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Denmark

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

A small country with an open economy, Denmark is highly dependent on foreign trade, with exports comprising the largest component (55 percent) of GDP. Danish trade and investment policies are liberal. In general, investment policies are forward-looking, aimed at fostering and developing businesses, especially in high-growth sectors. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) ranks Denmark second globally and first regionally on its business environment ranking. The EIU characterizes Denmark’s business environment as among the most attractive in the world, reflecting a sound macroeconomic framework, excellent infrastructure, low bureaucracy and a friendly policy towards private enterprise and competition. Principal concerns include a high personal tax burden, low productivity growth and uncertainties relating to Brexit, as the UK is a close trading partner that shares many of Denmark’s policy goals within the EU. Overall, however, operating conditions for companies should remain broadly favorable. Denmark scores top marks in various categories, including the political and institutional environment, macroeconomic stability, foreign investment policy, private enterprise policy, financing, and infrastructure.

As of January 2019, the EIU rated Denmark an “AA” country on its Country Risk Service, with a stable outlook. Sovereign risk rated “AA,” and political risk “AAA.” Denmark ranked tenth out of 140 on the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Competitiveness Report, third on the World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business ranking, and fifth on the EIU 2018 Democracy Index. “The Big Three” credit rating agencies Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s, and Fitch Group all score Denmark AAA.

“Invest in Denmark,” an agency of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and part of the Danish Trade Council, provides detailed information to potential investors. The website for the agency is www.investindk.com  .

Corporate tax records of all companies, associations and foundations, which pay taxes in Denmark, were made public beginning in December 2012 and are updated annually. The corporate tax rate is 22 percent.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

As an EU member state, Denmark is bound by EU rules on free movement of goods, capital, persons and certain services. Denmark welcomes foreign investment and does not distinguish between EU and other investors. There are no additional permits required by foreign investors, nor any reported bias against foreign companies from municipal or national authorities.

Denmark’s central and regional governments actively encourage foreign investment on a national-treatment basis, with relatively few limits on foreign control. A foreign or domestic private entity may freely establish, own, and dispose of a business enterprise in Denmark. The capital requirement for establishing a corporation (A/S) or Limited Partnership (P/S) is DKK 400,000 (approx. USD  63,317) and for establishing a private limited liability company (ApS) DKK 40,000 (approx. USD 6,331.

As of 15 April, it is no longer possible to set up an “Entrepreneurial Company” (IVS). The company type was intended to allow entrepreneurs a cheap and simple way to incorporate with limited liability, with a starting capital of only DKK1 (USD 0.16). Due to repeated instances of fraud and unintended use of the IVS, it has been abolished. Simultaneously, the capital requirements to set up a Private Limited Company were lowered, bringing Denmark more in line with other Scandinavian countries, and to ensure it will continue to be cheap and simple to establish limited liability companies in Denmark. Currently there are approx. 45,000 IVS in existence. These companies have a deadline of 2 years to re-register as Private Limited Companies (ApS), with a minimum capital of DKK 40,000. If they fail to re-register, they will be forcibly dissolved.  No restrictions apply regarding the residency of directors and managers.

Since October 2004, any private entity may establish a European public limited company (SE company) in Denmark. The legal framework of an SE company is subject to Danish corporate law, but it is possible to change the nationality of the company without liquidation and re-founding. An SE company must be registered at the Danish Business Authority if the official address of the company is in Denmark. The minimum capital requirement is EUR 120,000 (approx. USD 135,000).

Danish professional certification and/or local Danish experience are required to provide professional services in Denmark. In some instances, Denmark may accept an equivalent professional certification from other EU or Nordic countries on a reciprocal basis. EU-wide residency requirements apply to the provision of legal and accountancy services.

Ownership restrictions are applied in the following sectors:

  • Hydrocarbon exploration: Requires 20 percent Danish government participation on a “non-carried interest” basis.
  • Defense materials: The law governing foreign ownership of Danish defense companies (L538 of May 26, 2010) stipulates that the Minister of Justice has to approve foreign ownership of more than 40 percent of the equity or more than 20 percent of the voting rights, or if foreign interests gain a controlling share in a defense company doing business in Denmark. This approval is generally granted unless there are security or other foreign policy considerations weighing against approval.
  • Maritime: There are foreign (non-EU resident) ownership requirements on Danish-flagged vessels other than those owned by an enterprise incorporated in Denmark. Ships owned by Danish citizens, Danish partnerships or Danish limited liability companies are eligible for registration in the Danish International Ships Register (DIS). Ships owned by EU or European Economic Area (EEA) entities with a genuine link to Denmark are also eligible for registration, and foreign companies with a significant Danish interest can register a ship in the DIS.
  • Aviation: For an airline to be established in Denmark it must have majority ownership and be effectively controlled by an EU state or a national of an EU state, unless otherwise provided for through an international agreement to which the EU is a signatory.
  • Securities Trading: Non-resident financial institutions may engage in securities trading on the Copenhagen Stock Exchange only through subsidiaries incorporated in Denmark.
  • Real Estate: Purchases of designated vacation properties, or ‘summer houses’, are restricted to citizens of Denmark. Such properties cannot be inhabited year-round, and are located in municipally designated ‘summer house area’ zones, typically near coastlines. EU citizens and companies from EU member states can purchase any type of real estate, except vacation properties, without prior authorization from the authorities. Companies and individuals from non-EU countries that have been present/resident in Denmark for at least five years in total and are currently resident in Denmark can also purchase real estate, except vacation properties, without prior authorization. Non-EU companies or individuals that do not meet these requirements can only purchase real estate with the permission of the Danish Ministry of Justice. Permission is freely given to people with a Danish residency permit, except with regard to purchases of vacation properties.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The most recent UNCTAD review of Denmark occurred in March 2013, available here: http://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/webdiaeia2013d2_en.pdf . There is no specific mention of Denmark in the latest WTO Trade Policy Review of the European Union, revised in October 2017.

An EU Commission Staff Working Paper on the investment environment in Denmark is available here: https://ec.europa.eu/info/business-economy-euro/economic-and-fiscal-policy-coordination/eu-economic-governance-monitoring-prevention-correction/european-semester/european-semester-your-country/denmark_en   while a 2015 private sector investment and taxation review by Deloitte can be found here: http://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/Tax/dttl-tax-denmarkguide-2015.pdf .

Denmark ranked first out of 175 in Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index. It received a ranking of 3 out of 190 for “Ease of Doing Business” in the World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Report, placing it first in Europe. In the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness report for 2018, Denmark was ranked 10 out of 140 countries.

The World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) Global Innovation Index ranked Denmark 8 out of 126 in 2018

Business Facilitation

The Danish Business Authority (DBA) is responsible for business registrations in Denmark. As a part of the Danish Business Authority, “Business in Denmark” provides information on relevant Danish rules and online registrations to foreign companies in English. The Danish business registration website is www.virk.dk  . It is the main digital tool for licensing and registering companies in Denmark and offers a business registration processes that is clear and complete.

Registration of sole proprietorships and partnerships is free of charge, while there is a fee for registration of other business types: DKK 670 (USD 106) if the registration is done digitally and DKK 2150 (USD 340) if the registration form is sent by e-mail or post.

The process for establishing a new business is distinct from that of registration. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs “Invest in Denmark” program provides a step-by-step guide to establishing a business, along with other relevant resources which can be found here: www.investindk.com/Downloads  .The services are free of charge and available to all investors, regardless of country of origin.

Processing time for establishing a new business varies depending on the chosen business entity. Establishing a Danish Limited Liability Company (Anpartsselskab – ApS), for example, generally takes four to six weeks for a standard application. Establishing a sole proprietorship (Enkeltmandsvirksomhed) is simpler, with processing generally taking about one week.

Those providing temporary services in Denmark must provide their company details to the Registry of Foreign Service Providers (RUT). The website (www.virk.dk  ) provides English guidance on how to register a service with RUT. A digital employee’s signature, referred to as a NemID, is required for those wishing to register a foreign company in Denmark. A CPR number (a 10-digit personal identification number) and valid ID are needed to obtain a NemID, though not Danish citizenship.

In the Danish Financial Statements Act no. 1580 of 10 January 2015 section 7(2), small enterprises are defined as enterprises with fewer than 50 employees and whose annual turnover does not exceed DKK 89 million (approx. USD 13.6 million) or annual balance sheet total does not exceed DKK 44 million (approx. USD 6.7 million). Medium-sized enterprises are defined as enterprises with fewer than 250 employees and either have an annual turnover that does not exceed DKK 313 million (approx. USD 47.5 million) or annual balance sheet total does not exceed DKK 156 million (approx. USD 23.7 million).

Outward Investment

Danish companies are not restricted from investing abroad, and Danish outward investment has exceeded inward investments for more than a decade.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The judicial system is extremely well-regarded and considered fair. The legal system is independent of the legislative branch of the government and is based on a centuries-old legal tradition. It includes written and consistently applied commercial and bankruptcy laws. Secured interests in property are recognized and enforced. The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2018 Global Competitiveness Report, which ranks Denmark as the world’s tenth most competitive economy and fifth among EU member states, characterizes it as having among the best functioning and most transparent institutions in the world. Denmark ranks high on specific WEF indices related to macroeconomic stability (1st), labor market (5th), business dynamism (12th), ICT adoption (8th) and innovative capabilities (12th).

In an effort to facilitate business administration, Denmark maintains only two “legislative days” per year—January 1st and July 1st—the only days on which new laws and regulations affecting the business sector can come into effect. Danish laws and policies granting national treatment to foreign investments are designed to increase FDI in Denmark. Denmark consistently applies high standards with regard to health, environment, safety, and labor laws. Danish corporate law is generally in conformity with current EU legislation. The legal, regulatory and accounting systems are relatively transparent and in accordance with international standards. Bureaucratic procedures are streamlined and transparent, and proposed laws and regulations are published in draft form for public comment. Public finances and debt obligations are transparent.

As of December 19, 2012, the Ministry of Taxation made all companies’ corporate tax records public, and it updates and publicizes them annually. The publication is intended to increase transparency and public scrutiny of corporate tax payments. Greenland and the Faroe Islands retain autonomy with regards to tax policy.

The government uses transparent policies and effective laws to foster competition and establish “clear rules of the game,” consistent with international norms and applicable equally to Danish and foreign entities. The Danish Competition and Consumer Authority work to make markets well-functioning so businesses compete efficiently on all parameters. The Authority is a government agency under the Danish Ministry of Industry, Business and Financial Affairs. It enforces the Danish Competition Act. The purpose of the Act and Danish consumer legislation is to promote efficient resource allocation in society, to prevent the restriction of efficient competition, to create a level playing field for enterprises and to protect consumers.

Publicly listed companies in Denmark must adhere to the Danish Financial Statements Act when preparing their annual reports. The accounting principles are International Accounting Standards (IAS), International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and Danish Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Financial statements must be prepared annually. The Danish Financial Statements Act covers all businesses.

Private limited companies, public limited companies and corporate funds are obliged to prepare financial statements in accordance with which accounting class the company should follow based on size, as follows:

  • Small businesses (Class B): Total assets of DKK 44 million (USD 6.7 million), net revenue of DKK 89 million (USD 13.5 million), average number of full-time employees during the financial year of 50.
  • Medium-sized enterprises (Class C medium): Total assets of DKK 156 million (USD 23.7 million), net revenue of DKK 313 million (USD 47.5 million), average number of full-time employees during the financial year of 250.
  • Large companies (Class C large): Companies that are neither small nor medium companies.

According to the Danish Financial Statements Act, personally owned businesses, personally owned general partnerships (multiple owners) and general funds are characterized as Class A and thus have no requirement to prepare financial statements unless the owner voluntarily chooses to do so.

All government draft proposed regulations are published at the portal for public hearings, “Høringsportalen” (www.hoeringsportalen.dk  ), to solicit inputs from interested parties. After receiving feedback and possibly undergoing amendments, proposed regulations are published at the Danish Parliament’s website (www.ft.dk). Final regulations are published at www.lovtidende.dk   and www.ft.dk  . All ministries and agencies are required to publish proposed regulations. Denmark has a World Bank composite score of “4.75” for the Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance, on a 0 – 5 scale. With respect to governance, the World Bank suggests the following areas for improvement:

  • Affected parties cannot request reconsideration or appeal adopted regulations to the relevant administrative agency;
  • There is no existing requirement that regulations be periodically reviewed to see whether they are still needed or should be revised.

International Regulatory Considerations

Denmark adheres to the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMs); no inconsistencies have been reported.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Since the adoption of the Danish constitution in 1849, decision-making power in Denmark has been divided into the legislative, executive and judicial branches. The principle of a three-way separation of power and the independence of courts of law help ensure democracy and the legal rights of the country’s citizens. The district courts, the high courts and the Supreme Court represent the three basic levels of the Danish legal system, but the legal system also comprises a range of other institutions with special functions.

For further information please see:

http://www.domstol.dk/om/publikationer/HtmlPublikationer/Profil/Profilbrochure percent20- percent20UK/index.html  .

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The government agency “Invest in Denmark” is part of the Danish Trade Council and is situated within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The agency provides detailed information to potential investors. The website for the agency is www.investindk.com  . The Faroese government promotes Faroese trade and investment through its website https://www.faroeislands.fo/economy-business/  . For more information regarding investment potential in Greenland, please see Greenland Holding at www.venture.gl   or the Greenland Tourism & Business Council at https://visitgreenland.com/  .

As an EU member state, Denmark is bound by EU rules on the free movement of goods, capital, persons and certain services. Denmark welcomes foreign investment and does not distinguish between EU and other investors. There are no additional permits required of foreign investors, nor any reported biases against foreign companies from municipal or national authorities.

A new EU investment screening framework encouraging member states to screen foreign investments in strategic sectors is expected to lead to national foreign investment screening legislation, effective in 2020.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Danish Competition and Consumer Authority (CCA) reviews transactions for competition-related concerns. According to the Danish Competition Act, the CCA requires notification of mergers and takeovers if the combined turnover of the participating companies exceeds DKK 50 million (approx. USD 7.6 million). However, notification is not required if one of the participating companies has turnover of less than DKK 10 million (approx. USD 1.5 million). If the combined turnover of the merging companies exceeds DKK 900 million (approx. USD 137 million) and at least two of the merging companies each have turnover exceeding DKK 100 million (approx. USD 15.1 million) or if one of the merging companies has domestic annual turnover exceeding DKK 3.8 billion (approx. USD 577 million) and at least one of the merging companies has global annual turnover exceeding DKK 3.8 billion (approx. USD 577 million), the merger or takeover is also subject to approval by the CCA. Large scale mergers also require approval from EU Competition authorities.

Expropriation and Compensation

By law, private property can only be expropriated for public purposes, in a non-discriminatory manner, with reasonable compensation, and in accordance with established principles of international law. There have been no recent expropriations of significance in Denmark and there is no reason to expect significant expropriations in the near future.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

There have been no major disputes over investment in Denmark in recent years. Denmark has been a member of the World Bank-based International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) since 1968. ICSID offices have also been extended to the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Denmark is a party to the 1958 (New York) Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, meaning local courts must enforce international arbitration awards that meet certain criteria. Subsequent Danish legislation makes international arbitration of investment disputes binding in Denmark. Denmark declared in 1976 that the New York Convention applies to the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Denmark is a party to the 1961 European Convention on International Commercial Arbitration and to the 1962 Agreement relating to the application of this Convention. Denmark adopted the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration in 1985.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Monetary judgments under the bankruptcy law are made in freely convertible Danish Kroner. The bankruptcy law addresses creditors’ claims against a bankruptcy in the following order: (1) costs and debt accrued during the treatment of the bankruptcy; (2) costs, including the court tax, relating to attempts to find a solution other than bankruptcy; (3) wage claims and holiday pay; (4) excise taxes owed to the government; and (5) all other claims. In the World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Report, Denmark ranks 6th in “resolving insolvency.”

France and Monaco

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

France welcomes foreign investment. In the current economic climate, the French government sees foreign investment as a means to create additional jobs and stimulate growth. Investment regulations are simple, and a range of financial incentives are available to foreign investors, who report they find France’s skilled and productive labor force, good infrastructure, technology, and central location in Europe attractive. France’s membership in the European Union (EU) and the Eurozone facilitates the efficient movement of people, services, capital, and goods. However, notwithstanding French efforts at economic and tax reform, market liberalization, and attracting foreign investment, perceived disincentives to investing in France include the relatively high tax environment. Labor market fluidity is improving due to labor market reforms introduced by the Macron Administration, but it is still rigid compared to some OECD economies.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

France is among the least restrictive countries for foreign investment. With a few exceptions in certain specified sectors, there are no statutory limits on foreign ownership of companies. Foreign entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises, and engage in all forms of remunerative activity.

France does maintain a national security review mechanism. French law stipulates that control by acquisition of a domiciled company or subsidiary operating in certain sectors deemed crucial to France’s national interests relating to public order, public security and national defense are subject to prior notification, screening, and approval by the Economy and Finance Minister. Other sectors requiring approval include energy infrastructure; transportation networks; public water supplies; electronic communication networks; public health protection; and installations vital to national security. In 2018, four additional categories – semiconductors, data storage, artificial intelligence and robotics – were added to the list requiring a national security review. For all listed sectors, France can block foreign takeovers of French companies according to the provisions of the Montebourg Decree.

In 2018, the government held equity positions in approximately 81 firms. Most of the positions were relatively small, but did include provisions, which prevent foreign takeover of these firms. Exceptions, where the government had large holdings included, among others, Aeroports de Paris (50.6 percent), Engie, and Renault. In January 2018, the government sold 4.0 percent of its holding in Engie, lowering its stake to 23.64 percent of the energy company. The government also sold 5.0 percent of its stake in Renault, resulting in its ownership of 15.01 percent of the automaker.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Given the level of development and stability of the investment climate, France has not recently been the subject of international organizations’ investment policy reviews. The OECD Economic Forecast for France (November 2018) can be found here: http://www.oecd.org/economy/france-economic-forecast-summary.htm  .

Business Facilitation

Business France is a government agency established with the purpose to promote new foreign investment, expansion, technology partnerships, and financial investment. Business France provides services to help investors understand regulatory, tax, and employment policies as well as state and local investment incentives, and government support programs. Business France also helps companies find project finance and potential equity acquisitions. Business France recently unveiled a website in English to help prospective businesses considering the French market (https://www.businessfrance.fr/en/invest-in-France  ).

In addition, France’s public investment bank, Bpifrance, assists foreign businesses to find local investors when setting up a subsidiary in France. It also supports foreign startups in France through the government’s French Tech Ticket program, which provides them with funding, a resident’s permit, and incubation facilities. Both business facilitation mechanisms provide for equitable treatment of women and minorities.

President Macron has made innovation one of his priorities with a EUR 10 billion fund that is being financed through privatizations of State-owned enterprises. France’s priority sectors for investment include: aeronautics, agro-foods, digital, nuclear, rail, auto, chemicals and materials, forestry, eco-industries, shipbuilding, health, luxury, and extractive industries. In the near-term, the French government intends to focus on driverless vehicles, batteries, the high-speed train of the future, nano-electronics, renewable energy, and health industries.

Business France and Bpifrance are particularly interested in attracting foreign investment in the tech sector. The French government has developed a brand “French Tech” to promote France as a location for start-ups and high-growth digital companies. In addition to offices in 17 French cities, French Tech offices have been established in cities including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Moscow, Berlin, and 14 others.

The website Guichet Enterprises (https://www.guichet-entreprises.fr/fr/  ) is designed to be a one-stop website for registering a business. The site is available in both French and English although some fact sheets on regulated industries are only available in French on the website.

Outward Investment

French firms invest more in the United States than in any other country and support approximately 678,000 American jobs. Total French investment in the United States reached USD 275.5 billion in 2018. France was our eighth-largest trading partner with approximately USD 128 billion in bilateral trade in 2018. The business promotion agency Business France also assists French firms with outward investment. There is no restriction on outward investment.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

France’s government has made considerable progress in the last decade on the transparency and accessibility of its regulatory system. The French government generally engages in industry and public consultation before drafting legislation or rulemaking through a regular but variable process directed by the relevant ministry. However, the text of draft legislation is not always publicly available before parliamentary approval. U.S. firms may also find it useful to become members of industry associations, which can play an influential role in developing government policies. Even “observer” status can offer insight into new investment opportunities and greater access to government-sponsored projects.

To increase transparency in the French legislative process, all ministries are required to attach an impact assessment to their draft bills. The Prime Minister’s Secretariat General (SGG for Secretariat General du Gouvernement) is responsible for ensuring that impact studies are undertaken in the early stages of the drafting process. The State Council (Conseil d’Etat), which must be consulted on all draft laws and regulations, may reject a draft bill if the impact assessment is inadequate.

After experimenting with new online consultations, the Macron Administration is regularly using this means to achieve consensus on its major reform bills. These consultations are often open to professionals as well as citizens at large. Another Macron innovation is to impose regular impact assessments after a bill has been implemented to ensure its maximum efficiency, revising, as necessary, provisions that do not work in favor of those that do. Finally, the Macron Administration aims to make all regulations and laws available online by 2022.

Over past decades, major reforms have extended the investigative and decision-making powers of France’s Competition Authority. As a result, the Authority has completed 50 enforcement investigations by end of 2016, with 14 decisions leading to sanctions of 203 million EUR (USD 251 million). The Authority publishes its methodology for calculating fines imposed on companies charged with abuse of a dominant position. It issues specific guidance on competition law compliance, and government ministers, companies, consumer organizations and trade associations now have the right to petition the authority to investigate anti-competitive practices. While the Authority alone examines the impact of mergers on competition, the Minister of the Economy retains the power to request a new investigation or reverse a merger transaction decision for reasons of industrial development, competitiveness, or saving jobs.

France’s budget documents are comprehensive and cover all expenditures of the central government. An annex to the budget also provides estimates of cost sharing contributions, though these are not included in the budget estimates. In its spring report each year, the National Economic Commission outlines the deficits for the two previous years, the current year, and the year ahead, including consolidated figures on taxes, debt, and expenditures. Since 1999, the budget accounts have also included contingent liabilities from government guarantees and pension liabilities. The government publishes its debt data promptly on the French Treasury’s website and in other documents. Data on nonnegotiable debt is available 15 days after the end of the month, and data on negotiable debt is available 35 days after the end of the month. Annual data on debt guaranteed by the state is published in summary in the CGAF Report and in detail in the Compte de la dette publique. More information can be found at:

https://www.imf.org/external/np/rosc/fra/fiscal.htm  

International Regulatory Considerations

France is a founding member of the European Union, created in 1957. As such, France incorporates EU laws and regulatory norms into its domestic law. France has been a World Trade Organization (WTO) member since 1995 and a member of GATT since 1948. While developing new draft regulations, the French government submits a copy to the WTO for review to ensure the prospective legislation is consistent with its WTO obligations. France ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement in October 2015 and has implemented all of its TFA commitments.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

French law is codified into what is sometimes referred to as the Napoleonic Code, but is officially the Code Civil des Francais, or French Civil Code. Private law governs interactions between individuals (e.g., civil, commercial, and employment law) and public law governs the relationship between the government and the people (e.g., criminal, administrative, and constitutional law).

France has an administrative court system to challenge a decision by local governments and the national government; the State Council (Conseil d’Etat) is the appellate court. France enforces foreign legal decisions such as judgments, rulings, and arbitral awards through the procedure of exequatur introduced before the Tribunal de Grande Instance (TGI), which is the court of original jurisdiction in the French legal system.

France’s Commercial Tribunal (Tribunal de Commerce or TDC) specializes in commercial litigation. Magistrates of the commercial tribunals are lay judges, who are well known in the business community and have experience in the sectors they represent. Decisions by the commercial courts can be appealed before the Court of Appeals. France’s judicial system is procedurally competent, fair, and reliable and is independent of the government.

The judiciary – although its members are state employees – is independent of the executive branch. The judicial process in France is known to be competent, fair, thorough, and time-consuming. There is a right of appeal. The Appellate Court (cour d’appel) re-examines judgments rendered in civil, commercial, employment or criminal law cases. It re-examines the legal basis of judgments, checking for errors in due process and reexamines case facts. It may either confirm or set aside the judgment of the lower court, in whole or in part. Decisions of the Appellate Court may be appealed to the Highest Court in France (cour de cassation).

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all sorts of remunerative activities. U.S. investment in France is subject to the provisions of the Convention of Establishment between the United States of America and France, which was signed in 1959 and remains in force. The rights it provides U.S. nationals and companies include: rights equivalent to those of French nationals in all commercial activities (excluding communications, air transportation, water transportation, banking, the exploitation of natural resources, the production of electricity, and professions of a scientific, literary, artistic, and educational nature, as well as certain regulated professions like doctors and lawyers). Treatment equivalent to that of French or third-country nationals is provided with respect to transfer of funds between France and the United States. Property is protected from expropriation except for public purposes; in that case it is accompanied by payment that is just, realizable and prompt.

Potential investors can find relevant investment information and links to laws and investment regulations at http://www.businessfrance.fr/  .

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Major reforms have extended the investigative and decision-making powers of France’s Competition Authority. The Authority publishes its methodology for calculating fines imposed on companies charged with abuse of a dominant position. It issues specific guidance on competition law compliance. Government ministers, companies, consumer organizations and trade associations have the right to petition the authority to investigate anti-competitive practices. While the Authority alone examines the impact of mergers on competition, the Minister of the Economy retains the power to request a new investigation or reverse a merger transaction decision for reasons of industrial development, competitiveness, or saving jobs.

A new law on Economic Growth, Activity and Equal Opportunities (known as the “Macron Law”), adopted in August 2016, vested the Competition Authority with the power to review mergers and alliances between retailers ex-ante (beforehand). The law provides that all contracts binding a retail business to a distribution network shall expire at the same time. This enables the retailer to switch to another distribution network more easily. Furthermore, distributors are prohibited from restricting a retailer’s commercial activity via post-contract terms. The civil fine incurred for restrictive practices can now amount to up to five percent of the business’s revenue earned in France.

France’s Competition Authority launches regular in-depth investigations into various sectors of the economy, which may lead to formal investigations and fines. On March 6, 2018, the Authority announced that after a two-year examination of the French online advertising market, it may open a full inquiry into the overwhelmingly dominant position of Google and Facebook in internet advertising markets.

Expropriation and Compensation

Government cannot legally expropriate property to build public infrastructure without fair market compensation. There have been no expropriations of note during the reporting period.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

France is a member of the World Bank-based International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) Convention and a signatory to the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention) which means local courts are obligated to enforce international arbitral awards under this system. The International Chamber of Commerce’s International Court of Arbitration (ICA) has been based in Paris since 1923.

France was one of the first countries to enact a modern arbitration law in 1980-1981. In 2011, the French Ministry of Justice issued Decree 2011-48, which introduced further international best practices into French arbitration procedural law. As a result of that decree, parties are free to agree orally to settle their disputes through arbitration, subject to standards of due process and a newly enacted principle of procedural efficiency and fairness.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

French law provides conditions for the recognition and the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards in relation to the New York Convention. The provisions of French law are contained in the Code of Civil Procedure and the Code of Civil Enforcement Procedures. The French Civil Code envisions several mechanisms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) including out-of-court arbitration and conciliation where a judicial conciliator puts an end to a dispute. France is a member of UNCITRAL. Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards as mentioned above. The recognition of judgments of foreign courts by French courts is possible, but judgements must be accompanied by the issuance of an exequatur – a legal document issued by a sovereign authority that permits the exercise or enforcement of a foreign judgement.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The President of the Tribunal de Grande Instance (High Civil Court of First Instance) of Paris has the authority to issue orders related to ad-hoc international arbitration. Paris is the seat of the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Court of Arbitration, composed of representatives from 90 countries, that handles investment as well as commercial disputes.

France does not have a bilateral investment treaty with the United States.  The European Commission directly negotiates on behalf of the EU on foreign direct investment since it is part of the EU Common Commercial Policy. In 2015, the EU agreed to pursue an investment court approach to investor-State dispute settlement. While this model is included in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada and the EU-Vietnam FTA, no actual court has yet been established in any form or context; no disputes have been brought under these post-2015 treaties.

Bankruptcy Regulations

France has extensive and detailed bankruptcy laws and regulations. Any creditor, regardless of the amount owed, may file suit in bankruptcy court against a debtor. Foreign creditors, equity shareholders and foreign contract holders have the same rights as their French counterparts. Monetary judgments by French courts on firms established in France are generally made in euros. Not bankruptcy itself, but bankruptcy fraud – the misstatement by a debtor of his financial position in the context of a bankruptcy – is criminalized. Under France’s bankruptcy code managers and other entities responsible for the bankruptcy of a French company are prevented from escaping liability by shielding their assets (Law 2012-346). France has adopted a law that enables debtors to implement a restructuring plan with financial creditors only, without affecting trade creditors. France’s Commercial Code incorporates European Directive 2014/59/EU establishing a framework for the recovery and resolution of claims on insolvent credit institutions and investment firms. In the World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Index, France was ranked 32nd of 190 on ease of resolving insolvency.

The Bank of France, the country’s only credit monitor, maintains files on persons having written unfunded checks, having declared bankruptcy, or having participated in fraudulent activities. Commercial credit reporting agencies do not exist in France.

Germany

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Germany has an open and welcoming attitude towards FDI.  The 1956 U.S.-Federal Republic of Germany Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation affords U.S. investors national treatment and provides for the free movement of capital between the United States and Germany. As an OECD member, Germany adheres to the OECD National Treatment Instrument and the OECD Codes of Liberalization of Capital Movements and of Invisible Operations.  The Foreign Trade and Payments Act and the Foreign Trade and Payments Ordinance provide the legal basis for the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy to review acquisitions of domestic companies by foreign buyers, to assess whether these transactions pose a risk to the public order or national security (for example, when the investment pertains to critical infrastructure).  For many decades, Germany has experienced significant inbound investment, which is widely recognized as a considerable contributor to Germany’s growth and prosperity. The German government and industry actively encourage foreign investment. U.S. investment continues to account for a significant share of Germany’s FDI. The investment-related challenges foreign companies face are generally the same as for domestic firms, for example, high marginal income tax rates and labor laws that complicate hiring and dismissals.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Under German law, a foreign-owned company registered in the Federal Republic of Germany as a GmbH (limited liability company) or an AG (joint stock company) is treated the same as a German-owned company.  There are no special nationality requirements for directors or shareholders.

However, Germany does prohibit the foreign provision of employee placement services, such as providing temporary office support, domestic help, or executive search services.

While Germany’s Foreign Economic Law permits national security screening of inbound direct investment in individual transactions, in practice no investments have been blocked to date.  Growing Chinese investment activities and acquisitions of German businesses in recent years – including of Mittelstand (mid-sized) industrial market leaders – led German authorities to amend domestic investment screening provisions in 2017, clarifying their scope and giving authorities more time to conduct reviews.  The government further lowered the threshold for the screening of acquisitions in critical infrastructure and sensitive sectors in 2018, to 10 percent of voting rights of a German company. The amendment also added media companies to the list of sensitive sectors to which the lower threshold applies, to prevent foreign actors from engaging in disinformation.  In a prominent case in 2016, the German government withdrew its approval and announced a re-examination of the acquisition of German semi-conductor producer Aixtron by China’s Fujian Grand Chip Investment Fund based on national security concerns.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Bank Group’s “Doing Business 2019” and Economist Intelligence Unit both provide additional information on Germany investment climate.  The American Chamber of Commerce in Germany publishes results of an annual survey of U.S. investors in Germany on business and investment sentiment (“AmCham Germany Transatlantic Business Barometer”).

Business Facilitation

Before engaging in commercial activities, companies and business operators must register in public directories, the two most significant of which are the commercial register (Handelsregister) and the trade office register (Gewerberegister).

Applications for registration at the commercial register, which is publically available under www.handelsregister.de  , are electronically filed in publicly certified form through a notary.  The commercial register provides information about all relevant relationships between merchants and commercial companies, including names of partners and managing directors, capital stock, liability limitations, and insolvency proceedings.  Registration costs vary depending on the size of the company.

Germany Trade and Invest (GTAI), the country’s economic development agency, can assist in the registration processes (https://www.gtai.de/GTAI/Navigation/EN/Invest/Investment-guide/Establishing-a-company/business-registration.html  ) and advise investors, including micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), on how to obtain incentives.

In the EU, MSMEs are defined as follows:

  • Micro-enterprises:  less than 10 employees and less than €2 million annual turnover or less than €2 million in balance sheet total.
  • Small-enterprises:  less than 50 employees and less than €10 million annual turnover or less than €10 million in balance sheet total.
  • Medium-sized enterprises:  less than 250 employees and less than €50 million annual turnover or less than €43 million in balance sheet total.

Outward Investment

The Federal Government provides guarantees for investments by German-based companies in developing and emerging economies and countries in transition in order to insure them against political risks.  In order to receive guarantees, the investment must have adequate legal protection in the host country. The Federal Government does not insure against commercial risks.

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.

Formally, the public consultation by the federal government 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, and public comments are solicited. According to the Joint Procedural Rules, ministries should consult the concerned industries’ associations (rather than single companies), consumer organizations, environmental, and other NGOs.  The consultation period generally takes two to eight weeks.

The German Institute for Standardization (DIN) is open to foreign members.

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 implemented by the Member States in their respective legislative processes, which is regularly observed in Germany.

EU Member States must implement 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 high fines.  Germany has a set of rules that prescribe how to break down any payment of fines devolving on the Federal Government and the federal states (Länder).  Both bear part of the costs depending on their responsibility within legislation 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 is required to instruct the Bundesrat at an early stage on all EU plans 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 predictable and reliable.  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 federal 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. International studies and empirical data have attested that Germany offers an efficient 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 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.

Germany has specialized courts for administrative law, labor law, social law, and finance and tax law.  In 2019, the first German district court for civil matters (in Frankfurt) introduced the possibility to hear international trade disputes in English.  Other federal states are currently discussing plans to introduce these specialized chambers as well. 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. To our knowledge, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy had not prohibited any acquisitions as of April 2019.

There is no requirement for investors to obtain approval for any acquisition, but they must notify the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy if the target company operates critical infrastructure.  In that case, or if the company provides services related to critical infrastructure or is a media company, the threshold for initiating an investment review is the 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, the certificate shall be deemed as granted.

Special rules apply for the acquisition of companies that operate in sensitive security areas, including defense and IT security.  In contrast to the cross-sectoral rules, the 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 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 amended domestic investment screening provisions, effective June 2017, clarifying the scope for review and giving the government more time to conduct reviews, in reaction to an increasing number of acquisitions of German companies by foreign investors, particularly from China.  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.  All non-EU entities are now required to notify Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in writing of any acquisition of or significant investment in a German company active in the above sectors. The new rules also extend 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 introduce 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.  In 2018, the government further 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 critical infrastructure (down from 25 percent), as well as companies providing services related to critical infrastructure. The amendment also added media companies to the list of sensitive businesses to which the lower threshold applies, to prevent foreign actors to engage in disinformation.

Any decisions resulting from review procedures are subject to judicial review by the administrative courts.  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.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

German government ensures competition on a level playing field on the basis of two main legal codes:

The Law against Limiting Competition is the legal basis for the fight against cartels, merger control, and monitoring abuse.  State and Federal cartel authorities are in charge of enforcing anti-trust law. In exceptional cases, the Minister for Economics and Energy can provide a permit under specific conditions.  The last case was a merger of two retailers (Kaisers/Tengelmann and Edeka) to which a ministerial permit was granted in March 2016. A July 2017 amendment to the Cartel Law expanded the reach of the Federal Cartel Authority (FCA) to include internet and data-based business models; as a result, the FCA investigated Facebook’s data collection practices regarding potential abuse of market power.  A February 2019 decision affirming abuse by the FCA has been challenged by Facebook at a regional court.  In November 2018, the FCA initiated an investigation of Amazon over potential abuse of market power; a decision was pending as of April 2019.

The Law against Unfair Competition (amended last in 2016) can be invoked in regional courts.

Expropriation and Compensation

German law provides that private property can be expropriated for public purposes only in a non-discriminatory manner and in accordance with established principles of constitutional and international law.  There is due process and transparency of purpose, and investors and lenders to expropriated entities receive prompt, adequate, and effective compensation.

The Berlin state government is currently reviewing a petition for a referendum submitted by a citizens’ initiative which calls for the expropriation of residential apartments owned by large corporations.  At least one party in the governing coalition officially supports the proposal, whereas the others remain undecided. Certain long-running expropriation cases date back to the Nazi and communist regimes. During the 2008-9 global financial crisis, the parliament adopted a law allowing emergency expropriation if the insolvency of a bank would endanger the financial system, but the measure expired without having been used.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Germany is a member of both the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, meaning local courts must enforce international arbitration awards under certain conditions.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Investment disputes involving U.S. or other foreign investors in Germany are extremely rare. According to the UNCTAD database of treaty-based investor dispute settlement cases, Germany has been challenged a handful of times, none of which involved U.S. investors.  

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Germany has a domestic arbitration body called the German Institution for Dispute Settlement. ”Book 10” of the German Code of Civil Procedure addresses arbitration proceedings. The International Chamber of Commerce has an office in Berlin. In addition, chambers of commerce and industry offer arbitration services.

Bankruptcy Regulations

German insolvency law, as enshrined in the Insolvency Code, supports and promotes restructuring.  If a business or the owner of a business becomes insolvent, or a business is over-indebted, insolvency proceedings can be initiated by filing for insolvency; legal persons are obliged to do so.  Insolvency itself is not a crime, but deliberately late filing for insolvency is.

Under a regular insolvency procedure, the insolvent business is generally broken up in order to release as much money as possible through the sale of individual items or rights or parts of the company.  Proceeds can then be paid out to the creditors in the insolvency proceedings. The distribution of the monies to the creditors follows the detailed instructions of the Insolvency Code.

Equal treatment of creditors is enshrined in the Insolvency Code.  Some creditors have the right to claim property back. Post-adjudication preferred creditors are served out of insolvency assets during the insolvency procedure.  Ordinary creditors are served on the basis of quotas from the remaining insolvency assets. Secondary creditors, including shareholder loans, are only served if insolvency assets remain after all others have been served.  Germany ranks fourth in the global ranking of “Resolving Insolvency” in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, with a recovery rate of 80.4 cents on the dollar.

Ghana

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Government of Ghana has no overall economic or industrial strategy that discriminates against foreign-owned businesses.  The government has made increasing FDI a priority and acknowledged the importance of having an enabling environment for the private sector to thrive.  Officials are implementing some regulatory and other reforms to improve the ease of doing business and make investing in Ghana more attractive.

The 2013 GIPC Act requires the Ghana Investment Promotion Center (GIPC) to register, monitor and keep records of all business enterprises in Ghana.  Sector-specific laws further regulate investments in minerals and mining, oil and gas, industries within Free Zones, banking, non-banking financial institutions, insurance, fishing, securities, telecommunications, energy, and real estate.  Some sector-specific laws, such as in the oil and gas sector and the power sector, include specific local content requirements that could discourage international investment. Foreign investors are required to satisfy the provisions of the GIPC Act as well as the provisions of sector-specific laws.  GIPC leadership has pledged to work in closer collaboration with the private sector to address investor concerns but there have been no significant changes to the laws. More information on investing in Ghana can be obtained from GIPC’s website, www.gipcghana.com  .

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Ghana is one of the more open economies to foreign equity ownership in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Most of its major sectors are fully open to foreign capital participation.

U.S. investors in Ghana are treated the same as any other foreign investor.  All foreign investment projects must register with the GIPC. Foreign investments are subject to the following minimum capital requirements: USD 200,000 for joint ventures with a Ghanaian partner that should have at least 10 percent of the equity; USD 500,000 for enterprises wholly-owned by a non-Ghanaian; and USD 1 million for trading companies (firms that buy or sell imported goods or services) wholly owned by non-Ghanaian entities.  The minimum capital requirement may be in cash or capital goods relevant to the investment. Trading companies are also required to employ at least 20 skilled Ghanaian nationals.

Ghana’s investment code excludes foreign investors from participating in eight economic sectors: petty trading, the operation of taxi and car rental services with fleets of fewer than 25 vehicles, lotteries (excluding soccer pools), the operation of beauty salons and barber shops, printing of recharge scratch cards for subscribers to telecommunications services, production of exercise books and stationery, retail of finished pharmaceutical products, and the production, supply, and retail of drinking water in sealed pouches.  Sectors where foreign investors are allowed limited market access include: telecommunications, banking, fishing, mining, petroleum, and real estate.

Real Estate

The 1992 Constitution recognized existing private and traditional titles to land.  Freehold acquisition of land is no longer permitted. There is an exception, however, for transfer of freehold title between family members for land held under the traditional system.  Foreigners are allowed to enter into long-term leases of up to 50 years and the lease may be bought, sold, or renewed for consecutive terms. Nationals are allowed to enter into 99-year leases.

Oil and Gas

The oil and gas sector is subject to a variety of state ownership and local content requirements.  The Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Act (2016, Act 919) mandates local participation. All entities seeking petroleum exploration licenses in Ghana must create a consortium in which the state-owned Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) holds a minimum 15 percent carried interest.  The Petroleum Commission issues all licenses, but exploration licenses must be approved by Parliament. Further, local content regulations specify in-country sourcing requirements with respect to the full range of goods, services, hiring, and training associated with petroleum operations. The regulations also require mandatory local equity participation for all suppliers and contractors.  The Minister of Energy must approve all contracts, sub-contracts, and purchase orders above USD 100,000. Non-compliance with these regulations may result in a criminal penalty, including imprisonment for up to five years.

The Petroleum Commission applies registration fees and annual renewal fees on foreign oil and gas service providers, which, depending on a company’s annual revenues, range from USD 70,000 to USD 150,000, compared to fees of between USD 5,000 and USD 30,000 for local companies.

Mining

Per the Minerals and Mining Act, 2006 (Act 703), foreign investors are restricted from obtaining a small-scale mining license for mining operations less than or equal to an area of 25 acres (10 hectares).  Non-Ghanaians may only apply for industrial mineral rights if the proposed investment is USD 10 million or above. The Act mandates compulsory local participation, whereby the government acquires 10 percent equity in ventures at no cost.  In order to qualify for a license, a non-Ghanaian company must be registered in Ghana, either as a branch office or a subsidiary that is incorporated under the Ghana Companies Act or Incorporated Private Partnership Act.

The Minerals and Mining Act provides for a stability agreement, which protects the holder of a mining lease for a period of 15 years from future changes in law that may impose a financial burden on the license holder.  When an investment exceeds USD 500 million, lease holders can negotiate a development agreement that contains elements of a stability agreement and more favorable fiscal terms. Parliament passed a new Minerals and Mining (Amendment) Act (Act 900) in December 2015.  One significant provision of the new act requires the mining lease-holder to, “…pay royalty to the Republic at the rate and in the manner that may be prescribed.” The previous Act 703 capped the royalty rate at six percent. The Minerals Commission implements the law.  

Power Sector

In December 2017, Ghana introduced regulations requiring local content and local participation in the power sector. The Energy Commission (Local Content and Local Participation) (Electricity Supply Industry) Regulations, 2017 (L.I. 2354) specify minimum initial levels of local participation/ownership and ten year targets:

Electricity Supply Activity Initial Level of Local Participation Target Level in 10 Years
Wholesale Power Supply 15 51
Renewable Energy Sector 15 51
Electricity Distribution 30 51
Electricity Transmission 15 49
Electricity Sales Service 80 100
Electricity Brokerage Service 80 100

The regulations also specify minimum and target levels of local content in engineering and procurement, construction works, post construction works, services, management, operations and staff.  All persons engaged in or planning to engage in the supply of electricity are required to register with the ‘Electricity Supply Local Content and Local Participation Committee’ and satisfy the minimum local content and participation requirements within five years. Failure to comply with the requirements could result in a fine or imprisonment.

Insurance

The National Insurance Commission (NIC) imposes nationality requirements with respect to the board and senior management of locally-incorporated insurance and reinsurance companies.  At least two board members must be Ghanaians, and either the Chairman of the board or Chief Executive Officer (CEO) must be Ghanaian. In situations where the CEO is not Ghanaian, the NIC requires that the Chief Financial Officer be Ghanaian. Minimum initial capital investment in the insurance sector is 15 million Ghana cedis (approximately USD 3 million).

Telecommunications

Per the Electronic Communications Act of 2008, the National Communications Authority (NCA) regulates and manages the nation’s telecommunications and broadcast sectors.  For 800 MHz spectrum licenses for mobile telecommunications services, Ghana restricts foreign participation to a joint venture or consortium that includes a minimum of 25 percent Ghanaian ownership.  Applicants have two years to meet the requirement, and can list the 25 percent on the Ghana Stock Exchange. The first option to purchase stock is given to Ghanaians, but there are no restrictions on secondary trading.

There are no significant limits on foreign investment or differences in the treatment of foreign and national investors in other sectors of the economy.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Ghana has not conducted an investment policy review (IPR) through the OECD recently. UNCTAD last conducted an IPR in 2003.

The WTO last conducted a Trade Policy Review (TPR) in May 2014.  The TPR concluded that the 2013 amendment to the investment law raised the minimum capital that foreigners must invest to levels above those specified in Ghana’s 1994 GATS horizontal commitments, and excluded new activities from foreign competition.  However, it was determined that overall this would have minimum impact on dissuading future foreign investment due to the size of the companies traditionally seeking to do business within the country. An executive summary of the findings can be found at: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp398_e.htm  

Business Facilitation

Although registering a business is a relatively easy procedure and can be done online through the Registrar General’s Department (RGD) at https://egovonline.gegov.gov.gh/RGDPortalWeb/portal/RGDHome/eghana.portal   , businesses have noted that the process involved in establishing a business is lengthy and complex, and requires compliance with regulations and procedures of at least four other government agencies, including GIPC, Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), Ghana Immigration Service, and the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT).

According to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, it takes eight procedures and 14 days to establish a foreign-owned limited liability company (LLC) that wants to engage in international trade in Ghana.  This is longer than the regional average for Sub-Saharan Africa. Foreign investors must obtain a certificate of capital importation, which can take 14 days. The local authorized bank must confirm the import of capital with the Bank of Ghana, which will then confirm the transaction to GIPC for investment registration purposes.

Per the GIPC Act, all foreign companies are required to register with GIPC after incorporation with the RGD.  Registration can be completed online at http://www.gipcghana.com . While the registration process is designed to be completed within five business days, bureaucracy often delays this process.

The Ghanaian business environment is unique and guidance can be extremely helpful.  In some cases, a foreign investment may enjoy certain tax benefits under the law or additional incentives if the project is deemed critical to the country’s development.  Most companies or individuals considering investing in Ghana or trading with Ghanaian counterparts find it useful to consult with a local attorney or business facilitation company.  The Embassy maintains a list of local attorneys which is available through the U.S. Commercial Service in Ghana (www.export.gov/ghana). Specific information about setting up a business is available at the GIPC website: http://www.gipcghana.com/invest-in-ghana/doing-business-in-ghana.html .

Ghana Investment Promotion Centre
Post: P. O. Box M193, Accra-Ghana
Telephone: +233 (0) 302 665125, +233 (0)302 665126, +233 (0) 302 665127, +233 (0) 302 665128/ +233 (0) 302 665129
Telephone: +233 (0) 302 244318254/ 244318252
Email: info@gipcghana.com
Website: www.gipcghana.com  

Note that mining or oil/gas sector companies are required to obtain licensing/approval from the following relevant bodies:

Petroleum Commission Head Office
Plot No. 4A, George Bush Highway, Accra, Ghana
P.O. Box CT 228 Cantonments, Accra, Ghana
Telephone: +233 [0] 302 953392 | +233 [0] 302 953393
Website: http://www.petrocom.gov.gh/  

Minerals Commission
Minerals House, No. 12 Switchback Road, Cantonments, Accra
P.O. Box M 248
Telephone: +233 (0) 302 772 783 /+233 (0) 302 772 786 /+233 (0) 302 773 053
Website: http://www.mincom.gov.gh/  

Outward Investment

Ghana has no specific outward investment policy.  It has entered into bilateral treaties, however, with a number of countries to promote and protect foreign investment on a reciprocal basis.  A few Ghanaian companies have established operations in other West African countries.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Government of Ghana’s policies on trade liberalization and investment promotion are guiding its efforts to create a clear and transparent regulatory system.

Ghana does not have a standardized consultation process but ministries and Parliament generally share the text or summary of proposed regulations and solicit comments directly from stakeholders or via public meetings and hearings.  All laws that are currently in effect are printed in the Ghana Gazette (equivalent of the U.S. Federal Register).

The Government of Ghana has established regulatory bodies such as the National Communications Authority, the National Petroleum Authority, the Petroleum Commission, the Energy Commission, and the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission to oversee activities in the telecommunications, downstream and upstream petroleum, electricity and natural gas, and water sectors.  The creation of these bodies was a positive step but the lack of resources and their subjectiveness to political influence challenge their ability to deliver the intended level of oversight.

The government launched a Business Regulatory Reform program in 2017, but implementation has been slow.  The program aims to improve the ease of doing business, review all rules and regulations to identify and reduce unnecessary costs and requirements, establish an e-registry of all laws, establish a centralized public consultation web portal, provide regulatory relief for entrepreneurs, and eventually implement a regulatory impact analysis system.

Ghana continues to improve on making information on debt obligations, including contingent and state-owned enterprise debt, publicly available.  Information on the overall debt stock (including domestic and external) is presented in the Annual Debt Management Report which is available on the Ministry of Finance website at https://www.mofep.gov.gh/sites/default/files/reports/economic/2018-Annual-Public-Debt-Report.pdf .  However, information on contingent liabilities from state-owned enterprises is not explicit and is scattered in various reports.

International Regulatory Considerations

Ghana has been a World Trade Organization (WTO) member since January 1995.  Ghana issues its own standards for many products under the auspices of the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA).  The GSA has promulgated more than 500 Ghanaian standards and adopted more than 2,000 international standards for certification purposes.  The Ghanaian Food and Drugs Authority is responsible for enforcing standards for food, drugs, cosmetics, and health items. Ghana notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Ghana’s legal system is based on British common law and local customary law. Investors should note that the acquisition of real property is governed by both statutory and customary law.  The judiciary comprises both the lower courts and the superior courts. The superior courts are the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, and the High Court and Regional Tribunals. Lawsuits are permitted and usually begin in the High Court. The High Court has jurisdiction in all matters, civil and criminal, other than those involving treason.  There is a history of government intervention in the court system, although somewhat less so in commercial matters. The courts have, when the circumstances require, entered judgments against the government. However, the courts have been slow in disposing of cases and at times face challenges in enforcing decisions, largely due to resource constraints and institutional inefficiencies.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The GIPC Act codified the government’s desire to present foreign investors with a transparent foreign investment regulatory regime.  GIPC regulates foreign investment in acquisitions, mergers, takeovers and new investments, as well as portfolio investment in stocks, bonds, and other securities traded on the Ghana Stock Exchange.  The GIPC Act also specifies areas of investment reserved for locals, and further delineates incentives and guarantees that relate to taxation, transfer of capital, profits and dividends, and guarantees against expropriation.

While Ghana does not currently have a “one-stop shop” for business registration, GIPC helps to facilitate the process and provides economic, commercial and investment information for companies and business people interested in starting a business or investing in Ghana.  GIPC provides assistance to enable investors to take advantage of relevant incentives. Registration can be completed online at www.gipcghana.com  .  

As detailed in the previous section on “Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment,” sector-specific laws regulate foreign participation/investment in telecommunications, banking, fishing, mining, petroleum, and real estate.  

Ghana regulates the transfer of technologies not freely available in Ghana.  According to the 1992 Technology Transfer Regulations, total management and technical fee levels higher than eight percent of net sales must be approved by GIPC.  The regulations do not allow agreements that impose obligations to procure personnel, inputs, and equipment from the transferor or specific source. The duration of related contracts cannot exceed ten years and cannot be renewed for more than five years.  Any provisions in the agreement inconsistent with Ghanaian regulations are unenforceable in Ghana.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Ghana’s competition law, Protection Against Unfair Competition Act, 2,000 (Act 589), is still under review.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Constitution sets out some exceptions and a clear procedure for the payment of compensation in allowable cases of expropriation or nationalization.  Additionally, Ghana’s investment laws generally protect investors against expropriation and nationalization. The Government of Ghana may, however, expropriate property if it is required to protect national defense, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, town and country planning, or to ensure the development or utilization of property in a manner to promote public benefit.  In such cases, the GOG must provide prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation to the property owner. The Government of Ghana guarantees due process by allowing access to the high court by any person who has an interest or right over the property.

U.S. investors are generally not subject to differential or discriminatory treatment in Ghana, and there have been no government expropriations involving U.S. investments in recent times.  There have been no reported instances of indirect expropriation or any government action equivalent to expropriation during the past year.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Ghana is a member state to the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention).  Ghana is a signatory to the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention).

There is a caveat for investment disputes arising from within the energy sector: the Government of Ghana has expressed a preference for handling disputes under the ad hoc arbitration rules of the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL Model Law).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Ghana’s track record for sound governance and a relatively reliable legal system result in a dispute resolution process that benefits foreign investors, in comparison to other countries in the region.

Over the past ten years, there have been four disputes involving U.S. investors.  One of the cases was resolved through international arbitration. The other three are still pending resolution.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The United States has signed three bilateral agreements on trade and investment with Ghana: a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), OPIC Investment Incentive Agreement, and the Open Skies Agreement.  These agreements contain provisions for investment as well as trade dispute mechanisms.

The Commercial Conciliation Center of the American Chamber of Commerce (Ghana) provides arbitration services on trade and investment issues for disputes regarding contracts with arbitration clauses.

There is interest in alternative dispute resolution, especially as it applies to commercial cases. Several lawyers provide arbitration and/or conciliation services.  Arbitration decisions are enforceable provided they are registered in the courts.

The Government of Ghana established fast track courts to expedite action in certain cases.  These fast track courts, which are automated divisions of the High Court, were intended to oversee cases which can be concluded within six months.  However, they have not succeeded in consistently disposing of cases within six months. In March 2005, the government established a commercial court with exclusive jurisdiction over all commercial matters.  This Court also handles disputes involving commercial arbitration and the enforcement of awards; intellectual property rights, including patents, copyrights and trademarks; commercial fraud; applications under the Companies Act; tax matters; and insurance and re-insurance cases.  A distinctive feature of the commercial court is the use of mediation or other alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, which are mandatory in the pre-trial settlement conference stage. Ghana also has a Financial and Economic Crimes Court. It is a specialized division of the High Court that handles high profile corruption and economic crime cases.

Enforcement of foreign judgments in Ghana is based on the doctrine of reciprocity.  On this basis, judgments from Brazil, France, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Senegal, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom are enforceable. Judgments from American courts are not currently enforceable in Ghana.

The GIPC, Free Zones, Labor, and Minerals and Mining Laws outline dispute settlement procedures and provide for arbitration when disputes cannot be settled by other means.  They also provide for referral of disputes to arbitration in accordance with the rules of procedure of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), or within the framework of a bilateral agreement between Ghana and the investor’s country.  The 2010 Alternative Dispute Resolution Act (Act 798 of 2010) provides for the settlement of disputes by mediation and customary arbitration, in addition to regular arbitration processes.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Ghana does not have a bankruptcy statute.  The Companies Act of 1963, however, provides for official closure of a company when it is unable to pay its debts.  A new insolvency law is under debate in Parliament.

Hong Kong

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Hong Kong is the world’s third-largest recipient of foreign direct investment (FDI) according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) World Investment Report 2018. The HKG’s InvestHK encourages inward investment, offering free advice and services to support companies from the planning stage through to the launch and expansion of their business. U.S. and other foreign firms can participate in government financed and subsidized research and development programs on a national treatment basis. Hong Kong does not discriminate against foreign investors by prohibiting, limiting, or conditioning foreign investment in a sector of the economy.

Capital gains are not taxed, nor are there withholding taxes on dividends and royalties. Profits can be freely converted and remitted. Foreign-owned and Hong Kong-owned company profits are taxed at the same rate – 16.5 percent. The tax rate on the first USD 255,000 profit for all companies is currently 8.25 percent. No preferential or discriminatory export and import policies affect foreign investors. Domestic industries receive no direct subsidies. Foreign investments face no disincentives, such as quotas, bonds, deposits, nor other similar regulations.

According to HKG statistics, 3,955 overseas companies had regional operations registered in Hong Kong in 2018. The United States has the largest number with 724. About 35 percent of start-ups in Hong Kong come from overseas.

Hong Kong’s Business Facilitation Advisory Committee is a platform for the HKG to consult the private sector on regulatory proposals and implementation of new or proposed regulations.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign investors can invest in any business and own up to 100 percent of equity. Like domestic private entities, foreign investors have the right to engage in all forms of remunerative activity.

The HKG owns all land in Hong Kong, which the HKG administers by granting long-term leases without transferring title. Expatriates claim that a 15 percent Buyer’s Stamp Duty on all non-permanent-resident and corporate buyers discriminates against them.

The main exceptions to the HKG’s open foreign investment policy are:

Broadcasting – Voting control of free-to-air television stations by non-residents is limited to 49 percent. There are also residency requirements for the directors of broadcasting companies.

Legal Services – Foreign lawyers at foreign law firms may only practice the law of their jurisdiction. Foreign law firms may become “local” firms after satisfying certain residency and other requirements. Localized firms may thereafter hire local attorneys, but must do so on a 1:1 basis with foreign lawyers. Foreign law firms can also form associations with local law firms.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Hong Kong last conducted the Trade Policy Review in 2018 through the World Trade Organization (WTO). https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/g380_e.pdf 

Business Facilitation

The Economic Analysis and Business Facilitation Unit under the Financial Secretary’s Office is responsible for business facilitation initiatives aimed at improving the business regulatory environment of Hong Kong.

The e-Registry (https://www.eregistry.gov.hk/icris-ext/apps/por01a/index ) is a convenient and integrated online platform provided by the Companies Registry and the Inland Revenue Department for applying for company incorporation and business registration. Applicants, for incorporation of local companies or for registration of non-Hong Kong companies, must first register for a free user account, presenting an original identification document or a certified true copy of the identification document. The Companies Registry normally issues the Business Registration Certificate and the Certificate of Incorporation on the same day for applications for company incorporation. For applications for registration of a non-Hong Kong company, it issues the Business Registration Certificate and the Certificate of Registration two weeks after submission.

Outward Investment

As a free market economy, Hong Kong does not promote or incentivize outward investment, nor restricts domestic investors from investing abroad. Mainland China and British Virgin Islands were the top two destinations for Hong Kong’s outward investments in 2017.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Hong Kong’s regulations and policies typically strive to avoid distortions or impediments to the efficient mobilization and allocation of capital and to encourage competition. Bureaucratic procedures and “red tape” are transparent and held to a minimum.

In amending or making any legislation, including investment laws, the HKG conducts a three-month public consultation on the issue concerned which then informs the drafting of the bill. Lawmakers discuss draft bills and then vote. Hong Kong’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms.

Gazette is the official publication of the Hong Kong government. This website https://www.gld.gov.hk/egazette/english/whatsnew/whatsnew.html   is the centralized online location where laws, regulations, draft bills, notices and tenders are published. All public comments received by the HKG are published at the websites of relevant policy bureaus.

The Office of the Ombudsman, established in 1989 by the Ombudsman Ordinance, is Hong Kong’s independent watchdog of public governance.

Public finances are regulated by clear laws and regulations. The Basic Law prescribes that authorities strive to achieve a fiscal balance and avoid deficits. There is a clear commitment by the HKG to publish fiscal information under the Audit Ordinance and the Public Finance Ordinance, which prescribe deadlines for the publication of annual accounts and require the submission of annual spending estimates to the Legislative Council (LegCo). There are few contingent liabilities of the HKG, with details of these items published about seven months after the release of the fiscal budget. In addition, LegCo members have a responsibility to enhance budgetary transparency by urging government officials to explain the government’s rationale for the allocation of resources. All LegCo meetings are open to the public so that the government’s responses are available to the general public.

International Regulatory Considerations

Hong Kong is a member of WTO and Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC), adopting international norms. It notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade and was the first WTO member to ratify the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). Hong Kong has achieved a 100 percent rate of implementation commitments.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Hong Kong’s common law system is based on the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable and they are adjudicated in the court system.

Hong Kong’s commercial law covers a wide range of issues related to doing business. Most of Hong Kong’s contract law is found in the reported decisions of the courts in Hong Kong and other common law jurisdictions.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Hong Kong’s extensive body of commercial and company law generally follows that of the United Kingdom, including the common law and rules of equity. Most statutory law is made locally. The local court system, which is independent of the government, provides for effective enforcement of contracts, dispute settlement, and protection of rights. Foreign and domestic companies register under the same rules and are subject to the same set of business regulations.

The Hong Kong Code on Takeovers and Mergers (1981) sets out general principles for acceptable standards of commercial behavior.

The Companies Ordinance (Chapter 622) applies to Hong Kong-incorporated companies and contains the statutory provisions governing compulsory acquisitions. For companies incorporated in jurisdictions other than Hong Kong, relevant local company laws apply. Effective from March 2018, the Companies Ordinance requires companies to retain information about significant controllers accurate and up-to-date.

The Securities and Futures Ordinance (Chapter 571) contains provisions requiring shareholders to disclose interests in securities in listed companies and provides listed companies with the power to investigate ownership of interests in its shares. It regulates the disclosure of inside information by listed companies and restricts insider dealing and other market misconduct.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The independent Competition Commission (CC) investigates anti-competitive conduct that prevents, restricts, or distorts competition in Hong Kong. In January 2019, a newly-established Hong Kong Seaport Alliance (HKSA) announced that they had agreed to operate and manage 23 berths, a reported market share of 95 percent, across eight terminals at Kwai Tsing Container Terminal in a bid to deliver more efficient services to carriers and enhance the overall port’s competitiveness.  The CC subsequently launched, as a matter of priority, a probe into whether the HKSA acted in contravention of competition rules. The investigation is still underway.

Expropriation and Compensation

The U.S. Consulate General is not aware of any expropriations in the recent past. Expropriation of private property in Hong Kong may occur if it is clearly in the public interest and only for well-defined purposes such as implementation of public works projects. Expropriations are to be conducted through negotiations, in a non-discriminatory manner in accordance with established principles of international law. Investors in and lenders to expropriated entities are to receive prompt, adequate, and effective compensation. If agreement cannot be reached on the amount payable, either party can refer the claim to the Land Tribunal.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

The Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention) and the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention) apply to Hong Kong.  Hong Kong’s Arbitration Ordinance provides for enforcement of awards under the 1958 New York Convention.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The U.S. Consulate General is not aware of any investor-state disputes in recent years involving U.S. or other foreign investors or contractors and the HKG. Private investment disputes are normally handled in the courts or via private mediation. Alternatively, disputes may be referred to the Hong Kong International Arbitration Center.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The HKG accepts international arbitration of investment disputes between itself and investors and has adopted the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law model law for domestic and international commercial arbitration. It has with Mainland China a Memorandum of Understanding modelled on the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention) for reciprocal enforcement of arbitral awards.

Under Hong Kong’s Arbitration Ordinance emergency relief granted by an emergency arbitrator before the establishment of an arbitral tribunal, whether in or outside Hong Kong, is enforceable. In January 2018, the Arbitration Ordinance clarified that all disputes over intellectual property rights may be resolved by arbitration.

The Mediation Ordinance details the rights and obligations of participants in mediation, especially related to confidentiality and admissibility of mediation communications in evidence.

Third party funding for arbitration and mediation came into force on February 1, 2019.

Foreign judgments in civil and commercial matters may be enforced in Hong Kong by common law or under the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Ordinance, which facilitates reciprocal recognition and enforcement of judgments on the basis of reciprocity. A judgment originating from a jurisdiction that does not recognize a Hong Kong judgment may still be recognized and enforced by the Hong Kong courts, provided that all the relevant requirements of common law are met. However, a judgment will not be enforced in Hong Kong if it can be shown that either the judgment or its enforcement is contrary to Hong Kong’s public policy.

In January 2019, Hong Kong and Mainland China signed a new Arrangement on Reciprocal Recognition and Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters by the Courts of the Mainland and of Hong Kong to facilitate enforcement of judgments in the two jurisdictions. The arrangement, which is pending implementing legislation, will cover the following key features: contractual and tortious disputes in general; commercial contracts, joint venture disputes, and outsourcing contracts; intellectual property rights, matrimonial or family matters; and judgments related to civil damages awarded in criminal cases.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Hong Kong’s Bankruptcy Ordinance provides the legal framework to enable i) a creditor to file a bankruptcy petition with the court against an individual, firm, or partner of a firm who owes him/her money; and ii) a debtor who is unable to repay his/her debts to file a bankruptcy petition against himself/herself with the court. Bankruptcy offences are subject to criminal liability.

The Companies (Winding Up and Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Bill, enacted in February 2017, aims to improve and modernize the corporate winding-up regime by increasing creditor protection and further enhancing the integrity of the winding-up process.

The Commercial Credit Reference Agency collates information about the indebtedness and credit history of SMEs and makes such information available to members of the Hong Kong Association of Banks and the Hong Kong Association of Deposit Taking Companies.

Hong Kong’s average duration of bankruptcy proceedings is 0.8 year, ranking 44th in the world for resolving insolvency, according to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 rankings.

Hungary

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Hungary maintains an open economy and its high-quality infrastructure and central location are features that make it an attractive destination for investment.  Attracting FDI is an important priority for the GOH, especially in manufacturing and export-oriented sectors. According to some reports, in other sectors, including banking and energy, however, government policies have resulted in some foreign investors selling their stakes to the government or state-owned enterprises.  Hungary was a leading destination for FDI in Central and Eastern Europe in the mid-nineties and the mid-two-thousands, with annual FDI reaching over USD 6 billion in 2005. The pace of FDI inflows slowed in subsequent years as a result of the 2008 global financial crisis and increasing competition for investment from other countries in the region.  In 2017, net annual FDI amounted to USD 5.6 billion while total gross FDI amounted to USD 98 billion.

As a block, the EU accounts for approximately 89 percent of all FDI in Hungary in terms of direct investors and 62 percent in terms of ultimate controlling parent investor.  Germany is the largest investor, followed by the United States, Austria, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, and China. The majority of U.S. investment falls within automotive, software development, and life sciences sectors.  Approximately 450 U.S. companies maintain a presence in Hungary.

The GOH actively seeks foreign investment and has implemented a number of tax changes to increase Hungary’s regional competitiveness and attract investment, including a reduction of the personal income tax rate to 15 percent in 2016, reducing the business income tax rate to 9 percent in 2017, and the gradual reduction of the employer-paid welfare contribution from 27 percent in 2016 to 19.5 percent in 2018.  As of 2016, the GOH streamlined the National Tax and Customs authority (NAV) procedure to offer fast-track VAT refund to customers categorized as “low risk” based on their internal controls and previous tax record.

Many foreign companies have expressed displeasure with the unpredictability of Hungary’s tax regime, its retroactive nature, slow response times, and the volume of legal and tax changes.  According to the European Commission (EC), a series of progressively-tiered taxes implemented in 2014 disproportionately penalized foreign businesses in the telecommunications, tobacco, retail, media, and advertisement industries, while simultaneously favoring Hungarian companies.  Following EC infringement procedures, the GOH phased out most discriminative tax rates by 2015 and replaced them with flat taxes.

In 2017, the GOH passed a regulation that gives the government preemptive rights to purchase real estate in World Heritage areas.  The rule has been used to block the purchase of real estate by foreign investors in the most desirable areas of Budapest.

A 2014 law required retail companies with over USD 53 million in annual sales to close if they report two consecutive years of losses.  Retail businesses claimed the GOH specifically set the threshold to target large foreign retail chains.  The EC determined that the law was discriminatory and launched an infringement procedure in 2016, which resulted in the GOH repealing the controversial legislation in November 2018.

The GOH publicly declared that reducing foreign bank market share in the Hungarian financial sector is a priority.  Accordingly, GOH initiatives over the past several years have targeted the banking sector and reduced foreign participation from about 70 percent before the financial crisis in 2008 to just over 50 percent by the end of 2018.  In addition to the 2010 bank tax and the 2012 financial transaction tax levied on all cash withdrawals, regulations between 2012-2015 obligated banks to retroactively compensate borrowers for interest rate increases on foreign currency denominated mortgage loans, even though these increases were spelled out in the original contract with the customer, and were permitted by Hungarian law.

While the pharmaceutical industry is competitive and profitable in Hungary, multinational companies complain of numerous financial and procedural obstacles, including high taxes on pharmaceutical products and operations, prescription directives that limit a doctor’s choice of drugs, and obscure tender procedures that negatively affect the competitiveness of certain drugs.  Pharmaceutical firms have also taken issue with GOH moves to weigh the cost of pharmaceutical procurement as more important than efficacy when issuing tenders for public procurement.

The Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency (HIPA), under the authority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, encourages and supports inbound FDI.  HIPA offers company and sector-specific consultancy, recommends locations for investment, acts as a mediator between large international companies and Hungarian firms to facilitate supplier relationships, organizes supplier training, and maintains active contact with trade associations.  Its services are available to all investors. For more information, see: https://hipa.hu/main  

Foreign investors generally report a productive dialogue with the government, both individually and through business organizations.  The American Chamber of Commerce enjoys an ongoing high-level dialogue with the GOH and the government has adopted many AmCham policy recommendations in recent years.  In 2017, the government established a Competitiveness Council, chaired by the Minister of Economy, which includes representatives from multinationals, chambers of commerce, and other stakeholders, to increase Hungary’s competitiveness.  Many U.S. and foreign investors have signed MOUs with the GOH to facilitate one-on-one discussions and resolutions to any pending issues. For more information, see: http://www.kormany.hu/en/ministry-for-national-economy   and https://www.amcham.hu/  

The US-Hungary Business Council (USHBC) – a private, non-profit organization established in 2016 – aims to facilitate and maintain dialogue between American corporate executives and the top government leaders on the U.S.-Hungary commercial relationship.  The majority of significant U.S. investors in Hungary have joined USHBC, which hosts roundtables, policy conferences, briefings, and other major events featuring senior U.S. and Hungarian officials, academics, and business leaders. For more information, see: http://ushungarybc.org/  

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign ownership is permitted with the exception of some “strategic” sectors including defense-related industries, which require special government permit, and farmland.  There are no general limits on foreign ownership or control.

Foreign law firms and auditing companies must sign a cooperation agreement with a Hungarian company to provide services on Hungarian legal or auditing issues.

According to the Land Law, only private Hungarian citizens or EU citizens resident in Hungary with a minimum of three years of experience working in agriculture or holding a degree in an agricultural discipline can purchase farmland.  Eligible individuals are limited to purchasing 300 hectares (741 acres). All others may only lease farmland. Non-EU citizens and legal entities are not allowed to purchase agricultural land. All farmland purchases must be approved by a local land committee and Hungarian authorities, and local farmers and young farmers must be offered a chance to purchase the land first before a new non-local farmer is allowed to purchase the land.  For those who do not fulfill the above requirements or for legal entities, the law allows the lease of farmland up to 1200 hectares for a maximum of 20 years. The GOH has invalidated any pre-existing leasing contract provisions that guaranteed the lessee the first option to purchase, provoking criticism from Austria and Austrian farmers. Austria has reported the change to the European Commission, which initiated an infringement procedure against Hungary in October 2014.  In March 2018, the European Court of Justice ruled that the termination of land use contracts violated EU rules, opening the way for EU citizens who lost their land use rights to sue the GOH for damages. In March 2015, the EC launched another – still ongoing – infringement procedure against Hungary concerning its restrictions on acquisitions of farmland.

The GOH passed a law on investment screening in 2018 that requires foreign investors seeking to acquire more than a 25 percent stake in a Hungarian company in certain “sensitive sectors” (defense, intelligence services, certain financial services, electric energy, gas, water utility, and electronic information systems for governments) to seek approval from the Interior Ministry.  The Ministry has up to 90 days to issue an opinion and can only deny the investment if it determines that the investment is designed to conceal an activity other than normal economic activity. As of publication, we are not aware of any instances in which the Ministry has reviewed an investment.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Hungary has not had any third-party investment policy reviews in the last three years.

Business Facilitation

Hungary maintains an open economy and its high-quality infrastructure and central location make it an attractive destination for investment.  Attracting FDI is an important priority for the GOH, especially in manufacturing and export-oriented sectors.  In 2006, Hungary joined the EU initiative to create a European network of “point of single contact” where existing businesses and potential investors can access all information on the business and legal environment, as well as connect to Hungary’s investment promotion agency.  Over the past two years, the government has strengthened investor relations and, in addition to signing strategic agreements with key investors, established a National Competitiveness Council to discuss competitiveness challenges, formulate pro-competitiveness measures, and build constructive stakeholder relationships.

The registration of business associations is compulsory in Hungary.  Firms must contract an attorney and register online with the Court of Registration.  Registry courts must process applications to register limited liability and joint-enterprise companies within 15 workdays, but the process usually does not take more than three workdays.  If the Court fails to act within the given timeframe, the new company is automatically registered. If the company chooses to use a template corporate charter, registration can be completed in a one-day fast track procedure.  Registry courts provide company information to the Tax Office (NAV) eliminating the need for separate registration. The Court maintains a computerized registry and electronic filing system and provides public access to company information.  The minimum capital requirement for a limited-liability company is HUF 3,000,000 (USD 10,800); for private limited companies HUF 5,000,000 (USD 17,900), and for public limited companies HUF 20,000,000 (USD 71,400). Foreign individuals or companies can establish businesses in Hungary without restrictions.

Further information on business registration and the business registry can be obtained at the GOH’s information website for businesses: http://eugo.gov.hu/starting-business-hungary   or at the Ministry of Justice’s Company Information Service: http://ceginformaciosszolgalat.kormany.hu/index  

Hungarian business facilitation mechanisms provide equitable treatment for women, but offer no special preference or assistance for them in establishing a company.

Outward Investment

The stock of total Hungarian investment abroad amounted to USD 28.7 billion in 2017.  Outward investment is mainly in manufacturing, services, finance and insurance, and science and technology.  There is no restriction in place for domestic investors to invest abroad. The GOH announced in early 2019 that it would like to increase Hungarian investment abroad and it is considering incentives to promote Hungarian investment.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Generally, legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are consistent with international and EU standards.  However, some executives in Hungarian subsidiaries of U.S. companies complain about a lack of transparency in the GOH’s policy-making process and an uneven playing field in public tendering.  In recent years, there has been an uptick in the number of companies, including major U.S. multinational franchises, reporting pressure to sell their businesses to government-affiliated investors.  Those that refuse to sell report an increase in tax audits, fines, and spurious regulatory challenges and court cases. SMEs increasingly report a desire to either remain small (and therefore “under the radar” of these government-friendly investors) or relocate their businesses outside of Hungary.

For foreign investors, the most relevant regulations stem from EU directives and the laws passed by Parliament to implement these.  Laws in Parliament can be found on Parliament’s website (http://www.parlament.hu/parl_en.htm  ).  Legislation, once passed, is published in a legal gazette and available online at www.magyarkozlony.hu  .  The GOH can issue decrees, which also have national scope, but they cannot be contrary to laws enacted by Parliament.  Local municipalities can create local decrees, limited to the local jurisdiction.

Hungarian financial reporting standards are in line with the International Accounting Standards and the EU Fourth and Seventh Directives.  The Accounting law requires all businesses to prepare consolidated financial statements on an annual basis in accordance with international financial standards.

The GOH rarely invites interested parties to comment on draft legislation.  Civil organizations have complained about a loophole in the current law that allows individual MPs to submit legislation and amendments without public consultation.  The average deadline for submitting public comment is often very short, usually less than one week. The Act on Legislation and the Law Soliciting Public Opinion, both passed by Parliament in 2010, govern the public consultation process.  The laws require the GOH to publish draft laws on its webpage and to give adequate time for all interested parties to give an opinion on the draft. However, implementation is not uniform and the GOH often fails to solicit public comments on proposed legislation.

The legislation process – including key regulatory actions – are published on Parliament’s webpage (www.parlament.hu  ).  Explanations attached to draft bills include a short summary on the aim of the legislation, but public comments received by regulators are only occasionally made public.

Regulatory enforcement mechanisms include the county and district level government offices whose decisions can be challenged at county level labor and administrative courts.  The court system generally provides efficient oversight over the GOH’s administrative processes.

In December 2018 the Parliament passed a new law on establishing a new parallel administrative court system with jurisdiction over cases relating to “public administration,” including tax, construction licensing, public procurement, competition cases, and politically sensitive matters like electoral law, freedom of information requests, and the right to protest.  The new court system will be under the control of the Minister of Justice and will start operating in January 2020.  Critics – including NGOs and opposition parties – claim the new system will further undermine the rule of law in Hungary and eliminate constitutional boundaries between the executive and judicial branches of government, paving the way for political interference.  In its opinion issued in March 2019, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission (VC) found that the planned court system lacks effective checks and balances and said the new regime grants the Minister of Justice excessively wide powers to appoint and promote judges. The VC also determined that the head of the new administrative courts also has unjustifiably wide powers. The GOH passed amendments it claimed addressed, the VC’s concerns.  Watchdog NGOs, however, did not believe the amendments addressed the VC’s most significant criticisms.

The new administrative courts’ jurisdiction will extend to several types of cases significant for investors.  Although the creation of the administrative court is not expected to have direct economic impact, the independence of the judiciary is crucial to maintaining a positive business climate.

The GOH does not review regulations on the basis of scientific or data driven assessments, but some NGOs and academics do.  A 2017 study by Corruption Research Center Budapest (CRCB) found that in the 2010-2013 period the annual average number of new laws passed by Parliament increased, while the average time spent debating new laws in Parliament decreased significantly.  The analysis points out that the accelerating lawmaking process in Hungary in the 2010-2013 period had negative effects on the stability of the legal environment and the overall quality of legislation. The Parliament passed less new legislation in the past few years.

Hungary’s budget was widely accessible to the general public, including online through the Parliament and Finance Ministry websites and the Legal Gazette.  The government made budget documents, including the executive budget proposal, the enacted budget, and the end-of-year report publicly available within a reasonable period of time.  Information on debt obligations was publicly available, including online through the Hungarian Central Bank and Hungarian State Debt Manager’s websites.

International Regulatory Considerations

As an EU Member State, all EU regulations are directly applicable in Hungary, even without further domestic measures.  If a Hungarian law is contrary to EU legislation, the EU rule takes precedence. As a whole, labor, environment, health, and safety laws are consistent with EU regulations.  Hungary follows EU foreign trade and investment policy and all trade regulations follow EU legislation. Hungary participates in the WTO as an EU Member State.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Hungarian legal system is based on continental European (German-French and Roman law) traditions.  Contracts are enforced by ordinary courts or – if stipulated by contract – arbitration centers. Investors in Hungary can agree with their partners to turn to Hungarian or foreign arbitration courts.

Apart from these arbitration centers, there are no specialized courts for commercial cases; ordinary courts are entitled to judge any kind of civil case.  The Civil Code of 2013 applies to civil contracts.

The Hungarian judicial system includes four tiers: district courts (formerly referred to as local courts) and courts of public administration and labor; courts of justice (formerly referred to as county courts); courts of appeal; and the Curia (the Hungarian Supreme Court).  Hungary also has a Constitutional Court that reviews cases involving the constitutionality of laws and court rulings. From 2020, per legislation passed in December 2018, a new administrative court system will rule on administrative cases (see above). As a result, it is expected that labor courts and judges will be merged into district courts.

Although the GOH has criticized court decisions on several occasions, ordinary courts are considered to generally operate independently under largely fair and reliable judicial procedures.  Recently, an increasing number of current and former judges have raised concerns about growing GOH influence over the court system and intimidation of judges by court administration. Most business complaints about the court system pertain to the lengthy proceedings rather than the fairness of the verdicts.  The GOH hopes to improve the speed and efficiency of court proceedings with the new Civil Procedure Code, which entered into force in January 2018.

Regulations and law enforcement actions pertaining to investors are appealable at ordinary courts or at the Constitutional Court.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Hungarian law provides strong protections for property and investment.  The Hungarian state may only expropriate property in exceptional cases where there is a public interest; any such expropriations must be carried out in a lawful way, and the GOH is obliged to make immediate and full restitution for any expropriated property, without additional stipulations or conditions

 The GOH passed a law on investment screening in 2018 that requires foreign investors seeking to acquire more than a 25 percent stake in a Hungarian company in certain “sensitive sectors” (defense, intelligence services, certain financial services, electric energy, gas, water utility, and electronic information systems for governments) to seek approval from the Interior Ministry.  The Ministry has up to 90 days to issue an opinion and can only deny the investment if it determines that the investment is designed to conceal an activity other than normal economic activity. As of publication, we are not aware of any instances in which the Ministry has reviewed an investment.

There is no primary website or “one-stop shop” which compiles all relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors.  HIPA, the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency, however, facilitates establishment of businesses and provides guidance on relevant legislation.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Hungarian Competition Authority, tasked with safeguarding the public interest, enforces the provisions of the Hungarian Competition Act.  Since EU accession in 2004, EU competition law also binds Hungary. The Competition Authority is empowered to investigate suspected violations of competition law, order changes to practices, and levy fines and penalties.  According to the Authority, since 2010 the number of competition cases has decreased, but they have become more complex. Out of more than 100 cases over the past year, only a few minor cases pertained to U.S.-owned companies.  Hungarian law does not consider conflict of interest to be a criminal offense. Citing evidence of conflict of interest and irregularities the European Anti-Fraud Office OLAF recommended opening a criminal investigation in a high profile USD 50 million EU-funded public procurement project, but Hungarian authorities declined to prosecute  the case.

Expropriation and Compensation

Hungary’s Constitution provides protection against expropriation, nationalization, and any arbitrary action by the GOH except in cases of extreme national security concern.  In such cases, immediate and full compensation is to be provided to the owner. There are no known expropriation cases where the GOH has discriminated against U.S. investments, companies, or representatives.  There have been some complaints from other foreign companies within the past several years that expropriations have been improperly executed, without proper remuneration. Parties involved in these cases turned to the legal system for dispute settlement.

There is no recent history of official GOH expropriations, but many critics raised concerns that the 2014 tobacco and advertising taxes were a de facto expropriation attempt because they intentionally and disproportionately targeted foreign firms with the intent to force them to seek a buy-out from a domestic firm.  The GOH backtracked on the taxes after a 2015 EU injunction. The increasing reports of the use of government regulatory and tax agencies to pressure businesses to sell to government-friendly investors may also be construed as a form of de-facto expropriation.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Hungary is a signatory to the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention), proclaimed in Hungary by Law 27 of 1978.  Hungary also is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention), proclaimed in Hungary by Law 25 of 1962.

There is not specific legislation providing for enforcement other than the two domestic laws proclaiming the 1958 New York Convention and the ICSID Convention.  According to Law 71 of 1994, an arbitration court decision is equally binding to that of a court ruling.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Hungary is signatory to the 1965 Washington Convention establishing the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and to UN’s 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.  Under the New York Convention, Hungary recognizes and enforces rulings of the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Court of Arbitration.

Hungary has no Bilateral Investment Treaty or Free Trade Agreement with the United States.  In recent years, the number of investor-State arbitration claims against Hungary has increased, although very few involve U.S. investors.

Over the past 10 years U.S. investors have been involved only in a few investment disputes, including a recent major dispute with Hungary’s state owned energy company MVM, where the U.S. claimant stepped back after it was unable to reclaim a USD 17 million compensation.  Since 2010, ten cases have been launched against Hungary at the ICSID, but none of them involved U.S. investors.

Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards against the GOH.

In 2016 Hungarian Tax Office NAV froze the bank account and working capital of a U.S. owned company, before any wrongdoing had been confirmed.  After several months, NAV released the account, but by that time the company has suffered significant losses.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Hungary has accepted international arbitration in cases where the resolution of disputes between foreign investors and the state is unsuccessful.  In the last few years, parties have increasingly turned to mediation as a means by which to settle disputes without engaging in lengthy court procedures.  Law 71 of 1994 on domestic arbitration procedures is based on the UNCITRAL model law.

Investment dispute settlement clauses are usually regulated by stipulations of the investment contract.  Hungarian law allows the parties to set the jurisdiction of any courts or arbitration centers. The parties can also agree to set up an ad hoc arbitration court.  The law also allows investors to agree on settling investment disputes by turning to foreign arbitration centers, such as the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), UNCITRAL’s Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), or the Vienna International Arbitral Centre.  In Hungary, foreign parties can turn to the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry arbitration court, which has its own rules of proceedings (https://mkik.hu/en/court-of-arbitration  ) and in financial issues to the Financial and Capital Market’s arbitration court.

Local courts recognize and enforce foreign or domestic arbitral awards.  Arbitral ruling may only be annulled in limited cases, and under special conditions.

Domestic courts do not favor SOEs disproportionately.  Investors can expect a fair trial even if SOEs are involved.  Investors do not complain about non-transparent or discriminatory court procedures.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Act on Bankruptcy Procedures, Liquidation Procedures, and Final Settlement of 1991, covers all commercial entities with the exception of banks (which have their own regulatory statutes), trusts, and state-owned enterprises, and brought Hungarian legislation in line with EU regulations.  Debtors can only initiate bankruptcy proceedings provided that they have not sought bankruptcy protection within the previous three years. Within 90 days of seeking bankruptcy protection, the debtor must call a settlement conference to which all creditors are invited. Majority consent of the creditors present is required for all settlements.  If agreement is not reached, the court can order liquidation. The Bankruptcy Act establishes the following priorities of claims to be paid: 1) liquidation costs; 2) secured debts; 3) claims of the individuals; 4) social security and tax obligations; 5) all other debts. Creditors may request the court to appoint a trustee to perform an independent financial examination.  The trustee has the right to challenge, based on conflict of interest, any contract concluded within 12 months preceding the bankruptcy.

The debtor, the creditors, the administrator, or the Criminal Court may file liquidation procedures with the court.  Once a petition is filed, regardless of who filed it, the Court notifies the debtor by sending a copy of the petition.  The debtor has eight days to acknowledge insolvency. If the insolvency is acknowledged, the company declares if any respite for the settlement of debts is requested.  Failure to respond results in the presumption of insolvency. Upon request, the Court may allow a maximum period of 30 days for the debtor to settle its debt.

If the Court finds the debtor insolvent, it appoints a liquidator.  Transparency International (TI) has raised concerns about the transparency of the liquidation process because a company may not know that a creditor is filing a liquidation petition until after the fact.  TI also criticized the lack of accountability of liquidator companies and the impractical deadlines in the process. The EU has also criticized the Hungarian system as being rescue-unfriendly, since bankruptcy proceedings typically only recover 44 cents to the dollar, compared to the OECD average of 71 cents on the dollar.

Bankruptcy in itself is not criminalized, unless it is made in a fraudulent way, deliberately, and in bad faith to prevent the payment of debts.

Law 122 of 2011 obliges banks and credit institutions to establish and maintain the Central Credit Information System to assess creditworthiness of businesses and individuals to facilitate prudent lending (http://www.bisz.hu  ).

Indonesia

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

With GDP growth of 5.17 percent in 2018, Indonesia’s young population, strong domestic demand, stable political situation, and well-regarded macroeconomic policy make it an attractive destination for foreign direct investment (FDI). Indonesian government officials welcome increased FDI, aiming to create jobs and spur economic growth, and court foreign investors, notably focusing on infrastructure development and export-oriented manufacturing. However, foreign investors have complained about vague and conflicting regulations,  bureaucratic issues, ambiguous legislation in regards to  tax enforcement, poor existing infrastructure, rigid labor laws, sanctity of contract issues, and corruption.

The Investment Coordination Board, or BKPM, serves as an investment promotion agency, a regulatory body, and the agency in charge of approving planned investments in Indonesia. As such, it is the first point of contact for foreign investors, particularly in manufacturing, industrial, and non-financial services sectors. In July 2018, Indonesia launched the OSS system to streamline 488 licensing and permitting processes through the issuance of Government Regulation No.24/2018 on Electronic Integrated Business Licensing Services. As a new process, OSS implementation is a work in progress and would benefit from greater socialization, especially at the subnational level. Special expedited licensing services are available for investors meeting certain criteria, such as making investments in excess of approximately IDR100 billion (USD7.4 million) or employing 1,000 local workers.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Restrictions on FDI are, for the most part, outlined in Presidential Decree No.44/2016, commonly referred to as the Negative Investment List or the DNI. The Negative Investment List aims to consolidate FDI restrictions from numerous decrees and regulations, in order to create greater certainty for foreign and domestic investors. The 2016 revision to the list eased restrictions in a number of previously closed or restricted fields. Previously closed sectors, including the film industry (including filming, editing, captioning, production, showing, and distribution of films), on-line marketplaces with a value in excess of IDR100 billion (USD7.4 million), restaurants, cold chain storage, informal education, hospital management services, and manufacturing of raw materials for medicine, are now open for 100 percent foreign ownership. The 2016 list also raises the foreign investment cap in the following sectors, though not fully to 100 percent: online marketplaces under IDR100 billion (USD7.4 million), tourism sectors, distribution and warehouse facilities, logistics, and manufacturing and distribution of medical devices. In certain sectors, restrictions are liberalized for foreign investors from other ASEAN countries. Though the energy sector saw little change in the 2016 revision, foreign investment in construction of geothermal power plants up to 10 MW is permitted with an ownership cap of 67 percent, while the operation and maintenance of such plants is capped at 49 percent foreign ownership. For investment in certain sectors, such as mining and higher education, the 2016 Negative Investment List is useful only as a starting point, as additional licenses and permits are required by individual ministries. A number of sensitive business areas, involving, for example, alcoholic beverages, ocean salvage, certain fisheries, and the production of some hazardous substances, remain closed to foreign investment or are otherwise restricted.

Foreign investment in small-scale and home industries (i.e. forestry, fisheries, small plantations, certain retail sectors) is reserved for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) or requires a partnership between a foreign investor and local entity. Even where the 2016 DNI revisions lifted limits on foreign ownership, certain sectors remain subject to other restrictions imposed by separate laws and regulations. In November 2018, the government announced its plans to liberalize further DNI sectors through the XVI economic policy package, before shelving the idea a few weeks later.

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

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

Other Investment Policy Reviews

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

The most recent OECD Investment Policy Review of Indonesia, conducted in 2010, can be found on the OECD website: http://www.oecd.org/daf/inv/investmentfordevelopment/indonesia-investmentpolicyreview-oecd.htm .

UNCTADs report on ASEAN Investment can be found here: http://www.unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/unctad_asean_air2017d1.pdf .

Business Facilitation

Business Registration

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

Once an investor has obtained a NIB, he/she may apply for a business license. At this stage, investors must: document their legal claim to the proposed project land/location; provide an environmental impact statement (AMDAL); show proof of submission of an investment realization report; and provide a recommendation from relevant ministries as necessary.  Investors also need to apply for commercial and/or operational licenses prior to commencing commercial operations. Previously the business license process averaged 260 days.  Following establishment of the 2018 OSS system, which includes 488 licenses for various ministries/agencies, the process of starting business has been reduced to 20 days according to the World Bank’s 2019 Ease of Doing Business report, which placed Indonesia 73rd out of the 190 countries surveyed in the report. Special expedited licensing services are also available for investors meeting certain criteria, such as making investments in excess of approximately IDR 100 billion (USD 7.2 million) or employing 1,000 local workers. After obtaining a NIB, investors in some designated industrial estates can immediately start project construction.

Foreign investors are generally prohibited from investing in MSMEs in Indonesia, although the 2016 Negative Investment List opened some opportunities for partnerships in farming and catalog and online retail. In accordance with the Indonesian SMEs Law No. 20/2008, MSMEs are defined as enterprises with net assets less than IDR10 billion (USD0.8 million) or with total annual sales under IDR50 billion (USD 3.7 million). However, the Indonesian Central Bureau of Statistics defines MSMEs as enterprises with fewer than 99 employees. The government provides assistance to MSMEs, including: expanded access to business credit for MSMEs in farming, fishery, manufacturing, creative business, trading and services sectors; a tax exemption for MSMEs with annual sales under IDR 200 million (USD 14.8 million); and assistance with international promotion.

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

Screening of FDI

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

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

Outward Investment

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

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Regulatory Considerations

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

Indonesia joined the WTO in 1995. Indonesia’s National Standards Body (BSN) is the primary government agency to notify draft regulations to the WTO concerning technical barriers to trade (TBT) and sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS); however, in practice, notification is inconsistent.

In December 2017, Indonesia ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). At this point, Indonesia has met 88.7 percent of its commitments to the TFA provisions, including publication and availability information, consultations, advance ruling, review procedure, detention and test procedure, fee and charges discipline, goods clearance, border agency cooperation, import/export formalities, and goods transit.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

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

Certain companies have claimed that the court system often does not provide the necessary recourse for resolving property and contractual disputes and that cases that would be adjudicated in civil courts in other jurisdictions sometimes result in criminal charges in Indonesia. Judges are not bound by precedent and many laws are open to various interpretations. According to the U.S. industry, corruption also continues to plague Indonesia’s judiciary, with graft investigations involving senior judges and court staff.

A lack of clear land titles has plagued Indonesia for decades, although the land acquisition law No.2/2012 enacted in 2012 included legal mechanisms designed to resolve some past land ownership issues. In addition, companies find Indonesia to have a poor track record on the legal enforcement of contracts, and civil disputes are sometimes criminalized. Government Regulation No. 79/2010 opened the door for the government to remove recoverable costs from production sharing contracts. Indonesia has also required mining companies to renegotiate their contracts of work to include higher royalties, more divestment to local partners, more local content, and domestic processing of mineral ore.

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

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

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

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

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

Expropriation and Compensation

The Indonesian government generally recognizes and upholds the property rights of foreign and domestic investors. The 2007 Investment Law opened major sectors of the economy to foreign investment, while providing investors protection from nationalization, except where corporate crime is involved. However, Indonesian economic nationalism and an oft-stated desire for “self-sufficiency” continues to manifest itself through negotiations, policies, regulations, and laws in way that companies describe as eroding investor value. These include local content requirements, requirements to divest equity shares to Indonesian stakeholders, and requirements to establish manufacturing or processing facilities in Indonesia.

In 2012, the government issued a regulation requiring foreign-owned mining operations to divest majority equity to Indonesian shareholders within 10 years of operational startup using cost of investment incurred, rather than market value, for purposes of divestment valuation. In 2014, with Regulation No. 77/2014, the government eased the foreign ownership restrictions to 60 percent for companies that smelt domestically (40 percent divestment) and 70 percent for companies that operate underground mines (30 percent divestment). However, regulations enacted in 2017 again require foreign-owned miners to gradually divest over ten years 51 percent of shares to Indonesian interests, with the price of divested shares determined based on fair market value and not taking into account existing reserves. The government has indicated it intends the majority-share divestment requirement to supersede Regulation No. 77/2014 and apply to all foreign investors in the sector. Based on the 2009 Mining Law, all mining contracts of work must be renegotiated to alter the terms to more favor the government, including royalty and tax rates, local content levels, domestic processing of minerals, and reduced mine areas. Some mining companies had to reduce the size of their original mining work area without compensation.

In general, Indonesia’s rising resource nationalism advances the idea that domestic interests should not have to pay prevailing market prices for domestic resources. In addition, in the oil and gas sector, the government is increasingly explicit in its policy that expiring production sharing contracts operated by foreign companies be transferred to domestic interests rather than extended. While there is no obligation of compensation under the production sharing contract, this policy has begun to affect the Indonesian business interests of foreign companies.

The Law on Land Acquisition Procedures for Public Interest Development passed in 2011 sought to streamline government acquisition of land for infrastructure projects. The law seeks to clarify roles, reduce the time frame for each phase of the land acquisition process, deter land speculation, and curtail obstructionist litigation, while still ensuring safeguards for land-right holders. The implementing regulations went into effect in 2015. Some reports indicate that the law has reduced land acquisition timelines, with no accusations of illegal government expropriation of land.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

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

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

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

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

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

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

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

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

Bankruptcy Regulations

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

Ireland

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Irish government actively promotes FDI, a strategy that has fueled economic growth since the mid-1990s.  The principal goal of Ireland’s investment promotion has been employment creation, especially in technology-intensive and high-skill industries.  More recently, the government has focused on Ireland’s international competitiveness by encouraging foreign-owned companies to enhance research and development (R&D) activities and to deliver higher-value goods and services.

The Irish government’s actions have achieved considerable success in attracting U.S. investment in particular.  The stock of American FDI in Ireland stood at USD 446 billion in 2017, more than the U.S. total for China, India, Russia, Brazil, and South Africa (the so-called BRICS countries) combined.  There are approximately 700 U.S. subsidiaries currently in Ireland employing roughly 155,000 people and supporting work for another 100,000. This figure represents a significant proportion of the 2.28 million people employed in Ireland.  U.S. firms operate primarily in the following sectors: chemicals, bio-pharmaceuticals and medical devices, computer hardware and software, electronics, and financial services.

U.S. investment has been particularly important to the growth and modernization of Irish industry over the past 25 years, providing new technology, export capabilities, management and manufacturing best practices, and employment opportunities.  The activities of U.S. firms in Ireland span from the manufacturing of high-tech electronics, computer products, medical devices, and pharmaceuticals to retailing, banking, finance, and other services. More recently, Ireland has also become an important R&D center for U.S. firms in Europe, and a magnet for U.S. internet/digital media investment.  Industry leaders like Google, Amazon, eBay, PayPal, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Electronic Arts use Ireland as the hub or important part of their respective European, and sometimes Middle Eastern, African, and/or Indian operations.

U.S. companies are attracted to Ireland as an exporting sales and support platform to the EU market of 500 million consumers and other global markets, mainly the Middle East and Africa.  Ireland is a successful FDI destination for many reasons, including a corporate tax rate of 12.5 percent for all domestic and foreign firms; a well-educated, English-speaking workforce; the availability of a multilingual labor force; cooperative labor relations; political stability; and pro-business government policies and regulators.  Ireland also benefits from a transparent judicial system; good transportation links; proximity to the United States and Europe, and the drawing power of existing companies operating successfully in Ireland (a so-called “clustering” effect).

Conversely, factors that negatively affect Ireland’s ability to attract investment include high labor and operating costs (such as for energy) costs; sporadic skilled-labor shortages; residual fallout from Ireland’s economic and financial restructuring; and sometimes-deficient infrastructure (such as in transportation, energy and broadband quality).  Ireland also suffers from housing and high-quality office space shortages; uncertainty in EU policies on some regulatory matters; and absolute price levels that are among the highest in Europe. Some Irish government agencies have in the past expressed concern that energy costs and the reliability of energy supply also could undermine Ireland’s attractiveness as a FDI destination.  The American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland has noted the need for greater attention to a “skills gap” in the supply of Irish graduates to the high technology sector. It also has asserted that high personal income tax rates can make attracting talent from abroad difficult.

In 2013, Ireland became the first country in the Eurozone to exit the EU, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund (EU/ECB/IMF, or so-called Troika) bailout program.  Compliance with the terms of the Troika program came at a substantial economic cost with gross domestic product (GDP) stagnation, austerity measures, and high unemployment (15 percent).  The economy has since recovered and has been the fastest growing Eurozone economy for the past five years, with a growth rate of 6 percent in 2018. Meanwhile, government initiatives to attract investment have continued to stimulate job creation and employment.  As a result, unemployment levels have fallen dramatically and the Central Bank of Ireland forecasts that Ireland’s unemployment rate will fall to 4.9 percent in 2019. Against this good economic background, there is a resurgent interest in Ireland as an investment destination.  Since exiting the bailout program, the Irish government has successfully returned to international sovereign debt markets, and successful bonds sales exemplify renewed international confidence in Ireland’s recovery.

Brexit and its Implications for Ireland

The UK’s exit from the EU will leave Ireland as the only remaining English-speaking country in the bloc.  Ireland is the only EU country to share a land border with the UK. It is still unclear what the full economic consequences of Brexit will be for Ireland as it loses a close EU ally on policy matters.  Econometric models from the Irish Department of Finance and from the Central Bank of Ireland suggest Brexit will cut economic growth modestly in the near term. Ireland is heavily dependent on the UK as an export market, especially for food products, and sectors such as food and agri-business may be hardest hit.  Ireland also sources many imports from the UK, which could raise costs if supply chains are disrupted. A number of UK-based firms (including US firms) have moved headquarters or opened subsidiary offices in Ireland to facilitate ease of business with other EU countries.

Industrial Promotion

Six government departments and organizations have responsibility to promote investment into Ireland by foreign companies:

  • The Industrial Development Authority of Ireland (IDA Ireland) has overall responsibility for promoting and facilitating FDI in all areas of the country, except in the Shannon Free Zone (see below).  IDA Ireland is also responsible for attracting foreign financial and insurance firms to Dublin’s International Financial Services Center (IFSC). IDA Ireland maintains seven U.S. offices (in New York, NY; Boston, MA; Chicago, IL; Mountain View, CA; Irvine, CA; Atlanta, GA; and Austin, TX), as well as offices throughout Europe and Asia.
  • Enterprise Ireland (EI) promotes joint ventures and strategic alliances between indigenous and foreign companies.  The agency also assists foreign firms that wish to establish food and drink manufacturing operations in Ireland. EI has five offices in the United States (New York, NY; Austin, TX; Boston, MA; Chicago, IL; and Mountain View, CA), as well as offices in Europe, South America, the Middle East, and Asia.
  • Shannon Group (formerly the Shannon Free Airport Development Company) promotes FDI in the Shannon Free Zone (see description below) and owns properties in the Shannon region as potential green-field investment sites.  Since 2006 and the Industrial Development Amendments Act, EI assumed responsibility for investment by Irish firms in the Shannon region. IDA Ireland remains responsible for FDI in the Shannon region outside the Shannon Free Zone.
  • Udaras na Gaeltachta (Udaras) has responsibility for economic development in those areas of Ireland where the predominant language is Irish, and works with IDA Ireland to promote overseas investment in these regions.
  • Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has responsibility for economic messaging and supporting the country’s trade promotion agenda as well as diaspora engagement to attract investment.
  • Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) supports the creation of good jobs by promoting the development of a competitive business environment in which enterprises will operate with high standards and grow in sustainable markets.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Irish law allows foreign corporations (registered under the Companies Act 2014 or previous legislation and known locally as a public limited company, or plc for short) to conduct business in Ireland.  Any company incorporated abroad that establishes a branch in Ireland must file certain papers with the Registrar of Companies. A foreign corporation with a branch in Ireland will have the same standing in Irish law for purposes of contracts, etc., as a domestic company incorporated in Ireland.  Private businesses are not competitively disadvantaged to public enterprises with respect to access to markets, credit, and other business operations.

No barriers exist to participation by foreign entities in the purchase of state-owned Irish companies.  Residents of Ireland may, however, be given priority in share allocations over all other investors. In 1998, the Irish government sold the state-owned telecommunications company Eircom, and Irish residents received priority in share allocations.  In 2005, the Government privatized the national airline Aer Lingus through a stock market flotation, but it chose to retain about a one-quarter stake. U.S. investors purchased shares during its privatization. In 2015, the International Airlines Group (IAG) purchased the Government’s remaining stake in the airline.

Citizens of countries other than Ireland and EU member states can acquire land for private residential or industrial purposes.  Under Section 45 of the Land Act, 1965, all non-EU nationals must obtain the written consent of the Land Commission before acquiring an interest in land zoned for agricultural use.  There are many equine stud farms and racing facilities owned by foreign nationals. No restrictions exist on the acquisition of urban land.

Ireland does not have formal investment screening legislation, but as an EU member it may need to implement any future common EU investment screening regulations/directives.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The Economist Intelligence Unit and World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 provide current information on Ireland’s investment policies.

Business Facilitation

All firms must register with the Companies Registration Office (www.cro.ie).  As well as registering companies, the CRO also can register a business/trading name, a non-Ireland based foreign company (external company), or a limited partnership.  A firm or company registered under the Companies Act 2014 becomes a body corporate as and from the date mentioned in its certificate of incorporation. The website permits online data submission.  Firms must submit a signed paper copy of this online application to the CRO, unless the applicant company has already registered with www.revenue.ie (the website of Ireland’s tax collecting authority, the Office of the Revenue Commissioners).

Outward Investment

Enterprise Ireland assists Irish firms in developing partnerships with foreign firms mainly to develop and grow indigenous firms.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Ireland’s judicial system is transparent and upholds the sanctity of contracts, as well as laws affecting foreign investment.  These laws include:

  • The Companies Act 2014, which contains the basic requirements for incorporation in Ireland;
  • The 2004 Finance Act, which introduced tax incentives to encourage firms to set up headquarters in Ireland and to conduct R&D;
  • The Mergers, Takeovers and Monopolies Control Act of 1978, which sets out rules governing mergers and takeovers by foreign and domestic companies;
  • The Competition (Amendment) Act of 1996, which amends and extends the Competition Act of 1991 and the Mergers and Takeovers (Control) Acts of 1978 and 1987, and sets out the rules governing competitive behavior; and,
  • The Industrial Development Act (1993), which outlines the functions of IDA Ireland.

The Companies Act (2014), with more than 1,400 sections and 17 Schedules, is the largest-ever Irish statute.  It consolidated and reformed all Irish company law for the first time in over 50 years.

In addition, numerous laws and regulations pertain to employment, social security, environmental protection and taxation, with many of these keyed to EU Directives.

International Regulatory Considerations

Ireland has been a member of the European Union since 1973.  It incorporates all EU legislation into national legislation and applies all EU regulatory standards and rules.  Ireland is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and follows all WTO procedures.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

One of Ireland’s most attractive features as an FDI destination is its low corporate tax rate.  Since 2003, the headline corporate tax rate for all firms, foreign and domestic, is 12.5 percent.  Ireland’s headline corporate tax rate is among the lowest in the EU. The Irish government continues to oppose strongly EU proposals to harmonize corporate taxes at a common EU rate.  In 2014, the Government announced that firms would no longer be able to incorporate in Ireland without also being tax resident. Prior to this change, firms could incorporate in Ireland and be tax resident elsewhere, making use of an arrangement colloquially known as the “Double Irish” to reduce tax liabilities.  The Irish government has indicated it will adhere to future decisions reached through the OECD’s Base Erosion and Profit Sharing (BEPS) discussions and has already incorporated a number of BEPS recommendations including Ireland’s ratification of the BEPS Multilateral Instrument in January 2019.  The government implemented a Knowledge Development Box (KDB), effective 2016, which is reportedly consistent with OECD guidelines.  The KDB allows for the application of a tax rate of 6.25 percent on profits arising to certain intellectual property assets that are the result of qualifying research and development activities carried out in Ireland.

Ireland treats all firms incorporated in Ireland on an equal basis.  With only a few exceptions, no constraints prevent foreign individuals or entities from ownership or participation in private firms/corporations.  The most significant of these exceptions is that, in common with other EU countries, Irish airlines must be at least 50 percent owned by EU residents to have full access to the single European aviation market.  Citizens of countries other than Ireland and EU member states can acquire land for private residential or industrial purposes. Under Section 45 of the Land Act, 1965, all non-EU nationals must obtain the written consent of the Land Commission before acquiring an interest in land zoned for agricultural use.  There are many stud farms and racing facilities in Ireland owned by foreign nationals in such areas. No restrictions exist on the acquisition of urban land.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) is an independent statutory body with a dual mandate to enforce competition and consumer protection law in Ireland.  Ireland established the CCPC on October 31, 2014, after the amalgamation of the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority.

The Competition Act of 2002, subsequently amended and extended by the Competition Act 2006, mandates the enforcement power of the CCPC.  The Act introduced criminal liability for anti-competitive practices, increased corporate liability for violations, and outlined available defenses.  Most tax, labor, environment, health and safety, and other laws are compatible with EU regulations, and they do not adversely affect investment. The government publishes proposed drafts of laws and regulations to solicit public comment, including those by foreign firms and their representative associations.  Bureaucratic procedures are transparent and reasonably efficient, in line with a general pro-business climate espoused by the government.

The Irish Takeover Panel Act of 1997 governs company takeovers.  Under the Act, the Takeover Panel issues guidelines, or Takeover Rules, which regulate commercial behavior in mergers and acquisitions.  According to minority squeeze-out provisions in the legislation, a bidder who holds 80 percent of the shares of the target firm (or 90 percent for firms with securities on a regulated market) can compel the remaining minority shareholders to sell their shares.  There are no reports that the Irish Takeover Panel Act has prevented foreign takeovers, and, in fact, there have been several high-profile foreign takeovers of Irish companies in the banking and telecommunications sectors in the recent past.  In 2006, Babcock & Brown (an Australian investment firm) acquired the former national telephone company, Eircom. Babcock & Brown subsequently sold Eircom to Singapore Technologies Telemedia in 2009.  The EU Directive on Takeovers provides a framework of common principles for cross-border takeover bids, creates a level playing field for shareholders, and establishes disclosure obligations throughout the EU.  Irish legislation fully implemented the Directive in 2006, though the Irish Takeover Panel Act 1997 had already incorporated many of its principles.

Companies must notified the CCPC of mergers over a certain financial threshold for review as required by the Competition Act 2002, as amended (Competition Act).

Expropriation and Compensation

The government normally expropriates private property only for public purposes in a non-discriminatory manner and in accordance with established principles of international law.  The government condemns private property in accordance with recognized principles of due process.

Where there are disputes brought by owners of private property subject to a government action, the Irish courts provide a system of judicial review and appeal.

Dispute Settlement

There is no specific domestic body for handling investment disputes.  The Irish Constitution, legislation, and common law form the basis for the Irish legal system.  The DBEI has primary responsibility for drafting and enforcing company law. The judiciary is independent, and litigants are entitled to trial by jury in commercial disputes.

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Ireland is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and a party to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, meaning local courts must enforce international arbitration awards under appropriate circumstances.

In recent years, some U.S. business representatives have occasionally called into question the transparency of government tenders.  According to some U.S. firms, lengthy procedural decisions often delay the procurement tender process. Unsuccessful bidders have claimed they have had difficulty receiving information on the rationale behind the tender outcome.  Additionally, some successful bidders have experienced delays in finalizing contracts, commencing work on major projects, obtaining accurate project data, and receiving compensation for work completed, including through conciliation and arbitration processes.  Successful bidders have also subsequently found that the original tenders may not accurately describe conditions on the ground.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Companies Act 2014 is the most important body of law dealing with commercial and bankruptcy law, which Irish courts consistently apply.  Irish company bankruptcy laws give creditors a strong degree of protection.

Israel

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Israel is open to foreign investment and the government actively encourages and supports the inflow of foreign capital.

The Israeli Ministry of Economy and Industry’s ‘Invest in Israel’ office serves as the government’s investment promotion agency facilitating foreign investment.  ‘Invest in Israel’ offers a wide range of services including guidance on Israeli laws, regulation, taxes, incentives, and costs, and facilitation of business connections with peer companies and industry leaders for new investors.  ‘Invest in Israel’ also organizes familiarization tours for potential investors and employs a team of advisors for each region of the world.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

The Israeli legal system protects the rights of both foreign and domestic entities to establish and own business enterprises, as well as the right to engage in remunerative activity.  Private enterprises are free to establish, acquire, and dispose of interests in business enterprises. As part of ongoing privatization efforts, the Israeli government encourages foreign investment in privatizing government-owned entities.

Israel’s policies aim to equalize competition between private and public enterprises, although the existence of monopolies and oligopolies in several sectors stifles competition.  In the case of designated monopolies, defined as entities that supply more than 50 percent of the market, the government controls prices.

Israel does not maintain a centralized investment screening (approval) mechanism for inbound foreign investment.  Investments in regulated industries (e.g. banking and insurance) require approval by the relevant regulator. Investments in certain sectors may require a government license.  Other regulations may apply, usually on a national treatment basis.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization (WTO) conducted its fifth and latest trade policy review of Israel in July 2018.  In the past three years, the Israeli government has not conducted any investment policy reviews through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).  The OECD concluded an Economic Survey of Israel in March 2018.

The 2018 OECD Economic Survey of Israel can be found at http://www.mof.gov.il/Releases/SiteAssets/Pages/OECD18/2018-oecd-economic-survey-Israel.pdf 

Business Facilitation

The Israeli government is fairly open and receptive to companies wishing to register businesses in Israel.  Israel ranked 45th in the “Starting a Business” category of the World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Report, falling eight places from its 2018 ranking.  Israel continues to institute reforms to make it easier to do business in Israel, but some challenges remain.

The business registration process in Israel is relatively clear and straightforward.  Four procedures are required to register a standard private limited company and take 12 days to complete, on average, according to the Ministry of Finance.  The foreign investor must obtain company registration documents through a recognized attorney with the Ministry of Justice and obtain a tax identification number for company taxation and for value added taxes (VAT) from the Ministry of Finance.  The cost to register a company averages around USD 1,000 depending on attorney and legal fees.

The Israeli Ministry of Economy and Industry’s “Invest in Israel” website provides useful information for companies interested in starting a business or investing in Israel.  The website is http://www.investinisrael.gov.il/Pages/default.aspx  .

Outward Investment

The Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute is an Israeli government agency operating independently, under the Ministry of Economy, that helps facilitate trade and business opportunities between Israeli and foreign companies.  More information on their activities is available at http://www.export.gov.il/eng/About/About/  .

In general, there are no restrictions on Israeli investors seeking to invest abroad.  However, investing abroad may be restricted on national security grounds or in certain countries or sectors where the Israeli government deems such investment is not in the national interest.

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 recently won a limited number of government tenders, notably in civil aviation. 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 Anti-Trust Laws

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

Expropriation and Compensation

There have been no expropriations of U.S.-owned businesses in Israel in the recent past.  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 2018 Doing Business Report’s “resolving insolvency” category.

Italy

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Italy welcomes foreign direct investment (FDI).  As a European Union (EU) member state, Italy is bound by the Union’s treaties and laws.  Under the EU treaties with the United States, Italy is generally obliged to provide national treatment to U.S. investors established in Italy or in another EU member state.  

EU and Italian antitrust laws provide Italian authorities with the right to review mergers and acquisitions for market dominance.  In addition, the Italian government may block mergers and acquisitions involving foreign firms under the “Golden Power” law if the transactions appear to raise national security concerns.  This law was enacted in 2012 and further implemented with decrees in 2015, 2017, and 2019.  The Golden Power law allows the Government of Italy (GOI) to block foreign acquisition of companies operating in strategic sectors (identified as defense/national security, energy, transportation, telecommunications, critical infrastructure, sensitive technology, and nuclear and space technology).  On March 26, 2019 the GOI issued a decree expanding the Golden Power authority to cover the purchase of goods and services related to the planning, realization, maintenance, and management of broadband communications networks using 5G technology.  Per Italian law, Parliament must confirm the decree within 60 days. The GOI’s Golden Power authority always applies in cases involving the sectors above in which the potential purchaser is a non-EU company; it is extended to EU companies if the target of the acquisition is involved in defense/national security activities.  In this respect, the GOI has a say regarding the ownership of private companies as well as ones in which the government has a stake. This law replaced the “Golden Share” which the GOI previously held in former state-owned firms that were partially privatized in the 1990s and 2000s. The law also allows the State to maintain oversight over entire strategic sectors as opposed to individual companies, and by replacing the Golden Share legislation, has enabled Italy to address accusations the Golden Shares violated European treaties.   An interagency group led by the Prime Minister’s office reviews acquisition applications and prepares the dossiers/ recommendations for the Council of Ministers’ decision.   

According to the latest figures available from the Italian Trade Agency (ITA), foreign investors own significant shares of 12,768 Italian companies.  These companies employed 1,211,872 workers with overall sales of EUR 573.6 billion. ITA operates under the umbrella of the Italian Ministry of Economic Development.

The Italian Trade Agency (ITA) operates Invest in Italy: http://www.investinitaly.com/en/.   The Foreign Investments Attraction Department is a dedicated unit of ITA for facilitating the establishment and the development of foreign companies in Italy.  As of April 2019, ITA maintained a presence in 65 countries to assist foreign investors.  

Invitalia is the national agency for inward investment and economic development, owned by the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance.  The agency focuses on strategic sectors for development and employment.  It places an emphasis on southern Italy, where investment and development lag in comparison to the rest of the country.  Invitalia finances projects both large and small, targeting entrepreneurs with concrete development plans, especially in innovative and high-added-value sectors.  For more information, see https://www.invitalia.it/eng  .  The Ministry of Economic Development also has a program to attract innovative investments: https://www.mise.gov.it  

Italy’s main business association (Confindustria) also provides assistance to companies in Italy: https://www.confindustria.it/en  

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Under EU treaties and OECD obligations, Italy is generally obliged to provide national treatment to U.S. investors established in Italy or in another EU member state.  

EU and Italian antitrust laws provide Italian national local authorities with the right to review mergers and acquisitions over a certain financial threshold.  The Italian government may block mergers and acquisitions involving foreign firms if national security concerns are raised or on the principle of reciprocity if the government of the foreign firm applies discriminatory measures against Italian firms.  Foreign investors in the defense or aircraft manufacturing sectors are more likely to encounter resistance from the many ministries involved in reviewing foreign acquisitions.  

Italy maintains a formal national security screening process for inbound foreign investment in the sectors of defense/national security, transportation, energy, telecommunications, critical infrastructure, sensitive technology, and nuclear and space technology under its “Golden Power” legislation, and where there may be market concentration (antitrust) issues.  Italy’s Golden Power legislation was expanded on March 26, 2019 to include the purchase of goods and services related to the planning, realization, maintenance, and management of broadband communications networks using 5G technology. (Per Italian law Parliament must confirm the law within 60 days for it to remain in force.) To our knowledge, U.S. investors have not been disadvantaged relative to other foreign investors under the mechanisms described above.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

An OECD Economic Survey was published for Italy in April 2019.  https://www.oecd.org/economy/surveys/Italy-2019-OECD-economic-survey-overview.pdf 

Business Facilitation

Italy has a business registration website, available in Italian and English, administered through the Union of Italian Chambers of Commerce: http://www.registroimprese.it.    The online business registration process is clear and complete.  Foreign companies may use the online process. Before registering a company online, applicants must obtain a certified e-mail address and digital signature, a process that may take up to five days.  A notary is required to certify the documentation. The precise steps required for the registration process depend on the type of business being registered. The minimum capital requirement also varies by type of business.  Generally, companies must obtain a value-added tax account number (partita IVA) from the Italian Revenue Agency, register with the social security agency Istituto Nazionale della Previdenza Sociale (INPS), verify adequate capital and insurance coverage with the Italian workers’ compensation agency Istituto Nazionale per L’Assicurazione contro gli Infortuni sul Lavoro (INAIL), and notify the regional office of the Ministry of Labor.  According to the World Bank Doing Business Index 2018, Italy is ranked 67 out of 190 countries in terms of the ease of starting a business: it takes six procedures and six days to start a business in Italy.  Additional licenses may be required, depending on the type of business to be conducted.

Invitalia and the Italian Trade Agency’s Foreign Direct Investment Unit assist those wanting to set up a new business in Italy.  Many Italian localities also have one-stop shops to serve as a single point of contact for potential investors and provide advice in obtaining necessary licenses and authorizations.  These services are available to all investors.

Outward Investment

Italy neither promotes, restricts, or incentivizes outward investment nor restricts domestic investors from investing abroad.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Regulatory authority exists at the national, regional, and municipal level.  All applicable regulations could potentially be relevant for foreign investors.  Regulations are developed at the national level by the GOI and individual ministries, as well as independent regulatory authorities.  Regional and municipal authorities issue regulations at the sub-national level.  Draft regulations may be posted for public comment, but there is generally no requirement to do so. Final national-level regulations are in general published in the Gazzetta Ufficiale (and only become effective upon publication).  Regulatory agencies may publish summaries of received comments.  No major regulatory reform was undertaken in 2018.  Aggrieved parties may challenge regulations in court.  Public finances and debt obligations are transparent and are publicly available through banking channels such as the Bank of Italy.

International Regulatory Considerations

Italy is a member of the European Union (EU).  EU directives are brought into force in Italy through implementing national legislation.  In some areas, EU procedures require member states to notify the European Commission (EC) before implementing national-level regulations.  Italy has on occasion failed to notify the EC and/or WTO of draft regulations in a timely way. For example, in 2017 Italy adopted Country of Origin Labelling requirements for a range of products including rice, wheat used to make pasta, and certain tomato-based products.  Italy’s Economic Development Minister and Agriculture Minister publicly stated these measures would support the “Made in Italy” brand and make Italian products more competitive. Though the requirements were widely regarded as a Technical Barrier to Trade (TBT), Italy failed to notify the WTO in advance of implementing these regulations.  Italy is a signatory to the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and has implemented all developed-country obligations.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Italian law is based on Roman law and on French Napoleonic Code law.  The Italian judicial system consists of a series of courts and a body of judges employed as civil servants.  The system is unified; every court is part of the national network. Though notoriously slow, the Italian civil legal system meets the generally recognized principles of international law, with provisions for enforcing property and contractual rights.  Italy has a written and consistently applied commercial and bankruptcy law. Foreign investors in Italy can choose among different means of alternate dispute resolution (ADR), including legally binding arbitration, though use of ADR remains rare. The GOI has over recent years introduced justice reforms to reduce the backlog of civil cases and speed newly filed cases to conclusion.  These reforms also included a new emphasis on ADR and methods to make collecting judgments easier.

Regulations can be appealed in the court system.  

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Italy is bound by EU laws on FDI.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Italian Competition Authority (AGCM) is responsible for reviewing transactions for competition-related concerns.  AGCM may examine transactions that restrict competition in Italy as well as in the broader EU market. As a member of the EU, Italy is also subject to interventions by the European Commission Competition Directorate (DG COMP).

Expropriation and Compensation

The Italian Constitution permits expropriation of private property for “public purposes,” defined as essential services or measures indispensable for the national economy, with fair and timely compensation.  Expropriations have been minimal.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Italy is a member state of the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID convention).  Italy has signed and ratified the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention).  Italian civil law (Section 839) provides for and governs the enforcement of foreign arbitration awards in Italy;

Italian law recognizes and enforces foreign court judgments.   

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Italy is a contracting state to the 1965 Washington Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (entered into force on 28 April 1971).

Italy has had very few investment disputes involving a U.S. person in the last 10 years.  The U.S. Embassy identified less than five such active disputes at the time of the drafting of this report.  No cases have been terminated or resolved; all remain pending. Italy does not have a history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Italy is a party to the following international treaties relating to arbitration:

  • The 1927 Geneva Convention on The Execution of Foreign Arbitral Awards (entered into force on 12 February 1931);
  • The 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (entered into force on 1 May 1969); and
  • The 1961 European Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (entered into force on 1 November 1970).

Italy’s Code of Civil Procedure (Book IV, Title VIII, Sections 806-840) governs arbitration, including the recognition of foreign arbitration awards.  Italian law is not based on the UNCITRAL Model Law; however, many of the principles of the Model Law are present in Italian law. Parties are free to choose from a variety of Alternative Dispute Resolution methods, including mediation, arbitration, and lawyer-assisted negotiation.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Italy’s bankruptcy regulations are somewhat analogous to U.S. Chapter 11 restructuring, and allow firms and their creditors to reach a solution without declaring bankruptcy.  In recent years, the judiciary’s role in bankruptcy proceedings has been reduced in an attempt to simplify and expedite proceedings. In 2015, the Italian parliament passed a package of changes to the bankruptcy law, including measures to ease access to interim credit for bankrupt companies and to restructure debts.  Additional changes were approved in 2017 (juridical liquidation, early warning, simplified process, arrangement with creditors, insolvency of affiliated companies as a group, and reorganization of indebtedness rules). The measures aim to reduce the number of bankruptcies, limit the impact on the local economy, and facilitate the settlement of corporate disputes outside of the court system.  The reform follows on the 2015 reform of insolvency procedures. The legislative “implementation decree” for the 2017 bankruptcy reform was issued in early 2019. In the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2018, Italy ranks 22 out of 190 economies in the category of Ease of Resolving Insolvency.

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