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

Official websites use .gov

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

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

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

Canada

Executive Summary

Canada and the United States have one of the largest and most comprehensive investment relationships in the world. U.S. investors are attracted to Canada’s strong economic fundamentals, its proximity to the U.S. market, its highly skilled work force, and abundant resources.  Canada encourages foreign direct investment (FDI) by promoting its stability, global market access, and infrastructure. The United States is Canada’s largest investor, accounting for 47 percent of total FDI. As of 2019, the amount of U.S. FDI totaled USD 402 billion, a 9.2 percent increase from the previous year. Canada’s FDI stock in the United States totaled USD 496 billion, a 12 percent increase from the previous year.

Initial reports indicate Canada suffered a significant decrease in FDI due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Data from Canada’s national statistical office show inward investment flows decreased by roughly 50 percent in 2020 as compared to 2019.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) came into force on July 1, 2020, replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The USMCA supports a strong investment framework beneficial to U.S. investors. Foreign investment in Canada is regulated by the Investment Canada Act (ICA). The purpose of the ICA is to review significant foreign investments to ensure they provide an economic net benefit and do not harm national security. In March 2021, the Canadian government announced revised ICA foreign investment screening guidelines that include additional national security considerations such as sensitive technology areas, critical minerals, and sensitive personal data. The new guidelines follow an April 2020 ICA update, which provides for greater scrutiny of foreign investments by state-owned investors, as well as investments involving the supply of critical goods and services.

Despite a generally welcoming foreign investment environment, Canada maintains investment stifling prohibitions in the telecommunication, airline, banking, and cultural sectors. Ownership and corporate board restrictions prevent significant foreign telecommunication and aviation investment, and there are deposit acceptance limitations for foreign banks. Investments in cultural industries such as book publishing are required to be compatible with national cultural policies and be of net benefit to Canada. In addition, non-tariff barriers to trade across provinces and territories contribute to structural issues that have held back the productivity and competitiveness of Canada’s business sector.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 11 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 23 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 17 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 $402,255 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $46,370 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Canada’s regulatory transparency is similar to the United States. Regulatory and accounting systems, including those related to debt obligations, are transparent and consistent with international norms. Proposed legislation is subject to parliamentary debate and public hearings, and regulations are issued in draft form for public comment prior to implementation in the Canada Gazette, the government’s official journal of record. While federal and/or provincial licenses or permits may be needed to engage in economic activities, regulation of these activities is generally for statistical or tax compliance reasons. Under the USMCA, parties agreed to make publicly available any written comments they receive, except to the extent necessary to protect confidential information or withhold personal identifying information or inappropriate content.

Canada publishes an annual budget and debt management report. According to the Ministry of Finance, the design and implementation of the domestic debt program are guided by the key principles of transparency, regularity, prudence, and liquidity.

International Regulatory Considerations

Canada addresses international regulatory norms through its FTAs and actively engages in bilateral and multilateral regulatory discussions. U.S.-Canada regulatory cooperation is guided by Chapter 28 of the USMCA “Good Regulatory Practices” and the bilateral Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC). The USMCA aims to promote regulatory quality through greater transparency, objective analysis, accountability, and predictability. The RCC is a bilateral forum focused on harmonizing health, safety, and environmental regulatory differences. Canada-EU regulatory cooperation is guided by Chapter 21 “Regulatory Cooperation” of the CETA and the Regulatory Cooperation Forum (RCF). CETA encourages regulators to exchange experiences and information and identify areas of mutual cooperation. The RCF seeks to reconstitute regulatory cooperation under the previous Canada-EU Framework on Regulatory Cooperation and Transparency. The RCF is mandated to seek regulatory convergence where feasible to facilitate trade. CPTPP Chapter 25 “Regulatory Coherence” seeks to encourage the use of good regulatory practices to promote international trade and investment, economic growth, and employment. The CPTPP also established a Committee on Regulatory Coherence charged with considering developments to regulatory best practices in order to make recommendations to the CPTPP Commission for improving the chapter provisions and enhancing benefits to the trade agreement.

Canada is a member of the WTO and notifies draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade. Canada is a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement, which it ratified in December 2016.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Canada’s legal system is based on English common law, except for Quebec, which follows civil law. Law-making responsibility is split between the Parliament of Canada (federal law) and provincial/territorial legislatures (provincial/territorial law). Canada has both written commercial law and contractual law, and specialized commercial and civil courts. Canada’s Commercial Law Directorate provides advisory and litigation services to federal departments and agencies whose mandate includes a commercial component and has legal counsel in Montréal and Ottawa.

The judicial branch of government is independent of the executive branch and the current judicial process is considered procedurally competent, fair, and reliable. The provinces administer justice in their jurisdictions, including management of civil and criminal provincial courts.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Foreign investment in Canada is regulated under the provisions of the ICA. U.S. FDI in Canada is also subject to the provisions of the WTO, the USMCA, and the NAFTA. The purpose of the ICA is to review significant foreign investments to ensure they provide an economic net benefit and do not harm national security.

Canada relies on its Invest In Canada promotion agency to provide relevant information to foreign investors: https://www.investcanada.ca/ 

Competition and Antitrust Laws

Competition Bureau Canada is an independent law enforcement agency charged with ensuring Canadian businesses and consumers prosper in a competitive and innovative marketplace as stipulated under the Competition Act, the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act, the Textile Labelling Act, and the Precious Metals Marking Act. The Bureau is housed under the Department of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development (ISED) and is headed by a Commissioner of Competition. Competition cases, excluding criminal cases, are brought before the Competition Tribunal, an adjudicative body independent from the government. The Competition Bureau and Tribunal adhere to transparent norms and procedures. Appeals to Tribunal decisions may be filed with the Federal Court of Appeal as per section 13 of the Competition Tribunal Act. Criminal violations of competition law are investigated by the Competition Bureau and are referred to Canada’s Public Prosecution Service for prosecution in federal court.

Competition Bureau Canada assumed the rotating one-year presidency of the International Consumer Protection Enforcement Network (ICPEN), a global consumer protection law enforcement network, starting July 1, 2020. The Bureau has focused the ICPEN on COVID-19, artificial intelligence, digital platforms, and environmental issues during its presidency. As part of these efforts, the Bureau hosted the first annual Digital Enforcement Summit to share best practices, and explore new tools and strategies for tackling emerging enforcement issues in the digital era with international counterparts.

The Bureau announced a USD 6.7 million penalty settlement in May 2020 with A major U.S. social media company after the Competition Tribunal agreed with the Bureau’s claim the company made false or misleading claims about the privacy of Canadians’ personal information on its platform.

In September 2020, the Bureau signed the Multilateral Mutual Assistance and Cooperation Framework for Competition Authorities (MMAC) with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the New Zealand Commerce Commission, the United Kingdom Competition & Markets Authority, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U. S. Federal Trade Commission. The MMAC aims to improve international cooperation through information sharing and inter-organizational training.

Expropriation and Compensation

Canadian federal and provincial laws recognize both the right of the government to expropriate private property for a public purpose and the obligation to pay compensation. The federal government has not nationalized a foreign firm since the nationalization of Axis property during World War II. Both the federal and provincial governments have assumed control of private firms, usually financially distressed companies, after reaching agreement with the former owners.

The USMCA, like the NAFTA, requires expropriation only be used for a public purpose and done in a nondiscriminatory manner, with prompt, adequate, and effective compensation, and in accordance with due process of law.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Canada ratified the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) Convention on December 1, 2013 and is a signatory to the 1958 New York Convention, ratified on May 12, 1986. Canada signed the United Nations Convention on Transparency in Treaty-based Investor-State Arbitration (known as the Mauritius Convention on Transparency) in March 2015.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Canada accepts binding arbitration of investment disputes as obligated under its bilateral and multilateral agreements. As part of the USMCA, the United States and Canada agreed to phase out NAFTA’s investor state dispute settlement procedures over a three-year period. Under the USMCA, U.S. and Canadian investors rely on domestic courts and other mechanisms for dispute resolution. Ongoing NAFTA arbitrations are not affected by the USMCA and investors can file new NAFTA claims by July 1, 2023 provided the investment(s) were “established or acquired” when NAFTA was still in force and remained “in existence” on the date the USMCA entered into force.

Over the history of the NAFTA, 28 disputes have been filed against the Government of Canada. For more information about cases filed under NAFTA Chapter 11, please visit https://www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/topics-domaines/disp-diff/gov.aspx?lang=eng 

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Provinces have the primary responsibility for regulating arbitration within Canada. Each province, except Quebec, has legislation adopting the UNCITRAL Model Law. The Quebec Civil Code and Code of Civil Procedure are consistent with the UNCITRAL Model Law. The Canadian Supreme Court has ruled that arbitration agreements must be broadly interpreted and enforced. Canadian courts respect arbitral proceedings and have been willing to lend their enforcement powers to facilitate the effective conduct of arbitration proceedings, by requiring witnesses to attend and give evidence, and to produce documents and other evidence to arbitral tribunals.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Bankruptcy in Canada is governed at the federal level in accordance with the provisions of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (BIA) and the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act. Each province also has specific laws for dealing with bankruptcy. Canada’s bankruptcy laws stipulate that unsecured creditors may apply for court-imposed bankruptcy orders. Debtors and unsecured creditors normally work through appointed trustees to resolve claims. Trustees will generally make payments to creditors after selling the debtors assets. Equity claimants are subordinate to all other creditor claims and are paid only after other creditors have been paid in full per Canada’s insolvency ladder. In all claims, provisions are made for cross-border insolvencies and the recognition of foreign proceedings. Secured creditors generally have the right to take independent actions and fall outside the scope of the BIA. Canada was ranked 13th for ease of “resolving insolvency” by the World Bank in 2020.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Canada’s capital markets are open, accessible, and regulated. Credit is allocated on market terms, the private sector has access to a variety of credit instruments, and foreign investors can get credit on the local market. Canada has several securities markets, the largest of which is the Toronto Stock Exchange, and there is sufficient liquidity in the markets to enter and exit sizeable positions. The Canadian government and Bank of Canada do not place restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.

Money and Banking System

The Canadian banking system is composed of 36 domestic banks and18 foreign bank subsidiaries. Six major domestic banks are dominant players in the market and manage close to USD 5.2 trillion in assets. Many large international banks have a presence in Canada through a subsidiary, representative office, or branch. Ninety-nine percent of Canadians have an account with a financial institution. The Canadian banking system is viewed as very stable due to high capitalization rates that are well above the norms set by the Bank for International Settlements. The OSFI, Canada’s primary banking regulator, is working on implementing the Basel III Framework to strengthen Canadian banks and improve their ability to handle financial shocks. The OSFI is consulting with industry on proposed regulatory changes and plans to introduce final guidance in late 2021.

Foreign financial firms interested in investing submit their applications to the OSFI for approval by the Minister of Finance. U.S. and other foreign banks can establish banking subsidiaries in Canada. Several U.S. financial institutions maintain commercially focused operations, principally in the areas of lending, investment banking, and credit card issuance. Foreigners can open bank accounts in Canada with proper identification and residency information.

The Bank of Canada is the nation’s central bank. Its principal role is “to promote the economic and financial welfare of Canada,” as defined in the Bank of Canada Act. The Bank’s four main areas of responsibility are: monetary policy; promoting a safe, sound, and efficient financial system; issuing and distributing currency; and being the fiscal agent for Canada.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Canadian dollar is a free-floating currency with no restrictions on its transfer or conversion.

Remittance Policies

The Canadian dollar is fully convertible, and the central bank does not place time restrictions on remittances.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Canada does not have a federal sovereign wealth fund. The province of Alberta maintains the Heritage Savings Trust Fund to manage the province’s share of non-renewable resource revenue. The fund’s net financial assets were valued at USD 13 billion as of December 31, 2020. The Fund invests in a globally diversified portfolio of public and private equity, fixed income, and real assets. The Fund follows the voluntary code of good practices known as the “Santiago Principles” and participates in the IMF-hosted International Working Group of SWFs. The Heritage Fund holds approximately 45 percent of its value in equity investments, seven percent of which are domestic.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Canada defines responsible business conduct (RBC) as “Canadian companies doing business abroad responsibly in an economic, social, and environmentally sustainable manner.” The Government of Canada has publicly committed to promoting RBC and expects and encourages Canadian companies working internationally to respect human rights and all applicable laws, to meet or exceed international RBC guidelines and standards, to operate transparently and in consultation with host governments and local communities, and to conduct their activities in a socially and environmentally sustainable manner.

Canada encourages RBC by providing RBC-related guidance to the Canadian business community, including through Canadian embassies and missions abroad. Through its Fund for RBC, Global Affairs Canada provides funding to roughly 50 projects and initiatives annually. Canada also promotes RBC multilaterally through the OECD, the G7 Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation, and the Organization of American States. Canada promotes RBC through its trade and investment agreements via voluntary provisions for corporate social responsibility. Global Affairs Canada and the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service issued an Advisory to Canadian companies active abroad or with ties to Xinjiang, China in January 2021. The Advisory set clear compliance expectations for Canadian businesses with respect to forced labor and human rights involving Xinjiang.

The Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise is charged with receiving and reviewing claims of alleged human rights abuses involving Canadian companies foreign operations in the mining, oil and gas, and garment sectors. Contact information for making a complaint is available at: https://core-ombuds.canada.ca/core_ombuds-ocre_ombuds/index.aspx?lang=eng  .

Canada is active in improving transparency and accountability in the extractive sector. The Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act was brought into force on June 1, 2015. The Act requires extractive entities active in Canada to publicly disclose, on an annual basis, specific payments made to all governments in Canada and abroad. Canada joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in February 2007, as a supporting country and donor. Canada’s Corporate Social Responsibility strategy, “Doing Business the Canadian Way: A Strategy to Advance Corporate Social Responsibility in Canada’s Extractive Sector Abroad” is available on the Global Affairs Canada website: http://www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/topics-domaines/other-autre/csr-strat-rse.aspx?lang=eng .

A comprehensive overview of Canadian RBC information is available at: https://www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/topics-domaines/other-autre/csr-rse.aspx?lang=eng#:~:text=RBC%20is%20about%20Canadian%20companies,laws%20and%20internationally%20recognized%20standards  .

Additional Resources

Department of State

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices ( https://www.state.gov/reports-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/);

Trafficking in Persons Report ( https://www.state.gov/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 ( https://www.state.gov/key-topics-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/due-diligence-guidance/) and;

North Korea Sanctions & Enforcement Actions Advisory ( https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/126/dprk_supplychain_advisory_07232018.pdf ).

Department of Labor

Findings on the Worst forms of Child Labor Report ( https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  );

List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor ( https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods );

Sweat & Toil: Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking Around the World ( https://www.dol.gov/general/apps/ilab ) and;

Comply Chain ( https://www.dol.gov/ilab/complychain/ ).

9. Corruption

Corruption in Canada is low and similar to that found in the United States. Corruption is not an obstacle to foreign investment. Canada is a party to the UN Convention Against Corruption, the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, and the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption.

Canada’s Criminal Code prohibits corruption, bribery, influence peddling, extortion, and abuse of office. The Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act prohibits individuals and businesses from bribing foreign government officials to obtain influence and prohibits destruction or falsification of books and records to conceal corrupt payments. The law has extended jurisdiction that permits Canadian courts to prosecute corruption committed by Canadian companies and individuals abroad. Canada’s anti-corruption legislation is vigorously enforced, and companies and officials guilty of violating Canadian law are effectively investigated, prosecuted, and convicted of corruption-related crimes. In March 2014, Public Works and Government Services Canada (now Public Services and Procurement Canada, or PSPC) revised its Integrity Framework for government procurement to ban companies or their foreign affiliates for 10 years from winning government contracts if they have been convicted of corruption. In August 2015, the Canadian government revised the framework to allow suppliers to apply to have their ineligibility reduced to five years where the causes of conduct are addressed and no longer penalizes a supplier for the actions of an affiliate in which it was not involved. PSPC has a Code of Conduct for Procurement, which counters conflict-of-interest in awarding contracts. Canadian firms operating abroad must declare whether they or an affiliate are under charge or have been convicted under Canada’s anti-corruption laws during the past five years to receive assistance from the Trade Commissioner Service.

Resources to Report Corruption

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

Mario Dion
Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner (for appointed and elected officials, House of Commons)
Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner
Parliament of Canada
66 Slater Street, 22nd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario (Mailing address)

Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner
Parliament of Canada
Centre Block, P.O. Box 16
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Pierre Legault
Office of the Senate Ethics Officer (for appointed Senators)
Thomas D’Arcy McGee Building
Parliament of Canada
90 Sparks St., Room 526
Ottawa, ON K1P 5B4

10. Political and Security Environment

Canada is politically stable with rare instances of civil disturbance.

Germany

Executive Summary

As Europe’s largest economy, Germany is a major destination for foreign direct investment (FDI) and has accumulated a vast stock of FDI over time.  Germany is consistently ranked as one of the most attractive investment destinations based on its stable legal environment, reliable infrastructure, highly skilled workforce, positive social climate, and world-class research and development.

Foreign investment in Germany mainly originates from other European countries, the United States, and Japan, although FDI from emerging economies (and China) has grown over 2015-2018 from low levels. The United States is the leading source of non-European FDI in Germany.

The German government continues to strengthen provisions for national security screening of inward investment in reaction to an increasing number of high-risk acquisitions of German companies by foreign investors in recent years, particularly from China.  In 2018, the government lowered the threshold for the screening of investments, allowing authorities to screen acquisitions by foreign entities of at least 10 percent of voting rights of German companies that operate or provide services related to critical infrastructure. The amendment also added media companies to the list of sensitive businesses.

Further amendments enacted in 2020 to implement the 2019 EU FDI Screening Regulation, which Germany strongly supported, include to:

a) facilitate a more pro-active screening based on “prospective impairment” of public order or security by an acquisition, rather than a de facto threat, b) take into account the impact on other EU member states, and c) formally suspend transactions during the screening process.

Furthermore, acquisitions by foreign government-owned or -funded entities will now trigger a review, and the healthcare industry will be considered a sensitive sector to which the stricter 10% threshold applies. A further amendment, in force since May 2021, introduced a list of sensitive sectors and technologies (similar to the current list of critical infrastructure) including artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, specialized robots, semiconductors, additive manufacturing and quantum technology, among others. Foreign investors who seek to acquire at least 10% of voting rights of a German company in one of those fields would be required to notify the government and potentially become subject to an investment review.

German legal, regulatory, and accounting systems can be complex but are generally transparent and consistent with developed-market norms.  Businesses operate within a well-regulated, albeit relatively high-cost, environment. Foreign and domestic investors are treated equally when it comes to investment incentives or the establishment and protection of real and intellectual property.  Foreign investors can rely on the German legal system to enforce laws and contracts; at the same time, this system requires investors to closely track their legal obligations. New investors should ensure they have the necessary legal expertise, either in-house or outside counsel, to meet all national and EU regulations.

German authorities are committed to fighting money laundering and corruption.  The government promotes responsible business conduct and German SMEs are aware of the need for due diligence.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 9 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 22 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 9 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 148,259 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 48,580 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Germany has transparent and effective laws and policies to promote competition, including antitrust laws. The legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are complex but transparent and consistent with international norms.

Public consultation by federal authorities is regulated by the Joint Rules of Procedure, which specify that ministries must consult early and extensively with a range of stakeholders on all new legislative proposals. In practice, laws and regulations in Germany are routinely published in draft for public comment. According to the Joint Rules of Procedure, ministries should consult the concerned industries’ associations , consumer organizations, environmental, and other NGOs. The consultation period generally takes two to eight weeks.

The German Institute for Standardization (DIN), Germany’s independent and sole national standards body representing Germany in non-governmental international standards organizations, is open to German subsidiaries of foreign companies.

International Regulatory Considerations

As a member of the European Union, Germany must observe and implement directives and regulations adopted by the EU. EU regulations are binding and enter into force as immediately applicable law. Directives, on the other hand, constitute a type of framework law that is to be transposed by the Member States in their respective legislative processes, which is regularly observed in Germany.

EU Member States must transpose directives within a specified period of time. Should a deadline not be met, the Member State may suffer the initiation of an infringement procedure, which could result in steep fines. Germany has a set of rules that prescribe how to break down any payment of fines devolving to the Federal Government and the federal states (Länder). Both bear part of the costs. Payment requirements by the individual states depend on the size of their population and the respective part they played in non-compliance.

The federal states have a say over European affairs through the Bundesrat (upper chamber of parliament). The Federal Government must inform the Bundesrat at an early stage of any new EU policies that are relevant for the federal states.

The Federal Government notifies draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) through the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

German law is both stable and predictable.  Companies can effectively enforce property and contractual rights.  Germany’s well-established enforcement laws and official enforcement services ensure that investors can assert their rights.  German courts are fully available to foreign investors in an investment dispute.

The judicial system is independent, and the government does not interfere in the court system.  The legislature sets the systemic and structural parameters, while lawyers and civil law notaries use the law to shape and organize specific situations.  Judges are highly competent and impartial. International studies and empirical data have attested that Germany offers an effective court system committed to due process and the rule of law.

In Germany, most important legal issues and matters are governed by comprehensive legislation in the form of statutes, codes and regulations.  Primary legislation in the area of business law includes: the Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, abbreviated as BGB), which contains general rules on the formation, performance and enforcement of contracts and on the basic types of contractual agreements for legal transactions between private entities;

  • the Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, abbreviated as BGB), which contains general rules on the formation, performance and enforcement of contracts and on the basic types of contractual agreements for legal transactions between private entities;
  • the Commercial Code (Handelsgesetzbuch, abbreviated as HGB), which contains special rules concerning transactions among businesses and commercial partnerships;
  • the Private Limited Companies Act (GmbH-Gesetz) and the Public Limited Companies Act (Aktiengesetz), covering the two most common corporate structures in Germany – the ‘GmbH’ and the ‘Aktiengesellschaft’; and
  • the Act on Unfair Competition (Gesetz gegen den unlauteren Wettbewerb, abbreviated as UWG), which prohibits misleading advertising and unfair business practices.

Apart from the regular courts, which hear civil and criminal cases, Germany has specialized courts for administrative law, labor law, social law, and finance and tax law.  Many civil regional courts have specialized chambers for commercial matters. In 2018, the first German regional courts for civil matters (in Frankfurt and Hamburg) established Chambers for International Commercial Disputes introducing the possibility to hear international trade disputes in English.  Other federal states are currently discussing plans to introduce these specialized chambers as well. In November 2020, Baden-Wuerttemberg opened the first commercial court in Germany with locations in Stuttgart and Mannheim, with the option to choose English language proceedings.

The Federal Patent Court hears cases on patents, trademarks, and utility rights which are related to decisions by the German Patent and Trademarks Office.  Both the German Patent Office (Deutsches Patentamt) and the European Patent Office are headquartered in Munich.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy may review acquisitions of domestic companies by foreign buyers in cases where investors seek to acquire at least 25 percent of the voting rights to assess whether these transactions pose a risk to the public order or national security of the Federal Republic of Germany. In the case of acquisitions of critical infrastructure and companies in sensitive sectors, the threshold for triggering an investment review by the government is 10 percent. The Foreign Trade and Payments Act and the Foreign Trade and Payments Ordinance provide the legal basis for screening investments. In 2019, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy screened a total of 106 foreign acquisitions. In at least one case it prohibited an acquisition – the planned takeover of German wireless communications technology developer IMST GmbH by Chinese state-owned defense company CASIC in December 2020. However, even without a formal decision, the mere prospect of rejection has reportedly caused foreign investors to pull out of prospective deals in the past. All national security decisions by the ministry can be appealed in administrative courts.

There is no general requirement for investors to obtain approval for any acquisition unless the target company poses a potential national security risk, such as operating or providing services relating to critical infrastructure, , is a media company, or operates in the health sector. The threshold for initiating such an investment review is an acquisition of at least 10 percent of voting rights. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy may launch a review within three months after obtaining knowledge of the acquisition; the review must be concluded within four months after receipt of the full set of relevant documents. An investor may also request a binding certificate of non-objection from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in advance of the planned acquisition to obtain legal certainty at an early stage. If the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy does not open an in-depth review within two months from the receipt of the request, this certificate shall be deemed as granted.

Special rules additionally apply for the acquisition of companies that operate in sensitive security areas, including defense and IT security. In contrast to the cross-sectoral rules described above, all sensitive acquisitions must be notified in written form including basic information of the planned acquisition, the buyer, the domestic company that is subject of the acquisition and the respective fields of business. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy may open a formal review procedure if a foreign investor seeks to acquire at least 10 percent of voting rights of a German company in a sensitive security area within three months after receiving notification, or the acquisition shall be deemed as approved. If a review procedure is opened, the buyer is required to submit further documents. The acquisition may be restricted or prohibited within three months after the full set of documents has been submitted.

The German government has continuously amended domestic investment screening provisions in recent years to transpose the relevant EU framework and address evolving security risks. An amendment in June 2017 clarified the scope for review and gave the government more time to conduct reviews, in reaction to an increasing number of acquisitions of German companies by foreign investors with apparent ties to national governments. The amended provisions provide a clearer definition of sectors in which foreign investment can pose a threat to public order and security, including operators of critical infrastructure, developers of software to run critical infrastructure, telecommunications operators or companies involved in telecom surveillance, cloud computing network operators and service providers, and telematics companies, and which are subject to notification requirements. The new rules also extended the time to assess a cross-sector foreign investment from two to four months, and for investments in sensitive sectors, from one to three months, and introduced the possibility of retroactively initiating assessments for a period of five years after the conclusion of an acquisition. Indirect acquisitions such as those through a Germany- or EU-based affiliate company are now also explicitly subject to the new rules.

With further amendments in 2020, Germany implemented the 2019 EU Screening Regulation.

The amendments a) introduced a more pro-active screening based on “prospective impairment” of public order or security by an acquisition, rather than a de facto threat, b) take into account the impact on other EU member states, and c) formally suspend transactions during the screening process.

a) introduced a more pro-active screening based on “prospective impairment” of public order or security by an acquisition, rather than a de facto threat, b) take into account the impact on other EU member states, and c) formally suspend transactions during the screening process.

Furthermore, acquisitions by foreign government-owned or -funded entities now trigger a review, and the healthcare industry is now considered a sensitive sector to which the stricter 10% threshold applies. In May 2021, a further amendment entered into force which introduced a list of sensitive sectors and technologies (similar to the current list of critical infrastructures), including artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, specialized robots, semiconductors, additive manufacturing and quantum technology. Foreign investors who seek to acquire at least 10% of ownership rights of a German company in one those fields would be required to notify the government and potentially become subject to an investment review. The screening can now also take into account “stockpiling acquisitions” by the same investor, “atypical control investments” where an investor seeks additional influence in company operations via side contractual agreements, or combined acquisitions by multiple investors, if all are controlled by one foreign government.

The Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy provides comprehensive information on Germany’s investment screening regime on its website in English: https://www.bmwi.de/Redaktion/EN/Artikel/Foreign-Trade/investment-screening.html 

https://www.bmwi.de/Redaktion/EN/Artikel/Foreign-Trade/investment-screening.html 

The German Economic Development Agency (GTAI) provides extensive information for investors, including about the legal framework, labor-related issues and incentive programs, on their website: http://www.gtai.de/GTAI/Navigation/EN/Invest/investment-guide.html .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

As an EU member state with a well-developed financial sector, Germany welcomes foreign portfolio investment and has an effective regulatory system. Germany has a very open economy, routinely ranking among the top countries in the world for exports and inward and outward foreign direct investment. As a member of the Eurozone, Germany does not have sole national authority over international payments, which are a shared task of the European Central Bank and the national central banks of the 19 member states, including the German Central Bank (Bundesbank). A European framework for national security screening of foreign investments, which entered into force in April 2019, provides a basis under European law to restrict capital movements into Germany on the basis of threats to national security. Global investors see Germany as a safe place to invest, as the real economy – up until the COVID-19 crisis– continued to outperform other EU countries.German sovereign bonds continue to retain their “safe haven” status.

Listed companies and market participants in Germany must comply with the Securities Trading Act, which bans insider trading and market manipulation. Compliance is monitored by the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) while oversight of stock exchanges is the responsibility of the state governments in Germany (with BaFin taking on any international responsibility). Investment fund management in Germany is regulated by the Capital Investment Code (KAGB), which entered into force on July 22, 2013. The KAGB represents the implementation of additional financial market regulatory reforms, committed to in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. The law went beyond the minimum requirements of the relevant EU directives and represents a comprehensive overhaul of all existing investment-related regulations in Germany with the aim of creating a system of rules to protect investors while also maintaining systemic financial stability.

Money and Banking System

Although corporate financing via capital markets is on the rise, Germany’s financial system remains mostly bank-based. Bank loans are still the predominant form of funding for firms, particularly the small- and medium-sized enterprises that comprise Germany’s “Mittelstand,” or mid-sized industrial market leaders. Credit is available at market-determined rates to both domestic and foreign investors, and a variety of credit instruments are available. Legal, regulatory and accounting systems are generally transparent and consistent with international banking norms. Germany has a universal banking system regulated by federal authorities, and there have been no reports of a shortage of credit in the German economy. After 2010, Germany banned some forms of speculative trading, most importantly “naked short selling.” In 2013, Germany passed a law requiring banks to separate riskier activities such as proprietary trading into a legally separate, fully capitalized unit that has no guarantee or access to financing from the deposit-taking part of the bank. Since the creation of the European single supervisory mechanism (SSM) in November 2014, the European Central Bank directly supervises 21 banks located in Germany (as of January 2021) among them four subsidiaries of foreign banks.

Germany supports a global financial transaction tax and is pursuing the introduction of such a tax along with other EU member states.

Germany has a modern and open banking sector that is characterized by a highly diversified and decentralized, small-scale structure. As a result, it is extremely competitive, profit margins notably in the retail sector are low and the banking sector considered “over-banked” and in need of consolidation. The country’s “three-pillar” banking system consists of private commercial banks, cooperative banks, and public banks (savings banks/Sparkassen and the regional state-owned banks/Landesbanken). This structure has remained unchanged despite marked consolidation within each “pillar” since the financial crisis in 2008/9. The number of state banks (Landesbanken) dropped from 12 to 5, that of savings banks from 446 in 2007 to 374 at the end of 2019 and the number of cooperative banks has dropped from 1,234 to 814. Two of the five large private sector banks have exited the market (Dresdner, Postbank). The balance sheet total of German banks dropped from 304 percent of GDP in 2007 to about 265 percent of end-2019 GDP with banking sector assets worth €9.1 trillion. Market shares in corporate finance of the banking groups remained largely unchanged (all figures for end of 2019): Credit institutions 27 percent (domestic 17 percent, foreign banks 10 percent), savings banks 31 percent, state banks 10 percent, credit cooperative banks 21 percent, promotional banks 6 percent.

The private bank sector is dominated by globally active banks Deutsche Bank (Germany’s largest bank by balance sheet total) and Commerzbank (fourth largest bank), with balance sheets of €1.3 trillion and €466.6 billion respectively (2019 figures). Commerzbank received €18 billion in financial assistance from the federal government in 2009, for which the government took a 25 percent stake in the bank (now reduced to 15.6 percent). Merger talks between Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank failed in 2019. The second largest of the top ten German banks is DZ Bank, the central institution of the Cooperative Finance Group (after its merger with WGZ Bank in July 2016), followed by German branches of large international banks (UniCredit Bank or HVB, ING-Diba), development banks (KfW Group, NRW.Bank), and state banks (LBBW, Bayern LB, Helaba, NordLB).

German banks’ profitability deteriorated in the years prior to the COVID-19 crisis due to the prevailing low and negative interest rate environment that narrowed margins on new loans irrespective of debtors’ credit worthiness, poor trading results and new competitors from the fintech sector, and low cost efficiency. In 2018, according to the latest data by the Deutsche Bundesbank (Germany’s central bank), German credit institutions reported a pre-tax profit of €18.9 billion or 0.23 percent of total assets. Their net interest income remained below its long-term average to €87.2 billion despite dynamic credit growth (19 percent since end-2014 until end-2019 in retail and 23 percent in corporate loans) on ongoing cost-reduction efforts. Thanks to continued favorable domestic economic conditions, their risk provisioning has been at an all time low. Their average return on equity before tax in 2018 slipped to 3.74 percent (after tax: 2.4 percent) (with savings banks generating a higher return, big banks a lower return, and Landesbanken a –2.45 percent return). Both return on equity and return on assets were at their lowest level since 2010.

Brexit promptedsome banking activities to relocate from the United Kingdom to the EU, with many foreign banks (notably U.S. and Japanese banks) choosing Frankfurt as their new EU headquarters. Their Core Tier 1 equity capital ratios improved as did their liquidity ratios, but no German large bank has been able to organically raise its capital for the past decade.

In 2020, the insolvency of financial services provider WireCard revealed certain weaknesses in German banking supervision. WireCard, which many viewed as a promising innovative format for the processing of credit card transactions, managed to conceal inadequate equity from supervisory authorities while also inflating its actual turnover. The Wirecard insolvency led to the replacement of the head of banking supervisory authority BaFin and triggered both an ongoing overhaul of the German banking supervision and a continuing parliamentary investigation.

It remains unclear how the COVID-19 crisis will affect the German banking sector. Prior to the pandemic, the bleaker German economic outlook prompted a greater need for value adjustment and write-downs in lending business. German banks’ ratio of non-performing loans was low going into the crisis (1.24 percent). In March 2020, the German government provided large-scale asset guarantees to banks (in certain instances covering 100 percent of the credit risk) via the German government owned KfW bank to avoid a credit crunch. So far, German banks have come through the crisis unscathed thanks to extensive liquidity assistance from the ECB, moratoria and fiscal support for the economy. Nevertheless, 25 German banks were downgraded in 2020 and many more were put on negative watch, though CDS spreads for the two largest private banks have fallen dramatically since the height of the crisis in March 2020 and are currently around pre-COVID levels. The second and third COVID-waves, however, are likely to take a toll on credit institutions and 2021 could prove to be the toughest test for banks since the 2008/9 global financial crisis. According to the Bundesbank, loan defaults by German banks could quadruple to 0.8 percent of the loan portfolio (or €13 billion). The Bundesbank’s focus in particular is on aircraft loans. According to Bloomberg’s calculations, the major German regional banks have lent €15 billion for aircraft financing. At Deka alone, the asset manager of the savings banks, the ratio of non-performing loans in aircraft financing is at a relatively high 7.7 percent.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

As a member of the Eurozone, Germany uses the euro as its currency, along with 18 other EU countries. The Eurozone has no restrictions on the transfer or conversion of its currency, and the exchange rate is freely determined in the foreign exchange market.

The Deutsche Bundesbank is the independent central bank of the Federal Republic of Germany. It has been a part of the Eurosystem since 1999, sharing responsibility with the other national central banks and the European Central Bank (ECB) for the single currency, and thus has no scope to manipulate the bloc’s exchange rate. Germany’s persistently high current account surplus – the world’s second largest in 2020 at USD 261 billion (6.9 percent of GDP) – has shrunk for the fifth year in a row. Despite the decrease, the persistence of Germany’s surplus remains a matter of international controversy. German policymakers view the large surplus as the result of market forces rather than active government policies, while the European Commission (EC) and IMF have called on authorities to rebalance towards domestic sources of economic growth by expanding public investment, using available fiscal space, and other policy choices that boost domestic demand.

Germany is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and is committed to further strengthening its national system for the prevention, detection and suppression of money laundering and terrorist financing. Federal law is enforced by regional state prosecutors. Investigations are conducted by the Federal and State Offices of Criminal Investigations (BKA/LKA). The administrative authority for imposing anti-money laundering requirements on financial institutions is the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin).

The Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) – located at the General Customs Directorate in the Federal Ministry of Finance – is the national central authority for receiving, collecting and analyzing reports of suspicious financial transactions that may be related to money laundering or terrorist financing. On January 1, 2020, legislation to implement the 5th EU Money Laundering Directive and the European Funds Transfers Regulation (Geldtransfer-Verordnung) entered into force. The Act amends the German Money Laundering Act (Geldwäschegesetz – GwG) and a number of further laws. It provides, inter alia, the FIU and prosecutors with expanded access to data. On March 9, 2021 the Bundestag passed an anti-money laundering law seeking to improve Germany’s criminal legal framework for combating money laundering while simultaneously implementing the EU’s 6th Money Laundering Directive (EU 2018/1673 – hereafter “the Directive”). The Directive lays down minimum rules on the definition of criminal offenses and sanctions to combat money laundering. The law goes beyond the minimum standard set out in the Directive by broadening the definition of activities that could be prosecuted as money laundering offenses. Previously, the money laundering section in the German Criminal Code was designed to criminalize acts in connection with a list of serious “predicate offenses,” the underlying crime generating illicit funds, e.g., drug trafficking. The new law dispenses with the previously defined list, allowing any crime to be considered as a “predicate offense” to money laundering (the “All- Crimes Approach”). This is a paradigm shift in German criminal law, and implements an additional priority laid out in Germany’s “Strategy to Combat Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing” adopted in 2019.

The number of suspected money laundering and terrorist financing cases rose sharply in 2019 from 77.000 suspicious activity reports (SARs) to 114.914 according to the 2019 annual report of FIU (a new record and 12-fold that of 2009). The vast majority (98 percent) of suspicious transaction reports were filed by German banks and other financial institutions in order to avoid legal risks after a court ruling that held anti-money laundering (AML) officers personally liable, thus including many “false positives”. At the same time, the activities resulted in just 156 criminal charges, 133 indictments and only 54 verdicts.

In its annual report 2018, the FIU noted an “extreme vulnerability” in Germany’s real estate market to money laundering activities. Transparency International found that about €30 billion in illicit funds were funneled into German real estate in 2017. The results of the first concerted action by supervisory authorities of the German federal states in the automotive industry in 2019, for example, were sobering: only 15 percent of car dealers had implemented AML provisions, the rest had deficiencies, showing the “need for further sensitization.” The report also noted a slight upward trend in the number of SARs related to crypto assets. Around 760 SARs cited “anomalies in connection with cryptocurrencies”, as reporting noted, especially the forwarding of funds to trading platforms abroad for the exchange of funds into cryptocurrencies. However, the FIU itself has come under criticism. Financial institutions deplore the quality of its staff and the effectiveness of its work. The Institute of Public Auditors in Germany (IDW) criticizes that the precautions taken to prevent money laundering in high-risk industries outside the financial sector are monitored much less intensively. A review of the FIU scheduled for 2020 has been postponed due to the pandemic.

There is no difficulty in obtaining foreign exchange.

Remittance Policies

There are no restrictions or delays on investment remittances or the inflow or outflow of profits.

Germany is the largest remittance-sending country in the EU, making up almost 18% of all outbound personal remittances of the EU-27 (Eurostat). Migrants in Germany posted USD 25.1 billion (0.6 percent of GDP) abroad in 2019 (World Bank). Remittance flows into Germany amounted to around USD 16.5 billion in 2019, approximately 0.4 percent of Germany’s GDP.

The issue of remittances played a role during the German G20 Presidency in 2017. During its presidency, Germany passed an updated version of its “G20 National Remittance Plan.” The document states that Germany’s focus will remain on “consumer protection, linking remittances to financial inclusion, creating enabling regulatory frameworks and generating research and data on diaspora and remittances dynamics.” The 2017 “G20 National Remittance Plan” can be found at https://www.gpfi.org/publications/2017-g20-national-remittance-plans-overview 

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The German government does not currently have a sovereign wealth fund or an asset management bureau.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

In December 2016, the Federal Government passed the National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights (NAP). The action plan aims to apply the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights to the activities of German companies nationally as well as globally in their value and supply chains. The 2018 coalition agreement for the 19th legislative period between the governing Christian Democratic parties, CDU/CSU, and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) stated its commitment to the action plan, including the principles on public procurement. It further stated that, if the NAP 2020’s effective and comprehensive review came to the conclusion that the voluntary due diligence approach of enterprises was insufficient, the government would initiate legislation for an EU-wide regulation. With results of the review showing a majority of companies do not sufficiently fulfill due diligence requirements, the government has since sought to pass a national supply chain law to ensure businesses take responsibility for their supply chains and their operations do not impinge upon human rights. Draft legislation passed by the government in March 2021 is currently in the parliamentary process.

Germany adheres to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises; the National Contact Point (NCP) is housed in the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy. The NCP is supported by an advisory board composed of several ministries, business organizations, trade unions, and NGOs. This working group usually meets once a year to discuss all Guidelines-related issues. The German NCP can be contacted through the Ministry’s website: https://www.bmwi.de/Redaktion/EN/Textsammlungen/Foreign-Trade/national-contact-point-ncp.html .

There is general awareness of environmental, social, and governance issues among both producers and consumers in Germany, and surveys suggest that consumers increasingly care about the ecological and social impacts of the products they purchase. In order to encourage businesses to factor environmental, social, and governance impacts into their decision-making, the government provides information online and in hard copy. The federal government encourages corporate social responsibility (CSR) through awards and prizes, business fairs, and reports and newsletters. The government also organizes so called “sector dialogues” to connect companies and facilitate the exchange of best practices, and offers practice days to help nationally as well as internationally operating small- and medium-sized companies discern and implement their entrepreneurial due diligence under the NAP. To this end it has created a website on CSR in Germany ( http://www.csr-in-deutschland.de/EN/Home/home.html  in English). The German government maintains and enforces domestic laws with respect to labor and employment rights, consumer protections, and environmental protections. The German government does not waive labor and environmental laws to attract investment.

Social reporting is voluntary, but publicly listed companies frequently include information on their CSR policies in annual shareholder reports and on their websites.

Civil society groups that work on CSR include Amnesty International Germany, Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland e. V. (BUND), CorA Corporate Accountability – Netzwerk Unternehmensverantwortung, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Germanwatch, Greenpeace Germany, Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NABU), Sneep (Studentisches Netzwerk zu Wirtschafts- und Unternehmensethik), Stiftung Warentest, Südwind – Institut für Ökonomie und Ökumene, TransFair – Verein zur Förderung des Fairen Handels mit der „Dritten Welt“ e. V., Transparency International, Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband e.V., Bundesverband Die Verbraucher Initiative e.V., and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF, known as the „World Wildlife Fund“ in the United States).

Additional Resources 

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Among industrialized countries, Germany ranks 9th out of 180, according to Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index. Some sectors including the automotive industry, construction sector, and public contracting, exert political influence and political party finance remains only partially transparent. Nevertheless, U.S. firms have not identified corruption as an impediment to investment in Germany. Germany is a signatory of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and a participating member of the OECD Working Group on Bribery.

Over the last two decades, Germany has increased penalties for the bribery of German officials, corrupt practices between companies, and price-fixing by companies competing for public contracts. It has also strengthened anti-corruption provisions on financial support extended by the official export credit agency and has tightened the rules for public tenders. Government officials are forbidden from accepting gifts linked to their jobs. Most state governments and local authorities have contact points for whistle-blowing and provisions for rotating personnel in areas prone to corruption. There are serious penalties for bribing officials and price fixing by companies competing for public contracts.

According to the Federal Criminal Office, in 2019, 50 percent of all corruption cases were directed towards the public administration (down from 73 percent in 2018), 39 percent towards the business sector (up from 18 percent in 2018), 9 percent towards law enforcement and judicial authorities (up from 7 percent in 2018), and 2 percent to political officials (unchanged compared to 2018).

Parliamentarians are subject to financial disclosure laws that require them to publish earnings from outside employment. Disclosures are available to the public via the Bundestag website (next to the parliamentarians’ biographies) and in the Official Handbook of the Bundestag. Penalties for noncompliance can range from an administrative fine to as much as half of a parliamentarian’s annual salary. In early 2021, several parliamentarians stepped down due to inappropriate financial gains made through personal relationships to businesses involved in the procurement of face masks during the initial stages of the pandemic.

Donations by private persons or entities to political parties are legally permitted. However, if they exceed €50,000, they must be reported to the President of the Bundestag, who is required to immediately publish the name of the party, the amount of the donation, the name of the donor, the date of the donation, and the date the recipient reported the donation. Donations of €10,000 or more must be included in the party’s annual accountability report to the President of the Bundestag.

State prosecutors are generally responsible for investigating corruption cases, but not all state governments have prosecutors specializing in corruption. Germany has successfully prosecuted hundreds of domestic corruption cases over the years, including large scale cases against major companies.

Media reports in past years about bribery investigations against Siemens, Daimler, Deutsche Telekom, Deutsche Bank, and Ferrostaal have increased awareness of the problem of corruption. As a result, listed companies and multinationals have expanded compliance departments, tightened internal codes of conduct, and offered more training to employees.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

Germany was a signatory to the UN Anti-Corruption Convention in 2003. The Bundestag ratified the Convention in November 2014.

Germany adheres to and actively enforces the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention which criminalizes bribery of foreign public officials by German citizens and firms. The necessary tax reform legislation ending the tax write-off for bribes in Germany and abroad became law in 1999.

Germany participates in the relevant EU anti-corruption measures and signed two EU conventions against corruption. However, while Germany ratified the Council of Europe Criminal Law Convention on Corruption in 2017, it has not yet ratified the Civil Law Convention on Corruption.

Resources to Report Corruption

There is no central government anti-corruption agency in Germany. Responsibilities in fighting corruption lies with the federal states.

Contact at “watchdog” organization:

Hartmut Bäumer, Chair
Transparency International Germany
Alte Schönhauser Str. 44, 10119 Berlin
+49 30 549 898 0
office@transparency.de 
https://www.transparency.de/en/ 

The Federal Criminal Office publishes an annual report on corruption: “Bundeslagebild Korruption” – the latest one covers 2019. https://www.bka.de/DE/AktuelleInformationen/StatistikenLagebilder/Lagebilder/Korruption/korruption_node.html;jsessionid=95B370E07C3C5702B4A4AAEE8EAC8B3F.live0601

https://www.bka.de/DE/AktuelleInformationen/StatistikenLagebilder/Lagebilder/Korruption/korruption_node.html;jsessionid=95B370E07C3C5702B4A4AAEE8EAC8B3F.live0601

10. Political and Security Environment

Political acts of violence against either foreign or domestic business enterprises are extremely rare. Isolated cases of violence directed at certain minorities and asylum seekers have not targeted U.S. investments or investors.

India

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

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

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

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

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

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

International Regulatory Considerations

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

Legal System and Judicial Independence

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

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

Israel

Executive Summary

Israel has an entrepreneurial spirit and a creative, highly educated, skilled, and diverse workforce. It is a leader in innovation in a variety of sectors, and many Israeli start-ups find good partners in U.S. companies. Popularly known as “Start-Up Nation,” Israel invests heavily in education and scientific research. U.S. firms account for nearly two-thirds of the more than 300 research and development (R&D) centers established by multinational companies in Israel. Israel has the third most companies listed on the NASDAQ, after the United States and China. Various Israeli government agencies, led by the Israel Innovation Authority, fund incubators for early stage technology start-ups, and Israel provides extensive support for new ideas and technologies while also seeking to develop traditional industries. Private venture capital funds have flourished in Israel in recent years.

The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Israel is unprecedented but successful pre-pandemic economic policy buffers – steady/strong growth, low debt, a resilient tech sector among them — mean Israel entered the COVID-19 crisis with relatively low vulnerabilities, according to the International Monetary Fund’s Staff Report for the 2020 Article IV Consultation. The fundamentals of the Israeli economy remain strong, and Israel’s economy enjoyed strong growth prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. With low inflation and fiscal deficits that have usually met targets pre-pandemic, most analysts consider Israeli government economic policies as generally sound and supportive of growth. Israel seeks to provide supportive conditions for companies looking to invest in Israel, through laws that encourage capital and industrial R&D investment. Incentives and benefits include grants, reduced tax rates, tax exemptions, and other tax-related benefits.

The U.S.-Israeli bilateral economic and commercial relationship is strong, anchored by two-way trade in goods that reached USD 25.5 billion in 2020 and USD 33.9 billion in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and extensive commercial ties, particularly in high-tech and R&D. The total stock of Israeli foreign direct investment (FDI) in the United States was USD 36.6 billion in 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Since the signing of the U.S.-Israel Free Trade Agreement in 1985, the Israeli economy has undergone a dramatic transformation, moving from a protected, low-end manufacturing and agriculture-led economy to one that is diverse, open, and led by a cutting-edge high-tech sector.

The Israeli government generally continues to take slow, deliberate actions to remove some trade barriers and encourage capital investment, including foreign investment. The continued existence of trade barriers and monopolies, however, have contributed significantly to the high cost of living and the lack of competition in key sectors. The Israeli government maintains some protective trade policies, usually in favor of domestic producers.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 35 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 35 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 13 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 $28.5 billion https://www.bea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-07/dici0720_0.pdf
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $43,100 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Israel promotes open governance and has joined the International Open Government Partnership. The government’s policy is to pursue the goals of transparency and active reporting to the public, public participation, and accountability.

Israel’s regulatory system is transparent. Ministries and regulatory agencies give notice of proposed regulations to the public on a government web site: http://www.knesset.gov.il . The texts of proposed regulations are also published (in Hebrew) on this web site. The government requests comments from the public about proposed regulations.

Israel is a signatory to the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA), which covers most Israeli government entities and government-owned corporations. Most of the country’s open international public tenders are published in the local press. U.S. companies have won a limited number of government tenders, notably in the energy and communications sectors. However, government-owned corporations make extensive use of selective tendering procedures. In addition, the lack of transparency in the public procurement process discourages U.S. companies from participating in major projects and disadvantages those that choose to compete. Enforcement of the public procurement laws and regulations is not consistent.

Israel is a member of UNCTAD’s international network of transparent investment procedures. ( http://unctad.org/en/pages/home.aspx  ). Foreign and national investors can find detailed information on administrative procedures applicable to investment and income generating operations including the number of steps, name and contact details of the entities and persons in charge of procedures, required documents and conditions, costs, processing time, and legal basis justifying the procedures.

International Regulatory Considerations

Israel is not a member of any major economic bloc but maintains strong economic relations with other economic blocs.

Israeli regulatory bodies in the Ministry of Economy (Standards Institute of Israel), Ministry of Health (Food Control Services), and the Ministry of Agriculture (Veterinary Services and the Plant Protection Service) often adopt standards developed by European standards organizations. Israel’s adoption of European standards rather than international standards results in the market exclusion of certain U.S. products and added costs for U.S. exports to Israel.

Israel became a member of the WTO in 1995. The Ministry of Economy and Industry’s Standardization Administration is responsible for notifying the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade, and regularly does so.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Israel has a written and consistently applied commercial law based on the British Companies Act of 1948, as amended. The judiciary is independent, but businesses complain about the length of time required to obtain judgments. The Supreme Court is an appellate court that also functions as the High Court of Justice. Israel does not employ a jury system. Israel established other tribunals to regulate specific issues and disputes in a specific area of law, including labor courts, antitrust issues, and intellectual property related issues.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

There are few restrictions on foreign investors, except for parts of defense or other industries closed to outside investors on national security grounds. Foreign investors are welcome to participate in Israel’s privatization program.

Israeli courts exercise authority in cases within the jurisdiction of Israel. However, if an agreement between involved parties contains an exclusively foreign jurisdiction, the Israeli courts will generally decline to exercise their authority.

Israel’s Ministry of Economy sponsors the web site “Invest in Israel” at www.investinisrael.gov.il 

The Investment Promotion Center of the Ministry of Economy seeks to encourage investment in Israel. The center stresses Israel’s high marks in innovation, entrepreneurship, and Israel’s creative, skilled, and ambitious workforce. The center also promotes Israel’s strong ties to the United States and Europe.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

Israel adopted its comprehensive competition law in 1988. Israel created the Israel Competition Authority (originally called the Israel Antitrust Authority) in 1994 to enforce the competition law.

Expropriation and Compensation

There have been no known expropriations of U.S.-owned businesses in Israel. Israeli law requires adequate payment, with interest from the day of expropriation until final payment, in cases of expropriation.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Israel is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) of the World Bank and the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. Israel ratified the New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards of 1958 in 1959.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The Israeli government accepts binding international arbitration of investment disputes between foreign investors and the state. Israel’s Arbitration Law of 1968 governs both domestic and international arbitration proceedings in the country. The Israeli Knesset amended the law most recently in 2008. There are no known extrajudicial actions against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Israel formally institutionalized mediation in 1992 with the amendment of the Courts Law of 1984. The amendment granted courts the authority to refer civil disputes to mediation or arbitration with party consent. The Israeli courts tend to uphold and enforce arbitration agreements. Israel’s Arbitration Law predates the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Israeli Bankruptcy Law is based on several layers, some rooted in Common Law, when Palestine was under the British mandate in 1917-1948. Bankruptcy Law in Israel is mostly based on British law enacted in Palestine in 1936 during the British mandate.

Bankruptcy proceedings are based on the bankruptcy ordinance (1980), which replaced the mandatory ordinance enacted in 1936. Therefore, the bankruptcy law in Israel resembles the British law as it was more or less in 1936. Israel ranks 29th in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report’s “resolving insolvency” category.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Israeli government is supportive of foreign portfolio investment. The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE) is Israel’s only public stock exchange.

Financial institutions in Israel allocate credit on market terms. For many years, banks issued credit to only a handful of individuals and corporate entities, some of whom held controlling interests in banks. However, in recent years, banks significantly reduced their exposure to large borrowers following the introduction of stronger regulatory restrictions on preferential lending practices.

The primary profit center for Israeli banks is consumer-banking fees. Various credit instruments are available to the private sector and foreign investors can receive credit on the local market. Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and conform to international norms, although the prevalence of inflation-adjusted accounting means there are differences from U.S. accounting principles.

In the case of publicly traded firms where ownership is widely dispersed, the practice of “cross-shareholding” and “stable shareholder” arrangements to prevent mergers and acquisitions is common, but not directed particularly at preventing potential foreign investment. Israel has no laws or regulations regarding the adoption by private firms of articles of incorporation or association that limit or prohibit foreign investment, participation, or control.

Money and Banking System

The Bank of Israel (BOI) is Israel’s Central Bank and regulates all banking activity and monetary policy. In general, Israel has a healthy banking system that offers most of the same services as the U.S. banking system. Fees for normal banking transactions are significantly higher in Israel than in the United States and some services do not meet U.S. standards. There are 12 commercial banks and four foreign banks operating in Israel, according to the BOI. Five major banks, led by Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi, the two largest banks, dominate Israel’s banking sector. Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi control nearly 60 percent of Israel’s credit market. The State of Israel holds 6 percent of Bank Leumi’s shares. All of Israel’s other banks are privatized.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Israel completed its foreign exchange liberalization process on January 1, 2003, when it removed the last restrictions on the freedom of institutional investors to invest abroad. The Israeli shekel is a freely convertible currency and there are no foreign currency controls. The BOI maintains the option to intervene in foreign currency trading in the event of movements in the exchange rate not in line with fundamental economic conditions, or if the BOI assesses the foreign exchange market is not functioning appropriately. Israeli citizens can invest without restriction in foreign markets. Foreign investors can open shekel accounts that allow them to invest freely in Israeli companies and securities. These shekel accounts are fully convertible into foreign exchange. Israel’s foreign exchange reserves totaled USD 185 billion at the end of February 2021.

Transfers of currency are protected by Article VII of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Articles of Agreement: http://www.imf.org/External/Pubs/FT/AA/index.htm#art7 

Remittance Policies

Most foreign currency transactions must be carried out through an authorized dealer. An authorized dealer is a banking institution licensed to arrange, inter alia, foreign currency transactions for its clients. The authorized dealer must report large foreign exchange transactions to the Controller of Foreign Currency. There are no limitations or significant delays in the remittance of profits, debt service, or capital gains.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Israel passed legislation to establish the Israel Citizens’ Fund, a sovereign wealth fund managed by the BOI, in 2014 to offset the effect of natural gas production on the exchange rate. The original date for beginning the fund’s operations was 2018 but has been postponed until late 2021. The law establishing the fund states that it will begin operating a month after the state’s tax revenues from natural gas exceed USD 307 million (1 billion New Israeli Shekels).

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is awareness of responsible business conduct among enterprises and civil society in Israel. Israel adheres to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and a National Contact Point is operating in the Foreign Trade Administration. Israel is not a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

Israel’s National Contact Point sits in the Responsible Business Conduct unit in the OECD Department of the Foreign Trade Administration in the Ministry of Economy and Industry. An advisory committee, including representatives from the Ministries of Economy, Finance, Foreign Affairs, Justice, and the Environment, assist the National Contact Point. The National Contact Point also works in cooperation with the Manufacturer’s Association of Israel, workers’ organizations, and civil society to promote awareness of the guidelines.

Israel is not a signatory of the Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies. One Israeli company is a member of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers’ Association.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Bribery and other forms of corruption are illegal under several Israeli laws and Civil Service regulations. Israel became a signatory to the OECD Bribery convention in November 2008 and a full member of the OECD in May 2010. Israel ranks 35 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index, dropping one place from its 2018 ranking. Several Israeli NGOs focus on public sector ethics in Israel and Transparency International has a local chapter.

Israel is a signatory of the OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

The Israeli National Police, state comptroller, Attorney General, and Accountant General are responsible for combating official corruption. These entities operate effectively and independently and are sufficiently resourced. NGOs that focus on anticorruption efforts operate freely without government interference.

The international NGO Transparency International closely monitors corruption in Israel.

Resources to Report Corruption

Ministry of Justice
Office of the Director General
29 Salah a-Din Street Jerusalem
02-6466533, 02-6466534, 02-6466535
mancal@justice.gov.il 

Transparency International IsraelIfat Zamir
Tel Aviv University, Faculty of Management
+972 3 640 9176
ifat@ti-israel.org 

10. Political and Security Environment

For the latest safety and security information regarding Israel and the current travel advisory level, see the Travel Advisory for Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza ( https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/israel-west-bank-and-gaza-travel-advisory.html).

The security situation remains complex in Israel and the West Bank, and can change quickly depending on the political environment, recent events, and geographic location. Terrorist groups and lone-wolf terrorists continue plotting possible attacks in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets or shopping malls, and local government facilities. Violence can occur in Jerusalem and the West Bank without warning. Terror attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank have resulted in the deaths and injury of U.S. citizens and others. Hamas, a U.S. government-designated foreign terrorist organization, controls security in Gaza. The security environment within Gaza and on its borders is dangerous and volatile.

Japan

Executive Summary

Japan is the world’s third largest economy, the United States’ fourth largest trading partner, and, as of 2019, the top provider of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the United States. The Japanese government actively welcomes and solicits inward foreign investment and has set ambitious goals for increasing inbound FDI. Despite Japan’s wealth, high level of development, and general acceptance of foreign investment, however, inbound FDI stocks, as a share of GDP, are the lowest in the OECD.

Japan’s legal and regulatory climate is highly supportive of investors in many respects. Courts are independent, but attorney-client privilege does not exist in civil, criminal or administrative matters, with the exception of limited application in cartel anti-trust investigations. There is no right to have counsel present during criminal or administrative interviews. The country’s regulatory system is improving transparency and developing new regulations in line with international norms. Capital markets are deep and broadly available to foreign investors. Japan maintains strong protections for intellectual property rights with generally robust enforcement. The country remains a large, wealthy, and sophisticated market with world-class corporations, research facilities, and technologies. Nearly all foreign exchange transactions, including transfers of profits, dividends, royalties, repatriation of capital, and repayment of principal, are freely permitted. The sectors that have historically attracted the largest foreign direct investment in Japan are electrical machinery, finance, and insurance.

On the other hand, foreign investors in the Japanese market continue to face numerous challenges. A traditional aversion towards mergers and acquisitions within corporate Japan has inhibited foreign investment, and weak corporate governance, among other factors, has led to low returns on equity and cash hoarding among Japanese firms, although business practices are improving in both areas. Investors and business owners must also grapple with inflexible labor laws and a highly regimented labor recruitment system that can significantly increase the cost and difficulty of managing human resources. The Japanese government has recognized many of these challenges and is pursuing initiatives to improve investment conditions.

Levels of corruption in Japan are low, but deep relationships between firms and suppliers may limit competition in certain sectors and inhibit the entry of foreign firms into local markets.

Future improvement in Japan’s investment climate is largely contingent on the success of structural reforms to raise economic growth, and, in the near term, the implementation of COVID-19 recovery measures.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 19 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 29 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 16 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 131,793 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 41,710 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Japan operates a highly centralized regulatory system in which national-level ministries and government organs play a dominant role. Regulators are generally sophisticated and there is little evidence of explicit discrimination against foreign firms. Most draft regulations and impact assessments are released for public comment before implementation and are accessible through a unified portal ( http://www.e-gov.go.jp/ ). Law, regulations, and administrative procedures are generally available online in Japanese along with regular publication in an official gazette. The Japanese government also actively maintains a body of unofficial English translations of some Japanese laws ( http://www.japaneselawtranslation.go.jp/ ).

Some members of the foreign business community in Japan continue to express concern that Japanese regulators do not seek sufficient formal input from industry stakeholders, instead relying on formal and informal connections between regulators and domestic firms to arrive at regulatory decisions. This may have the effect of disadvantaging foreign firms that lack the benefit of deep relationships with local regulators. The United States has encouraged the Japanese government to improve public notice and comment procedures to ensure consistency and transparency in rule-making, and to give fair consideration to comments received. The National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers (NTE), issued by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), contains a description of Japan’s regulatory regime as it affects foreign exporters and investors.

International Regulatory Considerations

The Japanese Industrial Standards Committee (JISC), administered by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, plays a central role in maintaining Japan Industrial Standards (JIS). JISC aims to align JIS with international standards. According to JISC, as of March 31, 2020, 58 percent of Japan’s standards were harmonized with their international counterparts. Nonetheless, Japan maintains a large number of Japan-specific standards that can complicate efforts to introduce new products to the country. Japan is a member of the WTO and notifies the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) of proposed regulations.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Japan is primarily a civil law country based on codified law. The Constitution and the five major legal codes (Civil, Civil Procedure, Commercial, Criminal, and Criminal Procedure) form the legal basis of the system. Japan has a fully independent judiciary and a consistently applied body of commercial law. An Intellectual Property High Court was established in 2005 to expedite trial proceedings in IP cases. Foreign judgments are recognized and enforced by Japanese courts under certain conditions.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Major laws affecting foreign direct investment into Japan include the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act, the Companies Act, and the Financial Instruments and Exchange Act. The Japanese government actively encourages FDI into Japan and has sought over the past decades to ease legal and administrative burdens on foreign investors, including with major reforms to the Companies Act in 2005 and the Financial Instruments and Exchange Act in 2008. The Japanese government amended the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act in 2019.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) holds sole responsibility for enforcing Japanese competition and anti-trust law, although public prosecutors may file criminal charges related to a JFTC finding. In fiscal year 2019, the JFTC investigated 99 suspected Antimonopoly Act (AMA) violations and completed 81 investigations. During this same time period, the JFTC issued 11 cease and desist orders and issued a total of 69.2 billion yen (USD 659 million) surcharge payment orders to 37 companies. In 2019, an amendment to the AMA passed the Diet that granted the JFTC discretion to incentivize cooperation with investigations and adjust surcharges according to the nature and extent of the violation.

The JFTC also reviews proposed “business combinations” (i.e., mergers, acquisitions, increased shareholdings, etc.) to ensure that transactions do not “substantially … restrain competition in any particular field of trade.” In December 2019, amended merger guidelines and policies were put into force to “deal with business combinations in the digital market.” Data is given consideration as a competitive asset under these new guidelines along with the network effects characteristic of digital businesses. The JFTC has expanded authority to review merger cases, including “Non-Notifiable Cases,” when the transaction value is more than JPY40 billion (USD 370 million) and the merger is expected to affect domestic consumers. Further, the amended policies suggest that parties consult with the JFTC voluntarily when the transaction value exceeds JPY40 billion and when one or more of the following factors is met: (i) When an acquired company has an office in Japan and/or conducts research and development in Japan;

(i) When an acquired company has an office in Japan and/or conducts research and development in Japan; (ii) When an acquired company conducts sales activities targeting domestic consumers, such as developing marketing materials (website, brochures, etc.) in the Japanese language; or

(ii) When an acquired company conducts sales activities targeting domestic consumers, such as developing marketing materials (website, brochures, etc.) in the Japanese language; or (iii) When the total domestic sales of an acquired company exceed JPY100 million (USD 920,000)

(iii) When the total domestic sales of an acquired company exceed JPY100 million (USD 920,000)

Expropriation and Compensation

Since 1945, the Japanese government has not expropriated any enterprise, and the expropriation or nationalization of foreign investments in Japan is highly unlikely.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Japan has been a member of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) since 1967 and is also a party to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention).

Enforcement of arbitral awards in Japan are provided for in Japan’s Arbitration Law. Enforcement in other contracting states is also possible. The Supreme Court of Japan has denied the enforceability of awards for punitive damages, however. The Arbitration Law provides that an arbitral award (irrespective of whether or not the seat of arbitration is in Japan) has the same effect as a final and binding judgment. The Arbitration Law does not distinguish awards rendered in contracting states of the New York Convention and in non-contracting states.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Japan Commercial Arbitration Association (JCAA) is the sole permanent commercial arbitral institution in Japan. Japan’s Arbitration Law is based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law “Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration” (UNCITRAL Model Law). Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards.

A wide range of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) organizations also exist in Japan. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has responsibility for regulating and accrediting ADR groups. A Japanese-language list of accredited organizations is available on the MOJ website: http://www.moj.go.jp/KANBOU/ADR/index.html .

Bankruptcy Regulations

The World Bank 2020 “Doing Business” Report ranked Japan third worldwide for resolving insolvency. An insolvent company in Japan can face liquidation under the Bankruptcy Act or take one of four roads to reorganization: the Civil Rehabilitation Law; the Corporate Reorganization Law; corporate reorganization under the Commercial Code; or an out-of-court creditor agreement. The Civil Rehabilitation Law focuses on corporate restructuring in contrast to liquidation, provides stronger protection of debtor assets prior to the start of restructuring procedures, eases requirements for initiating restructuring procedures, simplifies and rationalizes procedures for the examination and determination of liabilities, and improves procedures for approval of rehabilitation plans.

Out-of-court settlements in Japan tend to save time and expense but can lack transparency. In practice, because 100 percent creditor consensus is required for out-of-court settlements and courts can sanction a reorganization plan with only a majority of creditors’ approval, the last stage of an out-of-court settlement is often a request for a judicial seal of approval.

There are three domestic credit reporting/ credit-monitoring agencies in Japan. They are not government-run.  They are: Japan Credit Information Reference Center Corp. (JICC, https://www.jicc.co.jp/english/index.html ‘, member companies deal in consumer loans, finance, and credit); Credit Information Center (CIC, https://www.cic.co.jp/en/index.html , member companies deal in credit cards and credit); and Japan Bankers Association (JBA, https://www.zenginkyo.or.jp/pcic/ , member companies deal in banking and bank-issued credit cards). Credit card companies, such as Japan Credit Bureau (JCB), and large banks, such as Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG), also maintain independent databases to monitor and assess credit.

Per Japan’s Banking Act, data and scores from credit reports and credit monitoring databases must be used solely by financial institutions for financial lending purposes.  This information is provided to credit card holders themselves through services provided by credit reporting/credit monitoring agencies.   Increasingly, however, to get around the law, real estate companies partner with a “credit guarantee association” and encourage or effectively require tenants to use its services. According to a 2017 report from the Japan Property Management Association (JPMA), roughly 80 percent of renters in Japan used such a service. While financial institutions can share data to the databases and receive credit reports by joining the membership of a credit monitoring agency, the agencies themselves, as well as credit card companies and large banks, generally do not necessarily share data with each other.  As such, consumer credit information is generally underutilized and vertically siloed.

A government-operated database, the Juminhyo or the “citizen documentation database,” is used for voter registration; confirmation of eligibility for national health insurance, national social security, and child allowances; and checks and registrations related to scholarships, welfare protection, stamp seals (signatures), and immunizations. The database is strictly confidential, government-controlled, and not shared with third parties or private companies.

For the credit rating of businesses, there are at least seven credit rating agencies (CRAs) in Japan, including Moody’s Japan, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Japan, Tokyo Shoko Research, and Teikoku Databank. See Section 9 for more information on business vetting in Japan.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Japan maintains no formal restrictions on inward portfolio investment except for certain provisions covering national security. Foreign capital plays an important role in Japan’s financial markets, with foreign investors accounting for the majority of trading shares in the country’s stock market. Historically, many company managers and directors have resisted the actions of activist shareholders, especially foreign private equity funds, potentially limiting the attractiveness of Japan’s equity market to large-scale foreign portfolio investment, although there are signs of change. Some firms have taken steps to facilitate the exercise of shareholder rights by foreign investors, including the use of electronic proxy voting. The Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) maintains an Electronic Voting Platform for Foreign and Institutional Investors. All holdings of TSE-listed stocks are required to transfer paper stock certificates into electronic form.

The Japan Exchange Group (JPX) operates Japan’s two largest stock exchanges – in Tokyo and Osaka – with cash equity trading consolidated on the TSE since July 2013 and derivatives trading consolidated on the Osaka Exchange since March 2014.

In January 2014, the TSE and Nikkei launched the JPX Nikkei 400 Index. The index puts a premium on company performance, particularly return on equity (ROE). Companies included are determined by such factors as three-year average returns on equity, three-year accumulated operating profits and market capitalization, along with others such as the number of external board members. Inclusion in the index has become an unofficial “seal of approval” in corporate Japan, and many companies have taken steps, including undertaking share buybacks, to improve their ROE. The Bank of Japan has purchased JPX-Nikkei 400 exchange traded funds (ETFs) as part of its monetary operations, and Japan’s massive Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) has also invested in JPX-Nikkei 400 ETFs, putting an additional premium on membership in the index.

Japan does not restrict financial flows and accepts obligations under IMF Article VIII.

Credit is available via multiple instruments, both public and private, although access by foreigners often depends upon visa status and the type of investment.

Money and Banking System

Banking services are easily accessible throughout Japan; it is home to many of the world’s largest private commercial banks as well as an extensive network of regional and local banks. Most major international commercial banks are also present in Japan, and other quasi-governmental and non-governmental entities, such as the postal service and cooperative industry associations, also offer banking services. For example, the Japan Agriculture Union offers services through its bank (Norinchukin Bank) to members of the organization. Japan’s financial sector is generally acknowledged to be sound and resilient, with good capitalization and with a declining ratio of non-performing loans. While still healthy, most banks have experienced pressure on interest margins and profitability as a result of an extended period of low interest rates capped by the Bank of Japan’s introduction of a negative interest rate policy in 2016.

The country’s three largest private commercial banks, often collectively referred to as the “megabanks,” are Mitsubishi UFJ Financial, Mizuho Financial, and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial. Collectively, they hold assets approaching close to USD 8 trillion at 2020 year end. Japan’s third largest bank by assets – with more than USD 2 trillion – is Japan Post Bank, a financial subsidiary of the Japan Post Group that is still majority state-owned, 56.9 percent as of September 2020. Japan Post Bank offers services via 23,831 Japan Post office branches, at which Japan Post Bank services can be conducted, as well as Japan Post’s network of about 32,000 ATMs nationwide.

A large number of foreign banks operate in Japan offering both banking and other financial services. Like their domestic counterparts, foreign banks are regulated by the Japan Financial Services Agency (FSA). According to the IMF, there have been no observations of reduced or lost correspondent banking relationships in Japan. There are 518 correspondent financial institutions that have current accounts at the country’s central bank (including 123 main banks; 11 trust banks; 50 foreign banks; and 247 credit unions).

Foreigners wishing to establish bank accounts must show a passport, visa, and foreigner residence card; temporary visitors may not open bank accounts in Japan. Other requirements (e.g., evidence of utility registration and payment, Japanese-style signature seal, etc.) may vary according to institution. Language may be a barrier to obtaining services at some institutions; foreigners who do not speak Japanese should research in advance which banks are more likely to offer bilingual services.

Japanese regulators are encouraging “open banking” interactions between financial institutions and third-party developers of financial technology applications through application programming interfaces (“APIs”) when customers “opt-in” to share their information.  As a result of the government having set a target to have 80 banks adopt API standards by 2020, more than 100 subject banks reportedly have done so  Many of the largest banks are participating in various proofs of concept using blockchain technology.  While commercial banks have not yet formally adopted blockchain-powered systems for fund settlement, they are actively exploring options, and the largest banks have announced intentions to produce their own virtual currencies at some point.  The Bank of Japan is researching blockchain and its applications for national accounts and established a “Fintech Center” to lead this effort.  The main banking regulator, the Japan Financial Services Agency also encourages innovation with financial technologies, including sponsoring an annual conference on “fintech” in Japan.  In April 2017, amendments to the Act on Settlements of Funds went into effect, permitting the use of virtual currencies as a form of payment in Japan, but virtual currency is still not considered legal tender (e.g., commercial vendors may opt to accept virtual currencies for transactional payments, though virtual currency cannot be used as payment for taxes owed to the government).  The law also requires the registration of virtual currency exchange businesses.  There are currently 27-registered virtual currency exchanges in Japan. In 2017, Japan accounted for approximately half of the world’s trades of Bitcoin, the most prevalent blockchain currency (digital decentralized cryptographic currency).

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Generally, all foreign exchange transactions to and from Japan—including transfers of profits and dividends, interest, royalties and fees, repatriation of capital, and repayment of principal—are freely permitted. Japan maintains an ex-post facto notification system for foreign exchange transactions that prohibits specified transactions, including certain foreign direct investments (e.g., from countries under international sanctions) or others that are listed in the appendix of the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act.

Japan has a floating exchange rate and has not intervened in the foreign exchange markets since November 2011. It has joined statements of the G-7 and G-20 affirming that countries would not target exchange rates for competitive purposes.

Remittance Policies

Investment remittances are freely permitted.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Japan does not operate a sovereign wealth fund.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Progress has been made through efforts by the Financial Services Agency (FSA) and Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) to introduce non-binding reforms through changes to Japan’s Companies Act in 2014 and adoption of a Corporate Governance Code (CSR) in 2015. Together with the Stewardship Code for institutional investors launched by the FSA in 2014, these initiatives have encouraged companies to put cash stockpiles to better use by increasing investment, raising dividends, and taking on more risk to boost Japan’s growth. Positive results of these efforts are evidenced by rising shareholder returns, unwinding of cross-shareholdings, and increasing numbers of independent board members.  According to a TSE survey conducted in December 2018, 85.3 percent of companies had a compliance rate of 90 percent out of the 66 principles of the new code. As of May 2019,  93.6 percent of TSE listed firms  have at least one independent director, according to TSE’s most recent White Paper on Corporate Governance. In December 2019, the Diet approved a revision of the Companies Act, which will enable companies to provide documents for shareholders’ meetings electronically. Listed companies will be obligated to have at least one outside director. The bill went into effect on March 1, 2021.

Following Stewardship Code revision in March 2020, TSE and FSA plan to revise the Corporate Governance Code in spring of 2021 to reflect the realignment of the TSE segmentations, which will be implemented in 2022. The revised guidelines are expected to require companies, to be listed in the “Prime Section,” a top-tier TSE section, to have more than one-third external directors. The guidelines are also expected to urge listed companies to have more diversity in mid-level and managerial posts, by hiring and training female and foreign workers. Awareness of corporate social responsibility (CSR) among both producers and consumers in Japan is high, and foreign and local enterprises generally follow accepted CSR principles. Business organizations also actively promote CSR. Japan encourages adherence to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas.

Additional Resources 

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Japan’s penal code covers crimes of official corruption, and an individual convicted under these statutes is, depending on the nature of the crime, subject to prison sentences and possible fines. With respect to corporate officers who accept bribes, Japanese law also provides for company directors to be subject to fines and/or imprisonment, and some judgments have been rendered against company directors.

The direct exchange of cash for favors from government officials in Japan is extremely rare. However, the web of close relationships between Japanese companies, politicians, government organizations, and universities has been criticized for fostering an inwardly “cooperative”—or insular—business climate that is conducive to the awarding of contracts, positions, etc. within a tight circle of local players. This phenomenon manifests itself most frequently and seriously in Japan through the rigging of bids on government public works projects. However, instances of bid rigging appear to have decreased over the past decade. Alleged bid rigging between construction companies was discovered on the Tokyo-Nagoya-Osaka maglev high-speed rail project in 2017, and the case was prosecuted in March 2018.

Japan’s Act on Elimination and Prevention of Involvement in Bid-Rigging authorizes the Japan Fair Trade Commission to demand that central and local government commissioning agencies take corrective measures to prevent continued complicity of officials in bid rigging activities and to report such measures to the JFTC. The Act also contains provisions concerning disciplinary action against officials participating in bid rigging and compensation for overcharges when the officials caused damage to the government due to willful or grave negligence. Nevertheless, questions remain as to whether the Act’s disciplinary provisions are strong enough to ensure officials involved in illegal bid rigging are held accountable.

Japan has ratified the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) Anti-Bribery Convention, which bans bribing foreign government officials.

For vetting potential local investment partners, companies may review credit reports on foreign companies available from many private-sector sources, including, in the United States, Dun & Bradstreet and Graydon International.  Additionally, a company may inquire about the International Company Profile (ICP), which is a background report on a specific foreign company that is prepared by commercial officers of the U.S. Commercial Service at the U.S. Embassy, Tokyo.

Resources to Report Corruption

Businesses or individuals may contact the Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC), with contact details at: http://www.jftc.go.jp/en/about_jftc/contact_us.html .

10. Political and Security Environment

Political violence is rare in Japan. Acts of political violence involving U.S. business interests are virtually unknown.

New Zealand

Executive Summary

The New Zealand economy has weathered the pandemic better than most countries, entering the pandemic with an enviable debt to GDP rate of 19.5 percent, which only increased to 27 percent by the end of the third quarter 2020, well below expectations. A swift border closure and the imposition of a seven-week nationwide lockdown helped stamp out community transmission cases and significantly reduced potential pandemic related health expenses. New Zealand maintained strong border restrictions through 2020, but economic border exemptions (requiring a 14-day quarantine) were granted for large-scale projects which helped boost investment and employment. The tourism sector suffered due to the border closure, but other aspects of the economic were strong including primary exports. Workers also benefited from of a sustained wage stimulus package and unemployment was 4.9 percent for the December 2020 quarter. The real estate sector also remained strong, fueled by low interest rates and a lack of supply, as prices nationally rose 19.8 percent from 2019 to 2020.

New Zealand has an international reputation for an open and transparent economy where businesses and investors can make commercial transactions with ease. Major political parties are committed to an open trading regime and sound rule of law practices. This is regularly reflected in high global rankings in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report and Transparency International’s Perceptions of Corruption index.

Successive governments accept that foreign investment is an important source of financing for New Zealand and a means to gain access to foreign technology, expertise, and global markets. Some restrictions do apply in a few areas of critical interest including certain types of land, significant business assets, and fishing quotas. These restrictions are facilitated by a screening process conducted by the Overseas Investment Office (OIO).

The current Labour led government welcomes productive, sustainable, and inclusive foreign investment, but since being elected in October 2017 and reelected in October 2020, there has been a modest shift in economic priorities to social initiatives while continuing to acknowledge New Zealand’s dependence on trade and foreign investment. Current focus is on securing foreign capital for investment in forestry and infrastructure, as well as securing multilateral agreements and rules for e-commerce in the evolving digital economy.

The Government aims to align its Overseas Investment regime with international best practice by introducing a National Interest and Public Order test to certain assets of strategic and critical importance to New Zealand. The Government was quick to recognize the risks posed by a COVID-19 recession and fast-tracked implementation of Overseas Investment Act (OIA) Phase 2 reforms, which went into effect on June 16. These reforms grant the government increased oversight and approval authority for foreign investments, which may have fallen in value during the pandemic, to protect critical infrastructure such as telecoms, ports, airports, and dual use/military related sensitive technology, as well as media.

The implementation of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and imminent ratification of an upgrade to the New Zealand-China FTA has given those countries an advantage over those with which New Zealand does not have an agreement. The ten CPTPP countries, and in the future China, will not need to seek OIO approval for investments less than NZD 200 million (USD 130 million). However, these investments are still subject to a National Interest and Public Order test. For other countries, the default threshold is NZD 100 million (USD 65 million). CPTPP has triggered most-favored nation obligations New Zealand has under some agreements in addition to China, including bilateral FTAs with Australia and Singapore whose citizens are not subject to screening of residential property purchase or investment.

The Government has introduced a new infrastructure agency to administer a significant number of large projects following the announcement funding equal to 5 percent of New Zealand’s GDP. While it has an established history of non-discriminatory practice in awarding contracts for procurement, it has embarked on a reform of its public-private partnership (PPP) scheme.

The Government has sought to level the playing field for New Zealand business by requiring online businesses selling to New Zealanders to charge and submit the New Zealand 15 percent Goods and Services Tax (GST). In a similar populist move, the Government continues to hint at the introduction of a digital services tax (DST) on the revenues earned by large multinational companies although still participating in the OECD’s DST process.

The OIO approved many overseas applications, due in part to incentivized investment in the forestry sector and the requirement for foreign buyers of residential property. In 2019 New Zealand successfully made their first conviction of an offence under the Overseas Investment Act in the 14 years the law has been in effect.

COVID-19 has and will continue to have a major impact on the Government’s approach and it has moved quickly to enhance businesses’ access to credit, to accelerate some legislation including overseas investment and privacy law, and to suspend provisions in other law such as business insolvency. New Zealand also closed its borders in March due to COVID-19 and as of early April 2021 was looking to reopen travel in a Trans Tasman bubble with Australia and son after direct flights to the Cook Islands. Such travel will be restricted again in the event of sustained community transmission cases. Non-citizens/residents must apply for a waiver to enter and the “significant economic value” waivers are being issued, but are limited, and most businesses requiring travel to New Zealand must anticipate reduced access. Anyone entering New Zealand at this current time is subject to a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine at the expense of the New Zealand government.

The 2021 Investment Climate Statement for New Zealand uses the exchange rate of NZD 1 = USD 0.65

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 1 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 1 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 26 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 $12,018 https://apps.bea.gov/internationalfactsheet
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $42,220 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The New Zealand government policies and laws governing competition are transparent, non-discriminatory, and consistent with international norms. New Zealand ranks high on the World Bank’s Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance, scoring 4.25 out of a possible 5, but is marked down in part for a lack of transparency in some departments’ individual forward regulatory plans, and the development of the government’s annual legislative program (for primary laws), for which the Ministers responsible do not make public.

While regulations are not in a centralized location in a form similar to the United States Federal Register, the New Zealand government requires the major regulatory departments to publish an annual regulatory stewardship strategy.

Draft bills and regulations including those relating to FTAs and investment law, are generally made available for public comment, through a public consultation process. In a few instances there has been criticism of New Zealand governments choosing to follow a “truncated” or shortened public consultation process or adding a substantive legislative change after public consultation through the process of adding a Supplementary Order Paper to the Bill.

The Regulatory Quality Team within the New Zealand Treasury is responsible for the strategic coordination of the Government’s regulatory management system. Treasury exercises stewardship over the regulatory management system to maintain and enhance the quality of government-initiated regulation. The Treasury’s responsibilities include the oversight of the performance of the regulatory management system as a whole and making recommendations on changes to government and Parliamentary systems and processes. These functions complement the Treasury’s role as the government’s primary economic and fiscal advisor. New Zealand’s seven major regulatory departments are the Department of Internal Affairs, IRD, MBIE, Ministry for the Environment, Ministry of Justice, the Ministry for Primary Industries, and the Ministry of Transport.

In recent years there has been a revision to the Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) requirements in order to help New Zealand’s regulatory framework keep up with global standards. To improve transparency in the regulatory process, RIAs are published on the Treasury’s website at the time the relevant bill is introduced to Parliament or the regulation is published in the newspaper, or at the time of Ministerial release. An RIA provides a high-level summary of the problem being addressed, the options and their associated costs and benefits, the consultation undertaken, and the proposed arrangements for implementation and review.

MBIE is responsible for the stewardship of 16 regulatory systems covering about 140 statutes. In 2018 the government introduced three omnibus bills that contain amendments to legislation administered by MBIE, including economic development, employment relations, and housing: https://www.mbie.govt.nz/cross-government-functions/regulatory-stewardship/regulatory-systems-amendment-bills/. The government’s objective with this package of legislation is to ensure that they are effective, efficient, and accord with best regulatory practice by providing a process for making continuous improvements to regulatory systems that do not warrant standalone bills. In November 2019, the Regulatory Systems (Economic Development) Amendment Act 2019 passed and amended about 14 Acts including laws regarding business insolvency, takeovers, trademarks, and limited partnerships.

Most standards are developed through Standards New Zealand, which is a business unit within MBIE, operating on a cost-recovery basis rather than a membership subscription service as previously. The Standards and Accreditation Act 2015 set out the role and function of the Standards Approval Board which commenced from March 2016. Most standards in New Zealand are set in coordination with Australia.

The Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) has drawn criticism from foreign and domestic investors as a barrier to investment in New Zealand. The RMA regulates access to natural and physical resources such as land and water. Critics contend that the resource management process mandated by the law is unpredictable, protracted, and subject to undue influence from competitors and lobby groups. In some cases, companies have been found to exploit the RMA’s objections submission process to stifle competition. Investors have raised concerns that the law is unequally applied between jurisdictions because of the lack of implementing guidelines. The Resource Management Amendment Act 2013 and the Resource Management (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Act 2009 were passed to help address these concerns.

The Resource Legislation Amendment Act 2017 (RLAA) is considered the most comprehensive set of reforms to the RMA. It contains almost 40 amendments and makes significant changes to five different Acts including the RMA and the Public Works Act (PWA) 1981. Its aim is to balance environmental management with the need to increase capacity for housing development and to align resource consent processes in a consistent manner among New Zealand’s 78 local councils, by providing a stronger national direction, a more responsive planning process, and improved consistency with other legislation. Further amendments to the RMA are expected during 2020 to reduce regulatory barriers to reduce the time for significant infrastructure projects to gain approval.

The PWA enables the Crown to acquire land for public works by agreement or compulsory acquisition and prescribes landowner compensation. New Zealand continues to face a significant demand for large-scale infrastructure works and the PWA is designed to ensure project delivery and enable infrastructure development. In December 2019 a NZD 12 billion (USD 7.8 billion) upgrade fund was announced, amounting to 4 percent of New Zealand’s GDP. Further funding was added in the Government’s Budget delivered in May 2020. Compulsory acquisition of private land is exercised only after an acquiring authority has made all reasonable endeavors to negotiate in good faith the sale and purchase of the owner’s land, without reaching an agreement. The landowner retains the right to have their objection heard by the Environment Court, but only in relation to the taking of the land, not to the amount of compensation payable. The RLAA amendment to the PWA aims to improve the efficiency and fairness of the compensation, land acquisition, and Environment Court objection provisions.

The Land Transfer Act 2018 aims to simplify and modernize the law to make it more accessible and to add certainty around property rights. It empowers courts with limited discretion to restore a landowner’s registered title in cases of manifest injustice.

The Government of New Zealand is generally transparent about its public finances and debt obligations. The annual budget for the government and its departments publish assumptions, and implications of explicit and contingent liabilities on estimated government revenue and spending.

International Regulatory Considerations

In recent years, the Government of New Zealand has introduced laws to enhance regulatory coordination with Australia as part of their Single Economic Market agenda. In February 2017, the Patents (Trans-Tasman Patent Attorneys and Other Matters) Amendment Act took effect creating a single body to regulate patent attorneys in both countries. Other areas of regulatory coordination include insolvency law, financial reporting, food safety, competition policy, consumer policy and the 2013 Trans-Tasman Court Proceedings and Regulatory Enforcement Treaty, which allows the enforcement of civil judgements between both countries.

The Privacy Bill which if enacted will repeal the existing Privacy Act 1993 aims to bring New Zealand privacy law into line with international best practice, including the 2013 OECD Privacy Guidelines and the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

In 2016 the Financial Markets Authority issued the Disclosure Using Overseas Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) Exemption and the Overseas Registered Banks and Licensed Insurers Exemption Notice. They ease compliance costs on overseas entities by allowing them under certain circumstances to use United States statutory accounting principles (overseas GAAP) rather than New Zealand GAAP, and the opportunity to use an overseas approved auditor rather than a New Zealand qualified auditor.

In August 2019, the government passed the Financial Markets (Derivatives Margin and Benchmarking) Reform Amendment Act to better align New Zealand’s financial markets law with new international regulations, to help strengthen the resilience of global financial markets. The Act amended several pieces of legislation relating to financial market regulation to help financial institutions maintain access to offshore funding markets and help ensure institutions – that rely on derivatives to hedge against currency and other risks – can invest and raise funds efficiently.

New Zealand is a Party to WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). Standards New Zealand is responsible for operating the TBT Enquiry Point on behalf of MFAT. From 2016, Standards New Zealand became a business unit within MBIE administered under the Standards and Accreditation Act 2015. Standards New Zealand establishes techniques and processes built from requirements under the Act and from the International Organization for Standardization.

The Standards New Zealand TBT Enquiry Point operates as a service for producers and exporters to search for proposed TBT Notifications and associated documents such as draft or actual regulations or standards. They also provide contact details for the Trade Negotiations Division of MFAT to respond to businesses concerned about proposed measures. https://www.standards.govt.nz/develop-standards/international-engagement/technical-barriers-to-trade-tbt/ 

The government has a dedicated website to provide a centralized point of contact for businesses to access information and support on non-tariff trade barriers (NTB). New Zealand exporters can report issues, seek government advice and assistance with NTBs and other export issues. Exporters can confidentially register a trade barrier, and the website serves to track and trace the assignment and resolution across agencies on their behalf. It also provides the government with an accurate and timely report of NTBs and other trade issues encountered by exporters, and involves the participation of Customs, MFAT, MPI, MBIE, and NZTE. For more see: https://tradebarriers.govt.nz/ 

New Zealand ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in 2015 and it entered into force in February 2017. New Zealand was already largely in compliance with the TFA which is expected to benefit New Zealand agricultural exporters and importers of perishable items to enhanced procedures for border clearances.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

New Zealand’s legal system is derived from the English system and comes from a mix of common law and statute law. The judicial system is independent of the executive branch and is generally transparent and effective in enforcing property and contractual rights. The highest appeals court is a domestic Supreme Court, which replaced the Privy Council in London and began hearing cases July 1, 2004. New Zealand courts can recognize and enforce a judgment of a foreign court if the foreign court is considered to have exercised proper jurisdiction over the defendant according to private international law rules. New Zealand has well defined and consistently applied commercial and bankruptcy laws. Arbitration is a widely used dispute resolution mechanism and is governed by the Arbitration Act of 1996, Arbitration (Foreign Agreements and Awards) Act of 1982, and the Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act 1979.

Legislation to modernize and consolidate laws underpinning contracts and commercial transactions came into effect in September 2017. The Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017 consolidates and repeals 12 acts that date between 1908 and 2002. The Private International Law (Choice of Law in Tort) Act, passed in December 2017, clarifies which jurisdiction’s law is applicable in actions of tort and abolishes certain common law rules, and establishes the general rule that the applicable law will be the law of the country in which the events constituting the tort in question occur.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Overseas investments in New Zealand assets are screened only if they are defined as sensitive according to the definitions within the Overseas Investment Act 2005, as mentioned in the previous section. The OIO, a dedicated unit located within Land Information New Zealand (LINZ), administers the Act. The Overseas Investment Regulations 2005 set out the criteria for assessing applications, provide the framework for applicable fees, and criteria to determine if the investment will benefit New Zealand. Ministerial Directive Letters are issued by the Government to instruct the OIO on their general policy approach, their functions, powers, and duties as regulator. Letters have been issued in December 2010 and November 2017. Substantive changes, such as inclusion of another asset type within “sensitive land,” requires a legislative amendment to the Act. New Zealand companies seeking capital injections from overseas investors that require OIO approval, must meet certain criteria regarding disclosure to shareholders and fulfil other responsibilities under the Companies Act 1993.

The government ministers for finance, land information, and primary industries (where applicable) are responsible for assessing OIO recommendations and can choose to override OIO recommendations on approved applications. Ministers’ decisions on OIO applications can be appealed by the applicant in the New Zealand High Court. Ministers have the power to confer a discretionary exemption from the requirement for a prospective investor to seek OIO consent under certain circumstances. For more see: http://www.linz.govt.nz/regulatory/overseas-investment 

The OIO Regulations set out the fee schedule for lodging new applications which can be costly and current processing times regularly exceed six months. In recent years, some foreign investors have abandoned their applications, due to the costs and time frames involved in obtaining OIO consent.

The OIO monitors foreign investments after approval. All consents are granted with reporting conditions, which are generally standard in nature. Investors must report regularly on their compliance with the terms of the consent. Offenses include: defeating, evading, or circumventing the OIO Act; failure to comply with notices, requirements, or conditions; and making false or misleading statements or omissions. If an offense has been committed under the Act, the High Court has the power to impose penalties, including monetary fines, ordering compliance, and ordering the disposal of the investor’s New Zealand holdings.

The LINZ website reports on enforcement actions they have taken against foreign investors, including the number of compliance letters issued, the number of warnings and their circumstances, referrals to professional conduct body in relation to an OIO breach, and disposal of investments. For more see: https://www.linz.govt.nz/overseas-investment/enforcement/enforcement-action-taken .

In February 2020 New Zealand reported its first conviction under the Overseas Investment Act. The offender was charged for obstructing an OIO investigation which was initiated because he had not obtained OIO consent for his property purchase and for later submitting a fraudulent application.

In 2017 the Government announced a reform of the Overseas Investment Act shortly after being elected and has already implemented Phase 1 reforms with strengthened requirements for screening foreign investment in residential houses, building residential housing developments, and farmland acreage. Screening for investments in forestry were eased slightly to help meet the Government’s One Billion Tree policy. Phase 2 began in 2019 when the Government consulted on and released details for the introduction of a National Interest test to the screening process to protect New Zealand assets deemed sensitive and “high-risk.”

In December 2017, the government introduced regulatory changes that place greater emphasis on the assessment of significant economic benefits to New Zealand. For forestry investments, the OIO is required to place importance on investments that result in increased domestic processing of wood and advance government strategies. For rural land, importance is placed on the generation of economic benefits which were previously seldom applied for lifestyle rural property purchases that previously relied on non-economic benefits to gain OIO approval.

New rules reduced the area threshold for foreign purchases of rural land so that OIO approval is required for rural land of an area over five hectares, rather than the previous metric of farm land “more than ten times the average farm size,” which was about 7,146 hectares for sheep and beef farms, and 1,987 hectares for dairy farms. Foreign investors can still purchase rural land less than five hectares, but the government said it intends to introduce other measures to discourage “land bankers,” or investors holding onto land for speculative purposes.

The government issued new rules regarding residency for overseas investors intending to reside in New Zealand, that they move within 12 months and become ordinarily resident within 24 months.

In 2018, the Overseas Investment Amendment Act passed in order to help address housing affordability and reduce speculative behavior in the housing market. The 2005 Act was amended to bring residential land within the category of “sensitive land.” Residential land is defined as land that has a category of residential or lifestyle within the relevant district valuation roll; and includes a residential flat (apartment) in a building owned by a flat-owning company which could be on residential or non-residential land.

Since October 2018, the Overseas Investment Act generally requires persons who are not ordinarily resident in New Zealand to get OIO consent to purchase residential homes on residential land. Australian and Singaporean citizens are exempt due to existing bilateral trade agreements. To avoid breaching the Act, contracts to purchase residential land must be conditional on getting consent under the Act – entering into an unconditional contract will breach the Act. All purchasers of residential land (including New Zealanders) will need to complete a statement confirming whether the Act applies, and solicitors/conveyancers cannot lodge land transfer documents without that statement.

Overseas persons wishing to purchase one home on residential land will need to fulfil a “Commitment to Reside Test.” Applicants must hold the appropriate non-temporary visa (those on student visas, work visas, or visitor visas cannot apply), have lived in New Zealand for the immediate preceding 12 months and intend to reside in the property being purchased. If the applicant stops living in New Zealand they will have to sell the property. OIO applicants not intending to reside will generally need to show: (1) they will convert the land to another use and demonstrate this would have wider benefits to New Zealand; or (2) they will be adding to New Zealand’s housing supply. Applicants seeking approval under the latter – the “Increased Housing Test” – must intend to increase the number of dwellings on the property by one or more, and they cannot live in the dwellings once built (the “non-occupation condition”). Applicants must then on-sell the dwellings, unless they are building 20 or more new residential dwellings and they intend to provide a shared equity, rent-to-buy, or rental arrangement (the “On-Sale Condition”).

The Amendment also imposes restrictions on overseas persons buying into new residential property developments. Where pre-sales of the new residential dwellings are an essential aspect of the development funding, overseas purchasers may be able to rely on the “Increased Housing” Test, although they will be subject to the on-sale and non-occupation conditions. Otherwise, individual purchasers must apply for OIO consent and meet the “commitment to reside test,” or make their purchase conditional on receiving an “exemption certificate” held by an apartment developer. According to the OIO Regulations, developers can apply for an exemption certificate allowing them to sell 60 percent of the apartments “off the plan” to overseas buyers without those buyers requiring OIO consent but whom would have to meet the non-occupation condition.

Ministers may exercise discretion to waive the on-sale condition if an overseas person is applying for consent to acquire an ownership interest in an entity that holds residential land in New Zealand; if they are acquiring less than a 50 percent ownership interest; or if they are acquiring an indirect ownership interest, (e.g. through another entity). Exemptions can also apply for long-term accommodation facilities, hotel lease-back arrangements, retirement village developments, and for network utility companies needing to acquire residential land to provide essential services. Over 2019 the OIO issued several warnings and fines to overseas buyers of residential property who had failed to apply for OIO consent.

The Labour-led government formed after 2017 elections (reelected in 2020) indicated that forestry would be a priority in boosting regional development. In March 2018, the government announced forestry cutting rights be brought into the OIO screening regime, similar to the requirements for investment in leasehold and freehold forestry land. In addition to residential land, the Overseas Investment Amendment Act 2018 classified “forestry rights” within the asset class of “sensitive land.”

Overseas investors wanting to purchase up to 1,000 hectares of forestry rights per year or any forestry right of less than three years duration, do not generally require OIO approval.

Overseas investors can apply for consent to buy or lease land that is in forestry, or land to be used for forestry, or to buy forestry rights. In addition to meeting the “Benefit to New Zealand Test,” applicants wishing to buy or lease land for forestry purposes, convert farmland to forestry land, or purchase forestry rights, must meet either the “Special Forestry Test,” or the “Modified Benefits Test.”

The Special Forestry Test is the most streamlined test, and is used to buy forestry land and continue to operate it with existing arrangements remaining in place, such as public access, protection of habitat for indigenous plants and animals, and historic places, as well as log supply arrangements. The investor would be required to replant after harvest, unless exempted, and use the land exclusively or nearly exclusively for forestry activities. The land can be used for accommodation only to support forestry activities.

The Modified Benefits Test is suitable for investors who will use the land only for forestry activities, but who cannot maintain existing arrangements relating to the land, such as public access. The investor would need to pass the Benefit to New Zealand Test, replant after harvest, and use the land exclusively or nearly exclusively for forestry activities.

By 2020 the OIO issued several warnings and fines to overseas investors purchasing forestry rights for failing to comply with conditions or failing to apply for OIO approval.

[Phase 2 Reforms]

In April 2019, the government signaled it would be considering a “national interest” restriction on foreign investment, and issued a document for public consultation, later agreeing upon New Zealand’s most strategically important assets in November. The government aims to bring New Zealand to apply a National Interest Test to overseas investors wishing to purchase New Zealand high-risk, sensitive or monopoly assets such as ports and airports, telecommunications infrastructure, electricity and other critical infrastructure.

Current legislation does not consider National Security or Public Order investments under NZD 100 million (USD 65 million).

A “call in” power would apply to the sale of New Zealand’s most strategically important assets, such as firms developing military technology and direct suppliers to New Zealand defense and security agencies. This will apply to assets not currently screened under the Overseas Investment Act. The tests could also be used to control investments in significant media entities if they are likely to damage New Zealand security or democracy.

Phase 2 includes other measures to protect New Zealand’s interests announced in November 2019, such as equipping the OIO with enhanced enforcement powers and increasing the maximum penalties for non-compliance NZD 300,000 (USD 195,000) to NZD 10 million (USD 6.5 million) for corporates. The legislation will also include a requirement that overseas investors in farmland show substantial benefit to New Zealand, by adding something substantially new or creating additional value to the New Zealand economy. In recognition of complaints regarding cost and time to gain OIO consent, the government will set specific timeframes to give investors greater certainty and exempt a range of low risk transactions, such as some involving companies that are majority owned and controlled by New Zealanders.

There has been controversy and concern about water extraction investment by overseas investors in New Zealand, particularly water bottling to export, earning overseas companies profits from a high-value New Zealand resource without paying a charge. Under Phase 2 the Government will require overseas investors in water extraction take into consideration the environmental, economic, and cultural impact of their investment, and its effect on local water quality and the overall sustainability of a water bottling enterprise.

In February 2020, Treasury released all documents online, including the Cabinet Paper that recommended the Phase 2 reform.

[Phase 2 Reforms – Fast-Tracked Legislation]

The Government of New Zealand was quick to recognize the risks posed by a COVID-19 recession and fast-tracked implementation of Overseas Investment Act (OIA) Phase 2 reforms, which went into effect on June 16. These reforms grant the government increased oversight and approval authority for foreign investments, which may have fallen in value during the pandemic, to protect critical infrastructure such as telecoms, ports, airports, and dual use/military related sensitive technology, as well as media.

The changes bring forward the introduction of a national interest test to strategically important assets, and the temporary application of that test to any foreign investments, regardless of dollar value that result in more than a 25 percent ownership interest, or that increases an existing interest to or beyond 50 percent, 75 percent or 100 percent in a New Zealand business.

This includes purchases by “fundamentally New Zealand companies” and small changes in existing shareholdings. In addition, the Government will use regulations to extend existing exemptions and remove screening from two further classes of low risk lending and portfolio management transactions.

In addition, as of March 22, 2021, the “New Investor Test” is in force which includes Twelve character and capability factors including a review for convictions resulting in imprisonment, penalties for tax evasion, corporate fines, and civil pecuniary penalties. The test is satisfied when none of these factors are established or, if a factor is met, the decision-maker is satisfied that this does not make an investor unsuitable to own or control a sensitive New Zealand asset.

[Non-OIO Legislation Governing Foreign Investment]

Outside of the OIO framework, the previous government passed the Taxation (Bright-line Test for Residential Land) Bill to apply to domestic and foreign purchasers of residential land in part to counter criticism New Zealand’s lack of tax on capital gains was fueling house price inflation. Under this Act, properties bought after October 1, 2015 will accrue tax on any gain earned if the house is bought and sold within two years, unless it is the owner’s main home. The bill requires foreign purchasers to have both a New Zealand bank account and an IRD tax number and will not be entitled to the “main home” exception. The purchaser must also submit other taxpayer identification number held in countries where they pay tax on income. To assist the IRD in ensuring investors – foreign and domestic – meet their tax obligations, legislation was passed in 2016 that empowered LINZ to collect additional information when residential property is bought and sold, and to pass this information to the IRD.

In March 2018, the new government passed legislation to extend the “bright-line test” from two to five years as a measure to further deter property speculation in the New Zealand housing market.

In November 2018, the government passed the Crown Minerals (Petroleum) Amendment Act, to stop new exploration permits being granted offshore and onshore outside of the Taranaki province on the west coast of the North Island. The policy is part of the government’s efforts to transition away from fossil fuels and achieve their goal to have net zero emissions by 2050. The annual Oil and Gas Block Offers program has been operational since 2012 to raise New Zealand’s profile among international investors in the energy and mining sector and has been a significant source of government revenue.

There are currently about 20 offshore permits covering 38,000 square miles that will have the same rights and privileges as before the law came into force and will continue operation until 2030. If those permit holders are successful in their exploration, the companies could extract oil and gas from the areas beyond 2030.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Commerce Act 1986 prohibits contracts, arrangements, or understandings that have the purpose, or effect, of substantially lessening competition in a market, unless authorized by the Commerce Commission, an independent Crown entity. Before granting such authorization, the Commerce Commission must be satisfied that the public benefit would outweigh the reduction of competition. The Commerce Commission has legislative power to deny an application for a merger or takeover if it would result in the new company gaining a dominant position in the New Zealand market.

In addition, the Commerce Commission enforces certain pieces of legislation that, through regulation, aim to provide the benefits of competition in markets with certain natural monopolies, such as the dairy, electricity, gas, airports, and telecommunications industries. In order to monitor the changing competitive landscapes in these industries, the Commerce Commission conducts independent studies, currently including fiber networks (https://comcom.govt.nz/regulated-industries/telecommunications/regulated-services/fibre-regulation/fibre-services-study ), mobile phones (https://comcom.govt.nz/regulated-industries/telecommunications/projects/mobile-market-study ), and retail petrol (https://comcom.govt.nz/about-us/our-role/competition-studies/market-study-into-retail-fuel ).

The Commerce Amendment Act of 2018 empowers the Commerce Commission to undertake market (“competition”) studies where this is in the public interest in order to improve the agency’s enforcement actions without having to go to court. The Government introduced a market studies power to align the Commerce Commission with competition authorities in similar jurisdictions. The Act allows settlements to be registered as enforceable undertakings so breaches can be quickly penalized by the courts and saves the Commission from the expense and uncertainty of litigation. The amendment also strengthens the information disclosure regulations for airports.

The Dairy Industry Restructuring Act of 2001 (DIR) established dairy co-operative Fonterra Co-operative Group Limited (Fonterra). The DIR is designed to manage Fonterra’s dominant position in the domestic dairy market, until sufficient competition has emerged. A review by the Commerce Commission in 2016 found competition insufficient, but the findings from a subsequent review in 2018 resulted in the introduction of the DIR Amendment Bill (No 3) which passed its first reading in August 2019, and was advanced to the Select Committee stage for scrutiny on March 20, 2020.

This amendment, if passed, will ease the requirement that Fonterra accept all milk from new suppliers, allowing the cooperative the option to refuse milk if it does not meet environmental standards or if it comes from newly converted dairy farms. The bill would also limit Fonterra’s discretion in calculating the base milk price.

The Commerce Commission is also charged with monitoring competition in the telecommunications sector. Under the 1997 WTO Basic Telecommunications Services Agreement, New Zealand has committed to the maintenance of an open, competitive environment in the telecommunications sector.

Following a four-year government review of the Telecommunications Act 2001, the Telecommunications (New Regulatory Framework) Amendment Act of 2018 establishes a regulatory framework for fiber fixed line access services; removes unnecessary copper fixed line access service regulation in areas where fiber is available; streamline regulatory processes; and provides more regulatory oversight of retail service quality. The amendment requires the Commerce Commission to implement the new regulatory regime by January 2022.

Chorus won government contracts to build 70 percent of New Zealand’s new ultra-fast broadband fiber-optic cable network and has received subsidies. Chorus is listed on the NZX stock exchange and the Australian Stock Exchange but is subject to foreign investment restrictions. From 2020, Chorus and the local fiber companies are required under their open access deeds to offer an unbundled mass-market fiber service on commercial terms.

The telecommunications service obligations (TSO) regulatory framework established under the Telecommunications Act of 2001 enables certain telecommunications services to be available and affordable. A TSO is established through an agreement under the Telecommunications Act between the Crown and a TSO provider. Currently there are two TSOs. Spark (supported by Chorus) is the TSO Provider for the local residential telephone service, which includes charge-free local calling. Sprint International is the TSO Provider for the New Zealand relay service for deaf, hearing impaired and speech impaired people. Under the Telecommunications (New Regulatory Framework) Amendment Act, the TSOs which apply to Chorus and Spark will cease to apply in areas which have fiber. Consumers in these areas will have access to affordable fiber-based landline and broadband services.

Radio Spectrum Management (RSM) is a business unit within MBIE that is responsible for providing advice to the government on the allocation of radio frequencies to meet the demands of emerging technologies and services. Spectrum is allocated in a manner intended to ensure that radio spectrum provides the greatest economic and social benefit to New Zealand society. The allocation of spectrum is a core regulatory issue for the deployment of 5G in New Zealand. The Commerce Commission completed a two-year study in September 2019 of mobile network operators (MNOs) in New Zealand in order to assess the process for 5G spectrum allocation and whether it will impact the ability of new mobile network operators to enter the market. It found no case to support regulatory intervention to promote a fourth national MNO to enter the market, but that the spectrum allocation process should not preclude new parties from obtaining spectrum.

In March 2019, the government announced it freed up space on the spectrum for a fourth mobile network operator to compete with the three existing ones. In order to do so, the three existing operators lost parts of their spectrum, for which sources criticized the government, claiming they supported competition in principle but questioned the ability of the New Zealand market to cope with another operator. The Government claims it needs to keep some of that spectrum in reserve to retain flexibility and it might be used for new technologies or by the emergency services network.

The Government’s first auction of 5G spectrum planned for 2020 – and ready for use by November 2022 – was cancelled in May 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government directly allocated spectrum to the three MNOs, with these rights expiring in October 2022 after which the scheme will switch to long-term rights that will be gained in a separate auction process. The government determined the allocations in such a way as to prevent a single operator to prevent monopolistic behavior, but it also to set aside spectrum to deal with potential Treaty of Waitangi issues. Vodafone announced in February 2021 Vodafone that they were the first telco in New Zealand to stage a widespread 5G fixed-wireless access 5G launch. New Zealand telecom 2degress announced on April 14, 2021 it has selected Ericsson as its partner for a 5G RAN (Radio Access Network) and Core nationwide network launch.

The Commerce Commission has a regulatory role to promote competition within the electricity industry under the Commerce Act 1986 and the Fair Trading Act 1986. As natural monopolies, the electricity transmission and distribution businesses are subject to specific additional regulations, regarding pricing, sales techniques, and ensuring sufficient competition in the industry. The Commerce Commission completed a project in March 2020 that set the default price-quality path to determine the price caps that will apply to the 17 electricity distributors in New Zealand from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2025. Due to increased expenditure for distributors to accommodate new technology, the Commerce Commission also recommended new recoverable costs to incentivize ongoing innovation in the electricity sector.

The New Zealand motor fuel market became more concentrated after Shell New Zealand sold its transport fuels distribution business in 2010 and Chevron sold its retail brands Caltex and Challenge in 2016 to New Zealand fuel distributor Z-Energy. Z-Energy holds almost half of the market share in New Zealand. A two-year study by the Commerce Commission was completed in December 2019 that evaluated whether competition in the retail fuel market is promoting outcomes that benefit New Zealand consumers over the long-term. They found that the lack of an active wholesale market in New Zealand has weakened price competition in the retail market and that the major fuel companies’ joint infrastructure network and supply relationships gave them an advantage over other fuel importers. The wholesale supply relationships, including restrictive contract terms between the majors and resellers, limits the ability of resellers to switch supplier.

The Commerce (Cartels and Other Matters) Amendment Act of 2017 empowers the Commerce Commission with easier enforcement action against international cartels. It created a new clearance regime allowing firms to test their proposed collaboration with the Commerce Commission and get greater legal certainty before they enter into the arrangements. It expanded prohibited conduct to include price fixing, restricting output, and allocating markets, and expands competition oversight to the international liner shipping industry. It empowers the Commerce Commission to apply to the New Zealand High Court for a declaration to determine if the acquisition of a controlling interest in a New Zealand company by an overseas person will have an effect of “substantially lessening” competition in a market in New Zealand.

The Commerce (Criminalization of Cartels) Amendment Act was passed in April 2019 to align New Zealand law with other jurisdictions – particularly Australia – by criminalizing cartel behavior. Individuals convicted of engaging in cartel conduct – price fixing, restricting output, or allocating markets – will face fines of up to NZD 500,000 (USD 325,000) and/or up to seven years imprisonment. For companies, the fines can be up to NZD 10 million (USD 6.5 million), or higher based on turnover. Business have been given two years to ensure compliance before the criminal sanctions enter into force. While not a significant issue in New Zealand, the government believes criminalizing cartel behavior provides a certain and stable operating environment for businesses to compete, and aligns New Zealand with overseas jurisdictions that impose criminal sanctions for cartel conduct, enhancing the ability of the Commerce Commission to cooperate with its overseas counterparts in investigations of international cartels.

In January 2019, the Government announced proposed amendments to section 36 of the Commerce Act, which relates to the misuse of market power. The government is seeking consultation on repealing sections of the Commerce Act that shield some intellectual property arrangements from competition law, in order to prevent dominant firms misusing market power by enforcing their patent rights in a way they would not do if it was in a more competitive market. It also seeks to strengthen laws and enforcement powers against the misuse of market power by aligning it with Australia and other developed economies, particularly because New Zealand competition law currently does not prohibit dominant firms from engaging in conduct with an anti-competitive effect. Section 36 of the Act only prohibits conduct with certain anti-competitive purposes.

The Commerce Commission has international cooperation arrangements with Australia since 2013 and Canada since 2016, to allow the sharing of compulsorily acquired information, and provide investigative assistance. The arrangements help effective enforcement of both competition and consumer law.

In May 2020, the Commerce Commission issued guidance easing restrictions on businesses to collaborate in order to ensure the provision of essential goods and services to New Zealand consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Expropriation and Compensation

Expropriation is generally not an issue in New Zealand, and there are no outstanding cases. New Zealand ranks second in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business report for “registering property” and third for “protecting minority investors.”

The government’s KiwiBuild program aims to build 100,000 affordable homes over ten years, with half being in Auckland. However, progress on KiwiBuild has been slow and well below targets. The government has indicated it will use compulsory acquisition under the PWA if necessary to achieve planned government housing development.

The lack of precedent for due process in the treatment of residents affected by liquefaction of residential land caused by the Canterbury earthquake in 2011 resulted in prolonged court cases against the Government based largely on the amount of compensation offered to insured home and/or land owners and the lack of any compensation for uninsured owners. Several large areas of residential land in Christchurch were deemed Residential Red Zones (RRZ) meaning there had to be significant and extensive area wide land damage, the extent of the damage required an area-wide solution, engineering solutions would be uncertain, disruptive, not timely, and not cost-effective. One offer made by the government to uninsured Christchurch RRZ landowners for 50 percent of the rated value of their property was deemed unlawful in the Court of Appeal in 2013. A later offer was made by the government to uninsured residents, but only for the value of their land and not their house.

In 2018, the government opted to settle with a group of uninsured home and landowners, but some objected to the compensation because it was based on 2007/08 rating valuations. There were also reports some insurance companies paid out less to policy holders than the full value of some houses if they found based on the structural characteristics of the house that it was repairable, even though the repairs would be legally prohibited if in the RRZ.

LINZ currently manages Crown-owned land in the RRZ and can temporarily agree short-term leases of this land under the Greater Christchurch Regeneration Act 2016 but does not make offers to buy properties from RRZ residents. From June 2020 ownership and management of the land is progressively transitioning from the Crown back to the Christchurch City Council, according to the terms under an agreement made in September 2019 and to be legislated as an amendment to the 2016 Act. LINZ must review the interests of each of the 5,500 titles in the RRZ to check if anyone has rights to the land, such as an easement, a covenant, or a mortgage. For more see: https://www.linz.govt.nz/crown-property/types-crown-property/christchurch-residential-red-zone .

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

New Zealand is a party to both the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (the Washington Convention), and to the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.

Proceedings taken under the Washington Convention are administered under the Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act 1979. Proceedings taken under the New York Convention are now administered under the Arbitration Act 1996.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Investment disputes are rare, and there have been no major disputes in recent years involving U.S. companies. The mechanism for handling disputes is the judicial system, which is generally open, transparent and effective in enforcing property and contractual rights.

Most of New Zealand’s recently enacted FTAs contain Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions, and to date no claims have been filed against New Zealand. The current Government has signaled it will seek to remove ISDS from future FTAs, having secured exemptions with several CPTPP signatories in the form of side letters. ISDS claims challenging New Zealand’s tobacco control measures – under the Smoke-free Environments (Tobacco Standardized Packaging) Amendment Act 2016 – cannot be made against New Zealand under CPTPP.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Arbitrations taking place in New Zealand (including international arbitrations) are governed by the Arbitration Act 1996. The Arbitration Act includes rules based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) and its 2006 amendments. Parties to an international arbitration can opt out of some of the rules, but the Arbitration Act provides the default position.

The Arbitration Act also gives effect to the New Zealand government’s obligations under the Protocol on Arbitration Clauses (1923), the Convention on the Execution of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1927), and the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958). Obligations under the Washington Convention are administered under the Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act 1979.

The New Zealand Dispute Resolution Centre (NZDRC) is the leading independent, nationwide provider of private commercial, family and relationship dispute resolution services in New Zealand. It also provides international dispute resolution services through its related entity, the New Zealand International Arbitration Centre (NZIAC). The NZDRC is willing to act as an appointing authority, as is the Arbitrators’ and Mediators’ Association of New Zealand (AMINZ).

Forms of dispute resolution available in New Zealand include formal negotiations, mediation, expert determination, court proceedings, arbitration, or a combination of these methods. Arbitration methods include ‘ad hoc,’ which allows the parties to select their arbitrator and agree to a set of rules, or institutional arbitration, which is run according to procedures set by the institution. Institutions recommended by the New Zealand government include the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the American Arbitration Association (AAA), and the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA).

The Arbitration Amendment Act 2016 empowered the Minister of Justice to create an “appointed body” to exercise powers which were previously powers of the High Court. It also provides for the High Court to exercise the powers if the appointed body does not act, or there is a dispute about the process of the appointed body. The Minister of Justice has appointed the AMINZ the default authority for all arbitrations sited in New Zealand in place of the High Court. In 2017 AMINZ issued its own Arbitration Rules based on the latest editions of rules published in other Model Law jurisdictions, to be used in both domestic and international arbitrations, and consistent with the 1996 Act.

The Arbitration Amendment Act 2019 was passed to bring New Zealand’s policy of preserving the confidentiality of trust deed clauses in line with foreign arbitration legislation and case law. The amendment means arbitration clauses in trust deeds are given effect to extend the presumption of confidentiality in arbitration to the presumption of confidentiality in related court proceedings under the Act because often such cases arise from sensitive family disputes.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Bankruptcy is addressed in the Insolvency Act 2006, the Receiverships Act 1993, and the Companies Act 1993. The Insolvency (Cross-border) Act 2006 implements the Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency adopted by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law in 1997. It also provides the framework for facilitating insolvency proceedings when a person is subject to insolvency administration (whether personal or corporate) in one country, but has assets or debts in another country; or when more than one insolvency administration has commenced in more than one country in relation to a person. New Zealand bankrupts are subject to conditions on borrowing and international travel, and violations are considered offences and punishable by law.

The registration system operated by the Companies Office within MBIE, is designed to enable New Zealand creditors to sue an overseas company in New Zealand, rather than forcing them to sue in the country’s home jurisdiction. This avoids attendant costs, delays, possible language problems and uncertainty due to a different legal system. An overseas company’s assets in New Zealand can be liquidated for the benefit of creditors. All registered ‘large’ overseas companies are required to file financial statements under the Companies Act of 1993. See: https://companies-register.companiesoffice.govt.nz/help-centre/managing-an-overseas-company-in-nz/ 

The Insolvency and Trustee Service (the Official Assignee’s Office) is a business unit of MBIE. The Official Assignee is appointed under the State Sector Act of 1988 to administer the Insolvency Act of 2006, the insolvency provisions of the Companies Act of 1993 and the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act of 2009. The Official Assignee administers all bankruptcies, No Asset Procedures, Summary Installment Orders, and some liquidations by collecting and selling assets to repay creditors. The bankrupt or company directors will be asked for information to help identify and deal with the assets. The money recovered is paid to creditors who have made a claim, in order according to the relevant Acts. Creditors can log in to the Insolvency and Trustee Service website to track the progress of their claim and how long it is likely to take.

In the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 Report New Zealand slipped in the rankings for “resolving insolvency” from 31st last year to 36th. Despite a high recovery rate (79.7 cents per dollar compared with 70.2 cents for the average across high-income OECD countries), New Zealand scores lower based on the strength of its insolvency framework. Specific weaknesses identified in the survey include the management of debtors’ assets, the reorganization proceedings, and the participation of creditors.

The government has recognized the need for more insolvency law reform beyond the 2006 Act which repealed the Insolvency Act 1967. The Regulatory Systems (Economic Development) Amendment Act which passed in November 2019 included amendments to the Insolvency Act that strengthened some regulations and assigned more powers to the Official Assignee. After the previous government established an Insolvency Working Group in 2015, MBIE published a proposed set of reforms in November 2019, based on the group’s recommendations from 2017. The current government plans to introduce an insolvency law reform bill in early 2020. The omnibus COVID-19 Response (Further Management Measures) Legislation Bill passed on May 15, 2020, included provisions to provide temporary relief for businesses facing insolvency, and exemptions for compliance, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

New Zealand policies generally facilitate the free flow of financial resources to support the flow of resources in the product and factor markets. Credit is generally allocated on market terms, and foreigners are able to obtain credit on the local market. The private sector has access to a limited variety of credit instruments. New Zealand has a strong infrastructure of statutory law, policy, contracts, codes of conduct, corporate governance, and dispute resolution that support financial activity. The banking system, mostly dominated by foreign banks, is rapidly moving New Zealand into a “cashless” society.

New Zealand adheres to International Monetary Fund (IMF) Article VIII and does not place restrictions on payments and transfers for international transactions.

New Zealand has a range of other financial institutions, including a securities exchange, investment firms and trusts, insurance firms and other non-bank lenders. Non-bank finance institutions experienced difficulties during the global financial crisis (GFC) due to risky lending practices, and the government of New Zealand subsequently introduced legal changes to bring them into the regulatory framework. This included the introduction of the Non-bank Deposit Takers Act 2013 and associated regulations which impose requirements on exposure limits, minimum capital ratios, and governance. It requires non-bank institutions be licensed and have suitable directors and senior officers. It also provides the RBNZ with powers to detect and intervene if a non-bank institution becomes distressed or fails.

The RBNZ is the prudential regulator and supervisor of all insurers carrying on insurance business in New Zealand and is responsible for administering the Insurance (Prudential Supervision) Act 2010. The RBNZ administers the Act to promote the maintenance of a sound and efficient insurance sector; and promoting public confidence in the insurance sector.

The GFC also prompted New Zealand to introduce broad-based financial market law reform which included the establishment of the Financial Markets Authority (FMA) in 2014. The Financial Markets Conduct Act (FMC) 2013 provided a new licensing regime to bring New Zealand financial market regulations in line with international standards. It expanded the role of the FMA as the primary regulator of fair dealing conduct in financial markets, provided enforcement for parts of the Financial Advisers Act 2008, and made the FMA one of the three supervisors for AML/CFT, alongside the RBNZ and the Department of Internal Affairs. The FMA supervises approximately 800 reporting entities.

Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent. Financial accounting standards are issued by the New Zealand Accounting Standards Board (NZASB), which is a committee of the External Reporting Board established under the Crown Entities Act 2004. The NZASB has the delegated authority to develop, adopt and issue accounting standards for general purpose financial reporting in New Zealand and are based largely on international accounting standards, and GAAP.

Smaller companies (except issuers of securities and overseas companies) that meet proscribed criteria face less stringent reporting requirements. Entities listed on the stock exchange are required to produce annual financial reports for shareholders. Stocks in a number of New Zealand listed firms are also traded in Australia and in the United States. Small, publicly held companies not listed on the NZX may include in their constitution measures to restrict hostile takeovers by outside interests, domestic or foreign. However, NZX rules generally prohibit such measures by its listed companies.

In December 2019, the government introduced the Financial Market Infrastructure Bill to establish a new regulatory regime for financial market infrastructures (FMI), and to provide certain FMIs with legal protections relating to settlement finality, netting, and the enforceability of their rules. The bill aims to maintain a sound and efficient financial system; avoid significant damage to the financial system resulting from problems with an FMI, an operator of an FMI, or a participant of an FMI; promote the confident and informed participation of businesses, investors, and consumers in the financial markets; and promote and facilitate the development of fair, efficient, and transparent financial markets. The bill if passed would be administered jointly by the RBNZ and the FMA. The bill passed its first reading in February 2020 and is with the select committee.

In 2018, the market capitalization of listed domestic companies in New Zealand was 42 percent of GDP, at USD 86 billion. The small size of the market reflects in part the risk averse nature of New Zealand investors, preferring residential property and bank term deposits over equities or credit instruments for investment. New Zealand’s stock of investment in residential property is valued at NZD 1.19 trillion (USD 774 billion).

Money and Banking System

The Reserve Bank (RBNZ) regulates banks in New Zealand in accordance with the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act 1989. The RBNZ is statutorily independent and is responsible for conducting monetary policy and maintaining a sound and efficient financial system. The New Zealand banking system consists of 26 registered banks, and more than 90 percent of their combined assets are owned by foreign banks, mostly Australian. There is no requirement in New Zealand for financial institutions to be registered to provide banking services, but an institution must be registered to call itself a bank.

In November 2017, the government announced it would undertake the first ever review of the RBNZ Act. In December 2018, the government passed an amendment to the Act to broaden the legislated objective of monetary policy beyond price stability, to include supporting maximum sustainable employment. It also requires that monetary policy be decided by a consensus of a Monetary Policy Committee, which must also publish records of its meetings. While policy decisions at the RBNZ have been made by the Governing Committee for several years before the amendment, the Act had laid individual accountability with the Governor, who could be removed from office for inadequate performance according to the goals set through the Policy Targets Agreement.

Applicants for bank registration must meet qualitative and quantitative criteria set out in the RBNZ Act. Applicants who are incorporated overseas are required to have the approval of their home supervisor to conduct banking business in New Zealand, and the applicant must meet the ongoing prudential requirements imposed on it by the overseas supervisor. Accordingly, the conditions of registration that apply to branch banks mainly focus on compliance with the overseas supervisor’s regulatory requirements.

The RBNZ introduced a Dual Registration Policy for Small Foreign Banks in December 2016. Foreign-owned banks are permitted to apply for dual registration – operating both a branch and a locally incorporated subsidiary in New Zealand – provided both entities comply with relevant prudential requirements. Locally incorporated subsidiaries are separate legal entities from the parent bank. They are required, among other things, to maintain minimum capital requirements in New Zealand and have their own board of directors, including independent directors. In contrast, bank branches are essentially an extension of the parent bank with the ability to leverage the global bank balance sheet for larger lending transactions. Capital and governance requirements for branch banks are established by the home regulatory authority. There are no local capital or governance requirements for registered bank branches in New Zealand.

In addition to registered banks, the RBNZ supervises and regulates insurance companies in accordance with the Insurance (Prudential Supervision) Act of 2010 and non-bank lending institutions. Non-bank deposit takers are regulated under the Non-bank Deposit Takers Act of 2013.

New Zealand has no permanent deposit insurance scheme and the RBNZ has no requirement to guarantee the viability of a registered bank. The RBNZ operates the Open Bank Resolution (OBR) which allows a distressed bank to be kept open for business, while placing the cost of a bank failure primarily on the bank’s shareholders and creditors, rather than on taxpayers. While the scheme has been generally successful, in 2010 the government paid out NZD 1.6 billion (USD 1 billion) to cover investor losses when New Zealand’s largest locally-owned finance company at the time, went into receivership. There have since been bailouts of several insurance companies and other small finance companies.

New Zealand’s banking system relies on offshore wholesale funding markets as a result of low levels of domestic savings. Banks can raise funds in international markets relatively easily at reasonable cost, but are vulnerable to global market volatility, geopolitics, and domestic economic conditions. Domestically, banks face exposure due to the concentration of New Zealand exports in a small number of commodity-based sectors which can be subject to considerable price volatility. Residential mortgage and agricultural lending exposures have also presented risk.

The four largest banks (ASB, ANZ, BNZ and Westpac) control 88 percent of the retail and commercial banking market measured in terms of total banking assets. With the addition of Kiwibank, that rises to 91 percent. Kiwibank launched in 2002 and is majority owned by NZ Post (53 percent), with the NZ Superannuation Fund (25 percent), and the Accident Compensation Corporation (22 percent).

The RBNZ reports the total assets of registered banks to be about NZD 631 billion (USD 410 billion) as of March 2020. Assets of insurance companies’ assets were valued at NZD 81 billion (USD 53 billion) and NZD 14.4 billion (USD 9.4 billion) for non-bank lending institutions. The RBNZ estimates approximately 0.6 percent of bank loans are non-performing. Agriculture loans make up about 13 percent of bank lending and has seen higher rates of non-performing loans – particularly dairy farms – in 2019. The RBNZ expect non-performing to rise again having recovered only in the past few years from the Global Financial Crisis.

The four banks have capital generally above the regulatory requirements. The initial findings from a RBNZ review of bank capital requirements released in March 2017 found New Zealand banks to be “in the pack” in terms of capital ratios relative to international peers. There have since been subsequently four rounds of consultations revisiting capital requirements after the Australian Financial System Inquiry made recommendations that were subsequently accepted by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority to improve the resilience of the Australian banks. While this contributes to the ultimate soundness of the New Zealand subsidiaries, it does not directly strengthen their balance sheets.

In February 2019, the RBNZ proposed to almost double capital requirements for the four big banks. The RBNZ proposed to require banks’ Tier 1 capital to be comprised solely of equity and to increase from the current minimum of 8.5 percent of total capital to 16 percent over five years. It also wants Tier 1 capital to be pure equity, rather than hybrid-type securities that usually behave as debt, but which can be converted into equity if required, and which are about a fifth of the cost of pure equity. Since the GFC, the minimum tier 1 capital has already been raised from 4 percent of risk-weighted assets to 8.5 percent.

In December 2019, the RBNZ announced the minimum total capital ratio will increase from 10.5 percent currently to 18 percent for the four largest banks, and 16 percent for the smaller local banks. For the largest banks, at least 16 percent must consist of tier 1 capital, and within this at least 13.5 percent must be common equity. For the small banks, the requirements are 14 percent and 11.5 percent respectively. Debt instruments that can be converted to equity will no longer count towards regulatory capital. However, banks will able to make greater use of redeemable preference shares. Initially in order to give the banks time to accumulate capital through retained earnings the changes were to be phased in over a seven-year period starting from July 2020. The RBNZ has delayed the introduction until July 1, 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The penetration of New Zealand’s major banks has improved since the introduction of the voluntary superannuation scheme, KiwiSaver in 2007. The increase in their market share is also a result of the appointment of three additional banks as default KiwiSaver providers in 2014. People who start a new job are automatically enrolled in KiwiSaver and must opt-out if they do not want to be a member. Contributions are made by the employee, the employer and if eligible from the government in the form of a tax credit. At the start of 2021 there were more than 3 million KiwiSaver members, and the amount invested in KiwiSaver schemes is estimated to be NZD 62 billion (USD 40.3 billion). While funds can only be withdrawn at the age of 65 with very few exceptions, members can shift their funds. Over the course of 2020 as markets dropped, KiwiSavers shifted NZD 1.5 billion (USD 975 million) from share-heavy funds to cash or conservative funds.

There are some restrictions on opening a bank account in New Zealand that include providing proof of income and needing to be a permanent New Zealand resident of 18 years old or above. Access to money in the account will not be granted until the individual presents one form of photo ID and a proof of address in-person at a branch of the bank in New Zealand. Some banks will require a copy of the applicant’s visa. If the applicant does not apply for an IRD number, the tax rate on income earned will default to the highest rate of 33 percent. New Zealand banks typically have a dedicated branch for migrants and businesses to set up banking arrangements.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

New Zealand has revoked all foreign exchange controls. Accordingly, there are no such restrictions – beyond those that seek to prevent money laundering and financing of terrorism – on the transfer of capital, profits, dividends, royalties or interest into or from New Zealand. Full remittance of profits and capital is permitted through normal banking channels and there is no difficulty in obtaining foreign exchange. However, withholding taxes can apply to certain payments out of New Zealand including dividends, interest, and royalties, and may apply to capital gains for non-residents and on the payment of profits to certain non-resident contractors.

New Zealand operates a free-floating currency. As a small nation that relies heavily on trade and global financial and geopolitical conditions, the New Zealand currency experiences more fluctuation when compared with other developed high-income countries.

Remittance Policies

The Pacific Islands are the main destination of New Zealand remittances from residents and from temporary workers participating in the Recognized Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme. The RSE allows the horticulture and viticulture industries to recruit workers from nine Pacific Island nations for seasonal work when there are not enough New Zealand workers. Other people who use remittance services include recently resettled refugees, and other migrant workers particularly in the hospitality and construction sectors.

Anti-money laundering and combatting terrorism financing laws have made access to cross-border financial services difficult for some Pacific island countries. Banks, non-bank institutions, and people in occupations that typically handle large amounts of cash, are required to collect additional information about their customers and report any suspicious transactions to the New Zealand Police.

Financial institutions have had to comply with the AML/CFT Act since 2013, including remitters, trust and company service providers, payment providers, and other lending institutions. If a bank is unable to comply with the Act in its dealings with a customer, it must not do business with that person. This would include not processing certain transactions, withdrawing the banking products and services it offers, and choosing not to have that person or entity as a customer. Since then New Zealand banks have been reducing their exposure to risks and charging higher fees for remittance services, which in some instances has led to the forced closing of accounts held by money transfer operators (MTOs).

The New Zealand government is working with banks to improve the bankability of small MTOs, and to develop low cost products for seasonal migrant workers in the RSE. New Zealand is also using its membership in global fora to encourage a coordinated approach to addressing high remittance costs, and is working with Pacific Island governments to find ways to lower costs in the receiving country, such as the adoption and use of an electronic payments systems infrastructure.

The New Zealand Treasury released a report in March 2017 to explore feasible policy options to address the issues in the New Zealand remittance market that would maintain access and reduce costs of remitting money from New Zealand to the Pacific. In 2018, the New Zealand and Australian governments hosted a series of roundtable meetings in Auckland, Sydney, and Tonga, with the Asian Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund that included officials from banks, MTOs, and regulators from Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific, senior officials from international financial institutions, and training providers to discuss the issue and identify practical solutions to address the costs and risks of transferring remittances to Pacific countries and difficulties in undertaking cross-border transactions.

Barriers to remittances to Pacific nations remain a significant public policy issue during 2019, and work is underway led by MFAT and involving financial regulators in New Zealand and overseas, to address some of these barriers. A pilot of a Know Your Customer and Customer Due Diligence Utility is being planned for remittances between Samoa, Australia and New Zealand.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The New Zealand Superannuation Fund was established in September 2003 under the New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income Act 2001. The fund was designed to partially provide for the future cost of New Zealand Superannuation, which is a universal benefit paid by the New Zealand government to eligible residents over the age of 65 years irrespective or income or asset levels.

The Act also created the Guardians of New Zealand Superannuation, a Crown entity charged with managing and administering the fund. It operates by investing government contributions and the associated returns in New Zealand and internationally, in order to grow the size of the fund over the long term. Between 2003 and 2009, the government contributed NZD 14.9 billion (USD 9.7 billion) to the fund, after which it temporarily halted contributions during the Global Financial Crisis. In December 2017, the newly elected government resumed contributions, with plans to resume contributions to the full amount according to the formula set out in the 2001 Act from 2022. The Fund received an estimated NZD 500 million (USD 325 million) payment in the year to June 2018, and a NZD 1 billion (USD 650 million) contribution in the year to June 2019.

Planned contributions for the year to June 2020 will be NZD 1.5 billion (USD 975 million) according to Budget 2020 announced in May. This increases to NZD 2.1 billion (USD 1.4 billion) in the year to June 2021 and NZD 2.4 billion (USD 1.6 billion) in the year to June 2022. The legislated formula suggests lower contributions be made due to the impact of COVID-19 on GDP forecasts. Between fiscal years 2019/20 and 2022/23, Budget 2020 transfers small amounts of the capital contributions to a new fund administered by the Guardians of New Zealand Superannuation, which will invest via the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund Limited (NZVIF). The government has not indicated it will suspend its contributions during the economic impact of the pandemic.

In June 2019, the fund was valued at NZD 43.1 billion (USD 28 billion) of which 48.8 percent was in North America, 17.3 percent in Europe, 12.9 percent in New Zealand, 10.9 percent in Asia excluding Japan, 6 percent in Japan, and 1.6 percent in Australia. During 2018/19 the fund earned a pre-tax return of 7 percent. In the first four months of 2020, the fund made losses of NZD 4.6 billion (USD 3 billion).

The guardians have a stated commitment to responsible investment, including environmental, social and governance factors, which is closely aligned to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment. It is a member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds and is signed up to the Santiago Principles.

The fund operates its own environmental, social, and governance principles with a responsible investment framework. Companies that are directly involved in the following activities are excluded from the Fund: the manufacture of cluster munitions, testing of nuclear explosive devices, and anti-personnel mines; the manufacture of tobacco; the processing of whale meat; recreational cannabis; and the manufacture of civilian automatic and semi-automatic firearms, magazines or parts. As of December 2019, the fund does not make investments in 14 countries, mainly located in Africa and the Middle East.

Following the attack on two Christchurch mosques by a gunman using legally obtained guns on March 15, the fund divested NZD 19 million (USD 13 million) from seven companies (including four U.S. companies), involved in the manufacture of civilian automatic and semi-automatic firearms, magazines or parts that are prohibited under recently enacted New Zealand law. Due to the live-stream of the attack the NZSF announced on March 20, 2019 it had joined up with other New Zealand wealth funds as a shareholder of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube owner Alphabet, to strengthen controls to prevent the live-streaming of objectionable content. The NZSF aims to achieve this from the collective action of New Zealand’s investor sector with a global coalition of shareholders as well as the pressure put on the companies by other stakeholder groups. The NZSF will undertake discussions with the companies concerned in confidence and will report on milestones achieved in future Annual Reports. For further information including a full list of participants see: https://www.nzsuperfund.nz/how-we-invest/ 

In recent years the NZSF has explicitly excluded companies that are directly involved in the manufacture of: cluster munitions, testing of nuclear explosive devices, anti-personnel mines, tobacco, recreational cannabis, and the processing of whale meat. In 2013, the fund divested a group of five U.S. companies due to their involvement with nuclear weapons. In 2007, the fund divested NZD 37.6 million (USD 24.4 million) in 20 tobacco companies.

In June 2017, the fund transitioned NZD 14 billion (USD 9 billion) passive global equity portfolio (constituting 40 percent of the fund) to low carbon, selling passive holdings in 297 companies worth NZD 950 million (USD 617 million). The aim of the Climate Change Investment Strategy is to reduce exposure to investments in carbon and fossil fuels. The guardians applied their carbon exclusion methodology again in June 2018 and June 2019.

The government manages two other wealth funds that also aim to reduce future liability and burden on New Zealanders. The Government Superannuation Fund (GSF) aims to meet the cost of 57,000 state sector employees who worked between 1948 to 1995 and are entitled to an additional fixed retirement income. The GSF was valued at NZD 4.5 billion (USD 2.9 billion) in June 2019. The Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) covers all New Zealanders and visitors’ costs if they are injured in an accident under a no-fault scheme. In addition to ACC levies paid by workers and businesses, the ACC operates a fund to meet the future costs of injuries. As of June 2019, it was valued at NZD 44 billion (USD 29 billion), of which about 72 percent in New Zealand and 4 percent in Australia. Over 2018/19 the fund earned a return of 13.1 percent. ACC is one of the largest investors, owning about 2.6 percent of the market capitalization of the New Zealand share market, and directly owns 22 percent of Kiwibank.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The New Zealand government actively promotes corporate social responsibility (CSR), which is widely practiced throughout the country. There are New Zealand NGOs dedicated to facilitating and strengthening CSR, including the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development, the Sustainable Business Network, and the American Chamber of Commerce in New Zealand.

New Zealand is committed to both the OECD due diligence guidance for responsible supply chains of minerals from conflict-affected and high-risk areas, and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Multi-national businesses are the main focus, such as a New Zealand company that operates overseas, or a foreign-owned company operating in New Zealand. The guidance can also be applied to businesses with only domestic operations that form part of an international supply chain. Individuals wishing to complain about the activity of a multi-national business that happened in another country, will need to contact the National Contact Points of that country. In New Zealand, MBIE is the NCP to carry out the government’s responsibilities under the guidelines.

To help businesses meet their responsibilities, MBIE has developed a short version of the guidelines to assess the social responsibility ‘health’ of enterprises, and for assessing the actions of governments adhering to the guidelines. If further action is needed, MBIE provides resolution assistance, such as mediation, but do not adjudicate or duplicate other tribunals that assess compliance with New Zealand law. MBIE is assisted by a liaison group that meets once a year, with representatives from other government agencies, industry associations, and NGOs.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

U.S. firms have not identified corruption as an obstacle to investing in New Zealand. New Zealand is renowned for its efforts to ensure a transparent, competitive, and corruption-free government procurement system. Stiff penalties against bribery of government officials as well as those accepting bribes are strictly enforced. The Ministry of Justice provides guidance on its website for businesses to create their own anti-corruption policies, particularly improving understanding of the New Zealand laws on facilitation payments.

New Zealand consistently achieves top ratings in Transparency International’s Perceptions of Corruption Perception Index. In 2020 Transparency International ranked New Zealand 1st out of 180 countries and territories, scoring 88 out of 100. An area of concern noted by Transparency International is New Zealand being one of several top-ranking countries that conduct “moderate and limited enforcement of foreign bribery.”

Transparency International NZ has had concerns with the historical inconsistency in the level of public accessibility and Parliamentary oversight and application of secondary legislation which is law made under powers delegated by Parliament to 150 government agencies, entities, and local government. New Zealand has 550 Acts, which delegate power to make secondary legislation.

In December 2019 the government introduced the Secondary Legislation Bill to improve and support the law relating to the making of secondary legislation by applying and adjusting the framework of access to, and Parliamentary oversight of, secondary legislation provided for in the Legislation Act 2019. It is currently with at the select committee stage: https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/bills-and-laws/bills-proposed-laws/document/BILL_93428/secondary-legislation-bill 

New Zealand joined the WTO Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) in 2012, citing benefits for exporters, while noting that there would be little change for foreign companies bidding within New Zealand’s totally deregulated government procurement system. New Zealand’s accession to the GPA came into effect in August 2015. New Zealand supports multilateral efforts to increase transparency of government procurement regimes. New Zealand also engages with Pacific island countries in capacity building projects to bolster transparency and anti-corruption efforts.

New Zealand has regulations to counter conflict-of-interest in awarding contracts and government procurement. As mentioned in the previous section, MBIE operates a transparent procurement process using the Government Electronic Tenders Service (GETS) platform and their revised Procurement Rules which must be followed by New Zealand government departments, the Police, the Defense Force, and most Crown entities. All other New Zealand government agencies are encouraged to follow the Rules.

New Zealand has signed and ratified the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, and the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. In 2003, New Zealand signed the UN Convention against Corruption and ratified it in 2015.

The legal framework for combating corruption in New Zealand consists of domestic and international legal and administrative methods. Domestically, New Zealand’s criminal offences related to bribery are contained in the Crimes Act 1961 and the Secret Commissions Act 1910. For the bribery offences under sections 99 to 106 of the Crimes Act, New Zealand authorities have jurisdiction where any act or omission takes place in New Zealand. If the acts or omissions alleged relate to Person of Position and occur outside New Zealand , proceedings may be brought against them under the Crimes Act if they are a New Zealand citizen, ordinarily resident in New Zealand, have been found in New Zealand and not been extradited, or are a body corporate incorporated under the law of New Zealand. Penalties include imprisonment up to 14 years and foreign bribery offences can incur fines up to the greater of NZD 5 million (USD 3.3 million) or three times the value of the commercial gain obtained.

The New Zealand government has a strong code of conduct, the Standards of Integrity and Conduct, which applies to all State Services employees and is rigorously enforced. The Independent Police Conduct Authority considers complaints against New Zealand Police and the Office of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner was established in August 2005 to deal with complaints about the conduct of judges. New Zealand’s Office of the Controller and Auditor-General and the Office of the Ombudsman take an active role in uncovering and exposing corrupt practices. The Protected Disclosures Act 2000 was enacted to protect public and private sector employees who engage in “whistleblowing.”

The Ministry of Justice is responsible for drafting and administering the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) legislation and regulations. It also provides guidance online to companies and NGOs in how to combat corruption and bribery. The New Zealand Police Financial Intelligence Unit collates information required under AML/CFT legislation.

The Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Amendment Act 2017 extends the 2009 Act to cover lawyers, conveyancers, accountants, real estate agents, and sports and racing betting. Businesses that deal in certain high-value goods, such as motor vehicles, jewelry and art, will also have obligations when they accept or make large cash transactions.

Businesses had two years to comply with the Act and compliance costs are estimated to be USD 554 million and USD 762 million over ten years. The New Zealand Police Financial Intelligence Unit estimate that NZD 1.35 billion (USD 878 million) of domestic criminal proceeds is generated for laundering in New Zealand each year, driven in part by New Zealand’s reputation as a safe and non-corrupt country. The Department of Internal Affairs is working on a solution for businesses that are facing difficulty meeting their AML/CFT obligations during COVID-19.

Following the “Panama Papers” incident in April 2016, an independent inquiry found New Zealand’s tax treatment of foreign trusts to be appropriate but recommended changes to the regime’s disclosure requirements, which were subsequently legislated to dispel concerns New Zealand was operating as a “tax haven”. The Taxation (Business Tax, Exchange of Information, and Remedial Matters) Act of 2017 changed foreign trust registration and disclosure to deter offshore parties from misusing New Zealand foreign trusts, and to reaffirm New Zealand’s reputation as being free of corruption.

In July 2019, the government passed the Trusts Act and repealed the Trustee Act of 1956 and the Perpetuities Act of 1964 to make trust law more accessible, clarify and simplify core trust principles and essential obligations for trustees. It also aims to preserve the flexibility of the common law to allow trust law to continue to evolve through the courts. It applies to all trusts including family trusts and those for corporate structures. New Zealand has one of the highest per capita number of trusts in the world due to favorable tax treatment and the absence of estate duty, gift duty, stamp duty, or capital gains tax. It is estimated that there are between 300,000 and 500,000 trusts in New Zealand.

After a standard review of the 2017 general election and 2016 local body elections, the Justice Select Committee conducted an inquiry in 2019 of the issue of foreign interference through politicized social media campaigns and from foreign donations to political candidates standing in New Zealand elections. New Zealand intelligence agencies acknowledged political donations as a legally sanctioned form of participation in New Zealand politics, but raised concerns when aspects of a donation is obscured or is channeled in a way that prevents scrutiny of the origin of the donation, when the goal is to covertly build and project influence.

In December 2019, the government passed the Electoral Amendment Act under urgency to ban donations from overseas persons to political parties and candidates over NZD 50 (USD 32.50) down from the previous NZD 1,500 (USD 975) maximum, to reduce the risk of foreign money influencing the election process. It also introduces a requirement for party secretaries “to take all reasonable steps to satisfy themselves that a donation over NZD 50 is not from an overseas person.”

The Act requires party secretaries to reside in New Zealand, and extending the existing offense of promoting anonymous advertisements relating to an election “so that it applies to all advertising mediums, including online advertising, in order to deter misleading anonymous online advertisements.”

Resources to Report Corruption

The Serious Fraud Office and the New Zealand Police investigate bribery and corruption matters. Agencies such as the Office of the Controller and Auditor-General and the Office of the Ombudsmen act as watchdogs for public sector corruption. These agencies independently report on and investigate state sector activities.

Serious Fraud Office
P.O. Box 7124 – Wellesley Street
Auckland, 1141
New Zealand
www.sfo.govt.nz 

Transparency International New Zealand is the recognized New Zealand representative of Transparency International, the global civil society organization against corruption.

Transparency International New Zealand
P.O. Box 5248 – Lambton Quay
Wellington, 6145
New Zealand
www.transparency.org.nz 

10. Political and Security Environment

New Zealand is a stable liberal democracy with almost no record of political violence.

The New Zealand government raised its national security threat level for the first time from “low” to “high” after the terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch on March 15, 2019. One month later it lowered the risk to “medium” where a “terrorist attack, or violent criminal behavior, or violent protest activity is assessed as feasible and could well occur.” The incident led to wide-ranging gun law reform that restricts semi-automatic firearms and magazines with a capacity of more than ten rounds. An amnesty buy-back scheme of prohibited firearms administered by the NZ Police ran until December 20, 2019.

Poland

Executive Summary

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted almost 30 years of economic expansion in Poland.  In 2020, Poland experienced a recession, although one of the least severe in the European Union, as policy actions including broad fiscal measures and unprecedented monetary support cushioned the socio-economic impact of the pandemic.  Despite pandemic-related challenges and the deterioration of some aspects of the investment climate, Poland remained an attractive destination for foreign investment.  Solid economic fundamentals and promising post-COVID recovery macroeconomic forecasts continue to draw foreign, including U.S., capital.  Poland’s GDP growth declined by only 2.7 percent in 2020 and is currently projected to rebound at a rate of 3-5 percent in 2021 and 2022.  The Family 500+ program and additional pension payments continued in 2020.  The government increased the minimum wage and the labor market remained relatively strong, supported by a generous package of measures known as the “Anti-Crisis Shield.”  This package includes the “Financial Shield” introduced by the Polish Development Fund (PFR) to protect the economy, mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and stimulate investment.

Implemented and proposed legislation dampened optimism in some sectors (e.g., retail, media, energy, digital services, and beverages).  Investors also point to lower predictability and the outsized role of state-owned and state-controlled companies in the Polish economy as an impediment to long-term balanced growth.  Despite a polarized political environment following the conclusion of a series of national elections in 2019 and 2020 and a few less business-friendly sector-specific policies, the broad structures of the Polish economy are solid.  Prospects for future growth, driven by external and domestic demand and inflows of EU funds from the Recovery and Resilience Fund and future financial frameworks, as well as COVID-19 related government aid programs, are likely to continue to attract investors seeking access to Poland’s market of over 38 million people, and to the broader EU market of over 500 million.

The Ministry of Development, Labor, and Technology has finished public consultations on its Industry Development White Paper, which identifies the government’s views on the most significant barriers to industrial activity and serves as the foundation for Poland’s Industrial Policy (PIP) – a strategic document, setting the directions for long-term industrial development.  The PIP will focus on five areas:  digitization, security, industrial production location, the Green Deal, and modern society.

Poland’s well-diversified economy reduces its vulnerability to external shocks, although it depends heavily on the EU as an export market.  Foreign investors also cite Poland’s well-educated work force as a major reason to invest, as well as its proximity to major markets such as Germany.  U.S. firms represent one of the largest groups of foreign investors in Poland.  The volume of U.S. investment in Poland is estimated at around $5 billion by the National Bank of Poland in 2019 and around $25 billion by the Warsaw-based American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham).  With the inclusion of indirect investment flows through subsidiaries, it may reach as high as $62.7 billion, according to KPMG and AmCham.  Historically, foreign direct investment (FDI) was largest in the automotive and food processing industries, followed by machinery and other metal products and petrochemicals.  “Shared office” services such as accounting, legal, and information technology services, including research and development (R&D), is Poland’s fastest-growing sector for foreign investment.  The government seeks to promote domestic production and technology transfer opportunities in awarding defense-related tenders.  There are also investment and export opportunities in the energy sector—both immediate (natural gas), and longer term (nuclear, hydrogen, energy grid upgrades, photovoltaics, and offshore wind)—as Poland seeks to diversify its energy mix and reduce air pollution.  Biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and health care industries might open wider to investments and exports as a result of the COVID-19 experience.  In 2020, venture capital transactions increased by 70 percent on annual terms exceeding $500 million; a quarter of these transactions were investments in the sector of medical technologies.

Defense remains a promising sector for U.S. exports. The Polish government is actively modernizing its military inventory, presenting good opportunities for the U.S. defense industry.  In February 2019, the Defense Ministry announced its updated technical modernization plan listing its top programmatic priorities, with defense modernization budgets forecasted to increase from approximately $3.3 billion in 2019 to approximately $7.75 billion in 2025.  Information technology and cybersecurity along with infrastructure also show promise, as Poland’s municipalities focus on smart city networks.  A $10 billion central airport project may present opportunities for U.S. companies in project management, consulting, communications, and construction.  The government seeks to expand the economy by supporting high-tech investments, increasing productivity and foreign trade, and supporting entrepreneurship, scientific research, and innovation through the use of domestic and EU funding.  The Polish government is interested in the development of green energy, especially in the utilization of the large amounts of EU funding earmarked for this purpose in coming years and decades.

The Polish government plans to allocate money from the EU Recovery Fund to pro-development investments in such areas as economic resilience and competitiveness, green energy and the reduction of energy intensity, digital transformation, the availability and quality of the health care system, and green and intelligent mobility.  A major EU project is to synchronize the Baltic States’ electricity grid with that of Poland and the wider European network by 2025.  A government strategy aims for a commercial fifth generation (5G) cellular network to become operational in all cities by 2025, although planned spectrum auctions have been repeatedly delayed.

Some organizations, notably private business associations and labor unions, have raised concerns that policy changes have been introduced quickly and without broad consultation, increasing uncertainty about the stability and predictability of Poland’s business environment.  For example, the government announced an “advertising tax” on media companies with only a few months warning after firms had already prepared budgets for the current year.  Broadcasters are concerned the tax, if introduced, could irreparably harm media companies weakened by the pandemic and limit independent journalism.  Other proposals to introduce legislation on media de-concentration and limitations on foreign ownership raised concern among foreign investors in the sector; however, those proposals seem to have stalled for the time being.

The Polish tax system underwent many changes over recent years, including more effective tax auditing and collection, with the aim of increasing budget revenues.  Through updated regulations in November 2020, Poland has adopted a range of major changes concerning the taxation of doing business in the country.  The changes include the double taxation of some partnerships; deferral of corporate income tax (CIT) for small companies owned by individuals; an obligation to publish tax strategies by large companies; and a new model of taxation for real estate companies.  In the financial sector, legal risks stemming from foreign exchange mortgages constitute a source of uncertainty for some banks.  The Polish government has supported taxing the income of Internet companies, proposed by the European Commission in 2018, and considers it a possible new source of financing for the post-COVID-19 economic recovery.  A tax on video-on-demand services which went into effect on July 1, 2020, and the proposed advertising tax, which would also impact digital advertising and would go into effect on July 1, 2021, are two examples of this trend.

The “Next Generation EU” recovery package will benefit the Polish economic recovery with sizeable support.  Under the 2021-2027 European Union budget, Poland will receive $78.4 billion in cohesion funds as well as approximately $27 billion in grants and $40 billion in loan access from the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility.  The Polish government projects this injection of funds, amounting to around 4.5 percent of Poland’s 2020 GDP, should contribute significantly to the country’s growth over the period 2021-2026.  As the largest recipient of EU funds (which have contributed an estimated 1 percentage point to Poland’s GDP growth per year), any significant decrease in EU cohesion spending would have a large negative impact on Poland’s economy.  A December 2020 compromise on EU budget payments prevented adoption of a clause that would make some EU funds conditional on rule of law.

Observers are closely watching the European Commission’s two open infringement proceedings against Poland regarding rule of law and judicial reforms initiated in April 2019 and April 2020.  Concerns include the introduction of an extraordinary appeal mechanism in the enacted Supreme Court Law, which could potentially affect economic interests, in that final judgments issued since 1997 can now be challenged and overturned in whole or in part, including some long-standing judgments on which economic actors have relied.  Other issues regard the legitimacy of judicial appointments after a reform of the National Judicial Council that raise concerns about long-term legal certainty and the possible politicization of judicial decisions.

While Poland, similar to other countries, will likely continue to struggle with the pandemic throughout 2021, rating agencies and international organizations, including the OECD and the IMF, agree that Poland has fared relatively well under the COVID-19 pandemic, and has good chances for successful economic growth once the pandemic is over.  The government views recovery from the pandemic as an opportunity to foster its structural reforms agenda.  In line with the ongoing implementation of the “Strategy for Responsible Development,” the government has been developing a “New Deal” package – an ambitious program of tax breaks, public investments, and social spending proposals aimed at speeding post-COVID-19 economic recovery.  The program is currently scheduled to be presented to the public in April 2021.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 45 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 40 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 38 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 10,403 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 14,150 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Polish Constitution contains a number of provisions related to administrative law and procedures.  It states administrative bodies have a duty to observe and comply with the law of Poland.  The Code of Administrative Procedures (CAP) states rules and principles concerning participation and involvement of citizens in processes affecting them, the giving of reasons for decisions, and forms of appeal and review.

As a member of the EU, Poland complies with EU directives by harmonizing rules or translating them into national legislation.  Rule-making and regulatory authority exists at the central, regional, and municipal levels.  Various ministries are engaged in rule-making that affects foreign business, such as pharmaceutical reimbursement at the Ministry of Health or incentives for R&D at the Ministry of Development, Labor, and Technology.  Regional and municipal level governments can levy certain taxes and affect foreign investors through permitting and zoning.

Polish accounting standards do not differ significantly from international standards.  Major international accounting firms provide services in Poland.  In cases where there is no national accounting standard, the appropriate International Accounting Standard may be applied.  However, investors have complained of regulatory unpredictability and high levels of administrative red tape.  Foreign and domestic investors must comply with a variety of laws concerning taxation, labor practices, health and safety, and the environment.  Complaints about these laws, especially the tax system, center on frequent changes, lack of clarity, and strict penalties for minor errors.

Poland has improved its regulatory policy system over the last several years.  The government introduced a central online system to provide access for the general public to regulatory impact assessments (RIA) and other documents sent for consultation to selected groups such as trade unions and business.  Proposed laws and regulations are published in draft form for public comment, and ministries must conduct public consultations.  Poland follows OECD recognized good regulatory practices, but investors say the lack of regulations governing the role of stakeholders in the legislative process is a problem.  Participation in public consultations and the window for comments are often limited.

New guidelines for RIA, consultation and ex post evaluation were adopted under the Better Regulation Program in 2015, providing more detailed guidance and stronger emphasis on public consultation.  Like many countries, Poland faces challenges to fully implement its regulatory policy requirements and to ensure that RIA and consultation comments are used to improve decision making.  The OECD suggests Poland extend its online public consultation system and consider using instruments such as green papers more systematically for early-stage consultation to identify options for addressing a policy problem.  OECD considers steps taken to introduce ex post evaluation of regulations encouraging.

Bills can be submitted to Parliament for debate as “citizens’ bills” if authors collect 100,000 signatures in support for the draft legislation.  NGOs and private sector associations most often take advantage of this avenue.  Parliamentary bills can also be submitted by a group of parliamentarians, a mechanism that bypasses public consultation and which both domestic and foreign investors have criticized.  Changes to the government’s rules of procedure introduced in June 2016 reduced the requirements for RIA for preparations of new legislation.

Administrative authorities are subject to oversight by courts and other bodies (e.g., the Supreme Audit Chamber – NIK), the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson, special commissions and agencies, inspectorates, the Prosecutor and parliamentary committees.  Polish parliamentary committees utilize a distinct system to examine and instruct ministries and administrative agency heads.  Committees’ oversight of administrative matters consists of: reports on state budgets implementation and preparation of new budgets, citizens’ complaints, and reports from the NIK.  In addition, courts and prosecutors’ offices sometimes bring cases to parliament’s attention.

The Ombudsperson’s institution works relatively well in Poland.  Polish citizens have a right to complain and to put forward grievances before administrative bodies.  Proposed legislation can be tracked on the Prime Minister’s webpage,  https://legislacja.rcl.gov.pl/  and the Parliament’s webpage:  https://www.sejm.gov.pl/sejm9.nsf/proces.xsp . Poland has consistently met or exceeded the Department of State’s minimum requirements for fiscal transparency: https://www.state.gov/2020-fiscal-transparency-report/

Poland’s budget and information on debt obligations were widely and easily accessible to the general public, including online. The budget was substantially complete and considered generally reliable. NIK audited the government’s accounts and made its reports publicly available, including online. The budget structure and classifications are complex, and the Polish authorities agree more work is needed to address deficiencies in the process of budgetary planning and procedures. State budgets encompass only part of the public finances sector.

The European Commission regularly assesses the public finance sustainability of Member States based on fiscal gap ratios. In 2021, Poland’s public finances will continue to be exposed to a high general government deficit, uncertainty in financial markets resulting primarily from the macroeconomic environment, the effects of the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic, and the monetary policy of the NBP and major central banks, including the European Central Bank and the U.S. Federal Reserve.

International Regulatory Considerations

Since its EU accession in May 2004, Poland has been transposing European legislation and reforming its regulations in compliance with the EU system. Poland sometimes disagrees with EU regulations related to renewable energy and emissions due to its important domestic coal industry.

Poland participates in the process of creation of European norms. There is strong encouragement for non-governmental organizations, such as environmental and consumer groups, to actively participate in European standardization. In areas not covered by European normalization, the Polish Committee for Standardization (PKN) introduces norms identical with international norms, i.e., PN-ISO and PN-IEC. PKN actively cooperates with international and European standards organizations and with standards bodies from other countries. PKN has been a founding member of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and a member of the International Electro-technical Commission (IEC) since 1923.

PKN also cooperates with the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International and the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). Poland has been a member of the WTO since July 1, 1995 and was a member of GATT from October 18, 1967. All EU member states are WTO members, as is the EU in its own right. While the member states coordinate their position in Brussels and Geneva, the European Commission alone speaks for the EU and its members in almost all WTO affairs. PKN runs the WTO/TBT National Information Point in order to apply the provisions of the TBT with respect to information exchange concerning national standardization.

Useful Links:
http://ec.europa.eu/growth/single-market/european-standards/harmonised-standards/ 
http://eur-lex.europa.eu/oj/direct-access.html?locale=en )

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Polish legal system is code-based and prosecutorial.  The main source of the country’s law is the Constitution of 1997.  The legal system is a mix of Continental civil law (Napoleonic) and remnants of communist legal theory.  Poland accepts the obligatory jurisdiction of the ECJ, but with reservations.  In civil and commercial matters, first instance courts sit in single-judge panels, while courts handling appeals sit in three-judge panels. District Courts (Sad Rejonowy) handle the majority of disputes in the first instance.  When the value of a dispute exceeds a certain amount or the subject matter requires more expertise (such as those regarding intellectual property rights), Circuit Courts (Sad Okregowy) serve as first instance courts.  Circuit Courts also handle appeals from District Court verdicts.  Courts of Appeal (Sad Apelacyjny) handle appeals from verdicts of Circuit Courts as well as generally supervise the courts in their region.

The Polish judicial system generally upholds the sanctity of contracts.  Foreign court judgements, under the Polish Civil Procedure Code and European Community regulation, can be recognized.  There are many foreign court judgments, however, which Polish courts do not accept or accept partially.  There can also be delays in the recognition of judgments of foreign courts due to an insufficient number of judges with specialized expertise.  Generally, foreign firms are wary of the slow and over-burdened Polish court system, preferring other means to defend their rights.  Contracts involving foreign parties often include a clause specifying that disputes will be resolved in a third-country court or through offshore arbitration.  (More detail in Section 4, Dispute Settlement.)

Since coming to power in 2015, the PiS government has pursued far-reaching reforms to Poland’s judicial system. The reforms have led to legal disputes with the European Commission over threats to judicial independence. The reforms have also drawn criticism from legal experts, NGOs, and international organizations. Poland’s government contends the reforms are needed to purge the old Communist guard and increase efficiency and democratic oversight in the judiciary.

Observers noted in particular the introduction of an extraordinary appeal mechanism in the 2017 Supreme Court Law.  The extraordinary appeal mechanism states:  final judgments issued since 1997 can be challenged and overturned in whole or in part for a three-year period starting from the day the legislation entered into force on April 3, 2018.  On February 25, 2021, the Sejm passed an amendment to the law on the Supreme Court, which extended by two years (until April 2023) the deadline for submitting extraordinary complaints.  The bill is now waiting for review by the opposition-controlled Senate.  During 2020, the Extraordinary Appeals Chamber received 217 new complaints. During 2020, the Chamber reviewed 166 complaints, of which 18 were accepted, and 13 were rejected. Seventy-three cases were pending at the end of 2020 the status of the remaining cases was unavailable.

On April 8, 2020, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) issued interim measures ordering the government to suspend the work of the Supreme Court Disciplinary Chamber with regard to disciplinary cases against judges. The ECJ is evaluating an infringement proceeding launched by the European Commission in April 2019 and referred to the ECJ in October 2019. The commission argued that the country’s disciplinary regime for judges “undermines the judicial independence of…judges and does not ensure the necessary guarantees to protect judges from political control, as required by the Court of Justice of the EU.” The commission stated the disciplinary regime did not provide for the independence and impartiality of the Disciplinary Chamber, which is composed solely of judges selected by the restructured National Council of the Judiciary, which is appointed by the Sejm. The ECJ has yet to make a final ruling. The European Commission and judicial experts complained the government has ignored the ECJ’s interim measures.

On April 29, 2020, the European Commission launched a new infringement procedure regarding a law that came into effect on February 14, 2020. The law allows judges to be disciplined for impeding the functioning of the legal system or questioning a judge’s professional state or the effectiveness of his or her appointment. It also requires judges to disclose memberships in associations. The commission’s announcement stated the law “undermines the judicial independence of Polish judges and is incompatible with the primacy of EU law.” It also stated the law “prevents Polish courts from directly applying certain provisions of EU law protecting judicial independence and from putting references for preliminary rulings on such questions to the [European] Court of Justice.” On December 3, the commission expanded its April 29 complaint to include the continued functioning of the Disciplinary Chamber in apparent disregard of the ECJ’s interim measures in the prior infringement procedure.  On January 27, 2021, the European Commission sent a reasoned opinion to the Polish government for response. If not satisfied, the Commission noted it would refer the matter to the ECJ.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Foreign nationals can expect to obtain impartial proceedings in legal matters. Polish is the official language and must be used in all legal proceedings. It is possible to obtain an interpreter. The basic legal framework for establishing and operating companies in Poland, including companies with foreign investors, is found in the Commercial Companies Code. The Code provides for establishment of joint-stock companies, limited liability companies, or partnerships (e.g., limited joint-stock partnerships, professional partnerships). These corporate forms are available to foreign investors who come from an EU or European Free Trade Association (EFTA) member state or from a country that offers reciprocity to Polish enterprises, including the United States.

With few exceptions, foreign investors are guaranteed national treatment. Companies that establish an EU subsidiary after May 1, 2004 and conduct or plan to commence business operations in Poland must observe all EU regulations. However, in some cases they may not be able to benefit from all privileges afforded to EU companies. Foreign investors without permanent residence and the right to work in Poland may be restricted from participating in day-to-day operations of a company. Parties can freely determine the content of contracts within the limits of European contract law. All parties must agree on essential terms, including the price and the subject matter of the contract. Written agreements, although not always mandatory, may enable an investor to avoid future disputes. Civil Code is the law applicable to contracts.

Useful websites (in English) to help navigate laws, rules, procedures and reporting requirements for foreign investors:

Polish Investment and Trade Agency: https://www.paih.gov.pl/en 
Polish Financial Supervision Authority (KNF):  https://www.knf.gov.pl/en/ 
Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKIK):  https://uokik.gov.pl/legal_regulations.php 

Biznes.gov.pl is intended for people who plan to start a new business in Poland. The portal is designed to simplify the formalities of setting up and running a business. It provides up-to-date regulations and procedures for running a business in Poland and the EU; it supports electronic application submission to state institutions; and it answers questions regarding running a business. Information is available in Polish and English. https://www.biznes.gov.pl/en/przedsiebiorcy/ 

Competition and Antitrust Laws

Poland has a high level of nominal convergence with the EU on competition policy in accordance with Articles 101 and 102 of the Lisbon Treaty. Poland’s Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) is well within EU norms for structure and functioning, with the exception that the Prime Minister both appoints and dismisses the head of UOKiK. This is supposed to change to be in line with EU norms, however, as of March 2021, the Prime Minister was still exercising his right to remove and nominate UOKiK’s presidents.

The Act on Competition and Consumer Protection  was amended in mid-2019. The most important changes, which concern geo-blocking and access to fiscal and banking secrets, came into force on September 17, 2019. Other minor changes took effect in January 2020. The amendments result from the need to align national law with new EU laws.

Starting in January 2020, UOKiK may intervene in cases when delays in payment are excessive. UOKiK can take action when the sum of outstanding payments due to an entrepreneur for three subsequent months amounts to at least PLN 5 million ($1.7 million). In 2022, the minimum amount will decrease to PLN 2 million ($510,000).

The President of UOKiK issues approximately 100 decisions per year regarding practices restricting competition and infringing on collective interests of consumers. Enterprises have the right to appeal against those decisions to the court. In the first instance, the case is examined by the Court of Competition and Consumer Protection and in the second instance, by the Appellate Court. The decision of the Appellate Court may be challenged by way of a cassation appeal filed to the Supreme Court. In major cases, the General Counsel to the Republic of Poland will act as the legal representative in proceedings concerning an appeal against a decision of the President of UOKiK.

As part of new COVID-related measures, the Polish Parliament adopted legislation amending the Act of July 24, 2015, on the Control of Certain Investments, introducing full-fledged foreign direct investment control in Poland and giving new responsibilities to UOKiK. Entities from outside the EEA and/or the OECD have to notify the Polish Competition Authority of the intention to make an investment resulting in acquisition, achievement or obtaining directly or indirectly: “significant participation” (defined briefly as 20 percent or 40 percent of share in the total number of votes, capital, or profits or purchasing or leasing of an enterprise or its organized part) or the status of a dominant entity within the meaning of the Act of July 24, 2015, on the Control of Certain Investments in an entity subject to protection. The new law entered into force on July 24, 2020 and is valid for 24 months.

On October 28, 2020, the government proposed new legislation by virtue of which the tasks pursued by the Financial Ombudsman will be taken over by UOKiK. According to the justification of this legislation, the objective of the draft is to enhance the efficiency of protection, in terms of both group and individual interests of financial market entities’ clients. According to the new regulations, a new position of coordinator conducting out-of-court procedures in matters of resolving disputes between financial market entities and their clients will be established. Such a coordinator will be appointed by UOKiK for a four-year term. Moreover, the new proposal provides for creating the Financial Education Fund (FEF), a special-purpose fund managed by UOKiK.

Additional provisions in the proposed legislation concern the UOKiK’s investigative powers, cooperation between anti-monopoly authorities, and changes to fine imposition and leniency programs. One of the amendments also stipulates that the President of UOKiK will be elected to a 5-year term and the dismissal of the anti-monopoly authority will only be possible in precisely defined situations, such as: legally valid conviction for a criminal offense caused by intentional conduct and the deprivation of public rights or of Polish citizenship. Adoption of these solutions is linked to the implementation of the EU’s ECN+ directive.

All multinational companies must notify UOKiK of a proposed merger if any party to it has subsidiaries, distribution networks or permanent sales in Poland.

Examples of competition reviews can be found at:
https://www.uokik.gov.pl/news.php?news_id=16649  (Gazprom NS2)
https://www.uokik.gov.pl/news.php?news_id=17198  (Agora/Eurozet)
https://www.uokik.gov.pl/news.php?news_id=17202  (Orlen/Polska Press)
https://www.uokik.gov.pl/news.php?news_id=17198  (BPH Bank spread clauses)

Decisions made by the President of UOKiK can be searched here:
https://decyzje.uokik.gov.pl/bp/dec_prez.nsf 

The President of UOKiK has the power to impose significant fines on individuals in management positions at companies that violate the prohibition of anticompetitive agreements. The amendment to the law governing UOKiK’s operation, which entered into force on December 15, 2018, provides for a similar power to impose significant fines on the management of companies in the case of violations of consumer rights. The maximum fine that can be imposed on a manager may amount to PLN 2 million ($510,000) and, in the case of managers in the financial sector, up to PLN 5 million ($1.27 million).

Expropriation and Compensation

Article 21 of the Polish Constitution states: “expropriation is admissible only for public purposes and upon equitable compensation.”  The Law on Land Management and Expropriation of Real Estate states that property may be expropriated only in accordance with statutory provisions such as construction of public works, national security considerations, or other specified cases of public interest.  The government must pay full compensation at market value for expropriated property.  Acquiring land for road construction investment and recently also for the Central Airport and the Vistula Spit projects has been liberalized and simplified to accelerate property acquisition, particularly through a special legislative act. Most acquisitions for road construction are resolved without problems.  However, there have been a few cases in which the inability to reach agreement on remuneration has resulted in disputes.  Post is not aware of any recent expropriation actions against U.S. investors, companies, or representatives.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Poland is not a party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (Washington Convention). Poland is a party to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Poland is party to the following international agreements on dispute resolution, with the Ministry of Finance acting as the government’s representative: the 1923 Geneva Protocol on Arbitration Clauses; the 1961 Geneva European Convention on International Trade Arbitration; the 1972 Moscow Convention on Arbitration Resolution of Civil Law Disputes in Economic and Scientific Cooperation Claims under the U.S.-Poland Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) (with further amendments).

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) database for treaty-based disputes lists three cases for Poland involving a U.S. party over the last decade. The majority of Poland’s investment disputes are with companies from other EU member states. According to the UNCTAD database, over the last decade, there have been 16 known disputes with foreign investors.

There is no distinction in law between domestic and international arbitration. The law only distinguishes between foreign and domestic arbitral awards for the purpose of their recognition and enforcement. The decisions of arbitration entities are not automatically enforceable in Poland, but must be confirmed and upheld in a Polish court. Under Polish Civil Code, local courts accept and enforce the judgments of foreign courts; in practice, however, the acceptance of foreign court decisions varies. Investors say the timely process of energy policy consolidation has made the legal, regulatory and investment environment for the energy sector uncertain in terms of how the Polish judicial system deals with questions and disputes around energy investments by foreign investors, and in foreign investor interactions with state-owned or affiliated energy enterprises.

A Civil Procedures Code amendment in January 2016, with further amendments in July 2019, implements internationally recognized arbitration standards and creates an arbitration-friendly legal regime in Poland. The amendment applies to arbitral proceedings initiated on or after January 1, 2016 and introduced one-instance proceedings to repeal an arbitration award (instead of two-instance proceedings). This change encourages mediation and arbitration to solve commercial disputes and aims to strengthen expeditious procedure. The Courts of Appeal (instead of District Courts) handle complaints. In cases of foreign arbitral awards, the Court of Appeal is the only instance. In certain cases, it is possible to file a cassation (or extraordinary) appeal with the Supreme Court of the Republic of Poland. In the case of a domestic arbitral award, it will be possible to file an appeal to a different panel of the Court of Appeal.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Poland does not have an arbitration law, but provisions in the Polish Code of Civil Procedures of 1964, as amended, are based to a large extent on UNCITRAL Model Law. Under the Code of Civil Procedure, an arbitration agreement must be concluded in writing. Commercial contracts between Polish and foreign companies often contain an arbitration clause. Arbitration tribunals operate through the Polish Chamber of Commerce, and other sector-specific organizations. A permanent court of arbitration also functions at the business organization Confederation Lewiatan in Warsaw and at the General Counsel to the Republic of Poland (GCRP). GCRP took over arbitral cases from external counsels in 2017 and began representing state-owned commercial companies in litigation and arbitration matters for amounts in dispute over PLN 5 million ($1.27 million). The list of these entities includes major Polish state-owned enterprises in the airline, energy, banking, chemical, insurance, military, oil and rail industries as well as other entities such as museums, state-owned media and universities.

The Court of Arbitration at the Polish Chamber of Commerce in Warsaw, the biggest permanent arbitration court in Poland, operates based on arbitration rules complying with the latest international standards, implementing new provisions on expedited procedure. In recent years, numerous efforts have been made to increase use of arbitration in Poland. In 2019, online arbitration courts appeared on the Polish market. Their presence reflects the need for reliable, fast and affordable alternatives to state courts in smaller disputes. Online arbitration is becoming increasingly popular with exporting companies. One of the reasons is the possibility to file claims faster for overdue payments to foreign courts.

Polish state courts generally respect the wide autonomy of arbitration courts and show little inclination to interfere with their decisions as to the merits of the case. The arbitral awards are likely to be set aside only in rare cases. As a rule, in post-arbitral proceedings, Polish courts do not address the merits of the cases decided by the arbitration courts. An arbitration-friendly approach is also visible in other aspects, such as in the broad interpretation of arbitration clauses.

In mid-2018, the Polish Supreme Court introduced a new legal instrument into the Polish legal field: an extraordinary complaint. Although this new instrument does not refer directly to arbitration proceedings, it may be applied to any procedures before Polish state courts, including post-arbitration proceedings (see Section 3 for more details).

Bankruptcy Regulations

Poland’s bankruptcy law has undergone significant change and modernization in recent years. There is now a bankruptcy law and a separate, distinct restructuring law. Poland ranks 25th for ease of resolving insolvency in the World Bank’s Doing Business report 2020. Bankruptcy in Poland is criminalized if a company’s management does not file a petition to declare bankruptcy when a company becomes illiquid for an extended period of time or if a company ceases to pay its liabilities. https://www.paih.gov.pl/polish_law/bankruptcy_law_and_restructuring_proceedings 

In order to reduce the risk of overwhelming the bankruptcy courts with an excess of cases resulting from the pandemic, changes have been introduced in the bankruptcy process for consumers, shifting part of the duties to a trustee. A second significant change is the introduction of simplified restructuring proceedings. During restructuring proceedings, a company appoints an interim supervisor and is guaranteed protection against debt collection while seeking approval for specific restructuring plans from creditors. The simplified proceedings enjoy great support among entities at risk of insolvency, but are limited in time until June 30, 2021. Some of the solutions provided in the simplified restructuring procedure are the implementation of recommendations from Directive 2019/1023 of the European Parliament and of the Council (EU) of June 20, 2019. It is likely that, taking advantage of the state of the epidemic, the government is testing new solutions, which may continue to be applied after the economic situation has returned to normal.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Polish regulatory system is effective in encouraging and facilitating portfolio investment.  Both foreign and domestic investors may place funds in demand and time deposits, stocks, bonds, futures, and derivatives.  Poland’s equity markets facilitate the free flow of financial resources.  Poland’s stock market is the largest and most developed in Central Europe.  In September 2018, it was reclassified as developed market status by FTSE Russell’s country classification report.  The stock market’s capitalization amounts to less than 40 percent of GDP.  Although the Warsaw Stock Exchange (WSE) is itself a publicly traded company with shares listed on its own exchange after its partial privatization in 2010, the state retains a significant percentage of shares which allows it to control the company.  WSE has become a hub for foreign institutional investors targeting equity investments in the region.  It has also become an increasingly significant source of capital.

In addition to the equity market, Poland has a wholesale market dedicated to the trading of treasury bills and bonds (Treasury BondSpot Poland).  This treasury market is an integral part of the Primary Dealers System organized by the Finance Ministry and part of the pan-European bond platform.  Wholesale treasury bonds and bills denominated in zlotys and some securities denominated in euros are traded on the Treasury BondSpot market.  Non-government bonds are traded on Catalyst, a WSE managed platform.  The capital market is a source of funding for Polish companies.  While securities markets continue to play a subordinate role to banks in the provision of finance, the need for medium-term financial support for the modernization of the electricity and gas sectors is likely to lead to an increase in the importance of the corporate bond market.  The Polish government acknowledges the capital market’s role in the economy in its development plan.  Foreigners may invest in listed Polish shares, but they are subject to some restrictions in buying large packages of shares.  Liquidity remains tight on the exchange.

The Capital Markets Development Strategy, published in 2018, identifies 20 key barriers and offers 60 solutions.  Some key challenges include low levels of savings and investment, insufficient efficiency, transparency and liquidity of many market segments, and lack of taxation incentives for issuers and investors.  The primary aim of the strategy is to improve access of Polish enterprises to financing.  The strategy focuses on strengthening trust in the market, improving the protection of individual investors, the stabilization of the regulatory and supervisory environment and the use of competitive new technologies.  The strategy is not a law, but sets the direction for further regulatory proposals.  The Ministry of Finance assumes in its development directions for 2021-2024, the liquidation of approximately 50 percent of barriers to the development of the financial market identified in the strategy and an increase in the capitalization of companies listed on the WSE to 50 percent of GDP.  The WSE has signed an agreement with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) on cooperation in the promotion of advanced environmental reporting by listed companies in Poland and the region of Central and Southeast Europe.  Poland is one of the most rigorously supervised capital markets in Europe according to the European Commission.

The Employee Capital Plans program (PPK)—which is designed to increase household saving to augment individual incomes in retirement—could provide a boost to Poland’s capital markets and reduce dependence on foreign saving as a source for investment financing.  The program has been delayed due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

High-risk venture capital funds are becoming an increasingly important segment of the capital market.  The market is still shallow, however, and one major transaction may affect the value of the market in a given year.  The funds remain active and Poland is a leader in this respect in Central and Eastern Europe.

In 2020, Poland saw an almost 70 percent increase in venture capital (VC) funding, with around $500 million flowing into Polish startups throughout the year, according to a report by PFR Ventures and Inovo Venture Partners.  This marks a new record for Poland, which is increasingly emerging as an important startup hub.  According to the report, a quarter of Polish startups that received VC funding in 2020 were involved in or around healthcare.

In 2020, WSE strengthened its position as the global leader when it comes to the number of listed companies from the game developers sector.  The WSE’s main and start-up markets list a total of 58 game development companies.

Poland provides full IMF Article VIII convertibility for current transactions.  Banks can and do lend to foreign and domestic companies.  Companies can and do borrow abroad and issue commercial paper, but the market is less robust than in Western European countries or the United States.  The Act on Investment Funds allows for open-end, closed-end, and mixed investment funds, and the development of securitization instruments in Poland.  In general, no special restrictions apply to foreign investors purchasing Polish securities.

Credit allocation is on market terms.  The government maintains some programs offering below-market rate loans to certain domestic groups, such as farmers and homeowners.  Foreign investors and domestic investors have equal access to Polish financial markets.  Private Polish investment is usually financed from retained earnings and credits, while foreign investors utilize funds obtained outside of Poland as well as retained earnings.  Polish firms raise capital in Poland and abroad.

Recent changes in the governance structure of the Polish Financial Supervisory Authority (KNF) are aimed at increasing cross governmental coordination and a better-targeted response in case of financial shocks, while achieving greater institutional effectiveness through enhanced resource allocation.  KNF’s supplementary powers have increased, allowing it to authorize the swift acquisition of a failing or likely to fail lender by a stronger financial institution.

Money and Banking System

The Polish financial sector entered the pandemic with strong capital and liquidity buffers and without significant imbalances.  The COVID-19 pandemic presents risks for the Polish financial sector resulting from a sharp economic slowdown and an increase in the number of business failures.  Loosening of reserve requirements, government-provided loan guarantees, and fiscal support measures should help to mitigate losses faced by financial sector firms including banks.

The banking sector plays a dominant role in the financial system, accounting for about 70 percent of financial sector assets.  The sector is mostly privately owned, with the state controlling about 40 percent of the banking sector and the biggest insurance company.  Poland had 30 locally incorporated commercial banks at the end of August 2020, according to KNF.  The number of locally-incorporated banks has been declining over the last five years.  Poland’s 533 cooperative banks play a secondary role in the financial system, but are widespread.  The state owns eight banks.  Over the last few years, growing capital requirements, lower prospects for profit generation and uncertainty about legislation addressing foreign currency mortgages has pushed banks towards mergers and acquisitions.  KNF welcomes this consolidation process, seeing it as a “natural” way to create an efficient banking sector.

The Polish National Bank (NBP) is Poland’s central bank.  At the end of 2020, the banking sector was overall well capitalized and solid.  Poland’s banking sector meets European Banking Authority regulatory requirements.  The share of non-performing loans is close to the EU average and recently has been rising, but modestly.  In December 2020, non-performing loans were 6.8 percent of portfolios.  Poland’s central bank is willing and able to provide liquidity support to the banking sector, in local and foreign currencies, if needed.  The NBP responded swiftly to the COVID-19 pandemic.  It cut rates in early 2020 to 0.1 percent from 1.5 percent over the previous five years and started buying government bonds.  To support liquidity in the banking sector, the central bank has lowered reserve requirements, introduced repo operations, and offered bill discount credit aimed at refinancing loans granted to enterprises by banks.

The banking sector is liquid, still profitable, and major banks are well capitalized, although disparities exist among banks.  This was confirmed by NBP’s Financial Stability Report and stress tests conducted by the central bank.  In 2020, the net profit of the banking sector amounted to PLN 7.8 billion ($2 billion), decreasing on an annual basis by around 44 percent – according to the data of the Polish Financial Supervision Authority.  Returns on equity fell to around 3 percent in 2020 vs 6.7 percent in 2019.  The level of write-offs and provisions as well as the net commission income increased significantly.  The need to make allowances to cover the costs of the pandemic and loans in Swiss francs had a significant impact on the decline in business profitability – the result from impairment losses and provisions increased by 33 percent up to PLN 12.7 billion ($3.2 billion).  Profits remain under pressure due to low interest rates, the issue of conversion of Swiss francs mortgage portfolios into Polish zlotys, and a special levy on financial institutions (0.44 percent of the value of assets excluding equity and Polish sovereign bonds).

The ECJ issued a judgement in October 2019 on mortgages in Swiss francs, taking the side of borrowers.  The ECJ annulled the loan agreements, noting an imbalance between the parties and the use of prohibited clauses.  The legal risk arising from the portfolio of foreign exchange mortgage loans has risen and is substantial.  The number of borrowers who have filed lawsuits against banks and the percentage of court rulings in favor of borrowers has increased.  In December 2020, the head of Poland’s financial market regulator KNF proposed a plan for banks to convert foreign currency loans into zlotys as if they had been taken out in the local currency originally.  This solution could cost the banking sector PLN 34.5 billion ($8.8 billion).  While some observers initially expected banks to finalize a plan for such out-of-court settlements before the Supreme Court sitting, scheduled for April 2021, lenders appear to be waiting for guidelines that could prove crucial to clients trying to decide whether they should go to court.  An additional financial burden for banks resulted from the necessity to return any additional fees they charged customers who repaid loans ahead of schedule.

Since 2015, the Polish government established an active campaign aiming to increase the market share of national financial institutions.  Since 2017, Polish investors’ share in the banking sector’s total assets exceeds the foreign share in the sector.  The State controls around 40 percent of total assets, including the two largest banks in Poland.  These two lenders control about one third of the market.  Rating agencies warn that an increasing state share in the banking sector might impact competitiveness and profits in the entire financial sector.  There is concern that lending decisions at state-owned banks could come under political pressure.  Nevertheless, Poland’s strong fundamentals and the size of its internal market mean that many foreign banks will want to retain their positions.

The financial regulator has restricted the availability of loans in euros or Swiss francs in order to minimize the banking system’s exposure to exchange risk resulting from fluctuations.  Only individuals who earn salaries denominated in these currencies continue to enjoy easy access to loans in foreign currencies.

In 2020, NBP had relationships with 27 commercial and central banks and was not concerned about losing any of them.

The coronavirus-driven recession will likely depress business volumes and increase loan losses, but Polish banks seem to have strong enough capital and liquidity positions to persevere.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Poland is not a member of the Eurozone; its currency is the Polish zloty.  The current government has shown little desire to adopt the euro (EUR).  The Polish zloty (PLN) is a floating currency; it has largely tracked the EUR at approximately PLN 4.2-4.3 to EUR 1 in recent years and PLN 3.7 – 3.8 to $1.  Foreign exchange is available through commercial banks and exchange offices.  Payments and remittances in convertible currency may be made and received through a bank authorized to engage in foreign exchange transactions, and most banks have authorization.  Foreign investors have not complained of significant difficulties or delays in remitting investment returns such as dividends, return of capital, interest and principal on private foreign debt, lease payments, royalties, or management fees.  Foreign currencies can be freely used for settling accounts.

Poland provides full IMF Article VIII convertibility for currency transactions.  The Polish Foreign Exchange Law, as amended, fully conforms to OECD Codes of Liberalization of Capital Movements and Current Invisible Operations.  In general, foreign exchange transactions with the EU, OECD, and European Economic Area (EEA) are accorded equal treatment and are not restricted.

Except in limited cases which require a permit, foreigners may convert or transfer currency to make payments abroad for goods or services and may transfer abroad their shares of after-tax profit from operations in Poland.  In general, foreign investors may freely withdraw their capital from Poland, however, the November 2018 tax bill included an exit tax.  Full repatriation of profits and dividend payments is allowed without obtaining a permit.  A Polish company (including a Polish subsidiary of a foreign company), however, must pay withholding taxes to Polish tax authorities on distributable dividends unless a double taxation treaty is in effect, which is the case for the United States.  Changes to the withholding tax in the 2018 tax bill increased the bureaucratic burden for some foreign investors (see Section 2).  The United States and Poland signed an updated bilateral tax treaty in February 2013 that the United States has not yet ratified.  As a rule, a company headquartered outside of Poland is subject to corporate income tax on income earned in Poland, under the same rules as Polish companies.

Foreign exchange regulations require non-bank entities dealing in foreign exchange or acting as a currency exchange bureau to submit reports electronically to NBP at: http://sprawozdawczosc.nbp.pl.

An exporter may open foreign exchange accounts in the currency the exporter chooses.

Remittance Policies

Poland does not prohibit remittance through legal parallel markets utilizing convertible negotiable instruments (such as dollar-denominated Polish bonds in lieu of immediate payment in dollars).  As a practical matter, such payment methods are rarely, if ever, used.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Polish Development Fund (PFR) is often referred to as Poland’s Sovereign Wealth Fund.   PFR is an umbrella organization pooling resources of several governmental agencies and departments, including EU funds.  A strategy for the Fund was adopted in September 2016, and it was registered in February 2017.  PFR supports the implementation of the Responsible Development Strategy.  The PFR operates as a group of state-owned banks and insurers, investment bodies, and promotion agencies.  The budget of the PFR Group initially reached PLN 14 billion ($3.6 billion), which managers estimate is sufficient to raise capital worth PLN 90-100 billion ($23-25 billion).  Various actors within the organization can invest through acquisition of shares, through direct financing, seed funding, and co-financing venture capital.  Depending on the instruments, PFR expects different rates of return.

In July 2019, the President of Poland signed the Act on the System of Development Institutions.  Its main goal is to formalize and improve the cooperation of institutions that make up the PFR Group, strengthen the position of the Fund’s president and secure additional funding from the Finance Ministry.  The group will have one common strategy.  The introduction of new legal solutions will increase the efficiency and availability of financial and consulting instruments.  An almost four-fold increase in the share capital will enable PFR to significantly increase the scale of investment in innovation and infrastructure and will help Polish companies expand into foreign markets.  While supportive of overseas expansion by Polish companies, the Fund’s mission is domestic.

PFR plans to invest PLN 2.2 billion ($560 million) jointly with private-equity and venture-capital firms and PLN 600 million ($153 million) into a so-called fund of funds intended to kickstart investment in midsize companies.

Since its inception, PFR has carried out over 30 capital transactions, investing a total of PLN 8.3 billion ($2.1 billion) directly or through managed funds.  PFR, together with the support of other partners, has implemented investment projects with a total value of PLN 26.2 billion ($6.7 billion).  The most significant transactions carried out together with state-controlled insurance company PZU S.A. include the acquisition of 32.8 percent of the shares of Bank Pekao S.A. (PFR’s share is 12.8 percent); the acquisition of 100 percent of the shares in PESA Bydgoszcz S.A. (a rolling stock producer); and the acquisition of 99.77 percent of the shares of Polskie Koleje Linowe S.A.  PFR has also completed the purchase, together with PSA International Ptd Ltd and IFM Investors, of DCT Gdansk, the largest container terminal in Poland (PFR’s share is 30 percent).  Also, 59 funds supported by PFR Ventures have invested almost PLN 3.5 billion ($1.0 billion) () in nearly 400 companies.  Over one third of this sum went to innovative, young start-ups and the rest for financing mature companies.  In April 2020, the President of Poland signed into law an amendment to the law on development institution systems, expanding the competencies of PFR as part of the government’s Anti-Crisis Shield.  The Act assumes that, in the years 2020-2029, the maximum limit of government budget expenditures resulting from the financial effects of the amendment will be PLN 11.7 billion ($3.0 billion).

The amendment expands the competencies of PFR so that it can more efficiently support businesses in the face of the coronavirus epidemic.  The fund has been charged with management of the Financial Shield, a loan and subsidies government scheme worth approximately PLN 100 billion ($25.0 billion) for firms to maintain liquidity and protect jobs.  The scheme is accessible to small, medium and large firms.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The results of the study “CSR in practice – a barometer of the French-Polish Chamber of Commerce” show that the pandemic mobilized not only state institutions, but also businesses which actively joined the fight against COVID-19.  Activities focused to a great extent on companies own employees and clients, and every third enterprise was involved in helping hospitals and nursing homes.  Fifty-seven percent of companies donated money to fight the pandemic, 59 percent material resources and services, and 67 percent the time and skills of employees.  Sixty-one percent of adult Poles expect an active attitude of businesses towards the epidemic.

Poland’s Ministry of Funds and Regional Development supports implementation of responsible business conduct (RBC) and corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs.  The Ordinance of the Minister of Investment and Development of May 10, 2018, established working groups responsible for sustainable development and corporate social responsibility.  The chief function of the working groups is to create space for dialogue and exchange of experiences between the public administration, social partners, NGOs, and the academic environment in CSR/RBC.  Experts cooperate within 5 working groups:  1) Innovation for CSR and sustainable development; 2) Business and human rights; 3) Sustainable production and consumption; 4) Socially responsible administration, and 5) Socially responsible universities.  The greater team issues recommendations concerning implementation of the CSR/RBC policy, in particular the objectives of the Strategy for Responsible Development.  More information on recent developments in the CSR area and future events is available under this link: https://www.gov.pl/web/fundusze-regiony/spoleczna-odpowiedzialnosc-przedsiebiorstw-csr2

In 2017, on the initiative of the then existent Ministry of Economic Development, a partnership was established for the translation into Polish of the Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment and Footwear Sector.  The parties involved included representatives of the business sector, industry organizations and NGOs.  The Polish version of the Guidelines was announced on June 29, 2018.  The document, available on the OECD NCP website, is a practical tool explaining how to implement the principles of due diligence, taking into account risks related to child labor, forced labor, water use, hazardous waste, etc.

In May 2017, the Council of Ministers adopted the National Action Plan (NAP) for the Implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights 2017-2020 (UNBHR-GPs).  In December 2018, the Midterm report from the implementation of National Action Plan for UN Business and Human Rights Guidelines was adopted by the Council of Ministers.  Here is the link to this document: https://www.gov.pl/documents/1149181/1150183/Raport_ percentC5 percent9Ar percentC3 percentB3dokresowy_z_realizacji_KPD.pdf/029a9586-2f1a-e655-4d18-00b6abe4a5a1

The mission is not aware of reports of human or labor rights concerns relating to RBC in Poland.

An increasing number of Polish enterprises are implementing the principles of CSR/RBC in their activities.  One of these principles is to openly inform the public, employees, and local communities about the company’s activities by publishing non-financial reports.  Sharing experience in the field of integration of social and environmental factors in everyday business activities helps build credibility and transparency of the Polish market.

The attitude of Poles to environmental issues is changing, and so are their expectations regarding business.  According to a recent study by ARC Rynek i Opinia for the Warsaw School of Economics, 59 percent of Poles consciously choose domestic products more often and 57 percent avoid products that harm the environment.  In Poland, provisions relating to responsible business conduct are contained within the Public Procurement law and are the result of transposition of very similar provisions contained in the EU directives.  For example, there is a provision for reserved contracts, where the contracting authority may limit competition for sheltered workshops and other economic operators whose activities include social and professional integration of people belonging to socially marginalized groups.

Independent organizations including NGOs, business and employee associations promote CSR in Poland.  The Responsible Business Forum (RBF), founded in 2000, is the oldest and largest NGO in Poland focusing on corporate social responsibility:  http://odpowiedzialnybiznes.pl/english/.  CSR Watch Coalition Poland, part of the OECD Watch international network aims to advance respect for human rights in the context of business activity in Poland in line with the spirit of the UNBHR-GPs and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (MNEs):  http://pihrb.org/koalicja/

Research shows that sustainability and CSR are increasingly translating into consumer choices in Poland.  According to SW Research for Stena Recycling, nearly 70 percent of Poles would like their favorite products to come from sustainable production and are willing to switch to more sustainably produced products.  More than half believe that the circular economy can have a direct, positive impact on the environment.  Starting in 2018, approximately 300 Polish companies were required to publish a non-financial information statement alongside their business activity report.  This requirement is tied to the January 26, 2017, amendment of the Act on Accounting, which implements the directive 2014/95/UE into Polish law.  The rules of the act concern companies that fulfill two out of the three of the following criteria: the average annual number of employed persons numbers over 500; the company’s balance sheet totals over PLN 85 million ($22 million), or gross earnings from the sale of commodities and products for the fiscal year amount to at least PLN 170 million ($43 million).  Directive 2014/95/EU will soon be amended and will introduce a uniform European standard of reporting on sustainable development issues.  Many companies voluntarily compile CSR activity reports based on international reporting standards.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the Warsaw Stock Exchange (WSE) have partnered to support Polish and Central and Eastern European listed companies with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting.  The EBRD and WSE hope to facilitate engagement with policy makers, regulators, and other stakeholders to ensure development of a coherent, robust, and transparent framework in compliance with legislation and in line with the EU Green Deal for ESG disclosure.  The framework will also provide investors with comparability in terms of monitoring different companies.

In February 2020, the Responsible Business Forum presented its 2019 “Responsible Business in Poland. Good Practices” report, which is the most comprehensive CSR review in Poland, with a record number of responsible business activities featured.  (The 2020 report is expected to be presented in mid-April 2021.)  In total, the 2019 report contains 1,696 practices reported by 214 companies.  Environmental practices are the most dynamically growing area – an increase of over 35 percent in relation to the previous report.  Examples of activities include activities related to reducing the consumption of plastic, a circular economy, conservation of biodiversity, environmental education, and counteracting the climate crisis.  Poland maintains a National Contact Point (NCP) for OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises: https://www.gov.pl/web/fundusze-regiony/krajowy-punkt-kontaktowy-oecd

Starting in March 2021, the EU regulation SFDR 2019/2088 on disclosure of information related to sustainable development (environmental, labor, human rights, and anti-corruption) in the financial services sector will apply in Poland and other EU countries.

The NCP promotes the OECD MNE Guidelines through seminars and workshops.  Investors can obtain information about the Guidelines and their implementation through Regional Investor Assistance Centers.

Information on the OECD NCP activities is under this link: https://www.gov.pl/web/fundusze-regiony/oecd-national-contact-point Poland is not a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) or the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.  The primary extractive industries in Poland are coal and copper mining.  Onshore, there is also hydrocarbon extraction, primarily conventional natural gas, with limited exploration for shale gas.  The Polish government exercises legal authority and receives revenues from the extraction of natural resources and from infrastructure related to extractive industries such as oil and gas pipelines through a concessions-granting system, and in most cases through shareholder rights in state-owned enterprises.  The Polish government has two revenue streams from natural resources: 1) from concession licenses; and 2) from corporate taxes on the concession holders.  License and tax requirements apply equally to both state-owned and private companies.  Natural resources are brought to market through market-based mechanisms by both state-owned enterprises and private companies. Poland was among the original ratifiers of the Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies in 2008.  One company from Poland is a member of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers’ Association (ICoCA).

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Poland has laws, regulations, and penalties aimed at combating corruption of public officials and counteracting conflicts of interest.  Anti-corruption laws extend to family members of officials and to members of political parties who are members of parliament.  There are also anti-corruption laws regulating the finances of political parties.  According to a local NGO, an increasing number of companies are implementing voluntary internal codes of ethics.  In 2020, the Transparency International (TI) index of perceived public corruption ranked Poland as the 45th  (four places lower than in 2019 TI index) least corrupt among 180 countries/territories.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery 

The Polish Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) and national police investigate public corruption.  The Justice Ministry and the police are responsible for enforcing Poland’s anti-corruption criminal laws.  The Finance Ministry administers tax collection and is responsible for denying the tax deductibility of bribes.  Reports of alleged corruption most frequently appear in connection with government contracting and the issuance of a regulation or permit that benefits a particular company.  Allegations of corruption by customs and border guard officials, tax authorities, and local government officials show a decreasing trend.  If such corruption is proven, it is usually punished.

Overall, U.S. firms have found that maintaining policies of full compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is effective in building a reputation for good corporate governance and that doing so is not an impediment to profitable operations in Poland.  Poland ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention in 2006 and the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery in 2000.  Polish law classifies the payment of a bribe to a foreign official as a criminal offense, the same as if it were a bribe to a Polish official.

On November 9-10, 2020, a high-level mission of the OECD Working Group on Bribery met with senior Polish officials in virtual meetings to urge Poland to reform its laws to ensure it can effectively investigate and prosecute foreign bribery.

For more information on the implementation of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in Poland, please visit:  http://www.oecd.org/daf/anti-bribery/poland-oecdanti-briberyconvention.htm

Resources to Report Corruption 

Centralne Biuro Antykorupcyjne (Central Anti-Corruption Bureau – CBA)
al. Ujazdowskie 9, 00-583 Warszawa
+48 800 808 808
kontakt@cba.gov.pl

www.cba.gov.pl; link: https://www.cba.gov.pl/pl/zglos-korupcje/445,Zglos-korupcje-osobiscie-lub-pisemnie.html  (report corruption)

The Batory Foundation, as part of a broader operational program (ForumIdei), continues to monitor public corruption, carries out research into this area and publishes reports on various aspects of the government’s transparency.  Contact information for Batory Foundation is: batory@batory.org.pl; 22 536 02 00.

10. Political and Security Environment

Poland is a politically stable country.  Constitutional transfers of power are orderly.  The last presidential elections took place in June 2020 and parliamentary elections took place in October 2019; observers considered both elections free and fair.  The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which conducted the election observation during June 2020 presidential elections, found the presidential elections were administered professionally, despite legal uncertainty during the electoral process due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic.  Prime Minister Morawiecki’s government was re-appointed in November 2019.  Local elections took place in October 2018.  Elections to the European Parliament took place in May 2019.  The next parliamentary elections are scheduled for the fall of 2023.  There have been no confirmed incidents of politically motivated violence toward foreign investment projects in recent years.  Poland has neither insurgent groups nor belligerent neighbors.  The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) provides political risk insurance for Poland but it is not frequently used, as competitive private sector financing and insurance are readily available.

Saudi Arabia

Executive Summary

In 2020, the Saudi Arabian government (SAG) continued its ambitious socio-economic reforms, collectively known as “Vision 2030.” Spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Vision 2030 provides a roadmap for the development of new economic sectors, including tourism and entertainment, and for a significant transformation toward a digital, knowledge-based economy. The reforms are aimed at diversifying the Saudi economy away from its reliance on oil and creating more private sector jobs for a young and growing population.

To help accomplish these goals, the Saudi Arabian government (SAG) took additional steps in 2020 to improve the Kingdom’s investment climate, attract increased foreign investment, and encourage greater domestic and international private sector participation in its economy. To accelerate development and facilitate investment, the SAG elevated two Saudi authorities to full ministries in 2020: the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority became the Ministry of Investment, and the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage became the Ministry of Tourism. On March 30, 2021, the SAG also announced the new Shareek program, an initiative designed to generate $3.2 trillion of domestic investment from the SAG, the sovereign wealth Public Investment Fund, and the private sector into Saudi Arabia’s economic development.

The Saudi Arabian government and its new stand-alone intellectual property rights (IPR) agency, the Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property (SAIP), have taken important steps since 2018 to improve IPR protection, enforcement, and awareness. In 2020, SAIP continued its inspection campaigns and seized millions of items that violated IPR protection. However, despite making measurable progress, the continued lack of effective protection of IPR in the pharmaceutical sector remains a significant concern. Several U.S. and international pharmaceutical companies allege the SAG violated their IPR and the confidentiality of trade data by licensing local firms to produce competing generic pharmaceuticals without approval. Industry attempts to engage the SAG on these issues have not led to satisfactory outcomes for the affected companies, while legal recourse and repercussions for IPR violations remain poorly defined. Primarily for these reasons, the U.S. Trade Representative included Saudi Arabia on its Special 301 Priority Watch List for the second consecutive year.

Infrastructure development remains a priority component of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 aspiration to become the most important logistics hub in the region, linking Asia, Europe, and Africa. By establishing new business partnerships and facilitating the flow of goods, people, and capital, the country seeks to increase interconnectivity and economic integration with other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Improvements to transportation, such as the $23 billion Riyadh metro, are intended to support this plan. In addition, Saudi Arabia continues to create and expand “economic cities” – including plans for special economic zones – throughout the Kingdom as hubs for petrochemicals, mining, logistics, manufacturing, and digital industries. The Kingdom also continued its early-stage work on infrastructure for NEOM, a futuristic city in northwest Saudi Arabia that Saudi officials have said will cost $500 billion to develop.

Saudi Arabia is launching an $800 billion project to double the size of Riyadh city in the next decade and transform it into an economic, social, and cultural hub for the region. The project includes 18 “mega-projects” in the capital city to improve livability, strengthen economic growth, and more than double the population to 15-20 million by 2030. The SAG is seeking private sector financing of $250 billion for these projects with similar contributions from income generated by its financial, tourism, and entertainment sectors. While specific details of a new initiative announced in February 2021 to attract multinational companies’ regional headquarters offices to Saudi Arabia have not been finalized, senior SAG officials have said publicly that beginning in 2024, government contracts will only be awarded to companies whose regional headquarters are located in the Kingdom. “Saudization” polices requiring certain businesses to employ a quota of Saudi workers have led to disruptions in some private sector activities.

In recognition of the progress made in its investment and business climate, Saudi Arabia’s rankings on several world indexes improved between 2019 and 2021. The country jumped 13 places on the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2019, the biggest gain of any country surveyed, and increased two more spots in 2020 to 24th place, supported by improvements to government and business efficiency. The World Bank ranked Saudi Arabia the world’s top reformer and improver in its Doing Business 2020 report. The Kingdom rose 30 places, from 92nd to 62nd, and improved in 9 out of 10 areas measured in the report. World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Competitiveness Report Special Edition ranked Saudi Arabia among the top 10 countries in the world for digital skills. The report attributed this progress to a number of factors including the adoption of information and communication technology, flexible work arrangements, national digital skills, and the legal digital framework.

On the social front, the removal of guardianship laws and travel restrictions for adult women, the introduction of workplace protections, and recent judicial reforms that provide additional protection have enabled more women to enter the labor force. From 2016 to 2020, the Saudi female labor participation rate increased from 19 percent to 33 percent.

Development of the Saudi tourism sector is also a priority under Vision 2030, with plans to develop tourist attractions that meet the highest international standards and develop potential UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In addition to introducing a new tourism visa in 2019 for non-religious travelers, the SAG no longer requires that foreign travelers staying in the same hotel room provide proof of marriage or family relations. Construction of several multi-billion dollar giga-projects focused on tourism, including Qiddiya, the Red Sea Project, and Amaala, continue to progress. The SAG is seeking private investments through its Tourist Investment Fund, which has initial capital of $4 billion, and the Kafalah program, which provides loan guarantees of up to $400 million. In addition, the Tourism Fund signed MOUs with local banks to finance projects valued up to $40 billion in an effort to stimulate tourism investment and increase the sector’s contribution to GDP. Due to the global pandemic, the SAG paused its Saudi Seasons initiative comprised of 11 annual tourism ‘seasons’ held in each region of the country, but has announced the program will resume in November 2021.

The Saudi entertainment and sporting events sector is growing rapidly. AMC, Vox, and other cinema companies continue to develop hundreds of movie theaters. The SAG is seeking to sign agreements for film production studios in Saudi Arabia for end-to-end film production. Saudi film festivals, like the Red Sea Film Festival, are being developed to meet the SAG’s Vision 2030 Quality of Life objectives. The SAG has also hosted several world class sporting events including the European Tour, Diriyah ePrix, Dakar Rally, Saudi Formula One Grand Prix, Diriyah Tennis Cup, WWE Crown Jewel, and Supercoppa. In addition, several festivals and concerts have demonstrated strong demand for a variety of art and culture content.

Investor concerns persist, however, over the rule of law, business predictability, and political risk. Although some have recently been released, the continued detention and prosecution of activists, including prominent women’s rights activists, remains a significant concern, while there has been little progress on fundamental freedoms of speech and religion. Pressure on Saudi Arabia’s fiscal situation from the sharp downturn in oil prices and demand in 2020, as well as the unexpected spending needed to respond to COVID-19, will likely dampen some of the SAG’s ambitious plans. Despite budget cuts imposed in 2020 and the possibility that further spending reductions may be forthcoming, companies working on the SAG’s giga-projects reported the ongoing availability of funding in 2020. Revenues generated by the tripling of Saudi Arabia’s value-added tax rate from 5 to 15 percent in July 2020 have helped ease fiscal stress.

The pressure to generate non-oil revenue and provide more jobs for Saudi citizens have prompted the SAG to implement measures that may weaken the country’s investment climate going forward. Increased fees for expatriate workers and their dependents, as well as “Saudization” polices requiring certain businesses to employ a quota of Saudi workers, have led to disruptions in some private sector activities and may lead to a decrease in domestic consumption levels.

Finally, while some U.S. companies, including those with significant experience in Saudi Arabia, continue to experience payment delays for SAG contracts, many were paid in full from late 2020 through the beginning of 2021. The SAG has committed to speed up its internal payment process and pay companies in a timely manner.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 52 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 62 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 66 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 $10,826 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $22,840 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Saudi Arabia received the lowest score possible (zero out of five) in the World Bank’s Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance Report, which places the Kingdom in the bottom 13 countries among 186 countries surveyed ( http://rulemaking.worldbank.org/ ). Few aspects of the SAG’s regulatory system are entirely transparent, although Saudi investment policy is less opaque than other areas. Bureaucratic procedures are cumbersome, but red tape can generally be overcome with persistence. Foreign portfolio investment in the Saudi stock exchange is well-regulated by the Capital Markets Authority (CMA), with clear standards for interested foreign investors to qualify to trade on the local market. The CMA has progressively liberalized requirements for “qualified foreign investors” to trade in Saudi securities. Insurance companies and banks whose shares are listed on the Saudi stock exchange are required to publish financial statements according to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) accounting standards. All other companies are required to follow accounting standards issued by the Saudi Organization for Certified Public Accountants.

Stakeholder consultation on regulatory issues is inconsistent. Some Saudi organizations are diligent in consulting businesses affected by the regulatory process, while others tend to issue regulations with no consultation at all. Proposed laws and regulations are not always published in draft form for public comment. An increasing number of government agencies, however, solicit public comments through their websites. The processes and procedures for stakeholder consultation are not generally transparent or codified in law or regulations. There are no private-sector or government efforts to restrict foreign participation in the industry standards-setting consortia or organizations that are available. There are no informal regulatory processes managed by NGOs or private-sector associations.

International Regulatory Considerations

Saudi Arabia uses technical regulations developed both by the Saudi Arabian Standards Organization (SASO) and by the Gulf Standards Organization (GSO). Although the GCC member states continue to work towards common requirements and standards, each individual member state, and Saudi Arabia through SASO, continues to maintain significant autonomy in developing, implementing, and enforcing technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures in its territory. More recently, Saudi Arabia has moved towards adoption of a single standard for technical regulations. This standard is often based on International Organization for Standardization (ISO) or International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards, to the exclusion of other international standards, such as those developed by U.S.-domiciled standards development organizations (SDOs).

Saudi Arabia’s exclusion of these other international standards, which are often used by U.S. manufacturers, can create significant market access barriers for industrial and consumer products exported from the United States. The United States government has engaged Saudi authorities on the principles for international standards per the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Committee Decision and encouraged Saudi Arabia to adopt standards developed according to such principles in their technical regulations, allowing all products that meet those standards to enter the Saudi market. Several U.S.-based standards organizations, including SDOs and individual companies, have also engaged SASO, with mixed success, in an effort to preserve market access for U.S. products, ranging from electrical equipment to footwear.

A member of the WTO, Saudi Arabia must notify all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Saudi legal system is derived from Islamic law, known as sharia. Saudi commercial law, meanwhile, is still developing. In 2016, Saudi Arabia took a significant step in improving its dispute settlement regime with the establishment of the Saudi Center for Commercial Arbitration (see “Dispute Settlement” below). Through its Commercial Law Development Program, the U.S. Department of Commerce has provided capacity-building programs for Saudi stakeholders in the areas of contract enforcement, public procurement, and insolvency.

The Saudi Ministry of Justice oversees the sharia-based judicial system, but most ministries have committees to rule on matters under their jurisdictions. Judicial and regulatory decisions can be appealed. Many disputes that would be handled in a court of law in the United States are handled through intra-ministerial administrative bodies and processes in Saudi Arabia. Generally, the Saudi Board of Grievances has jurisdiction over commercial disputes between the government and private contractors. The Board also reviews all foreign arbitral awards and foreign court decisions to ensure that they comply with sharia. This review process can be lengthy, and outcomes are unpredictable.

The Kingdom’s record of enforcing judgments issued by courts of other GCC states under the GCC Common Economic Agreement, and of other Arab League states under the Arab League Treaty, is somewhat better than enforcement of judgments from other foreign courts. Monetary judgments are based on the terms of the contract – e.g., if the contract is calculated in U.S. dollars, a judgment may be obtained in U.S. dollars. If unspecified, the judgment is denominated in Saudi riyals. Non-material damages and interest are not included in monetary judgments, based on the sharia prohibitions against interest and against indirect, consequential, and speculative damages.

As with any investment abroad, it is important that U.S. investors take steps to protect themselves by thoroughly researching the business record of a proposed Saudi partner, retaining legal counsel, complying scrupulously with all legal steps in the investment process, and securing a well-drafted agreement. Even after a decision is reached in a dispute, enforcement of a judgment can still take years. The U.S. government recommends consulting with local counsel in advance of investing to review legal options and appropriate contractual provisions for dispute resolution.

In a February 8, 2021 statement, the Crown Prince announced draft legal reforms impacting personal status law, civil transactions law, evidence law, and discretionary sentencing that aim to increase predictability and transparency in the legal system, facilitating commerce and expanding protections for women. The draft proposals, expected to be approved later in 2021, would begin to codify Saudi law to introduce transparency and help ensure consistency in court rulings and improve oversight and accountability. Details remain unclear, but if implemented effectively, the reforms would be a major step in modernizing the Saudi legal system.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

In January 2019, the Saudi government established the Foreign Trade General Authority (FTGA), which aims to strengthen Saudi Arabia’s non-oil exports and investment, increase the private sector’s contribution to foreign trade, and resolve obstacles encountered by Saudi exporters and investors. The new authority monitors the Kingdom’s obligations under international trade agreements and treaties, negotiates and enters into new international commercial and investment agreements, and represents the Kingdom before the World Trade Organization. The Governor of the Foreign Trade General Authority reports to the Minister of Commerce.

Despite the list of activities excluded from foreign investment (see “Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment”), foreign minority ownership in joint ventures with Saudi partners may be allowed in some of these sectors. Foreign investors are no longer required to take local partners in many sectors and may own real estate for company activities. They are allowed to transfer money from their enterprises out of the country and can sponsor foreign employees, provided that “Saudization” quotas are met (see “Labor Section” below). Minimum capital requirements to establish business entities range from zero to 30 million Saudi riyals ($8 million), depending on the sector and the type of investment.

MISA offers detailed information on the investment process, provides licenses and support services to foreign investors, and coordinates with government ministries to facilitate investment. According to MISA, it must grant or refuse a license within five days of receiving an application and supporting documentation from a prospective investor. MISA has established and posted online its licensing guidelines, but many companies looking to invest in Saudi Arabia continue to work with local representation to navigate the bureaucratic licensing process.

MISA licenses foreign investments by sector, each with its own regulations and requirements: (i) services, which comprise a wide range of activities including IT, healthcare, and tourism; (ii) industrial, (iii) real estate, (iv) public transportation, (v) entrepreneurial, (vi) contracting, (vii) audiovisual media, (viii) science and technical office, (ix) education (colleges and universities), and (x) domestic services employment recruitment. MISA also offers several special-purpose licenses for bidding on and performance of government contracts. Foreign firms must describe their planned commercial activities in some detail and will receive a license in one of these sectors at MISA’s discretion. Depending on the type of license issued, foreign firms may also require the approval of relevant competent authorities, such as the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Tourism.

An important MISA objective is to ensure that investors do not just acquire and hold licenses without investing, and MISA sometimes cancels licenses of foreign investors that it deems do not contribute sufficiently to the local economy. MISA’s periodic license reviews, with the possibility of cancellation, add uncertainty for investors and can provide a disincentive to longer-term investment commitments.

MISA has agreements with various SAG agencies and ministries to facilitate and streamline foreign investment. These agreements permit MISA to facilitate the granting of visas, establish MISA branch offices at Saudi embassies in different countries, prolong tariff exemptions on imported raw materials to three years and on production and manufacturing equipment to two years, and establish commercial courts. To make it easier for businesspeople to visit the Kingdom, MISA can sponsor visa requests without involving a local company. Saudi Arabia has implemented a decree providing that sponsorship is no longer required for certain business visas. While MISA has set up the infrastructure to support foreign investment, many companies report that despite some improvements, the process remains cumbersome and time-consuming.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The General Authority for Competition (GAC) reviews merger transactions for competition-related concerns, investigates business conduct, including allegations of price fixing, can issue fines, and can approve applications for exemptions for certain business conduct.

The Competition law, as amended in 2019, applies to all entities operating in Saudi Arabia, and has a broad application covering all activities related to the production, distribution, purchase, and sale of commodities inside the Kingdom, as well as practices that occur outside of Saudi Arabia and that have an impact on domestic competition.

The competition law prohibits anti-competitive practices and agreements, which have as their object or effect the restriction of competition. This may include certain aspects of vertically-integrated business combinations. Consequently, companies doing business in Saudi Arabia may find it difficult to register exclusivity clauses in distribution agreements, but are not necessarily precluded from enforcing such clauses in Saudi courts.

Certain merger transactions must be notified to the GAC, and each entity involved in the merger is obligated to notify the GAC. GAC may approve, conditionally approve, or reject a merger transaction.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Embassy is not aware of any cases in Saudi Arabia of expropriation from foreign investors without adequate compensation. Some small- to medium-sized foreign investors, however, have complained that their investment licenses have been cancelled without justification, causing them to forfeit their investments.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ratified the 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards in 1994. Saudi Arabia is also a member state of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes Convention (ICSID), though under the terms of its accession it cannot be compelled to refer investment disputes to this system absent specific consent, provided on a case-by-case basis. Saudi Arabia has yet to consent to the referral of any investment dispute to the ICSID for resolution.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The use of any international or domestic dispute settlement mechanism within Saudi Arabia continues to be time-consuming and uncertain, as all outcomes are subject to a final review in the Saudi judicial system and carry the risk that principles of sharia law may potentially supersede a judgment or legal precedent. The U.S. government recommends consulting with local counsel in advance of investing to review legal options and contractual provisions for dispute resolution.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Traditionally, dispute settlement and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards in Saudi Arabia have proven time-consuming and uncertain, carrying the risk that sharia principles can potentially supersede any foreign judgments or legal precedents. Even after a decision is reached in a dispute, effective enforcement of the judgment can be lengthy. In several cases, disputes have caused serious problems for foreign investors. In cases of alleged fraud or debt, foreign partners may also be jailed to prevent their departure from the country while awaiting police investigation or court adjudication. Courts can in theory impose precautionary restraint on personal property pending the adjudication of a commercial dispute, though this remedy has been applied sparingly.

The SAG has demonstrated a commitment to improve the quality of commercial legal proceedings and access to alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. Local attorneys indicate that the quality of final judgments in the court system has improved, but that cases still take too long to litigate. The Saudi Center for Commercial Arbitration (SCCA) offers comprehensive arbitration services to domestic and international firms. The SCCA reports that both domestic and foreign law firms have begun to include referrals to the SCCA in the arbitration clauses of their contracts. However, it is currently too early to assess the quality and effectiveness of SCCA proceedings, as the SCCA is still in the early stages of operation. Awards rendered by the SCCA can be enforced in local courts, though judges remain empowered to reject enforcement of provisions they deem noncompliant with sharia law.

In December 2017, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) recognized Saudi Arabia as a jurisdiction that has adopted an arbitration law based on the 2006 UNCITRAL Model Arbitration Law. UNCITRAL took this step after Saudi judges clarified that sharia would not affect the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards. In May 2020, Saudi Arabia ratified the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation, also known as the “Singapore Convention on Mediation,” becoming the fourth state to ratify the Convention. As a result of Saudi Arabia’s ratification, international settlement agreements falling under the Convention and involving assets located in Saudi Arabia may be enforced by Saudi Arabian courts.

Bankruptcy Regulations

In August 2018, the SAG implemented new bankruptcy legislation which seeks to “further facilitate a healthy business environment that encourages participation by foreign and domestic investors, as well as local small and medium enterprises.” The new law clarifies procedural processes and recognizes distinct creditor classes (e.g., secured creditors). The new law also includes procedures for continued operation of the distressed company via financial restructuring. Alternatively, the parties may pursue an orderly liquidation of company assets, which would be managed by a court-appointed licensed bankruptcy trustee. Saudi courts have begun to accept and hear cases under this new legislation.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Saudi Arabia’s financial policies generally facilitate the free flow of private capital and currency can be transferred in and out of the Kingdom without restriction. Saudi Arabia maintains an effective regulatory system governing portfolio investment in the Kingdom. The Capital Markets Law, passed in 2003, allows for brokerages, asset managers, and other nonbank financial intermediaries to operate in the Kingdom. The law created a market regulator, the Capital Market Authority (CMA), established in 2004, and opened the Saudi stock exchange (Tadawul) to public investment.

Since 2015, the CMA has progressively relaxed the rules applicable to qualified foreign investors, easing barriers to entry and expanding the foreign investor base. The CMA adopted regulations in 2017 permitting corporate debt securities to be listed and traded on the exchange; in March 2018, the CMA authorized government debt instruments to be listed and traded on the Tadawul. The Tadawul was incorporated into the FTSE Russell Emerging Markets Index in March 2019, resulting in a foreign capital injection of $6.8 billion. Separately, the $11 billion infusion into the Tadawul from integration into the MSCI Emerging Markets Index took place in May 2019. The Tadawul was also added to the S&P Dow Jones Emerging Market Index.

Money and Banking System

The banking system in the Kingdom is generally well-capitalized and healthy. The public has easy access to deposit-taking institutions. The legal, regulatory, and accounting systems used in the banking sector are generally transparent and consistent with international norms. In November 2020, the SAG approved the Saudi Central Bank Law, which changed the name of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) to the Saudi Central Bank. Under the new law, the Saudi Central Bank is responsible for maintaining monetary stability, promoting the stability of and enhancing confidence in the financial sector, and supporting economic growth. The Saudi Central Bank will continue to use the acronym “SAMA” due to its widespread use.

SAMA generally gets high marks for its prudential oversight of commercial banks in Saudi Arabia. SAMA is a member and shareholder of the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland.

In 2017, SAMA enhanced and updated its previous Circular on Guidelines for the Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing. The enhanced guidelines have increased alignment with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) 40 Recommendations, the nine Special Recommendations on Terrorist Financing, and relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. Saudi Arabia is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENA-FATF). In 2019, Saudi Arabia became the first Arab country to be granted full membership of the FATF, following the organization’s recognition of the Kingdom’s efforts in combating money laundering, financing of terrorism, and proliferation of arms. Saudi Arabia had been an observer member since 2015.

The SAG has authorized increased foreign participation in its banking sector over the last several years. SAMA has granted licenses to a number of new foreign banks to operate in the Kingdom, including Deutsche Bank, J.P. Morgan Chase N.A., and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC). A number of additional, CMA-licensed foreign banks participate in the Saudi market as investors or wealth management advisors. Citigroup, for example, returned to the Saudi market in early 2018 under a CMA license.

Credit is normally widely available to both Saudi and foreign entities from commercial banks and is allocated on market terms. The Saudi banking sector has one of the world’s lowest non-performing loan (NPL) ratios, roughly 2.0 percent in 2020. In addition, credit is available from several government institutions, such as the SIDF, which allocate credit based on government-set criteria rather than market conditions. Companies must have a legal presence in Saudi Arabia to qualify for credit. The private sector has access to term loans, and there have been a number of corporate issuances of sharia-compliant bonds, known as sukuk.

The New Government Tenders and Procurement Law (GTPL) was approved in 2019. The New GTPL applies to procurement by government entities and works and procurements executed outside of Saudi Arabia. The Ministry of Finance has a pivotal role under the new GTPL by setting policies and issuing directives, collating and distributing information, maintaining a list of boycotts, and approving tender and prequalification forms, contract forms, performance evaluation forms, and other documents. In 2018, the Ministry of Finance launched the Electronic Government Procurement System (Etimad Portal) to consolidate and facilitate the process of bidding and government procurement for all government sectors, enhancing transparency amongst sectors of government and among competing entities.

In 2021, SAMA introduced the new Instant Payment System (Sarie) to facilitate instant, 24/7 money transfers across local banks.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

There is no limitation in Saudi Arabia on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances of profits, debt service, capital, capital gains, returns on intellectual property, or imported inputs, other than certain withholding taxes (withholding taxes range from five percent for technical services and dividend distributions to 15 percent for transfers to related parties, and 20 percent or more for management fees). Bulk cash shipments greater than $10,000 must be declared at entry or exit points. Since 1986, when the last currency devaluation occurred, the official exchange rate has been fixed by SAMA at 3.75 Saudi riyals per U.S. dollar. Transactions typically take place using rates very close to the official rate.

Remittance Policies

Saudi Arabia is one of the largest remitting countries in the world, with roughly 75 percent of the Saudi labor force comprised of foreign workers. Remittances totaled approximately $39.9 billion in 2020. There are currently no restrictions on converting and transferring funds associated with an investment (including remittances of investment capital, dividends, earnings, loan repayments, principal on debt, lease payments, and/or management fees) into a freely usable currency at a legal market-clearing rate. There are no waiting periods in effect for remitting investment returns through normal legal channels.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development is progressively implementing a “Wage Protection System” designed to verify that expatriate workers, the predominant source of remittances, are being properly paid according to their contracts. Under this system, employers are required to transfer salary payments from a local Saudi bank account to an employee’s local bank account, from which expatriates can freely remit their earnings to their home countries.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Public Investment Fund (PIF, www.pif.gov.sa ) is the Kingdom’s officially designated sovereign wealth fund. While PIF lacks many of the attributes of a traditional sovereign wealth fund, it has evolved into the SAG’s primary investment vehicle.

Established in 1971 to channel oil wealth into economic development, the PIF has historically been a holding company for government shares in partially privatized state-owned enterprises (SOEs), including SABIC, the National Commercial Bank, Saudi Telecom Company, Saudi Electricity Company, and others. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is the chairman of the PIF and announced his intention in April 2016 to build the PIF into a $2 trillion global investment fund, relying in part on proceeds from the initial public offering of up to five percent of Saudi Aramco shares.

Since that announcement, the PIF has made a number of high-profile international investments, including a $3.5 billion investment in Uber, a commitment to invest $45 billion into Japanese SoftBank’s VisionFund, a commitment to invest $20 billion into U.S. Blackstone’s Infrastructure Fund, a $1 billion investment in U.S. electric car company Lucid Motors, and a partnership with cinema company AMC to operate movie theaters in the Kingdom. Under the Vision 2030 reform program, the PIF is financing a number of strategic domestic development projects, including: “NEOM,” a planned $500 billion project to build an “independent economic zone” in northwest Saudi Arabia; “The Line,” a $100-$200 billion project to build an environmentally friendly, carless, zero-carbon city at NEOM; “Qiddiya,” a new, large-scale entertainment, sports, and cultural complex near Riyadh; “the Red Sea Project”, a massive tourism development on the western Saudi coast; and “Amaala,” a wellness, healthy living, and meditation resort also located on the Red Sea.

At the end of 2020, the PIF reported its investment portfolio was valued at nearly $400 billion, mainly in shares of state-controlled domestic companies. In an effort to rebalance its investment portfolio, the PIF has divided its assets into six investment pools comprising local and global investments in various sectors and asset classes: Saudi holdings; Saudi sector development; Saudi real estate and infrastructure development; Saudi giga-projects; international strategic investments; and an international diversified pool of investments.

In 2021, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a new five-year strategy for the PIF. The 2021-2025 strategy will focus on launching new sectors, empowering the private sector, developing the PIF’s portfolio, achieving effective long-term investments, supporting the localization of sectors, and building strategic economic partnerships. Under the new strategy, by 2025, the PIF will invest $267 billion into the local economy, contribute $320 billion to non-oil GDP, and create 1.8 million jobs. The Crown Prince also stated that the SAG would increase the size of the PIF more than five-fold to $2 trillion by 2030. The SAG declared it is investing nearly $220 billion through PIF, the National Development Fund, and the Royal Commission for Riyadh to transform Riyadh into a global city with 15 to 20 million inhabitants by 2030 (from its current population of about 7.5 million), and expects to attract a similar amount of investment from the private sector. The PIF also plans to establish a new major airline that will complement the state-owned Saudia (formerly Saudi Arabian Airlines) and compete with other major aviation companies in the region.

The Ministry of Finance announced in 2020 that $40 billion was being transferred from the Kingdom’s foreign reserves, held by the central bank SAMA, to the PIF to fund investments. In addition to previous investments in Uber, Magic Leap, Lucid Motors, Facebook, Starbucks, Disney, Boeing, Citigroup, LiveNation, Marriott, several European energy firms, and Carnival Cruise Lines, the PIF made a number of new investments in the latter half of 2020 including equity investments in CloudKitchens, Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts, and Take-Two Interactive Software.

In practice, SAMA’s foreign reserve holdings also operate as a quasi-sovereign wealth fund, accounting for the majority of the SAG’s foreign assets. SAMA invests the Kingdom’s surplus oil revenues primarily in low-risk liquid assets, such as sovereign debt instruments and fixed-income securities. SAMA’s foreign reserves fell from $502 billion in January 2020 to $450 billion in January 2021. SAMA’s foreign reserve holdings peaked at $746 billion in mid-2014.

Though not a formal member, Saudi Arabia serves as a permanent observer to the International Working Group on Sovereign Wealth Funds.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is a growing awareness of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Saudi Arabia. The King Khalid Foundation issues annual “responsible competitiveness” awards to companies doing business in Saudi Arabia for outstanding CSR activities. In March 2021, the SAG approved the formation of a committee on corporate social responsibility in the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (https://www.state.gov/reports-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/);

Trafficking in Persons Report (https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-reporabilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings );

List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor (https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods);

Sweat & Toil: Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking Around the World (https://www.dol.gov/general/apps/ilab) and;

Comply Chain (https://www.dol.gov/ilab/complychain/).

9. Corruption

Foreign firms have identified corruption as a barrier to investment in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has a relatively comprehensive legal framework that addresses corruption, but many firms perceive enforcement as selective. The Combating Bribery Law and the Civil Service Law, the two primary Saudi laws that address corruption, provide for criminal penalties in cases of official corruption. Government employees who are found guilty of accepting bribes face 10 years in prison or fines up to one million riyals ($267,000). Ministers and other senior government officials appointed by royal decree are forbidden from engaging in business activities with their ministry or organization. Saudi corruption laws cover most methods of bribery and abuse of authority for personal interest, but not bribery between private parties. Only senior Oversight and Anti-Corruption Commission (“Nazaha”) officials are subject to financial disclosure laws. The government is considering disclosure regulations for other officials, but has yet to finalize them. Some officials have engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and perceptions of corruption persist in some sectors, but combatting corruption remains a priority.

Nazaha, originally established in 2011, is responsible for promoting transparency and combating all forms of financial and administrative corruption In December 2019, King Salman issued royal decrees consolidating the Control and Investigation Board and the Mabahith’s Administrative Investigations Directorate under the National Anti-Corruption Commission, and renamed the new entity as the Oversight and Anti-Corruption Commission (“Nazaha”). The decrees consolidated investigations and prosecutions under the new Nazaha and mandated that the Public Prosecutor’s Office transfer any ongoing corruption investigations to the newly consolidated commission. Nazaha reports directly to King Salman and has the power to dismiss a government employee even if not found guilty by the specialized anti-corruption court.

Since its reorganization, Nazaha has not shied away from prosecuting influential players whose indiscretions may previously have been ignored. Throughout 2020, Nazaha published monthly press releases detailing its arrests and investigations, often including high-ranking officials, such as generals and judges, from every ministry in the SAG. The releases are available on the Nazaha website ( http://www.nazaha.gov.sa/en/Pages/Default.aspx ).

SAMA, the central bank, oversees a strict regime to combat money laundering. Saudi Arabia’s Anti-Money Laundering Law provides for sentences up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $1.3 million. The Basic Law of Governance contains provisions on proper management of state assets and authorizes audits and investigation of administrative and financial malfeasance.

The Government Tenders and Procurement Law regulates public procurements, which are often a source of corruption. The law provides for public announcement of tenders and guidelines for the award of public contracts. Saudi Arabia is an observer of the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA)

Saudi Arabia ratified the UN Convention against Corruption in April 2013 and signed the G20 Anti-Corruption Action Plan in November 2010. Saudi Arabia was admitted to the OECD Working Group on Bribery in February 2021.

Globally, Saudi Arabia ranks 52 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2020.

Resources to Report Corruption

The National Anti-Corruption Commission’s address is:

National Anti-Corruption Commission
P.O. Box (Wasl) 7667, AlOlaya – Ghadir District
Riyadh 2525-13311
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: 0112645555
E-mail: info@nazaha.gov.sa 

Nazaha accepts complaints about corruption through its website www.nazaha.gov.sa  or mobile application.

10. Political and Security Environment

Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The King’s son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has assumed a central role in government decision-making. The Department of State regularly reviews and updates a travel advisory to apprise U.S. citizens of the security situation in Saudi Arabia and frequently reminds U.S. citizens of recommended security precautions. In addition to a Global Travel Advisory due to COVID-19, the Department of State has a current travel advisory for Saudi Arabia that was updated in August 2020. The Travel Advisory urges U.S. citizens to exercise increased caution when traveling to Saudi Arabia due to terrorism and the threat of missile and drone attacks on civilian targets and to not travel within 50 miles of the Saudi Arabia-Yemen border.

Please visit www.travel.state.gov  for further information, including the latest Travel Advisory.

Due to risks to civil aviation operating within the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman region, including Saudi Arabia, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued an advisory Notice to Airmen (NOTAM).

Singapore

Executive Summary

Singapore maintains an open, heavily trade-dependent economy. The economy is supported through unprecedented government spending and strong supply chains in key sectors, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The government’s predominantly open investment policies support a free market economy while actively managing and sustaining Singapore’s economic development. U.S. companies regularly cite transparency, business-friendly laws, tax structure, customs facilitation, intellectual property protection, and well-developed infrastructure as attractive investment climate features. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report ranked Singapore second overall in “ease of doing business,” while the World Economic Forum ranked Singapore as the most competitive economy globally. Singapore actively enforces its robust anti-corruption laws and typically ranks as the least corrupt country in Asia. In addition, Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index placed Singapore as the third-least corrupt nation globally. The U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA), which came into force in 2004, expanded U.S. market access in goods, services, investment, and government procurement, enhanced intellectual property protection, and provided for cooperation in promoting labor rights and environmental protections.

Singapore has a diversified economy that attracts substantial foreign investment in manufacturing (petrochemical, electronics, pharmaceuticals, machinery, and equipment) and services (financial, trade, and business). The government actively promotes the country as a research and development (R&D) and innovation center for businesses by offering tax incentives, research grants, and partnership opportunities with domestic research agencies. U.S. direct investment in Singapore in 2019 totaled USD 288 billion, primarily in non-bank holding companies, manufacturing, finance, and insurance. Singapore received more than double the U.S. FDI invested in any other Asian nation. The investment outlook was positive due to Singapore’s proximity to Southeast Asia’s developing economies. Singapore remains a regional hub for thousands of multinational companies and continues to maintain its reputation as a world leader in dispute resolution, financing, and project facilitation for regional infrastructure development. In 2020, U.S. companies pledged USD 6.9 billion in future investments (over half of all-investment commitments) in the country’s manufacturing and services sectors.

Singapore is poised to attract future foreign investments in digital innovation, pharmaceutical manufacturing, sustainable development, and cybersecurity. The Government of Singapore (hereafter, “the government”) is investing heavily in automation, artificial intelligence, and integrated systems under its Smart Nation banner and seeks to establish itself as a regional hub for these technologies. Singapore is also a well-established hub for medical research and device manufacturing.

Singapore relies heavily on foreign workers who make up more than 20 percent of the workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic was initially concentrated in dormitories for low-wage foreign workers in the construction and marine industries, which resulted in strict quarantine measures that brought the construction sector to a near standstill. The government tightened foreign labor policies in 2020 to encourage firms to improve productivity and employ more Singaporean workers, and lowered most companies’ quotas for mid- and low-skilled foreign workers. Cuts, which primarily target the service sector and foreign workers’ dependents, were taken despite industry concerns about skills gaps. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has introduced more programs to partially subsidize wages and the cost to firms of recruiting, hiring, and training local workers

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 3 of 178 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 2 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 8 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 287,951 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 59,590 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The government establishes clear rules that foster competition. The USSFTA enhances transparency by requiring regulatory authorities to consult with interested parties before issuing regulations, and to provide advance notice and comment periods for proposed rules, as well as to publish all regulations. Singapore’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms.

Rule-making authority is vested in the parliament to pass laws that determine the regulatory scope, purpose, rights and powers of the regulator and the legal framework for the industry. Regulatory authority is vested in government ministries or in statutory boards, which are organizations that have been given autonomy to perform an operational function by legal statutes passed as acts of parliament, and report to a specific ministry. Local laws give regulatory bodies wide discretion to modify regulations and impose new conditions, but in practice agencies use this positively to adapt incentives or other services on a case-by-case basis to meet the needs of foreign as well as domestic companies. Acts of parliament also confer certain powers on a minister or other similar persons or authorities to make rules or regulations in order to put the act into practice; these rules are known as subsidiary legislation.  National-level regulations are the most relevant for foreign businesses. Singapore, being a city-state, has no local or state regulatory layers.

Before a ministry instructs the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to draft a new bill or make an amendment to a bill, the ministry has to seek in-principle approval from the cabinet for the proposed bill. The AGC legislation division advises and helps vet or draft bills in conjunction with policymakers from relevant ministries.  Public and private consultations are often requested for proposed draft legislative amendments. Thereafter, the cabinet’s approval is required before the bill can be introduced in parliament.  All bills passed by parliament (with some exceptions) must be forwarded to the Presidential Council for Minority Rights for scrutiny, and thereafter presented to the President for assent. Only after the President has assented to the bill does it become law.

While ministries or regulatory agencies do conduct internal impact assessments of proposed regulations, there are no criteria used for determining which proposed regulations are subjected to an impact assessment, and there are no specific regulatory impact assessment guidelines. There is no independent agency tasked with reviewing and monitoring regulatory impact assessments and distributing findings to the public. The Ministry of Finance publishes a biennial Singapore Public Sector Outcomes Review (http://www.mof.gov.sg/Resources/Singapore-Public-Sector-Outcomes-Review-SPOR ), focusing on broad outcomes and indicators rather than policy evaluation. Results of scientific studies or quantitative analysis conducted in review of policies and regulations are not made publicly available.

Industry self-regulation occurs in several areas, including advertising and corporate governance.  Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) (https://asas.org.sg/), an advisory council under the Consumers Association of Singapore, administers the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice, which focuses on ensuring that advertisements are legal, decent, and truthful. Listed companies are required under the Singapore Exchange (SGX) Listing Rules to describe in their annual reports their corporate governance practices with specific reference to the principles and provisions of the Code. Listed companies must comply with the principles of the Code, and, if their practices vary from any provisions of the Code, they must note the reason for the variation and explain how the practices they have adopted are consistent with the intent of the relevant principle. The SGX plays the role of a self-regulatory organization (SRO) in listings, market surveillance, and member supervision to uphold the integrity of the market and ensure participants’ adherence to trading and clearing rules. There have been no reports of discriminatory practices aimed at foreign investors.

Singapore’s legal and accounting procedures are transparent and consistent with international norms and rank similar to the U.S. in international comparisons (http://worldjusticeproject.org/rule-of-law-index ). The prescribed accounting standards for Singapore-incorporated companies applying to be or are listed in the public market, Singapore Exchange, are known as Singapore Financial Reporting Standards (SFRS(I)), which are identical to those of the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB). Non-listed Singapore-incorporated companies can voluntarily apply for SFRS(I). Otherwise, they are required to comply with Singapore Financial Reporting Standards (SFRS), which are also aligned with those of IASB. For the use of foreign accounting standards, the companies are required to seek approval of the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA).

For foreign companies with primary listings on the Singapore Exchange, the SGX Listing Rules allow the use of alternative standards such as International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) or the U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (U.S. GAAP). Accounts prepared in accordance with IFRS or U.S. GAAP need not be reconciled to SFRS(1). Companies with secondary listings on the Singapore Exchange need only reconcile their accounts to SFRS(I), IFRS, or U.S. GAAP.

Notices of proposed legislation to be considered by parliament are published, including the text of the laws, the dates of the readings, and whether or not the laws eventually pass. The government has established a centralized Internet portal (www.reach.gov.sg ) to solicit feedback on selected draft legislation and regulations, a process that is being used with increasing frequency. There is no stipulated consultative period.  Results of consultations are usually consolidated and published on relevant websites. As noted in the “Openness to Foreign Investment” section, some U.S. companies, in particular in the telecommunications and media sectors, are concerned about the government’s lack of transparency in its regulatory and rule-making process.  However, many U.S. firms report they have opportunities to weigh in on pending legislation that affects their industries.  These mechanisms also apply to investment laws and regulations.

The Parliament of Singapore website (https://www.parliament.gov.sg/parliamentary-business/bills-introduced ) publishes a database of all bills introduced, read, and passed in Parliament in chronological order as of 2006. The contents are the actual draft texts of the proposed legislation/legislative amendments. All statutes are also publicly available in the Singapore Statutes Online website (https://sso.agc.gov.sg ). However, there is no centralized online location where key regulatory actions are published. Regulatory actions are published separately on websites of Statutory Boards.

Enforcement of regulatory offences is governed by both acts of parliament and subsidiary legislation. Enforcement powers of government statutory bodies are typically enshrined in the act of Parliament constituting that statutory body. There is accountability to Parliament for enforcement action through question time, where members of parliament may raise questions with the ministers on their respective ministries’ responsibilities.

Singapore’s judicial system and courts serve as the oversight mechanism in respect of executive action (such as the enforcement of regulatory offences) and dispense justice based on law. The Supreme Court, which is made up of the Court of Appeal and the High Court, hears both civil and criminal matters. The Chief Justice heads the Judiciary. The President appoints the Chief Justice, the Judges of Appeal and the Judges of the High Court if she, acting at her discretion, concurs with the advice of the Prime Minister.

No systemic regulatory reforms or enforcement reforms relevant to foreign investors were announced in 2020. The Monetary Authority of Singapore focuses enforcement efforts on timely disclosure of corporate information, business conduct of financial advisors, compliance with anti-money laundering/combatting the financing of terrorism requirements, deterring stock market abuse, and insider trading. In March 2019, MAS published its inaugural Enforcement Report detailing enforcement measures and publishes recent enforcement actions on its website (https://www.mas.gov.sg/regulation/enforcement/enforcement-actions ).

International Regulatory Considerations

Singapore was the 2018 chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). ASEAN is working towards the 2025 ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint aimed at achieving a single market and production base, with a free flow of goods, services, and investment within the region. While ASEAN is working towards regulatory harmonization, there are no regional regulatory systems in place; instead, ASEAN agreements and regulations are enacted through each ASEAN Member State’s domestic regulatory system.  While Singapore has expressed interest in driving intra-regional trade, the dynamics of ASEAN economies are convergent.

The WTO’s 2016 trade policy review notes that Singapore’s guiding principle for standardization is to align national standards with international standards, and Singapore is an elected member of the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) Councils. Singapore encourages the direct use of international standards whenever possible. Singapore standards (SS) are developed when there is no appropriate international standard equivalent, or when there is a need to customize standards to meet domestic requirements. At the end of 2015, Singapore had a stock of 553 SS, about 40 percent of which were references to international standards. Enterprise Singapore, the Singapore Food Agency, and the Ministry of Trade and Industry are the three national enquiry points under the TBT Agreement. There are no known reports of omissions in reporting to TBT.

A non-exhaustive list of major international norms and standards referenced or incorporated into the country’s regulatory systems include Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project, Common Reporting Standards (CRS), Basel III, EU Dual-Use Export Control Regulation, Exchange of Information on Request, 27 International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions on labor rights and governance, UN conventions, and WTO agreements.

Singapore is signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). The WTO reports that Singapore has fully implemented the TFA (https://www.tfadatabase.org/members/singapore ).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Singapore’s legal system has its roots in English common law and practice and is enforced by courts of law. The current judicial process is procedurally competent, fair, and reliable. In the 2020 Rule of Law Index by World Justice Project, it is ranked overall twelfth in the world, first on order and security, third on regulatory enforcement, third in absence of corruption, sixth on civil and criminal justice, twenty-ninth on constraints on government powers, twenty-sixth on open government, and thirty-second on fundamental rights. Singapore’s legal procedures are ranked first in the world in the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business sub-indicator on contract enforcement which measures speed, cost, and quality of judicial processes to resolve a commercial dispute. The judicial system remains independent of the executive branch and the executive does not interfere in judiciary matters.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Singapore strives to promote an efficient, business-friendly regulatory environment. Tax, labor, banking and finance, industrial health and safety, arbitration, wage, and training rules and regulations are formulated and reviewed with the interests of both foreign investors and local enterprises in mind. Starting in 2005, a Rules Review Panel, comprising senior civil servants, began overseeing a review of all rules and regulations; this process will be repeated every five years. A Pro-Enterprise Panel of high-level public sector and private sector representatives examines feedback from businesses on regulatory issues and provides recommendations to the government. (https://www.mti.gov.sg/PEP/About)

The Cybersecurity Act, which came into force in August 2018, establishes a comprehensive regulatory framework for cybersecurity. The Act provides the Commissioner of Cyber Security with powers to investigate, prevent, and assess the potential impact of cyber security incidents and threats in Singapore.  These can include requiring persons and organizations to provide requested information, requiring the owner of a computer system to take any action to assist with cyber investigations, directing organizations to remediate cyber incidents, and, if safeguards have been met, authorizing officers to enter premises, and installing software and take possession of computer systems to prevent serious cyber-attacks in the event of severe threat. The Act also establishes a framework for the designation and regulation of Critical Information Infrastructure (CII). Requirements for CII owners include a mandatory incident reporting regime, regular audits and risk assessments, and participation in national cyber security stress tests. In addition, the Act will establish a regulatory regime for cyber security service providers and required licensing for penetration testing and managed security operations center (SOC) monitoring services. U.S. business chambers have expressed concern about the effects of licensing and regularly burdens on compliance costs, insufficient checks and balances on the investigatory powers of the authorities, and the absence of a multidirectional cyber threat sharing framework that includes protections from liability. Under the law, additional measures, such as the Cybersecurity Labelling Scheme, continue to be introduced.  Authorities stress that, “in view of the need to strike a good balance between industry development and cybersecurity needs, the licensing framework will take a light-touch approach.”

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) is a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry and is tasked with administering and enforcing the Competition Act. The act contains provisions on anti-competitive agreements, decisions, and practices; abuse of dominance; enforcement and appeals process; and mergers and acquisitions. The Competition Act was enacted in 2004 in accordance with U.S-Singapore FTA commitments, which contains specific conduct guarantees to ensure that Singapore’s government linked companies (GLC) will operate on a commercial and non-discriminatory basis towards U.S. firms. GLCs with substantial revenues or assets are also subject to enhanced transparency requirements under the FTA. A 2018 addition to the act gives the CCCS additional administrative power to protect consumers against unfair trade practices.

The most recent infringement decision issued by CCCS occurred in January 2019 when three competing hotel operators, including a major British hospitality company, exchanged “commercially sensitive” information. The operators were fined a total financial penalty of $1.1 million for conduct potentially resulting in reduced competitive pressure on the market. No other cases tied to commercial behavior in 2019 or the first quarter of 2020 have received penalties from CCCS.

Expropriation and Compensation

Singapore has not expropriated foreign-owned property and has no laws that force foreign investors to transfer ownership to local interests. Singapore has signed investment promotion and protection agreements with a wide range of countries. These agreements mutually protect nationals or companies of either country against certain non-commercial risks, such as expropriation and nationalization and remain in effect unless otherwise terminated. The USSFTA contains strong investor protection provisions relating to expropriation of private property and the need to follow due process; provisions are in place for an owner to receive compensation based on fair market value. No disputes are pending.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Singapore is party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) and the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitration Awards (1958 New York Convention). Singapore passed an Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act to implement the ICSID Convention in 1968. Singapore acceded to the 1958 New York Convention in August 1986 and gives effect to it via the International Arbitration Act (IAA). The 1958 New York Convention is annexed to the IAA as the Second Schedule. Singapore is bound to recognize awards made in any other country that is a signatory to the 1958 New York Convention. ( http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=3f833e8e-722a-4fca-8393-f35e59ed1440 )

Domestic arbitration in Singapore is governed by the Arbitration Act (Cap 10). The Arbitration Act was enacted to align the laws applicable to domestic arbitration with the model law.

Singapore is also a party to the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation, further referred to as the “Convention.” This Convention provides a process for parties to enforce or invoke an international commercial mediated settlement agreement once the conditions and requirements of the Convention are met. Singapore has put in place domestic legislation, the Singapore Convention on Mediation Bill 2020, which was passed in Parliament on 4 February 2020. On 25 February 2020, Singapore and Fiji were the first two countries to deposit their respective instruments of ratification of the Convention at the United Nations Headquarters. The Convention will enter into force six months after the third State deposits its instrument of ratification, acceptance and approval or accession. Singapore’s arbitration center settled a record high number of cases in 2020 and opened a New York City office.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

After Singapore’s accession to the New York Convention of 1958 on August 21, 1986, it re-enacted most of its provisions in Part III of the IAA. By acceding to the New York Convention, Singapore is bound to recognize awards made in any other country that is a signatory to the Convention. Singapore is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and, under the Reciprocal Enforcement of Commonwealth Judgments Act (RECJA), recognizes judgments made in the United Kingdom, as well as jurisdictions that are part of the Commonwealth and with which Singapore has reciprocal arrangements for the recognition and enforcement of judgments. The Act lists the countries with which such arrangements exist, and of the 53 countries that are members of the Commonwealth, nine have been listed. ( https://sso.agc.gov.sg/SL/RECJA1921-N1?DocDate=19990701 ) Singapore also has reciprocal recognition of foreign judgements with Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.

Singapore is party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention). Singapore passed an Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act to implement the ICSID Convention in 1968. The ICSID Convention has an enforcement mechanism for arbitration awards rendered pursuant to ICSID rules that is separate from the 1958 arbitration awards rendered pursuant to ICSID rules that is separate from the 1958 New York Convention. Investor-State dispute settlement provisions in Singapore’s trade agreements, including the USSFTA, refer to ICSIID rules as one of the possible options for resolving disputes. Investor-State arbitration under rules other than ICSID’s would result in an arbitration award that may be enforced using the 1958 New York Convention.

Singapore has had no investment disputes with U.S. persons or other foreign investors in the past ten years that have proceeded to litigation. Any disputes settled by arbitration/mediation would remain confidential. There have been no claims made by U.S. investors under the USSFTA. There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors. The government is investing in establishing Singapore as a global mediation hub.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Dispute resolution (DR) institutions include the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC), Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC), and the Singapore Chamber of Maritime Arbitration (SCMA). Singapore’s extensive dispute resolution institutions and integrated dispute resolution facilities at Maxwell Chambers have contributed to its development as a regional hub for alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. The SIAC is the major arbitral institution and its increasing caseload reflects Singapore’s policy of encouraging the use of alternative modes of dispute resolution, including arbitration.

Arbitral awards in Singapore, for either domestic or international arbitration, are legally binding and enforceable in Singapore domestic courts, as well as in jurisdictions that have ratified the 1958 New York Convention.

The International Arbitration Act (IAA) regulates international arbitrations in Singapore. Domestic arbitrations are regulated by the Arbitration Act (AA). The IAA is heavily based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law, with a few significant differences. For example, arbitration agreements must be in writing. This requirement is deemed to be satisfied if the content is recorded in any form, including electronic communication, regardless of whether the arbitration agreement was concluded orally, by conduct, or by other means (e.g. an arbitration clause in a contract or a separate agreement can be incorporated into a contract by reference). The AA is also primarily based on the UNCITRAL Model Law. There have been no reported complaints about the partiality or transparency of court processes in investment and commercial disputes.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Singapore has bankruptcy laws allowing both debtors and creditors to file a bankruptcy claim. Singapore ranks number 27 for resolving insolvency in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Index. While Singapore performed well in recovery rate and time of recovery following bankruptcies, the country did not score well on cost of proceedings or insolvency frameworks. In particular, the insolvency framework does not require approval by the creditors for sale of substantial assets of the debtor or approval by the creditors for selection or appointment of the insolvency representative.

Singapore has made several reforms to enhance corporate rescue and restructuring processes, including features from Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Amendments to the Companies Act, which came into force in May 2017, include additional disclosure requirements by debtors, rescue financing provisions, provisions to facilitate the approval of pre-packaged restructurings, increased debtor protections, and cram-down provisions that will allow a scheme to be approved by the court even if a class of creditors oppose the scheme, provided the dissenting class of creditors are not unfairly prejudiced by the scheme.

The Insolvency, Restructuring and Dissolution Act passed in 2018, but the expected effective date of the bill has been delayed from the first half of 2019 into 2020. It updates the insolvency legislation and introduces a significant number of new provisions, particularly with respect to corporate insolvency. It mandates licensing, qualifications, standards, and disciplinary measures for insolvency practitioners. It also includes standalone voidable transaction provisions for corporate insolvency and, a new wrongful trading provision. The act allows ‘out of court’ commencement of judicial management, permits judicial managers to assign the proceeds of certain insolvency related claims, restricts the operation of contractual ‘ipso facto clauses’ upon the commencement of certain restructuring and insolvency procedures, and modifies the operation of the scheme of arrangement cross class ‘cram down’ power. Authorities continue to seek public consultations of subsidiary legislation to be drafted under the act.

Two MAS-recognized consumer credit bureaus operate in Singapore: the Credit Bureau (Singapore) Pte Ltd and Experian Credit Bureau Singapore Pte Ltd. U.S. industry advocates enhancements to Singapore’s credit bureau system, in particular, adoption of an open admission system for all lenders, including non-banks. Bankruptcy is not criminalized in Singapore. ( https://www.acra.gov.sg/CA_2017/ )

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The government takes a favorable stance towards foreign portfolio investment and fixed asset investments. While it welcomes capital market investments, the government has introduced macro-prudential policies aimed at reducing foreign speculative inflows in the real estate sector since 2009. The government promotes Singapore’s position as an asset and wealth management center, and assets under management grew 5.4 percent in 2018 to USD 2.4 trillion (SD 3.4 trillion) – the latest year for which MAS conducted a survey.

The Government of Singapore facilitates the free flow of financial resources into product and factor markets, and the Singapore Exchange (SGX) is Singapore’s stock market. An effective regulatory system exists to encourage and facilitate portfolio investment. Credit is allocated on market terms and foreign investors can access credit, U.S. dollars, Singapore dollars (SGD), and other foreign currencies on the local market. The private sector has access to a variety of credit instruments through banks operating in Singapore. The government respects IMF Article VIII by refraining from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.

Money and Banking System

Singapore’s banking system is sound and well regulated by MAS, and the country serves as a financial hub for the region. Banks have a very high domestic penetration rate, and according to World Bank Financial Inclusion indicators, over 97 percent of persons held a financial account in 2017. (latest year available). Local Singapore banks saw net profits rise 27 percent in the last quarter of 2019. Banks are statutorily prohibited from engaging in non-financial business. Banks can hold 10 percent or less in non-financial companies as an “equity portfolio investment.” At the end of 2019, the non-performing loans ratio (NPL ratio) of the three local banks remained at an averaged 1.5 percent since the last quarter of 2018.

Foreign banks require licenses to operate in the country. The tiered licenses, for Merchant, Offshore, Wholesale, Full Banks and Qualifying Full Banks (QFBs) subject banks to further prudential safeguards in return for offering a greater range of services. U.S. financial institutions enjoy phased-in benefits under the USSFTA. Since 2006, U.S.-licensed full-service banks that are also QFBs have been able to operate at an unlimited number of locations (branches or off-premises ATMs) versus 25 for non-U.S. full service foreign banks with QFB status.

Under the OECD Common Reporting Standards (CRS), which has been in effect since January 2017, Singapore-based Financial Institutions (SGFIs) – depository institutions such as banks, specified insurance companies, investment entities, and custodial institutions – are required to: 1) establish the tax residency status of all their account holders; 2) collect and retain CRS information for all non-Singapore tax residents in the case of new accounts; and 3) report to tax authorities the financial account information of account holders who are tax residents of jurisdictions with which Singapore has a Competent Authority Agreement (CAA) to exchange the information. As of December 2019, Singapore has established more than 80 exchange relationships, include with the United States, established in September 2018.

U.S. financial regulations do not restrict foreign banks’ ability to hold accounts for U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens are encouraged to alert the nearest U.S. Embassy of any practices they encounter with regard to the provision of financial services.

Fintech investments in Singapore rose from USD 365 million in 2018 to USD 861 million in 2019. To strengthen Singapore’s position as a global Fintech hub, MAS has created a dedicated Fintech Office as a one-stop virtual entity for all Fintech-related matters to enable experimentation and promote an open-API (Application Programming Interfaces) in the financial industry. Investment in payments start-ups accounted for about 40 percent of all funds. Singapore has more than 50 innovation labs established by global financial institutions and technology companies.

MAS also aims to be a regional leader in blockchain technologies and has worked to position Singapore as a financial technology center. MAS and the Association of Banks in Singapore are prototyping the use of Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) for inter-bank clearing and settlement of payments and securities. Following a five-year collaborative project to understand the technology, a test network launched to facilitate collaboration in the cross-border blockchain ecosystem. Technical specifications for the functionalities and connectivity interfaces of the prototype network are publicly available. ( https://www.mas.gov.sg/schemes-and-initiatives/Project-Ubin ).

Alternative financial services include retail and corporate non-bank lending via finance companies, cooperative societies, and pawnshops; and burgeoning financial technology-based services across a wide range of sectors including: crowdfunding, initial coin offerings, and payment services and remittance. In January 2020, the Payment Services Bill went into effect, which will require all cryptocurrency service providers to be licensed with the intent to provide more user protection. Smaller payment firms will receive a different classification from larger institutions and will be less heavily regulated. Key infrastructure supporting Singapore’s financial market include interbank (MEP), Foreign exchange (CLS, CAPS), retail (SGDCCS, USDCCS, CTS, IBG, ATM, FAST, NETS, EFTPOS), securities (MEPS+-SGS, CDP, SGX-DC) and derivatives settlements (SGX-DC, APS) ( https://www.mas.gov.sg/regulation/payments/payment-systems )

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The USSFTA commits Singapore to the free transfer of capital, unimpeded by regulatory restrictions. Singapore places no restrictions on reinvestment or repatriation of earnings and capital, and maintains no significant restrictions on remittances, foreign exchange transactions and capital movements.

Singapore’s monetary policy has been centered on the management of the exchange rate since 1981, with the stated primary objective of promoting medium term price stability as a sound basis for sustainable economic growth. As described by MAS, there are three main features of the exchange rate system in Singapore: 1) MAS operates a managed float regime for the Singapore dollar with the trade-weighted exchange rate allowed to fluctuate within a policy band; 2) the Singapore dollar is managed against a basket of currencies of its major trading partners; and 3) the exchange rate policy band is periodically reviewed to ensure that it remains consistent with the underlying fundamentals of the economy.

Remittance Policies

There are no time or amount limitations on remittances. No significant changes to investment remittance were implemented or announced over the past year. Local and foreign banks may impose their own limitations on daily remittances.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Government of Singapore has three key investment entities: GIC Private Limited (GIC) is the sovereign wealth fund in Singapore that manages the government’s substantial foreign investments, fiscal, and foreign reserves, with the stated objective to achieve long-term returns and preserve the international purchasing power of the reserves. Temasek is a holding company wholly owned by the Ministry of Finance with investments in Singapore and abroad. MAS, as the central bank of Singapore, manages the Official Foreign Reserves, and a significant proportion of its portfolio is invested in liquid financial market instruments.

GIC does not publish the size of the funds under management, but some industry observers estimate its managed assets may exceed $400 billion. GIC does not invest domestically, but manages Singapore’s international investments, which are generally passive (non-controlling) investments in publicly traded entities. The United States is its top investment destination, accounting for 34 percent of GIC’s portfolio as of March 2020, while Asia (excluding Japan) accounts for 19 percent, the Eurozone 13 percent, Japan 13 percent, and UK 6 percent. Investments in the United States are diversified and include industrial and commercial properties, student housing, power transmission companies, and financial, retail and business services. GIC is a member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds. Although not required by law, GIC has published an annual report since 2008.

Temasek began as a holding company for Singapore’s state-owned enterprises, now GLCs, but has since branched out to other asset classes and often holds significant stake in companies. As of March 2020, Temasek’s portfolio value reached $226 billion, and its asset exposure to Singapore is 24 percent; 42 percent in the rest of Asia, and 17 percent in North America. According to the Temasek Charter, Temasek delivers sustainable value over the long term for its stakeholders. Temasek has published a Temasek Review annually since 2004. The statements only provide consolidated financial statements, which aggregate all of Temasek and its subsidiaries into a single financial report. A major international audit firm audits Temasek Group’s annual statutory financial statements. GIC and Temasek uphold the Santiago Principles for sovereign investments.

Other investing entities of government funds include EDB Investments Pte Ltd, Singapore’s Housing Development Board, and other government statutory boards with funding decisions driven by goals emanating from the central government.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The awareness and implementation of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Singapore has been increasing since the formation of the Global Compact Network Singapore (GCNS) under the United Nations Global Compact network, with the goals of encouraging companies to adopt sustainability principles related to human and labor rights, environmental conservation, and anti-corruption. GCNS facilitates exchanges, conducts research, and provides training in Singapore to build capacity in areas including sustainability reporting, supply chain management, ISO 26000, and measuring and reporting carbon emissions.

A 2019 World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature survey showed a lack of transparency by Singapore companies in disclosing palm oil sources. However, there is growing awareness and the Southeast Asia Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil (Saspo) has received additional pledges in by companies to adhere to standards for palm oil sourcing set by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). A group of food and beverage, retail, and hospitality companies announced in January 2019 what the WWF calls “the most impactful business response to-date on plastics.” The pact, initiated by WWF and supported by the National Environment Agency, is a commitment to significantly reduce plastic production and usage by 2030.

In June 2016, the Singapore Exchange (SGX) introduced mandatory, comply-or-explain, sustainability reporting requirements for all listed companies, including material environmental, social and governance practices, from the financial year ending December 31, 2017 onwards. The Singapore Environmental Council (SEC) operates a green labeling scheme, which endorses environmentally friendly products, numbering over 3,000 from 2729 countries. The Association of Banks in Singapore has issued voluntary guidelines to banks in Singapore last updated in July 2018 encouraging them to adopt sustainable lending practices, including the integration of environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles into their lending and business practices. Singapore-based banks are listed in a 2018 Market Forces report as major lenders in regional coal financing.

Singapore has not developed a National Action Plan on business and human rights, but promotes responsible business practices, and encourages foreign and local enterprises to follow generally accepted CSR principles. The government does not explicitly factor responsible business conduct (RBC) policies into its procurement decisions.

The host government effectively and fairly enforces domestic laws with regard to human rights, labor rights, consumer protection, environmental protections, and other laws/regulations intended to protect individuals from adverse business impacts. The private sector’s impact on migrant workers and their rights, and domestic migrant workers in particular (due to the latter’s exemption from the Employment Act which stipulates the rights of workers), remains an area of advocacy by civil society groups. The government has taken incremental steps to improve the channels of redress and enforcement of migrant workers’ rights; however, key concerns about legislative protections remain unaddressed for domestic migrant workers. The government generally encourages businesses to comply with international standards. However, there are no specific mentions of the host government encouraging adherence to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance, or supply chain due diligence measures.

The Companies Act principally governs companies in Singapore. Key areas of corporate governance covered under the act include separation of ownership from management, fiduciary duties of directors, shareholder remedies, and capital maintenance rules. Limited liability partnerships are governed by the Limited Liability Partnerships Act. Certain provisions in other statutes such as the Securities and Futures Act are also relevant to listed companies. Listed companies are required under the Singapore Exchange Listing Rules to describe in their annual reports their corporate governance practices with specific reference to the principles and provisions of the Code of Corporate Governance (“Code”). Listed companies must comply with the principles of the Code and if their practices vary from any provision in the Code, they must explain the variation and demonstrate the variation is consistent with the relevant principle. The revised Code of Corporate Governance will impact Annual Reports covering financial years from January 1, 2019 onward. The revised code encourages board renewal, strengthens director independence, increases transparency of remuneration practices, enhances board diversity, and encourages communication with all stakeholders. MAS also established an independent Corporate Governance Advisory Committee (CGAC) to advocated good corporate governance practices in February 2019. The CGAC monitors companies’ implementation of the code and advises regulators on corporate governance issues.

There are independent NGOs promoting and monitoring RBC. Those monitoring or advocating around RBC are generally able to do their work freely within most areas. However, labor unions are tightly controlled and legal rights to strike are granted with restrictions under the Trade Disputes Act.

Singapore has no oil, gas, or mineral resources and is not a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). A small sector in Singapore processes rare minerals and complies with responsible supply chains and conflict mineral principles. Under the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) framework, it is a requirement for Corporate Service Providers to develop and implement internal policies, procedures and controls to comply with Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations on combating of money laundering and terrorism financing.

Additional Resources 

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Resources to Report Corruption

Singapore actively enforces its strong anti-corruption laws, and corruption is not cited as a concern for foreign investors. Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index ranks Singapore third of 178 countries globally, the highest-ranking Asian country. The Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), and the Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act provide the legal basis for government action by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), which is the only agency authorized under the PCA to investigate corruption offences and other related offences. These laws cover acts of corruption within Singapore as well as those committed by Singaporeans abroad. The anti-corruption laws extend to family members of officials, and to political parties. The CPIB is effective and non-discriminatory. Singapore is generally perceived to be one of the least corrupt countries in the world, and corruption is not identified as an obstacle to foreign direct investment in Singapore. Recent corporate fraud scandals, particularly in the commodity trading sector, have been publicly, swiftly, and firmly reprimanded by the government. Singapore is a signatory to the UN Anticorruption Convention, but not the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

Resources to Report Corruption

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

Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau
2 Lengkok Bahru, Singapore 159047
+65 6270 0141  info@cpib.gov.sg

Contact at a “watchdog” organization:

Transparency International
Alt-Moabit 96
10559 Berlin, Germany +49 30 3438 200

10. Political and Security Environment

Singapore’s political environment is stable and there is no recent history of incidents involving politically motivated damage to foreign investments in Singapore. The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has dominated Singapore’s parliamentary government since 1959 and currently controls 83 of the 89 regularly contested parliamentary seats. Singaporean opposition parties, which currently hold six regularly contested parliamentary seats and three additional seats reserved to the opposition by the constitution, do not usually espouse views that are radically different from mainstream public opinion.

South Korea

Executive Summary

The Republic of Korea (ROK) offers foreign investors political stability, public safety, world-class infrastructure, a highly skilled workforce, and a dynamic private sector.  Following market liberalization measures in the 1990s, foreign portfolio investment has grown steadily, exceeding 36 percent of the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) total market capitalization as of February 2021.

Studies by the Korea International Trade Association, however, have shown that the ROK underperforms in attracting FDI relative to the size and sophistication of its economy due to a complicated, opaque, and country-specific regulatory framework, even as low-cost producers, most notably China, have eroded the ROK’s competitiveness in the manufacturing sector.  A more benign regulatory environment will be crucial to foster innovations such as fifth generation (5G) mobile communications that enable smart manufacturing, autonomous vehicles, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things – technologies that could fail to mature under restrictive regulations that do not align with global standards.  The ROK government has taken steps to address regulatory issues over the last decade, notably with the establishment of a Foreign Investment Ombudsman to address the concerns of foreign investors.  In 2019, the ROK government created a “regulatory sandbox” program to spur creation of new products in the financial services, energy, and tech sectors.  Industry observers recommend additional procedural steps to improve the investment climate, including Regulatory Impact Analyses (RIAs) and wide solicitation of substantive feedback from foreign investors and other stakeholders.

The revised U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) entered into force January 1, 2019, and helps secure U.S. investors broad access to the ROK market.  Types of investment assets protected under KORUS include equity, debt, concessions, and intellectual property rights.  With a few exceptions, U.S. investors are treated the same as ROK investors in the establishment, acquisition, and operation of investments in the ROK.  Investors may elect to bring claims against the government for alleged breaches of trade rules under a transparent international arbitration mechanism.

The ROK’s COVID-19 response has been exemplary, serving as a global role model.  It has been science-driven, with the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency leading from day one; transparent, with public health experts briefing the public almost every day; and trusted, with public compliance on social distancing guidelines, including universal mask-wearing.  Largely due to successful handling of COVID-19, including through sound fiscal and monetary responses, the ROK was able to manage the pandemic without shutting down the economy, and GDP dropped a mere one percent in 2020.  The ROK government was also aggressive in pursuing economic stimulus, devoting more than USD 220 billion to stimulus in 2020.  As a result, the Korean domestic economy fared better than nearly all its OECD peers.  The risk of a COVID resurgence still looms, and Korea’s export-oriented economy remains vulnerable to external shocks, including supply chain disruptions, going forward.  The attention of the public, the government, and the health establishment has now turned to the task and logistics of mass vaccination.  In late February, the Moon administration launched the vaccination program nationwide, with the goal of achieving herd immunity by November.  President Moon has promised to inoculate all residents for free in 2021, beginning with front-line healthcare workers.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 33 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/cpi2020
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 5 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 10 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $61,822 https://www.selectusa.gov/servlet/servlet.FileDownload?file=015t0000000LKNs

https://www.bea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-07/dici0720_0.pdf

World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $33,790 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

ROK regulatory transparency has improved, due in part to Korea’s membership in the WTO and negotiated FTAs.  However, the foreign business community continues to face numerous rules and regulations unique to the ROK.  National Assembly legislation on environmental protection or the promotion of SMEs has created new trade barriers that disadvantage foreign companies.  Also, some laws and regulations lack sufficient detail and are subject to differing interpretations by government regulatory officials.  In other cases, ministries issue non-legally binding guidelines on implementation of regulations, yet these become the bases for legal decisions in ROK courts.  Regulatory authorities also issue oral or internal guidelines or other legally-enforceable dictates that prove burdensome for foreign firms.  Intermittent ROK government deregulation plans to eliminate oral guidelines or impose the same level of regulatory review as written regulations have not led to concrete changes.  Despite KORUS FTA provisions designed to address transparency issues, they remain persistent and prominent.

The ROK constitution allows both the legislative and executive branches to introduce bills.  Ministries draft subordinate statutes (presidential decrees, ministerial decrees, and administrative rules), which largely govern the procedural matters addressed by the respective laws.  Administrative agencies shape policies and draft bills on matters within their respective jurisdictions.  Drafting ministries must clearly define policy goals and complete regulatory impact assessments (RIAs).  When a ministry drafts a regulation, it must consult with other relevant ministries before it releases the regulation for public comment.  The constitution also allows local governments to exercise self-rule legislative authority to draft ordinances and rules within the scope of federal acts and subordinate statutes.  The enactment of laws and their subordinate statutes, ranging from the drafting of bills to their promulgation, must follow formal ROK legislative procedures in accordance with the Regulation on Legislative Process enacted by the Ministry of Government Legislation.  Since 2011, all publicly listed companies must follow International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS, or K-IFRS in the ROK).  The Korea Accounting Standards Board facilitates ROK government endorsement and adoption of IFRS and sets accounting standards for companies not subject to IFRS.  According to the Administrative Procedures Act, authorities proposing laws and regulations (acts, presidential decrees, or ministerial decrees) must seek public comments at least 40 days prior to their promulgation.  Regulations are sometimes promulgated after only the minimum required comment period and with minimal consultation with industry.

Regulatory changes originating from legislation proposed by members of the National Assembly are not subject to public comment periods.  As a result, 80 percent of all new regulations are written and passed by the National Assembly without rigorous consideration of possible effects or solicitation of public comments.  The Official Gazette and the websites of relevant ministries and the National Assembly simultaneously post the Korean language text of draft acts and regulations, accompanied by executive summaries, for a 40-day comment period.  Comments are not made public, and firms may struggle to translate complex documentation, analyze, and respond adequately before the expiration of this period.  After the comment period, the Ministry of Government Legislation reviews the laws and regulations to ensure they conform to the constitution and monitors government adherence to the Regulation on Legislative Process.  While the Regulatory Reform Committee (RRC) reviews all laws and regulations to minimize government intervention in the economy and to abolish all economic regulations that fall short of international standards or hamper national competitiveness, the committee has been less active in recent years.

In January 2019, Korea introduced a “regulatory sandbox” program intended to reduce the regulatory burden on companies that seek to test innovative ideas, products, and services.  Depending on the business sector in which a particular proposal falls, either MOTIE, the Ministry of Science and ICT, or the Financial Services Commission manages the program.  The program is open to Korean companies and foreign companies with Korean branch offices.  Websites and applications are only available in Korean.  The business community has welcomed this effort by regulators to spur innovation.

The ROK government enforces regulations through penalties (either fines or criminal charges) in the case of violations of the law.  The government’s enforcement actions can be challenged through an appeal process or administrative litigation.  The CEOs of local branches can be held legally responsible for all actions of their company and at times have been arrested and charged for their companies’ infractions.  Foreign CEOs have cited this as a significant burden to their business operations in Korea.

The ROK’s public finances and debt obligations are generally transparent, with the exception of state-owned enterprise debt.

International Regulatory Considerations

The ROK has revised local regulations to implement commitments under international treaties and trade agreements.  Treaties duly concluded and promulgated in accordance with the constitution and the generally recognized rules of international law are accorded the same standing as domestic laws.  ROK officials consistently express intent to harmonize standards with global norms by benchmarking the United States and the EU.  The U.S., U.K., and Australian governments exchange regulatory reform best practices with the ROK government to encourage local regulators to employ more regulatory analytics, increase transparency, and improve compliance with international standards; however, unique local rules and regulations continue to pose difficulties for foreign companies operating in the ROK.  The ROK is a member of the WTO and notifies the Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade of all draft technical regulations.  The ROK is also a signatory of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).  The ROK amended the ministerial decree of the Customs Act in 2015, creating a committee charged with implementing the TFA.  The ROK is a global leader of modernized and streamlined procedures for transportation and customs clearance.  Industry sources report the Korea Customs Service enforces rules of origin issues largely in compliance with ROK obligations under its free trade agreements.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The ROK legal system is based on civil law.  Subdivisions within the district and high courts govern commercial activities and bankruptcies and enforce property and contractual rights with monetary judgments, usually levied in the domestic currency.  The ROK has a written commercial law, and matters regarding contracts are covered by the Civil Act.  There are also three specialized courts in the ROK: patent, family, and administrative courts.  The ROK court system is independent and not subject to government interference in cases that may affect foreign investors.  Foreign court judgments, with the exception of foreign arbitral rulings that meet certain conditions, are not enforceable in the ROK.  Rulings by district courts can be appealed to higher courts and to the Supreme Court.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The ROK has a transparent legal system with a strong rule-of-law tradition and an independent judiciary.  FIPA is the principal basic law pertaining to foreign investment in the ROK.  The Invest KOREA website (http://investkorea.org) provides information on relevant laws, rules, and procedures for foreign investment in the ROK.

Laws and regulations enacted within the past year include:

  • On August 5, 2020, three new data protection laws took effect: the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA), the Promotion of Information Communications Network Utilization and Information Protection Act (the “Network Act”), and the Use and Protection of Credit Information Act (the “Credit Information Act”).  These laws are intended to strengthen privacy rights by reducing unnecessary collection of personal information and prohibiting its unauthorized use or disclosure.
  • On April 6, 2021, an amended Labor Standards Act (LSA) took effect. The amendments modify certain restrictions on allowable work hours for employees and add certain health and safety requirements for overtime labor.

Key pending/proposed laws and regulations as of April 2021 include:

  • On September 28, 2020, the Ministry of Justice proposed bills expanding the scope of class action lawsuits and to provide for punitive damages.
  • On December 9, 2020, the National Assembly passed amendments to the Trade Union and Labor Relations Adjustment Act (TULRAA). The revised TULRAA is intended to bring ROK law into compliance with International Labor Organization standards and is scheduled to take effect on July 6, 2021.
  • On January 6, 2021, the Personal Information Protection Committee (PIPC) of the National Assembly proposed an amendment to the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) to define how businesses may use personal information and to strengthen protection of personal information.
  • On January 8, 2021, the National Assembly passed the Serious Accident Penalty Act (SAPA), to take effect one year after promulgation. The SAPA establishes new health-and-safety obligations for businesses and executives and imposes stiff penalties on those that fail to comply.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Monopoly Regulation and Fair Trade Act (MRFTA) authorizes the Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) to review and regulate competition and consumer safety matters.

KFTC has a broad mandate that includes promoting competition, strengthening consumers’ rights, and creating a suitable environment for SMEs.  In addition to investigating corporate and financial restructuring, the KFTC can levy sizeable administrative fines for violations of law and for failure to cooperate with investigators.  Decisions by KFTC are subject to appeal in Korean courts.  As part of KORUS implementation, KFTC instituted a “consent decree” process in 2014, whereby firms can settle disputes with KFTC without resorting to the court system.

Over the last several years, a number of U.S. firms have raised concerns that KFTC targets foreign companies with aggressive enforcement.  An amendment to the MRFTA in September 2020 improved the administrative decision-making process by the KFTC, including permitting access to confidential business information, limited to outside legal counsel, in order to protect possible trade secrets.

Expropriation and Compensation

The ROK follows generally-accepted principles of international law with respect to expropriation.  ROK law protects foreign-invested enterprise property from expropriation or requisition.  Private property can be expropriated for public purposes such as urban redevelopment, new industrial complexes, or constructing roads, and claimants are afforded due process and compensation.  Private property expropriation in the ROK for public use is generally conducted in a non-discriminatory manner, with claimants compensated at or above market value.  Embassy Seoul is aware of one case in which a U.S. investor filed an investor-state dispute lawsuit in 2018 against the ROK government, claiming that the government had violated the KORUS FTA in expropriating the investor’s land.  The case was dismissed in the ROK judicial system on jurisdictional grounds in September 2019.  The ROK government allotted USD 20 billion in its 2019 budget for land expropriation – a 38 percent increase from the previous year.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

The ROK acceded to the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in 1967 and the New York Arbitration Convention in 1973.  While there are no specific domestic laws on enforcement, South Korean courts have made rulings based on the ROK’s membership in the conventions.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The ROK is a member of the International Commercial Arbitration Association and the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency.  These bodies can call upon ROK courts to enforce an arbitrated settlement.  When drafting contracts, some firms choose arbitration by a third party such as the International Commercial Arbitration Association.  Companies have access to local expert legal counsel when drawing up contracts with a South Korean entity.  The KORUS FTA contains strong, enforceable investment provisions.  The United States also has a bilateral Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation with the ROK with general provisions pertaining to business relations and investment.  Foreign court judgments, with the exception of foreign arbitral rulings that meet certain conditions, are not enforceable in the ROK.  There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.  As noted above, one U.S. investor filed an investor-state dispute (ISD) lawsuit in 2018 against the ROK government, claiming that the government had violated the KORUS FTA in expropriating the investor’s land.  The case was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds in September 2019.  A U.S. activist fund submitted a notice of arbitration over an ISD pertaining to the KORUS FTA, also in 2018.  This firm claimed to have suffered serious financial losses due to the merger of two large conglomerates, stating the ROK government illicitly intervened by mobilizing the National Pension Service as a large shareholder in the process of approving the merger.  Another U.S. investor filed for arbitration seeking compensation for losses incurred from the same controversial merger.  Both cases are pending before a United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) tribunal.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

ROK civil courts can adjudicate commercial disputes, though foreign firms note the following impediments to litigation:

  • Proceedings are conducted in Korean;
  • ROK law prohibits foreign lawyers who have not passed the Korean Bar Examination from representing clients in ROK courts;
  • Civil procedures common in the United States such as pretrial discovery do not exist in the ROK; and
  • During litigation of a dispute, courts may bar foreign citizens from leaving the country until the court reaches a decision.

Due to the expense and time required to obtain judgement, lawsuits are generally initiated only as a last resort, signaling the end of a business relationship.  ROK law governs commercial activities and bankruptcies, with the judiciary serving as the means to enforce property and contractual rights, usually through monetary judgments levied in the domestic currency.

Firms may also bring commercial disputes before the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board (KCAB).  The Korean Arbitration Act and its implementing rules outline the following sequential steps in the arbitration process: 1) Parties may request the KCAB to act as an informal intermediary to a settlement; 2) if informal arbitration is unsuccessful, either or both parties may request formal arbitration, in which the KCAB appoints a mediator to conduct conciliatory talks for 30 days; and 3) if formal arbitration is unsuccessful, the KCAB assigns an arbitration panel consisting of one-to-three arbitrators to decide the case.  If either party is not resident in the ROK, either may request an arbitrator from a neutral country.  If foreign arbitral awards or foreign court rulings meet the requirements of Civil Procedure Act Article 217, local courts can enforce their terms.  ROK authorities emphasize non-discriminatory arbitration of disputes, but statistics on outcomes are unavailable.  Embassy Seoul is not aware of statistics on court rulings on investment disputes with state-owned enterprises.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Debtor Rehabilitation and Bankruptcy Act (DRBA) stipulates that bankruptcy is a court-managed liquidation procedure where both domestic and foreign entities are afforded equal treatment.  The procedure commences after a filing by a debtor, creditor, or a group of creditors, and determination by the court that a company is bankrupt.  The court designates a Custodial Committee to take an accounting of the debtor’s assets, claims, and contracts.  The Custodial Committee may grant voting rights among creditors.  Shareholders and contract holders may retain their rights and responsibilities based on shareholdings and contract terms.  The World Bank ranked ROK policies and mechanisms to address insolvency 11th among 190 economies in its 2020 Doing Business report.  Debtors may be subject to arrest once a bankruptcy petition has been filed, even if the debtor has not been declared bankrupt.  Individuals found guilty of negligent or false bankruptcy are subject to criminal penalties.  The Seoul Bankruptcy Court (SBC) has nationwide jurisdiction to hear major bankruptcy or rehabilitation cases and to provide effective, specialized, and consistent guidance in bankruptcy proceedings.  Any Korean company with debt equal to or above KRW 50 billion (about USD 44 million) and/or 300 or more creditors may file for bankruptcy rehabilitation with the SBC.  Thirteen local district courts continue to oversee smaller bankruptcy cases in areas outside Seoul.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The ROK has an effective regulatory system that encourages portfolio investment.  The Korea Exchange (KRX) is comprised of a stock exchange, futures market, and stock market following the 2005 merger of the Korea Stock Exchange, Korea Futures Exchange, and Korean Securities Dealers Automated Quotations (KOSDAQ) stock markets.  It is tracked by the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI).  There is sufficient liquidity in the market to enter and exit sizeable positions.  At the end of February 2021, over 2,400 companies were listed with a combined market capitalization of USD 2.2 trillion.  The ROK government uses various incentives, such as tax breaks, to facilitate the free flow of financial resources into the product and factor markets.   The ROK does not restrict payments and transfers for current international transactions, in accordance with the general obligations of member states under International Monetary Fund (IMF) Article VIII.  Credit is allocated on market terms.  The private sector has access to a variety of credit instruments.  While non-resident foreigners can issue bonds in South Korean won, they are otherwise unable to borrow money in local currency.  Foreign portfolio investors enjoy open access to the ROK stock market.  Aggregate foreign investment ceilings were abolished in 1998, and foreign investors owned 36.7 percent of benchmark KOSPI stocks and 9.9 percent of the KOSDAQ as of February 2021.  Foreign portfolio investment decreased slightly over the past year.  Foreign investors owned 31.7 percent of benchmark stocks and 7.7 percent of listed bonds, according to the Financial Services Commission in March 2021.  U.S. investors represent 41.4 percent of total foreign holdings, a gradual increase over the last three years.  The ROK Financial Services Commission in March 2020 banned the short-selling of stocks to stabilize stock price volatility during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The ban is currently set to expire in May 2021.

Money and Banking System

Financial sector reforms enacted to increase transparency and promote investor confidence are often cited as a reason for the ROK’s rapid rebound from the 2008 global financial crisis.  Since 1998, the ROK government has recapitalized its banks and non-bank financial institutions, closed or merged weak financial institutions, resolved many non-performing assets, introduced internationally-accepted risk assessment methods and accounting standards for banks, forced depositors and investors to assume appropriate levels of risk, and taken steps to help end the policy-directed lending of the past.  These reforms addressed the weak supervision and poor lending practices in the Korean banking system that helped cause and exacerbate the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis.  The ROK banking sector is healthy overall, with a low non-performing loan ratio of 0.28 percent at the end of 2020, dropping 0.09 percentage points from the prior year.  Korean commercial banks held more than USD 3.3 trillion in total assets at the end of 2020.  Foreign commercial banks or branches can establish local operations, which would be subject to oversight by ROK financial regulators.  The ROK has not lost any correspondent banking relationships in the past three years, nor are any relationships in jeopardy.  There are no legal restrictions on a foreigner’s ability to establish a bank account in the ROK; however, commercial banks may refuse to accept foreign nationals as customers unless they show local residency or identification documents.  The Bank of Korea (BOK) is the central bank.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

All ROK banks, including branches of foreign banks, are permitted to deal in foreign exchange.   Applicants must notify foreign exchange banks in advance of applications for foreign investment.  In effect, these notifications are pro forma, and can be approved within hours.   Applications are denied only on specific grounds, including national security, public order and morals, international security obligations, and health and environmental concerns.  Exceptions to the advance notification approval system exist for project categories subject to joint-venture requirements and certain projects in the shipping and distribution sector.  According to the Foreign Exchange Transaction Act (FETA, as noted), transactions that could harm international peace or public order require additional monitoring or screening for concerns such as money laundering or gambling.  Three specific types of transactions are restricted:

  1. Non-residents are not permitted to buy won-denominated hedge funds, including forward currency contracts;
  2. The Financial Services Commission will not permit foreign currency borrowing by “non-viable” domestic firms; and
  3. The ROK government monitors and ensures that South Korean firms that have extended credit to foreign borrowers collect their debts. The ROK government has retained the authority to re-impose restrictions in the case of severe economic or financial emergency.

Funds associated with any form of investment can be freely converted into any world currency.  In 2020, 77 percent of spot transactions in the market were between the U.S. dollar and South Korean won, while daily transaction (spot and future) was equal to USD 52.84 billion, down 5.3 percent from the previous year.  Exchange rates are generally determined by the market.  The U.S. Department of the Treasury assessed that ROK authorities had historically intervened on both sides of the currency market, with a net impact that resisted won appreciation as demonstrated by a sustained rise in reserves and a net forward position.  In its January 2020 report to Congress, the Treasury Department assessed that in 2018 and the first half of 2019, ROK government authorities on balance intervened to support the won through small net sales of foreign exchange.  The BOK’s most recent intervention report, released in December 2020 and covering the third quarter of 2020, showed zero net intervention.

Remittance Policies

The right to remit profits is granted at the same time as the original investment approval.  Banks control the pro forma approval process for FETA-defined open sectors.  For conditionally- or partially-restricted investments (as defined by FETA), the relevant ministry must approve both the initial investment and eventual remittance.  When foreign investment royalties or other payments are included in a technology licensing agreement, either a bank or the MOEF must approve the agreement and the projected stream of royalties.  Approvals are quick and routine.  An investor wishing to send a remittance must present an audited financial statement to a bank to substantiate the payment.  The ROK routinely permits the repatriation of funds but reserves the right to limit capital outflows in exceptional circumstances, such as situations when uncontrolled outflows skew the national balance of payments, cause excessive fluctuation in interest or exchange rates, or threaten the stability of domestic financial markets.  To repatriate funds, firms must also present a stock valuation report issued by a recognized securities company or the ROK appraisal board.  There are no time restrictions on remittances.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Korea Investment Corporation (KIC) is a wholly government-owned sovereign wealth fund established in July 2005 under the KIC Act.  KIC’s steering committee is comprised of its Chief Executive Officer, the Minister of Economy and Finance, the Bank of Korea Governor, and six private sector members appointed by the ROK President.  KIC is on the Public Institutions Management Act (PIMA) list.  The KIC Act mandates that KIC manage assets entrusted by the ROK government and central bank; the KIC generally adopts a passive role as a portfolio investor.  The corporation’s assets under management stood at USD 183.1 billion at the end of 2020.  KIC is required by law to publish an annual report, submit its books to the steering committee for review, and follow all domestic accounting standards and rules.  It follows the Santiago Principles and participates in the IMF-hosted International Working Group on Sovereign Wealth Funds.  The KIC does not invest in domestic assets, aside from a one-time USD 23 million investment into a domestic real estate fund in January 2015.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Awareness of the economic and social value of responsible business conduct and corporate social responsibility (CSR) continues to grow in the ROK.  The Korea Corporate Governance Service, founded in 2002 by entities including the Korea Exchange and the Korea Listed Companies Association, encourages companies to voluntarily improve their corporate governance practices.  Since 2011, its annual assessments have included guidelines and CSR reviews, including of corporate environmental responsibility.  The United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) Network Korea, established in 2007, actively promotes corporate involvement in the UN Public Private Partnership for Sustainable Development Goals 2016-2030.  UNGC is focused on human rights, anti-corruption, labor standards, and the environment, with 231 ROK companies listed as UNGC members as of April 2020.  Government subsidies and tax reductions for social enterprises have contributed to an increase in the number of organizations tackling social issues related to unemployment, the environment, and low-income populations.  The ROK government promotes the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises online via seminars and by publishing and distributing promotional materials.  To enhance implementation, the ROK government established a National Action Plan overseen by the Ministry of Justice’s International Human Rights Division, designated a National Contact Point (NCP), and assigned the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board (KCAB) as the NCP Secretariat.  The KCAB handled 443 cases in 2019 with a total claim amount over USD 913 million.

The National Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL), the Korea Consumer Agency, and the Ministry of Environment impartially enforce ROK laws in the fields of human rights, labor, consumer protection, and the environment.  Shareholder rights are protected by the Act on External Audit of Stock Companies under the jurisdiction of the Financial Services Commission, the Act on Monopoly Regulation and Fair Trade under the jurisdiction of the KFTC, and the Commercial Act under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice.  The Commercial Act was revised in December 2020 to better protect minority shareholders.  Other organizations involved in responsible business conduct include the ROK office of the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD, the Korea Human Rights Foundation, and the Korean House for International Solidarity.  The Korea Sustainability Investing Forum (KOSIF) was established in 2007 to promote and expand socially responsible investment and CSR.  Through regular fora, seminars, and publications, KOSIF provides educational opportunities, conducts research to establish a culture of socially responsible investment in the ROK, and supports relevant legislative processes.

The ROK has no regulations to prevent conflict minerals from entering supply chains; however, MOTIE supports companies’ voluntary adherence to OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas.  ROK companies are obligated to follow regulations on conflict minerals by export destination countries.  The Korea International Trade Association and private sector firms provide consulting services to companies seeking to comply with conflict-free regulations.  The ROK is not a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.  It has participated in the Kimberly Process since 2012.  The ROK government is taking measures to guarantee transparency through the Mining Act, Overseas Resources Development Business Act, and other relevant laws on taxation, environment, labor, and bribery, as well as through the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.  The ROK is not a signatory to international agreements on private military or security industries, and the ROK’s small security sector focuses primarily on commercial contracts.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

In an effort to combat corruption, the ROK has introduced systematic measures to prevent the illegal accumulation of wealth by civil servants.  The 1983 Public Service Ethics Act requires high-ranking officials to disclose personal assets, financial transactions, and gifts received during their terms of office.  The Act on Anti-Corruption and the Establishment and Operation of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission of 2008 (previously called the “Anti-Corruption Act”) concerns reporting of corruption allegations, protection of whistleblowers, and training and public awareness to prevent corruption; the act also establishes national anti-corruption initiatives through the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission (ACRC).  Implementation is behind schedule, according to Transparency International, which ranked the ROK 33 out of 180 countries and territories in its 2020 Corruption Perception Index with a score of 61 out of 100 (with 100 being the best score).  The Department of State’s 2019 ROK Human Rights Report highlighted allegations of corruption levied against former Minister of Justice Cho Kuk in October 2019.  Former ROK presidents Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak were found guilty in separate corruption trials in 2018; the ROK Supreme Court upheld both verdicts in January 2021 and October 2020, respectively, and both remain imprisoned.  Political corruption at the highest levels of elected office has occurred despite more recent efforts by the ROK legislature to pass and enact anti-corruption laws such as the Act on Prohibition of Illegal Requests and Bribes, also known as the Kim Young-ran Act, in March 2015.  This law came into effect on September 28, 2016, and institutes strict limits on the value of gifts that can be given to public officials, lawmakers, reporters, and private school teachers.  It also extends to spouses of such persons.  The Act on the Protection of Public Interest Whistleblowers is designed to protect whistleblowers in the private sector and equally extends to reports on foreign bribery; the law also establishes an ACRC-operated reporting center.

A 2014 ferry disaster that resulted in the deaths of 304 passengers brought to public attention collusion between government regulators and regulated industries.  Investigators determined that companies associated with the vessel had used insider knowledge and government contacts to skirt legal requirements by hiring recently-retired government officials.  In response, the ROK government tightened regulations for hiring former government officials.  This reform expanded the number of sectors restricted from employing former government officials, extended the employment ban from two to three years, and increased scrutiny of retired officials employed in fields associated with their former duties.  The Public Service Ethics Commission, between May 2017 and February 2019, approved approximately 85 percent, or 1,335, of the requests made by former political appointees and government officials to accept government-affiliated or private sector positions, according to local press.  Most companies maintain an internal audit function to detect and prevent corruption.  The Board of Audit and Inspection, which monitors government expenditures, and the Public Service Ethics Committee, which monitors civil servants’ financial activities and disclosures are official agencies responsible for combating government corruption.  The ACRC focuses on preventing corruption by assessing the transparency of public institutions, protecting and rewarding whistleblowers, training public officials, raising public awareness, and improving policies and systems.  The Act on the Prevention of Corruption and the Establishment and Management of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, along with and the Protection of Public Interest Reporters Act, protects nongovernment organizations and civil society groups reporting cases of corruption to government authorities.  In April 2018, laws were updated to allow individuals filing allegations of corruption to report cases through attorneys without disclosing their identities to the courts.  Violations of these legal protections can result in fines or prison sentences.  U.S. firms have not identified corruption as an obstacle to FDI.  The ROK ratified the UN Convention against Corruption in 2008.  It is also a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions and a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Anti-Corruption and Transparency Working Group.  The ROK Financial Intelligence Unit cooperates with U.S. and UN efforts to disrupt sources of terrorist financing.  Transparency International has maintained a national chapter in the ROK since 1999.

Resources to Report Corruption

Government agency responsible for combating corruption:

Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission
Government Complex-Sejong (7-dong), 20, Doum 5-ro, Sejong-si 339-012
Tel: +82-44-200-7151 (International Relations Division)
Fax: +82-44-200-7916
Email: acrc@korea.kr

Anti-corruption non-government organization:

Transparency International Korea
#1006 Pierson Building, 42, Saemunan-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-761
Tel: +82-2-717-6211
Fax: +82-2-717-6210
Email: ti@ti.or.kr
http://www.transparency-korea.org/

10. Political and Security Environment

Relations between the ROK and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) are tense despite rapprochement efforts in 2018, and the two Koreas maintain one of the world’s most heavily-fortified borders.  The United States has had a security alliance with the ROK since 1953, with over 28,000 U.S. troops currently stationed in the ROK.  The presence of U.S. forces has ensured stability on the Korean Peninsula since 1953 and has enabled the ROK to grow into a modern, prosperous democracy boasting one of the world’s largest economies in 2020.  The two Koreas committed at an April 2018 inter-Korean summit to reduce military tensions on the border and to work toward a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.  Likewise, in the June 2018 Singapore Summit between former President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un, the United States and DPRK agreed to work toward the transformation of U.S.-DPRK relations, the construction of a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and the recovery and repatriation of POW/MIA remains from the Korean War.  A subsequent summit in Hanoi in February 2019 and a meeting at the inter-Korean Joint Security Area in June 2019 did not result in further breakthroughs.

The ROK’s relations with Japan remained strained in 2021, primarily due to the ROK Supreme Court’s 2018 decisions directing Japanese companies to compensate South Koreans subjected to forced labor during World War II, including the court-directed seizure of defendant company assets, as well as Japan’s subsequent tightening of export controls against the ROK in 2019.   This prompted consumer boycotts in the ROK against Japanese goods, causing a significant drop in local sales for certain products, including beer and automobiles, as well as at certain Japanese retail chains.

Public health experts and economists gave the ROK government under President Moon Jae-in overall high marks on its management of the COVID-19 pandemic, as infections were kept to lower levels than many other OECD countries without the adoption of draconian restrictions.  In the first few years of the Moon administration the ruling Democratic Party (DP), with its near-super majority in the National Assembly, was able to unilaterally advance many of its policy priorities, particularly in the area of judicial reform.  By the start of 2021, steep rises in the price of housing and a string of scandals involving Moon’s senior officials and DP lawmakers, including a high-profile land speculation scandal that broke weeks before key by-elections in Seoul and Busan, damaged the standing of the ruling party and resulted in rising public support for the main opposition People Power Party.  Nevertheless, the Moon administration welcomed the arrival of the Biden-Harris administration and its renewed focus on strengthening strategic alliances, with both governments exploring renewed cooperation in topics such as climate change, public health, supply chain cooperation, and cyber issues.

The ROK does not have a history of political violence directed against foreign investors.  There have not been reports of politically-motivated threats of damage to foreign-invested projects or foreign-affiliated installations of any sort, nor of any incidents that might be interpreted as having targeted foreign investments.  Labor violence unrelated to the issue of foreign ownership, however, has occurred in foreign-owned facilities in the past.  There have also been protests in the past directed at U.S. economic, political, and military interests (e.g., beef imports in 2008 or deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense in 2017 with protests continuing into 2021).  The ROK is a modern democracy with active public political participation, and well-organized political demonstrations are common.  For example, large-scale rallies were a regular occurrence throughout former President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment proceedings in 2016 and 2017.  The protests were peaceful and orderly.  The presidential by-election and transition that followed Park’s impeachment proceeded smoothly and without incident.

Taiwan

Executive Summary

Taiwan is an important market in regional and global trade and investment. It is one of the world’s top 25 economies in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) and was the United States’ 9th largest trading partner in 2020. An export-dependent economy of 23 million people with a highly skilled workforce, Taiwan is also a critical link in global supply chains, a central hub for shipments and transshipments in East Asia, and a major center for advanced research and development (R&D).

Taiwan welcomes and actively courts foreign direct investment (FDI) and partnerships with U.S. and other foreign firms. The administration of President Tsai Ing-wen aims to promote economic growth in part by increasing domestic investment and FDI. Taiwan authorities offer investment incentives and seek to leverage Taiwan’s strengths in advanced technology, manufacturing, and R&D. Expanded investment by the central authorities in physical and digital infrastructure across Taiwan complements this investment promotion strategy. The authorities convene a monthly interagency meeting to address common investment issues, such as land scarcity. Some Taiwan and foreign investors regard Taiwan as a strategic relocation alternative to insulate themselves against potential supply chain disruptions resulting from regional trade frictions. In January 2019, the Taiwan authorities launched a reshoring initiative to lure Taiwanese companies to shift production back to Taiwan from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in response to rising tariffs on Taiwan’s critical electronics manufacturing industry and to diversify risks.

Taiwan’s finance, wholesale and retail, and electronics sectors remain top targets of inward FDI. Taiwan attracts a wide range of U.S. investors, including in advanced technology, digital, traditional manufacturing, and services sectors. The United States is Taiwan’s second-largest single source of FDI after the Netherlands, through which some U.S. firms choose to invest. In 2019, according to U.S. Department of Commerce data, the total stock of U.S. FDI in Taiwan reached USD 17.3 billion. U.S. services exports to Taiwan totaled USD 8.9 billion in 2020. Leading services exports from the United States to Taiwan were intellectual property, transport, and financial services.

Structural impediments in Taiwan’s investment environment include: excessive or inconsistent regulation; market influence exerted by domestic and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in the utilities, energy, postal, transportation, financial, and real estate sectors; foreign ownership limits in sectors deemed sensitive; and regulatory scrutiny over the possible participation of PRC-sourced capital. Taiwan has among the lowest levels of private equity investment in Asia, although private equity firms are increasingly pursuing opportunities in the market. Foreign private equity firms have expressed concern about a lack of transparency and predictability in the investment approvals and exit processes, and regulators’ reliance on administrative discretion in rejecting some transactions. These challenges are especially apparent in sectors deemed sensitive for national security reasons, but that allow foreign ownership. Businesses have questioned the feasibility of Taiwan’s long-term energy policy in light of plans to phase out nuclear power by 2025 and increase the use of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) and renewables.

Taiwan is at the center of regional high-technology supply chains due to its dominant role in the international technology supply chain with its advanced R&D capability in developing products for emerging technologies such as semiconductor, 5G telecommunication, AI, and the Internet of Things (IoT.) Taiwan authorities have been actively launching initiatives for partnerships with foreign investors in fostering a resilient production network in the region. Taiwan in late 2016 implemented new rules mandating a 60-day public comment period for draft laws and regulations emanating from regulatory agencies, but the new rules have not been consistently applied. Proposed amendments to foreign investment regulations, if passed, would help promote inward investment through streamlined reporting and approval procedures.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 28 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 15 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 N/A https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD17,353 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 N/A http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Taiwan generally maintains transparent regulatory and accounting systems that conform to international standards. Publicly listed Taiwan companies have fully adopted International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) since 2015 and adopted IFRS 16 in January 2019. Taiwan’s Financial Supervisory Commission has affirmed that Taiwan will begin implementing IFRS 17 in January 2026. Ministries generally originate business-related draft legislation and submit it to the Executive Yuan for review. Following approval by the Executive Yuan, draft legislation is forwarded to the Legislative Yuan for consideration. Legislators can also propose legislation. While the cabinet-level agencies are the primary contact windows for foreign investors before entry, foreign investors also need to abide by local government rules, including those related to transportation services and environmental protection, among others.

Draft laws, rules, and orders are published on The Executive Yuan Gazette Online for public comment. On December 25, 2015, the Taiwan authorities first instituted a 14-day public comment period for new rules but extended it to no less than 60 days beginning December 29, 2016. All draft regulations and laws are required to be available for public comment and advanced notice unless they meet specific criteria allowing a shorter window. While welcomed by the U.S. business community, the 60-day comment period is not uniformly applied. Draft laws and regulations of interest to foreign investors are regularly shared with foreign chambers of commerce for their comments. For the ongoing amendment to the Statute for Investment by Foreign Nationals, the authorities held several regional public hearings and professional consultation meetings before finalizing its draft for the Executive Yuan review.

These announcements are also available for public comment on the NDC’s public policy open discussion forum at https://join.gov.tw/index. Foreign chambers of commerce and Taiwan business groups’ comments on proposed laws and regulations, and Taiwan ministries’ replies, are posted publicly on the NDC website. In October 2017, the NDC launched a separate policy discussion forum specifically for startups, which can be found online at http://law.ndc.gov.tw/, serving as the central platform to harmonize regulatory requirements governing innovative businesses and startups operation.

The Executive Yuan Legal Affairs Committee oversees the enforcement of regulations. Ministries are responsible for enforcement, impact analysis, draft amendments to existing laws, and petitions to laws pursuant to their respective authorities. Impact assessments may be completed by in-house or private researchers. To enhance Taiwan’s regulatory coherence in the wake of regional economic integration initiatives, the NDC in August 2017 released a Regulatory Impact Analysis Operational Manual as a practical guideline for central government agencies.

Taiwan regularly discloses government finance data to the public, including all debts incurred by all levels of government. Past information is also retrievable in a well-maintained fiscal database. Taiwan’s national statistics agency also publishes contingent debt information each year.

International Regulatory Considerations

Taiwan is not a member of any regional economic agreements but is a full member of international economic organizations such as the WTO, APEC, ADB, and Egmont Group. Although Taiwan is not a member of many international organizations, it voluntarily adheres to or adopts international norms, including in the area of finance, such as IFRS. MOEA in July 2014 notified other Taiwan agencies of the requirement to notify the WTO of all draft regulations covered by the WTO’s Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade and the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures. Taiwan is a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and has met some of the customs facilitation requirements specified in the TFA, such as single-window customs services and preview of the origin. In January 2018, citing tax parity for domestic retailers and the risk of fraud, Taiwan lowered the de minimis threshold from NTD 3,000 (USD 150) to NTD 2,000 (USD 70), an approach regarded as contrary to facilitating customs clearance and trade, especially for small- and medium-sized U.S. businesses. NDC is in the process of drafting a proposed amendment to the Personal Information Protection Act and related regulations to meet the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) standards and obtain adequacy status.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Taiwan has a codified system of law. In addition to the specialized courts, Taiwan has a three-tiered court system composed of the District Courts, the High Courts, and the Supreme Court. The Compulsory Enforcement Act provides a legal basis for enforcing the ownership of property. Taiwan does not have discrete commercial or contract laws. Various laws regulate businesses and specific industries, such as the Company Law, the Commercial Registration Law, the Business Registration Law, and the Commercial Accounting Law. Taiwan’s Civil Code provides the basis for enforcing contracts.

Taiwan’s court system is generally viewed as independent and free from overt interference by other branches of government. Taiwan established its Intellectual Property Court in July 2008 in response to the need for a more centralized and professional litigation system for IPR disputes. There are also specialized labor courts at every level of the court system to deal with labor disputes. Foreign court judgments are final and binding and enforced on a reciprocal basis. Companies can appeal regulatory decisions in the court system.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Regulations governing FDI principally derive from the Statute for Investment by Foreign Nationals and the Statute for Investment by Overseas Chinese. These two laws permit foreign investors to transact either in foreign currency or the NTD. The laws specify that foreign-invested enterprises must receive the same regulatory treatment accorded to local firms. Foreign companies may invest in state-owned firms undergoing privatization and are eligible to participate in publicly financed R&D programs.

Amendments the Legislative Yuan passed in June 2015 to the Merger and Acquisition Act clarified investment review criteria for mergers and acquisition transactions. The Investment Commission is drafting amendments to the Statute for Investment by Foreign Nationals to simplify the investment review process. Included is an amendment that would replace a pre-investment approval requirement with a post-investment reporting system for investments under a USD 1 million threshold, which many stakeholders consider too low. Exante approval would still be required for investments in restricted industries and those exceeding the threshold. The new proposal would also allow the authorities to impose various penalties for violations of the law. Guidance that previously required special consideration of the impact of a private equity fund’s investment has been folded into the set of general evaluation criteria for foreign investment in important industries. The MOEA in November 2016 released a supplementary document to clarify required certification for different types of investment applications. This document, which was last revised in 2018 and in Chinese only, can be found at http://www.moeaic.gov.tw/download-file.jsp?do=BP&id=5dRl9fU97Fk=

In December 2020, Taiwan authorities amended the Regulations Governing the Approval of PRC Investment in Taiwan to ensure the complex structure of foreign investments by investors from the PRC do not circumvent the investment control through any indirect investment structure. The new PRC investment rules introduced stricter criteria for identifying PRC investment through third-area intermediary, expanded the scope of investment subject to the authorities’ approval, and forbid PRC investment with any political or military affiliation.

All foreign investment-related regulations, application forms, and explanatory information can be found on the Investment Commission’s website, at http://run.moeaic.gov.tw/MOEAIC-WEB-SRC/OfimDownloadE.aspx

The Invest in Taiwan Portal also provides other relevant legal information of interest to foreign investors, such as labor, entry and exit regulations, at https://investtaiwan.nat.gov.tw/showPageeng1031003?lang=eng&search=1031003

Competition and Antitrust Laws

Taiwan’s Fair Trade Act was enacted in 1992. Taiwan’s Fair Trade Commission (TFTC) examines business practices that might impede fair competition. Parties may appeal a TFTC decision directly to the High Administrative Court. After the High Administrative Court issues its opinion, either party may file an appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court, which will only review decisions to determine if the lower court failed to apply the law.

Expropriation and Compensation

According to Taiwan law, the authorities may expropriate property whenever it is deemed necessary for the public interest, such as for national defense, public works, and urban renewal projects. The U.S. government is not aware of any recent cases of nationalization or expropriation of foreign-invested assets in Taiwan. There are no reports of indirect expropriation or any official actions tantamount to expropriation. Under Taiwan law, no venture with 45 percent or more foreign investment may be nationalized, as long as the 45 percent capital contribution ratio remains unchanged for 20 years after establishing the foreign business. Taiwan law requires fair compensation must be paid within a reasonable period when the authorities expropriate constitutionally protected private property for public use.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

In part due to its unique political status, Taiwan is neither a member of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) nor a signatory to the 1966 Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention). It also is not a signatory to the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Foreign investment disputes with the Taiwan authorities are rare. Taiwan resolves disputes according to its domestic laws and based on national treatment or investment guarantee agreements. Taiwan has entered into bilateral investment agreements with Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, India, and Vietnam. Taiwan does not have an investment agreement with the United States. Taiwan’s bilateral investment agreements serve to promote and protect foreign investments. DOIS is not aware of investment disputes involving U.S. investors, although there have been reports of disputes between U.S. investors and their local Taiwan partners.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Parties to a dispute may pursue mediation by a court, a town or city mediation committee, and/or the Public Procurement Commission. Mediation is generally non-binding unless parties agree otherwise. Civil mediation approved by a court has the same power as a binding ruling under civil litigation. The Judicial Yuan has been promoting alternative dispute resolution, one of its judiciary reform goals. Arbitration associations in Taiwan include the Chinese Arbitration Association, Taiwan Construction Arbitration Association, Labor Dispute Arbitration Association, and Chinese Construction Industry Arbitration Association in Taiwan.

A court order on recognition and enforcement must be obtained before a foreign arbitral award can be enforced in Taiwan. Any foreign arbitral award may be enforceable in Taiwan, provided that it meets the requirements of Taiwan’s Arbitration Act. In November 2015, the Legislative Yuan amended the Arbitration Act to stipulate that a foreign arbitral award, after a court has granted an application for recognition, shall be binding on the parties and have the same force as a final judgment of a court, and is enforceable. Taiwan referred to the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) model law when the Arbitration Act was revised in 1998.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Taiwan has a bankruptcy law that guarantees creditors the right to share a bankrupt debtor’s assets on a proportional basis. Secured interests in property are recognized and enforced through a registration system. Bankruptcy is not criminalized in Taiwan. Corporate bankruptcy is generally governed by the Company Act and the Bankruptcy Act, while the Consumer Debt Resolution Act governs personal bankruptcy. The quasi-public Joint Credit Information Center is the only credit-reporting agency in Taiwan. In 2020, there were 200 rulings on bankruptcy petitions.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Taiwan authorities welcome foreign portfolio investment in the Taiwan Stock Exchange (TWSE) and Taipei Stock Exchange, with foreign investment accounting for approximately 45 percent of TWSE capitalization in 2020. Taiwan allows the establishment of offshore banking, securities, and insurance units to attract a broader investor base. The Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) utilizes a negative list approach to regulating local banks’ overseas business not involving the conversion of the NTD.

Taiwan’s capital market is mature and active. At the end of 2020, 948 companies were listed on the TWSE, with a total market trading volume of USD 157.4 billion (including transactions of stocks, Taiwan Depository Receipts, exchange-traded funds, and warrants). Foreign portfolio investors are not subject to a foreign ownership ceiling, except in certain restricted companies, and are not subject to any ceiling on portfolio investment. The turnover ratio in the TWSE rose to 126 percent in 2020 as the TWSE Capitalization Weighted Stock Index (TAIEX) soared 23 percent in 2020. Payments and transfers resulting from international trade activities are fully liberalized in Taiwan. A wide range of credit instruments, all allocated on market terms, is available to domestic- and foreign-invested firms alike.

Money and Banking System

Taiwan’s banking sector is healthy, tightly regulated, and competitive, with 36 banks servicing the market. The sector’s non-performing loan ratio has remained below 1 percent since 2010, with a sector average of 0.24 in September 2020. Capital-adequacy ratios (CAR) are generally high, and several of Taiwan’s leading commercial lenders are government-controlled, enjoying implicit state guarantees. The sector as a whole had a CAR of 14.1 percent as of September 2020, far above the Basel III regulatory minimum of 10.5 percent required by 2019. Taiwan banks’ liquidity coverage ratio, which was required by Basel III to reach 100 percent by 2019, averaged 132.6 percent in September 2020. Taiwan’s banking system is primarily deposit-funded and has limited exposure to global financial, wholesale markets. Regulators have encouraged local banks to expand to overseas markets, especially in Southeast Asia, and minimize exposure in the PRC. Taiwan Central Bank statistics show that Taiwan banks’ PRC net exposure on an ultimate risk basis was USD 49.8 billion in the third quarter of 2020, trailing the United States’ USD 94.2 billion. Taiwan’s largest bank in terms of assets is the wholly state-owned Bank of Taiwan, which had USD 186.2 billion of assets as of December 2020. Taiwan’s eight state-controlled banks (excluding the Taiwan Export and Import Bank) jointly held nearly USD 912 billion, or 48 percent of the banking sector’s total assets.

The Taiwan Central Bank operates as an independent agency and state-owned company under the Executive Yuan, free from political interference. The Central Bank’s mandates are to maintain financial stability, develop Taiwan’s banking business, guard the stability of the NTD’s external and internal value, and promote economic growth within the scope of the three aforementioned goals.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Foreign banks are allowed to operate in Taiwan as branches and foreign-owned subsidiaries, but financial regulators require foreign bank branches to limit their customer base to large corporate clients. As a measure to promote the asset management business in Taiwan, since May 2015, foreigners holding a valid visa entering Taiwan have been allowed to open an NTD account with local banks with passports and an ID number issued by the immigration office. These requirements replaced the previous dual-identification (passport and resident card) requirements. Please refer to the Taiwan Bankers’ Association’s webpage: https://www.ba.org.tw/PublicInformation/BusinessDetail/10?returnurl=%2Ffor detailed information regarding various types of bank services (credit card, loans, etc.) for foreigners in Taiwan.

There are few restrictions in place in Taiwan on converting or transferring direct investment funds. Foreign investors with approved investments can readily obtain foreign exchange from designated banks. The remittance of capital invested in Taiwan must be reported in advance to the Investment Commission, but the Commission’s approval is not required. Funds can be freely converted into major world currencies for remittance, but to retain funds in Taiwan, they must be held in currency denominations offered by banks. In addition to commonly used U.S. dollar, euro, and Japanese yen-denominated deposit accounts, most Taiwan banks offer up to 15 foreign currency denominations. The exchange rate is based on the market rate offered by each bank. The NTD fluctuates under a managed float system.

Remittance Policies

There are no restrictions on remittances deriving from approved direct investment and portfolio investment. Prior approval is not required if the cumulative amount of inward or outward remittances does not exceed the annual limit of USD 5 million for an individual or USD 50 million for a corporate entity. Declared earnings, capital gains, dividends, royalties, management fees, and other returns on investment may be repatriated at any time. For large transactions requiring the exchange of NTD into foreign currency that could potentially disrupt Taiwan’s foreign exchange market, the Taiwan Central Bank may require the transaction to be scheduled over several days. According to law firms servicing foreign investors, there is no written guideline on the size of such transactions but amounts more than USD 100 million may be affected. Capital movements arising from trade in merchandise and services, as well as from debt servicing, are not restricted. No prior approval is required to move foreign currency funds not involving conversion between NTD and foreign currency.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Taiwan does not have a sovereign wealth fund, although the American business community has advocated for one. Taiwania Capital Management Company, a partially government-funded investment company, was established in October 2017 to promote investment in innovative and other target industries. In December 2018, Taiwania raised USD 350 million for two funds investing in IoT and biotech industries.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The Taiwan public has high expectations for and is sensitive to responsible business conduct (RBC), in part due to concerns about such issues as food safety and environmental pollution. Taiwan authorities actively promote RBC. MOEA and the FSC have issued guidelines on ethical standards and internal control mechanisms to urge businesses to take responsibility for the impact of their activities on the environment, consumers, employees, and communities. MOEA maintains an online newsletter to publicize best practices and raise awareness of the latest RBC-related developments in Taiwan and abroad. The Taiwan Stock Exchange conducts an annual review of the corporate governance performance of all publicly listed companies.

Taiwan authorities place a high priority on addressing and promoting socially responsible investment. Taiwan authorities mandated that publicly listed companies with more than NTD 5 billion (USD 180 million) in capital and firms in sectors with direct impact on consumers, such as food processing, restaurants, chemicals, and financial services, etc., prepare annual social responsibility reports. More than 500 of the TWSE’s 907 listed companies have issued annual social responsibility reports, and nearly half of the reports are prepared voluntarily. To promote more profit-sharing with employees, Taiwan’s Securities and Futures Act mandates that all publicly listed companies establish a compensation committee. In November 2018, the Act was amended to require all publicly listed companies to disclose average employee compensation and wage adjustment information. In December 2017, Taiwan Index Plus, an indexing subsidiary under the TWSE, together with FTSE Russel launched the FTSE4Good TIP Taiwan ESG Index, which helps investors integrate environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations into their portfolios. Taiwan Depository & Clearing Corporation, a government-run securities depository of Taiwan, in 2020 launched Taiwan ESG Dashboard to encourage sustainable investing and enhance companies’ performance on ESG issues. Taiwan is ranked the fourth among 12 Asian markets in the Corporate Governance Watch 2020 report, behind only Australia, Hong Kong, and Singapore. There are also independent NGOs and business associations promoting or monitoring RBC in Taiwan.

In response to food safety and environmental protection problems, Taiwan authorities have imposed stricter monetary penalties on violators and launched a registration platform for food industry suppliers to track food ingredients used in the industry’s production chain. Taiwan authorities encourage Taiwan firms to adhere to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas, and many Taiwanlisted companies have voluntarily enclosed conflict minerals free statement in their annual social responsibility reports. In 2020, 26 Taiwan companies were included in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index. Taiwan does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

Taiwan has a private security industry. Taiwan is not a signatory of The Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies, nor a participant in the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers’ Association (ICoCA.)

Additional Resources

Department of State

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices ( https://www.state.gov/reports-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/);

Trafficking in Persons Report ( https://www.state.gov/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 ( https://www.state.gov/key-topics-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/due-diligence-guidance/) and;

North Korea Sanctions & Enforcement Actions Advisory ( https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/126/dprk_supplychain_advisory_07232018.pdf ).

Department of Labor

Findings on the Worst forms of Child Labor Report ( https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  );

List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor ( https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods );

Sweat & Toil: Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking Around the World ( https://www.dol.gov/general/apps/ilab ) and;

Comply Chain ( https://www.dol.gov/ilab/complychain/ ).

9. Corruption

Resources to Report Corruption
Agency Against Corruption and Northern Investigation Office
No.166, Bo’ai Rd., Zhongzheng Dist.,, Taipei
Anti-corruption Hotline opens 24 hrs: +886-0800-286-586 https://www.aac.moj.gov.tw/7170/278724/
https://www.aac.moj.gov.tw/7170/278724/
TI Chinese Taipei, TICT https://www.transparency.org/en/countries/taiwan 
https://www.transparency.org/en/countries/taiwan  http://www.tict.org.tw/
http://www.tict.org.tw/
Wang Shen-jieh
Specialist
TI Chinese Taipei

M513, No.111 Mu-Cha Road, Section 1

Taipei, Taiwan 11645

Tel: +886-2-2236-2204

Email: tict@tict.org.tw

Taiwan has implemented laws, regulations, and penalties to combat corruption, including in public procurement. The Act on Property Declaration by Public Servants mandates annual property declaration for senior public services officials and their immediate family members. In 2020, the Control Yuan found 44 violations found and imposed a total of USD 397,000 in fines. The Corruption Punishment Statute and Criminal Code contain specific penalties for corrupt activities, including maximum jail sentences of life in prison and a maximum fine of up to NTD 100 million (USD 3.5 million). Laws provide for increased penalties for public officials who fail to explain the origins of suspicious assets or property. The Government Procurement Act and the Act on Recusal of Public Servants Due to Conflict of Interest both forbid incumbent and former procurement personnel and their relatives from engaging in related procurement activities. Although not a UN member, Taiwan voluntarily adheres to the UN Convention against Corruption and published its first country report in March 2018.

Guidance titled Ethical Corporate Management Best Practice Principles for all publicly listed companies was revised in November 2014. It asks publicly listed companies to establish an internal code of conduct and corruption-prevention measures for activities undertaken with government employees, politicians, and other private sector stakeholders. The Ministry of Justice is drafting a Whistle Blowers Protection Act to effectively combat illegal behaviors in both government agencies and the private sector. The Anti-money Laundering Act implemented June 2017 requires the mandatory reporting of financial transactions by individuals listed in the Standards for Determining the Scope of Politically Exposed Persons Entrusted with Prominent Public Function, Their Family Members and Close Associates, and by the first-degree lineal relatives by blood or by marriage; siblings, spouse and his/her siblings, and the domestic partner equivalent to a spouse of these politically exposed individuals. The U.S. government is not aware of cases where bribes have been solicited for foreign investment approval. 10. Political and Security Environment

10. Political and Security Environment

Taiwan is a young and vibrant multi-party democracy. The transitions of power in both local and presidential elections have been peaceful and orderly. There are no recent examples of politically motivated damage to foreign investment. 11. Labor Policies and Practices

United Arab Emirates

Executive Summary

The Government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is urgently pursuing economic diversification to promote private sector development as a complement to the historical economic dominance of the state, to lessen its reliance on an unsustainable hydrocarbon industry, and to strengthen the country’s economic resilience amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UAE serves as a major trade and investment hub for the Middle East and North Africa, and increasingly South Asia, Central Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa.  Multinational companies cite the UAE’s political and economic stability, excellent infrastructure, developed capital markets, and a perceived absence of systemic corruption as positive factors contributing to the UAE’s attractiveness to foreign investors.

The UAE and the country’s seven constituent emirates have passed numerous initiatives, laws, and regulations to attract more foreign investment.  Notable reforms introduced since 2020 include amendments to the UAE’s citizenship law, which allow foreign investors, members of certain professions, those with special talents, and their families to acquire long-term residency, Emirati passports, and citizenship.  The UAE issued Federal Decree-Law Number 26 in 2020, relaxing restrictions on foreign ownership of commercial companies.  The decree also annulled the requirement that commercial companies must be majority-owned by Emirati nationals, must have a majority-Emirati board, or must maintain an Emirati agent.  This effectively allowed majority or full foreign ownership of onshore companies in many sectors.  The decree granted licensed foreign investments the same treatment as national companies within the limits permitted by the legislation in force and provided better protection for minority shareholders. The new decree is unlikely to apply to state-owned entities and companies operating in strategically important sectors, such as oil and gas, defense, utilities, and transport.

While the UAE implemented an excise tax on certain products in October 2017 and a five percent Value-Added Tax (VAT) on most products and services beginning in January 2018, many investors continue to cite the absence of corporate and personal income taxes as a strength of the local investment climate relative to other regional options.

Foreign investors expressed concern over a lack of regulatory transparency, as well as weak dispute resolution mechanisms and insolvency laws.  In 2020, the federal Cabinet approved a resolution aimed at combating commercial fraud.  This resolution established a unified federal mechanism to deal with commercial fraud across the UAE and outlined a process for removal and destruction of counterfeit products.  Labor rights and conditions, although improving, continue to be an area of concern as the UAE prohibits both labor unions and worker strikes.

Free trade zones (FTZs) form a vital component of the local economy and serve as major re-export centers to other markets in the Gulf, South Asia, and Africa.  While the new decree allowing 100 percent foreign business ownership neutralizes one of the most important advantages FTZs offer foreign investors, U.S. and multinational companies indicate that these zones tend to have stronger and more equitable legal and regulatory frameworks for foreign investors than onshore jurisdictions.  FTZ-based firms also enjoy 100 percent import and export tax exemptions, 100 percent exemptions from commercial levies, and may repatriate 100 percent of capital and profits.  Goods and services delivered onshore by FTZ companies are subject to the five percent VAT.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 21 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 16 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 34 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 $17.2 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $43,470 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System  

The onshore regulatory and legal framework in the UAE generally favors local Emirati investors over foreign investors.

The Trade Companies Law requires all companies to apply international accounting standards and practices, generally the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).  The UAE does not have local generally accepted accounting principles.

Generally, legislation is only published after it has been enacted into law and is not formally available for public comment beforehand.  Government-friendly press occasionally reports details of high-profile legislation.  The government may consult with large private sector stakeholders on draft legislation on an ad hoc basis.  Final versions of federal laws are published in Arabic in an official register “The Official Gazette,” though there are private companies that translate laws into English.  The UAE Ministry of Justice (MoJ) maintains a partial library of translated laws on its website.  Other ministries and departments inconsistently offer official English translations via their websites.  The emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah publish official gazettes online in Arabic.  Regulators are not required to publish proposed regulations before enactment, but may share them either publicly or with stakeholders on a case-by-case basis.

International Regulatory Considerations 

The UAE is a member of the GCC, along with Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.  It maintains regulatory autonomy, but coordinates efforts with other GCC members through the GCC Standardization Organization (GSO).  In 2020, the UAE submitted 72 notifications to the WTO committee, including notifications of emergency measures and issues relating to Intellectual Property Rights.

Legal System and Judicial Independence  

Islam is identified as the state religion in the UAE constitution, and serves as the principal source of domestic law.  The legal system of the country is generally divided between a British-based system of common law used in offshore FTZs and onshore domestic law.  Domestic law is a dual legal system of civil and Sharia laws – the majority of which has been codified.  Most codified legislation in the UAE is a mixture of Islamic law and other civil laws such as Egyptian and French civil laws.

Common law principles, such as following legal precedents, are generally not recognized in the UAE, although lower courts commonly follow higher court judgments.  Judgments of foreign civil courts are typically recognized and enforceable under local courts.  The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York signed a memorandum with Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) courts providing companies operating in Dubai and New York with procedures for the mutual enforcement of financial judgments.  The Abu Dhabi-based financial free zone hub Abu Dhabi Global Financial Market (ADGM) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department in February 2018 allowing reciprocal enforcement of judgments, decisions, orders, and arbitral awards between ADGM and Abu Dhabi courts.

The UAE constitution stipulates each emirate can set up a local emirate-level judicial system (local courts) or rely exclusively on federal courts.  The Federal Judicial Authority has jurisdiction over all cases involving a “federal entity” with the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi, the highest court at the federal level.  Federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction in seven categories of cases:  disputes between emirates; disputes between an emirate and the federal government; cases involving national security; interpretation of the constitution; questions over the constitutionality of a law; and cases involving the actions of appointed ministers and senior officials while performing their official duties.  The federal government administers the courts in Ajman, Fujairah, Umm al Quwain, and Sharjah, including vetting, appointing, and paying judges.  Judges in these courts apply both local and federal law, as appropriate.  Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah, and Abu Dhabi administer their own local courts, hiring, vetting, and paying local judges and attorneys.  Local courts in Dubai, Ras al Khaimah, and Abu Dhabi have jurisdiction over all matters not specifically reserved for federal courts in the constitution.  Abu Dhabi operates both local (the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department) and federal courts in parallel.

Family Law:  In November 2020, the UAE government issued Federal Law Number 8 (2019), amending to the UAE Family Law.  The reforms liberalized laws related to cohabitation by unmarried couples, divorce and separation, custody, execution of wills and asset distribution, use of alcohol, suicide, and the protection of women.  The amendments stipulated that in a divorce taking place in the UAE by a couple married abroad, the legal proceedings would be governed by the laws of their home country.  The reforms also decriminalized alcohol consumption and removed the licensing requirement to purchase alcohol.

Probate:  The UAE Government announced in November 2020 that in the absence of a will, probate laws of the deceased’s country of citizenship would prevail.  Prior to this reform, Sharia law inheritance provisions determined the disposal of a UAE non-national resident’s assets on his or her death in most cases.  The new Federal decree-law no. 29 of 2020 allows each emirate to maintain a registry for non-UAE national wills.

Employment Law:  Employment in the private sector outside of financial free zones is regulated by Federal Law No. 8 of 1980.  The Labor Law defines working hours, leave entitlements, safety, and healthcare regulations.  There is no minimum wage defined by the law and trade unions, strikes, and collective bargaining is prohibited.  Expatriates’ legal residence in the UAE is tied to their employer (kafala system), but skilled labor usually has more flexibility in transferring their residency visa.  In 2009, the UAE Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization (MOHRE) introduced a Wages Protection System (WPS) to ensure unbanked workers were paid according to the terms of their employment agreement.  Most domestic workers remain uncovered by the WPS.  In 2019, the UAE government launched a WPS pilot program for domestic workers and announced plans to extend WPS protection to include domestic workers in the future.

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion, race, and national origin.  Labor Law gives national preference in employment to Emirati citizens.  Federal Law No. 06 of 2020 stipulates equal wages for women and men in the private sector.  The decree came into force in September 2020.

The DIFC Employment Law No. 2 of 2019, which took effect in August 2019, addressed key issues such as paternity leave, sick pay, and end-of-service settlements.  ADGM also issued new employment regulations with effect in January 2020, which allowed employers and employees more flexibility in negotiating notice periods and introduced protective provisions for employees age 15-18.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment  

There are four major federal laws affecting investment in the UAE:  the Federal Commercial Companies Law, the Trade Agencies Law, the Federal Industry Law, and the Government Tenders Law.

Federal Commercial Companies Law:  As noted above, Federal Decree-Law Number 26 annulled the default requirement for commercial companies to be majority-owned by Emirati citizens, have a majority-Emirati board, or maintain an Emirati agent effectively allowing majority or full foreign ownership of onshore companies in most sectors.

Trade Agencies Law:  The Trade Agencies Law currently requires that foreign firms without a local UAE subsidiary to distribute their products in the UAE through trade agents who are either UAE nationals or through companies majority-owned by UAE nationals.  Federal Law No. 11 of 2020 amended the Trade Agencies Law, removing the requirement that UAE companies be fully owned by Emirati citizens to act as commercial agents.  However, those companies still need to be majority-owned by Emirati citizens. The Ministry of Economy handles registration of trade agents.  A foreign principal can appoint one agent for the entire UAE, or for a particular emirate or group of emirates.  It is difficult and expensive to sever a commercial agency agreement.  Federal Law No. 5 of 1985 (Civil Code) governs unregistered distribution agreements.

Federal Law No. 11 of 2020 will also allow family-owned companies to convert to public joint stock companies; to open shareholding to foreign investors; and to establish rules of governance and protection against default.  The changes also encourage UAE nationals to engage in business activities and invest in public companies and their commercial agents.  The changes offer protections for small shareholders and owners of SMEs acting as agents, granting them statutory protection in cases of termination or non-renewal of agreements without “material reasons.”

In August 2020, the Dubai ruler issued Law No. 9 (2020) regulating family-owned businesses in Dubai.  The Law enables family members with a common interest to jointly own moveable or immoveable property (other than shares in public joint-stock companies) on the tailored terms of a Family Property Contract that ensures the continuity, development, and smooth transition of family property from one generation to another.

Federal Industry Law:  Federal Law No. 1 (1979) regulates industrial projects in the UAE. Under this law, an industry advisory committee shall be established to examine issues pertaining to most industrial projects.  The law excludes projects which meet specific requirements, including projects related to petroleum exploration and mining industry; projects with fixed capital, not exceeding $68,064 or that do not have more than ten people, or that use a motor power of no more than five horses; concession projects; and projects implemented by the federal government.

Other Relevant Legislation:  According to the Central Bank Law, a bank incorporated in the United Arab Emirates must be 60 percent owned by UAE nationals.  The limit on foreign ownership of local banks is subject to approval by regulators on a case-by-case basis.  Some major banks have reached the maximum foreign ownership of 40 percent in recent years.  Foreign banks are licensed in the UAE as branches of foreign banks, with a maximum of eight local branches allowed per bank.

The Federal Industry Law stipulates industrial projects must have 51 percent UAE national ownership.  The law also requires that projects either be managed by a UAE national or have a board of directors with a majority of UAE nationals.  Exemptions from the law are provided for projects related to the extraction and refining of oil and natural gas and select hydrocarbon projects governed by special laws or agreements.

To register with the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange, go to: https://www.adx.ae/English/Pages/Members/BecomeAMember/default.aspx

To obtain an investor number for trading on Dubai Exchanges, go to:  http://www.nasdaqdubai.com/assets/docs/NIN-Form.pdf

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws  

The Ministry of Economy’s Competition Regulation Committee reviews transactions for competition-related concerns.

Expropriation and Compensation  

Mission UAE is not aware of foreign investors subjected to any expropriation in the UAE in the recent past.  There are no federal rules governing compensation if expropriations were to occur.   Individual emirates would likely treat expropriations differently.  In practice, authorities would be unlikely to expropriate unless there were a compelling development or public interest need to do so.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention  

The UAE is a contracting state to the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and a signatory to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral awards (1958 New York Convention).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement  

Mission UAE is aware of several substantial investment and commercial disputes over the past few years involving U.S. or other foreign investors and government and/or local businesses.  There have also been multiple contractor/payment disputes with the government as well as with local businesses.  Onshore dispute resolution can be difficult and uncertain, and payment following settlements is often slow.  Disputes are generally resolved by direct negotiation and settlement between the parties themselves, arbitration, or recourse within the legal system.  Firms avoid escalating payment disputes through civil or arbitral courts, particularly disputes involving politically connected local parties to preserve access to UAE markets.  Legal or dispute-resolution mechanisms that can take months or years to reach resolution, leading some firms to exit the UAE market instead of pursuing claims.  Arbitration may commence by petition to the UAE federal courts based on mutual consent (a written arbitration agreement), independently (by nomination of arbitrators), or through referral to an appointing authority without recourse to judicial proceedings.  Mechanisms for enforcing ownership of property through either offshore or domestic courts are generally effective.  There have been no confirmed reports of government interference in the court system affecting foreign investors.  Domestic courts are generally perceived as favoring Emirati nationals over foreigners.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts  

The UAE government acceded to the UN Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards in November 2006.  An arbitration award issued in the UAE is now enforceable in all 138 member states, and any award issued in another member state is directly enforceable in the UAE.  The Convention supersedes all incompatible legislation and rulings in the UAE.  Mission UAE is not aware of any U.S. firm attempting to use arbitration under the UN convention on the recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards.  Some analysts have raised concerns about delays and procedural obstacles to enforcing arbitration awards in the UAE.

In June 2018, Federal Law No. 6 (2018) on Arbitration came into force.  The Federal Law on Arbitration is based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration.  The new law is expected to bolster confidence in the UAE’s arbitration regime.  In October 2020, DIFC courts set up a new arbitration working group to accommodate the rising number of arbitration-related cases.  On December 23, 2020, ADGM enacted amendments to its arbitration regulations to establish itself as a venue for arbitration; codify international best practices; and accommodate the changing needs of various stakeholders to arbitration.  The amendments also allowed greater flexibility in the way the arbitration process can be conducted, particularly with the introduction of explicit provisions accommodating virtual hearings and electronic submissions.

Bankruptcy Regulations  

The bankruptcy law for companies, Federal Decree Law No. 9 (2016), was first applied in February 2019.  The law covers companies governed by the Commercial Companies Law, most FTZ companies, sole proprietorships, and companies conducting professional business.  It allows creditors owed $27,225 or more to file insolvency proceedings against a debtor 30 business days after written notification to the debtor.  The law decriminalized “bankruptcy by default,” ending a system in which out-of-cash businesspeople faced potential criminal liability, including fines and potential imprisonment, if they did not initiate insolvency procedures within 30 days.  In October 2020, the UAE Cabinet approved amendments to the law and added provisions regarding “Emergency Situations” that impinge on trade or investment, to enable individuals and business to overcome credit challenges during extraordinary circumstances such as pandemics, natural and environmental disasters, and wars.  Under the amendments, a debtor may request a grace period from creditors, or negotiate a debt settlement for a period up to 12 months.

The bankruptcy law for individuals, Insolvency Law No. 19 (2019) came into effect in November 2019.  It applies only to natural persons and estates of the deceased.  The law allows a debtor to seek court assistance for debt settlement or to enter into liquidation proceedings as a result of the inability to pay for an extended period of time.  Under this law, a debtor facing financial difficulties may apply to the court for assistance and guidance in the settlement of his financial commitments through one or more court-appointed experts, or through a court-supervised binding settlement plan.  If a debtor fails to pay any of his due debts for a period exceeding 50 consecutive business days, he shall apply to the court to commence proceedings for the liquidation of his assets.  The law offers only limited protection to individuals, and non-payment of debt remains a criminal offense.

DIFC enacted a New Insolvency Law on May 30, 2019.  The law, which applies only to DIFC companies, introduces methods to deal with insolvency situations, including a new debtor in possession regime, appointment of an administrator in cases of mismanagement, and adoption of UNCITRAL Model Law, consistent with globally recognized best practices.  In July 2020, ADGM also announced amendments to its regulations to provide greater clarity on the prescribed form and content in procedural matters and to better align with the ADGM Courts platform.

In June 2020, the UAE’s federal export credit Company, Etihad Credit Insurance (ECI) reaffirmed its commitment to support companies operating in the UAE to recover from COVID implications.  ECI has recently helped a UAE manufacturer recover payments from a U.S. firm that filed for bankruptcy.

The Federal Government’s Al Etihad Credit Bureau (AECB) is the only credit rating agency that assesses the financial strength of individuals in the UAE.  It also provides risk measures for various entities.  The AECB partnered with local institutions to collect data that assist in assessing credit risk and improve capital market efficiency.  A credit rating allows investors to make better-informed lending decisions and apply appropriate risk premiums to borrowers.  A credit report from AECB can unburden borrowers from scrutiny each time they take a loan.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment  

UAE government efforts to create an environment that fosters economic growth and attracts foreign investment resulted in:  i) no taxes or restrictions on the repatriation of capital; ii) free movement of labor and low barriers to entry (effective tariffs are five percent for most goods); and iii) an emphasis on diversifying the economy away from oil, which offers a broad array of investment options for FDI.  Key non-hydrocarbon drivers of the economy include real estate, renewable energy, tourism, logistics, manufacturing, and financial services.

The UAE issued investment fund regulations in September 2012 known as the “twin peak” regulatory framework designed to govern the marketing of investment funds established outside the UAE to domestic investors and the establishment of local funds domiciled inside the UAE.  This regulation gave the Securities and Commodities Authority (SCA), rather than the Central Bank, authority over the licensing, regulation, and marketing of investment funds.  The marketing of foreign funds, including offshore UAE-based funds, such as those domiciled in the DIFC, require the appointment of a locally licensed placement agent.  The UAE government has also encouraged certain high-profile projects to be undertaken via a public joint stock company to allow the issuance of shares to the public.  Further, the UAE government requires any company carrying out banking, insurance, or investment services for a third party to be a public joint stock company.

The UAE has three stock markets:  Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange, Dubai Financial Market, and NASDAQ Dubai.  SCA, the onshore regulatory body, classifies brokerages into two groups:  those that engage in trading only while the clearance and settlement operations are conducted through clearance members, and those that engage in trading clearance and settlement operations for their clients.  Under the regulations, trading brokerages require paid-up capital of $820,000, whereas trading and clearance brokerages need $ 2.7 million.  Bank guarantees of $367,000 are required for brokerages to trade on the bourses.

In June 2020, the SCA amended the decision on issuing and offering Islamic securities, to ensure SCA legislation is in line with the principles of the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO).  In July 2020, SCA embarked on a project to restructure the legislative system for broker classification to keep pace with global practices and enhance the confidence of domestic and foreign investors.  According to the restructuring project, the following five licensing categories were introduced:  dealing in securities, dealing in investments, safekeeping, clearing and registration, credit rating, and arrangement and counseling.

The SCA’s decision on Capital Adequacy Criteria of Investment Manager and Management Company stipulates that the investment manager and the management company must allocate capital to constitute a buffer for credit risk, market risk, or operational risk, even if it does not appear as a line item in the balance sheet.

On the issue of Real Estate Investment Fund control, the SCA stipulates that a public or private real estate investment fund shall invest at least 75 percent of its assets in real estate assets.  According to the SCA, a real estate investment fund may establish or own one or more real estate services companies provided that its investment in the ownership of each company and its subsidiaries shall not be more than 20 percent of the fund’s total assets.

Credit is generally allocated on market terms, and foreign investors can access local credit markets.  Interest rates usually closely track those in the United States since the local currency is pegged to the dollar.  However, there have been complaints that GREs crowd out private sector borrowers to the detriment of mostly local SMEs.

Money and Banking System  

The UAE has a robust banking sector with 48 banks, 21 of which are foreign institutions, and six are GCC-based banks.  The number of national bank branches declined to 541 by the end of 2020, compared to 656 at the end of 2019, due to bank mergers and the transition to online banking.

Non-performing loans (NPL) comprised 6.2 percent of outstanding loans in 2019, compared with 5.7 percent in 2018, according to figures from the Central Bank of the UAE (CBUAE). Under a new reporting standard, the NPL ratio of the UAE banking system for the year-end 2018 stood at 5.6 percent, compared to 7.1 percent under the previous methodology.  The CBUAE recorded total sector assets of USD 868 billion as of December 2020.

The banking sector remains well-capitalized but has experienced a decline in lending and a rise in NPL as a result of the pandemic.  These factors have significantly reduced reported profits as banks have made greater provisions for non-performing loans.  On March 15, 2020, the CBUAE announced the USD $ 27.2 billion Targeted Economic Support Scheme (TESS) stimulus package, which included USD $13.6 billion in zero-interest, collateralized loans for UAE-based banks, and USD $13.6 billion in funds freed up from banks’ capital buffers.  In November 2020, The CBUAE extended The TESS to June 2021.

There are some restrictions on foreigners’ ability to establish a current bank account, and legal residents and Emiratis can access loans under more favorable terms than non-residents.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances  

Foreign Exchange Policies  

According to the IMF, the UAE has no restrictions on making payments and transfers for international transactions, except security-related restrictions.  Currencies trade freely at market-determined prices.  The UAE dirham has been pegged to the dollar since 2002.  The mid-point between the official buying and selling rate for the dirham (AED or Dhs) is fixed at AED 3.6725 per USD.

Remittance Policies  

The Central Bank of the UAE initiated the creation of the Foreign Exchange & Remittance Group (FERG), comprising various exchange companies, which is registered with the Dubai Chamber of Commerce & Industry.  Unlike their counterparts across the world that deal mainly in money exchange, exchange companies in the UAE are primary conduits for transferring large volumes of remittances through official channels.  According to migration and remittance data from the World Bank, in 2019, the UAE had migrant remittance outflows of USD $44.9 billion.  Exchange companies are important partners in the UAE government’s electronic salary transfer system, called the Wage Protection System.  They also handle various ancillary services ranging from credit card payments to national bonds, to traveler’s checks.

As part of its focus on improving Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) systems within the UAE, in September 2020, the CBUAE introduced a mandatory registration framework for Hawala providers or informal money transfer service providers that operate in the UAE.

Sovereign Wealth Funds  

Abu Dhabi is home to four sovereign wealth funds—the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) and Mubadala Investment Company are the largest—with estimated total assets of approximately USD $814.6 billion as of February 2020.  Each fund has a chair and board members appointed by the Ruler of Abu Dhabi.  President Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan is the chair of ADIA and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan is the chair of Mubadala.  Other rapidly expanding Abu Dhabi sovereign funds include: ADQ, with investment portfolios in food and agriculture, aviation, financial services, healthcare, industries, logistics, media, real estate, tourism and hospitality, transport and utilities; and EDGE, which covers  weapons, cyber defense and electronic warfare and intelligence, among others.  Emirates Investment Authority, the UAE’s federal sovereign wealth fund, is modest by comparison, with estimated assets of about USD 44 billion.  The Investment Corporation of Dubai (ICD) is Dubai’s primary sovereign wealth fund, with an estimated USD $301 billion in assets according to ICD’s June 2020 financial report.

UAE funds vary in their approaches to managing investments.  ADIA generally does not actively seek to manage or take an operational role in the public companies in which it invests, while Mubadala tends to take a more active role in particular sectors, including oil and gas, aerospace, infrastructure, and early-stage venture capital.  According to ADIA, the fund carries out its investment program independently and without reference to the government of Abu Dhabi.

In 2008, ADIA agreed to act alongside the IMF as co-chair of the International Working Group of Sovereign Wealth Funds, which eventually became the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds (IFSWF).  Comprising representatives from 31 countries, the IFSWF was created to demonstrate that sovereign wealth funds had robust internal frameworks and governance practices, and that their investments were made only on an economic and financial basis.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is a general expectation that businesses in the UAE adhere to responsible business conduct standards, and the UAE’s Governance Rules and Corporate Discipline Standards (Ministerial Resolution No. 518 of 2009) encourage companies to apply social policy towards supporting local communities.  In February 2018, the UAE issued Cabinet Resolution No. 2 regarding Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which encourages voluntary contributions to a National Social Responsibility Fund.  In January 2021, the CSR UAE Fund announced that it will launch an Index as an annual performance measurement tool for CSR & Sustainability practices in the UAE.  The Emirate of Ajman made annual CSR contributions of USD $417 mandatory for all businesses.  Many companies maintain CSR offices and participate in CSR initiatives, including mentorship and employment training; philanthropic donations to UAE-licensed humanitarian and charity organizations; and initiatives to promote environmental sustainability.  The UAE government actively supports and encourages such efforts through official government partnerships, as well as through private foundations.  The 2015 Commercial Companies Law requires managers and directors to act for the benefit of the company and voids any company provisions exempting directors and managers from personal liability.

In April 2015, the Pearl Initiative and the United Nations Global Compact held their inaugural Forum in Dubai.  The Pearl Initiative is an independent, non-profit organization founded by Sharjah-based Crescent Enterprises working across the Gulf region to encourage better business practices.  The UAE has not subscribed to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and has not actively encouraged foreign or local enterprises to follow the specific United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.  The UAE government has not committed to adhere to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas, nor does it participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.  The Dubai Multi-Commodities Center (DMCC), however, passed the DMCC Rules for Risk-Based Due Diligence in the Gold and Precious Metals Supply Chain, which it claims are fully aligned with the OECD guidance.

Additional Resources

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

Findings on the Worst forms of Child Labor Report

List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor

Sweat & Toil: Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking Around the World  and;

Comply Chain

9. Corruption 

The UAE has strict laws, regulations, and enforcement against corruption and has pursued several high-profile cases.  For example, the UAE federal penal code and the federal human resources law criminalize embezzlement and the acceptance of bribes by public and private sector workers.  The Dubai financial fraud law criminalizes receipt of illicit monies or public funds.  There is no evidence that corruption of public officials is a systemic problem.  The State Audit Institution and the Abu Dhabi Accountability Authority investigate corruption in the government.  The Companies Law requires board directors to avoid conflicts of interest.  In practice, however, given the multiple roles occupied by relatively few senior Emirati government and business officials, conflicts of interest exist.  Business success in the UAE also still depends much on personal relationships.

The monitoring organizations GAN Integrity and Transparency International describe the corruption environment in the UAE as low-risk and rate the UAE highly on anti-corruption efforts both regionally and globally.  Some third-party organizations note, however, that the involvement of members of the ruling families and prominent merchant families in certain businesses can create economic disparities in the playing field, and most foreign companies outside the UAE’s free zones rely on an Emirati national partner, often with strong connections, who retains majority ownership.  The UAE has ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption.  There are no civil society organizations or NGOs investigating corruption within the UAE.

Resources to Report Corruption  

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

Dr. Harib Al Amimi
President
State Audit Institution
20th Floor, Tower C2, Aseel Building, Bainuna (34th) Street,
Al Bateen, Abu Dhabi, UAE
+971 2 635 9999
info@saiuae.gov.ae , reportfraud@saiuae.gov.ae

10. Political and Security Environment

There have been no reported instances of politically motivated property damage in recent years.

United Kingdom

Executive Summary

The United Kingdom (UK) is a top global destination for foreign direct investment (FDI) and imposes few impediments to foreign ownership.  The United States is the largest source of direct investment into the UK.  Thousands of U.S. companies have operations in the UK.  The UK also hosts more than half of the European, Middle Eastern, and African corporate headquarters of American-owned firms.  The UK government provides comprehensive statistics on FDI in its annual inward investment  report:   https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/department-for-international-trade-inward-investment-results-2019-to-2020.

Following a drop in inward investment each year since 2016 that mirrored global declines, and amidst a historically sharp but temporary recession related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK government established the Office for Investment in November 2020.  The Office is focused on attracting high-value investment opportunities into the UK which “align with key government priorities, such as reaching net zero [carbon emissions], investing in infrastructure, and advancing research and development.  It also aims to drive inward investment into “all corners of the UK through a ‘single front door.’”

The UK’s National Security and Investment Act, which came into effect in May 2021, significantly strengthened the UK’s existing investment screening powers.  Investments resulting in foreign control generally exceeding 15 percent of companies in 17 sectors pertaining to national security require mandatory notifications to the UK government’s Investment Security Unit

The UK formally withdrew from the EU’s political institutions on January 31, 2020, and from  the bloc’s economic and trading institutions on December 31, 2020.  The UK and the EU concluded a Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) on December 24, 2020, setting out the terms of their future economic relationship.  The TCA maintains tariff-free trade between the UK and the EU but introduced a number of new non-tariff, administrative barriers.   On January 1, 2021, the UK began reviewing cross-border activities with a UK-EU nexus in parallel to the European Commission.

The United States and the UK launched free trade agreement negotiations in May 2020, which were paused with the change in U.S. Administration.  The United States and UK have enjoyed a “Commerce and Navigation” Treaty since 1815 which guarantees national treatment of U.S. investors.  A Bilateral Tax Treaty specifically protects U.S. and UK investors from double taxation.

On April 8, 2021, the UK established the Digital Markets Unit, a new regulatory body that will be responsible for implementing upcoming changes to competition rules in digital markets.  The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the UK’s competition regulator, has indicated that it intends to scrutinize and police the digital sector more thoroughly going forward.   The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) no longer applies to the UK.  Entities based in the UK must comply with the Data Protection Act (DPA) 2018, which incorporated provisions of the EU GDPR directly into UK law

In April 2020  a two percent digital services tax (DST) came into force that targets certain types of digital activity attributable to UK users. The in-scope digital services activities are: social media services; Internet search engines; and online marketplaces.  If an activity is ancillary or incidental to an in-scope digital services activity, its revenues may also be subject to the DST.

In March 2021, The UK government identified eight sites as post-Brexit freeports to spur trade, investment, innovation and economic recovery.  The eight sites are: East Midlands Airport, Felixstowe and Harwich, Humber region, Liverpool City Region, Plymouth, Solent, Thames, and Teesside.  The designated areas will offer special customs and tax arrangements and additional infrastructure funding to improve transport links.

HMG brought forward new immigration rules on January 1, 2021. The new rules have wide-ranging implications for foreign employees, students, and EU citizens.  The new rules are points-based, meaning immigrants need to attain a certain number of points in order to be awarded a visa.  The previous cap on visas has been abolished.  EU citizens who arrived before December 31, 2020, will not have to apply for a visa, but instead are eligible to apply for “settled” or “pre-settled” status, which allows them to live and work in the UK much the same as they were before the UK left the EU.  EU citizens arriving to the UK after January 1, 2021, must apply for the relevant visa.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 11 of 180 www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2020 8 of 190 www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 4 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-economy  
U.S. FDI in partner country (M USD, stock positions) 2019 $851,400 www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $49,040 data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

Currency conversions have been done using XE and Bank of England data.

3. Legal Regime

International Regulatory Considerations

The UK’s withdrawal from the EU may result in a period in which the future regulatory direction of the UK is uncertain as the UK determines the extent to which it will either maintain and enforce the current EU regulatory regime or deviate towards new regulations in any particular sector.  The UK is an independent member of the WTO and actively seeks to comply with all WTO obligations.

Transparency of the Regulatory System

U.S. exporters and investors generally will find little difference between the United States and UK in the conduct of business.  The regulatory system provides clear and transparent guidelines for commercial engagement.  Common law prevails in the UK as the basis for commercial transactions, and the International Commercial Terms (INCOTERMS) of the International Chambers of Commerce are accepted definitions of trading terms.  As of 1 January 2021 firms in the UK must use the UK-adopted international accounting standards (IAS) instead of the EU-adopted IAS in terms of accounting standards and audit provisions. .  The UK’s Accounting Standards Board provides guidance to firms on accounting standards and works with the IASB on international standards.

Statutory authority over prices and competition in various industries is given to independent regulators, primarily the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).  Other sector regulators with some jurisdiction over competition include, the Office of Communications (Ofcom), the Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat), the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem), the Rail Regulator, and the Prudential Regulatory Authority (PRA).  The PRA was created out of the dissolution of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) in 2013.  The PRA reports to the Financial Policy Committee (FPC) in the Bank of England.  The PRA is responsible for supervising the safety and soundness of individual financial firms, while the FPC takes a systemic view of the financial system and provides macro-prudential regulation and policy actions.  The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) acts as a single integrated regulator focused on enforcement of the UK’s competition laws.  The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is a regulator that addresses financial and market misconduct through legally reviewable processes.  These regulators work to protect the interests of consumers while ensuring that the markets they regulate are functioning efficiently.  Most laws and regulations are published in draft for public comment prior to implementation.  The FCA maintains a free, publicly searchable register of their filings on regulated corporations and individuals here: https://register.fca.org.uk/

The UK government publishes regulatory actions, including draft text and executive summaries, on the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy webpage listed below.  The current policy requires the repeal of two regulations for any new one in order to make the business environment more competitive.

https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/business-regulation

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/regulatory-delivery

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The UK is a common-law country.  UK business contracts are legally enforceable in the UK, but not in the United States or other foreign jurisdictions.  International disputes are resolved through litigation in the UK Courts or by arbitration, mediation, or some other alternative dispute resolution (ADR) method.  The UK has a long history of applying the rule of law to business disputes.  The current judicial process remains procedurally competent, fair, and reliable, which helps position London as an international hub for dispute resolution with over 10,000 cases filed per annum.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Outside of national security reviews of investment in the 17 sectors deemed to be central to national security per the National Security and Investment Act, few statutes govern or restrict foreign investment in the UK.  The procedure for establishing a company in the UK is identical for British and foreign investors.  No approval mechanisms exist for foreign investment, apart from the process outlined in Section 1.  Foreigners may freely establish or purchase enterprises in the UK, with a few limited exceptions, and acquire land or buildings.  As noted above, the UK is currently reviewing its procedures and has proposed new rules for restricting foreign investment in those sectors of the economy with higher risk for adversely impairing national security.

Alleged tax avoidance by multinational companies, including by several major U.S. firms, has been a controversial political issue and subject of investigations by the UK Parliament and EU authorities.  Foreign and UK firms are subject to the same tax laws, however, and several UK firms have also been criticized for tax avoidance.  Foreign investors may have access to certain EU and UK regional grants and incentives designed to attract industry to areas of high unemployment, but these do not include tax concessions.  Access to EU grants ended on December 31, 2020.

The UK flattened its structure of corporate tax rates in 2015, toa flat rate of 19 percent for non-ring-fenced companies, with marginal tax relief granted for companies with profits falling between £300,000 ($420,000) and £1.5 million ($2.1 million).   There are different Corporation Tax rates for companies that make profits from oil extraction or oil rights in the UK or UK continental shelf.  These are known as “ring fence” companies.  Small ”ring fence” companies are taxed at a rate of 19 percent for profits up to £300,000 ($420,000), and 30 percent for profits over £300,000 ($420,000).  A special rate of 20 percent is given to unit trusts and open-ended investment companies.

On March 3, 2021, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced that, starting in 2023, UK corporate tax would increase to 25 percent for companies with profits over £250,000 ($346,000).  A small profits rate (SPR) will also be introduced for companies with profits of £50,000 ($69,000) or less so that they will continue to pay Corporation Tax at 19 percent.  Companies with profits between £50,000 ($69,000) and £250,000 ($346,000) will pay tax at the main rate reduced by a marginal relief providing a gradual increase in the effective Corporation Tax rate.

Tax deductions are allowed for expenditure and depreciation of assets used for trade purposes.  These include machinery, plant, industrial buildings, and assets used for research and development.

The UK has a simple system of personal income tax.  The marginal tax rates for 2020-2021 are as follows: up to £12,500 ($17,370), 0 percent; £12,501 ($17,370) to £50,000 ($69,481), 20 percent; £50,001 ($69,481) to £150,000 ($208,444), 40 percent; and over £150,000 ($208,444), 45 percent.

UK citizens also make mandatory payments of about 12 percent of income into the National Insurance system, which funds social security and retirement benefits.  The UK requires non-domiciled residents of the UK to either pay tax on their worldwide income or the tax on the relevant part of their remitted foreign income being brought into the UK.  If they have been resident in the UK for seven tax years of the previous nine, and they choose to pay tax only on their remitted earnings, they may be subject to an additional charge of £30,000 ($42,000).  If they have been resident in the UK for 12 of the last 14 tax years, they may be subject to an additional charge of £60,000 ($84,000).

The Scottish Parliament has the legal power to increase or decrease the basic income tax rate in Scotland, currently 20 percent, by a maximum of three percentage points.

For further guidance on laws and procedures relevant to foreign investment in the UK, follow the link below:

https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/investment-in-the-uk-guidance-for-overseas-businesses

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

UK competition law prohibits anti-competitive behavior within the UK through Chapters I and II of the Competition Act of 1998 and the Enterprise Act of 2002.  The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is responsible for implementing these laws by investigating potentially anti-competitive behaviors, including cases involving state aid, cartel activity, or mergers that threaten to reduce the competitive market environment.  While merger notification in the UK is voluntary, the CMA may impose substantial fines or suspense orders on potentially non-compliant transactions.  The CMA has no prosecutorial authority, but it may refer entities for prosecution in extreme cases, such as those involving cartel activity, which carries a penalty of up to five years imprisonment.  The CMA is also responsible for ensuring consumer protection, conducting market research, and coordinating with sectoral regulators, such as those involved in the regulation of the UK’s energy, water, and telecommunications markets.

On January 1, 2021, the UK began reviewing cross-border activities with a UK-EU nexus in parallel to the European Commission.  On April 8, 2021, the UK established the Digital Markets Unit, a new regulatory body that will be responsible for implementing upcoming changes to competition rules in digital markets.

UK competition law requires:

1) the prohibition of agreements or practices that restrict free trading and competition between business entities (this includes in particular the repression of cartels);

2) the banning of abusive behavior by a firm dominating a market, or anti-competitive practices that tend to lead to such a dominant position (practices controlled in this way may include predatory pricing, tying, price gouging, refusal to deal and many others); and,

3) the supervision of mergers and acquisitions of large corporations, including some joint ventures.

Any transactions which could threaten competition also fall into scope of the UK’s regulators.  UK law provides for remedies to problematic transactions, such as an obligation to divest part of the merged business or to offer licenses or access to facilities to enable other businesses to continue competing.  In addition to the CMA, the Takeover Panel, the Financial Conduct Authority, and the Pensions Regulator have principal regulatory authority:

  • The Takeover Panel is an independent body, operating per the City Code on Takeover and Mergers(the “Code”), which regulates takeovers of public companies,  centrally managed or controlled in the UK, the Isle of Man, Jersey, and Guernsey.  The Code provides a binding set of rules for takeovers aimed at ensuring fair treatment for all shareholders in takeover bids, including requiring bidders to provide information about their intentions after a takeover.
  • The Financial Conduct Authority administers Listing Rules, Prospectus Regulation Rules, and Disclosure Guidance and Transparency Rules, which can apply to takeovers of publicly-listed companies.
  • The Pensions Regulator has powers to intervene in investments in pension schemes.

Expropriation and Compensation

The UK is a member of the OECD and adheres to the OECD principle that when a government expropriates property, compensation should be timely, adequate, and effective.  In the UK, the right to fair compensation and due process is uncontested and is reflected in all international investment agreements.  Expropriation of corporate assets or the nationalization of industry requires a special act of Parliament.  In response to the 2007-2009 financial crisis, the UK government nationalized Northern Rock Bank (sold to Virgin Money in 2012) and took major stakes in the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and Lloyds Banking Group.

Dispute Settlement

As a member of the World Bank-based International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the UK accepts binding international arbitration between foreign investors and the State.  As a signatory to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, the UK provides local enforcement on arbitration judgments decided in other signatory countries.

London is a thriving center for the resolution of international disputes through arbitration under a variety of procedural rules such as those of the London Court of International Arbitration, the International Chamber of Commerce, the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, the American Arbitration Association International Centre for Dispute Resolution, and others.  Many of these arbitrations involve parties with no connection to the jurisdiction, but who are drawn to the jurisdiction because they perceive it to be a fair, neutral venue with an arbitration law and courts that support competent and efficient resolution of disputes.  They also choose London-based arbitration because of the general prevalence of the English language and law in international commerce.  A wide range of contractual and non-contractual claims can be referred to arbitration in this jurisdiction including disputes involving intellectual property rights, competition, and statutory claims.  There are no restrictions on foreign nationals acting as arbitration counsel or arbitrators in this jurisdiction.  There are few restrictions on foreign lawyers practicing in the jurisdiction as evidenced by the fact that over 200 foreign law firms have offices in London.

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

In addition to its membership in ICSID, the UK is a signatory to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.  The latter convention has territorial application to Gibraltar (September 24, 1975), Hong Kong (January 21, 1977), Isle of Man (February 22, 1979), Bermuda (November 14, 1979), Belize and Cayman Islands (November 26, 1980), Guernsey (April 19, 1985), Bailiwick of Jersey (May 28, 2002), and British Virgin Islands (February 24, 2014).

The United Kingdom has consciously elected not to follow the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration.  Enforcement of an arbitral award in the UK is dependent upon where the award was granted.  The process for enforcement in any particular case is dependent upon the seat of arbitration and the arbitration rules that apply.  Arbitral awards in the UK can be enforced under a number of different regimes, namely:  The Arbitration Act 1996, The New York Convention, The Geneva Convention 1927, The Administration of Justice Act 1920 and the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act 1933, and Common Law.

The Arbitration Act 1996 governs all arbitrations seated in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, both domestic and international.  The full text of the Arbitration Act can be found here: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/23/data.pdf.

The Arbitration Act is heavily influenced by the UNCITRAL Model Law, but it has some important differences.  For example, the Arbitration Act covers both domestic and international arbitration; the document containing the parties’ arbitration agreement need not be signed; an English court is only able to stay its own proceedings and cannot refer a matter to arbitration; the default provisions in the Arbitration Act require the appointment of a sole arbitrator as opposed to three arbitrators; a party retains the power to treat its party-nominated arbitrator as the sole arbitrator in the event that the other party fails to make an appointment (where the parties’ agreement provides that each party is required to appoint an arbitrator); there is no time limit on a party’s opposition to the appointment of an arbitrator; parties must expressly opt out of most of the provisions of the Arbitration Act which confer default procedural powers on the arbitrators; and there are no strict rules governing the exchange of pleadings.  Section 66 of the Arbitration Act applies to all domestic and foreign arbitral awards.  Sections 100 to 103 of the Arbitration Act provide for enforcement of arbitral awards under the New York Convention 1958.  Section 99 of the Arbitration Act provides for the enforcement of arbitral awards made in certain countries under the Geneva Convention 1927.

UK courts have a good record of enforcing arbitral awards.  The courts will enforce an arbitral award in the same way that they will enforce an order or judgment of a court.  At the time of writing, there are no examples of the English courts enforcing awards which were set aside by the courts at the place of arbitration.

Under Section 66 of the Arbitration Act, the court’s permission is required for an international arbitral award to be enforced in the UK.  Once the court has given permission, judgment may be entered in terms of the arbitral award and enforced in the same manner as a court judgment or order.  Permission will not be granted by the court if the party against whom enforcement is sought can show that (a) the tribunal lacked substantive jurisdiction and (b) the right to raise such an objection has not been lost.

The length of arbitral proceedings can vary greatly.  If the parties have a relatively straightforward dispute, cooperate, and adopt a fast-track procedure, arbitration can be concluded within months or even weeks.  In a substantial international arbitration involving complex facts, many witnesses and experts and post-hearing briefs, the arbitration could take many years.  A reasonably substantial international arbitration will likely take between one and two years.

There are two alternative procedures that can be followed in order to enforce an award.  The first is to seek leave of the court for permission to enforce.  The second is to begin an action on the award, seeking the same relief from the court as set out in the tribunal’s award.  Enforcement of an award made in the jurisdiction may be opposed by challenging the award.  The court may also, however, refuse to enforce an award that is unclear, does not specify an amount, or offends public policy.  Enforcement of a foreign award may be opposed on any of the limited grounds set out in the New York Convention.  A stay may be granted for a limited time pending a challenge to the order for enforcement.  The court will consider the likelihood of success and whether enforcement of the award will be made more or less difficult as a result of the stay.  Conditions that might be imposed on granting the stay include such matters as paying a sum into court.  Where multiple awards are to be rendered, the court may give permission for the tribunal to continue hearing other matters, especially where there may be a long delay between awards.

Most awards are complied with voluntarily.  If the party against whom the award was made fails to comply, the party seeking enforcement can apply to the court.  The length of time it takes to enforce an award which complies with the requirements of the New York Convention will depend on whether there are complex objections to enforcement which require the court to investigate the facts of the case.  If a case raises complex issues of public importance the case could be appealed to the Court of Appeal and then to the Supreme Court.  This process could take around two years.  If no complex objections are raised, the party seeking enforcement can apply to the court using a summary procedure that is fast and efficient.  There are time limits relating to the enforcement of the award.  Failure to comply with an award is treated as a breach of the arbitration agreement.  An action on the award must be brought within six years of the failure to comply with the award or 12 years if the arbitration agreement was made under seal.  If the award does not specify a time for compliance, a court will imply a term of reasonableness.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The UK has strong bankruptcy protections going back to the Bankruptcy Act of 1542.  Today, both individual bankruptcy and corporate insolvency are regulated in the UK primarily by the Insolvency Act 1986 and the Insolvency Rules 1986, regulated through determinations in UK courts.  The World Bank’s Doing Business Index ranks the UK 14 out of 190 for ease of resolving insolvency.

Regarding individual bankruptcy law, the court will oblige a bankrupt individual to sell assets to pay dividends to creditors.  A bankrupt person must inform future creditors about the bankrupt status and may not act as the director of a company during the period of bankruptcy.  Bankruptcy is not criminalized in the UK, and the Enterprise Act of 2002 dictates that for England and Wales bankruptcy will not normally last longer than 12 months.  At the end of the bankrupt period, the individual is normally no longer held liable for bankruptcy debts unless the individual is determined to be culpable for his or her own insolvency, in which case the bankruptcy period can last up to 15 years.

For corporations declaring insolvency, UK insolvency law seeks to distribute losses equitably between creditors, employees, the community, and other stakeholders in an effort to rescue the company.  Liability is limited to the amount of the investment.  If a company cannot be rescued, it is liquidated and assets are sold to pay debts to creditors, including foreign investors.  In March 2020, the UK government announced it would introduce legislation to change existing insolvency laws in response to COVID-19.  The new measures seek to enable companies undergoing a rescue or restructuring process to continue trading and help them avoid insolvency.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The City of London houses one of the largest and most comprehensive financial centers globally.  London offers all forms of financial services:  commercial banking, investment banking, insurance, venture capital, private equity, stock and currency brokers, fund managers, commodity dealers, accounting and legal services, as well as electronic clearing and settlement systems and bank payments systems.  London is highly regarded by investors because of its solid regulatory, legal, and tax environments, a supportive market infrastructure, and a dynamic, highly skilled workforce.

The UK government is generally hospitable to foreign portfolio investment.  Government policies are intended to facilitate the free flow of capital and to support the flow of resources in product and services markets.  Foreign investors are able to obtain credit in local markets at normal market terms, and a wide range of credit instruments are available.  The principles underlying legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent, and  are consistent with international standards.  In all cases, regulations have been published and are applied on a non-discriminatory basis by the Bank of England’s Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA).

The London Stock Exchange is one of the most active equity markets in the world.  London’s markets have the advantage of bridging the gap between the day’s trading in the Asian markets and the opening of the U.S. market.  This bridge effect is also evidenced by the fact that many Russian and Central European companies have used London stock exchanges to tap global capital markets.

The Alternative Investment Market (AIM), established in 1995 as a sub-market of the London Stock Exchange, is specifically designed for smaller, rapidly expanding companies.  The AIM has a more flexible regulatory system than the main market and has no minimum market capitalization requirements.  Since its launch, the AIM has raised more than £68 billion ($95 billion) for more than 3,000 companies.

Money and Banking System

The UK banking sector is the largest in Europe and represents the continent’s deepest capital pool.  More than 150 financial services firms from the EU are based in the UK.  The financial and related professional services industry contributed approximately 10 percent of UK economic output in 2020, employed approximately 2.3 million people, and contributed the most to UK tax receipts of any sector.  The long-term impact of Brexit on the financial services industry is uncertain at this time.  Some firms have already moved limited numbers of jobs outside the UK in order to service EU-based clients, but the UK is anticipated to remain a top financial hub.

The Bank of England serves as the central bank of the UK.  According to its guidelines, foreign banking institutions are legally permitted to establish operations in the UK as subsidiaries or branches.  Responsibilities for the prudential supervision of a foreign branch are split between the parent’s home state supervisors and the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA).  The PRA, however, expects the whole firm to meet the PRA’s threshold conditions.  The PRA expects new foreign branches to focus on wholesale and corporate banking and to do so at a level that is not critical to the UK economy.  The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is the conduct regulator for all banks operating in the United Kingdom.  For foreign branches the FCA’s Threshold Conditions and conduct of business rules apply, including areas such as anti-money laundering.  Eligible deposits placed in foreign branches may be covered by the UK deposit guarantee program and therefore foreign branches may be subject to regulations concerning UK depositor protection.

There are no legal restrictions that prohibit foreign residents from opening a business bank account; setting up a business bank account as a non-resident is in principle straightforward.   In practice, however, most banks will not accept applications from overseas due to fraud concerns and the additional administration costs.  To open a personal bank account, an individual must at minimum present an internationally recognized proof of identification and prove residency in the UK.  This can present a problem for incoming FDI and American expatriates.  Unless the business or the individual can prove UK residency, they will have limited banking options.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The pound sterling is a free-floating currency with no restrictions on its transfer or conversion.  Exchange controls restricting the transfer of funds associated with an investment into or out of the UK are not exercised.

Remittance Policies

Not applicable.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The United Kingdom does not maintain a national wealth fund.  Although there have at time been calls to turn The Crown Estate – created in 1760 by Parliament as a means of funding the British monarchy – into a wealth fund, there are no current plans to do so.  Moreover, with assets of just under $20 billion, The Crown Estate would be small in relation to other national funds.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Businesses in the UK are accountable for a due-diligence approach to responsible business conduct (RBC), or corporate social responsibility (CSR), in areas such as human resources, environment, sustainable development, and health and safety practices – through a wide variety of existing guidelines at national, EU, and global levels.  There is a strong awareness of CSR principles among UK businesses, promoted by UK business associations such as the Confederation of British Industry and the UK government.

The British government fairly and uniformly enforces laws related to human rights, labor rights, consumer protection, environmental protection, and other statutes intended to protect individuals from adverse business impacts.

The UK government adheres to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.  It is committed to the promotion and implementation of these Guidelines and encourages UK multinational enterprises to adopt high corporate standards involving all aspects of the Guidelines.  The UK has established a National Contact Point (NCP) to promote the Guidelines and to facilitate the resolution of disputes that may arise within that context.  The NCP is part of the Department for International Trade.  A Steering Board monitors the work of the UK NCP and provides strategic guidance.  It is composed of representatives of relevant government departments and four external members nominated by the Trades Union Congress, the Confederation of British Industry, the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes Region of Africa, and the NGO community.  The results of a UK government consultation on CSR can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/300265/bis-14-651-good-for-business-and-society-government-response-to-call-for-views-on-corporate-responsibility.pdf.

Information on UK regulations and policies relating to the procurement of supplies, services and works for the public sector, and the relevance of promoting RBC, are found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/public-sector-procurement-policy.

9. Corruption

Although isolated instances of bribery and corruption have occurred in the UK, U.S. investors have not identified corruption of public officials as a challenge in doing business in the UK.

The Bribery Act 2010 amended and reformed UK criminal law and provided a modern legal framework to combat bribery in the UK and internationally.  The scope of the law is extra-territorial.  Under the Act, a relevant person or company can be prosecuted for bribery if the crime is committed abroad.  The Act applies to UK citizens, residents and companies established under UK law.  In addition, non-UK companies can be held liable for a failure to prevent bribery if they do business in the UK.

Section 9 of the Act requires the UK government to publish guidance on procedures that commercial organizations can put in place to prevent bribery on their behalf.  It creates the following offenses: active bribery, described as promising or giving a financial or other advantage, passive bribery, described as agreeing to receive or accepting a financial or other advantage; bribery of foreign public officials; and the failure of commercial organizations to prevent bribery by an associated person (corporate offense).  This corporate criminal offense places a burden of proof on companies to show they have adequate procedures  in place to prevent bribery (http://www.transparency.org.uk/our-work/business-integrity/bribery-act/adequate-procedures-guidance/).  To avoid corporate liability for bribery, companies must make sure that they have strong, up-to-date and effective anti-bribery policies and systems.  It is a corporate criminal offense to fail to prevent bribery by an associated person.  The briber must be “associated” with the commercial organization, a term which will apply to, amongst others, the organization’s agents, employees, and subsidiaries.  A foreign corporation which “carries on a business, or part of a business” in the UK may therefore be guilty of the UK offense even if, for example, the relevant acts were performed by the corporation’s agent outside the UK.  The Act does not extend to political parties and it is unclear whether it extends to family members of public officials.

The UK formally ratified the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery in 1998 and ratified the UN Convention Against Corruption in 2006.

Resources to Report Corruption

UK law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government routinely implements these laws effectively.  The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is an independent government department, operating under the superintendence of the Attorney General with jurisdiction in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.  It investigates and prosecutes those who commit serious or complex fraud, bribery, and corruption, and pursues them and others for the proceeds of their crime.

All allegations of bribery of foreign public officials by British nationals or companies incorporated in the United Kingdom—even in relation to conduct that occurred overseas—should be reported to the SFO for possible investigation.  When the SFO receives a report of possible corruption, its intelligence team makes an assessment and decides if the matter is best dealt with by the SFO itself or passed to a law enforcement partner organization, such as the Overseas Anti-Corruption Unit of the City of London Police (OACU) or the International Corruption Unit of the National Crime Agency.  Allegations can be reported in confidence using the SFO’s secure online reporting form: https://www.sfo.gov.uk/contact-us/reporting-serious-fraud-bribery-corruption/.

Details can also be sent to the SFO in writing:

SFO Confidential
Serious Fraud Office
2-4 Cockspur Street
London, SW1Y 5BS
United Kingdom

10. Political and Security Environment

The UK is politically stable but continues to be a target for both domestic and global terrorist groups.  Terrorist incidents in the UK have significantly decreased in frequency and severity since 2017, which saw five terrorist attacks that caused 36 deaths.  In 2019, the UK suffered one terrorist attack resulting in three deaths (including the attacker), and another two attacks in early 2020 caused serious injuries and resulted in the death of one attacker.  In November 2019, the UK lowered the terrorism threat level to substantial, meaning the risk of an attack was reduced from “highly likely” to “likely.”  UK officials categorize Islamist terrorism as the greatest threat to national security, though officials identify a rising threat from racially or ethnically motivated extremists, which they refer to as “extreme right-wing” terrorism.  Since March 2017, police and security services have disrupted 19 Islamist and seven extreme right-wing plots.

Environmental advocacy groups in the UK have been involved with numerous protests against a variety of business activities, including: airport expansion, bypass roads, offshore structures, wind farms, civilian nuclear power plants, and petrochemical facilities.  These protests tend not to be violent but can be disruptive, with the aim of obtaining maximum media exposure.

Brexit has waned as a source of political instability.  Nonetheless, the June 2016 EU referendum campaign was characterized by significant polarization and widely varying perspectives across the country.  Differing views about the future UK-EU relationship continue to polarize political opinion across the UK.  Scottish political leaders have indicated that the UK leaving the EU may provide justification to pursue another Referendum on Scotland leaving the UK.  Implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement has contributed to heightened political and sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland.

The UK formally departed the bloc on January 31, 2020, following the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, and completed its transition out of the EU on December 31, 2020.

The Conservative Party, traditionally the UK’s pro-business party, was, until the COVID-19 pandemic, focused on implementing Brexit, a process many international businesses opposed because they anticipated it would make trade in goods, services, workers, and capital with the UK’s largest trading partners more challenging and costly, at least in the short term.  The Conservative Party-led government implemented a Digital Services Tax (DST), a two percent tax on the revenues of predominantly American search engines, social media services and online marketplaces which derive value from UK users, and has additionally legislated for an increase in the Corporation Tax rate from 19 percent to 25 percent.

The Labour Party’s leader, Sir Keir Starmer, is widely acknowledged to be more economically centrist than his predecessor.  In his first major economic speech following his election as Labour Party leader, Starmer declared his intention to repair and improve the party’s relationship with the business community, but has proposed few policies beyond the focus of the COVID-19 crisis.