4. Industrial Policies
All investment incentives to foreign investors are regulated by national level legislation, which can be adopted only by the president. Regional and local governments have limited authorities to offer any additional preferences. Exceptions can be made for tax incentives granted by special government resolutions or presidential decrees. By the new Tax Code, the GOU may provide holidays for land taxes, property taxes and water use taxes to some companies with foreign direct investments on a case-by-case basis.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
The first law on free economic zones in Uzbekistan appeared in 1996. After dozens of modifications, in February 2020 it was finally replaced by the Law on Special Economic Zones (SEZ) (ZRU-604), which entered into force May 19, 2020 (the text is available in English: https://lex.uz/docs/4821319 ). The law provides the following classification of special economic zones:
Free Economic Zone (FEZ) – territory allocated for the construction of new high-tech, competitive, import-substituting, and export-oriented industrial production capacities, and for development of industrial, engineering, telecommunications, road, and social infrastructure, as well as appropriate logistics services.
Special Scientific and Technological Zone – territory allocated for the development of innovation infrastructure by scientific and science-related organizations, including technology parks, technology distribution/transfer centers, innovation clusters, venture funds, and business incubators.
Tourist-Recreational Zone – territory allocated for tourism infrastructure development investment projects, including construction of hotels, cultural and recreational facilities, and functional and seasonal recreation areas.
Free Trade Zones – territories for consignment warehouses, areas of special customs and tax regimes, facilities at border crossing points for processing, packing, sorting, storing goods, airports, railway stations or other custom control sites.
Special Industrial Zone – territory with special economic and financial regulations of production and logistical business activities.
According to the new Law of SEZ (Article 39) and the Tax Code (Article 473), investors to special economic zones of Uzbekistan may expect:
Holidays for paying property taxes, land taxes and taxes for the use of water resources. The term of the holiday shall be determined by a separate presidential resolution depending on the size of investments. Such tax holidays can be applied only to business activities stipulated in the relevant investment agreement with administration of a special economic zone. Participants of special economic zones also may get some VAT exemptions and other tax benefits.
Exemption from paying customs payments (except for value added tax and customs clearance fees) for construction materials that cannot be sourced locally; technological equipment that cannot be sourced locally, raw materials, materials and components used to produce export-oriented output.
The following activities are prohibited within the SEZs:
- Businesses that violate environmental and labor protection standards.
- Businesses related to weapons and ammunition.
- Businesses related to nuclear materials and radioactive substances.
- Production of alcohol and tobacco products.
- Rawhide processing, livestock corrals, or slaughter of animals.
- Production of cement, concrete, cement clinker, bricks, reinforced concrete slabs, coal, lime and gypsum products.
- Processing, decomposition, incineration, gasification, chemical treatment, final or temporary storage or burial underground of all types of waste.
- Placement of oil refineries, nuclear power plants, nuclear installations, or radiation sources, or points and installations designed for storage, disposal, and processing of nuclear fuel, radioactive substances, and waste, as well as other radioactive waste.
The first Free Industrial and Economic Zone (FIEZ) was created in 2008 in the Navoi region. By the end of 2020, the GOU had created 12 industrial, seven pharmaceutical, two agricultural, and one tourism free economic zones, as well as over 143 special small industrial zones in all regions of the country. According to official statistics, about 380 investment projects have been implemented in these zones, creating nearly 31,000 new jobs.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
The GOU considers attraction of foreign investments as one of the key instruments for addressing rural poverty and growing unemployment in Uzbekistan.
There are several restrictions and quantitative limitations on employment of foreign nationals in Uzbekistan. The chief accountants in banking and auditing companies must be Uzbekistani nationals. The law also requires that either the CEO or one member of a board of directors be a citizen of Uzbekistan. In the tourism sector, only Uzbekistani nationals can be professional tour guides. The Law on Special Economic Zones (ZRU-604) requires having at least 90% locally sourced labor force in projects operating within special economic and small industrial zones. The Agency on Foreign Labor Migration under the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations is responsible for enforcing limits on employment of foreign nationals in various industries. For example, the number of foreign nationals in energy companies that operate in the country under Production Sharing Agreement terms cannot exceed 20% of the total number of employees, and additional foreign personnel can be hired only if there is no qualified local labor.
All foreign citizens, except those from certain countries of the former Soviet Union, need visas to work in Uzbekistan and all individuals must register their residences with authorities. Legislation permits foreign investors and specialists to obtain multiple entry visas for the period of their contract. To apply for a work visa, American citizens must submit documents regarding their company to an Uzbekistani embassy or consulate. American investors have complained in the past about the short validity of visas and the limited number of entries, though we understand that practice is changing, and investors can specifically request multiple entry/longer term visas.
Foreign workers must also register with the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations.
Formally, permission from the government is not required to invest in Uzbekistan except for investments in the special economic zones and businesses that are subject to licensing. At the same time, the GOU’s economic policy still maintains an intense focus on import substitution and export-oriented industrialization. Investors in non-priority sectors can expect less support in importing capital and consumer products than those in priority industries.
The government welcomes foreign investors mainly in the areas of localization, building local production capacities, and developing export potential. To support local producers, the GOU introduced a rule (GOU Resolution PKM-41, adopted January 29, 2021), which says import contracts of enterprises and joint ventures with at least a 50% state share exceeding 50,000 BCRs ($1,155,660 as of March 2021) are subject to mandatory review by the supervisory boards of these entities on a quarterly basis. The government also bans import of 529 categories of goods and certain services through public procurement processes. The list includes food products, construction materials, fertilizers, industrial products, textile and clothing products, footwear and leather goods, furniture, household goods, household electrical appliances, vehicles, paper and cellulose products, medical products, and others. The GOU also has established a procedure for public procurement of these imported goods through the portal website of the Center for Electronic Cooperation under the Ministry of Economic Development and Poverty Reduction.
Uzbekistan’s legislation stipulates that the government must apply requirements to use domestic inputs in manufacturing uniformly to enterprises with domestic and foreign investments, but in practice, this is not always the case. There are no requirements for using only local sources of financing.
To qualify as an enterprise or business with foreign investment and be eligible for tax and other incentives, the share of foreign investment must be at least 15% of the charter capital of a company. The investment must consist of hard currency or new equipment, delivered within one year of registering the enterprise. The minimum requirements for charter capital for incentives (except financial institutions) is 400 million s’om (about $38,000 as of March 2021).
Tax incentives for foreign investment are essentially the same as for local enterprises participating in an investment, localization, or modernization program. Enterprises with significant investment in priority sectors or registered in one of free economic or special industrial zones can expect additional benefits.
On February 20, 2020, the GOU announced its plan to require localization of personal data storage, in line with the Law on Personal Data (ZRU-547), adopted July 2, 2019. Per the law, large internet companies like Facebook, Google, and Russian search engine Yandex are encouraged to move their server equipment with local users’ personal data to the territory of Uzbekistan. According to the law, the GOU may block services in the country in the event of non-compliance.
As of now, the legislation of Uzbekistan prevents or restrict companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside the country.
Transfers of technology or proprietary information are not required by the law and can be the subject of an agreement between the foreign investor and its local partner.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Property ownership is governed by the Law on Protection of Private Property and Guarantees of the Owner’s Rights. Uzbekistani and foreign entities may own or lease buildings, but not the underlying land. Mortgages are available for local individuals only, but not for legal entities. There are no mortgage lien securities in Uzbekistan.
The new Law on Privatization of Non-agricultural Land Plots (ZRU-522, August 13, 2019) allows private land ownership for plots that do not fall under the definition of agricultural land by the Land Code of Uzbekistan. Land ownership is granted only to entities and individuals who are residents of Uzbekistan. Foreign citizens and entities do not have land property rights in Uzbekistan. Effective March 1, 2020, Uzbekistan residents can privatize:
- Land plots of entities, on which their buildings, structures and industrial infrastructure facilities are located, as well as the land extensions necessary for their business activities;
- Land plots provided to citizens for individual housing construction and maintenance;
- Unoccupied land plots;
- Land plots allocated to the Urban Development Fund under the Ministry of Economy and Industry.
The following types of land cannot be privatized:
- Land plots located in territories that are not covered by officially documented layout plans.
- Land plots that contain mineral deposits or state property of strategic importance. The list of such land plots shall be specified by appropriate legislation.
- Land plots reserved for environmental, recreational, and historical-cultural purposes, state owned land and water resources, and public areas of cities and towns (e.g. squares, streets, roads, boulevards).
- Land plots affected by hazardous substances or susceptible to biogenic contamination.
- Land plots provided to residents of special economic zones.
However, according to Article 55 of Uzbekistan’s Constitution, the land, its subsoil, waters, flora and fauna and other natural resources are national wealth, subject to rational use and are protected by the state. The Land Code also states that the land is state property (Article 16). Contradictions in the legislation are still to be resolved.
The World Bank ranked Uzbekistan 72nd in the world in the Registering Property category of its 2020 Doing Business Report. More details can be reviewed here: https://www.doingbusiness.org/en/data/exploreeconomies/uzbekistan#DB_rp
Land privatization is a new concept for Uzbekistan. All agricultural land in Uzbekistan is still owned by the state. As of March 1, 2020, a new law on privatization allows for the privatization of non-agricultural land plots.
Legislation governing the acquisition and disposition of immoveable property (buildings and facilities) poses relatively few problems for foreign investors and is similar to laws in other CIS countries. Immoveable property ownership is generally respected by local and central authorities. District governments have departments responsible for managing commercial real estate issues, ranging from valuations to sale and purchase of immoveable property. Legally purchased but unoccupied immoveable property can be nationalized for several reasons, including by an enforcement process of a court decision, seizure for past due debts on utility or communal services, debts for property taxes, and, in some cases, for security considerations. Unauthorized takeover of unoccupied immoveable property by other private owners (squatters) is not a common practice in Uzbekistan. Usually, authorities inspect the legitimacy of immoveable property ownership at least once every year.
Intellectual Property Rights
While the concept of registering intellectual property (IP) is still new to Uzbekistan, the GOU recognizes intellectual property rights (IPR) as critical to its economic goals. As Uzbekistan prepares for accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), its leaders have further reiterated the importance of IPR protections. In 2018 and 2019, Uzbekistan completed accession to the Geneva Phonograms Convention and two WIPO Internet Treaties. Responsibility for IPR issues lies with the formerly independent Uzbekistan Agency for Intellectual Property (AIP), which was subsumed under the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) (AIP, http://www.ima.uz/ ) in February 2019.
Uzbekistan’s Customs Code, entered into force April 2016, allows rights holders to control the importation of intellectual property goods. The Code introduced a special customs record procedure, which is based on a database of legal producers and their distributors. Uzbekistan also introduced several amendments to its IPR law, as well as amendments to civil and criminal codes meant to enforce stricter punishment for IPR violations.
Uzbekistan’s patent protections are generally sufficient, but enforcement remains one of the biggest challenges. Foreign companies face obstacles proving IP violations and receiving compensation for losses sustained due to violations. IP violators are rarely obligated to cease infringing activities or pay meaningful penalties. AIP lacks any kind of enforcement power, as does the MOJ. Enforcement is weak across different kinds of IP. Copyright cases are almost never brought before the Antimonopoly Committee (the body responsible for responding to IP complaints) because companies makes the decision that the cost of fighting copyright violations outweighs the benefits. Trademark cases often take years to settle in the courts, driving up costs and consuming time and resources. For companies who cannot meet the demands of a multiyear court battle it becomes cost prohibitive to pursue action to protect their IP.
While Uzbekistan took important steps in recent years to address longstanding issues pertaining to IPR, there remain serious deficiencies in trademark and copyright protections, judicial processes related to IPR, and enforcement of actions against IPR violations and violators.
In December 2018, President Mirziyoyev signed a bill into law for Uzbekistan to accede to the Geneva Phonograms Convention. The GOU forwarded signed copies of the law to WIPO and the UN, thus completing the formal ratification of these conventions. In February 2019, the President approved adoption of two bills into the law for Uzbekistan to accede to the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performance and Phonograms Treaty (“Internet Treaties”). The GOU is working on amendments to national legislation to bring it in line with the requirements of the IPR Treaties. These measures represent the necessary short-term actions for Uzbekistan to maintain its benefits under the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). The full list of IPR-related international agreements/treaties that Uzbekistan has acceded to is available here: https://wipolex.wipo.int/en/legislation/profile/UZ .
In April 2018, the GOU provided greater authority to a new inspectorate under the Ministry of Information Technologies and Communications to monitor compliance and enforce copyright protections on the internet. The GOU is also establishing a system of licensing for companies that sell software legally, in order to stem the flow of pirated software to the marketplace, as described in GOU Resolution #72 of 2012 (https://www.lex.uz/acts/1982899).
There are no publicly available reports on seizures of counterfeit goods in 2020. In 2020, the AIP recorded 111 cases of trademark violations and many cases of trading counterfeit goods, including about 540 cases of selling counterfeit alcohol. The agency also recorded production and sale of counterfeit Head & Shoulders products (a brand owned by Procter & Gamble) and Mars candy bars. The Board of Appeal had reviewed cases of five American companies (Colgate-Palmolive Company, Under Armour Inc., Delta Hotels by Marriott, Apple Inc., and Emerson) and issued rulings in their favor.
Under current Uzbekistani law, the court considers copyright infringement cases only after the copyright holder submits a claim of damages. Similarly, for imported products, customs officials do not have an ex-officio function, and the onus is on the rights holder to initiate an action against a suspected infringer. The Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) has the authority to both penalize violators and order them to desist from producing, marketing, or selling infringing goods, but few cases ever make it to the PGO. The burden of proving an IP violation is so high that most cases never leave the Antimonopoly Committee or the administrative court system. While these cases are stalled in the court system, infringing companies may continue to operate without restrictions.
Uzbekistan has been on the Watch List of the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 Report since 2000. The political will to improve IPR protection seems to exist at the highest levels of the government, but effective enforcement policies are still not in place. Although Uzbekistan has taken some important first steps to address concerns raised in previous USTR’s reports, the country will have to demonstrate measurable and sustained progress before removal from the Special 301 Watch List.Uzbekistan is not, listed in USTR’s notorious market report.
For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
Prior to 2017, the government focused on investors capable of providing technology transfers and employment in local industries and had not prioritized attraction of portfolio investments. In 2017, the GOU announced its plans to improve the capital market and use stock market instruments to meet its economic development goals. The government created a new Agency for the Development of Capital Markets (CMDA) in January 2019 as the institution responsible for development and regulation of the securities market and protection of the rights and legitimate interests of investors in securities market. CMDA is currently implementing a capital markets development strategy for 2020-2025. According to CMDA officials, the goal of the strategy is to make the national capital market big enough to attract not only institutional investors, but to become a key driver of domestic wealth creation. The U.S. Government is supporting this strategy through a technical assistance program led by the Department of the Treasury.
Uzbekistan has its own stock market, which supports trades through the Republican Stock Exchange “Tashkent,” Uzbekistan’s main securities trading platform and only corporate securities exchange ( https://www.uzse.uz ). The stock exchange mainly hosts equity and secondary market transactions with shares of state-owned enterprises. In most cases, government agencies determine who can buy and sell shares and at what prices, and it is often impossible to locate accurate financial reports for traded companies.
Uzbekistan formally accepted IMF Article VIII in October 2003, but due to excessive protectionist measures of the government, businesses had limited access to foreign currency, which stimulated the grey economy and the creation of multiple exchange rate systems. Effective September 5, 2017, the GOU eliminated the difference between the artificially low official rate and the black-market exchange rate and allowed unlimited non-cash foreign exchange transactions for businesses. The Law on Currency Regulation (ZRU-573 of October 22, 2019) fully liberalized currency operations, current cross-border and capital movement transactions.
In 2019, the GOU considerably simplified repatriation of capital invested in Uzbekistan’s industrial assets, securities, and stock market profits. According to the law (ZRU-531), foreign investors that have resident entities in Uzbekistan can convert their dividends and other incomes to foreign currencies and transfer them to their accounts in foreign banks. Non-resident entities that buy and sell shares of local companies can open bank accounts in Uzbekistan to accumulate their revenues.
Under the law, foreign investors and private sector businesses can have access to various credit instruments on the local market, but the still-overregulated financial system yields unreliable credit terms. Access to foreign banks is limited and is usually only granted through their joint ventures with local banks. Commercial banks, to a limited degree, can use credit lines from international financial institutions to finance small and medium sized businesses.
Money and Banking System
As of January 2021, 32 commercial banks operate in Uzbekistan. Five commercial banks are state-owned, 13 banks are registered as joint-stock financial organizations (eight of which are partly state-owned), seven banks have foreign capital, and seven banks are private. Commercial banks have 884 branches and a network of exchange offices and ATMs throughout the country. State-owned banks hold 84% of banking sector capital and 85% of banking sector assets, leaving privately owned banks as relatively small niche players. The nonbanking sector is represented by 63 microcredit organizations and 64 pawn shops.
In May 2020, President Mirziyoyev approved a five-year strategy for reformation of the banking sector to address existing weaknesses of the banking sector, such as excessive share of state assets, insufficient competition, poor quality of corporate governance and banking services in comparison with best international standards, as well as a relatively low penetration of modern global technologies. The goal of the strategy is to reduce the state share in the sector from the current 84% to 60% and to increase the market share of the non-banking sector from current 0.35% to 4%. The government will privatize its shares in six banks and facilitate modernization of banking services in remaining state-owned banks.
According to assessments of international rating agencies, including Fitch and Moody’s, the banking sector of Uzbekistan is stable and poses limited near-term risks, primarily due to high concentration and domination of the public sector, which controls over 80% of assets in the banking system. Moody’s notes high resilience of the country’s banking system to the impact of the COVID pandemic in comparison with other CIS countries. The average rate of capital adequacy within the system is 18.4%, and the current liquidity rate is 67.4%. The growing volume of state-led investments in the economy supports the stability of larger commercial banks, which often operate as agents of the government in implementing its development strategy. Privately owned commercial banks are relatively small niche players. The government and the Central Bank of Uzbekistan (CBU) still closely monitor commercial banks.
According to the Central Bank of Uzbekistan, the share of nonperforming loans out of total gross loans is 2.1% (as of January 1, 2021). The average share of nonperforming loans in state-owned banks is about 2.1% and 1.9% in private banks. A majority of Uzbekistan’s commercial banks have earned “stable” ratings from international rating agencies.
As of January 1, 2021, the banking sector’s capitalization was about $5.8 billion, and the value of total bank assets in the whole country was equivalent to about $37 billion. The three largest state-owned banks – the National Bank of Uzbekistan, Asaka Bank, and Uzpromstroybank – hold 46% of the banking sector’s capital ($2.7 billion) and 47.7% of the assets ($17.5 billion).
Uzbekistan maintains a central bank system. The Central Bank of Uzbekistan (CBU) is the state issuing and reserve bank and central monetary authority. The bank is accountable to the Supreme Council of Uzbekistan and is independent of the executive bodies (the bank’s organization chart is available here: http://www.cbu.uz/en/).
In general, any banking activity in Uzbekistan is subject to licensing and regulation by the Central Bank of Uzbekistan. Foreign banks often feel pressured to establish joint ventures with local financial institutions. Currently there are seven banks with foreign capital operating in the market, and five foreign banks have accredited representative offices in Uzbekistan, but do not provide direct services to local businesses and individuals. Information about the status of Uzbekistan’s correspondent banking relationships is not publicly available.
Foreigners and foreign investors can establish bank accounts in local banks without restrictions. They also have access to local credit, although the terms and interest rates do not represent a competitive or realistic source of financing.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
Uzbekistan adopted Article VIII of the IMF’s Articles of Agreement in October 2003, but full implementation of its obligations under this article began only in September 2017. In accordance with new legislation (ZRU 531 of March 2019 and ZRU-573 of October 2019), all businesses, including foreign investors, are guaranteed the ability to convert their dividends and other incomes in local currencies to foreign currencies and transfer to foreign bank accounts for current cross-border, dividend payments, or capital repatriation transactions without limitations, provided they have paid all taxes and other financial obligations in compliance with local legislation. Uzbekistan authorities may stop the repatriation of a foreign investor’s funds in cases of insolvency and bankruptcy, criminal acts by the foreign investor, or when so directed by arbitration or a court decision.
The exchange rate is determined by the CBU, which insists that it is based on free market forces (10,600 s’om per one U.S dollar as of March 2021). On February 15, 2015, trade sessions at the local FX Exchange transferred from the previous “fixing” methods to the combination of “call auction” and bilateral continuous auctions (“matching”). The CBU publishes the official exchange rate of foreign currencies at 1600 every business day for accounting, statistical and other reporting purposes, as well as for the calculation of customs and other mandatory payments in the territory of Uzbekistan.
After the almost 50% devaluation of the national currency in September 2017, the exchange rate had been relatively stable in 2018 with an average of 2.4% annual devaluation. In 2019, the devaluation of s’om accelerated to 14%, although the CBU reported it had made $3.6 billion in interventions in the forex market to support the local currency. In 2020, the annual devaluation was held below 10%. The local currency’s relative stability in 2020 was supported by reduced imports and strong FX reserves ($34.9 billion by January 1, 2021).
President Mirziyoyev launched foreign exchange liberalization reform on September 2017 by issuing a decree “On Priority Measures for Liberalization of Monetary Policy.” The Law on Currency Regulation (ZRU-573), adopted on October 22, 2019, has liberalized currency exchange operations, current cross-border, and capital movement transactions. Business entities can purchase foreign currency in commercial banks without restrictions for current international transactions, including import of goods, works and services, repatriation of profits, repayment of loans, payment of travel expenses and other transfers of a non-trade nature.
Banking regulations mandate that the currency conversion process should take no longer than one week. In 2019 businesses reported that they observed no delays with conversion and remittance of their investment returns, including dividends; return on investment, interest and principal on private foreign debt; lease payments; royalties; and management fees.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
The Fund for Reconstruction and Development of Uzbekistan (UFRD) serves as a sovereign wealth fund. Uzbekistan’s Cabinet of Ministers, Ministry of Finance, and the five largest state-owned banks were instrumental in establishing the UFRD, and all those institutions have membership on its Board of Directors.
The fund does not follow the voluntary code of good practices known as the Santiago Principles, and Uzbekistan does not participate in the IMF-hosted International Working Group on sovereign wealth funds. The GOU established the UFRD in 2006, using it to sterilize and accumulate foreign exchange revenues, but officially the goal of the UFRD is to provide government-guaranteed loans and equity investments to strategic sectors of the domestic economy.
The UFRD does not invest, but instead provides debt financing to SOEs for modernization and technical upgrade projects in sectors that are strategically important for Uzbekistan’s economy. All UFRD loans require government approval.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
State-owned enterprises (SOEs) dominate those sectors of the economy recognized by the government as being of national strategic interest. These include energy (power generation and transmission, and oil and gas refining, transportation and distribution), metallurgy, mining (ferrous and non-ferrous metals and uranium), telecommunications (fixed telephony and data transmission), machinery (the automotive industry, locomotive and aircraft production and repair), and transportation (airlines and railways). Most SOEs register as joint-stock companies, and a minority share in these companies usually belongs to employees or private enterprises. Although SOEs have independent boards of directors, they must consult with the government before making significant business decisions.
The government owns majority or blocking minority shares in numerous non-state entities, ensuring substantial control over their operations, as it retains the authority to regulate and control the activities and transactions of any company in which it owns shares. The Agency for Management of State-owned Assets is responsible for management of Uzbekistan’s state-owned assets, both those located in the country and abroad. There are no publicly available statistics with the exact number of wholly and majority state-owned enterprises, the number of people employed, or their contribution to the GDP. According to some official reports and fragmented statistics, there are over 3,500 SOEs in Uzbekistan, including 27 large enterprises and holding companies, about 2,900 unitary enterprises, and 486 joint stock companies, which employ about 1.5-1.7 million people, or about 13% of all domestically employed population. In 2020, the share of SOEs in the GDP was about 55%, and taxes paid by 10 largest SOEs contributed 63.3% of total state budget revenues.
The published list of major Uzbekistani SOEs is available on the official GOU website (listing large companies and banks only): http://www.gov.uz/en/pages/government_sites .
By law, SOEs are obligated to operate under the same tax and regulatory environment as private businesses. In practice, however, private enterprises do not enjoy the same terms and conditions.
In certain sectors, private businesses have limited access to commodities, infrastructure, and utilities due to legislation or licensing restrictions. They also face more than the usual number of bureaucratic hurdles if they compete with the government or government-controlled firms. Most SOEs have a range of advantages, including various tax holidays, as well as better access to commodities, energy and utility supplies, local and external markets, and financing. There are cases when gaps in the legislation are used to ignore the rights of private shareholders (including minority shareholders and holders of privileged shares) in joint stock companies with a state share.
A May 2019 IMF Staff Report concluded that SOEs absorbed disproportionate shares of skilled labor, energy, and financial resources, while facing weak competition enforcement and enjoying a wealth of investment preferences. The GOU has officially recognized the problem. President Mirziyoyev said strong involvement of the state in the fuel and energy, petrochemical, chemical, transport, and banking sectors was hampering their development. In 2020, he issued several decrees and resolutions to improve the competition environment and reduce the dominance of SOEs in the economy. New legislation has strengthened the role of the Anti-Monopoly Committee, overturned over 600 obstructing laws and regulations, abolished 70 (out of 266) types of licenses and 35 (out of 140) permits for various types of businesses. The Presidential decree on SOE reformation and privatization (adopted October 27, 2020) orders 32 large SOEs to optimize and transform their corporate structure, 39 SOEs to introduce advanced corporate governance and financial audit systems, the privatization of state-owned shares in 541 enterprises through public auctions, and the sale of 15 public facilities to the private sector. The reform covers large SOEs in the energy, mining, telecommunications, transportation, construction, chemical, manufacturing, and other key industries. Another decree orders large-scale privatization in the banking sector. In 2020, the government started projects to privatize six state-owned banks in cooperation with international financial institutions. In addition to privatization efforts, the GOU intends to attract private investments to the public sector through promotion of public-private partnerships (PPP). The new law on PPP, adopted in 2019, and a number of follow-up regulations introduced in 2020 create a more favorable environment for such partnerships.
Implementation of this SOE optimization and reform program will likely take some time, as the GOU seeks to avoid high social costs, such as mass unemployment. In September 2020, the IMF staff noted, “The crisis should not delay the reform of the state-owned banks and state-owned enterprises—including by improving their governance—and the agricultural sector. As the crisis abates, the authorities should also continue with reducing the role of the state in the economy, opening up markets and enhancing competition, and improving the business environment.”
GOU policy papers indicate it is prioritizing further privatization of state-owned assets. The GOU’s goal is to reduce the public share of capital in the banking sector and business entities through greater attraction of foreign direct investments, local private investments, and promotion of public-private partnerships.
The new public sector optimization policy was first announced in 2018. A special working group headed by the Prime Minister performed careful due diligence on about 3,000 enterprises with state shares and developed proposals for their reorganization and privatization. Based on the results, the GOU approved a program that covers over 620 SOEs in the energy, mining, telecommunications, transportation, construction, chemical, manufacturing, and other key industries. The program foresees privatization of 541 state-owned enterprises, six state-owned banks, and the sale of 15 public facilities to the private sector. In a longer-term perspective, the government plans to privatize over 1,115 SOEs and offer about 50 SOEs for public-private partnership projects. Companies that operate critical infrastructure and enterprises that qualify as companies of strategic importance will remain in full state ownership.
Senior government officials see privatization and public-private partnerships as a solution to improve the economic performance of inefficient large SOEs and as an instrument to attract private investments. They view such investments as critical for the creation of new jobs and mitigation of state budget deficits. The GOU believes it needs to prepare SOEs for privatization by introducing advanced corporate governance methods and restructuring the organization and finances of underperforming SOEs.
By law, privatization of non-strategic assets does not require government approval and can be cleared by local officials. Foreign investors are allowed to participate in privatization programs. For investors that privatize assets at preferential terms, the payment period is three years, and the investment commitment fulfillment term is five years. Large privatization deals with the involvement of foreign investment require GOU approval. Formally, such approval can be issued after examination by the Contracts Detailed Due Diligence Center under the Ministry of Economy.
C. Do these programs have a public bidding process? If so, is it easy to understand, non-discriminatory and transparent? Please provide a link to the relevant government website.
Privatization programs officially have a public bidding process. The legislation and regulations adopted in 2020 for acceleration of the privatization program are intended to ensure the transparency and fairness of the process, as well as facilitating greater involvement of international financial institutions and foreign experts as consultants. In the past, however, privatization procedures have been confusing, discriminatory, and non-transparent. Many investors note a lack of transparency at the final stage of the bidding process, when the government negotiates directly with bidders before announcing the results. In some cases, the bidders have been foreign-registered front companies associated with influential Uzbekistani families. The State Assets Management Agency of Uzbekistan coordinates the privatization program (https://davaktiv.uz/en/privatization).
8. Responsible Business Conduct
There is no legislation on responsible business conduct (RBC) in Uzbekistan, and the concept has not been widely adopted, though many companies are active in charitable and corporate social responsibility activities, either through their own initiative or because they were mandated by local government officials.
Historically, the level of forced labor involved in the annual cotton harvest (September – November) was high, as citizens were pressed into service in the fields to meet government targets for cotton production. However, much has changed since President Mirziyoyev took office and the GOU has reversed course and worked hard to eradicate forced labor from the harvest and move away from Soviet-era cotton production targets. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) 2020 monitoring reports, the total percentage of the approximately two million pickers recruited for the 2020 harvest who experienced some coercion fell from 6% to 4% – a year-over-year reduction from approximately 102,000 to 80,000 pickers.
Efforts to eliminate trafficking in persons and forced labor leaped forward in 2020 with the government’s February 2020 decision to end the state quota system for cotton. Dismantling the complex quota system required further development of the cluster system, first introduced in 2018 as a means to reduce forced labor. By the end of 2020, the number of clusters (privately operated, vertically integrated, cotton textile producing enterprises, including those with foreign capital) in Uzbekistan exceeded 90 and the percentage of land cultivated by or on behalf of private businesses grew considerably. With increased privatization of cotton production, the government ceded decisions about labor to private businesses.
Relevant government agencies and departments inspect both newly registering and operating local businesses and enterprises for enforcement of the Labor Code in respect to labor and employment rights; the Law on Protection of Consumer’s Rights for consumer protections; and the Law on Protection of Nature for environmental protections. Labor or environmental laws and regulations are not waived for enterprises with private and foreign investments.
Legislation, including the Law on Joint-Stock Companies and Protection of Shareholder’s Rights, issued in 1996 and last updated in 2018, sets a range of standards to protect the interests of minority shareholders. In 2018, the GOU approved corporate governance rules for SOEs. Their introduction is in progress.
The Law on the Securities Market requires businesses that issue securities (except government securities) to publish annual reports, which should include a summary of business activities for the previous year, financial statements with a copy of an independent audit, and material facts on the activities of the issuer during the corresponding period.
There are no independent NGOs, investment funds, worker organizations/unions, or business associations promoting or monitoring RBC in Uzbekistan. Some international organizations, like the Asian Development Bank, provide technical and advisory assistance to the government and local enterprises.
Uzbekistan adopted its Corporate Governance Code in 2015 as a voluntary requirement. The same year, the GOU set corporate governance requirements for joint-stock companies (Decree UP-4720).
At present, Uzbekistan does not adhere to the OECD guidelines regarding responsible supply chains of minerals from conflict-afflicted and high-risk areas, and there has been no substantial evidence to suggest the government encourages foreign and local businesses to follow generally accepted CSR principles such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Uzbekistan does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).
Uzbekistan’s legislation prohibits the private security industry or use of private security companies within the country.
Department of State
- Country Reports on Human Rights Practices;
- Trafficking in Persons Report;
- Guidance on Implementing the “UN Guiding Principles” for Transactions Linked to Foreign Government End-Users for Products or Services with Surveillance Capabilities and;
- North Korea Sanctions & Enforcement Actions Advisory
Department of Labor