increase the number and quality of notifications.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Burma’s legal system is a unique combination of customary law, English common law, statutes introduced through the pre-independence India Code, and post-independence Burmese legislation. Where there is no statute regulating a particular matter, courts are to apply Burma’s general law, which is based on English common law as adopted and modified by Burmese case law.  Every state and region has a High Court, with lower courts in each district and township. High Court judges are appointed by the President while district and township judges are appointed by the Chief Justice through the Office of the Supreme Court of the Union. The Union Attorney General’s Office law officers (prosecutors) operate sub-national offices in each state, region, district, and township.

The Attorney General enforces standards of due process in the criminal justice system and provides the government’s law officers with a mandate to act as an independent check in the criminal justice system. The Ministry of Home Affairs, led by a minister appointed by the Commander-in-Chief but reporting to the President, retains oversight of the Myanmar Police Force, which files cases directly with the courts. While foreign companies have the right to bring cases to and defend themselves in local courts, there are general concerns about the impartiality and lack of independence of the courts.

In order to address the concerns of foreign investors regarding dispute settlement, the government acceded in 2013 to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (“New York Convention”). In 2016, Burma’s parliament enacted the much-anticipated Arbitration Law, putting the New York Convention into effect and replacing arbitration legislation that was more than 70 years old. Since April 2016, foreign companies can pursue arbitration in a third country. However, the Arbitration Law does not eliminate all risks. There is still a limited track record of enforcing foreign awards in Burma and inherent jurisdictional risks remain in any recourse to the local legal system. The Arbitration Law, however, brings Burma’s legislation more in line with internationally accepted standards in arbitration.

Certain regulatory actions are appealable and are adjudicated with the respective ministry. For instance, according to the Myanmar Investment Law, investment disputes that cannot be settled amicably are “settled in the competent court or the arbitral tribunal in accord with the applicable laws.” An investor dissatisfied with any enforcement action made by the regulatory body has the right to appeal to the government within 60 days from the date of administrative decision. The government may amend, revoke, or approve any decision made by the regulatory body. This decision is considered final and conclusive.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) plays a leading role in the regulation of foreign investment and approves all investment projects receiving incentives outside of the special economic zones, which are handled by the SEZ’s Central Working Body. Regulation of joint ventures between foreign investors and SOEs is the responsibility of the relevant line ministries.

The Myanmar Investment Law outlines the procedures the Myanmar Investment Commission must take when considering foreign investments. The MIC evaluates foreign investment proposals and stipulates the terms and conditions of investment permits. The MIC does not record foreign investments that do not require MIC approval. Many smaller investments may go unrecorded. Foreign companies may register locally without an MIC license, in which case they are not entitled to receive the benefits and incentives provided for in the Myanmar Investment Law. More information on the MIC can be found at: http://www.dica.gov.mm/en/apply-mic-permit .

There is no “one-stop-shop” for investors with the exemption of Special Economic Zones which can provide “one-stop-shop” service. However, in 2015 the General Administration Department established One Stop Shops (OSS) to facilitate tax payments and assist in obtaining other required permits. As of April 2019, the government has opened 316 One Stop Shops in 72 townships across the nation.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

A Competition Law was passed on February 24, 2015, and went into effect on February 24, 2017. The objective of the law is to protect public interest from monopolistic acts, limit unfair competition, and prevent abuse of dominant market position and economic concentration that weakens competition.

The Myanmar Competition Commission serves as the regulatory body to enforce the Competition Law and its rules. The Commission is chaired by the Minister of Commerce, with the Director General of the Department of Trade serving as Secretary. Members also include a mixture of representatives from relevant line ministries and professional bodies, such as lawyers and economists.

The law classifies four types of behavior as punishable violations: acts restricting competition (applicable to all persons); acts leading to monopolies (applicable only to entrepreneurs); unfair competitive acts (applicable only to entrepreneurs); and business combinations such as mergers. The law also restricts the production of goods, market penetration, technological development, and investment, although the government may exempt restrictive agreements “if they are aimed at reducing production costs and benefit consumers,” such as reshaping the organizational structure and business model of a business so as to improve its efficiency; enhancing technology and technological advances for the improvement of the quality of goods and service; and promoting competitiveness of small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Burma is not party to any bilateral or regional agreement on anti-trust cooperation.

Expropriation and Compensation

The 2016 Myanmar Investment Law prohibits nationalization and states that foreign investments approved by the MIC will not be nationalized during the term of their investment. In addition, the law stipulates that the Burmese government will not terminate an enterprise without reasonable cause, and upon expiration of the contract, the Burmese government guarantees an investor the withdrawal of foreign capital in the foreign currency in which the investment was made. Finally, the law states that “the Union government guarantees that it shall not terminate an investment enterprise operating under a Permit of the Commission before the expiry of the permitted term without any sufficient reason.”

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Burma is not a party to the 1965 Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of other States (ICSID). In 2016, the Burmese parliament enacted the Arbitration Law, putting the 1958 New York Convention into effect (see international arbitration below).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

To date, Burma has not been party to any investment dispute or dispute settlement proceeding at the WTO.

Under the 2016 Arbitration Law, local courts must recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards against the government unless a valid ground for refusal to enforce exists. Valid grounds for refusal include: one or more parties’ inability to conclude an arbitration agreement; the invalidity of the arbitration agreement, lack of due process, the award falls outside the scope of the arbitration agreement; the arbitration was not in compliance with the applicable laws; or the award is not in force or has been set aside.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The 2016 Arbitration Law is based on the UNCITRAL Model Law (Model Law), addressing arbitration in Burma as well as the enforcement of a foreign award in Burma. For example, the provisions relating to the definition of an arbitration agreement, the procedure of appointing arbitrator(s) and the grounds for setting aside an award are mirrored in the Arbitration Law and the Model Law; however there are some differences between these two laws. For instance, while parties are free to decide on the substantive law in an international commercial arbitration, the Arbitration Law provides that arbitrations seated in Burma must adopt Burmese law as the substantive law. According to the Arbitration Law, foreign arbitral awards can be enforced if they are the result of a commercial dispute and were made at a place covered by international conventions connected to Burma and as notified in the State Gazette by the President. If the Burmese court is satisfied with the award, it has to enforce it as if it were a decree of a Burmese court. While observers note that there are still issues to be resolved, the Arbitration Law brings Burma’s legislation much closer to international arbitration standards and legislation.

Bankruptcy Regulations

In February 2020, the government of Burma passed the new Insolvency Law, which replaces the Insolvency Act of 1910 and the Insolvency Act of 1920. The new law adopts the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law on cross-border insolvency, providing greater legal certainty on transnational insolvency issues.

The legislation establishes an effective insolvency regime that addresses both corporate and personal insolvency, with a focus on protecting micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). With regards to personal insolvency, the new law encourages debtors to enter into a voluntary legally binding arrangement with their creditors. This agreement allows part or all of the debt to be written off over a fixed period of time. The law also provides equitable treatment for creditors by enabling an efficient liquidation process to ensure creditors receive maximum financial recovery from the property value of a non-viable business.

The new law establishes the Myanmar Insolvency Practitioners’ Regulatory Council to act as an independent regulatory body and assigns DICA the role of Registrar with the authority to fine individuals contravening the law. In addition, the court with legal jurisdiction can order an individual to make good on the default within a specified time.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

In January 2020, the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations (MIFER) announced tax exemptions for investments made in five priority sectors in all 14 states and regions in Burma as well as the capital territory. The tax exemption period is three, five, or seven years depending on the location. For a list of priority sectors by state and regions, please see MIFER’s website at: http://www.mifer.gov.mm/region 

Myanmar Investment Commission permit and endorsement holders are entitled to tax incentives and the right to use land. With a MIC permit, foreign companies can lease regional government-approved land for periods of up to 50 years with the possibility of two consecutive ten-year extensions.

The government has no established mechanism to provide joint-financing or any other type of fiscal support for infrastructure development.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Under the Myanmar Special Economic Zones Law, investors located in an SEZ may apply for income tax exemption for the first five years from the date of commencement of commercial operations, followed by a reduction of the income tax rate by 50 percent for the succeeding five-year period. Under the law, if profits during the third five-year period are re‐invested within one year, investors can apply for a 50 percent reduction of the income tax rate for profits derived from such re‐investment. In August 2015, the government issued new rules governing the SEZs, including the establishment of on-site One-Stop Service centers to ease the approval and permitting of investments in SEZs, incorporate companies, issue entry visas, issue the relevant certificates of origin, collect taxes and duties, and approve employment permits and/or permissions for factory construction and other investments.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Foreign investors must recruit at least 25 percent of their skilled employees from the local labor force in the first two years of their investment. The local employment ratio increases to 50 percent for the third and fourth years, and 75 percent for the fifth and sixth years. The investors are also required to submit a report to MIC with details of the practices and training methods that have been adopted to improve the skills of Burmese nationals.

Foreign investors may appoint expatriate senior management, technical experts, and consultants, but are required to submit a copy of the expatriate’s passport, proof of ability, and profile to the MIC for approval. Foreign investors have not cited onerous visa, residence, work permit, or similar requirements asa barrier to their mobility or that of their employees.

Foreign investors are not required to use domestic content in goods or technology. Burma is currently developing laws, rules and regulations on information technology (IT) and data protection standards, but does not currently have requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to surveillance. Burma has no data localization laws.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Myanmar Investment Law provides that any foreign investor may enter into long-term leases with private landlords or – in the case of state-owned land – the relevant government departments or government organizations, if the investor has obtained a permit or endorsement issued by the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC). Upon issuance of a permit or an endorsement, a foreign investor may enter into leases with an initial term of up to 50 years (with the possibility to extend for two additional terms of ten years each). The MIC may allow longer periods of land utilization or land leases to promote the development of difficult-to-access regions with lower development.

In September 2018, the Burmese government amended the Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Lands Management Law and required occupants of these landsto register at the nearest land records office within a six-month period. The six-month deadline was intended to offer clear title to lands for investment and infrastructure construction. However, controversy exists over which lands have been designated as vacant, fallow or virgin, and whether the notification or registration period was sufficient.

A continuing area of concern for foreigners involves investment in large-scale land projects. Property rights for large plots of land for investment commonly are disputed because ownership is not well established, particularly following a half-century of military expropriations. It is not uncommon for foreign firms to face complaints from local communities about inadequate consultation and compensation regarding land.

Burma passed the Condominium Law in 2016, which allows for up to 40 percent of condominium units of “saleable floor area” to be sold to foreign buyers.  Condominium owners shall also have the shared ownership of both the land and apartment.  In 2017 the Ministry of Construction passed the Condominium Rules, implementing and clarifying provisions of the Condominium Law. One clarification per the rules is that state-owned land may be registered as condominium land (Rules 20 and 21).

In accordance with the Transfer of Immovable Property Restriction Law of 1987, mortgages of immovable property are prohibited if the mortgage holder is a foreigner, foreign company or foreign bank.

Intellectual Property Rights

Burma is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and is obligated to provide intellectual property protection and enforcement consistent with the “Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (IPs) Agreement.” The WTO, however, has delayed required implementation of TRIPS for Least Developed Nations – including Burma – until 2021.

Burma’s current intellectual property (IP) protection and enforcement system does not meet international standards. While Burma’s Parliament passed four intellectual property laws in 2019 – the Trademark Law, Industrial Design Law, Patent Law, and Copyright Law – these laws have not yet entered into force at the time of this writing. The Burmese government is in the process of drafting implementing regulations and setting up an IP Office to administer the laws. Once in effect, the laws will likely improve intellectual property protection, and enforcement measures against intellectual property rights infringement. In March 2020, the government formed an IP Central Committee, chaired by a Vice-President, to oversee the IP Department. Establishing the committee is widely viewed as an important step in further developing Burma’s IPR protection regime.

The new Trademark Law introduces a “first-to-file” system from the previous “first-to-use” system. Trademark holders who previously used or registered their trademarks under the old system will need to re-register their trademarks under the new law. The new law also includes protections for “well-known” trademarks. Geographical indicators will also be protected through registration under the new law. The new IP Office anticipates receiving thousands of trademark applications from owners of existing trademarks during a six-month soft-opening period. With the anticipated workload and other issues, implementation of the other three IP laws will likely be delayed.

The Myanmar Police Force’s Criminal Investigative Department (CID) investigates and seizes counterfeit goods, including brands, documents, gold, products, and money, but not medicines. The CID provides evidence before presenting the case to the courts. The CID currently does not record the value of the amount seized. Industry has also identified Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka as emerging sources of counterfeit oncology drugs.

Burma is not listed in the USTR’s Special 301 report or the notorious market report.

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/ .

Resources for Rights Holders

For Intellectual Property Rights issues in Burma, please contact:

Kitisri Sukhapinda, Regional IP Attaché
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
American Embassy Bangkok, Thailand
Tel: (662) 205-5913
Email: kitisri.sukhapinda@trade.gov

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Burmese government has gradually opened up to foreign portfolio investment but both the stock and bond markets are small and lack sufficient liquidity to enter and exit sizeable positions. In July 2019, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that foreign individuals and entities are permitted to hold up to 35 percent of the equity in Burmese companies listed on the Yangon Stock Exchange. As of March 2020, six companies are listed on the exchange. The Securities Exchange Law came into effect in 2013, establishing a securities and exchange commission and helping clarify licensing for securities businesses (such as dealing, brokerage, underwriting, investment advisory and company representation).

Burma has a very small publicly-traded debt market. Banks have been the primary buyers of government bonds issued by Burma’s Central Bank, which has established a nascent bond market auction system. The Central Bank issues government treasury bonds with maturities of two, three, and five years.

Burma enacted the Foreign Exchange Management Law in 2012 in order to improve foreign exchange management and to broaden international economic relations and cooperation. Domestic businesses and investors are able to obtain loans from local and foreign banks. According to the Myanmar Investment Law and Foreign Exchange Management Law, foreign investors need the approval of the Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM) to take a bank loan. The Central Bank allows loans with a maximum maturity of three years. The CBM also allows overdraft lending. Instead of using traditional loans, borrowers can take out overdrafts with collateral which can be rolled over every year without a maturity date. As per CBM regulations, banks are required to clear overdraft facilities within three years; otherwise such overdrafts will be classified as non-performing loans (NPLs).

Money and Banking System

There is limited penetration of banking services in the country but the usage of mobile payment systems is growing rapidly. An estimated 25 percent of the population has access to a savings account through a traditional bank. As of April 2020, Burma’s banking sector consisted of four state-owned banks, 27 domestic private banks, 17 foreign bank branches, and three foreign bank subsidiaries. The banking system is fragile with a high volume of non-performing loans. Financial analysts estimate that NPLs at some local banks account for 40 to 50 percent of outstanding credit.

The 2013 Central Bank of Myanmar Law made the Central Bank an independent institution headed by a Minister-level governor. The Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM) is responsible for the country’s monetary and exchange rate policies as well as regulating and supervising the banking sector.

The government has gradually opened the banking sector to foreign investors. The government began awarding limited banking licenses to foreign banks in October 2014. In November 2018, the CBM published new guidelines that permit foreign banks with local licenses to offer “any financing services and other banking services” to local corporations. Previously, foreign banks were only allowed to offer export financing and related banking services to foreign corporations.

In November 2019, the CBM announced that foreign banks will be allowed to apply for licenses to operate subsidiaries or branches. Under new directives, any foreign bank applying for a subsidiary license would be allowed to provide wholesale banking services at the start of operation. From January 2021, foreign banks with a subsidiary license will be allowed to offer retail banking services. The CBM will allow existing foreign bank branches to convert to subsidiaries starting from June 2020. In January 2020, the CBM announced foreign banks would be permitted to hold more than 35 percent of the capital in joint ventures with domestic banks.

No U.S. banks have correspondent relationships with Burmese banks.

Foreigners are allowed to open a bank account in Burma in either U.S. dollars or Burmese kyat. To open a bank account, foreigners must provide proof of a valid visa along with proof of income or a letter from their employer.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

According to Chapter 15 of the Myanmar Investment Law, foreign investors are able to convert, transfer, and repatriate profits, dividends, royalties, patent fees, license fees, technical assistance and management fees, shares and other current income resulting from any investment made under this law. Nevertheless, in practice, the transfer of money in or out of Burma has been difficult, as many international banks have internal prohibitions on conducting business in Burma given the long history of sanctions and significant money-laundering risks. The majority of foreign currency transactions are conducted through banks in Singapore.

Under the Foreign Exchange Management Law, transfer of funds can be made only through licensed foreign exchange dealers, using freely usable currencies. The Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM) grants final approval on any new loans or loan transfers by foreign investors. According to a new regulation in the Foreign Exchange Management Law, foreign investors applying for an offshore loan must get approval from the CBM. Applications are submitted through the Myanmar Investment Commission by providing a company profile, audited financial statements, draft loan agreement, and a recent bank credit statement.

Since February 5, 2019, the Central Bank calculates a market-based reference exchange rate from the volume-weighted average exchange rate of interbank and bank-customer deals during the day.

Remittance Policies

According to the Myanmar Investment Law, foreign investors can remit foreign currency through authorized banks. Nevertheless, in practice, the transfer of money in or out of Burma has been difficult, as many international banks have internal prohibitions on conducting business in Burma given the long history of sanctions and significant money-laundering risks. The majority of foreign currency transactions are conducted through banks in Singapore.

The difficulties presented by the formal banking system are reflected in the continued use of informal remittance services (such as the “hundi system”) by both the public and businesses. In November 15, 2019, the Central Bank of Myanmar adopted the Remittance Business Regulation in order to bring these informal networks into the official financial system. The regulations require remittance business licenses to conduct inward and outward remittance businesses from the Central Bank of Myanmar.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Burma does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State-owned enterprises (SOEs) in Burma are active in various sectors, including natural resource extraction, print news, energy production and distribution, banking, mobile telecommunications, and transportation. SOEs employ approximately 145,000 people, according to a 2018 report by the Natural Resource Governance Institute. The 1989 State-Owned Economic Enterprises Law does not establish a system of monitoring enterprise operations, hence detailed information on Burmese SOEs are difficult to obtain. However, according to commercial statements, the total net income of all SOEs during fiscal year 2018-19 was approximately USD 1.1 billion. The top profit-making SOEs are found in the natural resource sector, namely the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise, Myanma Gems Enterprise, and Myanma Timber Enterprise. Within Burma, there are 32 SOEs that are managed directly by six ministries without independent boards.

State-Owned Enterprises enjoy several advantages including serving in some cases as the market regulator, preferential land access, and access to low-interest credit. According to the State-Owned Economic Enterprises Law, SOEs wield regulatory powers that provide SOEs a significant market advantage, including through an ability to recommend specific tax exemptions to the Myanmar Investment Commission on behalf of private sector joint-venture partners and to monitor private sector companies’ compliance with contracts. In addition, the law stipulates that SOE managers have sole discretion in awarding contracts and licenses to private sector partners with limited oversight. SOEs can secure loans at low interest rates from state-owned banks, with approval from the cabinet. Private enterprises, unlike SOEs, are forced to provide land or other real estate as collateral in order to be considered for a loan. SOEs have historically had an advantage over private entities in land access because under the Constitution the State owns all the land.

Privatization Program

In May 2016, the government formed a privatization committee on SOEs, which is headed by a Vice-President, to examine measures such as public-private partnerships (PPP) to develop and operate infrastructure as well as to sell-off inefficient state-owned factories. The Minister for Planning, Finance, and Industry serves as secretary of the commission. Privatization can take the form of system-sharing, public-private partnership, private-private partnership, franchise, joint-venture, and sales of assets in line with international standards. In October 2017, the government sought to privatize state-owned factories in the ceramic, garment, plastic, and stainless-steel sectors, according to state media. According to government data and media reports, 55 state-owned factories have been restructured under various PPPs as of November 2019. The privatization committee does not have a website describing its current activities but general information in the Burmese language about the committee can be found at: https://www.mopfi.gov.mm/my/page/planning/committee/638 .

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is growing awareness of standards for responsible business conduct in Burma. Responsible business principles are cited in the Myanmar Investment Law and the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan. Many privately-owned companies, particularly those seeking foreign investment, are increasing transparency and are striving to meet international standards of responsible business conduct. There remains, however, significant variance among companies and sectors. The Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business advises foreign investors to closely engage local partners to ensure they (as well as their contractors and supply chains) meet international standards for responsible business conduct.

Companies operating in Burma’s conflict zones or partnering with military-owned firms face significant reputational risk. Both foreign and domestic companies have been cited by international organizations and NGOs for supporting or enabling human rights abuses in Burma, including in reports by the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.

Burma became a candidate country in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in 2014.

9. Corruption

The Burmese government has continued to prioritize fighting corruption, and resources have been allocated to facilitate the growth of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) into an institution vested with the authority to lead that fight. In 2018, the government amended its anti-corruption law to give the ACC authority to scrutinize government procurements. The ACC has used that authority to initiate criminal cases even in the absence of victim complaints, leading to cases against several high-ranking and some mid-ranking officials for financial impropriety and abuse of office. Family members of politicians can also be prosecuted under the anti-corruption law, though office holders face higher penalties. The ACC opened branch offices in Yangon and Mandalay in 2019, as it continues to increase its investigative capacity.

Some companies are legally required to have compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery of government officials. Under Burma’s Anti-Money Laundering Law, law firms, banks, and companies operating in the insurance and gemstone sectors are required to appoint compliance officers and conduct heightened due diligence on certain customers.

There have also been non-legislative actions to counter corruption. Burma does not have laws to counter conflicts-of-interest in awarding contracts or government procurement. However, the President’s office has issued orders to prevent conflicts-of-interest for construction contracts and several ministries have put in place internal rules to avoid conflicts-of-interest in awarding tenders. In the private sector, some of Burma’s largest companies have developed anti-corruption policies, which they have published on-line.

Enforcement of Burma’s anti-corruption laws remains a challenge. While there have been efforts to reduce some opportunities for higher-level corruption, the lack of transparency regarding military budgets and expenditures remains a substantial impediment to reforms. In addition, a large swath of the economy is engaged in illegal activities beyond the control of the government. These include the production, transportation and distribution of narcotics, and the smuggling of jade, gemstones, timber, wildlife, and wildlife products. NGOs are working with the government to assist in fighting corruption in these areas, but lack any formal role in conducting investigations. There are efforts to promote accountability for government officials, but the lack of resources for key government functions, including law enforcement and civil service salaries, remains a driver for low-level corruption. In its 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index, Transparency International rated Burma 130 out of 175 countries. Investors might encounter corruption when seeking investment permits, during the taxation process, when applying for import and export licenses, and when negotiating land and real estate leases.

Burma signed the UN Anticorruption Convention in 2005, and ratified it on December 20, 2012.

Burma is not party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

Resources to Report Corruption

Anti Corruption Commission
Cluster (1), Sports’ Village, Wunna Theikdi Ward,*
Nay Pyi Taw
Phone: + 95 67 810 334 7
Email: myanmaracc2014@gmail.com
http://www.accm.gov.mm/acc/index.php?route=common/home 

* A new Anti Corruption Commission head office is currently under construction. However, the above address is still used for all official communications until the new office becomes operational.

10. Political and Security Environment

The government is sensitive to the threat of terrorism and is engaged with international partners on this issue. There is no evidence to suggest that international terrorist organizations have operational capacity in Burma or are actively targeting Western interests. Additionally, crime in Burma is low compared to other countries within the region. While violence or demonstrations rarely target U.S. or other Western interests in Burma, several ethnic armed groups are engaged in ongoing civil conflict with the Burmese government, which occurs almost exclusively in the ethnic states.  On October 15, 2015, the Burmese government and eight ethnic armed groups (EAGs) signed a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). Two additional armed ethnic groups joined the NCA in February 2018. However, several ethnic armed groups, including the most powerful ones, have not signed the NCA and some signatories continue to fight with the military and other EAGs.

While most of the major cities are considered safe, several areas of the country, particularly within some of the ethnic states, routinely see conflict between the government and EAGs, as well as inter-ethnic violence between EAGs. Combatants use landmines, improvised explosive devices, small arms, and other weapons. These incidents generally target government security forces, but there have been collateral casualties among the civilian population. The continued use of landmines by the Burmese military and EAGs in the north, northeast, and southeast continue to routinely result in civilian casualties. Civilians have also been killed as a result of clashes between the military and the EAGs, as well as inter-ethnic conflicts.

On August 25, 2017, a Rohingya insurgent group attacked about 30 security outposts in northern Rakhine State. The government characterized this event as a terrorist attack, and Burmese security forces launched clearance operations throughout northern Rakhine State. Hundreds of Rohingya villages were burned, and there were widespread, credible allegations of abuses by security forces. An estimated 730,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh, and tens of thousands of non-Rohingya are displaced inside Rakhine State. In November 2017, the U.S. Secretary of State determined that the situation constituted ethnic cleansing. Violence has not spread to other areas of Burma as a result of the crisis in Rakhine State although, as noted above, certain states in Burma continue to experience ethnic or religious violence. Burma has a minority Muslim population, and violence between Buddhists and Muslims did occur in other parts of the country in 2013 and 2014 following intercommunal violence in Rakhine State in 2012. Since late 2018, there has been a marked increase in violence as a result of the ongoing conflict between the Burmese security forces and fighters from the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic Rakhine, largely Buddhist, EAG. A number of townships in northern Rakhine and southern Chin States are currently off limits for U.S. government travel due to the violence from this conflict.

Burma plans to hold national elections in late 2020. Following decades of military rule, Burma elections were considered to be generally free and fair in November 2015, which the Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy won. The military still retains considerable political power under provisions of the 2008 constitution, including 25 percent of all seats in parliament at both the national and region/state level.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Burma’s labor costs are low, even when compared to most of its Southeast Asian neighbors. Skilled labor and managerial staff are in high demand and short supply, leading to high turnover. According to the government, 70 percent of Burma’s population is employed in agriculture. The military’s nationalization of schools in 1964, its discouragement of English language classes in favor of Burmese, the lack of investment in education by the previous governments of Burma, and the repeated closing of Burmese universities from 1988 to the mid-2000’s have taken a toll on the country’s work force. Most people in the 15- to 39-year-old demographic lack technical skills and English proficiency. In order to address this gap, Burma’s Employment and Skill Development Law went into effect in December 2013 and is being revised. The law provides for compulsory contributions on the part of employers to a “skill development fund,” although this provision has not been implemented.

The military’s nationalization of schools in 1964, its discouragement of English language classes in favor of Burmese, the lack of investment in education by the previous governments of Burma, and the repeated closing of Burmese universities from 1988 to the mid-2000’s have taken a toll on the country’s work force. Most people in the 15- to 39-year-old demographic lack technical skills and English proficiency. In order to address this gap, Burma’s Employment and Skill Development Law went into effect in December 2013 and is being revised. The law provides for compulsory contributions on the part of employers to a “skill development fund,” although this provision has not been implemented.

From the World Bank’s 2014 “Ending Poverty and Boosting Prosperity in a Time of Transition” report on Burma, 73 percent of the total labor force in Burma was employed in the informal sector in 2010, or 57 percent if one excludes agricultural workers. Casual laborers represented another 18 percent, mainly from the rural areas. Unpaid family workers represent another 15 percent.

In October 2011, the Burmese government passed the Labor Organization Law, which legalized the formation of trade unions and allows workers to strike. As of April 2019, roughly 2,900 enterprise-level unions have been formed in a variety of industries ranging from garments and textiles to agriculture to heavy industry. The passage of the Labor Organization Law engendered a labor movement in Burma, and there is a low, yet increasing, level of awareness of labor issues among workers, employers, and even government officials. Still, at present, the use of collective bargaining remains limited. Strikes are increasingly common, though they are not currently a significant deterrent to foreign investment.

The Burmese government continues to bring the legal system into compliance with international labor standards. In recent years, the government has passed a number of labor reforms and amended a range of labor-related laws, such as the Shops and Establishment Law, the Payment of Wages Law, and the Occupational Safety and Health Law. In 2019, Parliament also passed the Settlement of Labor Disputes Law. Under this law, parties to labor disputes can seek mediation through arbitration councils. All stakeholders have a say in the selection of arbitration mediators. If arbitration fails, disputes enter the court system. Parliament approved Burma’s ratification of an international treaty to abolish child labor in the country (Minimum Age Convention 138) in December 2019. The ratification process is ongoing. A mechanism to submit forced labor complaints became operational in February 2020.

In November 2014, the governments of the United States, Burma, Japan, Denmark, and the International Labor Organization (ILO) formally launched the Initiative to Promote Fundamental Labor Rights and Practices in Myanmar (Initiative) and held the fourth Stakeholder’s Forum in February 2020. The overarching goal of the Initiative is to promote a culture of compliance with fundamental labor rights. The Initiative is intended to cultivate relationships between business, labor, and civil society stakeholders and the Burmese government.

In November 2016, the U.S. government reinstated Burma’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) trade benefit in recognition of the progress that the government had made in protecting workers’ rights. The U.S. government reauthorized the GSP program globally in March 2018 through December 31, 2020.

Employers may face some restrictions in firing or laying off workers. Under Burmese law, certain employers must provide notice to the Ministry of Labor, Immigration, and Population when laying off workers. Employers also must provide warnings before firing a worker for breach of an employment contract. Fired or laid-off workers can collect unemployment insurance if they and their employer made contributions before termination.

Burma does not waive labor laws to attract foreign investment, though there is some ambiguity as to which labor laws apply in Special Economic Zones. This issue has yet to be definitively adjudicated.

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

There is high potential in Burma for additional DFC investment particularly in the ICT, retail, and agricultural sectors. The DFC’s predecessor organization, OPIC (Overseas Private Investment Corporation), focused its portfolio investments in Burma on the telecommunication and microfinance sectors. In May 2013, OPIC signed an Investment Incentive Agreement with Burma.

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 N/A 2019 65,994 https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/
2019/02/weodata/weorept.aspx?pr.x=56&pr.y=9&sy=2017&ey=2024&scsm=
1&ssd=1&sort=country&ds=.&br=1&c=
518&s=NGDPD&grp=0&a=
 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 98.34* N/A N/A
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions)** N/A N/A N/A N/A
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2018 45.7 https://unctad.org/sections/dite_dir/docs/
wir2019/wir19_fs_mm_en.pdf
 

* https://www.dica.gov.mm/sites/dica.gov.mm/files/document-files/yearly_country_4.pdf 

** Accurate statistical data is limited in Burma, although this capacity is also being developed.

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 (2018)* Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 27325 100% N/A
Singapore 7590 27.8%
China 6929 25.3%
Thailand 3393 12.4%
Japan 2686 9.8%
United Kingdom 1078 3.9%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

* According to http://data.imf.org/CDIS 

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

Geoffrey D. Chin, Economics Professional Associate
U.S. Embassy/110 University Avenue/Kamayut Township 11041/Rangoon, Burma
Telephone: 95 (0)1 7536 509
Email Address: chingd@state.gov

Cambodia

Executive Summary

Cambodia has experienced an extended period of strong economic growth, with average annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth hovering at seven percent over the last decade, driven by growing exports (particularly in garment and footwear products), increased investment, and domestic consumption. Tourism is another large contributor to growth, with tourist arrivals reaching 6.61 million in 2019. Cambodia’s GDP per capita stood at $1,674 in 2019, while the average annual inflation rate was estimated at 3.2 percent.

The government has made it a priority to attract investment from abroad. Foreign direct investment (FDI) incentives available to investors include 100 percent foreign ownership of companies, corporate tax holidays of up to eight years, a 20 percent corporate tax rate after the incentive period ends, duty-free import of capital goods, and no restrictions on capital repatriation.

Despite incentives, Cambodia has not historically attracted significant U.S. investment. Apart from the country’s relatively small market size, there are other factors dissuading U.S. investors: corruption, a limited supply of skilled labor, inadequate infrastructure (including high energy costs), and a lack of transparency in some government approval processes. Failure to consult the business community on new economic policies and regulations has also created difficulties for domestic and foreign investors alike. Notwithstanding these challenges, a number of American companies have maintained investments in the country, and in December 2016, Coca-Cola officially opened a $100 million bottling plant in Phnom Penh.

In recent years, Chinese FDI has surged and become a significant driver of growth. The rise in FDI highlights China’s desire for influence in Cambodia, and Southeast Asia more broadly, and that Chinese businesses, many that are state-owned enterprises, may not assess the challenges in Cambodia’s business environment in the same manner as U.S. businesses. The World Bank estimates that Chinese FDI accounted for 60 percent of total FDI-funded projects in Cambodia in 2017; that share rose significantly in 2018. In 2019, FDI hit $3.6 billion – a record – with 43 percent reportedly coming from China.

Physical infrastructure projects, including commercial and residential real estate developments, continue to attract the bulk of FDI. However, there has been some increase in investment in manufacturing, including garment and travel goods factories, as well as agro-processing.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 162 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 144 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/
en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 98 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in Cambodia ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2018 USD 165 https://apps.bea.gov/international/
di1usdbal
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 USD 1,390 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment 

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment 

Cambodia has a liberal foreign investment regime and actively courts FDI. The primary law governing investment is the 1994 Law on Investment. The government permits 100 percent foreign ownership of companies in most sectors. In a handful of sectors, such as cigarette manufacturing, movie production, rice milling, gemstone mining and processing, foreign investment is subject to local equity participation or prior authorization from authorities. While there is little or no official legal discrimination against foreign investors, some foreign businesses, however, report disadvantages vis-a-vis Cambodian or other foreign rivals that engage in acts of corruption or tax evasion or take advantage of Cambodia’s poor regulatory enforcement.

The Council for the Development of Cambodia’s (CDC) is the principal government agency responsible for providing incentives to stimulate investment. Investors are required to submit an investment proposal to either the CDC or the Provincial-Municipal Investment Sub-committee to obtain a Qualified Investment Project (QIP) status depending on capital level and location of the investment question. QIPs are then eligible for specific investment incentives.

The CDC also serves as the secretariat to Cambodia’s Government-Private Sector Forum (G-PSF), a public-private consultation mechanism that facilitates dialogue within and among 10 government/private sector Working Groups. The G-PSF acts as a platform for the private sector to identify issues and recommend solutions. More information about investment and investment incentives in Cambodia may be found at: www.cambodiainvestment.gov.kh .

Cambodia has created special economic zones (SEZs) to further facilitate foreign investment; as of February 2020, there are 23 SEZs in Cambodia. These zones provide companies with access to land, infrastructure, and services to facilitate the set-up and operation of businesses. Services provided include: utilities, tax services, customs clearance, and other administrative services designed to support import-export processes. Projects within the SEZs are also offered incentives such as tax holidays, zero rate VAT, and import duty exemptions for raw materials, machinery and equipment. The primary authority responsible for Cambodia’s SEZs is the Cambodia Special Economic Zone Board (CSEZB). The largest of its SEZs is located in Sihanoukville and hosts primarily Chinese companies.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment 

There are few limitations on foreign control and ownership of business enterprises in Cambodia. Foreign investors may own 100 percent of investment projects except in the sectors mentioned Section 1. According to Cambodia’s 2003 Amended Law on Investment and related sub-decrees, there are no limitations based on shareholder nationality or discrimination against foreign investors except in relation to investments in property or state-owned enterprises. Both the Law on Investment and the 2003 Amended Law state that the majority of interest in land must be held by one or more Cambodian citizens. Further, pursuant to the Law on Public Enterprise, the Cambodian government must directly or indirectly hold more than 51 percent of the capital or the right to vote in state-owned enterprises.

Another limitation concerns the employment of foreigners in Cambodia. A QIP allows employers to obtain visas and work permits for foreign citizens as skilled workers, but the  employer may be required to prove to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training that the skillset is not available in Cambodia. The Cambodian Bar has periodically taken actions to restrict or impede the work of foreign lawyers or foreign law firms in the country.

employer may be required to prove to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training that the skillset is not available in Cambodia. The Cambodian Bar has periodically taken actions to restrict or impede the work of foreign lawyers or foreign law firms in the country.

Other Investment Policy Reviews 

The OECD conducted an Investment Policy Review of Cambodia in 2018. The report may be found at this link .

The World Trade Organization (WTO) last reviewed Cambodia’s trade policies in 2017; the first had occurred in 2011. The report can be found at this link .

Business Facilitation 

All businesses are required to register with the Ministry of Commerce (MoC) and the General Department of Taxation (GDT). Registration with MOC is possible through an online business registration portal (link ) that allows all existing and new businesses to register. Depending on the types of business activity, new businesses may also be required to register with other relevant ministries. For example, travel agencies must also register with the Ministry of Tourism, and private universities must also register with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. GDT also has an online portal for tax registration and other services, which can be located here .

The World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Report ranks Cambodia 187 of 190 countries globally for the ease of starting a business. The report notes that it takes nine separate procedures and three months or more to complete all business, tax, and employment registration processes.

Outward Investment 

There are no restrictions on Cambodian citizens investing abroad. A number of Cambodian companies have invested in neighboring countries – notably, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar – in various sectors.

3. Legal Regime 

Transparency of the Regulatory System 

In general, Cambodia’s regulatory system, while improving, still lacks transparency. This lack of transparency is a result of the lack of legislation and limited capacity of key institutions, and is exacerbated by a weak court system. Investors often complain that the decisions of Cambodian regulatory agencies are inconsistent, arbitrary, or influenced by corruption. For example, in May 2016 in what was perceived as a populist move, the government set caps on retail fuel prices, with little consultation with petroleum companies. And, in April 2017, the National Bank of Cambodia introduced an interest rate cap on loans provided by the microfinance industry with no consultation with relevant stakeholders. In the past years, investors have expressed concern as well over draft legislation that has not been subject to stakeholder consultations.

Cambodian ministries and regulatory agencies are not legally obligated to publish the text of proposed regulations before their enactment. Draft regulations are only selectively available for public consultation with relevant non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private sector or other parties before their enactment. Approved or passed laws are available on websites of some

Ministries but are not always up to date. The Council of Jurists, the government body that reviews law and regulations, publishes a list of updated laws and regulations on its website.

International Regulatory Considerations 

As a member of the ASEAN since 1999, Cambodia is required to comply with certain rules and regulations with regard to free trade agreements with the 10 ASEAN member states. These include tariff-free importation of information and communication technology (ICT) equipment, harmonizing custom coding, harmonizing the medical device market, as well as compliance with tax regulations on multi-activity businesses, among others.

As a WTO member, Cambodia has both drafted and modified laws and regulations to comply with WTO rules. Relevant laws and regulations are notified to the WTO legal committee only after their adoption. A list of Cambodian legal updates in compliance with the WTO is described in the above section regarding Investment Policy Reviews.

Legal System and Judicial Independence 

Although the Cambodian Constitution calls for an independent judiciary, both local and foreign businesses report problems with inconsistent judicial rulings, corruption, and difficulty enforcing judgments. For these reasons, many commercial disputes are resolved through negotiations facilitated by the Ministry of Commerce, the Council for the Development of Cambodia, the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, or other institutions. Foreign investors often build into their contacts clauses which dictate that investment disputes must be resolved in a third country, such as Singapore.

The Cambodian legal system is primarily based on French civil law. Under the 1993 Constitution, the King is the head of state and the elected Prime Minister is the head of government. Legislative power is vested in a bicameral parliament, while the judiciary makes up the third branch of government. Contractual enforcement is governed by Decree Number 38 D Referring to Contract and Other Liabilities. More information on this decree can be found at www.cambodiainvestment.gov.kh/decree-38-referring-to-contract-and-other-liabilities_881028-2.html.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment 

Cambodia’s 1994 Law on Investment created an investment licensing system to regulate the approval process for foreign direct investment and provide incentives to potential investors. In 2003, the government amended the law to simplify licensing and increase transparency (Amended Law on Investment). Sub-decree No. 111 (2005) lays out detailed procedures for registering a QIP, which is entitled to certain taxation incentives, with the CDC and provincial/municipal investment subcommittees.

Information about investment and investment incentives in Cambodia may be found on the CDC’s website.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws 

A draft antitrust and competition law is near completion and may be finalized in 2020. Once enacted, it will be enforced by Cambodia’s Import-Export Inspection and Fraud Repression Directorate-General (CAMCONTROL).

Expropriation and Compensation 

Land rights are a contentious issue in Cambodia, complicated by the fact that most property holders do not have legal documentation of their ownership because of official policies and social upheaval during Khmer Rouge era in the 1970s. Numerous cases have been reported of influential individuals or groups acquiring land titles or concessions through political and/or financial connections and then using force to displace communities to make way for commercial enterprises.

In late 2009, the National Assembly approved the Law on Expropriation, which sets broad guidelines on land-taking procedures for public interest purposes. It defines public interest activities to include construction, rehabilitation, preservation, or expansion of infrastructure  projects, and development of buildings for national defense and civil security. These provisions include construction of border crossing posts, facilities for research and exploitation of natural resources, and oil pipeline and gas networks. Property can also be expropriated for natural disasters and emergencies, as determined by the government. Legal procedures regarding compensation and appeals are expected to be established in a forthcoming sub-decree, which is under internal discussion within the technical team of the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

projects, and development of buildings for national defense and civil security. These provisions include construction of border crossing posts, facilities for research and exploitation of natural resources, and oil pipeline and gas networks. Property can also be expropriated for natural disasters and emergencies, as determined by the government. Legal procedures regarding compensation and appeals are expected to be established in a forthcoming sub-decree, which is under internal discussion within the technical team of the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

The government has shown willingness to use tax issues for political purposes. For instance, in 2017, a U.S.-owned independent newspaper had its bank account frozen purportedly for failure to pay taxes. It is believed that, while the company may have had some tax liability, the action taken by Cambodia’s General Department of Taxation, notably an inflated tax assessment, was politically motivated and intended to halt operations. These actions took place at the same time the government took steps to reduce the role of press and independent media in the country as part of a wider anti-democratic crackdown.

Dispute Settlement 

ICSID Convention and New York Convention 

Cambodia has been a member of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention) since 2005. Cambodia is also a signatory to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards 1958 (the New York Convention) since 1960.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement 

International arbitration is available for Cambodian commercial disputes. In March 2014, the Supreme Court of Cambodia upheld the decision of the Cambodian Court of Appeal, which had ruled in favor of the recognition and enforcement of an arbitral award issued by the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board of Seoul, South Korea. Cambodia became a member of the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes in January 2005. In 2009, the International Center approved a U.S. investor’s request for arbitration in a case against the Cambodian government, and in 2013, the tribunal rendered an award in favor of Cambodia.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts 

Commercial disputes can also be resolved through the National Commercial Arbitration Center (NCAC), Cambodia’s first alternative dispute resolution mechanism, which was officially launched in March 2013. Arbitral awards issued by foreign arbitrations are admissible in the Cambodian court system. An example can be drawn from its recognition and enforcement of arbitral award issued by the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board in 2014.

Bankruptcy Regulations 

Cambodia’s 2007 Law on Insolvency was intended to provide collective, orderly, and fair satisfaction of creditor claims from debtor properties and, where appropriate, the rehabilitation of the debtor’s business. The Law on Insolvency applies to the assets of all business people and legal entities in Cambodia. The World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report ranks Cambodia 82 out of 190 in terms of the “ease of resolving insolvency.”

In 2012, Credit Bureau Cambodia (CBC) was established in an effort to create a more transparent credit market in the country. CBC’s main role is to provide credit scores to banks and financial institutions and to improve access to credit information.

4. Industrial Policies 

Investment Incentives 

Cambodia’s Law on Investment and Amended Law on Investment offers varying types of investment incentives for projects that meet specified criteria. Investors seeking an incentive – for examples, incentives as part of a qualified investment project (QIP) – must submit an application to the CDC. Investors who wish to apply are required to pay an application fee of KHR 7 million (approximately $1,750), which covers securing necessary approvals, authorizations, licenses, or registrations from all relevant ministries and entities, including stamp duties. The CDC is required to seek approval from the Council of Ministers for investment proposals that involve capital of $50 million or more, politically sensitive issues, the exploration and exploitation of mineral or natural resources, or infrastructure concessions. The CDC is also required to seek approval from the Council of Ministers for investment proposals that will have a negative impact on the environment or the government’s long-term strategy.

QIPs are entitled to receive different incentives such as corporate tax holidays; special depreciation allowances; and import tax exemptions on production equipment, construction materials, and production inputs used to produce exports. Investment projects located in designated special promotion zones or export-processing zones are also entitled to the same incentives. Industry-specific investment incentives, such as three-year profit tax exemptions, may be available in the agriculture and agro-industry sectors. More information about the criteria and investment areas eligible for incentives can be found at the following link .

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation 

To facilitate the country’s development, the Cambodian government has shown great interest in increasing exports via geographically defined special economic zones (SEZs). Cambodia is currently drafting a law on Special Economic Zones, which is now undergoing technical review within the CDC. There are currently 23 special SEZs, which are located in Phnom Penh, Koh Kong, Kandal, Kampot, Sihanoukville, and the borders of Thailand and Vietnam. The main investment sectors in these zones include garments, shoes, bicycles, food processing, auto parts, motorcycle assembly, and electrical equipment manufacturing.

5. Protection of Property Rights 

Real Property 

Mortgages exist in Cambodia and Cambodian banks often require certificates of property ownership as collateral before approving loans. The mortgage recordation system, which is handled by private banks, is generally considered reliable.

Cambodia’s 2001 Land Law provides a framework for real property security and a system for recording titles and ownership. Land titles issued prior to the end of the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-79) are not recognized due to the severe dislocations that occurred during that time period. The government is making efforts to accelerate the issuance of land titles, but in practice, the titling system is cumbersome, expensive, and subject to corruption. The majority of property owners lack documentation proving ownership. Even where title records exist, recognition of legal titles to land has not been uniform, and there are reports of court cases in which judges have sought additional proof of ownership.

Foreigners are constitutionally forbidden to own land in Cambodia; however, the 2001 Land Law allows long and short-term leases to foreigners. Cambodia also allows foreign ownership in multi-story buildings, such as condominiums, from the second floor up. Cambodia was ranked 129 out of 190 economies for ease of registering property in the 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report.

Intellectual Property Rights 

Infringement of intellectual property rights (IPR) is prevalent in Cambodia. Counterfeit apparel, footwear, cigarettes, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, and consumer goods, and pirated software, music, and books are examples of IPR-infringing goods found in the country.

Though Cambodia is not a major center for the production or export of counterfeit or pirated materials, local businesses report that the problem is growing because of the lack of enforcement. To date, Cambodia has not been listed by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) in its annual Special 301 Report.

Cambodia has enacted several laws pursuant to its WTO commitments on intellectual property. Its key IP laws include the Law on Marks, Trade Names and Acts of Unfair Competition (2002), the Law on Copyrights and Related Rights (2003), the Law on Patents, Utility Models and Industrial Designs (2003), the Law on Management of Seed and Plant Breeder’s Rights (2008), the Law on Geographical Indications (2014), and the Law on Compulsory Licensing for Public Health (2018).

Cambodia has been a member of WIPO since 1995 and has acceded to a number of international IPR protocols, including the Paris Convention (1998), the Madrid Protocol (2015), the WIPO Patent Cooperation Treaty (2016), The Hague Agreement Concerning the International

Registration of Industrial Design (2017), and the Lisbon Agreement on Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indications (2018).

To combat the trade in counterfeit goods, the Cambodian Counter Counterfeit Committee (CCCC) was established in 2014 under the Ministry of Interior to investigate claims, seize illegal goods, and prosecute counterfeiters. The Economic Police, Customs, the Cambodia Import-Export Inspection and Fraud Repression Directorate General, and the Ministry of Commerce also have enforcement IPR enforcement responsibilities; however, the division of responsibility among each agency is not clearly defined. This causes confusion to rights owners and muddles the overall IPR environment. Though there has been an increase in the number of seizures of counterfeit goods in recent years, in general such actions are not taken unless a formal complaint is made.

In early 2020, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office concluded an MOU with Cambodia on accelerated patent recognition, creating a simplified procedure for U.S. patents to be registered in Cambodia.

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see the World Intellectual Property Organization’s country profiles at this link .

6. Financial Sector 

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment 

In a move designed to address the need for capital markets in Cambodia, the Cambodia Securities Exchange (CSX) was founded in 2011 and started trading in 2012. Though the CSX is one of the world’s smallest securities markets, it has taken steps to increase the number of listed companies, including attracting SMEs. It currently has five listed companies, including the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority, Taiwanese garment manufacturer Grand Twins International, the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port, Phnom Penh SEZ Plc, and Sihanoukville Autonomous Port.

In September 2017, the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) adopted a Prakas on Conditions for Banking and Financial Institutions to be listed on the Cambodia Securities Exchange. The Prakas sets additional requirements for banks and financial institutions that intend to issue securities to the public. This includes prior approval from the NBC and minimum equity of KHR 60 billion (approximately $15 million).

Cambodia’s bond market is at the beginning stages of development. The regulatory framework for corporate bonds was bolstered in 2017 through the publication of the Prakas on Public Offering of Debt Securities, the Prakas on Accreditation of Bondholders Representative, and the Prakas on Accreditation of Credit Rating Agency. The country’s first corporate bond was issued in 2018 by Hattha Kaksekar Limited. Four additional companies have since been added to the bond market: LOLC (Cambodia) Plc., Advanced Bank of Asia Limited, Phnom Penh Commercial Bank Plc, and RMA (Cambodia) Plc. RMA, which issued its bonds in early 2020, was the first non-bank financial institution to be listed. There is currently no sovereign bond market, but the government has stated its intention of making government securities available to investors by 2022.

Money and Banking System 

The National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) regulates the operations of banking systems in Cambodia. Foreign banks and branches are freely allowed to register and operate in the country. There are 44 commercial banks, 14 specialized banks (set up to finance specific turn-key projects such as real estate development), 74 licensed microfinance institutions, and seven licensed microfinance deposit taking institutions in Cambodia. NBC has also granted licenses to 12 financial leasing companies and one credit bureau company to improve transparency and credit risk management and encourage more lending to small-and medium-sized enterprise customers.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cambodia’s banking sector experienced strong growth. The banking sector’s assets, including those of MFIs, rose 21.4 percent year-over-year in 2018 to 139.7 trillion riel ($34.9 billion), while credit grew 24.3 percent to 81.7 trillion riel ($20.4 billion). Loans and deposits grew 18.3 percent and 24.5 percent respectively, which resulted in a decrease of the loan-to-deposit ration from 114 percent to 110 percent. The ratio of non-performing loans remained steady at 2.4 percent in 2017.

The government does not use the regulation of capital markets to restrict foreign investment. Banks have been free to set their own interest rates since 1995, and increased competition between local institutions has led to a gradual lowering of interest rates from year to year. However, in April 2017, at the direction of Prime Minister Hun Sen, the NBC capped interest rates on loans offered by micro-finance institutions (MFIs) at 18 percent per annum. The move was designed to protect borrowers, many of whom are poor and uneducated, from excessive interest rates.

In March 2016, the NBC doubled the minimum capital reserve requirement for banks to $75 million for commercial banks and $15 million for specialized banks. Based on the new regulations, deposit-taking microfinance institutions now have a $30 million reserve requirement, while traditional microfinance institutions have a $1.5 million reserve requirement.

In March 2020, the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) issued several regulations to ensure liquidity and promote lending amid the outbreak of COVID-19. They include: (1) delaying the implementation of Conservation Capital Buffer (CCB) for financial institutions; (2) reducing the minimum interest rate of Liquidity-Providing Collateralized Operations (LPCO); (3) reducing the interest rates of Negotiable Certificate of Deposit (NCD); (4) reducing the reserve requirement rate (RRR) from 8 percent (KHR) and 12.5 percent (USD) to 7 percent (KHR and USD) for 6 months starting from April, 2020; and (5) reducing the liquidity coverage ratio.

Financial technology (Fintech) in Cambodia is still at early stage of development. Available technologies include mobile payment, QR code, and e-wallet accounts for domestic and cross-border payments and transfers. In 2012, the NBC launched retail payments for cheques and credit remittances. A FAST payment system was introduced in 2016 to facilitate instant fund transfers. The Cambodian Shared Switch (CSS) system was launched in October 2017 to facilitate the access to network ATM and POS machines.

In February 2019, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an intergovernmental organization whose purpose is to develop policies to combat money laundering, cited Cambodia for being “deficient” with regard to its anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) controls and policies and included Cambodia on its “grey list.” The government has committed to working with FATF to address these deficiencies through a jointly-developed action plan, although progress to date appears minimal. Should Cambodia not address the deficiencies, it could risk landing on the FATF “black list,” something that could negatively impact the cost of capital as well as the banking sector’s ability to access the international capital markets.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances 

Foreign Exchange 

Though Cambodia has its own currency, the riel (denoted as KHR), U.S. dollars are widely in circulation in Cambodia and remain the primary currency for most large transactions. There are no restrictions on the conversion of capital for investors.

Cambodia’s 1997 Law on Foreign Exchange states that there shall be no restrictions on foreign exchange operations through authorized banks. Authorized banks are required, however, to report the amount of any transfer equaling or exceeding $100,000 to the NBC on a regular basis.

Loans and borrowings, including trade credits, are freely contracted between residents and nonresidents, provided that loan disbursements and repayments are made through an authorized intermediary. There are no restrictions on the establishment of foreign currency bank accounts in Cambodia for residents.

The exchange rate between the riel and U.S. dollar is governed by a managed float and has been stable at around one U.S. dollar to KHR 4,000 for the past several years. Daily fluctuations of the exchange rate are low, typically under three percent. In the past several years, the Cambodian government has taken steps to increase general usage of the riel but, as noted above, the country’s economy remains largely dollarized.

Remittance Policies 

Article 11 of the Cambodia’s 2003 Amended Law on Investment states that QIPs can freely remit abroad foreign currencies purchased through authorized banks for the discharge of financial obligations incurred in connection with investments. These financial obligations include: payment for imports and repayment of principal and interest on international loans; payment of royalties and management fees; remittance of profits; and, repatriation of invested capital in case of dissolution.

Sovereign Wealth Funds 

Cambodia does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises 

Cambodia currently has 15 state-owned enterprises (SOEs): Electricite du Cambodge, Sihanoukville Autonomous Port, Telecom Cambodia, Cambodia Shipping Agency, Cambodia Postal Services, Rural Development Bank, Green Trade Company, Printing House, Siem Reap Water Supply Authority, Construction and Public Work Lab, Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority, Phnom Penh Autonomous Port, Kampuchea Ry Insurance, Cambodia Life Insurance, and the Cambodia Securities Exchange.

In accordance with the Law on General Stature of Public Enterprises, there are two types of commercial SOEs in Cambodia – one that is 100 percent owned by the state, the other is a joint-venture in which a majority of capital is owned by the state and a minority is owned by private investors.

Each SOE is under the supervision of a line ministry or government institution and is overseen by a board of directors drawn from among senior government officials. Private enterprises are generally allowed to compete with state-owned enterprises under equal terms and conditions. SOEs are also subject to the same taxes and value-added tax rebate policies as private-sector enterprises. SOEs are covered under the law on public procurement, which was promulgated in January 2012, and their financial reports are audited by the appropriate line ministry, the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and the National Audit Authority.

Privatization Program 

There are no ongoing privatization programs, nor has the government announced any plans to privatize existing SOEs.

8. Responsible Business Conduct 

There is a small, but growing awareness of responsible business conduct (RBC) and corporate social responsibility (CSR) among businesses in Cambodia despite the fact that the government does not have explicit policies to promote them. RBC and CSR programs are mostly commonly found at larger and multinational companies in the country. U.S. companies, for example, have implemented a wide range of CSR activities to promote skills training, the environment, general health and well-being, and financial education. These programs have been warmly received by both the general public and the government.

A number of economic land concessions in Cambodia have led to high profile land rights cases. The Cambodian government has recognized the problem, but in general, has not effectively and fairly resolved land rights claims. The Cambodian government does not have a national contact point for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) multinational enterprises guidelines and does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

9. Corruption 

Corruption remains a significant issue in Cambodia for investors, and is a widespread practice. An increase in foreign investment from investors willing to engage in corrupt practices, combined with sometimes opaque official and unofficial investment processes, has served to facilitate an overall rise in corruption, already at high levels. In its Global Competitiveness Report 2019, the World Economic Forum ranked Cambodia 134th out of 141 countries for incidence of corruption. Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perception index ranked Cambodia 162 of 180 countries globally, the lowest ranking among ASEAN member states.

Those engaged in business have identified corruption, particularly within the judiciary, customs services, and tax authorities, as one of the greatest deterrents to investment in Cambodia. Foreign investors from countries that overlook or encourage bribery have significant advantages over foreign investors from countries that criminalize such activity.

Cambodia adopted an Anti-Corruption Law in 2010 to combat corruption by criminalizing bribery, abuse of office, extortion, facilitation payments, and accepting bribes in the form of  donations or promises. Under the law, all civil servants must also declare their financial assets to the government every two years. Cambodia’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), established the same year, has investigative powers and a mandate to provide education and training to government institutions and the public on anti-corruption compliance. Since its formation, the ACU has launched a few high-profile prosecutions against public officials, including members of the police and judiciary, and has tackled the issue of ghost workers in the government, in which salaries are collected for non-existent employees.

donations or promises. Under the law, all civil servants must also declare their financial assets to the government every two years. Cambodia’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), established the same year, has investigative powers and a mandate to provide education and training to government institutions and the public on anti-corruption compliance. Since its formation, the ACU has launched a few high-profile prosecutions against public officials, including members of the police and judiciary, and has tackled the issue of ghost workers in the government, in which salaries are collected for non-existent employees.

The ACU, in collaboration with the private sector, has also established guidelines encouraging companies to create internal codes of conduct prohibiting bribery and corrupt practices. Companies can sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the ACU pledging to operate corruption-free and to cooperate on anti-corruption efforts. Since the program started in 2015, more than 80 private companies have signed a MOU with the ACU. In 2018, the ACU completed a first draft of a code of conduct for public officials, which has not yet been finalized.

Despite the passage of the Anti-Corruption Law and creation of the ACU, enforcement remains weak. Local and foreign businesses report that they must often make informal payments to expedite business transactions. Since 2013, Cambodia has published the official fees for public services, but the practice of paying additional fees remains common.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

Cambodia ratified the UN Convention against Corruption in 2007 and endorsed the Action Plan of the Asian Development Bank / OECD Anti-Corruption Initiative for Asia and the Pacific in 2003. Cambodia is not a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery.

Resources to Report Corruption 

Om Yentieng President, Anti-Corruption Unit
No. 54, Preah Norodom Blvd, Sangkat Phsar Thmey 3,
Khan Daun Penh, Phnom Penh
Telephone: +855-23-223-954
Email: info@acu.gov.kh

Transparency International Cambodia
#13 Street 554, Phnom Penh
Telephone: +855-23-214430
Email: info@ticambodia.org

10. Political and Security Environment 

Foreign companies have been the targets of violent protests in the past, such as the 2003 anti-Thai riots against the Embassy of Thailand and Thai-owned commercial establishments. More recently, there were reports that Vietnamese-owned establishments were looted during a January 2014 labor protest. Authorities have also used force, including truncheons, electric cattle prods, fire hoses, and even gunfire, to disperse protestors. Incidents of violence directed at businesses, however, are rare. The Embassy is unaware of any incidents of political violence directed at U.S. or other non-regional interests.

Nevertheless, political tensions remain. After relatively competitive communal elections in June 2017, where Cambodia’s opposition party won nearly 50 percent of available seats, the government took steps to strengthen its grip on power and eliminated meaningful political activity. In September 2017, the head of the country’s leading opposition party was arrested and charged with treason, and in November 2017, the same opposition party was banned. In July 2018, Prime Minister Hun Sen won a landslide victory, and his ruling party swept all 125 parliamentary seats, in a national election that was criticized by the United States as being neither free nor fair. The government has also taken steps to limit free speech and stifle independent media, including forcing independent news outlets and radio stations to cease operations. While there are few overt signs the country is growing less secure today, the possibility for insecurity exists going forward, particularly if a large percentage of the population remains disenfranchised.

11. Labor Policies and Practices 

The global COVID-19 pandemic has had significant impact on Cambodia’s labor sector, the full extent of which are not yet known. Cambodia’s garment and manufacturing sector, which is heavily reliant on global supply chains for inputs and on demand from the United States and Europe, is experiencing severe disruptions due to COVID-19. The government estimates that as of May 2020, 180,000 of Cambodia’s approximately 1 million factory workers have been furloughed. In addition, approximately 90,000 of Cambodia’s 1.3 million migrant workers returned from abroad (mostly from Thailand) due to COVID-19 related job losses.

Cambodia’s labor force includes about 10 million people. A small number of Vietnamese and Thai migrant workers are employed in Cambodia, and Chinese-run infrastructure and other businesses are importing an increasing number of Chinese laborers, who typically earn more than their Cambodian counterparts. Given the severe disruption to the Cambodian education system and loss of skilled Cambodians during the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge period, there are few Cambodian workers with higher education or specialized skills. Around 55 percent of the population is under the age of 25, a fact reflected in Cambodia’s young workforce. The United Nations has estimated that around 300,000 new job seekers enter the labor market each year. The agricultural sector employees about 40 percent of the labor force. Some 37 percent of the non-agricultural workforce, or 2.2 million workers, are in the informal economy. The pandemic has caused mass suspensions and layoffs across all non-agricultural sectors.

Unresolved labor disputes are mediated first on the shop-room floor, after which they are brought to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training. If conciliation fails, then the cases may be brought to the Arbitration Council, an independent state body that interprets labor regulations in collective disputes, such as when multiple employees are dismissed. Since the 2016 Trade Union Law went into force, Arbitration Council cases have decreased from over 30 per month to fewer than five, although that number began to increase again in 2019 due to regulatory changes.

Cambodia’s 2016 Trade Union Law (TUL) erects barriers to freedom of association and the rights to organize and bargain freely. The ILO has stated publicly that the law could hinder Cambodia’s obligations to international labor conventions 87 and 98. To address those concerns, Cambodia passed an amended TUL in early 2020, but the amended law still does not go far enough to fully address ILO, U.S. government, labor NGO, and union concerns about the law’s curbs on freedom of association. In addition, Cambodia has only implemented and enforced a minimum wage in the export garment and footwear sectors.

In early 2020, the government also began consultations with businesses and unions on amending the Labor Law. Unions generally oppose the proposed amendments, seeing them as too pro-business. One proposed change, for example, would reduce extra pay for night shift work.

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

Through 2019, a number of Cambodian companies have received financing from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), including loans to financial institutions for the purposes of onward lending. OPIC’s successor agency, the Development Finance Corporation (DFC), is expected to carry these programs forward in Cambodia.

The Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) provides financing and insurance to local companies to help them purchase U.S. made products and services; repayment terms are generally up to seven years. In 2018, Ex-Im Bank facilitated the sale of a U.S.-made grain silo through a loan guarantee, its first commercial transaction in Cambodia. Cambodia is also a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency of the World Bank, which offers political-risk insurance to foreign investors.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics 

There has been a surge in FDI inflows to Cambodia in recent years. Though FDI goes primarily to infrastructure, including commercial and residential real estate projects, it has also recently favored investments in manufacturing and agro-processing. Cambodia reports its total stock of FDI reached $42 billion in 2019 in terms of fixed assets, up from $38.5 billion in 2018.

Investment into Cambodia is dominated by China, and the level of investment from China has surged especially the last five years. Cambodia reports that its stock of FDI from China reached $16.6 billion by the end of 2019. Other major sources of FDIs stock in Cambodia include South Korea ($4.7 billion), United Kingdom ($3.8 billion), Malaysia ($2.7 billion), and Japan ($2.4 billion), through 2019. In 2019 alone, Chinese investment in Cambodia reached $1.3 billion, followed by Hong Kong ($913 million), and the United Kingdom ($822 million).

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
Cambodia Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $27 billion 2019 $26.7 billion www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in Cambodia ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $1,375 2017 $517 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Cambodia’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2017 $5 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 156% 2018 96.8% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/
DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

* Source for Host Country Data: The Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) provides official government data on investment in Cambodia, but not all data is published online. See: www.cambodiainvestment.gov.kh/why-invest-in-cambodia/investment-enviroment/investment-trend.html 

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI 
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data (through 2018)
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 23,246 100% Total Outward 840 100%
China 6,786 29.2% South Africa 310 37%
Korea 1,934 8.3% China 260 31%
Vietnam 1,880 8% Singapore 225 27%
Hong Kong 1,688 7.3% Philippines 31 3.7%
Taiwan 1,629 7% Myanmar 17 2%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Data retrieved from IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey database presents a much different picture of FDI into Cambodia as compared to that provided by the Cambodian government. For example, the Council for Development of Cambodia reports $38.5 billion stock FDI in term of fixed asset through year-end 2018, while the IMF reports only $23 billion.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information 

David Ryan Sequeira, CFA
Economic Officer
U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh
No. 1, Street 96, Sangkat Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Phone: (855) 23-728-401
Email: CamInvestment@state.gov

Indonesia

Executive Summary

Indonesia’s population of 268 million, GDP over USD 1 trillion, growing middle class, and stable economy all serve as attractive features to U.S. investors; however, different entities have noted that investing in Indonesia remains challenging.  Since 2014, the Indonesian government under President Joko (“Jokowi”) Widodo, now in his second and final five-year term,  has prioritized boosting infrastructure investment and human capital development to support Indonesia’s economic growth goals.  As he began his second term in October 2019, President Jokowi announced sweeping plans to pass omnibus laws aimed at improving Indonesia’s economic competitiveness by lowering corporate taxes, reforming rigid labor laws, and reducing bureaucratic and regulatory barriers to investment.  However, with the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, the government shifted its focus to providing fiscal and monetary stimulus to support the economy.  Regardless of the outcome of further reforms, factors such as a decentralized decision-making process, legal and regulatory uncertainty, economic nationalism, and powerful domestic vested interests in both the private and public sectors, create a complex investment climate.  Other factors relevant to investors include: government requirements, both formal and informal, to partner with Indonesian companies, and to manufacture or purchase goods and services locally; restrictions on some imports and exports; and pressure to make substantial, long-term investment commitments.  Despite recent limits placed on its authority, the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) continues to investigate and prosecute corruption cases.  However, investors still cite corruption as an obstacle to pursuing opportunities in Indonesia.

Other barriers to foreign investment that have been reported include difficulties in government coordination, the slow rate of land acquisition for infrastructure projects, weak enforcement of contracts, bureaucratic inefficiency, and ambiguous legislation in regards to tax enforcement. Businesses also face difficulty from changes to rules at government discretion with little or no notice and opportunity for comment, and lack of consultation with stakeholders in the development of laws and regulations.  Investors have noted that many new regulations are difficult to understand and often not properly communicated to those affected.  In addition, companies have complained about the complexity of inter-ministerial coordination that continues to delay some processes important to companies, such as securing business licenses and import permits.  In response, in July 2018 the government launched a “one stop shop” for licenses and permits via an online single submission (OSS) system at the Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM).  Indonesia restricts foreign investment in some sectors through a Negative Investment List that Indonesian officials have indicated will be scrapped as part of omnibus legislation.  The latest version, issued in 2016, details the sectors in which foreign investment is restricted and outlines the foreign equity limits in a number of other sectors.  The 2016 Negative Investment List allows greater foreign investments in some sectors, including e-commerce, film, tourism, and logistics.  In health care, the 2016 list loosens restrictions on foreign investment in categories such as hospital management services and manufacturing of raw materials for medicines, but tightens restrictions in others such as mental rehabilitation, dental and specialty clinics, nursing services, and the manufacture and distribution of medical devices. Companies have reported that energy and mining still face significant foreign investment barriers.

Indonesia began to abrogate its more than 60 existing Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) in 2014, allowing some of the agreements to expire in order to be renegotiated.  The United States does not have a BIT with Indonesia.

Despite the challenges that industry has reported, Indonesia continues to attract significant foreign investment.  Singapore, Netherlands, United States, Japan and Hong Kong were among the top sources of foreign investment in the country in 2018 (latest available full-year data). Private consumption is the backbone of the largest economy in ASEAN, making Indonesia a promising destination for a wide range of companies, ranging from consumer products and financial services, to digital start-ups and franchisors.  Indonesia has ambitious plans to improve its infrastructure with a focus on expanding access to energy, strengthening its maritime transport corridors, which includes building roads, ports, railways and airports, as well as improving agricultural production, telecommunications, and broadband networks throughout the country. Indonesia continues to attract U.S. franchises and consumer product manufacturers.  UN agencies and the World Bank have recommended that Indonesia do more to grow financial and investor support for women-owned businesses, noting obstacles that women-owned business sometimes face in early-stage financing.

Table 1
Measure Year Index or Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions index 2019 85 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/cpi2019
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2020 73 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 85 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $11,140 M  https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $3,840 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD?locations=ID

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

With GDP growth of 5.02 percent in 2019, Indonesia is an attractive destination for foreign direct investment (FDI) due to its young population, strong domestic demand, stable political situation, and well-regarded macroeconomic policy.  Indonesian government officials often state that they welcome increased FDI, aiming to create jobs and spur economic growth, and court foreign investors, notably focusing on infrastructure development and export-oriented manufacturing.  Foreign investors, however, have complained about vague and conflicting regulations,  bureaucratic inefficiencies, ambiguous legislation in regards to  tax enforcement, poor existing infrastructure, rigid labor laws, sanctity of contract issues, and corruption.

The Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board, or BKPM, serves as an investment promotion agency, a regulatory body, and the agency in charge of approving planned investments in Indonesia.  As such, it is the first point of contact for foreign investors, particularly in manufacturing, industrial, and non-financial services sectors.  BKPM’s OSS system streamlines 492 licensing and permitting processes through the issuance of Government Regulation No.24/2018 on Electronic Integrated Business Licensing Services.  While the OSS system is operational, overlapping authority for permit issuance across ministries and government institutions, both at the national and subnational level, remains challenging.  Special expedited licensing services are available for investors meeting certain criteria, such as making investments in excess of approximately IDR100 billion (USD 6.6 million) or employing 1,000 local workers. The government has provided investment incentives particularly for “pioneer” sectors, (please see the section on Industrial Policies)

To further improve the investment climate, the government drafted an omnibus law on job creation to amend dozens of prevailing laws deemed to hamper investment.  In February 2020, the draft omnibus law was submitted to the legislature for deliberation.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Restrictions on FDI are, for the most part, outlined in Presidential Decree No.44/2016, commonly referred to as the Negative Investment List or the DNI. The DNI aims to consolidate FDI restrictions from numerous decrees and regulations, in order to create greater certainty for foreign and domestic investors.  The 2016 revision to the list eased restrictions in a number of previously closed or restricted fields.  Previously closed sectors, including the film industry (including filming, editing, captioning, production, showing, and distribution of films), on-line marketplaces with a value in excess of IDR 100 billion (USD 6.6 million), restaurants, cold chain storage, informal education, hospital management services, and manufacturing of raw materials for medicine, are now open for 100 percent foreign ownership.  The 2016 list also raises the foreign investment cap in the following sectors, though not fully to 100 percent:  online marketplaces under IDR 100 billion (USD 6.6 million), tourism sectors, distribution and warehouse facilities, logistics, and manufacturing and distribution of medical devices.  In certain sectors, restrictions are liberalized for foreign investors from other ASEAN countries.  Though the energy sector saw little change in the 2016 revision, foreign investment in construction of geothermal power plants up to 10 MW is permitted with an ownership cap of 67 percent, while the operation and maintenance of such plants is capped at 49 percent foreign ownership.  For investment in certain sectors, such as mining and higher education, the 2016 DNI is useful only as a starting point for due diligence, as additional licenses and permits are required by individual ministries.  A number of sensitive business areas, involving, for example, alcoholic beverages, ocean salvage, certain fisheries, and the production of some hazardous substances, remain closed to foreign investment or are otherwise restricted.

Foreign investment in small-scale and home industries (i.e. forestry, fisheries, small plantations, certain retail sectors) is reserved for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) or requires a partnership between a foreign investor and local entity.  Even where the 2016 DNI revisions lifted limits on foreign ownership, certain sectors remain subject to other restrictions imposed by separate laws and regulations.  As part of President Jokowi’s second-term economic reform agenda, Indonesian ministers have stated their interest in revising the 2016 DNI through a new presidential regulation that will be issued in 2020.  This new Investment Priorities List, or DPI, will incentivize investment into certain sectors, notably export-oriented manufacturing, digital technology projects, labor-intensive industries, and value-added processing, with the aim to spur innovation and reduce Indonesia’s current account deficit.  The government also intends to shorten the list of restricted sectors to six categories including cannabis, gambling, and chemical weapons..

In 2016, Bank Indonesia issued Regulation No.18/2016 on the implementation of payment transaction processing.  The regulation governs all companies providing the following services: principal, issuer, acquirer, clearing, final settlement operator, and operator of funds transfer.  The BI regulation capped foreign ownership of payments companies at 20 percent, though it contained a grandfathering provision.  BI’s 2017 Regulation No.19/2017 on the National Payment Gateway (NPG) subsequently imposed a 20 percent foreign equity cap on all companies engaging in domestic debit switching transactions.  Firms wishing to continue executing domestic debit transactions are obligated to sign partnership agreements with one of Indonesia’s four NPG switching companies.

Foreigners may purchase equity in state-owned firms through initial public offerings and the secondary market. Capital investments in publicly listed companies through the stock exchange are not subject to the DNI.

The government issued Trade Minister Regulation 71/2019 to revoke the requirement for eighty percent local content and limitation of outlet numbers in the franchise industry.  Nevertheless, the government encourages companies to utilize domestic goods and services that meet franchisor quality standards.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The latest World Trade Organization (WTO) Investment Policy Review of Indonesia was conducted in April 2013 and can be found on the WTO website: http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp378_e.htm 

The last OECD Investment Policy Review of Indonesia, conducted in 2010, can be found on the OECD website:

http://www.oecd.org/daf/inv/investmentfordevelopment/indonesia-investmentpolicyreview-oecd.htm 

The 2019 UNCTAD Report on ASEAN Investment can be found here: https://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationWebflyer.aspx?publicationid=2568 

Business Facilitation

In order to conduct business in Indonesia, foreign investors must be incorporated as a foreign-owned limited liability company (PMA) through the Ministry of Law and Human Rights.  Once incorporated, a PMA must register through the OSS system.  Upon registration, a company will receive a business identity number (NIB) along with proof of participation in the Workers Social Security Program (BPJS) and endorsement of any Foreign Worker Recruitment Plans (RPTKA).  An NIB remains valid as long as the business operates in compliance with Indonesian laws and regulations.  Existing businesses will eventually be required to register through the OSS system.  In general, the OSS system simplified processes for obtaining NIB from three days to one day upon the completion of prerequisites.

Once an investor has obtained a NIB, he/she may apply for a business license.  At this stage, investors must:  document their legal claim to the proposed project land/location; provide an environmental impact statement (AMDAL); show proof of submission of an investment realization report; and provide a recommendation from relevant ministries as necessary. Investors also need to apply for commercial and/or operational licenses prior to commencing commercial operations.  Special expedited licensing services are also available for investors meeting certain criteria, such as making investments in excess of approximately IDR 100 billion (USD 6.6 million) or employing 1,000 local workers.  After obtaining a NIB, investors in some designated industrial estates can immediately start project construction.

Foreign investors are generally prohibited from investing in MSMEs in Indonesia, although the 2016 Negative Investment List opened some opportunities for partnerships in farming and catalog and online retail.  In accordance with the Indonesian SMEs Law No. 20/2008, MSMEs are defined as enterprises with net assets less than IDR10 billion (USD 0.7 million) or with total annual sales under IDR50 billion (USD 3.3 million).  However, the Indonesian Central Bureau of Statistics defines MSMEs as enterprises with fewer than 99 employees.  The government provides assistance to MSMEs, including: expanded access to business credit for MSMEs in farming, fishery, manufacturing, creative business, trading and services sectors; a tax exemption for MSMEs with annual sales under IDR 200 million (USD 13,000); and assistance with international promotion.

The Ministry of Law and Human Rights’ implementation of an electronic business registration filing, and notification system has dramatically reduced the number of days needed to register a company.  Foreign firms are not required to disclose proprietary information to the government.

BKPM is responsible for issuing “investment licenses” (the term used to encompass both NIB and business licenses) to foreign entities and has taken steps to simplify the application process. The OSS serves as an online portal which allows foreign investors to apply for and track the status of licenses and other services online.  The OSS coordinates many of the permits issued by more than a dozen ministries and agencies required for investment approval.  In November 2019, the government through Presidential Instruction 7/2019 appointed BKPM as the main institution to issue business permits and to grant investment incentives which have been delegated from all ministries and government institutions. BKPM has also been tasked to review policies deemed unfavorable for investors.  In addition, BKPM now issues soft-copy investment and business licenses.  While the OSS’s goal is to help streamline investment approvals, investments in the mining, oil and gas, plantation, and most other sectors still require multiple licenses from related ministries and authorities.  Likewise, certain tax and land permits, among others, typically must be obtained from local government authorities.  Though Indonesian companies are only required to obtain one approval at the local level, businesses report that foreign companies often must seek additional approvals in order to establish a business.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform, and BKPM issued a circular in 2010 to clarify which government offices are responsible for investment that crosses provincial and regional boundaries.  Investment in a regency (a sub-provincial level of government) is managed by the regency government; investment that lies in two or more regencies is managed by the provincial government; and investment that lies in two or more provinces is managed by the central government, or central BKPM.  BKPM has plans to roll out its one-stop-shop structure to the provincial and regency level to streamline local permitting processes at more than 500 sites around the country.

Outward Investment

Indonesia’s outward investment is limited, as domestic investors tend to focus on the domestic market.  BKPM has responsibility for promoting and facilitating outward investment, to include providing information about investment opportunities in and policies of other countries.  BKPM also uses their investment and trade promotion centers abroad to match Indonesian companies with potential investment opportunities.  The government neither restricts nor provides incentives for outward investment.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Indonesia continues to bring its legal, regulatory, and accounting systems into compliance with international norms and agreements, but progress is slow.  Notable developments included passage of a comprehensive anti-money laundering law in 2010 and a land acquisition law in 2012.  Although Indonesia continues to move forward with regulatory system reforms foreign investors have indicated they still encounter challenges in comparison to domestic investors and have criticized the current regulatory system for its failure to establish clear and transparent rules for all actors.  Certain laws and policies, including the DNI, establish sectors that are either fully off-limits to foreign investors or are subject to substantive conditions.

Decentralization has introduced another layer of bureaucracy for firms to navigate, resulting in what companies have identified as additional red tape.  Certain businesses claim that Indonesia encounters challenges in launching bureaucratic reforms due to ineffective management, resistance from vested interests, and corruption.  U.S. businesses cite regulatory uncertainty and a lack of transparency as two significant factors hindering operations.  Government ministries and agencies, including the Indonesian House of Representatives (DPR), continue to publish many proposed laws and regulations in draft form for public comment; however, not all draft laws and regulations are made available in public fora and it can take years for draft legislation to become law.  Laws and regulations are often vague and require substantial interpretation by the implementers, leading to business uncertainty and rent-seeking opportunities.

U.S. companies note that regulatory consultation in Indonesia is inconsistent, despite the existence of Law No. 12/2011 on the Development of Laws and Regulations and its implementing Government regulation 87/204, which states that the community is entitled to provide oral or written input into draft laws and regulations.  The law also sets out procedures for revoking regulations and introduces requirements for academic studies as a basis for formulating laws and regulations.  Nevertheless, the absence of a formal consultation mechanism has been reported to lead to different interpretations among policy makers of what is required.

In 2016, the Jokowi administration repealed 3,143 regional bylaws that overlapped with other regulations and impeded the ease of doing business.  However, a 2017 Constitutional Court ruling limited the Ministry of Home Affairs’ authority to revoke local regulations and allowed local governments to appeal the central government’s decision.  The Ministry continues to play a consultative function in the regulation drafting stage, providing input to standardize regional bylaws with national laws.

In 2017, the government issued Presidential Instruction No. 7/2017, which aims to improve the coordination among ministries in the policy-making process.  The new regulation requires lead ministries to coordinate with their respective coordinating ministry before issuing a regulation.  Presidential Instruction No. 7 also requires Ministries to conduct a regulatory impact analysis and provide an opportunity for public consultation.  The presidential instruction did not address the frequent lack of coordination between the central and local governments.  Pursuant to various Indonesian economy policy reform packages over the past several years, the government has eliminated 220 regulations as of September 2018.  Fifty-one of the eliminated regulations are at the Presidential level and 169 at the ministerial or institutional level.

In July 2018, President Jokowi issued Presidential Regulation No. 54/2018, updating and streamlining the National Anti-Corruption Strategy to synergize corruption prevention efforts across ministries, regional governments, and law enforcement agencies.  The regulation focuses on three areas: licenses, state finances (primarily government revenue and expenditures), and law enforcement reform.  An interagency team, including KPK, leads the national strategy’s implementation efforts.

In October 2018, the government issued Presidential Regulation No. 95/2018 on e-government that requires all levels of government (central, provincial, and municipal) to implement online governance tools (e-budgeting, e-procurement, e-planning) to improve budget efficiency, government transparency, and the provision of public services.

International Regulatory Considerations

As a member of ASEAN, Indonesia has successfully implemented regional initiatives, including real-time movement of electronic import documents through the ASEAN Single Window, which reduces shipping costs, speeds customs clearance, and reduces opportunities for corruption.   Indonesia has also committed to ratify the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA), ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services (AFAS), and the ASEAN Mutual Recognition Arrangement.  Notwithstanding progress made in certain areas, the often-lengthy process of aligning national legislation has caused delays in implementation.  The complexity of interagency coordination and/or a shortage of technical capacity are among the challenges being reported.

Indonesia joined the WTO in 1995.  Indonesia’s National Standards Body (BSN) is the primary government agency to notify draft regulations to the WTO concerning technical barriers to trade (TBT) and sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS); however, in practice, notification is inconsistent.  In December 2017, Indonesia ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).  At this point, Indonesia has met 88.7 percent of its commitments to the TFA provisions, including publication and availability information, consultations, advance ruling, review procedure, detention and test procedure, fee and charges discipline, goods clearance, border agency cooperation, import/export formalities, and goods transit.

Indonesia is a Contracting Party to the Aircraft Protocol to the Convention of International Interests in Mobile Equipment (Cape Town Convention).  However, foreign investors bringing aircraft to Indonesia to serve the aviation sector have faced difficulty in utilizing Cape Town Convention provisions to recover aircraft leased to Indonesian companies.  Foreign owners of leased aircraft that have become the subject of contractual lease disputes with Indonesian lessees have been unable to recover their aircraft in certain circumstances.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Indonesia’s legal system is based on civil law.  The court system consists of District Courts (primary courts of original jurisdiction), High Courts (courts of appeal), and the Supreme Court (the court of last resort).  Indonesia also has a Constitutional Court.  The Constitutional Court has the same legal standing as the Supreme Court, and its role is to review the constitutionality of legislation.  Both the Supreme and Constitutional Courts have authority to conduct judicial review.

Corruption also continues to plague Indonesia’s judiciary, with graft investigations involving senior judges and court staffs.  Many businesses note that the judiciary is susceptible to influence from outside parties.  Certain companies have claimed that the court system often does not provide the necessary recourse for resolving property and contractual disputes and that cases that would be adjudicated in civil courts in other jurisdictions sometimes result in criminal charges in Indonesia.

Judges are not bound by precedent and many laws are open to various interpretations.  A lack of clear land titles has plagued Indonesia for decades, although the land acquisition law No.2/2012 enacted in 2012 included legal mechanisms designed to resolve some past land ownership issues.  In addition, companies find Indonesia to have a poor track record on the legal enforcement of contracts, and civil disputes are sometimes criminalized.  Government Regulation No. 79/2010 opened the door for the government to remove recoverable costs from production sharing contracts.  Indonesia has also required mining companies to renegotiate their contracts of work to include higher royalties, more divestment to local partners, more local content, and domestic processing of mineral ore.

Indonesia’s commercial code, grounded in colonial Dutch law, has been updated to include provisions on bankruptcy, intellectual property rights, incorporation and dissolution of businesses, banking, and capital markets.  Application of the commercial code, including the bankruptcy provisions, remains uneven, in large part due to corruption and training deficits for judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

FDI in Indonesia is regulated by Law No. 25/2007 (the Investment Law). Under the law, any form of FDI in Indonesia must be in the form of a limited liability company, with the foreign investor holding shares in the company. In addition, the government outlines restrictions on FDI in Presidential Decree No. 44/2016, commonly referred to as the 2016 Negative Investment List or DNI. It aims to consolidate FDI restrictions in certain sectors from numerous decrees and regulations to provide greater certainty for foreign and domestic investors. The 2016 DNI enables greater foreign investment in some sectors like film, tourism, logistics, health care, and e-commerce. A number of sectors remain closed to investment or are otherwise restricted. The 2016 DNI contains a clause that clarifies that existing investments will not be affected by the 2016 revisions. The website of the Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) provides information on investment requirements and procedures: http://www2.bkpm.go.id/ .  Indonesia mandates reporting obligations for all foreign investors through BKPM Regulation No.7/2018.  See section two for Indonesia’s procedures for licensing foreign investment.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Indonesian Competition Authority (KPPU) implements and enforces the 1999 Indonesia Competition Law. The KPPU reviews agreements, business practices and mergers that may be deemed anti-competitive, advises the government on policies that may affect competition, and issues guidelines relating to the Competition Law. Strategic sectors such as food, finance, banking, energy, infrastructure, health, and education are KPPU’s priorities. In April 2017, the Indonesia DPR began deliberating a new draft of the Indonesian antitrust law, which would repeal the current Law No. 5/1999 and strengthen KPPU’s enforcement against monopolistic practices and unfair business competition.

Expropriation and Compensation

Indonesia’s political leadership has long championed economic nationalism, particularly in regard to mineral and oil and gas reserves. According to Law No. 25/2007 (the Investment Law), the Indonesian government is barred from nationalizing or expropriating an investors’ property rights, unless provided by law.  If the Indonesian government nationalizes or expropriates an investors’ property rights, it must provided market value compensation to the investor.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Indonesia is a member of the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) through the ratification of the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention). Thus, foreign arbitral awards are legally recognized and enforceable in the Indonesian courts; however, some investors note that these awards are not always enforced in practice.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Since 2004, Indonesia has faced seven known Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) arbitration cases, including those that have been settled, and discontinued cases. In 2016, an ICSID tribunal ruled in favor of Indonesia in the arbitration case of British firm Churchill Mining. In March 2019, the tribunal rejected an annulment request from the claimants. In addition, a Dutch arbitration court recently ruled in favor of the Indonesian government in USD 469 million arbitration case against Indian firm Indian Metals & Ferro Alloys. Two cases involved Newmont Nusa Tenggara under the BIT with Netherlands and Oleovest under the BIT with Singapore were discontinued.

Indonesia recognizes binding international arbitration of investment disputes in its bilateral investment treaties (BITs). All of Indonesia’s BITs include the arbitration under ICSID or UNCITRAL rules, except the BIT with Denmark. However, in response to an increase in the number of arbitration cases submitted to ICSID, BKPM formed an expert team to review the current generation of BITs and formulate a new model BIT that would seek to better protect perceived national interests. The Indonesian model BIT is under legal review.

In spite of the cancellation of many BITs, the 2007 Investment Law still provides protection to investors through a grandfather clause. In addition, Indonesia also has committed to ISDS provisions in regional or multilateral agreement signed by Indonesia (i.e. ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement).

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Judicial handling of investment disputes remains mixed. Indonesia’s legal code recognizes the right of parties to apply agreed-upon rules of arbitration. Some arbitration, but not all, is handled by Indonesia’s domestic arbitration agency, the Indonesian National Arbitration Body.

Companies have resorted to ad hoc arbitrations in Indonesia using the UNCITRAL model law and ICSID arbitration rules. Though U.S. firms have reported that doing business in Indonesia remains challenging, there is not a clear pattern or significant record of investment disputes involving U.S. or other foreign investors. Companies complain that the court system in Indonesia works slowly as international arbitration awards, when enforced, may take years from original judgment to payment.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Indonesian Law No. 37/2004 on Bankruptcy and Suspension of Obligation for Payment of Debts is viewed as pro-creditor and the law makes no distinction between domestic and foreign creditors. As a result, foreign creditors have the same rights as all potential creditors in a bankruptcy case, as long as foreign claims are submitted in compliance with underlying regulations and procedures. Monetary judgments in Indonesia are made in local currency.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Indonesia seeks to facilitate investment through fiscal incentives, non-fiscal incentives, and other benefits. Fiscal incentives are in the form of tax holidays, tax allowances, and exemptions of import duties for capital goods and raw materials for investment. As part of the Economic Policy Package XVI, Indonesia issued a modified tax holiday scheme in November 2018 through Ministry of Finance (MOF) Regulation 150/2018, which revokes MOF Regulation 35/2018.  This regulation is intended to attract more direct investment in pioneer industries and simplify the application process through the OSS. The period of the tax holiday is extended up to 20 years; the minimum investment threshold is IDR 100 billion (USD 6.6 million), a significant reduction from the previous regulation at IDR 500 billion (USD 33 million). In addition to the tax holiday, depending on the investment amount, this regulation also provides either 25 or 50 percent income tax reduction for the two years after the end of the tax holiday. The following table explains the parameters of the new scheme:

Provision New Capital Investment IDR 100 billion to less than IDR 500 billion New Capital Investment IDR more  than IDR 500 billion
Reduction in Corporate Income Tax Rate 50% 100%
Concession Period 5 years 5-20 years
Transition Period 25% Corporate Income Tax Reduction for the next 2 years 50% Corporate Income Tax Reduction for the next 2 years

Based on BKPM Regulation 1/2019 as amended by BKPM Regulation 8/2019, the coverage of pioneer sectors was expanded to the digital economy, agricultural, plantation, and forestry, bringing the total to eighteen industries:

  1. Upstream basic metals;
  2. Oil and gas refineries;
  3. Petrochemicals derived from petroleum, natural gas, and coal;
  4. Inorganic basic chemicals;
  5. Organic basic chemicals;
  6. Pharmaceutical raw materials;
  7. Semi-conductors and other primary computer components;
  8. Primary medical device components;
  9. Primary industrial machinery components;
  10. Primary engine components for transport equipment;
  11. Robotic components for manufacturing machines;
  12. Primary ship components for the shipbuilding industry;
  13. Primary aircraft components;
  14. Primary train components;
  15. Power generation including waste-to-energy power plants;
  16. Economic infrastructure;
  17. Digital economy including data processing; and
  18. Agriculture, plantation, and forestry-based processing

Government Regulation No. 9/2016 expanded regional tax incentives for certain business categories in 2016. Apparel, leather goods, and footwear industries in all regions are now eligible for the tax incentives. In this regulation, existing tax facilities are maintained, including:

  • Deduction of 30 percent from taxable income over a six-year period
  • Accelerated depreciation and amortization
  • Ten percent of withholding tax on dividend paid by foreign taxpayer or a lower rate according to the avoidance of double taxation agreement
  • Compensation losses extended from 5 to 10 years with certain conditions for companies that are:
    1. Located in industrial or bonded zone;
    2. Developing infrastructure;
    3. Using at least 70 percent domestic raw material;
    4. Absorbing 500 to 1000 laborers;
    5. Doing research and development (R&D) worth at least 5 percent of the total investment over 5 years;
    6. Reinvesting capital; or,
    7. Exporting at least 30 percent of their product.

On March 31, 2020, Indonesia issued Government Regulation in Lieu of Law No. 1 of 2020 on State Financial Policy and the Stability of Financial Systems for the Handling of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic (Perppu 1/2020). Among its provisions are plans to regulate electronic based trading activity (e-trading) and to charge value-added taxes (VAT) on taxable intangible goods and services from foreign e-commerce parties and other highly-digitalized businesses. Income tax will also be imposed upon foreign e-commerce parties that are judged to meet a “significant economic presence” threshhold, based on consolidated gross circulation of a business group, total sales value, or active Indonesian users. The regulation also introduces an electronic transaction tax (ETT) that will be imposed on foreign entities that are subject to income tax obligations under the aformentioned threshhold but would not otherwise be subject to corporate income tax in Indonesia in the absence of a permanent establishment, where taxing such transactions is prohibited by bilateral tax treaties.  Industry representatives have expressed concern that such provisions seek to circumvent bilateral tax treaties intended to avoid double taxation, including the tax treaty between Indonesia and the United States.  They have also noted a lack of clarity over the Perppu’s implementation and concerns over administrative sanctions and the high cost to comply with new measures.  The new regulation will also also cut the corporate income tax rate, lowering it to 22 percent for 2020 and 2021, and to 20 percent for 2022. In addition, a company can claim a further 3 percent reduction if it is publicly listed, with a total number of shares traded on an Indonesian stock exchange of at least 40 percent.

The government provides the facility of Government-Borne Import Duty (Bea Masuk Ditanggung Pemerintah /BMDTP) with zero percent import duty to improve industrial competitiveness and public goods procurement in high value added, labor intensive, and high growth sectors. MOF Regulation 12/2020 provides zero import duty for imported raw materials in 36 sectors including plastics, cosmetics, polyester, resins, other chemical materials, machinery for agriculture, electricity, toys, vehicle components including for electric vehicles, telecommunications, fertilizers, and pharmaceuticals until December 2020.

To cope with soaring demand and to improve domestic production of medical devices and supplies amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the government through BKPM Regulation 86/2020 streamlined licensing requirement for manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and medical devices. The Ministry of Health also accelerated product registration and certification for medical devices and household health supplies. Moreover, the Ministry of Trade issued Regulation 28/2020 to relax import requirements for certain medical-related products.

 At present, Indonesia does not have formal regulations granting national treatment to U.S. and other foreign firms participating in government-financed or subsidized research and development programs. The Ministry of Research and Technology handles applications on a case-by-case basis.

Indonesia’s vast natural resources have attracted significant foreign investment over the last century and continues to offer significant prospects. However, some companies report that a variety of government regulations have made doing business in the resources sector increasingly difficult, and Indonesia now ranks 64th of 76 jurisdictions in the Fraser Institute’s 2019 Mining Policy Perception Index. In 2012, Indonesia banned the export of raw minerals, dramatically increased the divestment requirements for foreign mining companies, and required major mining companies to renegotiate their contracts of work with the government. A ban on the export of raw minerals went into effect in January 2014. However, in July 2014, the government issued regulations that allowed, until January 2017, the temporary export of copper and several other mineral concentrates with export duties and other conditions imposed. When the full export ban came back into effect in January 2017, the government again issued new regulations that allowed exports of copper concentrate and other specified minerals, but imposed more onerous requirements. Of note for foreign investors, provisions of the regulations require that to be able to export non-smelted mineral ores, companies with contracts of work must convert to mining business licenses—and thus be subject to prevailing regulations—and must commit to build smelters within the next five years. Also, foreign-owned mining companies must gradually divest 51 percent of shares to Indonesian interests over ten years, with the price of divested shares determined based on a “fair market value” determination that does not take into account existing reserves. In January 2020, the government banned the export of  nickel ore for all mining companies, foreign and domestic, in the hopes of encouraging construction of domestic nickel smelters. The 2009 mining law devolved the authority to issue mining licenses to local governments, who have responded by issuing more than 10,000 licenses, many of which have been reported to overlap or be unclearly mapped. In the oil and gas sector, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court disbanded the upstream regulator in 2012, injecting confusion and more uncertainty into the natural resources sector. Until a new oil and gas law is enacted, upstream activities are supervised by the Special Working Unit on Upstream Oil and Gas (SKK Migas).

During President Jokowi’s first term, the Indonesian government invested more than  USD 350 billion in infrastructure to connect Indonesia’s more than 17,000 islands. The investments included toll roads, seaports, airports, power generation, telecommunications, and upgrades to Indonesia’s social infrastructure, such as, clean water and sanitation, and housing projects.  President Jokowi has emphasized that he will continue this infrastructure program during his second five-year term, aiming to increase Indonesia’s infrastructure stock from 43 percent of GDP in 2019 to 50 percent in 2024.

Despite high-level attention from Indonesian policymakers, many U.S. companies and investors report that the current institutional arrangement for infrastructure development still suffers from functional overlap, lack of capacity for public-private partnership (PPP) projects in regional governments, lack of solid value-for-money methodologies, crowding out of the private sector by state-owned enterprises (SOEs), legal uncertainty, lack of a solid land-acquisition framework, long-term operational risks for the private sector, unwillingness from stakeholders to be the first ones to test a new policy approach, corruption, and a relatively small Indonesian private sector. As a result of these challenges, the World Bank estimates that Indonesia faces a USD 1.5 trillion infrastructure gap in comparison to other emerging market economies.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Trade/ Trade Facilitation

Indonesia offers numerous incentives to foreign and domestic companies that operate in special economic and trade zones throughout Indonesia. The largest zone is the free trade zone (FTZ) island of Batam, located just south of Singapore. Neighboring Bintan Island and Karimun Island also enjoy FTZ status. Investors in FTZs are exempted from import duty, income tax, VAT, and sales tax on imported capital goods, equipment, and raw materials. Fees are assessed on the portion of production destined for the domestic market which is “exported” to Indonesia, in which case fees are owed only on that portion.  Foreign companies are allowed up to 100 percent ownership of companies in FTZs. Companies operating in FTZs may lend machinery and equipment to subcontractors located outside of the zone for a maximum two-year period.

Indonesia also has numerous Special Economic Zones (SEZs), regulated under Law No. 39/2009, Government Regulation No. 1/2020 on SEZ management, and Government Regulation No. 12/2020 on SEZ facilities. These benefits include a reduction of corporate income taxes for a period of years (depending on the size of the investment), income tax allowances, luxury tax, customs duty and excise, and expedited or simplified administrative processes for import/export, expatriate employment, immigration, and licensing. As of  February 2020, Indonesia has identified fifteen SEZs in manufacturing and tourism centers that are operational or under construction. Eleven SEZs are operational (though development is sometimes limited) at: 1) Sei Mangkei, North Sumatera; 2) Tanjung Lesung, Banten; 3) Palu, Central Sulawesi; 4) Mandalika, West Nusa Tenggara; 5) Arun Lhokseumawe, Aceh; 6) Galang Batang, Bintan, Riau Islands; 7) Tanjung Kelayang, Pulau Bangka, Bangka Belitung Islands; 8) Bitung, North Sulawesi; 9) Morotai, North Maluku; 10) Maloy Batuta Trans Kalimantan, East Kalimantan; and 11) Sorong, Papua. Four more SEZs are under construction: Tanjung Api-Api, South Sumatera; Singhasari, East Java; Kendal, Central Java; and Likupang, North Sulawesi. In 2016, the government began the process of transitioning Batam from an FTZ to SEZ in order to provide further investment incentives. The Indonesian government announced in December 2018 that it plans to transition management of the Batam FTZ to the local government, creating a single regulatory authority on the island. The conversion to an SEZ is still ongoing  and will not affect the status of the neighboring FTZs on Bintan and Karimun islands.

Indonesian law also provides for several other types of zones that enjoy special tax and administrative treatment.  Among these are Industrial Zones/Industrial Estates (Kawasan  Industri), bonded stockpiling areas (Tempat Penimbunan Berikat), and Integrated Economic Development Zones (Kawasan Pengembangan Ekonomi Terpadu).  Indonesia is home to 103 industrial estates that host thousands of industrial and manufacturing companies.  Ministry of Finance Regulation No. 105/2016 provides several different tax and customs facilities available to companies operating out of an industrial estate, including corporate income tax reductions, tax allowances, VAT exemptions, and import duty exemptions depending on the type of industrial estate.  Bonded stockpile areas include bonded warehouses, bonded zones, bonded exhibition spaces, duty free shops, bonded auction places, bonded recycling areas, and bonded logistics centers. Companies operating in these areas enjoy concessions in the form of exemption from certain import taxes, luxury goods taxes, and value added taxes, based on a variety of criteria for each type of location. Most recently, bonded logistics centers (BLCs) were introduced to allow for larger stockpiles, longer temporary storage (up to three years), and a greater number of activities in a single area. The Ministry of Finance issued Regulation 28/2018, providing additional guidance on the types of BLCs and shortening approval for BLC applications. By October 2019, Indonesia had designated 106 BLCs in 159 locations, with plans to designate more in eastern Indonesia.  In 2018, Ministry of Finance and the Directorate General for Customs and Excise (DGCE) issued regulations (MOF Regulation No. 131/2018 and DGCE Regulation No. 19/2018) to streamline the licensing process for bonded zones.  Together the two regulations are intended to reduce processing times and the number of licenses required to open a bonded zone.

Shipments from FTZs and SEZs to other places in the Indonesia customs area are treated similarly to exports and are subject to taxes and duties.  Under MOF Regulation 120/2013, bonded zones have a domestic sales quota of 50 percent of the preceding realization amount on export, sales to other bonded zones, sales to free trade zones, and sales to other economic areas (unless otherwise authorized by the Indonesian government).  Sales to other special economic areas are only allowed for further processing to become capital goods, and to companies which have a license from the economic area organizer for the goods relevant to their business.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Indonesia expects foreign investors to contribute to the training and development of Indonesian nationals, allowing the transfer of skills and technology required for their effective participation in the management of foreign companies. Generally, a company can hire foreigners only for positions that the government has deemed open to non-Indonesians. Employers must have training programs aimed at replacing foreign workers with Indonesians. If a direct investment enterprise wants to employ foreigners, the enterprise should submit an Expatriate Placement Plan (RPTKA) to the Ministry of Manpower.

Indonesia recently made significant changes to its foreign worker regulations. Under Presidential Regulation No. 20/2018, issued in March 2018, the Ministry of Manpower now has two days to approve a complete RPTKA application, and an RPTKA is not required for commissioners or executives. An RPTKA’s validity is now based on the duration of a worker’s contract (previously it was valid for a maximum of five years). The new regulation no longer requires expatriate workers to go through the intermediate step of obtaining a Foreign Worker Permit (IMTA). Instead, expatriates can use an endorsed RPTKA to apply with the immigration office in their place of domicile for a Limited Stay Visa or Semi-Permanent Residence Visa (VITAS/VBS). Expatriates receive a Limited Stay Permit (KITAS) and a blue book, valid for up to two years and renewable for up to two extensions without leaving the country. Regulation No. 20/2018 also abolished the requirement for all expatriates to receive a technical recommendation from a relevant ministry. However, ministries may still establish technical competencies or qualifications for certain jobs, or prohibit the use of foreign worker for specific positions, by informing and obtaining approval from the Ministry of Manpower. Foreign workers who plan to work longer than six months in Indonesia must apply for employee social security and/or insurance.

Regulation No. 20/2018 provides for short-term working permits (maximum six months) for activities such as conducting audits, quality control, inspections, and installation of machinery and electrical equipment. Ministry of Manpower issued Regulation No.10/2018 to implement Regulation 20/2018, revoking its Regulation No. 16/2015 and No. 35/2015. Regulation 10/2018 provides additional details about the types of businesses that can employ foreign workers, sets requirements to obtain health insurance for expatriate employees, requires companies to appoint local “companion” employees for the transfer of technology and skill development, and requires employers to “facilitate” Indonesian language training for foreign workers. Any expatriate who holds a work and residence permit must contribute USD 1,200 per year to a fund for local manpower training at regional manpower offices. The Ministry of Manpower issued Decree 228/2019 to widen the number of jobs open for foreign workers across 18 sectors, ranging from construction, transportation, education, telecommunication, and professionals. Foreign workers  have to obtain approval from Manpower Minister or designated officials for applying positions not listed in the decree. Some U.S. firms report difficulty in renewing KITASs for their foreign executives. In February 2017, the Ministry of Energy and Natural resources abolished regulations specific to the oil and gas industry, bringing that sector in line with rules set by the Ministry of Manpower.

With the passage of a defense law in 2012 and subsequent implementing regulations in 2014, Indonesia established a policy that imposes offset requirements for procurements from foreign defense suppliers. Current laws authorize Indonesian end users to procure defense articles from foreign suppliers if those articles cannot be produced within Indonesia, subject to Indonesian local content and offset policy requirements. On that basis, U.S. defense equipment suppliers are competing for contracts with local partners. The 2014 implementing regulations still require substantial clarification regarding how offsets and local content are determined. According to the legislation and subsequent implementing regulations, an initial 35 percent of any foreign defense procurement or contract must include local content, and this 35 percent local content threshold will increase by 10 percent every five years following the 2014 release of the implementing regulations until a local content requirement of 85 percent is achieved. The law also requires a variety of offsets such as counter-trade agreements, transfer of technology agreements, or a variety of other mechanisms, all of which are negotiated on a per-transaction basis. The implementing regulations also refer to a “multiplier factor” that can be applied to increase a given offset valuation depending on “the impact on the development of the national economy.” Decisions regarding multiplier values, authorized local content, and other key aspects of the new law are in the hands of the Defense Industry Policy Committee (KKIP), an entity comprising Indonesian interagency representatives and defense industry leadership. KKIP leadership indicates that they still determine multiplier values on a case-by-case basis, but have said that once they conclude an industry-wide gap analysis study, they will publish a standardized multiplier value schedule. According to government officials, rules for offsets and local content apply to major new acquisitions only, and do not apply to routine or recurring procurements such as those required for maintenance and sustainment.

Indonesia notified the WTO of its compliance with Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMS) on August 26, 1998. The 2007 Investment Law states that Indonesia shall provide the same treatment to both domestic and foreign investors originating from any country. Nevertheless, the government pursues policies to promote local manufacturing that could be inconsistent with TRIMS requirements, such as linking import approvals to investment pledges or requiring local content targets in some sectors.

In October 10, 2019, Indonesia issued Government Regulation No. 71 (GR71) to replace Regulation No. 82/2012 which classifies electronic system operators (ESO) into two categories: public and private. Public ESOs are either a state institution or an institution assigned by a state institution but not a financial sector regulator or supervision authority. Private ESOs are individuals, businesses and communities that operate electronic system. Public ESOs are required to manage, process, and store their data in Indonesia, unless the storing technology is not available locally.  Private ESOs have the option to choose where they will manage, process, and store their data. However, if private ESOs choose to process data outside of Indonesia, they are required to provide access to their systems and data for government supervision and law enforcement purposes. For private financial sector ESOs, GR71 provides  that such firms are “further regulated” by Indonesia’s financial sector supervisory authorities with regards to the private sector’s ESO systems, data processing, and data storage.

In March 2020, the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (MCIT) published a proposed draft implementing regulation of GR 71 for private ESOs. Article 6 of the draft requires private ESOs to obtain approval from MCIT before they can manage, process, and store their data outside of Indonesia. This provision has been widely criticized by foreign firms and is more restrictive than the original government regulation (GR71) which allows offshore data storage. Post continues to monitor this issue.

Additionally, pursuant to GR71, the Financial Services Authority (OJK) issued Regulation 13/2020, an amendment to Regulation 38/2016, which allows banks to operate their electronic data processing systems and disaster recovery centers outside of Indonesia, provided that the system receives approval from OJK.  Furthermore, OJK will evaluate whether the arrangement for offshore data could diminish its supervisory efficiency, negatively affect the bank’s performance, and if the data center complies with Indonesia’s laws and regulations. The regulation became effective March 31, 2020.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Basic Agrarian Law of 1960, the predominant body of law governing land rights, recognizes the right of private ownership and provides varying degrees of land rights for Indonesian citizens, foreign nationals, Indonesian corporations, foreign corporations, and other legal entities. Indonesia’s 1945 Constitution states that all natural resources are owned by the government for the benefit of the people. This principle was augmented by the passage of a land acquisition bill in 2011 that enshrined the concept of eminent domain and established mechanisms for fair market value compensation and appeals. The National Land Agency registers property under Regulation No. 24/1997, though the Ministry of Forestry administers all ”forest land.” Registration is sometimes complicated by local government requirements and claims, as a result of decentralization. Registration is also not conclusive evidence of ownership, but rather strong evidence of such. Government Regulation No.103/2015 on house ownership by foreigners domiciled in Indonesia allows foreigners to have a property in Indonesia with the status of a “right to use” for a maximum of 30 years, with extensions available for up to 20 additional years.

As part of President Jokowi’s second-term economic reform agenda, the Indonesian government has introduced an omnibus bill on job creation that aims to reduce uncertainty around the roles of the central and local governments, including around spatial planning and environmental and social impact assessments (AMDALs).

Intellectual Property Rights

In the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 Report released on April 29, 2020, Indonesia remains on the priority watch list due to the  lack of adequate and effective IP protection and enforcement. Indonesia’s patent law continues to raise serious concerns, including with respect to patentability criteria and compulsory licensing. Further, counterfeiting and piracy continue to be pervasive, IP enforcement remains weak, and there are continued market access restrictions for IP-intensive industries. According to U.S. stakeholders, Indonesia’s failure to effectively protect intellectual property and enforce IP rights laws has resulted in high levels of physical and online piracy. Local industry associations have reported large amounts of pirated films, music, and software in circulation in Indonesia in recent years, causing potentially billions of dollars in losses.  Indonesian physical markets, such as Mangga Dua Market, and online markets Tokopedia, Bukalapak, were included in USTR’s Notorious Markets List in 2019.

Indonesia improved market access by amending a troubling provision within the 2016 Patent Law related to compulsory licenses (CLs). Ministry of Law and Human Right (MLHR) Regulation 30/2019 aims to provide more clarity on the criteria for CLs, including provisions on the non-transferability of CLs to third parties, specific purposes, and duration. The provisions also clarify conditions where CLs can be granted based on determination of “detriment to society”, including insufficient supply and unfordable prices of patented products. The new regulation incorporates Regulation 15/2018’s renewable exemption for patent holders to delay local manufacturing requirements. While industry contacts viewed this regulation as an improvement, they still have concerns that this regulation may undermine the overall level of protection that patent holders receive by registering their patents in Indonesia.

MLHR’s Director General of Intellectual Property (DGIP)  said the GOI will further amend the 2016 Patent Law through the pending omnibus bill and a future Patent Law amendment. The job creation omnibus bill would remove a requirement under Article 20 to produce a patented product in Indonesia within 36 months of the grant of a patent. Previously, MLHR allowed a five-year exemption from local production requirements under Regulation 15/2018. The Patent Law amendment will contain revisions to Article 4 on second use and Article 82 on compulsory licensing. The 2016 Patent Law contains several other concerning provisions, including a restrictive definition of “invention” that potentially imposes an additional “meaningful benefit” requirement for patents on new forms of existing compounds, an expansive national interest test for proposed patent licenses, and disclosure of genetic information and traditional knowledge to promote access and benefit sharing.  Observers expect the omnibus bill to be passed in 2020.  Aside from the Article 20 revision in the omnibus bill, there is no concrete timeline for the Patent Law amendment. DGIP reports it is currently drafting guidelines for patent examiners on pharmacy, computer, and biotechnology patents that will be released in 2020.

DGIP has relaxed its more aggressive efforts to collect patent annuity fees by offering extensions to the deadline.  On August 16, 2018, DGIP issued a circular letter warning stakeholders that it may refuse to accept new patent applications from rights holders that have not paid patent annuity fee debts. The letter gave rights holders until February 16, 2019, to settle unpaid patent annuity payments. On February 17, 2019, DGIP issued another circular letter on its website extending the deadline to August 17, 2019. DGIP has since announced a further extension to settle any unpaid annuities to July 31, 2020. However, in order to benefit from the latest extension, companies were required to send a “commitment letter” to DGIP by January 31, 2020 indicating their intention to pay the outstanding annuities.  The U.S. government continues to monitor implementation of this policy with DGIP and industry stakeholders.

Indonesia deposited its instrument of accession to the Madrid Protocol with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in October 2017 and issued implementing regulations in June 2018. Under the new rules, applicants desiring international mark protection under the Madrid Protocol are required to first register their application with DGIP , and must be Indonesian citizens, domiciled in Indonesia, or have clear industrial or commercial interests in Indonesia. Although the Trademark Law of 2016 expanded recognition of non-traditional marks, Indonesia still does not recognize certification marks. In response to stakeholder concerns over a lack of consistency in treatment of international well-known trademarks, the Supreme Court issued Circular Letter 1/2017, which advised Indonesian judges to recognize cancellation claims for well-known international trademarks with no time limit stipulation.

Following the issuance of Ministry of Finance (MOF) Regulation No.40/2018, on December 10, 2019, the Supreme Court ruled on MOF Regulation No. 6/2019, which further granted DGCE the legal authority to hold shipments believed to contain imitation goods for up to two days, pending inspection. Under Regulation No.6/2019, rights holders are notified by DGCE (through the recordation system) when an incoming shipment is suspected of containing infringing products. If the inspection reveals an infringement, the rights holder has four days to file a court injunction to request a suspension of the shipment. Rights holders are required to provide a refundable monetary guarantee of IDR 100 million (approximately USD 6,600) when they file a claim with the court. Rights holders can apply for a 10-day (extendable for an additional 10 days) temporary suspension of the shipment until the completion of a commercial court review.  Once the commercial court examines the evidence, the court can make a ruling that same day whether to maintain the temporary hold or to cancel the judgement.  If the court sides with the rights holder, then the guarantee money will be returned to the applicant. Despite  business stakeholder concerns, the GOI retained a requirement that only companies with offices domiciled in Indonesia may use the recordation system.

In 2015, DGIP and KOMINFO jointly released implementing regulations under the Copyright Law to provide for rights holders to report websites that offer IP-infringing products and sets forth procedures for blocking IP-infringing sites. Also in 2015, Indonesia’s Creative Economy Agency (BEKRAF) launched an anti-piracy task force with film and music industry stakeholders. BEKRAF reported that the task force remained focused on coordinating the review of complaints from industry about infringing websites in 2018.  MCIT reported that it blocked 1,946 infringing websites in 2019, a significant increase from the previous  year’s 442 cases. IndoXXI and LayarIndo21, two of the largest online pirated entertainment providers,  reportedly closed in early January. After the IndoXXI shutdown was announced, Video Coalition of Indonesia (VCI) found 200 new infringing websites with similar content. A YouGov survey published by the Asia Video Industry Association (AVIA) revealed that 63 percent of Indonesians access infringing websites for entertainment purposes. MCIT senior officials stated the Ministry is working with the Indonesia National Police Cybercrime Unit and industry groups, including AVIA, to determine and identify the source host, but admitted MCIT does not have the capability to track down the perpetrators and bring criminal charges,

DGIP reports that its directorate of investigation has increased staffing to 187 investigators, including 40 nationwide investigators and 147 staff certified to act as local investigators in 33 provinces when needed for a pending case, and saw the number of investigations double from 30 in 2018 to 47 in 2019. Trademark, Patent, and Copyright legislation requires a rights-holder complaint for investigations, and DGIP and BPOM investigators lack the authority to make arrests so must rely on police cooperation for any enforcement action.

Resources for Rights Holders

Additional information regarding treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, can be found at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) country profile website http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .For a list of local lawyers, see: http://jakarta.usembassy.gov/us-service/attorneys.html.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Indonesia Stock Exchange (IDX) index has 668 listed companies as of December 2019 with a daily trading volume of USD 650 million and market capitalization of USD 521 billion. Over the past five years, there has been a 34 percent increase of the number listed companies, but the IDX is dominated by its top 20 listed companies, which represent 59.26 percent of the market cap. There were 50 initial public offerings in 2019 – seven fewer than 2018. As of January 2020, domestic entities conducted more than 67.97 percent  of total IDX stock trades.

In November 2018, IDX introduced T+2 settlement, with sellers now receiving proceeds within two days instead of the previous standard of three days (T+3). In 2011, the IDX launched the Indonesian Sharia Stock Index (ISSI), its first index of sharia-compliant companies, primarily to attract greater investment from Middle East companies and investors. This was followed in 2017 by the IDX’s introduction the first online sharia stock trading platform. As of December 2019, the ISSI is composed of 429 stocks that are a part of IDX’s Jakarta Composite Index (JCI), with a total market cap of USD 267 billion.

Government treasury bonds are the most liquid bonds offered by Indonesia. Corporate bonds are less liquid due to less public knowledge of the product. The government also issues sukuk (Islamic treasury notes) treasury bills as part of its effort to diversify Islamic debt instruments and increase their liquidity. Indonesia’s sovereign debt as of December 2019 was rated as BBB- by Standard and Poor, BBB by Fitch Ratings and Baa2 by Moody’s.

OJK began overseeing capital markets and non-banking institutions in 2013, replacing the Capital Market and Financial Institution Supervisory Board. In 2014, OJK also assumed BI’s supervisory role over commercial banks. Foreigners have access to the Indonesian capital markets and are a major source of portfolio investment (including 38.57 percent of government securities). Indonesia respects International Monetary Fund (IMF) Article VIII by refraining from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions. Foreign ownership of Indonesian companies may be limited in certain industries or sectors, such as those outlined in the DNI.

Money and Banking System

Although there is some concern regarding the operations of the many small and medium sized family-owned banks, the banking system is generally considered sound, with banks enjoying some of the widest net interest margins in the region. As of August 2019, the 10 top banks had IDR 5,210 trillion (USD 372 billion) in total assets. Loans grew 6.08 percent in 2019 compared to 11.5 percent in2018. Gross non-performing loans in December 2019 remained at 2.53 percent from 2.4 percent the previous year. For 2020, the Financial Services Authority (OJK) project annual credit growth at 12-14 percent and deposit growth around 10-12 percent for Indonesia’s banking industry.

OJK Regulation No.56/03/2016 limits bank ownership to no more than 40 percent by any single shareholder, applicable to foreign and domestic shareholders. This does not apply to foreign bank branches in Indonesia. Foreign banks may establish branches if the foreign bank is ranked among the top 200 global banks by assets.  A special operating license is required from OJK in order to establish a foreign branch. The OJK granted an exception in 2015 for foreign banks buying two small banks and merging them. To establish a representative office, a foreign bank must be ranked in the top 300 global banks by assets. In 2017, HSBC, which previously registered as a foreign branch, changed its legal status to a Limited Liability Company and merged with a local bank subsidiary which it had purchased in 2008.

On March 16, OJK  issued OJK Regulation Number 12/POJK.03/2020 on commercial bank consolidation. The regulation aims to strengthen the structure, and competitiveness of the national banking industry by increasing bank capital and the encouraging consolidation of banks in Indonesia. This regulation generally consists of two main regulations concerning bank consolidation policies, as well as  increasing minimum core capital for commercial banks and increasing Capital Equivalency Maintained Assets for foreign banks with branch offices by least IDR 3 trillion, by December 31, 2022.

In 2015, OJK eased rules for foreigners to open a bank account in Indonesia. Foreigners can open a bank account with a balance between USD 2,000-50,000 with just their passport. For accounts greater than USD 50,000, foreigners must show a supporting document such as a reference letter from a bank in the foreigner’s country of origin, a local domicile address, a spousal identity document, copies of a contract for a local residence, and/or credit/debit statements.

Growing digitalization of banking services, spurred on by innovative payment technologies in the financial technology (fintech) sector, complements the conventional banking sector. Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending companies recorded a triple-digit increase in 2008 and e-payment services have grown more than six-fold since 2012. Indonesian policymakers are hopeful that these fintech services can reach underserved or unbanked populations and micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), with estimates that in 2020, fintech lending will hit IDR 223 trillion (USD 13.61 billion) in loan disbursements.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The rupiah (IDR), the local currency, is freely convertible. Currently, banks must report all foreign exchange transactions and foreign obligations to the central bank, Bank Indonesia (BI). With respect to the physical movement of currency, any person taking rupiah bank notes into or out of Indonesia in the amount of IDR 100 million (approximately USD 6,600) or more, or the equivalent in another currency, must report the amount to DGCE. The limit for any person or entity to bring foreign currency bank notes into or out of Indonesia is the equivalent of IDR 1 billion (USD 66,000).

Banks on their own behalf or for customers may conduct derivative transactions related to derivatives of foreign currency rates, interest rates, and/or a combination thereof. BI requires borrowers to conduct their foreign currency borrowing through domestic banks registered with BI. The regulations apply to borrowing in cash, non-revolving loan agreements, and debt securities.

Under the 2007 Investment Law, Indonesia gives assurance to investors relating to the transfer and repatriation of funds, in foreign currency, on:

  • capital, profit, interest, dividends and other income;
  • funds required for (i) purchasing raw material, intermediate goods or final goods, and (ii) replacing capital goods for continuation of business operations;
  • additional funds required for investment;
  • funds for debt payment;
  • royalties;
  • income of foreign individuals working on the investment;
  • earnings from the sale or liquidation of the invested company;
  • compensation for losses; and
  • compensation for expropriation.

U.S. firms report no difficulties in obtaining foreign exchange.

BI began in 2012 to require exporters to repatriate their export earnings through domestic banks within three months of the date of the export declaration form. Once repatriated, there are currently no restrictions on re-transferring export earnings abroad. Some companies report this requirement is not enforced.

In 2015, the government announced a regulation requiring the use of the rupiah in domestic transactions. While import and export transactions can still use foreign currency, importers’ transactions with their Indonesian distributors must now use rupiah, which has impacted some U.S. business operations. The central bank may grant a company permission to receive payment in foreign currency upon application, and where the company has invested in a strategic industry.

Remittance Policies

The government places no restrictions or time limitations on investment remittances. However, certain reporting requirements exist. Banks should adopt Know Your Customer (KYC) principles to carefully identify customers’ profile to match transactions. Carrying rupiah bank notes of more than IDR 100 million (approximately USD 6,600) in cash out of Indonesia requires prior approval from BI, as well as verifying the funds with Indonesian Customs upon arrival. Indonesia does not engage in currency manipulation.

As of 2015, Indonesia is no longer subject to the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force (FATF) monitoring process under its on-going global Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing (AML/CTF) compliance process. It continues to work with the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG) to further strengthen its AML/CTF regime. In 2018, Indonesia was granted observer status by FATF, a necessary milestone toward becoming a full FATF member.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

As of mid-2020, Indonesia is still preparing to establish a sovereign wealth fund, despite macroeconomic and budgetary pressures from the pandemic response. When established, it is expected the fund will operate as a state-owned investment fund that will aim to attract foreign capital, including from foreign sovereign wealth funds, and invest that capital in long-term Indonesian assets. According to Indonesian government officials, the fund will consist of a master portfolio with sector-specific sub-funds, such as infrastructure, oil and gas, health, tourism, and digital technologies. The sovereign wealth fund will be authorized by the planned passage of the omnibus bill on job creation, which includes 14 articles to set up the fund and facilitate greater cooperation with foreign partners. This cooperation includes authorizing the fund to be set up in foreign jurisdictions and allowing foreigners as general partners of the fund.

In 2015, the Finance Ministry authorized one of those SOEs, PT Sarana Multi Infrastruktur (SMI) to manage the assets of the Pusat Investasi Pemerintah (PIP), or Government Investment Center (which had previously been seen as a potential sovereign wealth fund). Indonesia does not participate in the IMF’s Working Group on Sovereign Wealth Funds.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Indonesia had 114 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and 28 subsidiaries divided into 12 sectors as of December 2019, 10 of which contributed more than 85 percent of total SOE profit. Of the 114 SOEs, 17 are listed on the Indonesian stock exchange. In addition, 14 are special purpose entities under the SOE Ministry (BUMN), with one SOE, the Indonesian Infrastructure Guarantee Fund, under the Ministry of Finance. Since mid-2016, the Indonesian government has been publicizing plans to consolidate SOEs into six holding companies based on sector of operations. In November 2017, Indonesia announced the creation of a mining holding company, PT Inalum, the first of the six planned SOE-holding companies.

Since his appointment by President Jokowi in November 2019, Minister of SOEs Erick Thohir  has underscored the need to reform SOEs in line with President Jokowi’s second-term economic agenda. Thohir has noted the need to liquidate underperforming SOEs, ensure that SOEs improve their efficiency by focusing on core business operations, and introduce better corporate governance principles. Thohir has spoken publicly about his intent to push SOEs to undertake initial public offerings (IPOs) on the IDX.

Information regarding the SOEs can be found at the SOE Ministry website (http://www.bumn.go.id/ ) (Indonesian language only).

There are also an unknown number of SOEs owned by regional or local governments. SOEs are present in almost all sectors/industries including banking (finance), tourism (travel), agriculture, forestry, mining, construction, fishing, energy, and telecommunications (information and communications).

In the third quarter of 2019 (the most recent data available), SOEs have contributed USD 22 billion of tax payments, non-tax payments, and dividends to the Indonesian state. SOEs also contributed a profit of USD 131 billion, with total assets of 626 billion, liabilties of USD 429 billion, and equities of USD 196 billion.

Indonesia is not a party to the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement. Private enterprises can compete with SOEs under the same terms and conditions with respect to access to markets, credit, and other business operations. However, in reality, many sectors report that SOEs receive strong preference for government projects. SOEs purchase some goods and services from private sector and foreign firms. SOEs publish an annual report and are audited by the Supreme Audit Agency (BPK), the Financial and Development Supervisory Agency (BPKP), and external and internal auditors.

Privatization Program

While some state-owned enterprises have offered shares on the stock market, Indonesia does not have an active privatization program.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Indonesian businesses are required to undertake responsible business conduct (RBC) activities under Law 40/2007 concerning Limited Liability Companies. In addition, sectoral laws and regulations have further specific provisions on RBC. Indonesian companies tend to focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs offering community and economic development, and educational projects and programs. This is at least in part caused by the fact that such projects are often required as part of the environmental impact permits (AMDAL) of resource extraction companies, which undergo a good deal of domestic and international scrutiny of their operations. Because a large proportion of resource extraction activity occurs in remote and rural areas where government services are reported to be limited or absent, these companies face very high community expectations to provide such services themselves. Despite significant investments – especially by large multinational firms – in CSR projects, businesses have noted that there is limited general awareness of those projects, even among government regulators and officials.

The government does not have an overarching strategy to encourage or enforce RBC, but regulates each area through the relevant laws (environment, labor, corruption, etc.). Some companies report that these laws  are not always enforced evenly. In 2017, the National Commission on Human Rights launched a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights in Indonesia, based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

OJK regulates corporate governance issues, but the regulations and enforcement are not yet up to international standards for shareholder protection.

Indonesia does not adhere to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and the government is not known to have encouraged adherence to those guidelines. Many companies claim that the government does not encourage adherence to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas or any other supply chain management due diligence guidance. Indonesia does participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Indonesia was suspended by the EITI Board due to a missed deadline for its first EITI report, but the suspension was lifted following publication of its 2012-2013 EITI Report in 2015.

9. Corruption

President Jokowi was elected in 2014 on a strong good-governance platform. However, corruption remains a serious problem according to some U.S. companies. The Indonesian government has issued detailed directions on combating corruption in targeted ministries and agencies, and the 2018 release of the updated and streamlined National Anti-Corruption Strategy mandates corruption prevention efforts across the government in three focus areas (licenses, state finances, and law enforcement reform). The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) was established in 2002 as the lead government agency to investigate and prosecute corruption.  KPK is one of the most trusted and respected institutions in Indonesia. The KPK has taken steps to encourage companies to establish effective internal controls, ethics, and compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery of public officials. By law, the KPK is authorized to conduct investigations, file indictments, and prosecute corruption cases involving law enforcement officers, government executives, or other parties connected to corrupt acts committed by those entities; attracting the “attention and the dismay” of the general public; and/or involving a loss to the state of at least IDR 1 billion (approximately USD 66,000).  The government began prosecuting companies who engage in public corruption under new corporate criminal liability guidance issued in a 2016 Supreme Court regulation, with the first conviction of a corporate entity in January 2019.  Presidential decree No. 13/2018 issued in March 2018 clarifies the definition of beneficial ownership and outlines annual reporting requirements and sanctions for non-compliance.

Indonesia’s ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index in 2019 improved to 85 out of 180 countries surveyed, compared to 89 out of 180 countries in 2018.  Indonesia’s score of public corruption in the country, according to Transparency International, improved to 40 in 2019 (scale of 0/very corrupt to 100/very clean).  At the beginning of President Jokowi’s term in 2014, Indonesia’s score was  34. Indonesia ranks 4th of the 10 ASEAN countries.

Nonetheless, according to certain reports, corruption remains pervasive despite laws to combat it. Some have noted that KPK leadership, along with the commission’s investigators and prosecutors, are sometimes harassed, intimidated, or attacked due to their anticorruption work. In early 2019, a Molotov cocktail and bomb components were placed outside the homes of two KPK commissioners, and in 2017 unidentified assailants committed an acid attack against a senior KPK investigator. Police have not identified the perpetrators of either attack. The Indonesian National Police and Attorney General’s Office also investigate and prosecute corruption cases; however, neither have the same organizational capacity or track-record of the KPK. Giving or accepting a bribe is a criminal act, with possible fines ranging from USD 3,850 to USD 77,000 and imprisonment up to a maximum of 20 years or life imprisonment, depending on the severity of the charge.

On September 2019, the Indonesia House of Representatives (DPR) passed Law No. 19/2019 on the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) which revised the KPK’s original charter. This revised law introduced several changes relating to the authority and supervision of the KPK, including KPK’s status as a state agency under the authority of the executive branch (it was previously an independent body outside of the judicial, legislative, or executive branches) and establishment of a Supervisory Council to oversee certain KPK activities.  The new law also changed the KPK’s status as a separate law enforcement authority and mandated the KPK to provide performance review reports to the President, the DPR RI, and the supervisory board.  Finally, the KPK’s previous independent authority to terminate corruption investigations and prosecutions, as well as authorize wiretaps, searches, arrests, and asset seizures, has now been transferred to the Supervisory Council.  Many observers view these changes as limiting KPK’s ability to pursue corruption investigations without political interference.

Indonesia ratified the UN Convention against Corruption in September 2006. Indonesia has not yet acceded to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, but attends meetings of the OECD Anti-Corruption Working Group. In 2014, Indonesia chaired the Open Government Partnership, a multilateral platform to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and strengthen governance. Several civil society organizations function as vocal and competent corruption watchdogs, including Transparency International Indonesia and Indonesia Corruption Watch.

Resources to Report Corruption

Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (Anti-Corruption Commission)
Jln. Kuningan Persada Kav 4, Setiabudi
Jakarta Selatan 12950
Email: informasi@kpk.go.id

Indonesia Corruption Watch
Jl. Kalibata Timur IV/D No. 6 Jakarta Selatan 12740
Tel: +6221.7901885 or +6221.7994015
Email: info@antikorupsi.org

10. Political and Security Environment

As in other democracies, politically motivated demonstrations occasionally occur throughout Indonesia, but are not a major or ongoing concern for most foreign investors.

Since the large-scale Bali bombings in 2002 that killed over 200 people, Indonesian authorities have aggressively and successfully continued to pursue terrorist cells throughout the country, disrupting multiple aspirational plots. Despite these successes, violent extremist networks and terrorist cells remain intact and have the capacity to become operational and conduct attacks with little or no warning, as do lone wolf-style ISIS sympathizers.

According to the industry, foreign investors in Papua face certain unique challenges. Indonesian security forces occasionally conduct operations against the Free Papua Movement, a small armed separatist group that is most active in the central highlands region. Low-intensity communal, tribal, and political conflict also exists in Papua and has caused deaths and injuries. Anti-government protests have resulted in deaths and injuries, and violence has been committed against employees and contractors of a U.S. company there, including the death of a New Zealand citizen in an attack on March 30, 2020. Additionally, racially-motivated attacks against ethnic Papuans living in East Java province led to violence in Papua and West Papua in late 2019, including riots in Wamena, Papua that left dozens dead and thousands more displaced.

Travelers to Indonesia can visit the U.S. Department of State travel advisory website for the latest information and travel resources: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/Indonesia.html.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Companies have reported that the Indonesian labor market faces a number of structural barriers, including skills shortages and lagging productivity, restrictions on the use of contract workers, and reduced gaps between minimum wages and average wages. Recent significant increases in the minimum wage for many provinces have made unskilled and semi-skilled labor more costly. In the bellwether Jakarta area, the minimum wage was raised again from IDR 3.6 million (USD 256.6) per month in 2018 to IDR 3.94 million (USD 260) per month in 2019. Unions staged largely peaceful protests across Indonesia in 2018 demanding the government increase the minimum wage, decrease the price for basic needs, and stop companies from outsourcing and employing foreign workers. Under the new wage setting policy adopted as part of the 2018 economic stimulus package, annual minimum wage increases will be indexed directly to inflation and GDP growth. Previously, minimum wage adjustments were subject to negotiations between local governments, industry, and unions, and the changes varied widely from year to year and from region to region.

As only about 7.6 percent of the workforce is unionized, the benefits of union advocacy (including increases in minimum wage) do not always filter down to the rest of the workforce. While restrictions on the use of contract workers remain in place, continued labor protests focusing on this issue suggest that government enforcement continues to be lax. Until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment has remained steady at 4.38 percent. Unemployment tends to be higher than the national average among young people.

Indonesian labor is relatively low-cost by world standards, but inadequate skills training and complicated labor laws combine to make Indonesia’s competitiveness lag behind other Asian competitors. Investors frequently cite high severance payments to dismissed employees, restrictions on outsourcing and contract workers, and limitations on expatriate workers as significant obstacles to new investment in Indonesia.

Employers also note that the skills provided by the education system is lower than that of neighboring countries, and successive Labor Ministers have listed improved vocational training as a top priority. Labor contracts are relatively straightforward to negotiate but are subject to renegotiation, despite the existence of written agreements. Local courts often side with citizens in labor disputes, contracts notwithstanding. On the other hand, some foreign investors view Indonesia’s labor regulatory framework, respect for freedom of association, and the right to unionize as an advantage to investing in the country. Expert local human resources advice is essential for U.S. companies doing business in Indonesia, even those only opening representative offices.

Minimum wages vary throughout the country as provincial governors set an annual minimum wage floor and district heads have the authority to set a higher rate. Indonesia’s highly fractured and historically weak labor movement has gained strength in recent years, evidenced by significant increases in the minimum wage. As noted above, recent changes to the minimum wage setting system may make the process less dependent on political factors and more aligned with actual changes in inflation and GDP growth. Labor unions are independent of the government. The law, with some restrictions, protects the rights of workers to join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. Indonesia has ratified all eight of the core ILO conventions underpinning internationally accepted labor norms. The Ministry of Manpower maintains an inspectorate to monitor labor norms, but enforcement is stronger in the formal than in the informal sector. A revised Social Security Law, which took effect in 2014, requires all formal sector workers to participate. Subject to a wage ceiling, employers must contribute an amount equal to 4 percent of workers’ salaries to this plan. In 2015, Indonesia established the Social Security Organizing Body of Employment (BPJS-Employment), a national agency to support workers in the event of work accident, death, retirement, or old age.

The government has proposed an omnibus bill on labor reforms intended to attract investors, boost economic growth and create jobs.  The bill covers foreign workers, wages, work hours, redundancy and social security.

A proposed revision to Indonesia’s 2003 labor law may establish more stringent restrictions on outsourcing, currently used by many firms to circumvent some formal-sector job benefits.

Additional information on child labor, trafficking in persons, and human rights in Indonesia can be found online through the following references:

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

The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and its predecessor, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), have invested USD 2.35 billion across 116 projects in Indonesia since 1974, including in the power generation, financial services, and agricultural sectors. The DFC’s current portfolio is USD 123.8 million across five projects in Indonesia. The bulk of its exposure is in the DFC-financed UPC Renewables Sidrap Bayu wind power plant in South Sulawesi, where a USD 120 million investment supported the construction of Indonesia’s first commercial wind farm. The project demonstrates DFC’s commitment to help eliminate blackouts and diversify Indonesia’s energy supply. On March 12, 2020, DFC approved a USD 190 million loan to Trans Pacific Networks (TPN) to support the world’s longest telecommunications cable. The cable will directly connect Singapore, Indonesia, and the United States and have the capability to serve several markets in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Indonesia is one of the DFC’s priority markets and the DFC remains interested in projects in the transportation, energy, and digital economy sectors. In January 2020, DFC CEO Adam Boehler visited Indonesia as part of his first overseas visit since the DFC’s formal launch. His visit followed other senior visits by DFC officials to identify projects for DFC support, including the first-ever, DFC-led, U.S.-Australia-Japan trilateral infrastructure business development mission in August 2019.

Indonesia has joined the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). MIGA, a part of the World Bank Group, is an investment guarantee agency to insure investors and lenders against losses relating to currency transfer restrictions, expropriation, war and civil disturbance, and breach of contract. In 2018, MIGA provided a guarantee loan to Indonesian state-owned financial institutions and financed a hydroelectric power plant.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $1,118 2018 $1,042 https://data.worldbank.org/
country/Indonesia

*Indonesia Statistic Agency, GDP from the host country website is converted into USD with the exchange rate 14,156 for 2019

Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $989.3 2018 $11,140 https://www.bea.gov/
international/di1usdbal
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2018 $350 https://www.bea.gov/
international/di1fdibal
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 2.5% 2018 22.1% https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

*Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM), January 2020

There is a discrepancy between U.S. FDI recorded by BKPM and BEA due to differing methodologies. While BEA recorded transactions in balance of payments, BKPM relies on company realization reports. BKPM also excludes investments in oil and gas, non-bank financial institutions, and insurance.

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 2018 Outward Direct Investment 2018
Total Inward 224,717 100% Total Outward 72,995 100%
Singapore 55,067 24.5% Singapore 29,823 40.8%
Netherlands 36,990 16.5% China (PR Mainland) 16,971 23.2%
United States 27,271 12.1% France 15,225 20.8%
Japan 23,930 10.6% Cayman Islands 3,399 4.6%
China (PR Hong Kong) 12,735 5.7% China (PR Hong Kong) 711 1%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Source:  IMF Coordinated Direct Investment Survey for inward and outward investment data.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets 2018
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 22,094 100% All Countries 7,180 100% All Countries 14,914 100%
Netherlands 7,036 31.8% United States 2,760 38.4% Netherlands 7,032 47.1%
United States 3,669 16.6% India 1,847 25.7% Luxembourg 1,962 13.1%
Luxembourg 1,963 8.9% China (PR Mainland) 933 13.0% United States 909 6.1%
India 1,857 8.4% China (PR Hong Kong) 644 9.0% Singapore 641 4.3%
China (Mainland) 1,086 4.9% Australia 426 5.9% China (Mainland) 553 3.7%

Source: IMF Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey, 2018. Sources of portfolio investment are not tax havens.
The Bank of Indonesia published comparable data.

14. Contact for More Information

Reggie Singh
Economic Section
U.S. Embassy Jakarta
+62-21-50831000
BusinessIndonesia@state.gov

Philippines

Executive Summary

The Philippines continues to improve its overall investment climate with 2019’s biggest highlight being Standard & Poor’s upgrade of its rating to BBB+, the country’s highest credit rating to date. Overall sovereign credit ratings remain at investment grade based on the country’s sound macroeconomic fundamentals. The Philippines has received record-high foreign investment pledges approved by its investment promotion agencies (IPAs) at USD 7.65 billion in 2019, which more than doubled from 2018’s USD 3.60 billion. (https://psa.gov.ph/sites/default/files/Total%20Approved%20Foreign%20Investment%20by%20Investment%20Promotion%20Agency%202018%20to%202019.xlsx) Actual foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country, however, still remains relatively low when compared to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) figures; the Philippines ranks fifth out of ten ASEAN countries for total FDI in 2019. FDI declined by almost 24 percent in 2019 to USD 7.6 billion from USD 9.9 billion in 2018, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (the Philippine’s Central Bank), mainly due to lower equity capital placements. The majority of FDI investments included manufacturing, financial/insurance activities, real estate, tourism/recreation, and transportation/storage. (http://www.bsp.gov.ph/statistics/spei_new/tab9_fdi.htm)

Foreign ownership limitations in many sectors of the economy constrain investments. Poor infrastructure, high power costs, slow broadband connections, regulatory inconsistencies, and corruption are major disincentives to investment. The Philippines’ complex, slow, and sometimes corrupt judicial system inhibits the timely and fair resolution of commercial disputes. Investors often describe the business registration process as slow and burdensome. Traffic in major cities and congestion in the ports remain a regular cost of business. Proposed tax reform legislation (Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Rationalization Act — CITIRA) to reduce the corporate income tax from ASEAN’s highest rate of 30 percent could be positive for business investment, although some foreign investors have concerns about the possible reduction of investment incentives proposed in the measure.

The Philippines continues to address investment constraints. In late 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte updated the Foreign Investment Negative List (FINL), which enumerates investment areas where foreign ownership or investment is banned or limited. The most significant changes permit foreign companies to have a 100 percent investment in internet businesses (not a part of mass media), insurance adjustment firms, investment houses, lending and finance companies, and wellness centers. It also allows foreigners to teach higher educational levels, provided the subject is not professional nor requires bar examination/government certification. The latest FINL allows 40 percent foreign participation in construction and repair of locally funded public works, up from 25 percent. The FINL, however, is limited in scope since it cannot change prior laws relating to foreign investments, such as Constitutional provisions which bar investment in mass media, utilities, and natural resource extraction.

Implementing rules and regulations for The Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery law of 2018 (Republic Act 11032) were signed in 2019. The law allows for a standardized maximum deadline for government transactions, a single business application form, a one-stop shop, an automation of business permits processing, a zero-contact policy, and a central business databank (https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/2018/05/28/republic-act-no-11032/). Touted as one of the Duterte Administrations’ landmark laws, it created an Anti-Red Tape Authority under the Office of the President that oversees national policy on anti-red tape issues and implements reforms to improve competitiveness rankings. The authority also monitors compliance of agencies and issues notices to erring and non-compliant government employees an officials.

There are currently several pending pieces of legislation, such as amendments to the Public Service Act, the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, and the Foreign Investment Act, all of which would have a large impact on investment within the country. The Public Service Act would provide a clearer definition of “public utility” companies, in which foreign investment is limited to 40 percent according to the 1987 Constitution. This amendment would lift foreign ownership restrictions in key areas such as telecommunications and energy, leaving restrictions only on distribution and transmission of electricity and maintenance of waterworks and sewerage systems. The Retail Trade Liberalization Act aims to boost foreign direct investment in the retail sector by changing capital thresholds to reduce the minimum investment per store requirement for foreign-owned retail trade businesses from USD 830,000 to USD 200,000. It also would reduce the quantity of locally manufactured products foreign-owned stores are required to carry. The Foreign Investment Act would ease restrictions on foreigners practicing their professions in the Philippines and give them better access to investment areas that are currently reserved primarily for Philippine nationals, particularly in sectors within education, technology, and retail.

While the Philippine bureaucracy can be slow and opaque in its processes, the business environment is notably better within the special economic zones, particularly those available for export businesses operated by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), known for its regulatory transparency, no red-tape policy, and one-stop shop services for investors. Finally, the Philippines plans to spend more than USD 180 billion through 2022 to upgrade its infrastructure with the Administration’s aggressive Build, Build, Build program; many projects are already underway.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 113 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2020 95 of 190 https://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 54 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in Partner Country (millions of U.S. dollars) USD, stock positions) 2018 $7.6 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $3,830 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) conducted a Trade Policy Review of the Philippines in March 2018 and an Investment Policy Review of the Philippines in 2016, respectively. The reviews are available online at the WTO website (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp468_e.htm) and OECD website (http://www.oecd.org/daf/oecd-investment-policy-reviews-philippines-2016-9789264254510-en.htm ).

Business Facilitation

Business registration in the Philippines is cumbersome due to multiple agencies involved in the process. It takes an average of 33 days to start a business in Quezon City in Metro Manila, according to the 2020 World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report. Touted as one of the Duterte Administrations’ landmark laws, the Republic Act No. 11032 or the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act amends the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007, and legislates standardized deadlines for government transactions, a single business application form, a one-stop-shop, automation of business permits processing, a zero contact policy, and a central business databank.

The law was passed in May 2018, and it creates an Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA – http://arta.gov.ph/) under the Office of the President to carry out the mandate of business facilitation. ARTA is governed by a council that includes the Secretaries of Trade and Industry, Finance, Interior and Local Governments, and Information and Communications Technology. The Department of Trade and Industry serves as interim Secretariat for ARTA. The implementing rules and regulations were issued in late 2019 and are expected to provide more compliance and increased transparency (http://arta.gov.ph/pages/IRR.html).

The Revised Corporation Code, a business-friendly amendment that encourages entrepreneurship, improves the ease of business and promotes good corporate governance. This new law amends part of the four-decade-old Corporation Code and allows for existing and future companies to hold a perpetual status of incorporation, compared to the previous 50-year term limit which required renewal. More importantly, the amendments allow for the formation of one-person corporations, providing more flexibility to conduct business; the old code required all incorporation to have at least five stockholders and provided less protection from liabilities.

Outward Investment

There are no restrictions on outward portfolio investments for Philippine residents, defined to include non-Filipino citizens who have been residing in the country for at least one year; foreign-controlled entities organized under Philippine laws; and branches, subsidiaries, or affiliates of foreign enterprises organized under foreign laws operating in the country. However, outward investments funded by foreign exchange purchases above USD 60 million or its equivalent per investor per year require prior notification to the Central Bank.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Proposed Philippine laws must undergo public comment and review. Government agencies are required to craft implementing rules and regulations (IRRs) through public consultation meetings within the government and with private sector representatives after laws are passed. New regulations must be published in newspapers or in the government’s official gazette, available online, before taking effect (https://www.gov.ph/). The 2016 Executive Order on Freedom of Information (FOI) mandates full public disclosure and transparency of government operations, with certain exceptions. The public may request copies of official records through the FOI website (https://www.foi.gov.ph/). Government offices in the Executive Branch are expected to come up with their respective agencies’ implementation guidelines. The order is criticized for its long list of exceptions, rendering the policy less effective.

Stakeholders report regulatory enforcement in the Philippines is generally weak, inconsistent, and unpredictable. Many U.S. investors describe business registration, customs, immigration, and visa procedures as burdensome and frustrating. Regulatory agencies are generally not statutorily independent but are attached to cabinet departments or the Office of the President and, therefore, are subject to political pressure. Issues in the judicial system also affect regulatory enforcement.

International Regulatory Considerations

The Philippines is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and provides notice of draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). (http://tbtims.wto.org/en/Notifications/Search?ProductsCoveredHSCodes=&ProductsCoveredICSCodes=&DoSearch=True&ExpandSearchMoreFields=False&NotifyingMember=Philippines&DocumentSymbol=&DistributionDateFrom=&DistributionDateTo=&SearchTerm=&ProductsCovered=&DescriptionOfContent=&CommentPeriod=&FinalDateForCommentsFrom=&FinalDateForCommentsTo=&ProposedDateOfAdoptionFrom=&ProposedDateOfAdoptionTo=&ProposedDateOfEntryIntoForceFrom=&ProposedDateOfEntryIntoForceTo= ).

The Philippines continues to fulfill required regulatory reforms under the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). The Philippines officially joined live operations of the ASEAN Single Window (ASW) on December 30, 2019. The country’s National Single Window (NSW) now issues an electronic Certificate of Origin via the TRADENET.gov.ph platform, and the NSW is connected to the ASW, allowing for customs efficiencies and better transparency.

The Philippines passed the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act in 2016, which enables the country to largely comply with the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation. The various implementing rules and regulations to execute specific provisions, however, have not been completed by the Department of Finance and the Bureau of Customs as of April 2020.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Philippines has a mixed legal system of civil, common, Islamic, and customary laws, along with commercial and contractual laws.

The Philippine judicial system is a separate and largely independent branch of the government, made up of the Supreme Court and lower courts. The Supreme Court is the highest court and sole constitutional body. More information is available on the court’s website  (http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/). The lower courts consist of: (a) trial courts with limited jurisdictions (i.e. Municipal Trial Courts, Metropolitan Trial Courts, etc.); (b) Regional Trial Courts (RTCs); (c) Shari’ah District Courts (Muslim courts); and (d) Court of Appeals (appellate courts). Special courts include the “Sandiganbayan” (anti-graft court for public officials) and the Court of Tax Appeals. Several RTCs have been designated as Special Commercial Courts (SCC) to hear intellectual property (IP) cases, with four SCCs authorized to issue writs of search and seizure on IP violations, enforceable nationwide. In addition, nearly any case can be appealed to appellate courts, including the Supreme Court, increasing caseloads and further clogging the judicial system.

Foreign investors describe the inefficiency and uncertainty of the judicial system as a significant disincentive to investment. Many investors decline to file dispute cases in court because of slow and complex litigation processes and perceived corruption among some personnel. The courts are not considered impartial or fair. Stakeholders also report an inexperienced judiciary when confronted with complex issues such as technology, science, and intellectual property cases. The Philippines ranked 152nd out of 190 economies, and 18th among 25 economies from East Asia and the Pacific, in the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business report in terms of enforcing contracts.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The BOI regulates and promotes investment into the Philippines. The Investment Priorities Plan (IPP), administered by the BOI, identifies preferred economic activities approved by the President. Government agencies are encouraged to adopt policies and implement programs consistent with the IPP.

The Foreign Investment Act (FIA) requires the publishing of the Foreign Investment Negative List (FINL) that outlines sectors in which foreign investment is restricted. The FINL consists of two parts: Part A details sectors in which foreign equity participation is restricted by the Philippine Constitution or laws; and Part B lists areas in which foreign ownership is limited for reasons of national security, defense, public health, morals, and/or the protection of small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

The 1995 Special Economic Zone Act allows PEZA to regulate and promote investments in export-oriented manufacturing and service facilities inside special economic zones, including grants of fiscal and non-fiscal incentives.

Further information about investing in the Philippines is available at BOI website (http://boi.gov.ph/) and PEZA website (http://www.peza.gov.ph/ ).

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The 2015 Philippine competition law established the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC), an independent body mandated to resolve complaints on issues such as price fixing and bid rigging, to stop mergers that would restrict competition. More information is available on PCC website (http://phcc.gov.ph/#content). The Department of Justice (https://www.doj.gov.ph/) prosecutes criminal offenses involving violations of competition laws.

Expropriation and Compensation

Philippine law allows expropriation of private property for public use or in the interest of national welfare or defense in return for fair market value compensation. In the event of expropriation, foreign investors have the right to receive compensation in the currency in which the investment was originally made and to remit it at the equivalent exchange rate. However, the process of agreeing on a mutually acceptable price can be protracted in Philippine courts. No recent cases of expropriation involve U.S. companies in the Philippines.

The 2016 Right-of-Way Act facilitates acquisition of right-of-way sites for national government infrastructure projects and outlines procedures in providing “just compensation” to owners of expropriated real properties to expedite implementation of government infrastructure programs.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

The Philippines is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and has adopted the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, or the New York Convention.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The Philippines is signatory to various bilateral investment treaties that recognize international arbitration of investment disputes. Since 2002, the Philippines has been respondent to five investment dispute cases filed before the ICSID. Details of cases involving the Philippines are available on the ICSID website (https://icsid.worldbank.org/en/ ).

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Investment disputes can take years to resolve due to systemic problems in Philippine courts. Lack of resources, understaffing, and corruption make the already complex court processes protracted and expensive. Several laws on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms (i.e. arbitration, mediation, negotiation, and conciliation) were approved to decongest clogged court dockets. Public-Private Partnership (PPP) infrastructure contracts are required to include ADR provisions to make resolving disputes less expensive and time-consuming.

A separate action must be filed for foreign judgments to be recognized or enforced under Philippine law. Philippine law does not recognize or enforce foreign judgments that run counter to existing laws, particularly those relating to public order, public policy, and good customary practices. Foreign arbitral awards are enforceable upon application in writing to the regional trial court with jurisdiction. The petition may be filed any time after receipt of the award.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The 2010 Philippine bankruptcy and insolvency law provides a predictable framework for rehabilitation and liquidation of distressed companies, although an examination of some reported cases suggests uneven implementation. Rehabilitation may be initiated by debtors or creditors under court-supervised, pre-negotiated, or out-of-court proceedings. The law sets conditions for voluntary (debtor-initiated) and involuntary (creditor-initiated) liquidation. It also recognizes cross-border insolvency proceedings in accordance with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency, allowing courts to recognize proceedings in a foreign jurisdiction involving a foreign entity with assets in the Philippines. Regional trial courts designated by the Supreme Court have jurisdiction over insolvency and bankruptcy cases. The Philippines ranked 65th out of 190 economies, and ninth among 25 economies from East Asia and the Pacific, in the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business report in terms of resolving insolvency and bankruptcy cases.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Philippines’ Investment Priorities Plan (IPP) enumerates investment activities entitled to incentives facilitated by BOI, such as an income tax holiday. Non-fiscal incentives include the following: employment of foreign nationals, simplified customs procedures, duty exemption on imported capital equipment and spare parts, importation of consigned equipment, and operation of a bonded manufacturing warehouse.

The 2017 IPP, updated every three years, provides incentives to the following activities: manufacturing (e.g. agro-processing, modular housing components, machinery, and equipment); agriculture, fishery, and forestry; integrated circuit design, creative industries, and knowledge-based services (e.g. IT-Business Process Management services for the domestic market, repair/maintenance of aircraft, telecommunications, etc.); healthcare (e.g. hospitals and drug rehabilitation centers); mass housing; infrastructure and logistics (e.g. airports, seaports, and PPP projects); energy (development of energy sources, power generation plants, and ancillary services); innovation drivers (e.g. fabrication laboratories); and environment (e.g. climate change-related projects). Further details of the 2017 IPP are available on the BOI website (http://boi.gov.ph/ ). The BOI was tasked to update the investment priorities and formulate a Strategic Investment Priorities Plan to replace the IPP in light of the planned amendments in the tax incentive scheme of the Philippines under the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program (CITIRA).

In the current set-up, BOI-registered enterprises that locate in less-developed areas are entitled to pioneer incentives and can deduct 100 percent of the cost of necessary infrastructure work and labor expenses from taxable income. Pioneer status can be granted to enterprises producing new products or using new methods, goods deemed highly essential to the country’s agricultural self-sufficiency program, or goods utilizing non-conventional fuel sources. Furthermore, an enterprise with more than 40 percent foreign equity that exports at least 70 percent of its production may be entitled to incentives even if the activity is not listed in the IPP. Export-oriented firms with at least 50 percent of revenues derived from exports may register for additional incentives under the 1994 Export Development Act.

Multinational entities that establish regional warehouses for the supply of spare parts, manufactured components, or raw materials for foreign markets also enjoy incentives on imports that are re-exported, including exemption from customs duties, internal revenue taxes, and local taxes. The first package of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law which took effect January 1, 2018, removed the 15 percent special tax rate on gross income of employees of multinational enterprises’ regional headquarters (RHQ) and regional operating headquarters (ROHQ) located in the Philippines. RHQ and ROHQ employees are now subjected to regular income tax rates, usually at higher and less competitive rates.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Export-related businesses enjoy preferential tax treatment when located in export processing zones, free trade zones, and certain industrial estates, collectively known as economic zones, or ecozones. Businesses located in ecozones are considered outside customs territory and are allowed to import capital equipment and raw material free of customs duties, taxes, and other import restrictions. Goods imported into ecozones may be stored, repacked, mixed, or otherwise manipulated without being subject to import duties and are exempt from the Bureau of Customs’ Selective Pre-shipment Advance Classification Scheme. While some ecozones are designated as both export processing zones and free trade zones, individual businesses within them are only permitted to receive incentives under a single category.

PEZA operates 379 ecozones, primarily in manufacturing, IT, tourism, medical tourism, logistics/warehousing, and agro-industrial sectors. PEZA manages four government-owned export-processing zones (Mactan, Baguio, Cavite, and Pampanga) and administers incentives to enterprises in other privately owned and operated ecozones. Any person, partnership, corporation, or business organization, regardless of nationality, control and/or ownership, may register as an export, IT, tourism, medical tourism, or agro-industrial enterprise with PEZA, provided the enterprise physically locates its activity inside any of the ecozones. PEZA administrators have earned a reputation for maintaining a clear and predictable investment environment within the zones of their authority (http://www.peza.gov.ph/index.php/economic-zones/list-of-economic-zones/operating-economic-zones ).

The ecozones located inside former U.S. military bases were established under the 1992 Bases Conversion and Development Act. The BCDA (http://www.bcda.gov.ph/ ) operates Clark Freeport Zone (Angeles City, Pampanga), John Hay Special Economic Zone (Baguio), Poro Point Freeport Zone (La Union), and Bataan Technology Park (Morong, Bataan). The SBMA operates the Subic Bay Freeport Zone (Subic Bay, Zambales). Clark and Subic have their own international airports, power plants, telecommunications networks, housing complexes, and tourist facilities. These ecozones offer comparable incentives to PEZA. Enterprises already receiving incentives under the BCDA law are disqualified to receive incentives and benefits offered by other laws.

The Phividec Industrial Estate (Misamis Oriental Province, Mindanao) is governed by Phividec Industrial Authority (PIA) (http://www.piamo.gov.ph/), a government-owned and controlled corporation. Other ecozones are Zamboanga City Economic Zone and Freeport (Zamboanga City, Mindanao) (http://www.zfa.gov.ph/ ) and Cagayan Special Economic Zone (CEZA) and Freeport (Santa Ana, Cagayan Province) (http://ceza.gov.ph/ ). CEZA grants gaming licenses in addition to offering export incentives. The Regional Economic Zone Authority (Cotabato City, Mindanao) (https://reza.bangsamoro.gov.ph/) has been operated by the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). The incentives available to investors in these zones are similar to PEZA but administered independently.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The BOI imposes a higher export performance requirement on foreign-owned enterprises (70 percent of production) than on Philippine-owned companies (50 percent of production) when providing incentives under IPP.

Companies registered with BOI and PEZA may employ foreign nationals in supervisory, technical, or advisory positions for five years from date of registration (possibly extendable upon request). Top positions and elective officers of majority foreign-owned BOI-registered enterprises (such as president, general manager, and treasurer, or their equivalents) are exempt from employment term limitation. Foreigners intending to work locally must secure an Alien Employment Permit from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE ), renewable every year with the duration of employment (which in no case shall exceed five years). The BOI and PEZA facilitate special investor’s resident visas with multiple entry privileges and extend visa facilitation assistance to foreign nationals, their spouses, and dependents.

The 2006 Biofuels Act establishes local content requirements for diesel and gasoline. Regarding diesel, only locally produced biodiesel is permitted. For gasoline, all local ethanol must be bought off the market before imports are allowed to meet the blend requirement, and the local ethanol production may only be sourced from locally-produced sugar/molasses feedstock.

The Philippines does not impose restrictions on cross-border data transfers. Sensitive personal information is protected under the 2012 Data Privacy Act, which provides penalties for unauthorized processing and improper disposal of data even if processed outside the Philippines.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Philippines recognizes and protects property rights, but the enforcement of laws is weak and fragmented. The Land Registration Authority and the Register of Deeds (http://www.lra.gov.ph/), which facilitate the registration and transfer of property titles, are responsible for land administration, with more information available on their website s. Property registration processes are tedious and costly. Multiple agencies are involved in property administration, which results in overlapping procedures for land valuation and titling processes. Record management is weak due to a lack of funds and trained personnel. Corruption is also prevalent among land administration personnel and the court system is slow to resolve land disputes. The Philippines ranked 120th out of 190 economies in terms of ease of property registration in the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business report.

Intellectual Property Rights

The Philippines is not listed on the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) 2020 Special 301 Report. . The country has a robust intellectual property rights (IPR) regime in place, although enforcement is irregular and inconsistent. The total estimated value of counterfeit goods reported seized in 2019 was USD 434 million, close to 2018’s record of USD 453 million. The sale of imported counterfeit goods in local markets has visibly decreased, though stakeholders report the amount of counterfeit goods sold online is gradually increasing.

The Intellectual Property (IP) Code provides a legal framework for IPR protection, particularly in key areas of patents, trademarks, and copyrights. The Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) is the implementing agency of the IP Code, with more information available on its website  (https://www.ipophil.gov.ph/). The Philippines generally has strong patent and trademark laws. IPOPHL’s IP Enforcement Office (IEO) reviews IPR-related complaints and visits establishments reportedly engaged in IPR-related violations. However, weak border protection, corruption, limited enforcement capacity by the government, and lack of clear procedures continue to weaken enforcement. In addition, IP owners still must assume most enforcement and storage costs when counterfeit goods are seized.

Enforcement actions are often not followed by successful prosecutions. The slow and capricious judicial system keeps most IP owners from pursuing cases in court. IP infringement is not considered a major crime in the Philippines and takes a lower priority in court proceedings, especially as the courts become more crowded out with criminal cases deemed more serious, which receive higher priority. Many IP owners opt for out-of-court settlements (such as ADR) rather than filing a lawsuit that may take years to resolve in the unpredictable Philippine courts.

The IPOPHL has jurisdiction to resolve certain disputes concerning alleged infringement and licensing through its Arbitration and Mediation Center.

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

Resources for Rights Holders

Contacts at Mission:

Douglas Fowler, Economic Officer
Karen Ang, Trade Specialist Economic Section, U.S. Embassy Manila
Telephone: (+632) 5301.2000
Email: ManilaEcon@state.gov

A list of local lawyers can be found on the U.S. Embassy’s website: https://ph.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/attorneys/.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Philippines welcomes the entry of foreign portfolio investments, including local and foreign-issued equities listed on the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE ). Investments in certain publicly listed companies are subject to foreign ownership restrictions specified in the Constitution and other laws. Non-residents are allowed to issue bonds/notes or similar instruments in the domestic market with prior approval from the Central Bank; in certain cases, they may also obtain financing in Philippine pesos from authorized agent banks without prior Central Bank approval.

Although growing, the PSE (with fewer than 271 listed firms as of the end of 2019) lags behind many of its neighbors in size, product offerings, and trading activity. The securities market is growing but remains dominated by government bills and bonds. Hostile takeovers are uncommon because most companies’ shares are not publicly listed and controlling interest tends to remain with a small group of parties. Cross-ownership and interlocking directorates among listed companies also decrease the likelihood of hostile takeovers.

Credit is generally granted on market terms and foreign investors are able to obtain credit from the liquid domestic market. However, some laws require financial institutions to set aside loans for preferred sectors (e.g. agriculture, agrarian reform, and MSMEs). To help promote lending at competitive rates to MSMEs, the government has fully operationalized a centralized credit information system that uses financial statements to predict firms’ credit worthiness. The government has also implemented the 2018 Personal Property Security law, which aims to spur lending to MSMEs by allowing non-traditional collateral (e.g., movable assets like machinery and equipment and inventories).

Money and Banking System

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP/Central Bank) is a highly respected institution that oversees a stable banking system. The Central Bank has pursued regulatory reforms promoting good governance and aligning risk management regulations with international standards. Capital adequacy ratios are well above the 8 percent international standard and the Central Bank’s 10 percent regulatory requirement. The non-performing loan ratio was at 2.0 percent as of the end of 2019, and there is ample liquidity in the system, with the liquid assets-to-deposits ratio estimated at about 48 percent. Commercial banks constitute more than 90 percent of the total assets of the Philippine banking industry. The five largest commercial banks represented about 60 percent of the total resources of the commercial banking sector as of 2019. Twenty-six of the 46 commercial banks operating in the country are foreign branches and subsidiaries, including three U.S. banks (Citibank, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase). Citibank has the largest presence among the foreign bank branches and currently ranks 13th overall in terms of assets.

Foreign residents and non-residents may open foreign and local currency bank accounts. Although non-residents may open local currency deposit accounts, they are limited to the funding sources specified under Central Bank regulations. For non-residents who wish to convert their local deposits to foreign currency, sales of foreign currencies are limited up to the local currency balance. Non-residents’ foreign currency accounts cannot be funded from foreign exchange purchases from banks and banks’ subsidiary/affiliate foreign exchange corporations.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (Central Bank) has actively pursued reforms since the 1990s to liberalize and simplify foreign exchange regulations. As a general rule, the Central Bank allows residents and non-residents to purchase foreign exchange from banks, banks’ subsidiary/affiliate foreign exchange corporations, and other non-bank entities operating as foreign exchange dealers and/or money changers and remittance agents to fund legitimate foreign exchange obligations, subject to provision of information and/or supporting documents on underlying obligations. No mandatory foreign exchange surrender requirement is imposed on exporters, overseas workers’ incomes, or other foreign currency earners; these foreign exchange receipts may be sold for pesos or retained in foreign exchange in local and/or offshore accounts. The Central Bank follows a market-determined exchange rate policy, with scope for intervention to smooth excessive foreign exchange volatility.

Remittance Policies

The Central Bank does not restrict payments and transfers for current international transactions, in accordance with the country’s acceptance of International Monetary Fund Article VIII obligations of September 1995. Purchase of foreign currencies for trade and non-trade obligations and/or remittances requires submission of a foreign exchange purchase application form if the foreign exchange is sourced from banks and/or their subsidiary/affiliate foreign exchange corporations and falls within specified thresholds (currently USD 500,000 for individuals and USD 1 million for corporates/other entities). Purchases above the thresholds are also subject to the submission of minimum documentary requirements but do not require prior Central Bank approval. A person may freely bring foreign currencies with a value of up to USD 10,000 into or out of the Philippines; more than this threshold requires submission of a foreign currency declaration form.

Foreign exchange policies do not require approval of inward foreign direct and portfolio investments unless the investor will purchase foreign currency from banks to convert its local currency proceeds or earnings for repatriation or remittance. Registration of foreign investments with the Central Bank or custodian banks is generally optional. Duly registered foreign investments are entitled to full and immediate repatriation of capital and remittance of dividends, profits, and earnings.

As a general policy, government-guaranteed private sector foreign loans/borrowings (including those in the form of notes, bonds, and similar instruments) require prior Central Bank approval. Although there are exceptions, private sector loan agreements should also be registered with the Central Bank if serviced through the purchase of foreign exchange from the banking system.

The Philippines is pushing for amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act and Human Security Act to meet the Asia Pacific Group 2019 Mutual Evaluation Report recommendations ahead of the 2020 Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) review. Proposed amendments include the addition of tax evasion, terrorism-related offenses, and corruption to the list of predicate crimes; the inclusion of real estate developers and brokers as covered persons; and the expansion of Anti-Money Laundering Council’s investigative powers and financial sanctions authority. In 2013, the FATF removed the Philippines from its “grey list” of countries with strategic deficiencies in countering money laundering and the financing of terrorism. The Philippines has a restrictive regime for accessing bank accounts to detect or prosecute financial crimes, which is a significant impediment to enforcing laws against corruption, tax evasion, smuggling, laundering, and other economic crimes.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Philippines does not presently have sovereign wealth funds.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State-owned enterprises, known in the Philippines as government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCC), are predominantly in the power, transport, infrastructure, communications, land and water resources, social services, housing, and support services sectors. There were 105 operational and functioning GOCCs as of April 2020; a list is available on the Governance Commission for GOCC [GCG] website  (https://gcg.gov.ph). GOCCs are required to remit at least 50 percent of their annual net earnings (e.g. cash, stock, or property dividends) to the national government.

Private and state-owned enterprises generally compete equally. The Government Service Insurance System (GSIS ) is the only agency, with limited exceptions, allowed to provide coverage for the government’s insurance risks and interests, including those in build-operate-transfer (BOT) projects and privatized government corporations. Since the national government acts as the main guarantor of loans, stakeholders report GOCCs often have an advantage in obtaining financing from government financial institutions and private banks. Most GOCCs are not statutorily independent, but attached to cabinet departments, and, therefore, subject to political interference.

The Philippines is not an OECD member country. The 2011 GOCC Governance Act addresses problems experienced by GOCCs, including poor financial performance, weak governance structures, and unauthorized allowances. The law allows unrestricted access to GOCC account books and requires strict compliance with accounting and financial disclosure standards; establishes the power to privatize, abolish, or restructure GOCCs without legislative action; and sets performance standards and limits on compensation and allowances. The GCG  formulates and implements GOCC policies. GOCC board members are limited to one-year term and subject to reappointment based on a performance rating set by GCG, with final approval by the Philippine President.

Privatization Program

The Philippine Government’s privatization program is managed by the Privatization Management Office (PMO) under the Department of Finance (DOF). The privatization of government assets undergoes a public bidding process. Apart from restrictions stipulated in FINL, no regulations discriminate against foreign buyers and the bidding process appears to be transparent. Additional information is available on the PMO website (http://www.pmo.gov.ph/index.htm).

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) is regularly practiced in the Philippines, although no domestic laws require it. The Philippine Tax Code provides RBC-related incentives to corporations, such as tax exemptions and deductions. Various non-government organizations and business associations also promote RBC. The Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP ) is the largest corporate-led social development foundation involved in advocating corporate citizenship practice in the Philippines. U.S. companies report strong and favorable responses to RBC programs among employees and within local communities.

The Philippines is not an OECD member country. The Philippine government strongly supports RBC practices among the business community but has not yet endorsed the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises to stakeholders.

9. Corruption

Corruption is a pervasive and long-standing problem in both the public and private sectors. The country’s ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index declined to the 113th spot (out of 180), its worst score in over seven years. The Philippines was 99th in 2018, and the lack of progress in tackling public corruption resulted in a lower score for 2019. Various organizations, including the World Economic Forum, have cited corruption among the top problematic factors for doing business in the Philippines. The Bureau of Customs is still considered to be one of the most corrupt agencies in the country, having fired and replaced five customs commissioners over the past six years.

The Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022 outlines strategies to reduce corruption by streamlining government transactions, modernizing regulatory processes, and establishing mechanisms for citizens to report complaints. A front line desk in the Office of the President, the Presidential Complaint Center, or PCC (https://op-proper.gov.ph/contact-us/), receives and acts on corruption complaints from the general public. The PCC can be reached through its complaint hotline, text services (SMS), and social media sites.

The Philippine Revised Penal Code, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and the Code of Ethical Conduct for Public Officials all aim to combat corruption and related anti-competitive business practices. The Office of the Ombudsman investigates and prosecutes cases of alleged graft and corruption involving public officials, with more information available on its website . Cases against high-ranking officials are brought before a special anti-corruption court, the Sandiganbayan, while cases against low-ranking officials are filed before regional trial courts.

The Office of the President can directly investigate and hear administrative cases involving presidential appointees in the executive branch and government-owned and controlled corporations. Soliciting, accepting, and/or offering/giving a bribe are criminal offenses punishable by imprisonment, a fine, and/or disqualification from public office or business dealings with the government. Government anti-corruption agencies routinely investigate public officials, but convictions by courts are limited, often appealed, and can be overturned. Recent positive steps include the creation of an investors’ desk at the Ombudsman’s Office, and corporate governance reforms of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Philippines ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2003. It is not a signatory to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency or agencies are responsible for combating corruption:

Office of the Ombudsman
Ombudsman Building, Agham Road, North Triangle
Diliman, Quezon City
Hotline:  (+632) 8926.2662
Telephone:  (+632) 8479.7300
Email/Website: pab@ombudsman.gov.ph / http://www.ombudsman.gov.ph /

Presidential Complaint Center
Gama Bldg., Minerva St. corner Jose Laurel St.
San Miguel, Manila
Telephone: (+632) 8736.8645, 8736.8603, 8736.8606
Email: pcc@malacanang.gov.ph / https://op-proper.gov.ph/presidential-action-center/

Contact Center ng Bayan
Text:  (+63) 908 881.6565
Call:  1-6565
Email/Website: email@contactcenterngbayan.gov.ph / contactcenterngbayan.gov.ph 

10. Political and Security Environment

Terrorist groups and criminal gangs operate in some regions. The Department of State publishes a consular information sheet and advises all Americans living in or visiting the Philippines to review the information periodically. A travel advisory is in place for those U.S. citizens contemplating travel to the Philippines.

Terrorist groups, including the ISIS-Philippines affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the Maute Group, Ansar al-Khalifa Philippines (AKP) and elements of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), periodically attack civilian targets, kidnap civilians – including foreigners – for ransom, and engage in armed attacks against government security forces. These groups have mostly carried out their activities in the western and central regions of Mindanao, including the Sulu Archipelago and Sulu Sea. They are also capable of operating in some areas outside Sulu, as evidenced by the 2015 kidnapping of four hostages from Samal Island, just outside Davao City. Groups affiliated with ISIS-Philippines continued efforts to recover from battlefield losses, recruiting and training new members, and staging suicide bombings and attacks with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and small arms that targeted security forces and civilians.

In 2017, ISIS-affiliated groups in Mindanao occupied and held siege to Marawi City for five months, prompting President Duterte to declare martial law over the entire Mindanao region – approximately one-third of the country’s territory. After granting multiple extensions of over two and a half years, Congress, with support from the government, allowed martial law to lapse on December 31, 2019. In expressing its support for the decision, the military cited improvement in the security climate in Mindanao, but also noted that Proclamation 55, a national state of emergency declaration, remained in effect and would be used as necessary.

The New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), is responsible in some parts of the country, mostly Mindanao, for civil disturbances through assassinations of public officials, sporadic attacks on military and police forces, bombings, and attacks on infrastructure, such as power generators and telecommunications towers. The NPA relies on extortionist revolutionary taxes from local and some foreign businesses to fund its operations. The Philippine government ended a unilateral ceasefire with the CPP/NPA in 2017 and announced that it had designated the group as a terrorist organization under domestic law.

The Philippines’ most significant human rights problems were killings allegedly undertaken by vigilantes, security forces, and insurgents; cases of apparent governmental disregard for human rights and due process; official corruption; and a weak and overburdened criminal justice system notable for slow court procedures, weak prosecutions, and poor cooperation between police and investigators.

President Duterte’s administration continued a nationwide campaign, led primarily by the Philippine National Police (PNP), to eliminate illegal narcotics. The ongoing operation continues to receive worldwide attention for its harsh tactics.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Managers of U.S. companies in the Philippines report that local labor costs are relatively low and workers are highly motivated, with generally strong English language skills. As of January 2020, the Philippine labor force reached 43 million workers, with an employment rate of 94.7 percent and an unemployment rate of 5.3 percent. These figures include employment in the informal sector and do not capture the substantial rates of underemployment in the country. Youths between the ages of 15 and 24 made up over 40 percent of the unemployed. More than half of all employment was in the services sector, with 22.7 percent and 18.8 percent in agriculture and industry sectors, respectively.

Compensation packages in the Philippines tend to be comparable with those in neighboring countries. Regional Wage and Productivity Boards meet periodically in each of the country’s 16 administrative regions to determine minimum wages. The non-agricultural daily minimum wage in Metro Manila is approximately USD 10, although some private sector workers receive less. Most regions set their minimum wage significantly lower than Metro Manila. Violation of minimum wage standards is common, especially non-payment of social security contributions, bonuses, and overtime. Philippine law also provides for a comprehensive set of occupational safety and health standards. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has responsibility for safety inspection, but a shortage of inspectors has made enforcement difficult.

The Philippines Constitution enshrines the right of workers to form and join trade unions. The trend among firms using temporary contract labor to lower employment costs continues despite government efforts to regulate the practice. The DOLE Secretary has the authority to end strikes and mandate a settlement between parties in cases involving national interest. DOLE amended its rules concerning disputes in 2013, specifying industries vital to national interest: hospitals, the electric power industry, water supply services (excluding small bottle suppliers), air traffic control, and other industries as recommended by the National Tripartite Industrial Peace Council (NTIPC). Economic zones often offer on-site labor centers to assist investors with recruitment. Although labor laws apply equally to economic zones, unions have noted some difficulty organizing inside the zones.

The Philippines is signatory to all International Labor Organization (ILO) core conventions but has faced challenges with enforcement. Unions allege that companies or local officials use illegal tactics to prevent workers from organizing. The quasi-judicial National Labor Relations Commission reviews allegations of intimidation and discrimination in connection with union activities. Meanwhile, the NTIPC monitors the application of international labor standards.

Reports of forced labor in the Philippines continue, particularly in connection with human trafficking in the commercial sex, domestic service, agriculture, and fishing industries.

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

The U.S. International Development Finance Corp. (DFC, formerly Overseas Private Investment Corporation or OPIC) provides debt financing, partial credit guarantees, political risk insurance, grants, equity investment, and private equity capital to support U.S. investors and their investments. It does so under a bilateral agreement with the Philippines. DFC can provide debt financing, in the form of direct loans and loan guarantees, of up to USD 1 billion per project for business investments, preferably with U.S. private sector participation, covering sectors as diverse as tourism, transportation, manufacturing, franchising, power, infrastructure, and others. DFC political risk insurance for currency inconvertibility, expropriation, and political violence for U.S. and other investments including equity, loans and loan guarantees, technical assistance, leases, and consigned inventory or equipment is also available for business investments in the Philippines. Grants are available for projects that are already reasonably developed but need additional, limited funding and specific work – for example technical, environment and social, or legal – in order to be bankable and eligible for DFC financing or insurance. In all cases, DFC support is available only where sufficient or appropriate investment support is unavailable from local or other private sector financial institutions. Past OPIC activities in the Philippines include projects with the National Power Corporation (NAPOCOR), The Asia Foundation, and a cloud-based technology company for the local cargo and courier industry. In addition, DFC supports twelve private equity funds that are eligible to invest in projects within the Philippines.

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) (millions of U.S. dollars) N/A N/A 2018 330.8 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 (millions of U.S. dollars, stock positions) N/A N/A 2018 7,645 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/international/xls/usdia-position-2010-2017.xlsx 
Host Country’s FDI in the United States (millions of U.S. dollars, stock positions) N/A N/A 2018 403 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/international/xls/fdius-current/fdius-detailed-country-2008-2017.xlsx 
Total Inbound Stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2018 16% http://data.imf.org/
regular.aspx?key=60564262
 
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data, as of end-2018
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (U.S. Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 51,318 100% Total Outward 9,370 100%
Japan 14,411 28% Singapore 4,217 45%
Netherlands 12,996 25% India 2,118 23%
United States 7,645 15% China, P.R.: Mainland 1,634 17%
China, P.R.: Hong Kong 3,551 7% United States 403 4%
Rep. of Korea 2,775 5% Thailand 278 3%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

The Philippine Central Bank does not publish or post inward and outward FDI stock broken down by country. Total stock figures are reported under the “International Investment Position” data that the Central Bank publishes and submits to the International Monetary Fund’s Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board (DSBB). As of the third quarter of 2019, inward direct investment (i.e. liabilities) is USD 90 billion, while outward direct investment (i.e. assets) is USD 56.1 billion.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets, as of end-2018
Top Five Partners (Millions, U.S. Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 16,359 100% All Countries 1,091 100% All Countries 15,268 100%
United States 6,251 38% Luxembourg 367 34% United States 5,937 39%
Indonesia 2,767 17% United States 314 29% Indonesia 2,766 18%
China, P.R.: Hong Kong 729 4% Ireland 134 12% China, P.R.: Mainland 611 4%
China, P.R.: Mainland 567 3% China, P.R.: Hong Kong 119 11% China, P.R.: Mainland 564 4%
India 493 3% British Virgin Islands 58 5% India 493 3%

The Philippine Central Bank disaggregates data into equity and debt securities but does not publish or post the stock of portfolio investments assets broken down by country. Total foreign portfolio investment stock figures are reported under the “International Investment Position” data that Central Bank publishes and submits to the International Monetary Fund’s Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board (DSBB). As of third quarter 2019, outward portfolio investment (i.e. assets) was USD 25.2 billion, of which USD 2.2 billion was in equity investments and USD 23 billion was in debt securities.

14. Contact for More Information

Douglas Fowler, Economic Officer
Karen Ang, Trade Specialist
U.S. Embassy Manila
1201 Roxas Boulevard, Manila, Philippines
Telephone: (+632) 5301.2000
Email: ManilaEcon@state.gov