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Bangladesh

Executive Summary

Bangladesh is the most densely populated non-city-state country in the world, with the eighth largest population (over 165 million) within a territory the size of Iowa. Bangladesh is situated in the northeastern corner of the Indian subcontinent, sharing a 4,100 km border with India and a 247 km border with Burma. With sustained economic growth over the past decade, a large, young, and hard-working workforce, strategic location between the large South and Southeast Asian markets, and vibrant private sector, Bangladesh will likely continue to attract increasing investment, despite severe economic headwinds created by the global outbreak of COVID-19.

Buoyed by a young workforce and a growing consumer base, Bangladesh has enjoyed consistent annual GDP growth of more than six percent over the past decade, with the exception of the COVID-induced economic slowdown in 2020. Much of this growth continues to be driven by the ready-made garment (RMG) industry, which exported $28.0 billion of apparel products in fiscal year (FY) 2020, and continued remittance inflows, reaching a record $18.2 billion in FY 2020. (Note: The Bangladeshi fiscal year is from July 1 to June 30; fiscal year 2020 ended on June 30, 2020.) However, the country’s RMG exports dropped more than 18 percent year-over-year in FY 2020 as COVID-19 depressed the global demand for apparel products.

The Government of Bangladesh (GOB) actively seeks foreign investment. Sectors with active investments from overseas include agribusiness, garment/textiles, leather/leather goods, light manufacturing, power and energy, electronics, light engineering, information and communications technology (ICT), plastic, healthcare, medical equipment, pharmaceutical, ship building, and infrastructure. The GOB offers a range of investment incentives under its industrial policy and export-oriented growth strategy with few formal distinctions between foreign and domestic private investors.

Bangladesh’s Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) stock was $16.9 billion in 2019, with the United States being the top investing country with $3.5 billion in accumulated investments. Bangladesh received $1.6 billion FDI in 2019. The rate of FDI inflows was only 0.53 percent of GDP, one of the lowest of rates in Asia.

Bangladesh has made gradual progress in reducing some constraints on investment, including taking steps to better ensure reliable electricity, but inadequate infrastructure, limited financing instruments, bureaucratic delays, lax enforcement of labor laws, and corruption continue to hinder foreign investment. Government efforts to improve the business environment in recent years show promise but implementation has yet to materialize. Slow adoption of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms and sluggish judicial processes impede the enforcement of contracts and the resolution of business disputes.

As a traditionally moderate, secular, peaceful, and stable country, Bangladesh experienced a decrease in terrorist activity in 2020, accompanied by an increase in terrorism-related investigations and arrests. A December 2018 national election marred by irregularities, violence, and intimidation consolidated the power of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her ruling party, the Awami League. This allowed the government to adopt legislation and policies diminishing space for the political opposition, undermining judicial independence, and threatening freedom of the media and NGOs. Bangladesh continues to host one of the world’s largest refugee populations, more than one million Rohingya from Burma, in what is expected to be a humanitarian crisis requiring notable financial and political support for years to come. International retail brands selling Bangladesh-made products and the international community continue to press the Government of Bangladesh to meaningfully address worker rights and factory safety problems in Bangladesh. With unprecedented support from the international community and the private sector, the Bangladesh garment sector has made significant progress on fire and structural safety. Critical work remains on safeguarding workers’ rights to freely associate and bargain collectively, including in Export Processing Zones (EPZs).

The Bangladeshi government has limited resources devoted to intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and counterfeit goods are readily available in Bangladesh. Government policies in the ICT sector are still under development. Current policies grant the government broad powers to intervene in that sector.

Capital markets in Bangladesh are still developing, and the financial sector is still highly dependent on banks.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 146 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report* 2019 168 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 116 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 493 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 1,940 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

The World Bank announced in 2020 it would pause the Doing Business publication while it conducts a review of data integrity.

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Bangladesh actively seeks foreign investment. Sectors with active investments from overseas include agribusiness, garment and textiles, leather and leather goods, light manufacturing, electronics, light engineering, energy and power, information and communications technology (ICT), plastic, healthcare, medical equipment, pharmaceutical, ship building, and infrastructure. It offers a range of investment incentives under its industrial policy and export-oriented growth strategy with few formal distinctions between foreign and domestic private investors.

Foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own, operate, and dispose of interests in most types of business enterprises. Four sectors, however, are reserved for government investment:

  • Arms and ammunition and other defense equipment and machinery.
  • Forest plantation and mechanized extraction within the bounds of reserved forests.
  • Production of nuclear energy.
  • Security printing (items such as currency, visa foils, and tax stamps).

The Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) is the principal authority tasked with supervising and promoting private investment. The BIDA Act of 2016 approved the merger of the now-disbanded Board of Investment and the Privatization Committee. BIDA is directly supervised by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Executive Chairman of BIDA holds a rank equivalent to Senior Secretary, the highest rank within the civil service. BIDA performs the following functions:

  • Provides pre-investment counseling services.
  • Registers and approves private industrial projects.
  • Issues approval of branch/liaison/representative offices.
  • Issues work permits for foreign nationals.
  • Issues approval of royalty remittances, technical know-how, and technical assistance fees.
  • Facilitates import of capital machinery and raw materials.
  • Issues approvals of foreign loans and supplier credits.

BIDA’s website has aggregated information regarding Bangladesh investment policies, incentives, and ease of doing business indicators:  http://bida.gov.bd/  

In addition to BIDA, there are three other Investment Promotion Agencies (IPAs) responsible for promoting investments in their respective jurisdictions.

  • Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority (BEPZA) promotes investments in Export Processing Zones (EPZs). The first EPZ was established in the 1980s and there are currently eight EPZs in the country. Website: https://www.bepza.gov.bd/
  • Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority (BEZA) plans to establish approximately 100 Economic Zones (EZs) throughout the country over the next several years. Site selections for 97 EZs have been completed as of February 2021, of which 11 private EZs are already licensed and operational while development of several other public and private sector EZs are underway. While EPZs accommodate exporting companies only, EZs are open for both export- and domestic-oriented companies. Website: https://www.beza.gov.bd/
  • Bangladesh Hi-Tech Park Authority (BHTPA) is responsible for attracting and facilitating investments in the high-tech parks Bangladesh is establishing across the country. Website: http://bhtpa.gov.bd/

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own, operate, and dispose of interests in most types of business enterprises. Bangladesh allows private investment in power generation and natural gas exploration, but efforts to allow full foreign participation in petroleum marketing and gas distribution have stalled. Regulations in the area of telecommunication infrastructure currently include provisions for 60 percent foreign ownership (70 percent for tower sharing). In addition to the four sectors reserved for government investment, there are 17 controlled sectors that require prior clearance/ permission from the respective line ministries/authorities. These are:

  • Fishing in the deep sea.
  • Bank/financial institutions in the private sector.
  • Insurance companies in the private sector.
  • Generation, supply, and distribution of power in the private sector.
  • Exploration, extraction, and supply of natural gas/oil.
  • Exploration, extraction, and supply of coal.
  • Exploration, extraction, and supply of other mineral resources.
  • Large-scale infrastructure projects (e.g., elevated expressway, monorail, economic zone, inland container depot/container freight station).
  • Crude oil refinery (recycling/refining of lube oil used as fuel).
  • Medium and large industries using natural gas/condensate and other minerals as raw material.
  • Telecommunications service (mobile/cellular and land phone).
  • Satellite channels.
  • Cargo/passenger aviation.
  • Sea-bound ship transport.
  • Seaports/deep seaports.
  • VOIP/IP telephone.
  • Industries using heavy minerals accumulated from sea beaches.

While discrimination against foreign investors is not widespread, the government frequently promotes local industries, and some discriminatory policies and regulations exist. For example, the government closely controls approvals for imported medicines that compete with domestically manufactured pharmaceutical products and it has required majority local ownership of new shipping and insurance companies, albeit with exemptions for existing foreign-owned firms. In practical terms, foreign investors frequently find it necessary to have a local partner even though this requirement may not be statutorily defined. In certain strategic sectors, the GOB has placed unofficial barriers on foreign companies’ ability to divest from the country.

BIDA is responsible for screening, reviewing, and approving investments in Bangladesh, except for investments in EPZs, EZs, and High-Tech Parks, which are supervised by BEPZA, BEZA, and BHTPA respectively. Both foreign and domestic companies are required to obtain approval from relevant ministries and agencies with regulatory oversight. In certain sectors (e.g., healthcare), foreign companies may be required to obtain a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the relevant ministry or agency stating the specific investment will not hinder local manufacturers and is in line with the guidelines of the ministry concerned. Since Bangladesh actively seeks foreign investments, instances where one of the Investment Promotion Agencies (IPAs) declines investment proposals are rare.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In 2013 Bangladesh completed an investment policy review (IPR) with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD):  https://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationWebflyer.aspx?publicationid=756  

A Trade Policy Review was done by the World Trade Organization in April 2019 and can be found at:  https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp485_e.htm  

Business Facilitation

In February 2018, the Bangladesh Parliament passed the “One Stop Service Bill 2018,” which aims to streamline business and investment registration processes. The four IPAs — BIDA, BEPZA, BEZA, and BHTPA — are mandated to provide one-stop services (OSS) to local and foreign investors under their respective jurisdictions. Expected streamlined services include company registration, taxpayer’s identification number (TIN) and value added tax (VAT) registration, work permit issuance, power and utilities connections, capital and profit repatriation, and environment clearance. In 2019 Bangladesh made reforms in three key areas: starting a business, getting electricity, and getting credit. These and other regulatory changes led to an improvement by eight ranks on the World Bank’s Doing Business score, moving up from 176 to 168 of the 190 countries rated. BIDA offers more than 40 services under its OSS as of March 2021 and has a plan to expand to 154 services covering 35 agencies. The GOB is also planning to integrate the services of all four investment promotion agencies under a single online platform. Progress on realizing a comprehensive OSS for businesses has been slowed by bureaucratic delays and a lack of interagency coordination.

Companies can register their businesses at the Office of the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms (RJSC):  www.roc.gov.bd  . However, the online business registration process, while improving, can at times be unclear and inconsistent. Additionally, BIDA facilitates company registration services as part of its OSS, which is available at:  https://bidaquickserv.org/ . BIDA also facilitates other services including office set-up approval, work permits for foreign employees, environmental clearance, outward remittance approval, and tax registration with National Board of Revenue. Other agencies with which a company must typically register are:

City Corporation – Trade License

National Board of Revenue – Tax & VAT Registration

Chief Inspector of Shops and Establishments – Employment of Workers Notification

It takes approximately 20 days to start a business in the country according to the World Bank. The company registration process at the RJSC generally takes one or two days to complete. The process for trade licensing, tax registration, and VAT registration requires seven days, one day, and one week respectively, as of February 2021.

Outward Investment

Outward foreign direct investment is generally restricted through the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act of 1947. As a result, the Bangladesh Bank plays a key role in limiting outbound investment. In September 2015, the government amended the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act of 1947 by adding a “conditional provision” that permits outbound investment for export-related enterprises. Private sector contacts note the few international investments approved by the Bangladesh Bank have been limited to large exporting companies with international experience.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Since 1989, the government has gradually moved to decrease regulatory obstruction of private business. Various chambers of commerce have called for privatization and for a greater voice for the private sector in government decisions, but at the same time many support protectionism and subsidies for their own industries. The result is policy and regulations which are often unclear, inconsistent, or little publicized. Registration and regulatory processes are frequently alleged by businesses to be used as rent-seeking opportunities. The major rule-making and regulatory authority exists at the national level under each Ministry with many final decisions being made at the top-most levels, including the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The PMO is actively engaged in directing policies, as well as foreign investment in government-controlled projects.

Bangladesh has made incremental progress in using information technology both to improve the transparency and efficiency of some government services and develop independent agencies to regulate the energy and telecommunication sectors. Some investors cited government laws, regulations, and lack of implementation as impediments to investment. The government has historically limited opportunities for the private sector to comment on proposed regulations. In 2009, Bangladesh adopted the Right to Information Act providing for multilevel stakeholder consultations through workshops or media outreach. Although the consultation process exists, it is still weak and in need of further improvement.

Ministries and regulatory agencies do not generally publish or solicit comments on draft proposed legislation or regulations. However, several government organizations, including the Bangladesh Bank (the central bank), Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission, BIDA, the Ministry of Commerce, and the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission have occasionally posted draft legislation and regulations online and solicited feedback from the business community. In some instances, parliamentary committees have also reached out to relevant stakeholders for input on draft legislation. The media continues to be the main information source for the public on many draft proposals. There is also no legal obligation to publish proposed regulations, consider alternatives to proposed regulation, or solicit comments from the general public.

The government printing office, The Bangladesh Government Press ( http://www.dpp.gov.bd/bgpress/ ), publishes the “Bangladesh Gazette” every Thursday and Extraordinary Gazettes as and when needed. The Gazette provides official notice of government actions, including issuance of government rules and regulations and the transfer and promotion of government employees. Laws can also be accessed at  http://bdlaws.minlaw.gov.bd/ .

Bangladesh passed the Financial Reporting Act of 2015 which created the Financial Reporting Council in 2016 aimed at establishing transparency and accountability in the accounting and auditing system. The country follows Bangladesh Accounting Standards and Bangladesh Financial Reporting Standards, which are largely derived from International Accounting Standards and International Financial Reporting Standards. However, the quality of reporting varies widely. Internationally known firms have begun establishing local offices in Bangladesh and their presence is positively influencing the accounting norms in the country. Some firms are capable of providing financial reports audited to international standards while others maintain unreliable (or multiple) sets of accounting records. Regulatory agencies do not conduct impact assessments for proposed regulations; consequently, regulations are often not reviewed on the basis of data-driven assessments. Not all national budget documents are prepared according to internationally accepted standards.

International Regulatory Considerations

The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) aims to integrate regional regulatory systems among Bangladesh, India, Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal, and Bhutan. However, efforts to advance regional cooperation measures have stalled in recent years and regulatory systems remain uncoordinated.

Local laws are based on the English common law system but most fall short of international standards. The country’s regulatory system remains weak and many of the laws and regulations are not enforced and standards are not maintained.

Bangladesh has been a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since 1995. WTO requires all signatories to the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) to establish a National Inquiry Point and Notification Authority to gather and efficiently distribute trade-related regulatory, standards, and conformity assessment information to the WTO Member community. The Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institute (BSTI) has been working as the National Enquiry Point for the WTO-TBT Agreement since 2002. There is an internal committee on WTO affairs in BSTI and it participates in notifying WTO activities through the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Industries.

General Contact for WTO-TBT National Enquiry Point:
Email: bsti_std@bangla.net; bsti_ad@bangla.net
Website: http://www.bsti.gov.bd/ 

Focal Point for TBT:

Mr. Md. Golam Baki,
Deputy Director (Certification Marks), BSTI;
Email: baki_cm@bsti.gov.bd,
Tel: +88-02-8870288,
Cell: +8801799828826, +8801712240702

Focal Point for other WTO related matters:

Mr. Md. Hafizur Rahman,
Director General, WTO Cell, Ministry of Commerce
Email: dg.wto@mincom.gov.bd,
Tel: +880-2-9545383,
Cell: +88 0171 1861056

Mr. Mohammad Mahbubur Rahman Patwary,
Director-1, WTO Cell, Ministry of Commerce
Email: director1.wto@mincom.gov.bd,
Tel: +880-2-9540580,
Cell: +88 0171 2148758

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Bangladesh is a common law-based jurisdiction. Many of the basic laws, such as the penal code, civil and criminal procedural codes, contract law, and company law are influenced by English common law. However, family laws, such as laws relating to marriage, dissolution of marriage, and inheritance are based on religious scripts and therefore differ among religious communities. The Bangladeshi legal system is based on a written constitution and the laws often take statutory forms that are enacted by the legislature and interpreted by the higher courts. Ordinarily, executive authorities and statutory corporations cannot make any law, but can make by-laws to the extent authorized by the legislature. Such subordinate legislation is known as rules or regulations and is also enforceable by the courts. However, as a common law system, the statutes are short and set out basic rights and responsibilities but are elaborated by the courts in the application and interpretation of those laws. The Bangladeshi judiciary acts through: (1) The Superior Judiciary, having appellate, revision, and original jurisdiction; and (2) The Sub-Ordinate Judiciary, having original jurisdiction.

Since 1971, Bangladesh has updated its legal system concerning company, banking, bankruptcy, and money loan court laws, and other commercial laws. An important impediment to investment in Bangladesh is its weak and slow legal system in which the enforceability of contracts is uncertain. The judicial system does not provide for interest to be charged in tort judgments, which means procedural delays carry no penalties. Bangladesh does not have a separate court or court division dedicated solely to commercial cases. The Joint District Judge court (a civil court) is responsible for enforcing contracts.

Some notable commercial laws include:

  • The Contract Act, 1872 (Act No. IX of 1930).
  • The Sale of Goods Act, 1930 (Act No. III of 1930).
  • The Partnership Act, 1932 (Act No. IX of 1932).
  • The Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 (Act No. XXVI of 1881).
  • The Bankruptcy Act, 1997 (Act No. X of 1997).
  • The Arbitration Act, 2001 (Act No. I of 2001).

The judicial system of Bangladesh has never been completely independent from interference by the executive branch of the government. In a significant milestone, the government in 2007 separated the country’s judiciary from the executive but the executive retains strong influence over the judiciary through control of judicial appointments. Other pillars of the justice system, including the police, courts, and legal profession, are also closely aligned with the executive branch. In lower courts, corruption is widely perceived as a serious problem. Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable under the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Major laws affecting foreign investment include: the Foreign Private Investment (Promotion and Protection) Act of 1980, the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority Act of 1980, the Companies Act of 1994, the Telecommunications Act of 2001, and the Bangladesh Economic Zones Act of 2010.

Bangladesh industrial policy offers incentives for “green” (environmental) high-tech or “transformative” industries. It allows foreigners who invest $1 million or transfer $2 million to a recognized financial institution to apply for Bangladeshi citizenship. The GOB will provide financial and policy support for high-priority industries (those creating large-scale employment and earning substantial export revenue) and creative industries – architecture, arts and antiques, fashion design, film and video, interactive laser software, software, and computer and media programming. Specific importance is given to agriculture and food processing, RMG, ICT and software, pharmaceuticals, leather and leather products, and jute and jute goods.

In addition, Petrobangla, the state-owned oil and gas company, has modified its production sharing agreement contract for offshore gas exploration to include an option to export gas. In 2019, Parliament approved the Bangladesh Flag Vessels (Protection) Act 2019 with a provision to ensure Bangladeshi flagged vessels carry at least 50 percent of foreign cargo, up from 40 percent. In 2020, the Ministry of Commerce amended the digital commerce policy to allow fully foreign-owned e-commerce companies in Bangladesh and remove a previous joint venture requirement.

The One Stop Service (OSS) Act of 2018 mandated the four IPAs to provide OSS to local and foreign investors in their respective jurisdictions. The move aims to facilitate business services on behalf of multiple government agencies to improve ease of doing business. In 2020, BIDA issued time-bound rules to implement the Act of 2018. Although the IPAs have started to offer a few services under the OSS, corruption and excessive bureaucracy have held back the complete and effective roll out of the OSS. BIDA has a “one-stop” website that provides information on relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors at:  http://www.bida.gov.bd/ .

Aside from information on relevant business laws and licenses, the website includes information on Bangladesh’s investment climate, opportunities for businesses, potential sectors, and how to do business in Bangladesh. The website also has an eService Portal for Investors which provides services such as visa recommendations for foreign investors, approval/extension of work permits for expatriates, approval of foreign borrowing, and approval/renewal of branch/liaison and representative offices.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Bangladesh formed an independent agency in 2011 called the “Bangladesh Competition Commission (BCC)” under the Ministry of Commerce. Parliament then passed the Competition Act in 2012. However, the BCC has not received sufficient resources to operate effectively.

In 2018, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) finalized Significant Market Power (SMP) regulations to promote competition in the industry. In 2019, BTRC declared the country’s largest telecom operator, Grameenphone (GP), the first SMP based on its revenue share of more than 50 percent and customer shares of about 47 percent. Since the declaration, the BTRC has attempted to impose restrictions on GP’s operations, which GP has challenged in the judicial system.

Expropriation and Compensation

Since the Foreign Investment Act of 1980 banned nationalization or expropriation without adequate compensation, Bangladesh has not nationalized or expropriated property from foreign investors. In the years immediately following independence in 1971, widespread nationalization resulted in government ownership of more than 90 percent of fixed assets in the modern manufacturing sector, including the textile, jute and sugar industries and all banking and insurance interests, except those in foreign (but non-Pakistani) hands. However, the government has taken steps to privatize many of these industries since the late 1970s and the private sector has developed into a main driver of the country’s sustained economic growth.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Bangladesh is a signatory to the International Convention for the Settlement of Disputes (ICSID) and acceded in May 1992 to the United Nations Convention for the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. Alternative dispute resolutions are possible under the Bangladesh Arbitration Act of 2001. The current legislation allows for enforcement of arbitral awards.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Bangladeshi law allows contracts to refer investor-state dispute settlement to third country fora for resolution. The U.S.-Bangladesh Bilateral Investment Treaty also stipulates that parties may, upon the initiative of either and as a part of their consultations and negotiations, agree to rely upon non-binding, third-party procedures, such as the fact-finding facility available under the rules of the “Additional Facility” of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes. If the dispute cannot be resolved through consultation and negotiation, the dispute shall be submitted for settlement in accordance with the applicable dispute-settlement procedures upon which the parties have previously agreed. Bangladesh is also a party to the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Agreement for the Establishment of an Arbitration Council, signed in 2005, which aims to establish a permanent center for alternative dispute resolution in one of the SAARC member countries.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Bangladesh Arbitration Act of 2001 and amendments in 2004 reformed alternative dispute resolution procedures. The Act consolidated the law relating to both domestic and international commercial arbitration. It thus creates a single and unified legal regime for arbitration. Although the new Act is principally based on the UNCITRAL Model Law, it is a patchwork as some unique provisions are derived from the Indian Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996 and some from the English Arbitration Act 1996.

In practice, arbitration results are unevenly enforced and the GOB has challenged ICSID rulings, especially those that involve rulings against the government. The timeframe for dispute resolution is unpredictable and has no set limit. It can be done as quickly as a few months, but often takes years depending on the type of dispute. Anecdotal information indicates average resolution time can be as high as 16 years. Local courts may be biased against foreign investors in resolving disputes.

Bangladesh is a signatory of the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards and recognizes the enforcement of international arbitration awards. Domestic arbitration is under the authority of the district court bench and foreign arbitration is under the authority of the relevant high court bench.

The Bangladeshi judicial system has little ability to enforce its own awards. Senior members of the government have been effective in using their offices to resolve investment disputes on several occasions, but the government’s ability to resolve investment disputes at a lower level is mixed. Bangladesh does not publish the numbers of investment disputes involving U.S. or foreign investors. Anecdotal evidence indicates investment disputes occur with limited frequency, and the involved parties often resolve the disputes privately rather than seeking government intervention.

Implementing Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) procedures in Bangladesh is impeded by a lack of funding for courts to provide ADR services, limited cooperation by lawyers, and instances of ADR participants acting in bad faith. Slow adoption of ADR mechanisms and sluggish judicial processes impede the enforcement of contracts and the resolution of business disputes in Bangladesh.

As in many countries, Bangladesh has adopted a “conflict of law” approach to determining whether a judgment from a foreign legal jurisdiction is enforceable in Bangladesh. This single criterion allows Bangladeshi courts broad discretion in choosing whether to enforce foreign judgments with significant effects on corporate and property disputes. Most enterprises in Bangladesh, and especially state-owned enterprises (SOEs), whose leadership is nominated by the ruling government party, maintain strong ties with the government. Thus, domestic courts strongly tend to favor SOEs and local companies in investment disputes.

Investors are also increasingly turning to the Bangladesh International Arbitration Center (BIAC) for dispute resolution. BIAC is an independent arbitration center established by prominent local business leaders in 2011 to improve commercial dispute resolution in Bangladesh to stimulate economic growth. The BIAC Board is headed by the President of the International Chamber of Commerce – Bangladesh and includes the presidents of other prominent chambers such as the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, among others. The Center operates under the Bangladesh Arbitration Act of 2001. According to BIAC, fast track cases are resolved in approximately six months while typical cases are resolved in one year. Major Bangladeshi trade and business associations such as the American Chamber of Commerce in Bangladesh can sometimes help resolve transaction disputes.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Many laws affecting investment in Bangladesh are outdated. Bankruptcy laws, which apply mainly to individual insolvency, are sometimes disregarded in business cases because of the numerous falsified assets and uncollectible cross-indebtedness supporting insolvent banks and companies. A Bankruptcy Act was passed by Parliament in 1997 but has been ineffective in addressing these issues. Some bankruptcy cases fall under the Money Loan Court Act which has more stringent and timely procedures.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Capital markets in Bangladesh are still developing, and the financial sector remains highly dependent on bank lending. Current regulatory infrastructure inhibits the development of a tradeable bond market.

Bangladesh is home to the Dhaka Stock Exchange (DSE) and the Chittagong Stock Exchange (CSE), both of which are regulated by the Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission (BSEC), a statutory body formed in 1993 and attached to the Ministry of Finance. As of February 2021, the DSE market capitalization stood at $54.8 billion, rising 35.8 percent year-over-year bolstered by increased liquidity and some sizeable initial public offerings.

Although the Bangladeshi government has a positive attitude toward foreign portfolio investors, participation in the exchanges remains low due to what is still limited liquidity for shares and the lack of publicly available and reliable company information. The DSE has attracted some foreign portfolio investors to the country’s capital market. However, the volume of foreign investment in Bangladesh remains a small fraction of total market capitalization. As a result, foreign portfolio investment has had limited influence on market trends and Bangladesh’s capital markets have been largely insulated from the volatility of international financial markets. Bangladeshi markets continue to rely primarily on domestic investors.

In 2019, BSEC undertook a number of initiatives to launch derivatives products, allow short selling, and invigorate the bond market. To this end, BSEC introduced three rules: Exchange Traded Derivatives Rules 2019, Short-Sale Rules 2019, and Investment Sukuk Rules 2019. Other recent, notable BSEC initiatives include forming a central clearing and settlement company – the Central Counterparty Bangladesh Limited (CCBL) – and promoting private equity and venture capital firms under the 2015 Alternative Investment Rules. In 2013, BSEC became a full signatory of the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) Memorandum of Understanding.

BSEC has taken steps to improve regulatory oversight, including installing a modern surveillance system, the “Instant Market Watch,” providing real time connectivity with exchanges and depository institutions. As a result, the market abuse detection capabilities of BSEC have improved significantly. A mandatory Corporate Governance Code for listed companies was introduced in 2012 but the overall quality of corporate governance remains substandard. Demutualization of both the DSE and CSE was completed in 2013 to separate ownership of the exchanges from trading rights. A majority of the members of the Demutualization Board, including the Chairman, are independent directors. Apart from this, a separate tribunal has been established to resolve capital market-related criminal cases expeditiously. However, both domestic and foreign investor confidence remains low.

The Demutualization Act 2013 also directed DSE to pursue a strategic investor who would acquire a 25 percent stake in the bourse. Through a bidding process DSE selected a consortium of the Shenzhen and Shanghai stock exchanges in China as its strategic partner, with the consortium buying the 25 percent share of DSE for taka 9.47 billion ($112.7 million).

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Bangladesh is an Article VIII member and maintains restrictions on the unapproved exchange, conversion, and/or transfer of proceeds of international transactions into non-resident taka-denominated accounts. Since 2015, authorities have relaxed restrictions by allowing some debits of balances in such accounts for outward remittances, but there is currently no established timetable for the complete removal of the restrictions.

Money and Banking System

The Bangladesh Bank (BB) acts as the central bank of Bangladesh. It was established on December 16, 1971 through the enactment of the Bangladesh Bank Order of1972. General supervision and strategic direction of the BB has been entrusted to a nine–member Board of Directors, which is headed by the BB Governor. A list of the bank’s departments and branches is on its website: https://www.bb.org.bd/aboutus/dept/depts.php .

According to the BB, four types of banks operate in the formal financial system: State Owned Commercial Banks (SOCBs), Specialized Banks, Private Commercial Banks (PCBs), and Foreign Commercial Banks (FCBs). Some 61 “scheduled” banks in Bangladesh operate under the control and supervision of the central bank as per the Bangladesh Bank Order of 1972. The scheduled banks, include six SOCBs, three specialized government banks established for specific objectives such as agricultural or industrial development or expatriates’ welfare, 43 PCBs, and nine FCBs as of February 2021. The scheduled banks are licensed to operate under the Bank Company Act of 1991 (Amended 2013). There are also five non-scheduled banks in Bangladesh, including Nobel Prize recipient Grameen Bank, established for special and definite objectives and operating under legislation enacted to meet those objectives.

Currently, 34 non-bank financial institutions (FIs) are operating in Bangladesh. They are regulated under the Financial Institution Act, 1993 and controlled by the BB. Of these, two are fully government-owned, one is a subsidiary of a state-owned commercial bank, and the rest are private financial institutions. Major sources of funds for these financial institutions are term deposits (at least three months’ tenure), credit facilities from banks and other financial institutions, and call money, as well as bonds and securitization.

Unlike banks, FIs are prohibited from:

  • Issuing checks, pay-orders, or demand drafts.
  • Receiving demand deposits.
  • Involvement in foreign exchange financing.

Microfinance institutions (MFIs) remain the dominant players in rural financial markets. According to the Bangladesh Microcredit Regulatory Authority, as of June 2019, there were 724 licensed micro-finance institutions operating a network of 18,977 branches with 32.3 million members. Additionally, Grameen Bank had nearly 9.3 million microfinance members at the end of 2019 of which 96.8 percent were women. A 2014 Institute of Microfinance survey study showed that approximately 40 percent of the adult population and 75 percent of households had access to financial services in Bangladesh.

The banking sector has had a mixed record of performance over the past several years. Industry experts have reported a rise in risky assets. Total domestic credit stood at 46.8 percent of gross domestic product at end of June 2020. The state-owned Sonali Bank is the largest bank in the country while Islami Bank Bangladesh and Standard Chartered Bangladesh are the largest local private and foreign banks respectively as of December 2020. The gross non-performing loan (NPL) ratio was 7.7 percent at the end of December 2020, down from 9.32 percent in December 2019. However, the decline in the NPLs was primarily caused by regulatory forbearance rather than actual reduction of stressed loans. Following the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, the central bank directed all banks not to classify any new loans as non-performing till December 2020. Industry contacts have predicted reported NPLs will demonstrate a sharp rise after the exemption expires unless the central bank grants additional forbearance in alternate forms. At 22.5 percent SCBs had the highest NPL ratio, followed by 15.9 percent of Specialized Banks, 5.9 percent of FCBs, and 5.6 percent of PCBs as of September 2020.

In 2017, the BB issued a circular warning citizens and financial institutions about the risks associated with cryptocurrencies. The circular noted that using cryptocurrencies may violate existing money laundering and terrorist financing regulations and cautioned users may incur financial losses. The BB issued similar warnings against cryptocurrencies in 2014.

Foreign investors may open temporary bank accounts called Non-Resident Taka Accounts (NRTA) in the proposed company name without prior approval from the BB in order to receive incoming capital remittances and encashment certificates. Once the proposed company is registered, it can open a new account to transfer capital from the NRTA account. Branch, representative, or liaison offices of foreign companies can open bank accounts to receive initial suspense payments from headquarters without opening NRTA accounts. In 2019, the BB relaxed regulations on the types of bank branches foreigners could use to open NRTAs, removing a previous requirement limiting use of NRTA’s solely to Authorized Dealers (ADs).

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Free repatriation of profits is allowed for registered companies and profits are generally fully convertible. However, companies report the procedures for repatriating foreign currency are lengthy and cumbersome. The Foreign Investment Act guarantees the right of repatriation for invested capital, profits, capital gains, post-tax dividends, and approved royalties and fees for businesses. The central bank’s exchange control regulations and the U.S.-Bangladesh Bilateral Investment Treaty (in force since 1989) provide similar investment transfer guarantees. BIDA may need to approve repatriation of royalties and other fees.

Bangladesh maintains a de facto managed floating foreign exchange regime. Since 2013, Bangladesh has tried to manage its exchange rate vis-à-vis the U.S. dollar within a fairly narrow range. Until 2017, the Bangladesh currency – the taka – traded between 76 and 79 taka to the dollar. The taka has depreciated relative to the dollar since October 2017 reaching 84.95 taka per dollar as of March 2020, despite interventions from the Bangladesh Bank from time to time. The taka is approaching full convertibility for current account transactions, such as imports and travel, but not for financial and capital account transactions, such as investing, currency speculation, or e-commerce.

Remittance Policies

There are no set time limitations or waiting periods for remitting all types of investment returns. Remitting dividends, returns on investments, interest, and payments on private foreign debts do not usually require approval from the central bank and transfers are typically made within one to two weeks. Some central bank approval is required for repatriating lease payments, royalties and management fees, and this process can take between two and three weeks. If a company fails to submit all the proper documents for remitting, it may take up to 60 days. Foreign investors have reported difficulties transferring funds to overseas affiliates and making payments for certain technical fees without the government’s prior approval to do so. Additionally, some regulatory agencies have reportedly blocked the repatriation of profits due to sector-specific regulations. The U.S. Embassy also has received complaints from American citizens who were not able to transfer the proceeds of sales of their properties.

The central bank has recently made several small-scale reforms to ease the remittance process. In 2019, the BB simplified the profit repatriation process for foreign firms. Foreign companies and their branches, liaison, or representative offices no longer require prior approval from the central bank to remit funds to their parent offices outside Bangladesh. Banks, however, are required to submit applications for ex post facto approval within 30 days of profit remittance. In 2020, the Bangladesh Bank relaxed regulations for repatriating disinvestment proceeds, authorizing banks to remit up to 100 million taka (approximately $1.2 million) in equivalent foreign currency without the central bank’s prior approval. The central bank also eased profit repatriation and reinvestment by allowing banks to transfer foreign investors’ dividend income into their foreign currency bank accounts.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) notes Bangladesh has established the legal and regulatory framework to meet its Anti-Money Laundering/Counterterrorism Finance (AML/CTF) commitments. The Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), an independent and collaborative international organization based in Bangkok, evaluated Bangladesh’s AML/CTF regime in 2018 and found Bangladesh had made significant progress since the last Mutual Evaluation Report (MER) in 2009, but still faces significant money laundering and terrorism financing risks. The APG reports are available online:  http://www.fatf-gafi.org/countries/#Bangladesh  

Sovereign Wealth Funds

In 2015, the Bangladesh Finance Ministry announced it was exploring establishing a sovereign wealth fund in which to invest a portion of Bangladesh’s foreign currency reserves. In 2017, the Cabinet initially approved a $10 billion “Bangladesh Sovereign Wealth Fund,” (BSWF) to be created with funds from excess foreign exchange reserves but the plan was subsequently scrapped by the Finance Ministry.

9. Corruption

Corruption remains a serious impediment to investment and economic growth in Bangladesh. While the government has established legislation to combat bribery, embezzlement, and other forms of corruption, enforcement is inconsistent. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is the main institutional anti-corruption watchdog. With amendments to the Money Prevention Act, the ACC is no longer the sole authority to probe money-laundering offenses. Although it still has primary authority for bribery and corruption, other agencies will now investigate related offenses, including:

  • The Bangladesh Police (Criminal Investigation Department) – Most predicate offenses.
  • The National Board of Revenue – VAT, taxation, and customs offenses.
  • The Department of Narcotics Control – drug related offenses.

The current Awami League-led government has publicly underscored its commitment to fighting corruption and reaffirmed the need for a strong ACC, but opposition parties claim the ACC is used by the government to harass political opponents. Efforts to ease public procurement rules and a recent constitutional amendment diminishing the independence of the ACC may undermine institutional safeguards against corruption. Bangladesh is a party to the UN Anticorruption Convention but has not joined the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Public Officials. Corruption is common in public procurement, tax and customs collection, and among regulatory authorities. Corruption, including bribery, raises the costs and risks of doing business. By some estimates, off-the-record payments by firms may result in an annual reduction of two to three percent of GDP. Corruption has a corrosive impact on the broader business climate market and opportunities for U.S. companies in Bangladesh. It also deters investment, stifles economic growth and development, distorts prices, and undermines the rule of law.

Resources to Report Corruption

Mr. Iqbal Mahmood
Chairman
Anti-Corruption Commission, Bangladesh
1, Segun Bagicha, Dhaka 1000
+88-02-8333350
chairman@acc.org.bd

Contact at “watchdog” organization:

Mr. Iftekharuzzaman
Executive Director
Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB)
MIDAS Centre (Level 4 & 5), House-5, Road-16 (New) 27 (Old),

Dhanmondi, Dhaka -1209
+880 2 912 4788 / 4789 / 4792
edtib@ti-bangladesh.orginfo@ti-bangladesh.orgadvocacy@ti-bangladesh.org

10. Political and Security Environment

Prime Minister Hasina’s ruling Awami League party won 289 parliamentary seats out of 300 in a December 30, 2018 election marred by wide-spread vote-rigging, ballot-box stuffing and intimidation. Intimidation, harassment, and violence during the pre-election period made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to meet, hold rallies, and/or campaign freely. The clashes between rival political parties and general strikes that previously characterized the political environment in Bangladesh have become far less frequent in the wake of the Awami League’s increasing dominance and crackdown on dissent. Many civil society groups have expressed concern about the trend toward a one-party state and the marginalization of all political opposition groups.

Americans are advised to exercise increased caution due to crime and terrorism when traveling to Bangladesh. Travel in some areas have higher risks. For further information, see the  State Department’s travel website for the  Worldwide Caution Travel Advisories, and  Bangladesh Country Specific Information.

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: Bangladesh Bank, Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Other 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) 2019-20 $330,541 2019 $302,571 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source: Bangladesh Bank, Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Other USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019-20 $3,906 2019 $493 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $12 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019-20 5.7% 2019 5.4% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html
 
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data (December 2019)
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $16,872 100% Total Outward $321 100%
The United States $3,488 20.7% United Kingdom $84 26.2%
The United Kingdom $1,960 11.6% Hong Kong $72 22.4%
The Netherlands $1,372 8.1% India $49 15.3%
Singapore $1,254 7.4% Nepal $45 14.0%
Hong Kong $869 5.2% United Arab Emirates $35 10.9%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets (December 2018)
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $3,319 100% All Countries $8 100% All Countries $3,311 100%
Germany $534 16% Pakistan $8 100% Germany $534 16%
United States $503 15% N/A N/A N/A United States $503 15%
United Kingdom $336 10% N/A N/A N/A United Kingdom $336 10%
Spain $231 7% N/A N/A N/A Spain $231 7%
France $202 6% N/A N/A N/A France $202 6%

The source of information described in Table 4 is the Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  Website: https://data.imf.org/?sk=B981B4E3-4E58-467E-9B90-9DE0C3367363&sId=1481577785817.

India

Executive Summary

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

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

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

The U.S. government continued to urge the Government of India to foster an attractive and reliable investment climate by reducing barriers to investment and minimizing bureaucratic hurdles for businesses.

 
Measure Year Index/ Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perception Index 2020 86 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/en/countries/india
World Bank’s Doing Business Report: “Ease of Doing Business” 2019 63 of 190   https://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings?region=south-asia
Innovation Index 2020 48 of 131 https://www.wipo.int/global_innovation_index/en/2020
U.S. FDI in partner country (Million. USD stock positions) 2019 45,883 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm?Area=612&UUID=67171087-ee34-4983-ac05-984cc597f1f4
World Bank GNI per capita (USD) 2019 2120 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/ny.gnp.pcap.cd

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies toward Foreign Direct Investment

Changes in India’s foreign investment rules are notified in two different ways: (1) Press Notes issued by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) for most sectors, and (2) legislative action for insurance, pension funds, and state-owned enterprises in the coal sector. FDI proposals in sensitive sectors, however, require the additional approval of the Home Ministry.

DPIIT, under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, is India’s chief investment regulator and policy maker. It compiles all policies related to India’s FDI regime into a single document to make it easier for investors to understand, and this consolidated policy is updated every year. The updated policy can be accessed at: http://dipp.nic.in/foreign-directinvestment/foreigndirectinvestment-policy.  DPIIT, through the Foreign Investment Implementation Authority (FIIA), plays an active role in resolving foreign investors’ project implementation problems and disseminates information about the Indian investment climate to promote investments. The Department establishes bilateral economic cooperation agreements in the region and encourages and facilitates foreign technology collaborations with Indian companies and DPIIT oftentimes consults with lead ministries and stakeholders. There however have been multiple incidents where relevant stakeholders reported being left out of consultations.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

In most sectors, foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own businesses and engage in remunerative activities. Several sectors of the economy continue to retain equity limits for foreign capital as well as management and control restrictions, which deter investment. For example, the 2015 Insurance Act raised FDI caps from 26 percent to 49 percent, but also mandated that insurance companies retain “Indian management and control.” In the parliament’s 2021 budget session, the Indian government approved increasing the FDI caps in the insurance sector to 74 percent from 49 percent. However, the legislation retained the “Indian management and control” rider. In the August 2020 session of parliament, the government approved reforms that opened the agriculture sector to FDI, as well as allowed direct sales of products and contract farming, though implementation of these changes was temporarily suspended in the wake of widespread protests. In 2016, India allowed up to 100 percent FDI in domestic airlines; however, the issue of substantial ownership and effective control (SOEC) rules that mandate majority control by Indian nationals have not yet been clarified. A list of investment caps is accessible at: http://dipp.nic.in/foreign-directinvestment/foreign-directinvestment-policy .

Screening of FDI

All FDI must be reviewed under either an “Automatic Route” or “Government Route” process. The Automatic Route simply requires a foreign investor to notify the Reserve Bank of India of the investment and applies in most sectors. In contrast, investments requiring review under the Government Route must obtain the approval of the ministry with jurisdiction over the appropriate sector along with the concurrence of DPIIT. The government route includes sectors deemed as strategic including defense, telecommunications, media, pharmaceuticals, and insurance. In August 2019, the government announced a new package of liberalization measures and brought a number of sectors including coal mining and contract manufacturing under the automatic route.

FDI inflows were mostly directed towards the largest metropolitan areas – Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai – and the state of Gujarat. The services sector garnered the largest percentage of FDI. Further FDI statistics are available at: http://dipp.nic.in/publications/fdistatistics. 

Other Investment Policy Reviews

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

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

2015-2020 Government of India Foreign Trade Policy: http://dgft.gov.in/ForeignTradePolicy 

Business Facilitation

DPIIT is responsible for formulation and implementation of promotional and developmental measures for growth of the industrial sector, keeping in view national priorities and socio- economic objectives. While individual lead ministries look after the production, distribution, development and planning aspects of specific industries allocated to them, DPIIT is responsible for overall industrial policy. It is also responsible for facilitating and increasing the FDI flows to the country.

Invest India  is the official investment promotion and facilitation agency of the Government of India, which is managed in partnership with DPIIT, state governments, and business chambers. Invest India specialists work with investors through their investment lifecycle to provide support with market entry strategies, industry analysis, partner search, and policy advocacy as required. Businesses can register online through the Ministry of Corporate Affairs website: http://www.mca.gov.in/ . After the registration, all new investments require industrial approvals and clearances from relevant authorities, including regulatory bodies and local governments. To fast-track the approval process, especially in the case of major projects, Prime Minister Modi started the Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation (PRAGATI initiative) – a digital, multi-modal platform to speed the government’s approval process. As of January 2020, a total of 275 project proposals worth around $173 billion across ten states were cleared through PRAGATI. Prime Minister Modi personally monitors the process to ensure compliance in meeting PRAGATI project deadlines. The government also launched an Inter-Ministerial Committee in late 2014, led by the DPIIT, to help track investment proposals that require inter-ministerial approvals. Business and government sources report this committee meets informally and on an ad hoc basis as they receive reports of stalled projects from business chambers and affected companies.

Outward Investment

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

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Some government policies are written in a way that can be discriminatory to foreign investors or favor domestic industry. For example, approval in 2021 for higher FDI thresholds in the insurance sector came with a requirement of “Indian management and control.” On most occasions the rules are framed after thorough discussions by government authorities and require the approval of the cabinet and, in some cases, the Parliament as well. Policies pertaining to foreign investments are framed by DPIIT, and implementation is undertaken by lead federal ministries and sub-national counterparts. However, in some instances the rules have been framed without following any consultative process.

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

The Indian Accounting Standards were issued under the supervision and control of the Accounting Standards Board, a committee under the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI), and has government, academic, and professional representatives. The Indian Accounting Standards are named and numbered in the same way as the corresponding International Financial Reporting Standards. The National Advisory Committee on Accounting Standards recommends these standards to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, which all listed companies must then adopt. These can be accessed at: http://www.mca.gov.in/MinistryV2/Stand.html 

International Regulatory Considerations

India is a member of the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), an eight- member regional block in South Asia. India’s regulatory systems are aligned with SAARC’s economic agreements, visa regimes, and investment rules. Dispute resolution in India has been through tribunals, which are quasi-judicial bodies. India has been a member of the WTO since 1995, and generally notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade; however, at times there are delays in publishing the notifications. The Governments of India and the United States cooperate in areas such as standards, trade facilitation, competition, and antidumping practices.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

India adopted its legal system from English law and the basic principles of the Common Law as applied in the UK are largely prevalent in India. However, foreign companies need to make adaptations for Indian Law and the Indian business culture when negotiating and drafting contracts in India to ensure adequate protection in case of breach of contract. The Indian judiciary provides for an integrated system of courts to administer both central and state laws. The judicial system includes the Supreme Court as the highest national court, as well as a High Court in each state or a group of states which covers a hierarchy of subordinate courts. Article 141 of the Constitution of India provides that a decision declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all courts within the territory of India. Apart from courts, tribunals are also vested with judicial or quasi-judicial powers by special statutes to decide controversies or disputes relating to specified areas.

Courts have maintained that the independence of the judiciary is a basic feature of the Constitution, which provides the judiciary institutional independence from the executive and legislative branches.

Maldives

Executive Summary

The Republic of Maldives comprises 1,190 islands in 20 atolls spread over 348 square miles in the Indian Ocean.  Tourism is the main source of economic activity for Maldives, directly contributing close to 30 percent of GDP and generating more than 60 percent of foreign currency earnings.  The tourism sector experienced impressive growth, from 655,852 arrivals in 2009 to 1.7 million in 2019, before a steep decline in 2020 resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Tourism began to recover in late 2020 and will continue to drive the economy.  However, following the COVID-19 outbreak, the government has re-emphasized the need to diversify the economy, with a focus on the fisheries and agricultural sectors.

GDP growth averaged six percent during the past decade, lifting Maldives to middle-income country status.  Per capita GDP is estimated at USD 11,890, the highest in South Asia.  However, income inequality and a lack of job opportunities remain a major concern for Maldivians, especially those in isolated atolls.  Following the COVID-19 outbreak, GDP fell 29.3 percent in 2020; following nascent signs of recovery in the tourism industry, the government forecast growth in 2021 to reach 13.5 percent.

Maldives is a multi-party constitutional democracy, but the transition from long-time autocracy to democracy has been challenging.  Maldives’ parliament ratified a new constitution in 2008 that provided for the first multi-party presidential elections.  In 2018, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party was elected president, running on a platform of economic and political reforms and transparency, following former President Abdulla Yameen whose term in office was marked by corruption, systemic limitations on the independence of parliament and the judiciary, and restrictions on freedom of speech, press, and association.  The MDP also won a super majority (65 out of 87) seats in parliamentary elections in April 2019, the first single-party majority in Maldives since 2008.  President Solih pledged to restore democratic institutions and the freedom of the press, re-establish the justice system, and protect fundamental rights.

Corruption across all sectors, including tourism, was a significant issue under the previous government and remains a concern.  There also remain serious concerns about a small number of violent Maldivian extremists who advocate for attacks against secular Maldivians and may be involved with transnational terrorist groups. In February 2020, attackers stabbed three foreign nationals – two Chinese and one Australian – in several locations in Hulhumalé.  ISIS claimed responsibility for an April arson incident on Mahibadhoo Island in Alifu Dhaalu atoll that destroyed eight sea vessels, including one police boat, according to ISIS’ online newsletter al-Naba. There were no injuries or fatalities.

Large scale infrastructure construction in recent years contributed to economic growth but has resulted in a significant rise in debt.  The Maldives’ debt-to-GDP ratio increased from 58.5 percent in 2018 to an estimated 61.8 percent in 2019 according to the World Bank (WB); this further increased to 138 percent in 2020 according to the Ministry of Finance, an increase driven by a sharp drop-off in government revenue.

Maldives welcomes foreign investment, although the ambiguity of codified law and competition from politically influential local businesses act as deterrents.  U.S. investment in Maldives thus far has been limited, and focused on the tourism sector, particularly hotel franchising and air transportation.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 75 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 147 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 N/A https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 N/A https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $9,680 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Maldives opened to foreign investment in the late 1980s and currently pursues an open policy for foreign investment, although the weak and, in some cases, arcane system of laws and regulations deter some investment.

Foreign investments in Maldives have primarily involved resort management, but also include telecommunications, accounting, banking, insurance, air transport, real estate, courier services, and some manufacturing.

The former administration began holding an annual investor forum in 2014 to showcase priority public and private sector investment projects, but the new government has not committed to hosting the annual forum.

Invest Maldives, an organization within the Ministry of Economic Development, is the government’s investment promotion arm.  Services provided by Invest Maldives include promoting Maldives as an investment destination, providing information to potential investors about the Maldives, guidance on investment approval and business registration, and facilitating the licensing of business.  As of March 2021, the Invest Maldives website was not functional.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Maldives allows foreign parties to register companies and partnerships but does not allow foreign parties to register cooperative societies or as a sole proprietor. Under a new Foreign Direct Investment policy established in February 2020, foreign investment is allowed in all major sectors of the economy apart from the following areas, which are restricted for locals only:

  1. Forestry
  2. Mining of sand
  3. Other mining and quarrying
  4. Manufacture of tobacco products
  5. Manufacture of wood and of products of wood and cork except furniture
  6. Manufacture of rubber and plastics products
  7. Manufacture of handicrafts and souvenirs
  8. Retail trade
  9. Wholesale trade in sectors except construction materials
  10. Land transport services and transport via pipelines
  11. Postal and courier activities
  12. Logistics activities (in transportation and storage)
  13. Operating picnic islands
  14. Food and beverage service activities (including café, restaurants, bakeries, and other eateries)
  15. Programming and broadcasting activities
  16. Legal activities (law firms etc.)
  17. Photography and videography
  18. Rental and leasing activities (including lease of heavy-duty machineries etc.)
  19. Employment activities such as employment agencies and recruitment services
  20. Travel agency, tour operator, reservation service and related activities
  21. Services to building and landscape activities
  22. Public administration and defense; compulsory social security
  23. Clinics except physiotherapy clinics
  24. Repair of computers and personal and household goods

The following sectors are open for foreign investment with a cap on equity ownership:

  1. Manufacture of fish products (75 percent)
  2. Manufacture of agricultural products (75 percent)
  3. Printing and reproduction of recorded media (49 percent)
  4. Manufacture of furniture (75 percent)
  5. Repair and installation of machinery and equipment (75 percent)
  6. Installation of equipment that forms an integral part of buildings or similar structures, such as installation of escalators and elevators (40 percent)
  7. Construction of buildings (65 percent)
  8. Civil engineering (65 percent)
  9. Wholesale trade of construction materials (75 percent)
  10. Franchising in international airports and approved locations (including products & services) (75 percent)
  11. Sea transport services (including ownership of vessels) (49 percent)
  12. Air transport services (including freight services) (75 percent)
  13. Warehousing and support activities for transportation (75 percent)
  14. Guest houses in approved locations (inclusive of all services) (49 percent)
  15. Real estate activities (65 percent)
  16. Accounting activities (75 percent)
  17. Architecture and engineering activities; technical testing and analysis (75 percent)
  18. Advertising (60 percent)
  19. Other professional, scientific, and technical activities (75 percent)
  20. Veterinary services (75 percent)
  21. Security and investigation activities (75 percent)
  22. Office administrative, office support and other business support activities (75 percent)
  23. Universities and colleges (75 percent)
  24. Private schools (75 percent)
  25. Computer training institutions (75 percent)
  26. Vocational and technical educational institutes (75 percent)
  27. Sports and recreation education (75 percent)
  28. Engineering schools (training and conduction of courses related to aircraft engineering) (75 percent)
  29. Educational support activities (75 percent)
  30. Residential care services (75 percent)
  31. Social work activities without accommodation (75 percent)
  32. Physiotherapy clinics (75 percent)
  33. Creative, arts and entertainment activities (excluding live music bands and DJs) (75 percent)
  34. Libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural activities (75 percent)
  35. Sports activities and amusement and recreation activities (75 percent)
  36. Water sports activities (49 percent)
  37. Dive centers and dive schools (75 percent)

The following conditions are applied to foreign investments in the construction sector, as per the foreign contractor regulation:

  • Construction companies valued below USD 5,000,000 are required to be at least 35 percent Maldivian owned.
  • Construction companies valued above USD 5,000,000 may be 100 percent foreign owned.

There is little private ownership of land; most land is leased from the government, but Maldivians are permitted to hold title to land.  In August 2019, parliament repealed a July 2015 constitutional amendment that allowed foreigners to own land and islands in connection with major projects, provided they invested at least USD 1 billion and at least 70 percent of the land was reclaimed.  Currently, there are no property and real estate laws or mechanisms to allow foreign persons to hold title to land.

The Land Act allows foreigners to lease land on inhabited islands for up to a maximum of 50 years, but there is no formal process for registration of leasehold titles.  The Uninhabited Land Act allows foreigners to lease land on uninhabited islands for purposes other than tourism for a maximum of 21 years for investments amounting to less than USD 1 million and up to a maximum of 50 years for investments over USD 10 million.  A 2010 amendment to the Tourism Act allows investors to lease an island for 50 years in general.  A subsequent 2014 amendment allows the extension of resort leases up to 99 years for a payment of USD 5 million.  The changes aim to incentivize investors, make it easier to obtain financing from international institutions, and increase revenue for the government.  Leases can be renewed at the end of their terms, but the formula for assessing compensation value of a resort at the end of a lease has not been developed.  In 2016, Parliament approved additional amendments to the Tourism Act, whereby islands and lagoons can be leased for tourism development based on unsolicited proposals submitted to the Tourism Ministry (Law No: 13/2016).

The Ministry of Economic Development screens and reviews all foreign investment proposals.  The process includes standard due diligence efforts such as a local police screening of all investors, determining the financial standing of the proposed shareholders through a bank reference, and performing a background check on the investors involved.  According to the government, each case is reviewed based on its merits accounting for factors such as the number of existing investors in the sector and the potential for employment and technology transfer.  In practice, the investment review process is not as transparent as policy would indicate, with potential for corruption to influence the decision-making process.

The approval procedure for foreign investments is as follows:

  1. Submit a completed Foreign Investment Application form to the Ministry of Economic Development, available at gov.mv.
  2. Walk-in consultations are available for foreign investors who may wish to discuss their proposals prior to submitting an application.
  3. Receive approval
  4. The standard processing time is three working days; however, if relevant ministries must be consulted, the approval may take 10-14 days.
  5. Register a business vehicle
  6. Once approval is received, an investor must register as a company, partnership, or a company which has been incorporated in another jurisdiction.
  7. Application forms for registering as a legal vehicle are available from the ministry’s website.
  8. Sign the Foreign Investment Agreement with the Ministry of Economic Development.
  9. This Agreement outlines the terms and conditions related to carrying out the specific business in Maldives. For tourism sector investments, a Foreign Investment Agreement is not required as the land lease signed with the Ministry of Tourism governs all matters relating to tourism businesses in Maldives.
  10. Obtain licenses and permits.
  11. Sectors which require operating licenses include fisheries and agriculture, banking and finance, health, tourism, transport, construction, and education.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The most recent World Trade Organization trade policy review was conducted in March 2016: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp432_e.htm 

Business Facilitation

Maldives ranked 147 out of 190 on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index in 2019, scoring especially low on getting electricity; registering property; trading across borders; protecting minority investors; getting credit; and resolving insolvency.  On average, it takes six steps and 12 days to start a business.

The Ministry of Economic Development manages the process for business incorporations, permits, licenses and registration of logos, trade markets, seals, and other processes.  The Ministry’s website details relevant policies and procedures: http://www.trade.gov.mv

The Ministry of Economic Development also maintains an online business portal at https://business.egov.mv/  to access the following services: Name Reservation; Business Name Registration; Sole Proprietorship registration submission; Company Registration Submission; SME Categorization; Issuance of Corporate Profile Sheet; Logo Registration; Seal Registration; Trade Mark Registration, Request for Certificate of Incumbency; Request for Letter of Good Standing; and a Request for re-issuance of registration certificate.  Foreign investment companies, including entities with any foreign shareholding, must receive foreign investment approval before they can register online.

As of March 2021, the government was drafting amendments to the Companies Act, Electronic Transactions Bill, and Mercantile Court Bill. A Bankruptcy Bill was submitted to Parliament in 2020 and is in the committee stage as of March 2021.  These bills could affect business facilitation. In June 2019, the government signed a USD 10 million project with the Asian Development Bank to develop a National Single Window project designed to establish a national single window system for international trade and reengineered trade processes, however the project is currently on hold due to contracting issues.

Outward Investment 

The government does not promote or incentivize outward investment but does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad either.  According to UNCTAD’s 2019 World Investment Report, Maldives has not registered any outward investment since 2005.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Maldives’ Parliament (the People’s Majlis) formulates legislation, while ministries and agencies, primarily the Ministry of Economic Development, develop regulations pertaining to investment.  The Ministry of Tourism develops regulations relevant to the tourism sector.  Certain business sectors require sector-level operating licenses from other ministries/agencies, including fisheries and agriculture, banking and finance, health, tourism, transport, construction, and education.

The Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) regulates the financial sector and issues banking licenses.  The Capital Market Development Authority develops regulations for the capital market and pension industry and licenses securities market intermediaries.  The current Parliament, sworn in in April 2019, regularly makes draft bills and regulations available for public comment.

Since its inauguration in November 2018, the Solih administration has taken steps to improve fiscal transparency.  For example, beginning in December 2018, the Ministry of Finance (MoF) began issuing weekly updates on fiscal operations on its public website.  A limited write-up on total annual debt obligations for 2021 and projected annual debt obligations for 2022 and 2023 were included in a “budget book” published on the MoF website, along with the 2021 proposed budget.  It includes the total amount of debt, disaggregated into the totals of domestic and foreign debt; however, it does not include details of contingent or state-owned enterprise (SOE) debt. All contingent debt numbers are published on the MoF website, which includes Central Government debt as well as all SOE guaranteed debt (which are usually external borrowings).

Detailed information on SOE debt with sovereign loan guarantees and the total debt amount of individual SOEs is included in the MoF’s Quarterly Report on SOEs, which is published on the MoF’s website each quarter.

The MMA, which functions as Maldives’ Central Bank, includes information on domestic debt obligations on a monthly basis on their website: http://mma.gov.mv/#/research/statisticalPublications/mstat/Monthly percent20Statistics. 

The MoF published a mid-year “Fiscal and Debt Strategy Report” on their website in July 2020.  This report included details of the position of the debt portfolio at the end of 2019 and the estimated position by the end of 2020 19: https://www.finance.gov.mv/fiscal-and-debt-strategy-report

The website of the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) (www.mvlaw.gov.mv) publishes the full text of all existing laws and regulations, but most of the documents are in the Dhivehi language.  The AGO is establishing an English language database of laws and court judgements.

International Regulatory Considerations

Maldives is a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and is a signatory of the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA).

Trade and investment related legislation and regulation are influenced by common law principles from the United Kingdom and other western jurisdictions.  The judiciary has cited foreign case law from jurisdictions from the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia when interpreting local trade-related statues.

Maldives is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and has submitted some of the notifications under Technical Barriers to Trade.  However, the Ministry of Economic Development reports that technical assistance is required for Maldives to fully comply with WTO obligations.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The sources of law in Maldives are its constitution, Islamic Sharia law, regulations, presidential decrees, international law, and English common law, with the latter being most influential in commercial matters.  The Maldives has a Contract Law (Law No. 4/91) that codifies English common law practices on contracts.  The Civil Court is specialized to hear commercial cases.  The Employment Tribunal is mandated to hear claims of unfair labor practices.  A bill proposing the establishment of a Mercantile Court has been pending in Parliament since 2013.  The Judicial Services Commission is responsible for nominating, dismissing, and examining the conduct of all judges.  The Attorney General acts as legal advisor to the government and represents the government in all courts except on criminal proceedings, which are represented by the Prosecutor General.

A Supreme Court was established for the first time in 2008 under the new Maldives Constitution. The Supreme Court is the highest judicial authority in Maldives.  In addition to the Supreme Court, there are six courts: the High Court; Civil Court; Criminal Court; Family Court; Juvenile Court; and a Drug Court.  There are approximately 200 magistrate courts, one in each inhabited island.  The Supreme Court and the High Court serve as courts of appeal.  There are no jury trials. In February 2020, President Solih stated his intent to submit a bill introducing a circuit court system in the Maldives.

Historically, the judicial process has been slow and, often, arbitrary.  In August 2010, the Judicial Services Commission reappointed—and confirmed for life—191 of the 200 existing judges.  Many of these judges held only a certificate in Sharia law, not a law degree.  The Maldivian judiciary is a semi-independent institution but has been subjected frequently to executive influence, particularly the Supreme Court.  The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2015 stated the judicial system is perceived as politicized, inadequate, and subject to external influence.  An estimated 25 percent of judges also have criminal records.  The media, human rights organizations, and civil society had repeatedly criticized the Judicial Services Commission for appointing judges deemed unqualified.

This history has led President Solih’s administration to make judicial reform is a top priority.  In 2019, the Judicial Service Commission was overhauled; it has since removed the former Supreme Court bench and initiated investigations into ethics standards complaints against several judges from the High Court, Criminal Court, Civil Court, Family Court, and several island magistrates courts.  In August 2019, Parliament amended the Judicial Service Commission Act to return control of the Department of Judicial Administration (DJA), which is responsible for the management of courts, to the judicial watchdog Judicial Service Commission. This amendment was intended to overcome longstanding issues of the former Supreme Court using its direct supervision of the DJA to punish judges exhibiting judicial independence by transferring them to a lower court or another island as retribution.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Foreign parties can invest in Maldives through the Foreign Investment Law or the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act.  Details are available on the Ministry of Economic Development’s Doing Business in the Maldives Guide and in the tax guide:

A new Foreign Direct Investment policy announced in February 2020 consolidated existing practices and introduced new guidelines, including two new routes to get government approval for foreign direct investments and new caps on equity ownership for investments in certain sectors. The policy is available on http://trade.gov.mv/dms/669/1581480884.pdf 

Foreign investment in Maldives is governed by Law No. 25/79, covering agreements between the government and investors.  The Business Registration Act (18/2014) requires foreign businesses to register as a company or partnership.  The Companies Act (10/96) governs the registration and regulatory and operational requirements for public and private companies.  The Partnership Act of 2011 governs the formation and regulation of partnerships.  Foreign investments are currently approved for an initial period of five years, with the option to renew.

Maldives introduced income taxes through an Income Tax Act in December 2019.  Taxation under the act was set to commence on January 1, 2020 but remuneration was to come within the purview of income effective April 1, 2020.  The Business Profit Tax regime imposed under the Business Profit Tax Act and the Remittance Tax regime imposed under the Remittance Tax Act was repealed with the commencement of Income Tax. Under the Act, tax rates remain unchanged for banks at 25 percent on profits, while taxes of 15 percent on profits that exceed USD 32,425 (MVR 500,000) would be levied on corporations, partnerships, and other business entities.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

In 2019, Maldives drafted a Competition and Fair Business Practices Act to ensure a fair market and equitable opportunities for all small and medium enterprises.  President Solih ratified the bill on August 31, 2020, and it was due to enter into force in the first part of 2021, however it is still not in force as of March 31, 2020.  On entry into force, the Ministry of Economic Development will be the principal agency responsible for implementing the Act, including hearing, reviewing, and acting on competition-related complaints.  There had been no competition-related cases submitted to Ministry of Economic Development as of March 2021.

Expropriation and Compensation

According to the Law on Foreign Investment (No. 25/79), the government may, with or without notice, suspend an investment when an investor indulges in an act detrimental to the security of the country or where temporary closure is necessary for national security.  If, after due investigation, it cannot be concluded within 60 days of the temporary closure that the foreign investor had indulged in an activity detrimental to the security of Maldives, the government will pay compensation.  Capital belonging to an investment that is closed for these reasons may be taken out of the country in a mutually agreed upon manner.

In December 2012, the Maldivian government took over operation of the Malé International Airport from GMR Infrastructure Limited, an Indian company, after the Maldivian government repudiated the 2012 contract.  In 2016, the Maldivian government paid GMR USD 271 million in damages as ordered by a Singaporean Arbitration Tribunal.

Dispute Settlement

 

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

 

Maldives is not a Party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States.  In September 2019, Maldives acceded to the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, which came into force in Maldives in December 2019.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

 

Maldives does not have a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) or Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States.  An Arbitration Act modeled on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) model law was passed in 2013 and provides for implementation of international arbitral awards.  However, the judgments of foreign courts cannot directly be enforced through the courts.  Judgments of foreign courts must be submitted to domestic courts, which then make a separate judgment.  In April 2019, President Solih established the Maldives International Arbitration Centre, a requirement under the 2013 Act.

In 2013, Maldives-based Sun Travels and Tours terminated a foreign corporation’s 20-year management agreement for a luxury resort.  The business took the case to the International Court of Arbitration in Singapore and was awarded USD 27 million in damages.  The Court dismissed a USD 16 million counterclaim by Sun Travel and Tours.  In 2015, the foreign corporation then filed the case in Maldives High Court to enforce the ruling of the arbitration center.  In 2016, Sun appealed the arbitration center’s decision in Maldives’ Civil Court, which ruled in Sun’s favor and ordered the foreign corporation to pay USD 16 million to Sun as compensation for violating the terms of their agreement to manage the resort. This ruling was overturned by the Maldivian High Court on July 7, 2020 and led to the Civil Court ordering freeze on bank accounts of Sun. There are no further updates on the cases as of March 2021.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

 

An Arbitration Act modeled on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) model law was passed in 2013 and provides for implementation of international arbitral awards.  However, the judgments of foreign courts cannot directly be enforced through the courts.  Judgments of foreign courts must be submitted as a fresh action and established as a judgment by the local courts that may then be enforced. In April 2019, President Solih established the Maldives International Arbitration Centre, a requirement under the 2013 Act. Dispute resolution for significant investments can take years, and it can be a challenge to collect payment for any damages from the government or from Maldivian companies.  The Maldivian judicial system is subject to significant political pressure.

Bankruptcy Regulations 

Maldives scores 33.3 out of 100 on resolving insolvency in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Distance to Frontier index.  Maldives does not have a bankruptcy law, although corporate insolvencies are dealt with under the Companies Act.  Debtors and creditors may file for liquidation.  There is no priority assigned to creditors and there is very limited legal framework to protect creditors following commencement of insolvency.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Maldives Stock Exchange (MSE), first opened in 2002 as a small securities trading floor, was licensed as a private stock exchange in 2008.  The Securities Act of January 2006 created the Capital Market Development Authority (CMDA) to regulate the capital markets.  The MSE functions under the CMDA.  The only investment opportunities available to the public are shares in the Bank of Maldives, Islamic Bank of Maldives, five state-owned public companies, a foreign insurance company, a foreign telecommunications company, and a local shipping company.  The market capitalization of all listed companies listed was USD 857 million at the end of 2018.

Foreigners can invest in the capital market as both retail and institutional investors.  Capital market license holders from other jurisdictions can also seek licenses to carry out services in the Maldives capital market.  There are no restrictions on foreign investors obtaining credit from banks in Maldives nor are there restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.

Money and Banking System 

The Maldives financial sector is dominated by the banking sector.  The banking sector consists of eight banks, of which three are locally incorporated, four are branches of foreign banks and one is a fully owned subsidiary of a foreign bank.  There are 52 branches of these banks throughout the country of which 33 are in the rural areas.  Additionally, at the end of 2017 there were 116 automatic teller machines (of which 51 were in rural areas) and 230 agent banking service providers.  Maldives has correspondent banking relationships with six banks.  Maldives has not announced intentions to allow the implementation of blockchain technologies (cryptocurrencies) in its banking system.  International money transfer services are offered by four remittance companies through global remittance networks.  Two telecommunications companies offer mobile payment services through mobile wallet accounts and this service does not require customers to hold bank accounts.

Non-bank financial institutions in the country consist of four insurance companies, a pension fund, and a finance leasing company, a specialized housing finance institution and money transfer businesses.  Maldives Real Time Gross Settlement System and Automated Clearing House system is housed in the MMA for interbank payments settlements for large value and small value batch processing transactions respectively.  There has been an increase in usage of electronic payments such as card payments and internet banking.  All financial institutions currently operate under the supervision of the MMA.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Rules relating to the foreign exchange market are stipulated in the Monetary Regulation of the MMA.  Both residents and non-residents may freely trade and purchase currency in the foreign exchange market.  Residents do not need permission to maintain foreign currency accounts either at home or abroad and there is no distinction made between foreign national or non-resident accounts held with the banks operating in Maldives.  The exchange rate is maintained within a horizontal band, with the value of the Rufiyaa allowed to fluctuate against the U.S. dollar within a band of 20 percent on either side of a central parity of MVR12.85 per U.S. dollar.  In practice, however, the rufiyaa has been virtually fixed at the band’s weaker end of Rf 15.42 per dollar, according to the IMF.

Remittance Policies

Rules regarding foreign remittances are governed by the Regulation for Remittance Businesses under the Maldives Monetary Authority Act of 1981.  There are no restrictions on repatriation of profits or earnings from investments.  In 2016, the government imposed a three percent remittance tax on money transferred out of Maldives by foreigners employed in the Maldives.  However, Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) repealed the remittance tax effective from January 1, 2020 to reduce “out-of-bank” money transactions that have become commonplace following implementation of the tax.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

In 2016, Maldives Finance Minister announced plans to establish a “Sovereign Development Fund (SDF)” that would support foreign currency obligations incurred to executive public sector development projects.  The government has not published any documents related to the SDF and does not have a published policy document regulating funding or a general approach to withdrawals with regard to SDF.  The MoF plans to issue a separate publication on SDF investments sometime within 2021.  This publication will include information on deposits into and withdrawals/investments from the SDF.  The MoF also reported it is in the process of drafting regulations detailing a general approach to deposits, withdrawals, and investments from the SDF.

Allocations to the SDF are included in the budget and published in the MoF’s weekly and monthly fiscal development reports published regularly on its website.  The Ministry reported two sources of funding for the SDF – revenue gathered through Airport Development Fees charged to all travelers entering and departing Maldives and ad hoc allocations made by the MoF at its discretion.  Expected ADF receipts are included in the Revenue Tables of the Budget.  Reports from the MoF show that the size of the SDF fund had amassed USD 206.5 million as of February 25, 2021.

9. Corruption

Maldives made significant progress in its efforts to increase its transparency, jumping from 130 out of 180 countries in the Transparency International Corruption Perception index in 2019 to 75th, in 2020.  Its score increased from 29 out of 100 to 43 out of 100, surpassing that of regional competitors like Sri Lanka, India, and Pakistan. Still, corruption practices exist at all levels of society, threatening inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

The Solih administration has publicly pledged to tackle widespread corruption and judicial reform.  As part of President Solih’s first 100 business day agenda, he established a Presidential Commission on Corruption and Asset Recovery to investigate corruption cases originating between February 2012 and November 2018.  As of March 2021, the commission had not issued a report of its findings.  Additional measures towards increased transparency include requiring public financial disclosures for cabinet members, political appointees, and all members of parliament.

Maldives law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but enforcement is weak.  The law on prevention and punishment of corruption (2000) defines bribery and improper pecuniary advantage and prescribes punishments.  The law also outlines procedures for the confiscation of property and funds obtained through the included offenses.  Penalties range from six months to 10 years banishment, or jail terms.  According to non-governmental organizations, a narrow definition of corruption in the law, and the lack of a provision to investigate and prosecute illicit enrichment, limited the Anti-Corruption Commission’s work.

Maldives acceded to the United Nations Convention against Corruption in March 2007, and under the 2008 Constitution, an independent Anti-Corruption Commission was established in December 2008.  The responsibilities of the Commission include inquiring into and investigating all allegations of corruption by government officials; recommending further inquiries and investigations by other investigatory bodies; and recommending prosecution of alleged offenses to the prosecutor general, where warranted.  The Commission does not have a mandate to investigate cases of corruption of government officials by the private sector.

The Maldives is a party to the UN Anticorruption Convention.  Maldives is not a party to the OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery.

A number of domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases.  Government officials, however, often have not been cooperative or responsive to their views.  Upon assumption of office, President Solih’s administration pledged to submit a new NGO bill that would increase protections for non-government organizations. The bill completed parliamentary debate and is undergoing committee review as of March 2021.

Resources to Report Corruption

Anti-Corruption Commission of the Maldives
Address: Huravee Building, Male, Maldives, 20114
Telephone: (800)3300007 (Toll free number), (960) 331 0451, (960) 331 7410 (General Inquiries)
Email: info@acc.gov.mvcomplaints@acc.gov.mv

Ms. Asiath Rilweena
Executive Director
Transparency Maldives
Address: MF Building, 7th Floor, Chaandhanee Magu, Male’, Republic of Maldives
Telephone: +960 330 4017
Email: office@transparencymaldives.org

10. Political and Security Environment

Maldives is a multi-party constitutional democracy, but the transition from long term autocracy to democracy has been challenging.  Maldives gained its independence from Britain in 1965.  For the first 40 years of independence, Maldives was run by President Ibrahim Nasir and then President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was elected to six successive terms by single-party referenda.  August 2003 demonstrations forced Gayoom to begin a democratic reform process, leading to the legalization of political parties in 2005, a new constitution in August 2008, and the first multiparty presidential elections later that year, through which Mohamed Nasheed was elected president.

In February 2012 Nasheed resigned under disputed circumstances. President Abdulla Yameen’s tenure, beginning in 2013, was marked by corruption, systemic limitations on the independence of parliament and the judiciary, and restrictions on freedom of speech, press, and association.  Yameen’s tenure was also characterized by increased reliance on PRC-financing for large scale infrastructure projects, which were decided largely under non-transparent circumstances and procedures.  External debt rose rapidly during Yameen’s tenure.

In September 2018, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) won the campaign for president running on a platform of economic and political reforms and transparency.  The MDP also won a super majority (65 out of 87) seats in parliamentary elections in April 2019, the first single-party majority since the advent of multi-party democracy.  President Solih has pledged to restore democratic institutions and the freedom of the press, re-establish the justice system, and protect fundamental rights.

There is a global threat from terrorism to U.S. citizens and interests.  Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners and “soft targets” such as restaurants, hotels, recreational events, resorts, beaches, maritime facilities, and aircraft.  Concerns have significantly increased about a small number of violent Maldivian extremists who advocate for attacks against secular Maldivians and are involved with transnational terrorist groups.  For more information, travelers may consult the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism.

U.S. citizens traveling to Maldives should be aware of violent attacks and threats made against local media, political parties, and civil society.  In the past there have been killings and violent attacks against secular bloggers and activists.  For more information, travelers may consult the State Department’s 2019 Human Rights Report link: https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/maldives/

Maldives has a history of political protests. Some of these protests have involved use of anti-Western rhetoric. There are no reports of unrest or demonstrations on the resort islands or at the main Velana International Airport.  Travelers should not engage in political activity in Maldives. Visitors should exercise caution, particularly at night, and should steer clear of demonstrations and spontaneous gatherings.  Those who encounter demonstrations or large crowds should avoid confrontation, remain calm, and depart the area quickly.  While traveling in Maldives, travelers should refer to news sources, check the U.S. Embassy Colombo website for possible security updates, and remain aware of their surroundings at all times.

U.S. Embassy employees are not resident in Maldives.  This will constrain the Embassy’s ability to provide services to U.S. citizens in an emergency.  Many tourist resorts are several hours’ distance from Malé by boat, necessitating lengthy response times by authorities in case of medical or criminal emergencies.

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 $5,800 2019 $5,760 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 N/A BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 N/A BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2019 9.9% UNCTAD data available at

https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/EconomicTrends/Fdi.html     

* Source for Host Country Data: Country Data: Maldives National Bureau of Statistics   

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Data not available.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

Nepal

Executive Summary

Nepal’s annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is approximately USD32.1 billion, and trade totaling USD11.1 billion. Despite considerable potential – particularly in the energy, tourism, information and communication technology (ICT), infrastructure and agriculture sectors – political instability, widespread corruption, cumbersome bureaucracy, and inconsistent implementation of laws and regulations have deterred potential investment. While the Government of Nepal (GoN) publicly states its keenness to attract foreign investment, this has yet to translate into meaningful practice. The COVID pandemic further slowed reform efforts that might have made Nepal a more attractive investment destination. Despite these challenges, foreign direct investment (FDI) into the country has been increasing in recent years. Historically, few American companies have invested in Nepal.

In 2017, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) signed a USD500 million Compact with the GoN that will focus on the electricity transmission and road maintenance sectors.  The GoN has agreed to contribute an additional USD130 million for these Compact programs. The GoN’s slow progress in securing Parliamentary ratification for the Compact and implementing it has not sent a good signal to potential investors.

Nepal’s location between India and China presents opportunities for foreign investors. Nepal also possesses natural resources that have significant commercial potential.

Hydropower – Nepal has an estimated 40,000 megawatts (MW) of commercially-viable hydropower electricity generation potential, which could become a major source of income through electricity exports.

Other sectors offering potential investment opportunities include agriculture, tourism, the ICT sector, and infrastructure, although the tourism sector is unlikely to recover until 2022 from the downturn due to the pandemic.

Nepal offers opportunities for investors willing to accept inherent risks and the unpredictability of doing business in the country and possess the resilience to invest with a long-term mindset.  While Nepal has established some investment-friendly laws and regulations in recent years, significant barriers to investment remain.

Corruption, laws limiting the operations of foreign banks, challenges in the repatriation of profits, limited currency exchange facilities, and the government’s monopoly over certain sectors of the economy, such as electricity transmission and petroleum distribution, undermine foreign investment in Nepal.

Millions of Nepalis seek employment overseas, creating a talent drain, especially among educated youth.

Trade unions – each typically affiliated with parties or even factions within a political party – and unpredictable general strikes create business risk.

Immigration laws and visa policies for foreign workers are cumbersome.  Inefficient government bureaucratic processes, a high rate of turnover among civil servants, and corruption exacerbate the difficulties for foreigners seeking to work in Nepal.

Political uncertainty is another continuing challenge for foreign investors. Nepal’s ruling party has spent much of its energy over the last years on internal political squabbles instead of governance.

Government restrictions on the media and non-governmental organizations highlight an increased tendency toward censorship.

The persistent use of intimidation, extortion, and violence – including the use of improvised explosive devices – by insurgent groups targeting domestic political leaders, GoN entities, and businesses is an additional source of instability, although the country’s most prominent insurgent group (led by Netra Bikram Chand, also known as Biplav) recently agreed on March 5, 2021 to enter peaceful politics, which may reduce this threat.

Nepal’s geography also presents challenges.  The country’s mountainous terrain, land-locked geography, and poor transportation infrastructure increases costs for raw materials and exports of finished goods.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 117 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 94 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 95 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 NA USD39.7M Nepal Rastra (central) Bank https://www.bea.gov/data/economic-accounts/international
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD1,090 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment

There is recognition within the GoN that foreign investment is necessary to boost economic growth to meet the GoN’s target of becoming a middle-income country by 2030. While the GoN’s stated attitude toward FDI is positive, this has yet to translate into meaningful practice.

The most significant foreign investment laws are the revised Foreign Investment and Technology Transfer Act (FITTA) of 2019, the Public-Private Partnership and Investment Act (PPIA) of 2019, the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act of 1962, the Immigration Rules of 1994, the Customs Act of 2007 (a revised act is under Parliamentary review), the Industrial Enterprise Act of 2016 (and its 2020 revision), the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Act of 2016 (and its 2019 amendment), the Company Act (2006), the Electricity Act of 1992, the Privatization Act of 1994, and the Income Tax Act (2002). Also important is the annual budget, which outlines customs, duties, export service charges, sales, airfreight and income taxes, and other excise taxes that affect foreign investment.

The FITTA attempted to create a friendlier environment for foreign investors. It streamlined the process for inbound foreign investment by requiring approval of FDI within seven days of application. Similarly, the FITTA streamlined the profit repatriation approval process, mandating decisions within 15 days. The revised FITTA set up a Single Window Service Center, through which foreign investors can avail themselves of the full range of services provided by the various government entities involved in investment approvals, including the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, and Supplies (MOICS), the Labor and Immigration Departments, and the Central Bank. The FITTA included a provision requiring the government to set a minimum threshold for foreign investment and publish it in the Nepal Gazette. On May 23, 2019, citing that provision, the government raised the minimum foreign investment threshold ten-fold to NPR 50 million (USD415,000) from the existing NPR 5 million (USD41,500). The new FITTA commits to providing “national treatment” to all foreign investors and that foreign companies will not be nationalized. Under the FITTA, investments up to NPR 6 billion (USD52 million) come under the purview, including approval authority, of the MOICS Department of Industry (DOI), and anything above that amount falls under the authority of the Investment Board of Nepal (IBN).

Other relevant laws include the Industrial Enterprise Act, the SEZ Act, an updated Labor Act (2017), and a pending Intellectual Property Rights Act. The Industrial Enterprise Act is intended to promote industrial growth in the private sector, includes a “no work, no pay” provision, and allows companies to take certain steps – such as buying land and establishing a line of credit – while environmental assessments and other regulatory requirements are being carried out. In practice, U.S. and other foreign companies comment that corruption, bureaucracy, inefficient implementation of existing procedures and requirements, and a weak regulatory environment make investing in Nepal unattractive, and Nepal’s new legislation has not improved the investment climate sufficiently to change that assessment.

Another significant piece of legislation that could affect investment decisions in Nepal is the Customs Act (2007), which established invoice-based customs valuations and replaced many investment tax incentives with a lower, uniform rate.  In 2017, the Department of Customs started to use the Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) world software platform. In addition, the Electricity Act includes special terms and conditions for investment in hydropower development and the Privatization Act of 1994 authorizes and defines the procedures for privatization of state-owned enterprises.

There is no public evidence of direct executive interference in the court system that could affect foreign investors.  However, in recent years there has been public and media criticism of the politicization of the judiciary, including appointments of judges to Appellate Courts and the Supreme Court allegedly based on their political affiliations.

The IBN, a high-level government body chaired by the Prime Minister, was formed in 2011 to promote economic development in Nepal.  In addition to approving large-scale investment projects, the IBN is also the GoN body charged with assessing and managing public-private partnership (PPP) projects. It has the task of attracting large foreign investors to Nepal and was a key organizer of the last two Investment Summits in 2017 and 2019. It is the primary point of contact for large investors (above USD50 million), especially those engaged in public infrastructure projects.

The Nepal Business Forum ( http://www.nepalbusinessforum.org/ ) was formed in 2010 with the “aim of improving the business environment in Nepal through better interaction between the business community and government officials.” The NBF does not meet according to a regularized schedule, and the Embassy is not aware of any formal mechanisms or platforms to enable on-going dialogue, aside from the IBN, DOI, and the NBF.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises in Nepal and engage in various forms of remunerative activity.  The FITTA 2019 slightly increased the number of sectors open to foreign investment.  Outside of the restricted sectors listed below, foreign investment up to 100 percent ownership is permitted in most sectors. The GoN announced the opening of FDI in the primary agricultural sector for exports in January 2021. However, the matter is sub judice at the Supreme Court (as of March 2021), and so remains unimplemented.

During 2018 and 2019, the Market Monitoring Unit of the MOICS’s Department of Supply Management raided business establishments, seized records, closed business outlets, and brought charges against private businesses in various sectors, including retail, healthcare, and education, alleging that companies were charging prices that were too high.  Such raids are sporadic rather than a matter of sustained policy but contribute to creating an uncertain business environment.

The sectors excluded from foreign investment are listed in the annex of the FITTA 2019 and include:

  1. Primary agricultural sectors including animal husbandry, fisheries, beekeeping, oil-processing (from seeds or legumes), milk-based product processing; (Note: The GoN is attempting to open this sector for FDI if 75 percent of the products are exported. However, the matter is under review at the Supreme Court.)
  2. Small and cottage enterprises;
  3. Personal business services (haircutting, tailoring, driving, etc.);
  4. Arms and ammunition, bullets, gunpowder and explosives, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, industries related to atomic energy and radioactive materials;
  5. Real estate (excluding construction industries), retail business, domestic courier services, catering services, money exchange and remittance services;
  6. Tourism-related services – trekking, mountaineering and travel agents, tourist guides, rural tourism including arranging homestays;
  7. Mass media (print, radio, television, and online news), feature films in national languages;
  8. Management, accounting, engineering, legal consultancy services, language, music, and computer training; and
  9. Any consultancy services in which foreign investment is above 51 percent.

Investment proposals are screened by the DOI or the IBN to ensure compliance with the FITTA and other relevant laws.  Historically, the lack of clear, objective criteria and timeframes for decisions have resulted in complaints from prospective investors. While the GoN intended the FITTA to address these issues, the regulations enabling the implementation of the Act were only completed in January 2021, and thus how the law will work in practice remains to be seen.

The IBN website provides resources to prospective investors including the Nepal Investment Guide ( http://www.ibn.gov.np/ ). Similarly, the DOI maintains a website that should be helpful to investors ( http://www.investnepal.gov.np ).

U.S. investors are not disadvantaged or singled out relative to other foreign investors by any of the ownership or control mechanisms, sector restrictions, or investment screening mechanisms.  U.S. companies often note that they struggle to compete with firms from neighboring countries when it comes to cost, but this is not a factor resulting from any specific GoN policy.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

There have been no recent investment policy reviews of Nepal.  The last one by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was conducted in 2003. The World Trade Organization (WTO) conducted a trade policy review in 2019, available online at:   https://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/FE_Search/FE_S_S006.aspx?Query=((%20@Title=%20nepal)%20or%20(@CountryConcerned=%20nepal))%20and%20(%20(%20@Symbol=%20wt/tpr/g/*%20))&Language=ENGLISH&Context=FomerScriptedSearch&languageUIChanged=true#  and https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp_rep_e.htm#bycountry .  The International Finance Corporation (IFC) conducted a Country Private Sector Diagnostics, available at:   https://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/publications_ext_content/ifc_external_publication_site/publications_listing_page/creating+markets+in+nepal+country+private+sector+diagnostic .

Business Facilitation

In recent years, GoN officials have proclaimed Nepal “open for business” and explicitly welcomed foreign investment.  While the GoN likes to appear enthusiastic in its efforts to attract foreign investors, the reality has not yet matched the rhetoric.  Three laws directly affecting foreign investment (FITTA, PPP, and SEZ) were hurriedly revised and passed by Parliament but left little time for stakeholder consultations or transparency in the process. Both foreign and domestic private sector representatives often state that the GoN has not done enough to improve the business environment. While welcome provisions were included in the FITTA—for example, a streamlined approval process and single window service center—an assessment of the true effects of the reforms await full implementation.

After obtaining a letter of approval from DOI or IBN, Nepal’s Office of Company Registrar (OCR) maintains a website ( http://ocr.gov.np/index.php on which foreign companies can register.  OCR’s website also links to an information portal ( http://www.theiguides.org/public-docs/guides/nepal ), maintained by UNCTAD and the International Chamber of Commerce, with resources and information for potential investors interested in Nepal.  According to the portal, registering a company takes “between three days and a week with the law authorizing up to 15 days.” Independent think tanks, however, have noted the online system does not eliminate corruption, and bureaucrats frequently request additional documentation that must be submitted in person, rather than online. Users ranked the Nepal portion of the OCR business registration website a four out of ten, according to the UNCTAD supported Global Enterprise Registration website  www.GER.co .

Outward Investment

The Act Restricting Investment Abroad (ARIA) of 1964 prohibits outbound investment from Nepal.  Some enterprising Nepalis have found ways around the Act, but for most Nepali investors, outward investment is a practical impossibility. The GoN is currently in the process of revising the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, which is expected to annul the ARIA, paving the way to limited capital account convertibility.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The GoN has many laws, policies, and regulations that look good on paper, but are often not fully and consistently enforced.  Frequent government changes and staff rotations within the civil service result in officials who are often unclear on applicable laws and policies or interpret them differently than their predecessors.  Many foreign investors note that Nepal’s regulatory system is based largely on personal relationships with government officials, rather than systematic and routine processes.  Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are not transparent and are not consistent with international norms. The World Bank gives Nepal a score of 1.75 (on a scale of one to five) on its “Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance” index https://rulemaking.worldbank.org/en/data/explorecountries/nepal , and notes that ministries in Nepal do not routinely create lists of “anticipated regulatory changes or proposals” and do not have the “legal obligation to publish the text of proposed regulations before their enactment.”

Historically, rule-making and regulatory authority resided almost exclusively with the central government in Kathmandu.  Nepal’s 2015 Constitution outlines a three-tiered federalist model. Following elections in 2017, seven provincial governments and 753 local government units were established.  Foreign businesses can expect to continue to interact with bureaucrats at the central government level in the near term, as national regulations remain the most relevant for foreign businesses. However, this could change over time as provincial governments become more established.

Traditionally, once acts are drafted and passed by Parliament, it has been incumbent upon the related government agencies and ministries to draft regulations to enforce the acts.  Regulations are passed by the cabinet and do not need parliamentary approval.  Nepal still lacks an established mechanism or system for the review of regulations based on scientific or data-driven assessments, or for conducting quantitative analyses for such purposes. The World Bank notes that the GoN is not required by law to solicit comments on proposed regulations, nor do ministries or regulatory agencies report on the results of the consultation on proposed regulations.  Post is not aware of any informal regulatory processes that are managed by nongovernmental organizations or private sector associations.

Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are neither fully transparent nor consistent with international norms.  Though auditing is mandatory, professional accounting standards are low, and practitioners may be poorly trained. As a result, published financial reports can be unreliable, and investors often rely instead on businesses reputations unless companies voluntarily use international accounting standards.

Publicly listed companies in Nepal follow the 2013 Nepal Financial Reporting Standards (NFRSs), which were prepared on the basis of the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRSs) 2012, developed by the IFRS Foundation and their standard-setting body, the International Accounting Standards Board.  Audited reports of publicly listed companies are usually made available.

Draft bills or regulations are sometimes made available for public comment, although there is no legal obligation to do so.  The government agency that drafts the bill is responsible for undertaking a public consultation process with key stakeholders by issuing federal notices for comments and recommendations, although it is unclear in practice how many government agencies actually do so.  Additionally, all parliamentarians are given copies of the draft bills to share with their constituencies.  This applies to all draft laws, regulations, and policies. Parliamentary rules, however, require that draft amendments to bills be proposed only within 72 hours of a bill’s introduction, giving minimal time for lawmakers, constituents, or stakeholders to submit considered feedback. In practice, post’s observation has been that there is no clear timeline for the process of creating and passing bills, including the time period provided for public or stakeholder consultation.

Generally, the government agency that drafted the bill, legislation, policy, or regulation posts the actual draft (in Nepali language) online.  Once approved, the Department of Printing, an office that is part of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, posts all acts online. Regulatory actions and summaries of these actions are available at the Office of the Auditor General and the Ministry of Finance.  Both of these government agencies post periodic reports on the regulatory actions taken against agencies violating laws, rules, and regulations.  Such summaries and reports are available online in Nepali.

Individual ministries are responsible for enforcement of regulations under their purview.  The enforcement process is legally reviewable, making the agencies publicly accountable.  There are several government entities, including the Parliamentary Accounts Committee, the Office of the Auditor General, and the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) that oversee the government’s administrative and regulatory processes. Post is not aware of any regulatory reform efforts.

Nepal’s budget and information on debt obligations are widely and easily accessible to the general public.  The annual budget is substantially complete and considered generally reliable. Nepal’s supreme audit institution reviews the government’s accounts, and its reports are publicly available.

International Regulatory Considerations

Nepal is one of eight members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), an intergovernmental organization and geopolitical union of nations in South Asia including: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Under SAARC, Nepal is also a member of the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) which came into force on January 1, 2006 with the goal of creating a duty-free trade regime among SAARC member countries.  According to SAFTA rules, member countries were supposed to reduce formal tariff rates to zero by 2016.  However, tariff barriers remain in place for hundreds of “sensitive” goods produced by various SAARC member countries that do not qualify for duty-free status.

Nepal is also a member of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), an international organization of seven South Asian and Southeast Asian nations: Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan, and Nepal.

Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal – known collectively as BBIN – are working together to develop a platform for sub-regional cooperation in such areas as water resources management, power connectivity, transportation, and infrastructure development.  The four BBIN nations agreed on a motor vehicle agreement (MVA – both cargo and passengers) in 2015. In early 2018, Bangladesh, India, and Nepal also agreed on operating procedures for the movement of passenger vehicles, and in early 2020, the same three countries met to draft a memorandum of understanding to implement the MVA, without obligation to Bhutan.

Nepal’s regulatory system generally relies on international norms and standards developed by the United Nations, World Bank, World Trade Organization (WTO), and other international organizations and regulatory agencies.

Nepal joined the WTO in March 2004.  According to its WTO accession commitments, the GoN agreed to provide notice of all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).  However, GoN officials are unable to confirm whether this procedure is followed consistently.

Nepal ratified the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in January 2017.  As a least developed country (LDC), Nepal could benefit from additional technical assistance from WTO members through the TFA Facility.  A 2017 Asia Development Bank report noted, “Nepal has been making progress in undertaking trade facilitation reforms over the years, particularly those related to the customs.” The WTO’s December 2018 policy review ( https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp481_crc_e.htm ) noted Nepal’s efforts to diversify its narrow production and export base and encouraged Nepal to pursue further economic reform, including through its National Trade Integration Strategy ( https://www.oecd.org/aidfortrade/countryprofiles/dtis/Napal-DTIS-2016.pdf ) as well as address its supply side constraints, most notably high transit and transportation costs.  According to the TFA Facility’s website ( http://www.tfafacility.org ), Nepal has submitted provisions for all three categories, a key step for implementing TFA Category A, B, and C requisites.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Nepal’s court system is based on common law and its legal system is generally categorized under civil and criminal offences and laws. Contract law is codified.  In theory, contracts are automatically enforced, and a breach of contract can be challenged in a court of law. In practice, enforcement of contracts is weak. Nepal’s contracts are guided by the Contract Act of 2000.  Nepal does not have a commercial code. All civil courts are authorized to hear commercial complaints. A ‘commercial bench’ has been established at the High Court, but judges who preside on this bench are the same judges dealing with civil and criminal cases as well.

The judicial system is independent of the executive branch.  Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable, and they are adjudicated in the national court system. In general, the judicial process is procedurally competent, fair, and reliable. In some isolated or high-profile cases, however, court judgments have come under criticism for alleged political interference favoring particular individuals and groups.  There remains widespread public perception that bribery and judicial conflicts of interest affect some judicial outcomes.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

In March 2019, three laws directly affecting foreign investment (FITTA, PPP, and SEZ) were hurriedly revised and passed by Parliament ahead of the 2019 Investment Summit.  This left little time for effective stakeholder consultations and transparency. While welcome provisions were included in the FITTA (a promised single window service center and a streamlined approval process, for example), the regulations to implement the reforms were only completed in January 2021 and observers remain skeptical given the GoN’s record of making lofty announcements without delivering on them in practice. As drafted, even these pieces of reform legislation retain various institutional and procedural impediments to smooth businesses practices which will dissuade all but the most risk-tolerant investors.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Competition Promotion and Market Protection Board, comprised of GoN officials from various ministries and chaired by the Minister of Industry, Commerce, and Supplies, is responsible for reviewing competition-related concerns.  Post is not aware of any competition cases that have involved foreign investors. MOICS’ Department of Supplies Management has a mandate to crack down on cartels and protect consumers. In the previous two years, it has played a more active role in cracking down on businesses—ranging from retailers to healthcare facilities to private schools—for alleged price-gouging.  However, private sector representatives have said that this department is interfering with the free market and is being used by businesses with political connections to target competitors, rather than as a mechanism to protect consumers.

Nepal’s private sector is dominated by cartels and syndicates—often under the banner of business associations–which are often successful in limiting competition from new market entrants in multiple sectors.  In 2018, the GoN issued new permits for transportation companies, and the Minister of Physical Infrastructure and Transport called the cartels “a curse to the nation.” Subsequently, however, the GoN has taken few additional steps to crack down on cartels.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Industrial Enterprise Act of 2016 states that “no industry shall be nationalized.”  To date, there have been no cases of nationalization in Nepal, nor are there any official policies that suggest expropriation should be a concern for prospective investors.  However, companies can be sealed or confiscated if they do not pay taxes in accordance with Nepali law, and bank accounts can be frozen if authorities have suspicions of money laundering or other financial crimes.  Nepal does not have a history of expropriations. There have been no government actions or shifts in government policy that indicate expropriations will become more likely in the foreseeable future.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Nepal is a member of both the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID) and the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Award.  Nepal’s Arbitration Act of 1999 allows the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards and limits the conditions under which those awards can be challenged. The GoN has updated its legislation on dispute settlement to bring its laws into line with the requirements of the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Award.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

As a signatory to the New York Convention and Nepal’s Arbitration Act of 1999, the GoN recognizes foreign arbitral awards as binding.  The Agreement between the Government of India and the Government of Nepal for the Promotion and Protection of Investments also discusses arbitration as a means to resolve investment disputes and notes that awards are binding.

Nepal does not have a Bilateral Investment Treaty or Free Trade Agreement with the United States.  Investment disputes involving U.S. or other foreign investors have not been frequent.  In the past ten years, Post is aware of only two cases in which a U.S. investor claimed the GoN had not honored terms of a contract.  In a third case, a U.S. investor complained about monetary compensation given to a landowner. This case was eventually resolved in favor of the investor. Under the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, local courts are obligated to recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government, but Post is not aware of any cases that have involved foreign arbitral awards. There are no known cases of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Other than arbitration, Post is not aware of any alternative dispute resolution mechanisms available in Nepal. In disputes involving a foreign investor, the concerned parties are encouraged to settle through mediation in the presence of the DOI.  If the dispute cannot be resolved through mediation, depending on the amount of the initial investment and the procedures specified in the contractual agreement, cases may be settled either in a Nepali court or in another legal jurisdiction. Commercial disputes under the jurisdiction of Nepali courts and laws often drag on for years.

Under the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, local courts are obligated to recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards, but Post is not aware of any cases that have involved foreign arbitral awards.

Domestic courts have a history of siding with state-owned enterprises (SOE) and other government entities in cases involving investment disputes. There have been cases in which local courts have refused to determine whether documents issued by an SOE were genuine.

Bankruptcy Regulations

There is no single specific act in Nepal that exclusively covers bankruptcy.  The 2006 Insolvency Act provides guidelines for insolvency proceedings in Nepal and specifies the conditions under which such proceedings can occur.  Additionally, the General Code of 1963 covers bankruptcy-related issues. Creditors, shareholders, or debenture holders can initiate insolvency proceedings against a company by filing a petition at the court.

If a company is solvent, its liquidation is covered by the Company Act of 2006.  If the company is insolvent and unable to pay its liabilities, or if its liabilities exceed its assets, then liquidation is covered by the Insolvency Act of 2006.  Under the Company Act, the order of claimant priority is as follows: 1) government revenue; 2) creditors; and 3) shareholders. Under the Insolvency Act, the government is equal to all other unsecured creditors.  Monetary judgments are made in local currency. Firms and entrepreneurs who have declared bankruptcy are blacklisted from receiving loans for 10 years.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Nepal Stock Exchange (NEPSE) is the only stock exchange in Nepal. The majority of NEPSE’s 255 listed companies are hydropower companies and banks, with the NEPSE listings for banks driven primarily by a regulatory requirement rather than commercial considerations. There are few opportunities for foreign portfolio investment in Nepal.  Foreign investors are not allowed to invest in the Nepal Stock Exchange nor permitted to trade in the shares of publicly listed Nepali companies; only Nepali citizens and Non-Resident Nepalis (NRNs) are allowed to invest in NEPSE and trade stock. The FITTA, however, allows for the creation of a “venture capital fund” to enable foreign institutional investors to take equity stakes in Nepali companies.

The Securities Board of Nepal (SEBON) regulates NEPSE, but the Board does little to encourage and facilitate portfolio investment. While both NEPSE and SEBON have been enhancing their capabilities in recent years, Post’s view is that the NEPSE is far from becoming a mature stock exchange and likely does not have sufficient liquidity to allow for the entry and exit of sizeable positions. Some experts have raised concerns about the Ministry of Finance’s degree of influence over both SEBON and NEPSE and have cited lack of independence from government influence as an impediment to the development of Nepal’s capital market. (See: https://milkeninstitute.org/reports/framing-issues-modernizing-public-equity-market-nepal .)

Nepal moved to full convertibility (no foreign exchange restrictions for transactions in the current account)  when it accepted Article VIII obligations of IMF’s Articles of Agreement in May 1994. In line with this, the GoN and NRB refrain from imposing restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.

Credit is generally allocated on market terms, although special credit arrangements exist for farmers and rural producers through the Agricultural Development Bank of Nepal.  Foreign-owned companies can obtain loans on the local market. The private sector has access to a variety of credit and investment instruments. These include public stock and direct loans from finance companies and joint venture commercial banks. Foreign investors can access equity financing locally, but in order to do so, the investor must be incorporated in Nepal under the Companies Act of 2006 and listed on the stock exchange. The banking sector has grappled with shortages of loanable funds in the last couple of years resulting in high interest rates on loans. One of the major reasons for this is slow and inefficient government spending leading to lack of liquidity in the system. With the return of relative political stability in 2018, it was hoped this problem would be reduced but it has continued.

Money and Banking System

The NRB has promoted mergers in the financial sector and published merger bylaws in 2011 to help consolidate and better regulate the banking sector.  As of January 2021, there were 27 commercial banks, 19 development banks, and 21 finance companies registered with the NRB. This total does not include micro-finance institutions, savings and credit cooperatives, non-government organizations (NGOs), and other institutions, which provide many of the functions of banks and financial institutions.  There are no legal provisions to defend against hostile takeovers, but there have been no reports of hostile takeovers in the banking system.

Nepal’s poor infrastructure and challenging terrain has meant that many parts of the country do not have access to financial services.  A 2015 study by the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) reported that 61 percent of Nepalis had access to formal financial services (40 percent to formal banking). Following local elections in 2017, the GoN established 753 local government units and promised that each unit would be served by at least one bank.  As of January 2020, 8 local units were still without a bank. Most of the local units without banks are in remote locations with few suitable buildings and a lack of proper security and internet connectivity.

(UNCDF) reported that 61 percent of Nepalis had access to formal financial services (40 percent to formal banking). Following local elections in 2017, the GoN established 753 local government units and promised that each unit would be served by at least one bank.  As of January 2020, 8 local units were still without a bank. Most of the local units without banks are in remote locations with few suitable buildings and a lack of proper security and internet connectivity.

Nepal’s banking sector is relatively healthy, though fragmented, and NRB bank supervision, while improving, remains weak, allegedly due to political influence according to several private sector representatives.  The GoN hopes to strengthen the banking system by reducing the number of smaller banks and it has actively encouraged consolidation of commercial banks; there are currently 27 commercial banks, down from 78 in 2012. Most banks locate their branches in and around Kathmandu and in the large cities of southern Nepal.  Some banks are owned by prominent business houses, which could create conflicts of interest. There are also a large number of cooperative banks that are governed not by the NRB but by the Ministry of Agricultural, Land Management, and Cooperatives. These cooperatives compete with banks for customers.

In January 2017, Parliament approved the Bank and Financial Institutions (BAFI) Act.  First introduced in 2013, BAFI is designed to strengthen corporate governance by setting term limits for Chief Executive Officers and board members at banks and financial institutions.  The legislation also aims to reduce potential conflicts of interest by prohibiting business owners from serving on the board of any bank from which their business has taken loans.

In 2018, NRB was criticized for not taking action to relieve a liquidity crunch and the Nepal Banker’s Association came to a gentlemen’s agreement to limit deposit rates.  The NRB did not protest this action, leading to some criticism that it was not fulfilling its role as a regulator against what many perceived as cartel behavior.

The NRB regulates the national banking system and also functions as the government’s central bank. As a regulator, NRB controls foreign exchange; supervises, monitors, and governs operations of banking and non-banking financial institutions; determines interest rates for commercial loans and deposits; and determines exchange rates for foreign currencies.  As the government’s bank, NRB manages all government income and expenditure accounts, issues Nepali bills and treasury notes, makes loans to the government, and determines monetary policy.

Existing banking laws do not allow retail branch operations by foreign banks, which compels foreign banks to set up a local bank if choosing to operate in Nepal.  For example, Standard Chartered formed Standard Chartered Nepal. All commercial banks have correspondent banking arrangements with foreign commercial banks, which they use for transfers and payments.  Standard Chartered is the only correspondent bank with a physical presence in Nepal and handles foreign transactions for the NRB. Nepal will be undergoing a review by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in 2021 to assess its anti-money laundering regime. Although unlikely, Nepal risks losing its correspondent banking relationships or increased FATF monitoring if it fails this assessment.  Foreigners who are legal residents of Nepal with proper work permits and business visas are allowed to open bank accounts.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The FITTA allows foreign investors to repatriate all profits and dividends, all money raised through the sale of shares, all payments of principal and interest on any foreign loans, and any amounts invested in transferring foreign technology. Doing so, however, requires multiple approvals and extended procedures which have historically resulted in such transactions taking months to complete. Foreign nationals working in local industries are also allowed to repatriate 75 percent of their income. Opening bank accounts and obtaining permission for remittance of foreign exchange are available based on the recommendation of the DOI, which usually has provided approval of the original investment.

In practice, repatriation is difficult, time consuming, and not guaranteed.  The relevant GoN department and the NRB, which regulates foreign exchange, must both approve the repatriation of funds. In most cases, approval must also be obtained from the DOI. In the case of the telecommunications sector, the Nepal Telecommunications Authority must also approve the repatriation. In joint venture cases, the NRB and the Ministry of Finance must grant approval. Repatriation of funds is expected to become easier after the single window service center, as provided for by the FITTA, comes fully into operation.

In the past, several foreign companies reported that the GoN insisted on contracts denominated in Nepal’s currency, the Nepali rupee (NPR), and not major world currencies, such as the U.S. dollar. This seems to be changing, at least in the energy sector, where the GoN has adopted a policy that permits the Nepal Electricity Authority to sign Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) denominated in U.S. dollars (or other hard foreign currency).  There are some limits on so-called “forex” or hard currency PPAs, including, for example, the stipulations that only costs or borrowing in foreign currency are covered and that payments may only be made for 10 years or the term of the loan, whichever is less. Provisions for repatriation are governed by NRB procedures, as is conversion of foreign investors’ funds into other currencies. Nepal’s currency has been pegged to the Indian rupee (INR) since 1994 at a rate of 1.6 NPR to 1 INR. As such, the NPR fluctuates relative to world currencies in line with the INR. According to the April 2020 IMF Article IV Consultation—Press Release; Staff Report; and Statement by the Executive Director for Nepal ( https://www.imf.org/en/Countries/NPL ), the peg to the INR reduces exchange rate uncertainty for trade and investment with India, its major trading partner, but the appreciation of the Nepali rupee against the Indian rupee has also resulted in the overvaluation of the Nepali rupee and could affect Nepal’s competitiveness.

Remittance Policies

The FITTA legislation promises to make it easier to remit investment earnings, but it will depend on how effectively the single window, as well as associated approvals and procedures, functions in practice. In the interim, foreign investors will continue to use the old process of applying to the NRB to repatriate funds from the sale of shares. For repatriation of funds connected with dividends, principal and interest on foreign loans, technology transfer fees, or expatriate salaries, the foreign investor applies first to the DOI and then to the NRB. At the DOI stage of obtaining remittance approval, foreign investors must submit remittance requests to a commercial bank. Final remittance approval is granted by the NRB Department of Foreign Exchange, a process that is reported by foreign investors to be opaque and time-consuming. After administrative approvals, a lengthy clearance process between the NRB and the commercial bank further slows the foreign exchange transfer. The experience of U.S. and other foreign investors so far indicates serious discrepancies between the government’s stated policies in the FITTA and implementation in practice.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Nepal has no sovereign wealth funds.

9. Corruption

Some report that corruption is rampant in Nepal. In the words of a World Bank official, corruption in Nepal is “endemic, institutionalized, and driven from the top.” Corruption takes many forms but is pervasive in the awarding of licenses, government procurement, and revenue management. The primary law used to combat corruption in Nepal is the Prevention of Corruption Act 2002. This law prohibits corruption, bribery, money laundering, abuse of office, and payments to facilitate services, both in the public and private sector. According to a report by GAN Integrity, a company that works with businesses to mitigate corporate risk, “implementation and enforcement [of the Prevention of Corruption Act] is inadequate, leaving the levels of corruption in the country unchallenged.” The report goes on to note that Nepal’s judicial system is “subject to pervasive corruption and executive influence,” that “corruption is rife among low-level [police] officers,” and that “Nepali tax officials are prone to corruption, and some seek positions in the sector specifically for personal enrichment.” The full report is available at: https://www.ganintegrity.com/portal/country-profiles/nepal .

The CIAA is Nepal’s constitutional body for corruption control.  The 2015 constitution empowers the CIAA to conduct “investigations of any abuse of authority committed through corruption by any person holding public office.” In practice, CIAA arrests and investigations tend to focus on lower-level government bureaucrats. According to the 2020 Corruption Perception Index released by Transparency International (TI), Nepal ranked 117th among 180 countries, placing it in the range of “highly corrupt” countries.  In January 2018, local media reported that the CIAA is drafting a bill to replace the Prevention of Corruption Act, with the goal of making the new law compatible with the UN Convention against Corruption that Nepal signed in 2011. Nepal is not a member of the OEDC Anti-Bribery Convention.

While anti-corruption laws extend to family members of officials and to political parties, there are no laws or regulations that are specifically designed to counter conflict-of-interest in awarding contracts or government procurement. GoN officials are aware that there should be no conflict of interest when contracts are awarded, but how this is implemented is left to the discretion of the concerned government agency.

The GoN does not require companies to establish codes of conduct. Post is not aware of private companies that use internal controls, ethics, and compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery of government officials, however, this does not mean that there are no companies that use such programs. American consulting firm Frost and Sullivan ( www.frost.com ) maintains an office in Kathmandu and investigates local investment partners for a fee. NGOs involved in investigating corruption do not receive special protections.

Resources to Report Corruption

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

Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority
CIAA Headquarter, P.O. Box No. 9996
Tangal, Kathmandu, Nepal
Phone:  +9771-4440151, 4429688, 4432708

International nongovernmental organization:

Mr. Bharat Bahadur Thapa
President, Transparency International Nepal
P.O. Box 11486, Chakhkhu Bakhkhu Marga, New Baneshwor, Kathmandu
+977 1 4475112, 4475262
Email:  trans@tinepal.org 

Local nongovernmental organization:

Prof. Dr. Srikrishna Shrestha
President, Pro Public
P.O. Box: 14307, Gautambuddha Marg, Annamnagar
Phone:  +977-01-4268681, 4265023; Fax: +977-01-4268022
Email:   mailto:propublic@wlink.com.np 

10. Political and Security Environment

In 2017, Nepal successfully held local, provincial, and national elections to fully implement its 2015 constitution. The Madhesi population in Nepal’s southern Terai belt, together with other traditionally marginalized ethnic and caste groups, believes the constitution is insufficiently inclusive and that its grievances are not being addressed. Post-election, however, this feeling of disenfranchisement may be somewhat assuaged due to the fact that Madhesi parties achieved a majority in the Province 2 provincial assembly elections. The Nepal Communist Party (NCP)—formed by the merger of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist (UML)) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center)—swept the 2017 elections to form a two-thirds majority government in 2018. However, internal wrangling within the NCP broke into the open and dominated much of 2020, resulting in Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli dissolving the parliament in December 2020. Although the parliament was reinstated by the Supreme Court on February 23, 2021, a March 7 Supreme Court ruling broke up the NCP into its original constituents, the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN)-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and CPN-Maoist Center (CPN-MC) parties. It is unclear when or if a new coalition government will be formed among the various parties represented in the (reconvened) Parliament – or whether early elections will be called if the Oli government fails to win a confidence vote. Political negotiations, wrangling, and horse-trading are ongoing, with governance and lawmaking taking a back seat. In the meantime Oli continues as PM.

Criminal violence, sometimes conducted under the guise of political activism, remains a problem. Bandhs (general strikes) called by political parties and other agitating groups sometimes halt transport and shut down businesses, sometimes nationwide. However, in the last several years, few bandhs have been successfully carried out in Kathmandu. Americans and other Westerners are generally not targets of violence.

U.S. citizens who travel to or reside in Nepal are urged to register with the Consular Section of the Embassy by accessing the Department of State’s travel registration site at  https://step.state.gov/step,. The Consular Section provides updated information on travel and security on the embassy website, http://np.usembassy.gov., and can be reached through the Embassy switchboard at (977) (1) 423-4500, by fax at (977) (1) 400-7281, by email at  consktm@state.gov .

U.S. citizens also should consult the Department of State’s Consular Information Sheet for Nepal and Worldwide Caution Public Announcement on the Department of State’s home page at http://travel.state.gov, by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States and Canada, or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, by a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Over the last ten years, there have been frequent calls for strikes, particularly in the Terai. Occasionally, protesters have vandalized or damaged factories and other businesses. On February 22, 2019, a small improvised explosive device (IED) was placed overnight outside the entrance of NCell, Nepal’s second largest mobile carrier. One person died and two others were injured. The Indian-run Arun 3 hydro-power plant has been targeted by IEDs on three occasions and in early-2018 the U.S. Embassy issued a security notice about credible threats of violence targeting the private Chandragiri Hills Cable Car attraction. Such incidents remain infrequent, but unpredictable. Demonstrations have on occasion turned violent, although these activities generally are not directed at U.S. citizens or businesses. Biplav, a splinter Maoist group that threatened or attempted to extort NGOs, businesses, and educational institutions across Nepal over the past two years, is in negotiations with the KP Oli government to give up violence and enter peaceful politics.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

 

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy* Source for Host Country Data:
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2018 USD29.2 2019 USD30.6 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 USD40.8 2019 USD39.7 Nepal Rastra (central) Bank
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 USD0 2019 USD0 Not permitted under Nepali law
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 6.6% 2019 6.2% 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            USD1,620 Amount 100% Total Outward Amount 100%
India                            USD496 Amount 31% N/A
China, P.R.: Mainland USD244 Amount 15% N/A
West Indies                         USD221 Amount 14% N/A
Ireland                    USD103 Amount 6% N/A
Singapore                     USD78 Amount 5% N/A
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Nepalis are prohibited from investing abroad as per the Act Restricting Investment Abroad (ARIA), 1964. Post has heard this Law might be abrogated soon, but as of April 2021, no outward investment is permitted from Nepal.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

Pakistan

Executive Summary

Pakistan’s current government has sought to foster inward investment since taking power in August 2018, pledging to restructure tax collection, boost trade and investment, and fight corruption.  However, the government also inherited a balance of payments crisis, forcing it to prioritize measures to build reserves and shore up its current account rather than medium to long-term structural reforms.  The government entered a $6 billion IMF Extended Fund Facility in July 2019, promising to carry out structural reforms that have been delayed due to the COVID crisis.  In March 2021, the IMF Board authorized release of the latest tranche under the EFF program, and Pakistan successfully accessed global bond markets for the first time since 2017.

Pakistan has made significant progress since 2019 in transitioning to a market-determined exchange rate and reducing its large current account deficit, while inflation has been under 10 percent for the entire reporting period.  However, progress has been slow in areas such as broadening the tax base, reforming the taxation system, and privatizing state owned enterprises.  Pakistan ranked 108 out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 rankings, a positive move upwards of 28 places from 2019.  Yet, the ranking demonstrates much room for improvement remains in Pakistan’s efforts to improve its business climate.  The COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted Pakistan’s economy, particularly during the spring/summer of 2020, but Pakistan fared relatively well compared to other economies in the region.  Pre-COVID, the IMF had predicted Pakistan’s GDP growth would be 2.4 percent in FY 2020.  However, Pakistan’s economy contracted by 0.5 percent in FY 2020, which ended June 30, 2020.

Despite a relatively open formal regime, Pakistan remains a challenging environment for investors with foreign direct investment (FDI) declining by 29 percent in the first half of FY 2021 compared to that same time period in FY 2020.  An improving but unpredictable security situation, lengthy dispute resolution processes, poor intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement, inconsistent taxation policies, and lack of harmonization of rules across Pakistan’s provinces have contributed to lower FDI as compared to regional competitors.  The government aims to grow FDI to $7.4 billion by FY2023 from $2.56 billion in FY2020.

The United States has consistently been one of the largest sources of FDI in Pakistan.  In 2020, China was Pakistan’s number one source for FDI, largely due to projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) for which only PRC-approved companies could bid.  Over the last two years, U.S. companies have pledged more than $1.5 billion of investment in Pakistan.  American companies have profitable operations across a range of sectors, notably fast-moving consumer goods, agribusiness, and financial services.  Other sectors attracting U.S. interest include franchising, information and communications technology (ICT), thermal and renewable energy, and healthcare services.  The Karachi-based American Business Council, a local affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has 61 U.S. member companies, most of which are Fortune 500 companies and spanning a wide range of sectors.  The Lahore-based American Business Forum – which has 23 founding members and 22 associate members – also assists U.S. investors.  The U.S.-Pakistan Business Council, a division of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, supports U.S.-based companies who do business with Pakistan.  In 2003, the United States and Pakistan signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) as the primary forum to address impediments to bilateral trade and investment flows and to grow commerce between the two economies.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 124 of 180 www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 108 of 190 www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 107 of 131 www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 256 apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 1,410 data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Pakistan seeks inward investment in order to boost economic growth, particularly in the energy, agribusiness, information and communications technology, and industrial sectors.  Since 1997, Pakistan has established and maintained a largely open investment regime.  Pakistan introduced an Investment Policy in 2013 that further liberalized investment policies in most sectors to attract foreign investment and signed an economic co-operation agreement with China, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), in April 2015.  CPEC Phase I, which concluded in late 2019, focused primarily on infrastructure and energy production.  CPEC Phase II, which is ongoing, is pivoting away from infrastructure development to mainly focus on promoting Pakistan’s industrial growth by establishing special economic zones throughout the country.  The PRC has also pledged to provide $1 billion in socio-economic initiatives focused on agriculture, health, education, poverty alleviation, and vocational training by 2024.  However, progress on Phase II is significantly delayed due to the COVID pandemic, fiscal constraints, and regulatory issues including the government’s inability so far to pass legislation formalizing the CPEC Authority (a centralized federal body charged with CPEC implementation across the country).  Some opportunities are only open to approved Chinese companies, and CPEC has ensured those projects and their investors receive the authorities’ attention.

To support its Investment Policy, Pakistan also has implemented sectoral policies designed to provide additional incentives to investors in those specific sectors.  The Automotive Policy 2016, Strategic Trade Policy Framework (STPF) 2015-18, Export Enhancement Package 2019, Alternative and Renewable Energy Policy 2019, Merchant Marine Shipping Policy 2019 with 2020 updates, the Electric Vehicle Policy 2020-2025, and the Textile Policy 2021 (still awaiting final approval) are a few examples of sector-specific incentive schemes.  Sector-specific incentives typically include tax breaks, tax refunds, tariff reductions, the provision of dedicated infrastructure, and investor facilitation services.  A new STPF 2020-25 and the Textile Policy 2021 have been approved by the Prime Minister but are still awaiting final Cabinet approvals.

In the absence of the new STPF 2020-2025, incentives introduced through STPF 2015-18 remain in place.  Nonetheless, foreign investors continue to advocate for Pakistan to improve legal protections for foreign investments, protect intellectual property rights, and establish clear and consistent policies for upholding contractual obligations and settlement of tax disputes.

The Foreign Private Investment Promotion and Protection Act (FPIPPA), 1976, and the Furtherance and Protection of Economic Reforms Act, 1992, provide legal protection for foreign investors and investment in Pakistan.  The FPIPPA stipulates that foreign investments will not be subject to higher income taxes than similar investments made by Pakistani citizens.  All sectors and activities are open for foreign investment unless specifically prohibited or restricted for reasons of national security and public safety.  Specified restricted industries include arms and ammunitions; high explosives; radioactive substances; securities, currency and mint; and consumable alcohol.  There are no restrictions or mechanisms that specifically exclude U.S. investors.

Pakistan’s investment promotion agency is the Board of Investment (BOI).  BOI is responsible for attracting investment, facilitating local and foreign investor implementation of projects, and enhancing Pakistan’s international competitiveness.  BOI assists companies and investors who seek to invest in Pakistan and facilitates the implementation and operation of their projects.  BOI is not a one-stop shop for investors, however.

Pakistan prioritizes investment retention through “business dialogues” (virtual or in-person engagements) with existing and potential investors.  BOI plays the leading role in initiating and managing such dialogues.  However, Pakistan does not have an Ombudsman’s office focusing on investment retention.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreigners, except Indian and Israeli citizens/businesses, can establish, own, operate, and dispose of interests in most types of businesses in Pakistan, except those involved in arms and ammunitions; high explosives; radioactive substances; securities, currency and mint; and consumable alcohol.  There are no restrictions or mechanisms that specifically exclude U.S. investors.  There are no laws or regulations authorizing domestic private entities to adopt articles of incorporation discriminating against foreign investment.

Pakistan does not place any limits on foreign ownership or control.  The 2013 Investment Policy eliminated minimum initial capital requirements across sectors so that there is no minimum investment requirement or upper limit on the allowed share of foreign equity, with the exception of investments in the airline, banking, agriculture, and media sectors.  Foreign investors in the services sector may retain 100 percent equity, subject to obtaining permission, a “no objection certificate,” and license from the concerned agency, as well as fulfilling the requirements of the respective sectoral policy.  In the education, health, and infrastructure sectors, 100 percent foreign ownership is allowed, while in the agriculture sector, the threshold is 60 percent, with an exception for corporate agriculture farming, where 100 percent ownership is allowed.  Small-scale mining valued at less than PKR 300 million (roughly $1.9 million) is restricted to Pakistani investors.

Foreign banks may establish locally incorporated subsidiaries and branches, provided they have $5 billion in paid-up capital or belong to one of the regional organizations or associations to which Pakistan is a member (e.g., Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) or the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).  Absent these requirements, foreign banks are limited to a 49-percent maximum equity stake in locally incorporated subsidiaries.

There are no restrictions on payments of royalties and technical fees for the manufacturing sector, but there are restrictions on other sectors, including a $100,000 limit on initial franchise investments and a cap on subsequent royalty payments of 5 percent of net sales for five years.  Royalties and technical payments are subject to remittance restrictions listed in Chapter 14, Section 12 of the SBP Foreign Exchange Manual (http://www.sbp.org.pk/fe_manual/index.htm).

Pakistan maintains investment screening mechanisms for inbound foreign investment.  The BOI is the lead organization for such screening.  Pakistan blocks foreign investments where the screening process determines the investment could negatively affect Pakistan’s national security.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Pakistan has not undergone any third-party investment policy reviews over the past three years.

Business Facilitation

The government utilizes the World Bank’s “Doing Business” criteria to guide its efforts to improve Pakistan’s business climate.  The government has simplified pre-registration and registration facilities and automated land records to simplify property registration, eased requirements for obtaining construction permits and utilities, introduced online/electronic tax payments, and facilitated cross-border trade by expanding electronic submissions and processing of trade documents.  Starting a business in Pakistan normally involves five procedures and takes at least 16.5 days – as compared to an average of 7.1 procedures and 14.5 days for the group of countries comprising the World Bank’s South Asia cohort.  Pakistan ranked 72 out of 190 countries in the Doing Business 2020 report’s “Starting a Business” category.  Pakistan ranked 28 out of 190 for protecting minority investors.  (Note: the 2020 Doing Business Report is the last available report.  End Note.)

The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) manages company registration, which is available to both foreign and domestic companies.  Companies first provide a company name and pay the requisite registration fee to the SECP.  They then supply documentation on the proposed business, including information on corporate offices, location of company headquarters, and a copy of the company charter.  Both foreign and domestic companies must apply for national tax numbers with the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to facilitate payment of income and sales taxes.  Industrial or commercial establishments with five or more employees must register with Pakistan’s Federal Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI) for social security purposes.  Depending on the location, registration with provincial governments may also be required.  The SECP website (www.secp.gov.pk) offers a Virtual One Stop Shop (OSS) where companies can register with the SECP, FBR, and EOBI simultaneously.  The OSS can be used by foreign investors.

Outward Investment

Pakistan does not promote nor incentivize outward investment.  Pakistan does not explicitly restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.  However, cumbersome and time consuming approval processes, involving multiple entities such as the SBP, SECP, and the Ministries of Finance, Economic Affairs, and Foreign Affairs, generally discourage outward investors.  Despite the cumbersome processes, larger Pakistani corporations have made investments in the United States in recent years.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Pakistan generally lacks transparency and effective policies and laws that foster market-based competition in a non-discriminatory manner.  The Competition Commission of Pakistan has a mandate to ensure market-based competition.  In spite of this, however, the “rules of the game” in Pakistan are opaque and variable, and sometimes applied to benefit domestic businesses.

All businesses in Pakistan are required to adhere to certain regulatory processes managed by the chambers of commerce and industry.  Rules, for example on the requirement for importers or exporters to register with a chamber, are equally applicable to domestic and foreign firms.  To date, Post is not aware of any incidents where such rules have been used to discriminate against foreign investors in general or U.S. investors specifically.

The Pakistani government is responsible for establishing and implementing legal rules and regulations, but sub-national governments have a role as well depending on the sector.  Prior to implementation, non-government actors and private sector associations can provide feedback to the government on regulations and policies, but governmental authorities are not bound to follow their input.  Regulatory authorities are required to conduct in-house post-implementation reviews of regulations in consultation with relevant stakeholders.  However, these assessments are not made publicly available.  Since the 2010 introduction of the 18th amendment to Pakistan’s constitution, which delegated significant authorities to provincial governments, foreign companies must comply with provincial, and sometimes local, laws in addition to federal law.  Foreign businesses complain about the inconsistencies in the application of laws and policies from different regulatory authorities.  There are no rules or regulations in place that discriminate specifically against U.S. firms or investors, however.

The SECP is the main regulatory body for foreign companies operating in Pakistan, but it is not the sole regulator.  Company financial transactions are regulated by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), labor by Social Welfare or the Employee Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI), and specialized functions in the energy sector are administered by bodies such as the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA), the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA), and Alternate Energy Development Board (AEDB).  Each body has independent management but all must submit draft regulatory or policy changes through the Ministry of Law and Justice before any proposed rules or regulations may be submitted to parliament or, in some cases, the executive branch.

The SECP is authorized to establish accounting standards for companies in Pakistan, however, execution and implementation of those standards is poor.  Pakistan has adopted most, though not all, International Financial Reporting Standards.  Though most of Pakistan’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms, execution and implementation is inefficient and opaque.

Most draft legislation is made available for public comment but there is no centralized body to collect public responses.  The relevant authorities, usually the ministry under which a law may fall, gathers public comments, if it deems it necessary; otherwise legislation is directly submitted by the government to the legislative branch.  For business and investment laws and regulations, the Ministry of Commerce relies on stakeholder feedback obtained from local chambers and associations – such as the American Business Council (ABC) and Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OICCI) – rather than publishing regulations online for public review.

There is no centralized online location where key regulatory actions are published.  Different regulators publish their regulations and implementing actions on their respective websites.  However, in most cases, regulatory implementing actions are not published online.

Businesses impacted by non-compliance with government regulations may seek relief from the judiciary, Ombudsman’s offices, and the Parliamentary Public Account Committee.  These forums are designed to ensure the government follows required administrative processes.

Pakistan did not announce any enforcement reforms during the last year.  Pakistan is in the process of fully implementing IPR Customs rules to improve IPR enforcement.  However, delayed legislative amendments in IP laws restricts full and effective implementation of such rules.

If fully implemented, IPR Customs rules will improve IPR enforcement and will boost foreign innovators’ confidence in introducing their innovations in Pakistan.

Enforcement processes are legally reviewable – initially by specialized IP Tribunals, but also through the High and Supreme Courts of Pakistan.

The government publishes limited debt obligations in the budget document in two broad categories: capital receipts and public debt, which are published in the “Explanatory Memorandum on Federal Receipts.”  These documents are available at http://www.finance.gov.pk, http://www.fbr.gov.pk, and http://www.sbp.org.pk/edocata.  The government does not publicly disclose the terms of bilateral debt obligations.

International Regulatory Considerations

Pakistan is a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC), and Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO).  However, there is no regional cooperation between Pakistan and other member nations on regulatory development or implementation.

Pakistan’s judicial system incorporates British standards.  As such, most of Pakistan’s regulatory systems use British norms to meet international standards.

Pakistan has been a World Trade Organization (WTO) member since January 1, 1995, and provides most favored nation (MFN) treatment to all member states, except India and Israel.  In October 2015, Pakistan ratified the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).  Pakistan is one of 23 WTO countries negotiating the Trade in Services Agreement.  Pakistan notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade, albeit at times with significant delays.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Most international norms and standards incorporated in Pakistan’s regulatory system, including commercial matters, are influenced by British law.  Laws governing domestic or personal matters are strongly influenced by Islamic Sharia law.  Regulations and enforcement actions may be appealed through the court system.  The Supreme Court is Pakistan’s highest court and has jurisdiction over the provincial courts, referrals from the federal government, and cases involving disputes among provinces or between a province and the federal government.  Decisions by the courts of the superior judiciary (the Supreme Court, the Federal Sharia Court, and five High Courts (Lahore High Court, Sindh High Court, Balochistan High Court, Islamabad High Court, and Peshawar High Court) have national standing.  The lower courts are composed of civil and criminal district courts, as well as various specialized courts, including courts devoted to banking, intellectual property, customs and excise, tax law, environmental law, consumer protection, insurance, and cases of corruption.  Pakistan’s judiciary is influenced by the government and other stakeholders.  The lower judiciary is influenced by the executive branch and seen as lacking competence and fairness.  It currently faces a significant backlog of unresolved cases.

Pakistan’s Contract Act of 1872 is the main law that regulates contracts with Pakistan.  British legal decisions, under some circumstances, are also been cited in court rulings.  While Pakistan’s legal code and economic policy do not discriminate against foreign investments, enforcement of contracts remains problematic due to a weak and inefficient judiciary.

Theoretically, Pakistan’s judicial system operates independently of the executive branch.  However, the reality is different, as the military wields significant influence over the judicial branch.  As a result, there are doubts concerning the competence, fairness, and reliability of Pakistan’s judicial system.  However, fear of contempt of court proceedings inhibit businesses and the public generally from reporting on perceived weaknesses of the judicial process.

Regulations and enforcement actions are appealable.  Specialized tribunals and departmental adjudication authorities are the primary forum for such appeals.  Decisions made by a tribunal or adjudication authority may be appealed to a high court and then to the Supreme Court.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Pakistan’s investment and corporate laws permit wholly-owned subsidiaries with 100 percent foreign equity in most sectors of the economy.  In the education, health, and infrastructure sectors, 100 percent foreign ownership is allowed.  In the agricultural sector, the threshold is 60 percent, with an exception for corporate agriculture farming, where 100 percent ownership is allowed.

A majority of foreign companies operating in Pakistan are “private limited companies,” which are incorporated with a minimum of two shareholders and two directors registered with the SECP.  While there are no regulatory requirements on the residency status of company directors, the chief executive must reside in Pakistan to conduct day-to-day operations.  If the chief executive is not a Pakistani national, she or he is required to obtain a multiple-entry work visa.  Corporations operating in Pakistan are statutorily required to retain full-time audit services and legal representation.  Corporations must also register any changes to the name, address, directors, shareholders, CEO, auditors/lawyers, and other pertinent details to the SECP within 15 days of the change.  To address long process delays, in 2013, the SECP introduced the issuance of a provisional “Certificate of Incorporation” prior to the final issuance of a “No Objection Certificate” (NOC).  The certificate of incorporation includes a provision noting that company shares will be transferred to another shareholder if the foreign shareholder(s) and/or director(s) fails to obtain a NOC.

No new law, regulation, or judicial decision was announced or went into effect during the last year which would be significant to foreign investors.

There is no “single window” website for investment in Pakistan which provides direct access to all relevant laws, rules and reporting requirements for investors.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

Established in 2007, the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) is designed to ensure private and public sector organizations are not involved in any anti-competitive or monopolistic practices.  Complaints regarding anti-competitive practices can be lodged with CCP, which conducts the investigation and is legally empowered to impose penalties; complaints are reviewable by the CCP appellate tribunal in Islamabad and the Supreme Court of Pakistan.  The CCP appellate tribunal is required to issue decisions on any anti-competitive practice within six months from the date in which it becomes aware of the practice.

The CCP is currently investigating a cement sector cartel.  While the CCP has found that cement manufacturers in Pakistan established a cartel and kept prices at an artificially high level raising excess revenues worth $250 million, a review is not yet final.  The CCP also conducted a recent inquiry into sugar prices and submitted a report to the prime minister’s office.  That report has not yet been made public and no action has been taken on the report’s findings.  The CCP generally adheres to transparent norms and procedures.

Expropriation and Compensation

Two Acts, the Protection of Economic Reforms Act 1992 and the Foreign Private Investment Promotion and Protection Act 1976, protect foreign investment in Pakistan from expropriation, while the 2013 Investment Policy reinforced the government’s commitment to protect foreign investor interests.  Pakistan does not have a strong history of expropriation.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Pakistan is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).  Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention) in 2011 under its “Recognition and Enforcement (Arbitration Agreements and Foreign Arbitral Awards) Act.”

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Pakistan has Bilateral Investment Treaties (BIT) with 32 countries.  The BITs include binding international arbitration of investment disputes.  Since foreign investors generally distrust Pakistan’s domestic courts to enforce commercial contracts, they often include clauses requiring binding international arbitration of investment disputes in contracts with the Government of Pakistan.

Pakistan does not have a BIT or FTA with the United States.

A U.S. industrial services company has an ongoing issue regarding the re-possession of its property – three gas compressors – which remain at Pakistan’s Bhikhi power grid station and have an estimated worth of $2 million.  The company entered into a three-year lease agreement with Pakistan Power Resources (PPR) LLC whereby the three compressors were installed at the Bhikki Rental Power Plant on November 1, 2007.  PPR had entered into a contract with Pakistan’s Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) to supply 136MW of electricity under a Government of Pakistan rental power project scheme.  The compressors, with WAPDA identified as the importing entity, were brought in under a “temporary import” scheme of Pakistan’s Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR), which allowed for lower assessed import duties on the compressors with the understanding that the compressors would be re-exported within a pre-defined time period.  To date, WAPDA has not released the compressors due to outstanding penalties/duties assessed by the FBR for the company’s alleged failure to comply with “temporary import” rules.  The FBR has not granted a requested waiver from the parties, continuing to bar their export.

A California-based information technology company responded to the Capital Development Authority (CDA)’s Expression of Interest for the construction, development, and management of an information technology university in Islamabad in 2008.  According to the Expression of Interest, the CDA would provide the land on a 99-year lease to the highest bidder, on agreed yearly payments.  The company was selected, entered into a lease agreement for approximately 200,000 square yards, and made regular payments to CDA.  Upon taking possession of the land, the company determined that the land area was less than the area agreed in the lease contract.  CDA was unsuccessful in clearing access to the leased land due to unlawful encroachment by local dwellers.  Since 2015, the company has attempted to have CDA either clear the land or reimburse the company its lease payments with interest.

A large U.S. insurance company has sought U.S. support to repatriate approximately $4 million (approximate value based on the dollar-rupee exchange rate) from the sale of its shares in its former Pakistani operations.  The company purchased the Pakistani operations in 2010, which included business entities in the U.S. and Pakistan, and sold its Pakistani interest (worth 81 percent of the Pakistani business) in two tranches in 2014 and 2015.  The company has requested the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and Ministry of Finance permit the repatriation of the proceeds.  In the past, the Finance Ministry has held that proceeds from the sale of its Pakistani interests could not be repatriated because they were earned prior to the liberalization of the foreign exchange regime in 1997.

Local courts do not recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government.  Any award involving domestic enforcement component needs an additional affirmative ruling from a local court.

There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Arbitration and special judicial tribunals do exist as alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms for settling disputes between two private parties.  Pakistan’s Arbitration Act of 1940 provides guidance for arbitration in commercial disputes, but cases typically take years to resolve.  To mitigate such risks, most foreign investors include contract provisions that provide for international arbitration.

Pakistan’s judicial system also allows for specialized tribunals as a means of alternative dispute resolution.  Special tribunals are able to address taxation, banking, labor, and IPR enforcement disputes.  However, foreign investors lament the lack of clear, transparent, and timely investment dispute mechanisms.  Protracted arbitration cases are a major concern.  Pakistani courts have not upheld some international arbitration awards.

Pakistan’s local courts do not recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards.  Any such award, involving local enforcement, requires direction from a local court.  The Reko Diq mining dispute is an example where an international arbitral award against Pakistan was not enforced by local Pakistani courts and remains unresolved.

Generally, domestic courts favor SOEs for their investment disputes against foreign entities on the basis of “public interest.”  However, there has not been a relevant case in the past ten years.  In the 2006 Pakistan Steel Case, the Supreme Court struck down the contract between the Privatization Commission of Pakistan and the foreign investor who won the bid.  The Supreme Court decided the bidder should have furnished a guarantee that it would  make future investments to raise production capacity.  Despite the fact that this was not a condition specified in the bid documents, the Supreme Court invalidated the contract.  Since then, the government has not been able to find a serious investor/buyer for Pakistan Steel.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Pakistan does not have a single, comprehensive bankruptcy law.  Foreclosures are governed under the Companies Act 2017 and administered by the SECP, while the Banking Companies Ordinance of 1962 governs liquidations of banks and financial institutions.  Court-appointed liquidators auction bankrupt companies’ property and organize the actual bankruptcy process, which can take years to complete.  On average, Pakistan requires 2.6 years to resolve insolvency issues and has a recovery rate of 42.8 percent.  Pakistan was ranked 58 of 190 for ease of “resolving insolvency” rankings in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report.

The Companies Act 2017 regulates mergers and acquisitions.  Mergers are allowed between international companies, as well as between international and local companies.  In 2012, the government enacted legislation for friendly and hostile takeovers.  The law requires companies to disclose any concentration of share ownership over 25 percent.

Pakistan has no dedicated credit monitoring authority.  However, SBP has authority to monitor and investigate the quality of the credit commercial banks extend.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Pakistan’s three stock exchanges (Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi) merged to form the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) in January 2016.  As a member of the Federation of Euro-Asian Stock Exchanges and the South Asian Federation of Exchanges, PSX is also an affiliated member of the World Federation of Exchanges and the International Organization of Securities Commissions.  Per the Foreign Exchange Regulations, foreign investors can invest in shares and securities listed on the PSX and can repatriate profits, dividends, or disinvestment proceeds.  The investor must open a Special Convertible Rupee Account with any bank in Pakistan in order to make portfolio investments.  In 2017, the government modified the capital gains tax and imposed a 15 percent tax on stocks held for less than 12 months, 12.5 percent on stocks held for more than 12 but less than 24 months, and 7.5 percent on stocks held for more than 24 months. The 2012 Capital Gains Tax Ordinance appointed the National Clearing Company of Pakistan Limited to compute, determine, collect, and deposit the capital gains tax.

The SBP and SECP provide regulatory oversight of financial and capital markets for domestic and foreign investors.  Interest rates depend on the reverse repo rate (also called the policy rate).

Pakistan has adopted and adheres to international accounting and reporting standards – including IMF Article VIII, with comprehensive disclosure requirements for companies and financial sector entities.

Foreign-controlled manufacturing, semi-manufacturing (i.e. goods that require additional processing before marketing), and non-manufacturing concerns are allowed to borrow from the domestic banking system without regulated limits.  Banks are required to ensure that total exposure to any domestic or foreign entity should not exceed 25 percent of a bank’s equity.  Foreign-controlled (minimum 51 percent equity stake) semi-manufacturing concerns (i.e., those producing goods that require additional processing for consumer marketing) are permitted to borrow up to 75 percent of paid-up capital, including reserves.  For non-manufacturing concerns, local borrowing caps are set at 50 percent of paid-up capital.  While there are no restrictions on private sector access to credit instruments, few alternative instruments are available beyond commercial bank lending.  Pakistan’s domestic corporate bond, commercial paper and derivative markets remain in the early stages of development.

Money and Banking System

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) is the central bank of Pakistan.

According to the most recent statistics published by the SBP (2021), only 24 percent of the adult population uses formal banking channels to conduct financial transactions while 25 percent are informally served by the banking sector; women are financially excluded at higher rates than men.  The remaining 51 percent of the adult population do not utilize formal financial services.

Pakistan’s financial sector has been described by international banks and lenders as performing well in recent years.  According to the latest review of the banking sector conducted by SBP in July 2020, improving asset quality, stable liquidity, robust solvency, and slow pick-up in private sector advances were noted.  The asset base of the banking sector expanded by 7.8 percent during 2020 due to a surge in banks’ investments, which increased by 22.8 percent (or PKR 2 trillion).  The five largest banks, one of which is state-owned, control 50.4 percent of all banking sector assets.

SBP conducted the 6th wave of the Systemic Risk Survey in August-2020.  The survey results indicated respondents perceived key risks for the financial system to be mostly exogenous and global in nature.  Importantly, the policy measures rolled out by SBP to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 have been very well received by the stakeholders.

The risk profile of the banking sector remained satisfactory and moderation in profitability and asset quality improved as non-performing loans as a percentage of total loans (infection ratio) was recorded at 9.7 percent at the end of FY 2020 (June 30, 2020).  In 2020, total assets of the banking industry were estimated at $151.9 billion and net non-performing bank loans totaled approximately $1 billion– 1.9 percent of net total loans.

The penetration of foreign banks in Pakistan is low, making a small contribution to the local banking industry and the overall economy.  According to a study conducted by the World Bank Group in 2018, (the latest data available) the share of foreign bank assets to GDP stood at 3.5 percent while private credit by deposit to GDP stood at 15.4 percent.  Foreign banks operating in Pakistan include Citibank, Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank, Samba Bank, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Bank of Tokyo, and the Bank of China.  International banks are primarily involved in two types of international activities: cross-border flows, and foreign participation in domestic banking systems through brick-and-mortar operations.  SBP requires foreign banks to hold at minimum $300 million in capital reserves at their Pakistani flagship location, and maintain at least an 8 percent capital adequacy ratio.  In addition, foreign banks are required to maintain the following minimum capital requirements, which vary based on the number of branches they are operating:

  • 1 to 5 branches: $28 million in assigned capital;
  • 6 to 50 branches: $56 million in assigned capital;
  • Over 50 branches: $94 million in assigned capital.

Foreigners require proof of residency – a work visa, company sponsorship letter, and valid passport – to establish a bank account in Pakistan.  There are no other restrictions to prevent foreigners from opening and operating a bank account.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

As a prior action of its July 2019 IMF program, Pakistan agreed to adopt a flexible market-determined exchange rate.  The SBP regulates the exchange rate and monitors foreign exchange transactions in the open market, with interventions limited to safeguarding financial stability and preventing disorderly market conditions.  However, other government entities can influence SBP decisions through their membership on the SBP’s board; the finance secretary and the Board of Investment chair currently sit on the board.

Banks are required to report and justify outflows of foreign currency.  Travelers leaving or entering Pakistan are allowed to physically carry a maximum of $10,000 in cash.  While cross-border payments of interest, profits, dividends, and royalties are allowed without submitting prior notification, banks are required to report loan information so SBP can verify remittances against repayment schedules.  Although no formal policy bars profit repatriation, U.S. companies have faced delays in profit repatriation due to unclear policies and coordination between the SBP, the Ministry of Finance and other government entities.  Mission Pakistan has provided advocacy for U.S. companies which have struggled to repatriate their profits.  Exchange companies are permitted to buy and sell foreign currency for individuals, banks, and other exchange companies, and can also sell foreign currency to incorporated companies to facilitate the remittance of royalty, franchise, and technical fees.

There is no clear policy on convertibility of funds associated with investment in other global currencies.  The SBP opts for an ad-hoc approach on a case-by-case basis.

Remittance Policies

The 2001 Income Tax Ordinance of Pakistan exempts taxes on any amount of foreign currency remitted from outside Pakistan through normal banking channels.  Remittance of full capital, profits, and dividends over $5 million are permitted while dividends are tax-exempt.  No limits exist for dividends, remittance of profits, debt service, capital, capital gains, returns on intellectual property, or payment for imported equipment in Pakistani law.  However, large transactions that have the potential to influence Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves require approval from the government’s Economic Coordination Committee.  Similarly, banks are required to account for outflows of foreign currency.  Investor remittances must be registered with the SBP within 30 days of execution and can only be made against a valid contract or agreement.

In September 2020, Prime Minister Imran Khan launched the Roshan Digital Account (RDA) project aimed at providing digital banking facilities to overseas Pakistanis.  Customers can use  both PKR and USD for transactions and the accounts receive special tax treatment.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Pakistan does not have its own sovereign wealth fund (SWF) and no specific exemptions for foreign SWFs exist in Pakistan’s tax law.  Foreign SWFs are taxed like any other non-resident person unless specific concessions have been granted under an applicable tax treaty to which Pakistan is a signatory.

9. Corruption

Pakistan ranked 124 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index.  The organization noted corruption problems persist due to the lack of accountability and enforcement of penalties, followed by the lack of merit-based promotions, and relatively low salaries.

Bribes are classified as criminal acts under the Pakistani legal code and are punishable by law, but are widely believed to be given across all levels of government.  Although higher courts are widely viewed as more credible, lower courts are often considered corrupt, inefficient, and subject to pressure from prominent wealthy, religious, political, and military figures.  Political involvement in judicial appointments increases the government’s influence over the court system.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Pakistan’s anti-corruption organization, suffers from insufficient funding and professionalism, and is viewed by Pakistan’s opposition as politically biased.  Fear of NAB prosecution has also deterred agency action on legitimate regulatory issues affecting the business sector.

Resources to Report Corruption

Justice (R) Javed Iqbal
Chairman
National Accountability Bureau
Ataturk Avenue, G-5/2, Islamabad
+92-51-111-622-622
chairman@nab.gov.pk

Ms. Yasmin Lari
Chair
Transparency International
5-C, 2nd Floor, Khayaban-e-Ittehad, Phase VII, D.H.A., Karachi
+92-21-35390408-9
ti.pakistan@gmail.com

10. Political and Security Environment

Despite improvements to the security situation in recent years, the presence of foreign and domestic terrorist groups within Pakistan continues to pose some threat to U.S. interests and citizens.  Terrorist groups commit occasional attacks in Pakistan, though the number of such attacks has declined steadily over the last decade.  Terrorists have in the past targeted transportation hubs, markets, shopping malls, military installations, airports, universities, tourist locations, schools, hospitals, places of worship, and government facilities.  Many multinational companies operating in Pakistan employ private security and risk management firms to mitigate the significant threats to their business operations.  Baloch militant groups continue to target the Pakistani military as well as Chinese and CPEC installations in Balochistan, where Gwadar port is being developed under CPEC.  There are greater security resources and infrastructure in the major cities, particularly Islamabad, and security forces in these areas may be more readily able to respond to an emergency compared to other areas of the country.

The BOI, in collaboration with Provincial Investment Promotion Agencies, can coordinate airport-to-airport security and secure lodging for foreign investors.  To inquire about this service, investors can contact the BOI for additional information – https://www.invest.gov.pk/

Abductions/kidnappings of foreigners for ransom remains a concern.

While security challenges exist in Pakistan, the country has not grown increasingly politicized or insecure in the past year.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2020 $284,641 2019 $278,222 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $106 2019 $256 USTR data available at
https://ustr.gov/countries-regions/
south-central-asia/pakistan
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $9.7 2019 $154 USTR data available at
https://ustr.gov/countries-regions/
south-central-asia/pakistan
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020 1.2% 2019 1.7% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/
handbook/EconomicTrends/Fdi.html
Table 3: Inward and Outward Direct Investment
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 34,808 100% Total Outward 1,922 100%
United Kingdom 9,965 28.6% United Arab Emirates 487 25.3%
Switzerland 4,281 12,3% Bangladesh 187 9.7%
The Netherlands 3,931 11.3% United Kingdom 159 8.3%
United Arab Emirates 2,200 6.3% Bahrain 151 7.9%
China, P.R.: Mainland 2,132 6.1% Bermuda 130 6.8%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 324 100% All Countries 159 100% All Countries 165 100%
Saudi Arabia 138 43% Saudi Arabia 127 80% United Arab Emirates 72 44%
United Arab Emirates 73 23% United States 10 6% Oman 28 17%
Oman 28 9% United Kingdom 9 5% Indonesia 16 10%
Indonesia 16 5% British Virgin Islands 7 5% Qatar 15 9%
Qatar 15 5% Cayman Islands 2 1% Turkey 12 7%

Sri Lanka

Executive Summary

Sri Lanka is a lower middle-income country with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of about $ 3,682 (according to the Central Banka of Sri Lanka (CBSL) and a population of approximately 22 million in 2020.  The island’s strategic location off the southern coast of India along the main east-west Indian Ocean shipping lanes gives Sri Lanka a regional logistical advantage.

After 30 years of civil war, Sri Lanka is transitioning from a predominantly rural-based economy to a more urbanized economy focused on manufacturing and services.  Sri Lanka’s export economy is dominated by apparel and cash-crop exports, mainly tea, but technology service exports are a significant growth sector.  Prior to the April 21, 2019, Easter Sunday attacks, the tourism industry was rapidly expanding, with Lonely Planet naming Sri Lanka its top travel destination in 2019.  However, the attacks led to a significant decline in tourism that continued into 2020 due to COVID-19 and the government’s related decision to close its main international airport for commercial passenger arrivals in March 2020.  The airport reopened for limited commercial passengers in January 2021, but newly reimposed travel restrictions are resulting in severe contractions for both the tourism and apparel export sectors with potential follow-on impacts in related sectors including services, construction, and agriculture.  Tourism revenue dropped 73 percent year-over-year (YoY) in 2020 while apparel exports dropped 15.6 percent in the same period.  However, official figures for migrant labor remittances, another significant source of foreign exchange, increased to $7.1 billion in 2020 due to the collapse of informal money transfer systems during the pandemic, despite the job losses to Sri Lankan migrant workers, especially in the Middle East.

The administration of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was elected in November 2019, has largely promoted pro-business positions, including announcing tax benefits for new investments to attract foreign direct investment (FDI).  As outlined in its election manifesto, the Rajapaksa government’s economic goals, include positioning Sri Lanka as an export-oriented economic hub at the center of the Indian Ocean (with government control of strategic assets such as Sri Lankan Airlines), improving trade logistics, attracting export-oriented FDI, and boosting firms’ abilities to compete in global markets.  However, COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns brought new economic challenges, forcing the government to adapt policies to the situation on the ground.  In April 2020, the Ministry of Finance restricted imports of luxury and semi-luxury consumer products such as consumer durables, motor vehicles, and the import of certain agricultural products as a means of saving foreign reserves and creating employment in labor intensive agriculture.  With a debt-to-GDP ratio now above 100 percent (of which 60 percent is foreign debt), Sri Lanka is facing a potential liquidity crisis, exacerbated by declining export receipts due to the pandemic.  Exports of goods fell 15.6 percent to $10 billion in 2020, down from $12 billion in 2019.  Exports of services fell roughly 60 percent to $3 billion in 2020 down from $7.5 billion in 2019.

FDI in Sri Lanka has largely been concentrated in tourism, real estate, mixed development projects, ports, and telecommunications in recent years.  With a growing middle class, investors also see opportunities in franchising, information technology services, and light manufacturing for the domestic market. The Board of Investment (BOI) is the primary government authority responsible for investment, particularly foreign investment, aiming to provide “one-stop” services for foreign investors.  The BOI is committed to facilitating FDI and can offer project incentives, arrange utility services, assist in obtaining resident visas for expatriate personnel, and facilitate import and export clearances.  However, Sri Lanka’s import regime is one of the most complex and protectionist in the world.  Sri Lanka ranks 99th out of 190 countries on the World Bank’s Doing Business Index and ranks very poorly in several areas, including contract enforcement (164 out of 190); paying taxes (142/190); registering property (138/190); and obtaining credit (132/190).  Sri Lanka ranks well in protecting minority investors, coming in at 28/190 in 2020.

Sri Lanka’s GDP contracted 3.6 percent to approximately $81 billion in 2020 due to COVID-19, an improvement on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projection for a 4.6 percent contraction.  FDI fell to approximately $550 million in 2020, significantly less than the $1.2 billion in 2019 and $2.3 billion in 2018.  The IMF projects a four percent growth in 2021.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 94 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 99 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 101 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 $165 million http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $ 4,020 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Sri Lanka is a constitutional multiparty socialist republic.  In 1978, Sri Lanka began moving away from socialist, protectionist policies and opening up to foreign investment, although changes in government are often accompanied by swings in economic policy.  While the incumbent government largely promoted pro-business positions, including announcing tax benefits for new investments to attract FDI, the government also made interventionist policies to arrest the ongoing economic fallout from COVID-19.  This in turn has altered the field of foreign direct investment towards manufacturing intended to the domestic market.

The BOI (www.investsrilanka.com), an autonomous statutory agency, is the primary government authority responsible for investment, particularly foreign investment, with BOI aiming to provide “one-stop” services for foreign investors.  BOI’s Single Window Investment Facilitation Taskforce (SWIFT) helps facilitate the investment approvals process and works with other agencies in order to expedite the process.  BOI can grant project incentives, arrange utility services, assist in obtaining resident visas for expatriate personnel, and facilitate import and export clearances.

Importers to Sri Lanka face high barriers.  According to a World Bank study, Sri Lanka’s import regime is one of the most complex and protectionist in the world.  U.S. stakeholders have raised concerns the government does not adequately consult with the private sector prior to implementing new taxes or regulations – citing the severe import restrictions imposed as a reaction to COVID-19 as an example.  These restrictions, quickly imposed without consulting the private sector, further complicated Sri Lanka’s import regime.   Similarly, stakeholders have raised concerns that the government does not allow adequate time to implement new regulations.  Additionally, the Sri Lankan government has banned the importation of several “non-essential” items since April 2020 in an attempt to curtail foreign exchange outflow as the Sri Lankan rupee (LKR) depreciated around five percent year-to-date in 2021 and is expected to come under further pressure.

Sri Lanka is a challenging place to do business, with high transaction costs aggravated by an unpredictable economic policy environment, inefficient delivery of government services, and opaque government procurement practices.  Investors noted concerns over the potential for contract repudiation, cronyism, and de facto or de jure expropriation.  Public sector corruption is a significant challenge for U.S. firms operating in Sri Lanka and a constraint on foreign investment.  While the country generally has adequate laws and regulations to combat corruption, enforcement is weak, inconsistent, and selective.  U.S. stakeholders and potential investors expressed particular concern about corruption in large infrastructure projects and in government procurement.  The government pledged to address these issues, but the COVID-19 response remains its primary concern.  Historically, the main political parties do not pursue corruption cases against each other after gaining or losing political positions.

While Sri Lanka is a challenging place for businesses to operate, investors report that starting a business in Sri Lanka is relatively simple and quick, especially when compared to other lower middle-income markets.  However, scalability is a problem due to the lack of skilled labor, a relatively small talent pool and constraints on land ownership and use.  Investors note that employee retention is generally good in Sri Lanka, but numerous public holidays, a reluctance of employees to work at night, a lack of labor mobility, and difficulty recruiting women decrease efficiency and increase start-up times.  A leading international consulting firm claims the primary issue affecting investment is lack of policy consistency.

Limits on Foreign Control and Private Ownership

Foreign ownership is allowed in most sectors, although foreigners are prohibited from owning land with a few limited exceptions.  Foreigners can invest in company shares, debt securities, government securities, and unit trusts.  Many investors point to land acquisition as the biggest challenge for starting a new business.  Generally, Sri Lanka prohibits the sale of public and private land to foreigners and to enterprises with foreign equity exceeding 50 percent.  However, on July 30, 2018, Sri Lanka amended the Land (Restriction of Alienation) Act of 2014 to allow foreign companies listed on the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) to acquire land.  Foreign companies not listed on the CSE—but engaged in banking, financial, insurance, maritime, aviation, advanced technology, or infrastructure development projects identified and approved as strategic development projects—may also be exempted from restrictions imposed by the Land Act of 2014 on a case-by-case basis.

The government owns approximately 80 percent of the land in Sri Lanka, including the land housing most tea, rubber, and coconut plantations, which are leased out, typically on 50-year terms.  Private land ownership is limited to fifty acres per person.  Although state land for industrial use is usually allotted on a 50-year lease, the government may approve 99-year leases on a case-by-case basis depending on the project.  Many land title records were lost or destroyed during the civil war, and significant disputes remain over land ownership, particularly in the North and East.  The government has started a program to return property taken by the government during the war to residents in the North and East.

The government allows up to 100 percent foreign investment in any commercial, trading, or industrial activity except for the following heavily regulated sectors: banking, air transportation; coastal shipping; large scale mechanized mining of gems; lotteries; manufacture of military hardware, military vehicles, and aircraft; alcohol; toxic, hazardous, or carcinogenic materials; currency; and security documents.  However, select strategic sectors, such as railway freight transportation and electricity transmission and distribution, are closed to any foreign capital participation. Foreign investment is also not permitted in the following businesses: pawn brokering; retail trade with a capital investment of less than $5 million; and coastal fishing.

Foreign investments in the following areas are restricted to 40 percent ownership:  a) production for export of goods subject to international quotas; b) growing and primary processing of tea, rubber, and coconut, c) cocoa, rice, sugar, and spices; d) mining and primary processing of non-renewable national resources, e) timber based industries using local timber, f) deep-sea fishing, g) mass communications, h) education, i) freight forwarding, j) travel services, k) businesses providing shipping services.

In areas where foreign investments are permitted, Sri Lanka treats foreign investors the same as domestic investors.  However, corruption reportedly may make it difficult for U.S. firms to compete against foreign bidders not subject to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act when competing for public tenders.

Business Facilitation

The Department of Registrar of Companies (www.drc.gov.lk) is responsible for business registration.  Online registration (http://eroc.drc.gov.lk/) was recently introduced and registration averages four to five days.  In addition to the Registrar of Companies, businesses must register with the Inland Revenue Department to obtain a taxpayer identification number (TIN) for payment of taxes and with the Department of Labor for social security payments.

Outward Investment

The government supports outward investment, and the Export Development Board offers subsidies for companies seeking to establish overseas operations, including branch offices related to exports.  New outward investment regulations came into effect November 20, 2017.  Sri Lankan companies, partnerships, and individuals are permitted to invest in shares, units, debt securities, and sovereign bonds overseas subject to limits specified by the new Foreign Exchange Regulations.  Sri Lankan companies are also permitted to establish overseas companies.  Investments over the specified limit require the Central Bank Monetary Board’s approval.  All investments must be made through outward investment accounts (OIA).  All income from investments overseas must be routed through the same OIA within three months of payment.  (Note:  In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sri Lankan government introduced a series of measures attempting to ease pressure on the Sri Lankan rupee.  These measures included a temporary suspension on OIA transactions and additional foreign exchange controls.)

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Many foreign and domestic investors view the regulatory system as unpredictable with outdated regulations, rigid administrative procedures, and excessive leeway for bureaucratic discretion.  BOI is responsible for informing potential investors about laws and regulations affecting operations in Sri Lanka, including new regulations and policies that are frequently developed to protect specific sectors or stakeholders.  Effective enforcement mechanisms are sometimes lacking, and investors cite coordination problems between BOI and relevant line agencies.  Lack of sufficient technical capacity within the government to review financial proposals for private infrastructure projects also creates problems during the tender process.

Corporate financial reporting requirements in Sri Lanka are covered in a number of laws, and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka (ICASL) is responsible for setting and updating accounting standards to comply with current accounting and audit standards adopted by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) and the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (IAASB).  Sri Lanka follows International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) for financial reporting purposes set by the IASB.  Sri Lankan accounting standards are applicable for all banks, companies listed on the stock exchange, and all other large and medium-sized companies in Sri Lanka.  Accounts must be audited by professionally qualified auditors holding ICASL membership.  ICASL also has published accounting standards for small companies.  The Accounting Standards Monitoring Board (ASMB) is responsible for monitoring compliance with Sri Lankan accounting and auditing standards.

Overall legislative authority lies with Parliament.  Line ministries draft bills and, together with regulatory authorities, are responsible for crafting draft regulations, which may require approval from the National Economic Council, the Cabinet, and/or Parliament.  Bills are published in the government gazette http://documents.gov.lk/en/home.php at least seven days before being placed on the Order Paper of the Parliament (the first occasion the public is officially informed of proposed laws) with drafts being treated as confidential prior to this.  Any member of the public can challenge a bill in the Supreme Court if they do so within one week of its placement on the Order Paper of the Parliament.  If the Supreme Court orders amendments to a bill, such amendments must be incorporated before the bill can be debated and passed.  Regulations are made by administrative agencies and are published in a government gazette, similar to a U.S. Federal Notice.  In addition to regulations, some rules are made through internal circulars, which may be difficult to locate.

The Central Bank and the Finance Ministry published information on Central Government debt including contingent liabilities and government finance. Central Bank publishes information on debt of major SOE’s.  Debt obligations are available online in the Central Bank Annual Report; Fiscal Management Report of the Finance Ministry; Annual Report of the Ministry of Finance.  Information on contingent liabilities is available in the Annual Report of the Ministry of Finance.  Since 2018, the Central Bank published guaranteed debt and central government debt annually.

International Regulatory Considerations

Sri Lanka is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and has made WTO notifications on customs valuation, agriculture, import licensing, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, the Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures, and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.  Sri Lanka ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in 2016 and a National Trade Facilitation Committee was tasked with undertaking reforms needed to operationalize the TFA.  The WTO conducted a review of the TFA in June 2019 in which Sri Lankan officials noted challenges related to accessing technical assistance and capacity building support for implementation of TFA recommendations.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Sri Lanka’s legal system reflects diverse cultural influences.  Criminal law is fundamentally British-based while civil law is Roman-Dutch.  Laws on marriage, divorce, inheritance, and other issues can also vary based on religious affiliation.  Sri Lankan commercial law is almost entirely statutory, reflecting British colonial law, although amendments have largely kept pace with subsequent legal changes in the United Kingdom.  Several important legislative enactments regulate commercial issues: the BOI Law; the Intellectual Property Act; the Companies Act; the Securities and Exchange Commission Act; the Banking Act; the Inland Revenue Act; the Industrial Promotion Act; and the Consumer Affairs Authority Act.

Sri Lanka’s court system consists of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, provincial High Courts, and the Courts of First Instance (district courts with general civil jurisdiction) and Magistrate Courts (with criminal jurisdiction).  Provincial High Courts have original, appellate, and reversionary criminal jurisdiction.  The Court of Appeal is an intermediate appellate court with a limited right of appeal to the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court exercises final appellate jurisdiction for all criminal and civil cases.  Citizens may apply directly to the Supreme Court for protection if they believe any government or administrative action has violated their fundamental human rights.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The principal law governing foreign investment is Law No. 4 (known as the BOI Act), created in 1978 and amended in 1980, 1983, 1992, 2002, 2009 and 2012.  The BOI Act and implementing regulations provide for two types of investment approvals, one for concessions and one without concessions.  Under Section 17 of the Act, the BOI is empowered to approve companies satisfying minimum investment criteria with such companies eligible for duty-free import concessions.  The BOI acts as the “one-stop-shop” to facilitate all the requirements of the foreign investors to Sri Lanka.  Investment approval under Section 16 of the BOI Act permits companies to operate under the “normal” laws and applies to investments that do not satisfy eligibility incentive criteria.  From April 1, 2017, Inland Revenue Act No. 24 of 2017 created an investment incentive regime granting a concessionary tax rate (for specific sectors) and capital allowances (depreciation) based on capital investments.  Commercial Hub Regulation No 1 of 2013 applies to transshipment trade, offshore businesses, and logistic services.  The Strategic Development Project Act of 2008 (SDPA) provides tax incentives for large projects that the Cabinet identifies as “strategic development projects.”

https://investsrilanka.com/

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Sri Lanka does not have a specific competition law.  Instead, the BOI or respective regulatory authorities may review transactions for competition-related concerns.  In March of 2017, Parliament approved the “Anti-Dumping and Countervailing” and “Safeguard Measures” Acts.  These laws provide a framework against unfair trade practices and import surges and allow government trade agencies to initiate investigations relating to unfair business practices to impose additional and/or countervailing duties.

Expropriation and Compensation

Since economic liberalization policies began in 1978, the government has not expropriated a foreign investment, with the last expropriation dispute resolved in 1998.  The land acquisition law (Land Acquisition Act of 1950) empowers the government to take private land for public purposes with compensation based on a government valuation.  Still, there have been reported cases of the military taking over businesses in the North and East part of the country, by claiming they were on government land, with little or no compensation.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Sri Lanka is a member state to the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID convention) and a signatory to the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention) without reservations.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Sri Lanka signed a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with the United States in 1991.  Over the past ten years, according to the United Nations, two investment disputes in Sri Lanka have involved foreign investors: 1) a dispute between a major European bank and the national Ceylon Petroleum Corporation regarding an oil hedging agreement, concluded with the proceeding being decided in favor of the foreign bank; and 2) an arbitration involving British and local investors (with the Attorney General as respondent) regarding a tourism development project that concluded in 2020 with the ICSID tribunal dismissing the $20 million claim for failure to prove the claim.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Sri Lanka ranks very poorly on contract enforcement (164 out of 190) on the World Bank’s Doing Business Indicators.  As a result, many investors prefer arbitration over litigation.  Sri Lanka has a community mediation system, which primarily handles non-commercial mediations and commercial disputes where the amount in controversy is less than $3,333.00.  There is no-mediation system for commercial disputes over that threshold amount.  The Institute for the Development of Commercial Law and Practice (ICLP) (www.iclparbitrationcentre.com) and the Sri Lanka National Arbitration Centre (www.slnarbcentre.com) also help settle private commercial disputes through arbitration.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Companies Act and the Insolvency Ordinance provide for dissolution of insolvent companies, but there is no mechanism to facilitate the reorganization of financially troubled companies.  Other laws make it difficult to keep a struggling company solvent.  The Termination of Employment of Workmen Special Provisions Act (TEWA), for example, makes it difficult to fire or lay off workers who have been employed for more than six months for any reason other than serious, well-documented disciplinary problems.  In the absence of comprehensive bankruptcy laws, extra-judicial powers granted by law to financial institutions protect the rights of creditors.  A creditor may petition the court to dissolve the company if the company cannot make payments on debts in excess of LKR 50,000 ($320.00).  Lenders are also empowered to foreclose on collateral without court intervention.  However, loans below LKR 5 million ($32,000) are exempt, and lenders cannot foreclose on collateral provided by guarantors to a loan.

Sri Lanka ranked 94 out of 190 countries in the resolving insolvency index in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020.  Resolving insolvency takes, on average, 1.7 years at a cost equivalent to 10 percent of the estate’s value.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) governs the CSE, unit trusts, stockbrokers, listed public companies, margin traders, underwriters, investment managers, credit rating agencies, and securities depositories.  Foreign portfolio investment is encouraged.  Foreign investors can purchase up to 100 percent of equity in Sri Lankan companies in permitted sectors.  Investors may open an Inward Investment Account (IIA) with any commercial bank in Sri Lanka to bring in investments.  As of August 30, 2020, 289 companies representing 20 business sectors are listed on the CSE.  As stock market liquidity is limited, investors need to manage exit strategies carefully.

In accordance with its IMF Article VIII obligations, the government and the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) generally refrain from restrictions on current international transfers.  When the government experiences balance of payments difficulties, it tends to impose controls on foreign exchange transactions.  Due to pressures on the balance of payments caused by the COVID-19 economic crisis, Sri Lanka took several measures to restrict imports and limit outward capital transactions.

The state consumes over 50 percent of the country’s domestic financial resources and has a virtual monopoly on the management and use of long-term savings.  This inhibits the free flow of financial resources to product and factor markets.  High budget deficits have caused interest rates to rise and resulted in higher inflation.  On a year-to-year basis, inflation was approximately 5.1 percent in March of 2021, and the average prime lending rate was 9.91 percent.  Retained profits finance a significant portion of private investment in Sri Lanka with commercial banks as the principal source of bank finance and bank loans as the most widely used credit instrument for the private sector.  Large companies also raise funds through corporate debentures.  Credit ratings are mandatory for all deposit-taking institutions and all varieties of debt instruments.  Local companies can borrow from foreign sources.  FDI finances about 6 percent of overall investment.  Foreign investors can access credit on the local market and are free to raise foreign currency loans.

Money and Banking System

Sri Lanka has a diversified banking system.  There are 25 commercial banks:  13 local and 12 foreign.  In addition, there are seven specialized local banks.  Citibank N.A. is the only U.S. bank operating in Sri Lanka.  Several domestic private commercial banks have substantial government equity acquired through investment agencies controlled by the government.  Banking has expanded to rural areas, and by end of 2020 there were over 3,619 commercial bank branches and over 6,176 Automated Teller Machines throughout the country.  Both resident and non-resident foreign nationals can open foreign currency banking accounts.  However, non-resident foreign nationals are not eligible to open Sri Lankan Rupee accounts.

CBSL is responsible for supervision of all banking institutions and has driven improvements in banking regulations, provisioning, and public disclosure of banking sector performance.  Credit ratings are mandatory for all banks.  CBSL introduced accounting standards corresponding to International Financial Reporting Standards for banks on January 1, 2018, and the application of the standards substantially increased impairment provisions on loans.  The migration to the Basel III capital standards began in July of 2017 on a staggered basis, with full implementation was kicking in on January 1, 2019 and some banks having had to boost capital to meet full implementation of Basel III requirements.  In addition, banks must increase capital to meet CBSL’s new minimum capital requirements deadline, which is set for December 31, 2022. A staggered application of capital provisions for smaller banks unable to meet capital requirements immediately will likely be allowed.

Total assets of the banking industry stood at LKR 14,666 billion ($75.2 billion) as of December 31, 2020.  The two fully state-owned commercial banks – Bank of Ceylon and People’s Bank – are significant players, accounting for about 33 percent of all banking assets.  The Bank of Ceylon currently holds a non-performing loan (NPL) ratio of 4.98 percent (up from 4.79 percent in 2019).  The People’s Bank currently holds a NPL ratio of 3.85 percent (up from 3.68 percent in 2019).  Both banks have significant exposure to SOEs but, these banks are implicitly guaranteed by the state.  The six-month debt moratorium issued by the CBSL for distressed borrowers will expired in March 2021, the impact of this is yet to be reflected on the banking sector NPL

In October 2019, Sri Lanka was removed from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) gray list after making significant changes to its Anti-Money Laundering/Countering the Finance of Terrorism (AML/CFT) laws.  CBSL is exploring the adoption of blockchain technologies in its financial transactions and appointed two committees to investigate the possible adoption of blockchain and cryptocurrencies.

Sri Lanka has a rapidly growing alternative financial services industry that includes finance companies, leasing companies, and microfinance institutes.  In response, CBSL has established an enforcement unit to strengthen the regulatory and supervisory framework of non-banking financial institutions.  Credit ratings are mandatory for finance companies as of October 1, 2018.   The government also directed banks to register with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to comply with the U.S. Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).  Almost all commercial banks have registered with the IRS.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Sri Lanka generally has investor-friendly conversion and transfer policies.  Companies say they can repatriate funds relatively easily.  In accordance with its Article VIII obligations as a member of the IMF, Sri Lanka liberalized exchange controls on current account transactions in 1994 and, in 2010-2012, the government relaxed exchange controls on several categories of capital account transactions.  A new Foreign Exchange Act, No. 12 of 2017, came into operation on November 20, 2017 and further liberalized capital account transactions to simplify current account transactions.  Foreign investors are required to open Inward Investment Accounts (IIA) to transfer funds required for capital investments but there are no restrictions or limitations placed on foreign investors in converting, transferring, or repatriating funds associated with an investment through an IIA in any foreign currency designated by CBSL.

Remittance Policies

No barriers exist, legal or otherwise, to remittance of corporate profits and dividends for foreign enterprises since 2017 when Sri Lanka relaxed investment remittance policies with the new Foreign Exchange Act.  Remittances are done through IIAs.  There are no waiting periods for remitting investment returns, interest, and principal on private foreign debt, lease payments, royalties, and management fees provided there is sufficient evidence to prove the originally invested funds were remitted into the country through legal channels.  Exporters must repatriate export proceeds within 120 days.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Sri Lanka does not have a sovereign wealth fund.  The government manages and controls large retirement funds from private sector employees and uses these funds for budgetary purposes (through investments in government securities), stock market investments, and corporate debenture investments.

9. Corruption

While Sri Lanka has generally adequate laws and regulations to combat corruption, enforcement is often weak and inconsistent.  U.S. firms identify corruption as a major constraint on foreign investment, but generally not a major threat to operating in Sri Lanka once contracts have been established.  The business community claims that corruption has the greatest effect on investors in large projects and on those pursuing government procurement contracts.  Projects geared toward exports face fewer problems.  A Right to Information Act came into effect in February of 2017 which increased government transparency.

The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC or Bribery Commission) is the main body responsible for investigating bribery allegations, but it is widely considered ineffective and has reportedly made little progress pursuing cases of national significance.  The law states that a public official’s offer or acceptance of a bribe constitutes a criminal offense and carries a maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment and fine.  Bribery laws extend to family members of public officials, but political parties are not covered.  A bribe by a local company to a foreign official is also not covered by the Bribery Act and the government does not require private companies to establish internal codes of conduct that prohibit bribery of public officials.  Thus far, the Bribery Commission has focused on minor cases such as bribes taken by traffic police, wildlife officers, and school principals.  These cases reportedly follow a pattern of targeting low-level offenses with prosecutions years after the offense followed by the imposition of sentences not always proportionate to the conduct (i.e., sometimes overly strict, other times overly lenient).

Government procurement regulations contain provisions on conflicts-of-interest in awarding contracts or government procurement.  While financial crime investigators have developed a number of cases involving the misappropriation of government funds, these cases have often not moved forward due to lack of political will, political interference, and lack of investigative capacity.  Sri Lanka signed and ratified the UN Convention against Corruption in March of 2004 and the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime in 2006.  Sri Lanka is a signatory to the OECD-ADB Anti-Corruption Regional Plan but has not joined the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency responsible for combating corruption:

Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption
No 36, Malalasekara Mawatha, Colombo 7
T+94 112 596360 / 2595039 M+94 767011954
Email: ciaboc@eureka.lk or dgbribery@gmail.com

Contact at “watchdog” organization:

Transparency International, Sri Lanka
5/1 Elibank Road Colombo 5
Phone: 94-11- 4369783
Email: tisl@tisrilanka.org

10. Political and Security Environment

The government’s military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ended in May 2009 with the defeat of the LTTE.  During the civil war, the LTTE had a history of attacks against civilians, although none of the attacks were intentionally directed against U.S. citizens.  On April 21, 2019, terrorist attacks targeted several churches and hotels throughout Colombo and in the eastern city of Batticaloa, killing more than 250 people, including over 40 foreigners including five Americans.  In the aftermath of the attacks, the government imposed nationwide curfews and a temporary ban on some social media outlets.

Demonstrations occasionally take place in response to world events or local developments and are not uncommon near Western embassies.  However, they tend to be well-contained with support from the Sri Lankan police.

Business-related Violence

Business related violence is not common and has little impact on the investment environment.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2020 $80.6 Billion 2019 $84 Billion www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $274 Million 2019 $165 Million BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $ N/A 2019 $67 Million BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020 0.17% 2019 15.5% UNCTAD data available at

https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx  

* Source for Host Country Data: Central Bank of Sri Lanka

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 Amount 100% Total Outward Amount 100%
People’s Republic of China: 2,186 17% Singapore 303 20%
India 1,688 13% India 205 14%
Netherlands 1,593 13% Netherlands 150 10%
Singapore 1,130 9% Malaysia 136 9%
Malaysia 1,083 8% Bangladesh 126 8%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- $500,000.

According to CBSL, the United States is the 13th largest foreign investor in Sri Lanka in terms of stock of foreign direct investment (FDI). The United States stock of FDI in 2020 was $274 million.  FDI inflows from the United States were $13 million in 2020.  United States FDI in Sri Lanka has remained steady over the past five years.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.