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Moldova

Executive Summary

Since gaining independence in 1991, Moldova has made some progress in adopting free-market economic reforms and strengthening democratic institutions.  While the historic election of a reform-oriented president in 2020 was a positive sign, her authority is limited, and Moldova’s investment climate still presents significant challenges.  The government resigned in December 2020, leaving a caretaker government with limited powers to address the dual impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the most severe drought in recent history. Moldova successfully completed a $178 million International Monetary Fund (IMF) program and implemented some financial sector reform, but political turmoil precluded a second $550 million program.  In 2020 Moldova’s unemployment increased, GDP declined by over seven percent, and many small/medium enterprises (SMEs) closed as the pandemic dragged on. The interim government is not empowered to implement meaningful reforms or address local business concerns; with no visible end to the ongoing political crisis in sight, it is uncertain when a new permanent government will be in place.

The government continues to deal with the fallout from massive bank fraud in 2014, when more than a billion dollars was stolen from Moldova’s state coffers.  More efforts are needed to implement reforms, investigate, and prosecute those responsible, and tackle the pervasive corruption that continues to undermine public trust and slow economic development.  Moldova ranks 115 out of 182 on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index.  Major investment climate concerns in 2021 include ongoing political uncertainty, macroeconomic and budgetary risks related to the COVID-19 crisis, external budget support, foreign malign economic and financial pressure, and a lack of domestic consensus to maintain reform momentum.

Thanks to negotiations linked to Moldova’s WTO accession, modern commercial legislation has been adopted in accordance with WTO rules.  The main challenges to the business climate remain the lack of effective and equitable implementation of laws and regulations, and arbitrary, non-transparent decisions by government officials to give domestic producers an edge over foreign competitors in certain areas.  For example, an environmental tax is applied on bottles and other packaging of imported goods, but not levied on bottles and packaging produced in Moldova. Additionally, the government may liberally cite public security or general social welfare as reasons to intervene in the economy in contravention of its declared respect for market principles.  There are reports of problems with customs valuation of goods, specifically that the Customs Service has been applying the maximum possible values to imported goods, even if their actual purchase value was far lower.

In June 2014, Moldova signed an Association Agreement (AA) with the European Union (EU), including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), committing the government to a course of reforms to bring its governmental, regulatory, and business practices in line with EU standards.  The DCFTA has helped integrate Moldova further into the European common market and created more opportunities for investment in Moldova as a bridge between Western and Eastern European markets.  The Government approved an Action Plan for the implementation of AA/DCFTA in 2017-2019.   Although enough EU-required reforms were completed to receive two of the three tranches of the 2019 EUR 100 million in macro financial assistance, the government failed to meet requirements for the third tranche.   Moldova received the first tranche, EUR 100 million, of the emergency EU COVID-19 assistance in 2020, but have not met the requirements to receive the second tranche.

While some large foreign companies have taken advantage of tax breaks in the country’s free economic zones, foreign direct investment (FDI) remains low.  Finance, automotive, light industry, agriculture, food processing, IT, wine, and real estate have historically attracted foreign investment.  Largely through USAID programs, Embassy Chisinau has supported the development of a number of these emerging sectors, yet risks remain.  The National Strategy for Investment Attraction and Export Promotion 2016-2020 identified seven priority sectors for investment and export promotion: agriculture and food processing, automotive, business services such as business process outsourcing (BPO), clothing and footwear, electronics, information and communication technologies (ICT), and machinery.

Private investors, including several U.S. companies, have shown strong interest in the ICT sector, especially after Moldova established a preferential tax regime for the sector.  Improvements in the strength and transparency of the financial sector also helped attract interest.  Many U.S. businesses have explored opportunities in the agricultural and energy sectors.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 115 of 182 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 48 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 59 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 26.0 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 4,590 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

One of the poorest countries in Europe, Moldova relies heavily on foreign trade and remittances from abroad for its economic growth.  Under Moldovan law, foreign companies enjoy national treatment in most respects.  In principle, the government views FDI as vital for sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction.  In 2020, a lack of qualified labor and the continued emigration of qualified, working-age Moldovans undermined official efforts to attract foreign investment.

Moldova ratified its Association Agreement with the EU in 2016, with the intent of bringing closer political association and economic integration with the EU.  The DCFTA, a component of the Association Agreement, provides for mutual elimination of customs duties on industrial and most agricultural products and for further liberalization of the services market.  It also addresses other barriers to trade and reforms in economic governance, with the goal of strengthening transparency and competition and adopting EU product standards.  Given its small economy, Moldova has relied on a liberalized trade and investment strategy to increase the export of its goods and services to the EU.

A member of the WTO since 2001, Moldova has signed bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements, including:

  • Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Free Trade Agreement
  • Central European Free Trade Agreement
  • EU DCFTA
  • Turkey

After Moldova signed the Association Agreement and DCFTA in 2014, Russia sought to pressure Chisinau through a series of politically motivated trade bans on Moldova’s exports of fruit, canned products, and fresh and processed meat.  These embargos drove Moldova to expand and diversify its exports outside Russia and the former Soviet Union; despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU continues to be the country’s largest export destination, absorbing more than half of all Moldovan exports.  Nonetheless, Moldova’s Socialist-led government renewed efforts to expand trade with Russia.  In 2020, Moldova joined the Eurasian Economic Union meeting as an observer.

In addition to priority sectors, the government has identified in its national development strategy “Moldova 2020” seven priority public sector areas for development and reform:  education; access to financing; road infrastructure; business regulation; energy efficiency; justice system; and social insurance.  The government has made a formal commitment to accelerate the country’s development by making the economy more capital-intensive, sustainable, and knowledge-based.  The government has so far not completed its commitments under the Plan.  In fall 2019, the government published an overall Action Plan for 2020-2021 and committed to implement outstanding AA/DCFTA requirements.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

There are no formal limits on foreign control of property and land, with the significant exception that foreigners are expressly prohibited from owning agricultural or forest land, even via a locally domiciled corporation or business. However, foreigners are permitted to buy all other forms of property in Moldova, including land plots under privatized enterprises and land designated for construction. Foreigners may become owners of such land only through inheritance and may only transfer the land to Moldovan citizens. In 2006, Parliament further restricted the right of sale and purchase of agricultural land to the state, Moldovan citizens, and legal entities without foreign capital. There are reportedly Moldova-registered companies with foreign capital known to own agricultural land through loopholes in the previous law. The only straightforward option available to foreigners who wish to use agricultural land in Moldova is to lease the land.

Moldova does not have a formal investment screening mechanism for inbound foreign investment but is working on putting in place a mechanism to screen for risks to national security. Under Moldovan law, foreign companies enjoy national treatment in most respects. The Law on Investment in Entrepreneurship prohibits discrimination against investments based on citizenship, domicile, residence, place of registration, place of activity, state of origin, or any other grounds. The law provides for equitable conditions for all investors and rules out discriminatory measures hindering management, operation, maintenance, utilization, acquisition, extension, or disposal of investments. The law mandates equitable treatment for local companies and foreigners regarding licensing, approval, and procurement. Companies registered in questionable tax havens are technically prohibited from holding shares in commercial banks.

By statute, special forms of legal organizations and certain activities require a minimum of capital to be invested (e.g., MDL 20,000 (USD 1,125) for joint stock companies, MDL 15 million (USD 844,000) for insurance companies, and MDL 100 million (USD 5.6 million) for banks).

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The latest Investment Policy Review of Moldova was conducted by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) as part of a broader South-East Europe Review in 2017 and can be accessed at: https://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/diaepcb2017d6_en.pdf

https://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/diaepcb2017d6_en.pdf

Moldova underwent a trade policy review by the World Trade Organization (WTO) in October 2015: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp423_e.htm 

Business Facilitation

Moldova has an investment promotion agency to assist prospective investors with information about business registration or industrial sectors, facilitate contact with relevant authorities, and organize study visits. The Investment Agency has an investment guide available on its website: invest.gov.md .

The government has established a special council to promote investment projects of national importance and tackle bureaucratic impediments to larger investment. It has also taken steps over the years to simplify and streamline business registration and licensing, lower tax rates, strengthen tax administration, and increase transparency.

The Public Services Agency, created in 2017, oversees business registrations. By law, registration should take three days for a standard procedure or four hours for an expedited procedure and is done in two stages. The first stage involves submission of an application and a set of documents, the range of which may vary depending on the legal form of the business (LLC, joint-stock company, sole proprietorship, etc.). At the second stage, the Agency issues a registration certificate and a unique identification number for the business, conferring full legal capacity to the entity. In 2010, the government introduced the “one-stop-shop” principle, under which businesses are relieved of the requirement to register separately with fiscal, statistical, social security, or health insurance authorities. There are currently no procedures for online business registration. Certain types of activity listed in the law on licensing require businesses to be first licensed by public authorities.

In 2006, the Moldovan Parliament ratified the 1961 Hague Convention on Abolishing the Requirement for Legalization for Foreign Public Documents. Acceptance of U.S. apostilles applied on official documents simplifies the legalization of official documents issued in the United States that are required in the process of business registration.

Outward Investment

Moldova does not have an official policy or mechanism for promoting or incentivizing outward investment.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Prime Minister chairs an Economic Council, which liaises with the Moldovan business community to discuss government proposals and gather ideas to improve Moldova’s economy, especially in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Laws and regulations are published in the official gazette called Monitorul Oficial, while a database of laws and regulations is available online at http://www.legis.md .

The Foreign Investors Association (FIA) was established in 2004 with the support of the OECD. FIA engages in a dialogue with the government on topics related to the investment climate and produces an annual publication of concerns and recommendations to improve the investment climate. In 2006, the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) registered in Moldova, presenting another voice for the business community. In 2011, a group of ten large EU investors founded the European Business Association (EBA). These are the three largest foreign business associations, and they regularly engage in policy discussions with the government.

All regulations and governmental decisions related to business activity have been published in a special business registry, “Register of Regulations on Business Activity,” to raise the awareness of businesspeople about their rights, increase the transparency of business regulations, and help fight corruption. The government has an approved list of business permits and authorizations. Government agencies and inspectors cannot issue any form of documents not included in the list.

The Moldovan government generally publishes significant laws in draft form for public comment. Draft laws are also available on-line, on the website of Moldovan Parliament. Business and trade associations provide other opportunities for comment. A significant exception to this norm is a mechanism that allows Parliament to also propose draft laws. The working group of the State Commission for Regulation of Entrepreneurial Activity, which was established as a filter to eliminate excessive business regulations, meets to vet draft governmental regulations dealing with entrepreneurship.

Nevertheless, bureaucratic procedures are not always transparent, and red tape often makes processing registrations, ownership, and other procedures unnecessarily long, costly, and burdensome. Discretionary decisions by government officials provide room for abuse and corruption. While the government adopted laws to improve the business climate and reduce excessive state controls and regulation, effective implementation is insufficient.  This inconsistent application of laws and regulations undermines fair competition and adds uncertainty for less politically connected businesses, particularly small- and medium-sized businesses as well as new entrants.

Moldova committed to implementing International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) in 2008. Use of IFRS is required by law for all public interest entities (financial entities, investment funds, insurance companies, private pension funds, and publicly listed entities) and national accounting standards (which approximate IFRS in many ways) are used by other firms, although many use IFRS as well due to foreign ownership.

Moldova has a “one stop window” which provides clear and uniform rules for the release of information and standardized documents for business registration.

A law simplifying the system of inspectorates and various inspection bodies was adopted in 2017 to increase efficiency and reduce regulatory burden. Through the reformation of inspection bodies, the government intends to reorganize the state inspection agencies for better planning and monitoring of inspectors’ activity. By reducing the number of inspection agencies and introducing risk-based criteria for inspections, the government seeks to improve the business climate by reducing the opportunity for inspections to be used for political purposes.

International Regulatory Considerations

The EU Association Agreement (AA), including a Deep Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), has binding regulatory provisions committing Moldova to a reform agenda and to approximating domestic legislation to EU standards in a range of areas, including corporate law, labor, consumer protection, competition and market surveillance, general product safety, tax, energy, customs duties, public procurement, intellectual property rights, and others. Under the DCFTA, Moldova will gradually abolish duties and quotas in mutual trade in goods and services. It will also eliminate non-tariff barriers by adopting EU rules on health and safety standards, intellectual property rights, and other fields. The agreement contains a timeframe for implementation, with phase-ins up to ten years.

Moldova has been a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since 2001 and, as such, is a signatory to the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), the Agreement on Trade Related Investment Measures (TRIMs) and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). These agreements contain major investment-related commitments, such as opening to the establishment of foreign service providers, prohibiting local content, trade-balancing, domestic sales requirements (TRIMs), and protection of intellectual property (TRIPS). No major WTO TRIMs inconsistencies have been reported.

As a WTO member, Moldova must notify draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade. In 2016, Moldova ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement and adopted several measures to conform to WTO requirements.

The government has undertaken incremental steps since 2017 on a draft Customs Code, which would merge existing separate laws on customs procedures and goods crossing national borders and approximate national customs rules to the EU Customs Code. In 2017, the government changed customs rules to align with the EU Authorized Economic Operator requirements and Approved Exporter conditions.

Moldova’s commercial litigation rules comply with WTO requirements. The main challenges to the business climate remain the lack of effective and equitable implementation of laws and regulations, and arbitrary, non-transparent decisions by government officials to give domestic producers an edge over foreign competitors in certain areas. For example, an environmental tax is applied on bottles and other packaging of imported goods, but not levied on bottles and packaging produced in Moldova. Additionally, the government may liberally cite public security or general social welfare as reasons to intervene in the economy in contravention of its declared respect for market principles. There are reports of problems with customs valuation of goods, specifically that the Customs Service has been applying the maximum possible values to imported goods, even if their actual purchase value was far lower. This has increased customs revenues but disadvantaged importers.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Moldova has a civil law legal system with codified laws that govern different aspects of life, including business, trade, and economy. The country’s legal framework consists of its constitution, organic and ordinary laws passed by the Parliament, and administrative acts issued by the government and other public authorities. Although Moldovan courts are constitutionally independent, their structures have facilitated government and political interference; the courts suffer from inefficiency and low public trust.

The court system consists of lower courts (i.e., trial courts), four courts of appeal, the Supreme Court of Justice, and a separate Constitutional Court.

Moldova has prepared a new justice reform strategy for 2021-2024 approved by its Parliament in November 2020. Although the President has not promulgated the strategy, the Ministry of Justice began implementing some of its provisions.

The new strategy continues the 2016 parliamentary initiative to “optimize” the country’s court system as part of broader justice sector reforms intended to reduce the number of trial courts in Moldova from 40 to 15. Specialized courts such as the Commercial Circumscription Court and Military Court were eliminated. Five trial courts from Chisinau were conceptually merged into one – the Chisinau trial court – although in 2018 the merged Chisinau trial court was further reorganized to specialize across five districts (investigative and contravention; criminal; administrative; bankruptcy; and civil, which includes adjudication of commercial disputes). The government’s court optimization plan is scheduled to be fully implemented by 2027.

The 2016 reforms created two specialized quasi-independent prosecution offices. The Anticorruption Prosecution Office is responsible for investigating and prosecuting corruption, bribery, abuse of power by public officials, and money laundering. The Prosecution Office on Combating Organized Crime and Special Cases investigates and prosecutes organized, transnational and particular complex crimes, including tax evasion, smuggling, intellectual property offenses, trafficking in persons, and narcotics. In 2017-2019, the Moldovan Prosecution Service continued the implementation of reforms under a law on the prosecution service passed in 2016. The Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) led the drafting of new regulations for the specialized prosecution offices, regional, district and municipal offices. As of January 1, 2021, the State Tax Service is authorized to investigate economic crimes.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

In addition to its international agreements, Moldovan laws affecting FDI include the Civil Code, the Law on Property, the Law on Investment in Entrepreneurship, the Law on Entrepreneurship and Enterprises, the Law on Joint Stock Companies, the Law on Small Business Support, the Law on Financial Institutions, the Law on Franchising, the Tax Code, the Customs Code, the Law on Licensing Certain Activities, and the Law on Insolvency.

The current Law on Investment in Entrepreneurship came into effect in 2004. It was designed to be compatible with European standards in its definitions of types of local and foreign investment. It provides guarantees of investors’ rights, prohibitions against expropriation or similar actions, and for payment of damages if investors’ rights are violated. The law permits FDI in all sectors of the economy, while certain activities require a business license.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

In 2012, Parliament passed a law on competition in line with EU practice and legislation. The National Competition Agency was subsequently renamed the Competition Council. The Competition Council oversees compliance with competition and state-aid provisions and initiates examination of alleged violation of competition laws. The Competition Council may request cessation of action, prescribe behavioral or structural remedies, and apply fines.

Expropriation and Compensation

The government has had a history of depriving investors, both national and foreign, of their businesses in various forms. Many of them have sued the government at the European Court for Human Rights for violation of the right to fair trial and of the respect for property, or in international arbitral tribunals.

The Law on Investment in Entrepreneurship states that investments cannot be subject to expropriation or to measures with a similar effect. However, an investment may be expropriated for purposes of public utility if it is not discriminatory and just compensation is provided. If a public authority violates an investor’s rights, the investor is entitled to compensation equivalent to the actual damages at the time of occurrence, including any lost profits.

The government has given no indication of intent to discriminate against U.S. investments, companies, or representatives by expropriation, or of intent to expropriate property owned by citizens of other countries. No particular sectors are at greater risk of expropriation or similar actions in Moldova.

Since 2001, the government has cancelled several privatizations, citing the failure of investors to meet investment schedules or irregularities committed during the privatization process. While the government agreed to repay investors in such disputes, investors have had to apply to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to enforce compensation payments. The government has complied with the ECHR rulings in these instances.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

In 2011, Moldova ratified the Convention on the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID – Washington Convention). The country also ratified the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. Domestic courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards. Moldova is also a party to the Geneva European Convention on International Commercial Arbitration of April 21, 1961, and the Paris Agreement relating to the application of the European Convention on International Commercial Arbitration of December 17, 1962.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Moldova is signatory to a number of bilateral investment treaties (see chapter 3 above), including the U.S.-Moldovan Treaty Concerning the Encouragement and Reciprocal Protection of Investment, which includes access to international arbitration for investment disputes.

Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards against the government. There are no known cases when the Moldovan government denied voluntary payment under an arbitral award rendered against it.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Private parties may choose alternative dispute resolution mechanisms instead of going to courts. Moldovan law provides the options of mediation and arbitration. The arbitration legislation is modeled after UNCITRAL rules. There are a number of arbitration bodies available in Moldova, including the arbitration court of the Moldovan Chamber of Commerce and Industry. AmCham Moldova has established the Chisinau Court of International Commercial Arbitration (CACIC) under its auspices.

Recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments are regulated by a complex framework of documents, including the Code for Civil Procedures, international conventions and bilateral treaties. Therefore, depending on the nationality of the court, Moldovan courts may apply different legal norms in examining the enforcement of foreign judgments. However, as a rule, foreign judgments are enforceable in Moldova on the basis of reciprocity and subject to New York Convention obligations.

Moldova’s court system generally enjoys a low level of public trust and is perceived to be vulnerable to acts of corruption, while court processes lack transparency. The overall expectation in court hearings involving representatives of public authorities, including economic entities, is that final court rulings will be in favor of state representatives. While arbitration is often seen as a preferable option to the courts, the courts must still enforce the arbitral decision. Investors have at times been discouraged by the slow pace of court enforcement of arbitral awards and the judge’s perceived discretion over the arbitral decision.

Bankruptcy Regulations

In terms of resolving insolvency, the World Bank ranks Moldova 67th out of 190 economies in the 2020 Doing Business Index; it takes creditors on average 2.8 years to recover their credit. This is below the regional average and trails EU members in Central and Eastern Europe. The country has changed its insolvency law to introduce expedited insolvency proceedings, including by granting priority to secured creditors, introducing new restructuring mechanisms, reducing opportunities for appeals, adding moratorium provisions, establishing strict statutory periods in the proceedings, and enhancing the role of insolvency administrators.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Investment incentives are applicable for all Moldovan-registered businesses, irrespective of the country of origin of the investment. Certain incentives apply only in specially designated areas such as free economic zones and industrial parks. Until 2024, Moldovan legislation allows employees of IT companies to benefit from incentives on personal income tax and social security contributions. Also, a 2017 law on information technology parks established a single tax for residents of the digital IT parks, calculated as the maximum between seven percent from sales and 30 percent from the national average forecasted salary multiplied by the number of employees. There is also a range of tax incentives applicable if businesses meet certain requirements. Among those incentives are the following: value-added tax (VAT) and customs exemptions on long-term assets included in share capital; deferment of VAT liabilities on imports of materials used in manufacturing export-bound products; lower VAT rates for the hospitality and restaurant businesses; and lower social contributions and VAT rates for agricultural businesses.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

At present, seven free economic zones (FEZs), one international free port – Giurgiulesti – and one international free airport – Marculesti – are registered in Moldova. According to Moldovan law, these zones support job creation, attraction of foreign and domestic investments, and export-oriented production. The Law on Free Economic Zones regulates FEZ activity. Foreigners have the same investment opportunities as local entities. FEZ commercial entities enjoy the following advantages: 25 percent exemption from income tax; 50 percent exemption from tax on income from exports; for investments of more than USD 1 million, a three-year exemption from tax on income resulting from exports; and for investments of more than USD 5 million, a five-year exemption from tax on income from exports; zero value-added tax; exemption from excises; and a stand-still guarantee against any new changes in the law for ten years. In addition, residents investing at least USD 200 million in the FEZ are afforded a stand-still guarantee regarding new regulatory changes for the entire period of operation in the FEZ, but such protection cannot extend beyond 20 years.

The government also passed a 2008 law creating ten industrial parks with the aim of attracting investments in industrial projects. Businesses operating in those parks do not receive any special tax treatment, but typically have access to ready-to-use production facilities, offices and lower office rents for 25 to 30 years. Typically, these are idle premises of former industrial State-owned enterprises.

Similar to the FEZs, the Giurgiulesti Free International Port, Moldova’s only port accessible to sea-going vessels, was established in 2005. Commercial residents of the port enjoy the following advantages: 25 percent exemption from income tax for the first ten years following the first year when taxable income is reported; 50 percent exemption from tax on income for the remaining years; exemption from value-added tax and excises on imports and exports outside Moldova’s customs territory; zero valued-added tax on imports from Moldova; and a stand-still guarantee for commercial residents regarding any regulatory changes until February 17, 2030.

The Marculesti International Free Airport, a former military air base, was established in 2008 as a free enterprise zone for a 25-year period to develop cargo air transport. Airport management is also interested in turning Marculesti into a regional hub for low-cost passenger airlines.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

All incentives are applied uniformly to domestic and foreign investors. The Law on Investment in Entrepreneurship, in effect since 2004, does not protect new investors from legislative changes.

No requirements exist for investors to purchase from local sources or to export a certain percentage of their output.

The Embassy is not aware of any reports of forced data localization or special requirements targeting foreign IT providers. However, companies maintaining servers with customer databases outside Moldova must comply with cumbersome domestic procedures related to protection of personally identifiable information. Cross-border transfer of personal data requires prior authorization by the supervisory body for personal data processing. The Ministry of Economy and Infrastructure is responsible for developing strategies and policies on electronic communication. The National Regulatory Agency for Electronic Communications and Information Technology (ANRCETI) is responsible for regulations and oversight. The National Center for Personal Data Protection (NCPDP) is the supervisory body for personal data processing.

No limitations exist on access to foreign exchange in relation to a company’s exports. There are no special requirements that Moldovan nationals own shares of a company. Both joint ventures and wholly foreign-owned companies may be set up in Moldova.

In fact, while not an official policy, in sectors of the economy that require large investments, experienced management, and technical expertise such as energy or telecommunications, the government has shown preference for experienced foreign investors over local investors. In other sectors, foreign and local investors formally receive equal treatment.

Moldovan law allows investments in any area of the country, in any sector, provided that national security interests, anti-monopoly legislation, environmental protection, public health, and public order are respected.

Some performance requirements are connected to tax incentives but are enforced equitably and described in the Tax Code and related governmental decisions and instructions. Foreign investors are required to disclose the same information as local investors. Moldova has no discriminatory visa, residence, or work-permit requirements inhibiting foreign investors’ mobility in Moldova. The government has set up a one-stop shop for foreigners applying for Moldovan residence and work permits in an effort to streamline a complicated procedure.

Moldova has a liberal commercial regime with more than 100 countries. According to the Tax Code, Moldovan exports are exempt from value added tax. Although there are no formal import price controls, there are reports that Moldovan Customs Service may make arbitrary price assessments on certain types of imported goods for revenue-enhancing purposes.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Moldova’s laws protect all property rights. There is a national cadastral office, which registers all ownership titles in the real estate registry. However, the mortgage market is still underdeveloped. In addition, the judicial sector remains weak and does not always fully guarantee the property rights of citizens and foreign investors.

In the World Bank’s Doing Business Index Moldova ranks 22nd among 190 economies on the ease of registering property.

Intellectual Property Rights

Despite efforts to improve its intellectual property rights (IPR) regime and set up relevant executive structures in the government, Moldova does not fully enforce its IPR laws due to conflicts of interest, lack of resources, and a low level of awareness and training among law enforcement agencies. The concept of IPR is largely unrecognized by the population. The country has an agency for the protection of IPR, the State Agency on Intellectual Property (AGEPI), which continues working on improving the legal framework and adjusting it to EU norms, increasing public awareness, and building capacity in law enforcement. Under the AA/DCFTA, the government is working to bring Moldova’s practices in line with the EU.

Moldova is party to the majority of international treaties on IPR, including the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and 26 World Intellectual Property (WIPO) treaties, including the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.

Along with other public institutions, AGEPI works on fulfilling Moldova’s IPR obligations as provided by the 2017-2019 National Action Plan for the implementation of the Association Agreement. In 2018, Moldova adopted the third Action Plan on the implementation of the National Strategy on Intellectual Property through 2020.  While some progress is being reported, there are still many outstanding issues related to geographical indications (GIs) that need to be addressed in national GI certification and control system.

In 2018, AGEPI was reorganized and consolidated. AGEPI created a free and publicly available online IPR database, which can be found at www.db.agepi.md . AGEPI continued to integrate its legal services and data into the international and regional platforms. In 2020, AGEPI signed a new Memorandum of Understanding on Electronic Communication of the Madrid System with the International Bureau of WIPO (BI) and integrated into the Madrid e-Filing platform. The government elaborated “A Guideline on Design Examination,” which is applicable for AGEPI examiners and third parties. Moldova began implementing the European common practices to harmonize trademark and design protocols with the EU Intellectual Property Office.

Moldova’s criminal code prohibits the unauthorized disclosure of trade secrets. A new law for the protection of pharmaceutical and medicinal product data came into force on January 1, 2020, the aim of which is to guarantee the confidentiality, non-disclosure, and non-reliance of data submitted while obtaining regulatory and market approval of the products.

Moldovan authorities, including Customs, the Ministry of Interior, and the General Prosecutor’s Office, track statistics for IPR violations annually, but such reports are not readily available online. To improve IPR enforcement, in 2020 Moldovan authorities developed, with EU support, an IPR Information System to track the exchange of IPR data between agencies, including AGEPI, Customs, Prosecution, Police, the Agency for Consumer Protection and Market Surveillance, and the Agency for Court Administration.

A report containing statistical and analytical data on IPR enforcement collected from all relevant stakeholders is released annually by the IPR Enforcement Observatory established by AGEPI. The 2020 Report is available in English and Romanian languages on the Observatory website: http://observatorpi.md/raport-national/ .

Moldova is not listed in the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report, nor is it included on the Notorious Markets List.

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

8. Responsible Business Conduct

While Moldovan legislation deals with issues pertaining to environment, workers’ rights, social fairness or governance, there is little awareness of the concept of the due diligence approach to ensuring responsible business conduct. The country’s corporate culture and private sector are still at an early stage of development and still seeking to define the nature of interactions between private business, government authorities, broader stakeholders, and the public at large. There is no governmental policy to encourage enterprises to follow OECD or UN Guidelines in this area.

Foreign companies operating in Moldova are gradually introducing the concept of corporate social responsibility as an aspect of responsible business conduct. AmCham Moldova has set a leading example, with its corporate members engaging in a forestation project, in the rehabilitation of medical facilities, and in Christmas collection projects for orphanages. The COVID pandemic prompted many businesses to make donations of personal protection equipment and meals to frontline workers.

Moldova is among countries where children engage in the worst forms of child labor, including commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking. Children also engage in child labor in agriculture. Moldova is not a signatory of the Montreux Document of the Private Military and Security Companies.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

While Moldova has taken steps to adopt European and international standards to combat corruption and organized crime, corruption remains a major problem.

In 2012-13, the government enacted a series of anti-corruption amendments. This package included new legislation on “integrity testing” related to a disciplinary liability law for judges. It also extended confiscation and illicit enrichment statutes in the Moldovan Criminal Code as per the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). The Constitutional Court subsequently restricted integrity testing (e.g., excluding random testing as “entrapment”), but enactment of these reforms substantially augmented Moldova’s corruption-fighting toolkit.

The National Anticorruption Center (NAC), created in 2012, focuses on investigating public corruption and bribery crimes, and is subordinated to the Parliament (the CCECC had been organized under the executive branch). Moldovan judges, who had previously enjoyed full immunity from corruption investigations, can now be prosecuted for crimes of corruption without prior permission from their self-governing body, although the Superior Council of Magistrates still must approve any search or arrest warrant against a judge.

The government has developed and enacted a series of laws designed to address legislative gaps such as the Law on Preventing and Combating Corruption, the Law on Conflict of Interests, and the Law on the Code of Conduct for Public Servants. The Criminal Code criminalizes two forms of public sector corruption: passive and active. These statutes apply only to corrupt acts and bribery committed by public officials. In 2016, part of the reform of the prosecution system, Moldova adopted the Law on the Prosecution Service, and created two specialized prosecution agencies – the Anticorruption Prosecution Office (APO) and the Prosecution Office for Combating Organized Crime and Special Cases (PCCOCS). Beginning in 2015, specialized prosecution offices began to investigate and prosecute individuals allegedly involved in the “billion dollar” banking theft and a series of high-profile bribery, corruption, and tax evasion cases, though with only limited progress. These offices face multiple challenges, including lack of independent budgets, high workload, external interference, and serious questions about their independence, transparency and impartiality.

In 2018, APO and PCCOCS started recruitment for seconding investigators to their offices. According to the 2016 prosecution reform law, these investigators are responsible for supporting prosecutors to investigate complex corruption cases. However, even with a nearly-full complement of seconded investigators, APO still relies on NAC investigators to conduct many corruption-related investigations and prosecutions. Also in 2018, a new statutorily-created agency, the Criminal Assets Recovery Agency (CARA), began operating as a specialized unit within NAC. The selection and appointment of the agency’s leadership is coordinated through a competitive process by the NAC. The agency continues to grow and has demonstrated increased capacity to detect, track, seize and recover criminal proceeds throughout 2019.

In 2016, Parliament passed the Law on the National Integrity Authority (NIA) and the Law on Disclosure of Assets and Conflict of Interest by public officials. The NIA became operational in 2018. The director, deputy director, and all inspectors are hired in competitive processes, but the agency has not yet hired a full complement of inspectors. NIA continues to lack staff and sufficient resources to fulfill its mission. The issuance of “integrity certificates” to individuals with well-known ties to the billion dollar heist further degraded the organization’s reputation. In 2020, Parliament amended the law undermining NIA’s activity. The Constitutional Court suspended the amendments and is yet to rule on their constitutionality.

Moldova’s 2017-2020 National Integrity and Anticorruption Strategy was drafted and passed following public consultations, and is structured along the “integrity pillars” concept that aims to strengthen the integrity climate among civil servants at all levels. It includes a role for civil society organizations (CSOs) through alternative monitoring reports and promoting integrity standards in the private sector. The strategy addresses the complexity of corruption by employing sector-based experts to evaluate specific integrity problems encountered by different vulnerable sectors of public administration. The deadline for the strategy had to be extended as many actions were not implemented.

Moldovan law requires private companies to establish internal codes of conduct that prohibit corruption and corrupt behavior. Moldova’s Criminal Code also includes articles addressing private sector corruption, combatting economic crime, criminal responsibility of public officials, active and passive corruption, and trading of influence. This largely aligns Moldovan statutory law with international anti-bribery standards by criminalizing the acts of promising, offering, or giving a bribe to a public official. Anticorruption laws also extend culpability to family members. A new illicit enrichment law was added in 2013, but its potential as an effective anticorruption tool is severely constricted by the Constitutional Court’s interpretation of a constitutional provision creating a presumption in the law that assets possessed by a person were lawfully acquired. In 2017, the Anticorruption Prosecution Office started the only illicit enrichment case initiated in Moldova to date, against a prominent chief judge involved in the construction of private apartments. The criminal case remains unresolved, as the judge has resigned from the judiciary.

The country has laws regulating conflicts of interest in awarding contracts and the government procurement process; however these laws are not assessed as widely or effectively enforced. In 2016, Parliament added two new statutes to the Criminal Code criminalizing the misuse of international assistance funds. These provisions provide a statutory basis for prosecutors to investigate and prosecute misuse of international donor assistance by Moldovan public officials in public acquisitions, technical assistance programs, and grants

Despite the established anticorruption framework, the number of anticorruption prosecutions has not met international expectations (given corruption perceptions), and enforcement of existing legislation is widely deemed insufficient. In 2020, Moldova ranked 115 out of 180 (from 120 the prior year) among countries evaluated in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index.

A Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) survey published in 2017 showed that 84 percent of Moldovans thought the government was doing badly in fighting corruption. Globally, Moldova is among the top countries where people perceive public authorities to be most corrupt; almost 70 percent say people working in public sector institutions (the President’s office, Parliament, central government, tax inspection, police, the judiciary, and local government) are assessed by those polled as highly corrupt. Almost 50 percent of Moldovans say they had to pay bribes over the past 12 months when coming in contact with public authorities. The latest GCB survey concluded that Moldova needs genuine and urgent measures to address corruption. Negative ratings of official efforts to curb corruption suggest that more must be done to reduce public sector graft and clean up institutions to act in the public interest.

The Freedom House Moldova “Nations in Transit Report” 2018 concluded the government has focused more on improving the legal framework than on implementing it. The report found anticorruption initiatives did not contribute to tackling endemic corruption or the de-politicization of public institutions and regulatory agencies. Public competitions have been mostly non-transparent and based on controversial regulations or political loyalty to, or membership in, the ruling political group, rather than on the basis of merit. The investigation into the “billion-dollar” banking sector theft has yielded few results. Official data reported that by the end of 2018, only USD 100 million has been recovered, mainly from taxes, credits, and the sale of assets belonging to the three banks liquidated following the theft. The stolen assets have not been recovered, there remains no assurance that significant remaining funds will be recovered.

Freedom House’s most recent report, Democracy in Retreat: Freedom in the World 2020, found Moldova continues to be only “partially free,” earning 60/100 points for political rights/civil liberties, two points more than the prior year. The “partially free” label was due largely to perceptions of ongoing corruption. According to the 2020 Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index, Moldova’s economic freedom score was 62.0, making its economy 87th, just ahead of Belarus (88) and behind Samoa (86). Its overall score increased by 2.9 points, with improvements in government integrity and government spending. Regionally, Moldova is ranked 40 of 45 countries in Europe, and its overall score is well below the regional average and approximately equal to the world average. In the rule of law area, Heritage indicated property rights are undermined by a weak and corrupt judiciary.

Opinion surveys conducted by reputable pollsters like the International Republican Institute (IRI) consistently show over 95 percent of Moldovans see corruption as a big problem for the country. Moldovans name the top corrupt institutions as: 1) Parliament; 2) public servants, including the police; 3) the judiciary; 4) top government officials; 5) political parties and their leaders.

In 2007, Moldova ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, subsequently adopting amendments to its domestic anticorruption legislation. Moldova does not adhere to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Convention on Combating Bribery. However, Moldova is part of two regional anticorruption initiatives: the Stability Pact Anticorruption Initiative for South East Europe (SPAI), and the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) of the Council of Europe. Moldova cooperates closely with the OECD through SPAI and with GRECO, especially on country evaluations. In 1999, Moldova signed the Council of Europe’s Criminal Law Convention on Corruption and Civil Law Convention on Corruption. Moldova ratified both conventions in 2003. In 2020, Moldova joined OECD’s Istanbul Anticorruption Action Plan.

Moldova is one of the participating countries in the Anti-Corruption Network for Eastern Europe and Central Asia (ACN), a driver of anticorruption reforms in the region. Moldova will be among four other countries where anticorruption performance indicators will be piloted in 2021 before the 5th round of ACN monitoring.

In October 2020, Moldova’s second Compliance Report, adopted by the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) in the fourth round of evaluation, concluded the current level of compliance of Moldova with the GRECO recommendations is generally insufficient. Following the evaluation, 18 recommendations were addressed to Moldova. Subsequently, out of 18 recommendations, four were rated as satisfactorily treated or implemented, and 10 were partially implemented, and four remain unimplemented.

Resources to Report Corruption

Ruslan Flocea
Director
National Anti-Corruption Center
Bul. Stefan cel Mare si Sfant 168, Chisinau MD2004, Moldova
Tel. +373 22-257 257 (secretariat)/800-55555 (hotline)/22-257 333 (special line)
secretariat@cna.md

Lilia Carasciuc
Executive Director
Transparency International Moldova
Strada 31August 1989 nr. 98, of.205, Chisinau MD2004, Moldova
Tel. +373-22 203-484(office)/800-10 000 (hotline)
office@transparency.md 

10. Political and Security Environment

Levels of street crime and other types of violent crime are equal or lower in Moldova than in neighboring countries and businesses typically only employ the most basic security procedures to safeguard their personnel.  Moldova has not had significant instances of transnational terrorism.  While there have been occasional instances of political violence in the past decade, these cases have typically been directed against Moldovan state institutions and have not generally impacted the international business community in Moldova.  There have been no significant instances of political violence in the last four years and all recent large demonstrations have been peaceful.

The embassy has received no reports over the past ten years of politically motivated damage to business projects or installations in Moldova. In 2015 and early 2016, there was public outcry over the political class’ failure to prevent (or even facilitate) massive bank fraud where nearly 15 percent of GDP disappeared from the country’s then-three largest banks. Round-the-clock anti-government protests culminated in January 2016 in clashes with riot police when protesters tried to prevent Parliament from voting in a new government. The clashes were limited and did not turn into full-blown violence or cause extensive damage that would affect businesses in any way, and the government remained in power.

In 2020, protesters held rallies in front of Parliament without causing significant damages or clashing violently with police.

Separatists control the Transnistria region of Moldova, located between the Nistru River and the eastern border with Ukraine. Although a brief armed conflict took place in 1991-1992, the sides signed a cease-fire in July 1992. Local authorities in Transnistria maintain a separate monetary unit, the Transnistrian ruble and a separate customs system. Despite the political separation, economic cooperation takes place in various sectors. The government has implemented measures requiring businesses in Transnistria to register with Moldovan authorities. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), with Russia, and Ukraine acting as guarantors/mediators and the United States and EU as observers, supports negotiations between Moldova and the separatist region Transnistria (known as the “5+2” format). Throughout the years, progress has been inconsistent, with talks stalling in 2006 and formally resuming in late November 2011. Important achievements in the past few years include the resumption of rail freight traffic through Transnistria, the opening of a bridge across the Nistru river, Transnistrian-registered vehicles gaining access to international traffic, issuance of Moldovan apostilles on Transnistrian-issued higher education diplomas, and the operation of Latin Script schools in Transnistria.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

For years, Moldova prided itself on its skilled labor force, including numerous workers with specialized and technical skills. However, many skilled workers have left Moldova for better paying jobs in other countries. This has led to shortages of skilled workers in Moldova. There are imbalances in the labor market arising from a general lack of workers with vocational training that employers need, on one hand, and lack of job opportunities for academically educated people, on the other. Labor shortages are reported in manufacturing, engineering, and IT. Low birth rates, emigration, and an aging population, coupled with a lack of immigration, represent a challenge to Moldova’s labor pool more generally. Around a fifth of the labor force is estimated to work abroad (around 800,000). According to World Bank population projections, if current emigration trends continue, Moldova will lose another 20 percent of its population by 2050.

Official unemployment was 3.8 percent in 2020, which is misleading given the low labor participation rate of 40.3 percent, owing to large numbers of Moldovans migrating abroad, which reduces the number of job seekers at home. Youth unemployment is more than double the national average at 10.9 percent. Employment in Moldova is largely based on agriculture, low productivity sectors, and crafts. Approximately 17 percent of the working population is employed in the informal economy; the non-agricultural workforce in the informal economy is 10.8 percent.

Moldova’s Constitution guarantees the right to establish or join a trade union. Trade unions have influence in the large and mostly State-owned enterprises and have historically negotiated for strong labor relations, minimum wage, and basic worker rights. Unions also have a say in negotiating collective labor agreements in various industries. Unions are less active and effective in small private companies. Moldova is a signatory to numerous conventions on the protection of workers’ rights. The country has moved toward adopting international standards in labor laws and regulations. In recent years, the government made changes to labor legislation in favor of employers and somewhat reducing unions’ input on issues related to hiring and firing personnel. Nevertheless, labor legislation is stringent in matters dealing with severance payments or leave, regulations that some foreign investors view as an impediment to labor flexibility and as putting a heavy burden on employers.

The government has drafted legislation to modernize the labor market, with a focus on skills development and vocational education training reform.

The Moldovan General Federation of Trade Unions has been a member of the ILO since 1992 and has been affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Unions (ICFU) since 1997. The Federation split into two separate unions in 2000, but merged in 2007, forming the National Trade Union Confederation (CNSM), which obtained membership in the International Trade Union Confederation in 2010.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future