1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
The GOA understands that private sector development and increased levels of foreign investment are critical to support sustainable economic development. Albania maintains a liberal foreign investment regime designed to attract FDI. The Law on Foreign Investment outlines specific protections for foreign investors and allows 100 percent foreign ownership of companies, except in the areas of domestic and international air passenger transport and television broadcasting. Albanian legislation does not distinguish between domestic and foreign investments.
The 2010 amendments to the Law on Foreign Investment introduced criteria specifying when the state would grant special protection to foreign investors involved in property disputes, providing additional guarantees to investors for investments of more than 10 million euros. Amendments in 2017 and 2018 extended state protection for strategic investments as defined under the 2015 Law on Strategic Investments.
The Albanian Investment Development Agency (AIDA) oversees promoting foreign investments in Albania. Potential U.S. investors in Albania should contact AIDA to learn more about services AIDA offers to foreign investors (http://aida.gov.al/ ).
The Law on Strategic Investments stipulates that AIDA, as the Secretariat of the Strategic Investment Council, serve as a one-stop shop for foreign investors, from filing of the application form to granting the status of strategic investment/investor.
Despite hospitable legislation, U.S. investors are challenged by corruption and the perpetuation of informal business practices. Several U.S. investors have left the country in recent years after contentious commercial disputes, including some that were brought before international arbitration.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Foreign and domestic investors have equal rights of ownership of local companies, based on the principle of “national treatment.” According to the World Bank’s “Investing Across Borders” indicator, just three of 33 sectors have restrictions against full foreign ownership, or in the case of the agriculture sector, against foreign land ownership.
- Domestic and international air passenger transport: foreign interest in airline companies is limited to 49 percent ownership by investors outside the Common European Aviation Zone, for both domestic and international air transportation;
- Television broadcasting: no entity, foreign or domestic, may own more than 40 percent of a television company.
- Agriculture: No foreign individual or foreign incorporated company may purchase agricultural land, though land may be leased for up to 99 years
Albania lacks an investment review mechanism for inbound foreign direct investment. Albanian law permits private ownership and establishment of enterprises and property. Foreign investors do not require additional permission or authorization beyond that required of domestic investors. Commercial property may be purchased, but only if the proposed investment is worth three times the price of the land. There are no restrictions on the purchase of private residential property. Foreigners can acquire concession rights on natural resources and resources of the common interest, as defined by the Law on Concessions and Public Private Partnerships.
Foreign and domestic investors have numerous options available for organizing business operations in Albania. The 2008 ‘Law on Entrepreneurs and Commercial Companies,’ and ‘Law Establishing the National Registration Center’ (NRC) allow for the following legal types of business entities to be established through the NRC: Sole Entrepreneur; Unlimited Partnership; Limited Partnership; Limited Liability Company; Joint Stock Company; Branches and Representative Offices; and Joint Ventures.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
World Trade Organization (WTO) completed a Trade Policy Review of Albania in May 2016 (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp437_e.htm ).
In November 2017, UNCTAD completed the first Investment Policy Review (IPR) of South-East European (SEE) countries, including Albania (http://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationWebflyer.aspx?publicationid=1884 ).
The National Business Center (NBC) serves as a one-stop shop for business registration. All required procedures and documents are published on-line (http://www.qkb.gov.al/information-on-procedure/business-registration/). Registration may be done in person or online via the e-Albania portal . Many companies choose to complete the registration process in person, as the online portal requires an authentication process and electronic signature and is only available in the Albanian language.
Albania neither promotes nor incentivizes outward investment or restricts domestic investors from investing abroad.
4. Industrial Policies
The Albanian Investment Development Agency (AIDA; www.aida.gov.al) is the best source to find incentives offered across a variety of sectors. Aside from the incentives listed below, individual parties may negotiate additional incentives directly with AIDA, the Ministry of Finance and Economy, or other ministries, depending on the sector.
To boost investments in strategic sectors, the GOA approved a new law on strategic investments in May 2015 that outlines the criteria, rules, and procedures that state authorities employ when approving a strategic investment. The GOA has extended by one year, to December 2019, the deadline to apply to qualify as a strategic investment. A strategic investment is defined as an investment of public interest, based on several criteria, including the size of the investment, implementation time, productivity and value added, creation of jobs, sectoral economic priorities, and regional and local economic development. The law does not discriminate between foreign and domestic investors.
The following sectors are defined as strategic sectors: mining and energy, transport, electronic communication infrastructure, urban waste industry, tourism, agriculture (large farms) and fishing, economic zones, and development priority areas. The law foresees that investments in strategic sectors may benefit the status of assisted procedure and special procedure, based on the level of investment, which varies from EUR 1 million to EUR 100 million, depending on the sector and other criteria stipulated in the law.
In the Assisted Procedure, the public administration coordinates, assists, and supervises the entire administrative process for the investment approval and makes available to the investor state-owned property needed for the investment. Under the special procedure, the investor also enjoys state support for the expropriation of private property and the ratification of the contract by parliament.
The law and bylaws that entered into force on January 1, 2016, established the Strategic Investments Committee (SIC), a commission headed by the prime minister whose members include ministers covering the respective strategic sectors, the state advocate, and relevant ministers whose portfolios are impacted by the strategic investment. The Albanian Investment Development Agency (AIDA) serves as the Secretariat of SIC and oversees providing administrative support to investors. The SIC grants the status of Assisted Procedure and Special Procedure for strategic investments/investors based on the size of investments and other criteria defined in the law.
Energy and Mining, Transport, Electronic Communication Infrastructure, and Urban Waste Industry: Investments greater than 30 million euros enjoy the status of assisted procedure, while investments of 50 million euros or more enjoy special procedure status.
Tourism and Economic Areas: Investments of 5 million euros or more enjoy the status of assisted procedure, while investments greater than 50 million euros enjoy the status of special procedure. In 2018, the GOA introduced new incentives to promote the tourism sector. International hotel brands that invest at least USD 8 million for a four-star hotel and USD 15 million for a five-star hotel are exempt from property taxes for 10 years, pay no profit taxes, and pay a value-added tax (VAT) of just 6 percent for any service on their hotels or resorts. For all other hotels and resorts, the GOA reduced the VAT on accommodation from 20 percent to 6 percent. In the information technology sector, the government has recently reduced the profit tax for software development companies from 15 percent to 5 percent.
Agriculture (large agricultural farms) and Fishing: Investments greater than 3 million euros that create at least 50 new jobs enjoy the status of assisted procedure, while investments greater than 50 million euros enjoy the status of special procedure.
In addition, the GOA offers a wide range of incentives and subsidies for investments in the agriculture and agro-tourism sectors. The funds are a direct contribution from the state budget and the EU Instrument of Pre-Accession for Rural Development Fund (IPARD.) IPARD funds allocated for the period 2018-2020 total 71 million euros. The program is managed by the Agricultural and Rural Development Agency (http://azhbr.gov.al/ ). Profit taxes for agrotourism ventures are now 5 percent, down from 15 percent previously, while the value-added tax (VAT) is now six percent, down from 20 percent previously. Agricultural inputs, agricultural machinery, and veterinary services are exempt from VAT. The government offers other subsidies to agricultural farms and wholesale trade companies that export agricultural products.
Development Priority Areas: Investments greater than one million euros that create at least 150 new jobs enjoy the status of assisted procedure. Investments greater than 10 million euros that create at least 600 new jobs enjoy the status of special procedure.
Energy sector: Certain machinery and equipment imported for the construction of hydropower plants are VAT exempt. The government supports the construction of small wind and photovoltaic parks with an installed capacity of less than three megawatts and two megawatts, respectively, by offering feed-in-premium tariffs for 15 years. The Energy Regulatory Authority (ERE; http://www.ere.gov.al/ ) conducts an annual review of the feed-in-premium tariffs for wind and photovoltaic parks. The ERE also conducts an annual review of the feed–in-tariffs for small hydroelectric plants with an installed capacity of fewer than 15 megawatts. Imports of machinery and equipment for investments of greater than 400,000 euros for mall wind and solar parks with an installed capacity of fewer than three megawatts and two megawatts, respectively, enjoy a VAT exemption. Imports of hot water solar panels for household and industrial use are also VAT exempt.
Foreign tax credit: Albania applies foreign tax credit rights even in cases where no double taxation treaty exists with the country in which the tax is paid. If a double taxation treaty is in force, double taxation is avoided either through an exemption or by granting tax credits up to the amount of the applicable Albanian corporate income tax rate (currently 15 percent).
In 2019, the GOA reduced the dividend tax from 15 percent to 8 percent.
Corporate income tax exemption: Film studios and cinematographic productions, licensed and funded by the National Cinematographic Center, are exempt from corporate income tax.
Loss carry forward for corporate income tax purposes: Fiscal losses can be carried forward for three consecutive years (the first losses are used first). However, the losses may not be carried forward if more than 50 percent of direct or indirect ownership of the share capital or voting rights of the taxpayer is transferred (changed) during the tax year.
Incentives for manufacturing sector
Lease of public property: The GOA can lease public property of more than 500 square meters or grant a concession for the symbolic price of one euro if the properties will be used for manufacturing activities with an investment exceeding 10 million euros, or for inward processing activities. The GOA can also lease public property or grant a concession for the symbolic price of one euro for investments of more than two million euros for activities that address certain social and economic issues, as well as activities related to sports, culture, tourism, and cultural heritage. Criteria and terms are decided on an individual basis by the Council of Ministers.
Manufacturing activities are exempt from VAT on machinery and equipment.
The employer is exempt from the social security tax payment for one year for all new employees.
The state pays the salaries for four months for the new employees and offers various financing incentives for job training.
VAT credit for fuel: Taxpayers whose main business activity is production of bricks and tiles and the transport of goods with technological means can credit VAT on the purchase of fuel used wholly and exclusively for their business activities, up to the limit of a certain percentage of the taxpayer’s total annual turnover.
Manufacturing sector obtains VAT refunds immediately in the case of zero risk exporters, within 30 days if the taxpayer is an exporter, and within 60 days in the case of other taxpayers.
Apparel and footwear producers are exempt from 20 percent VAT on raw materials so long as the finished product is exported. In 2011, the GOA also removed customs tariffs for imported apparel and raw materials in the textile and shoe industries (e.g. leather used for clothes, cotton, viscose, velvet, sewing accessories, and similar items).
Technological and Development Areas (TEDA): The Law on the Economic Development Areas provides fiscal and administrative incentives for companies that invest in this sector, and for firms that establish a presence in these areas. A full list of incentives can be found at: http://www.teda.gov.al/?page_id=687 .
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
Albania has no functional duty-free import zones, although legislation exists for the creation of such. The May 2015 amendments to the Law on the Establishment and Operation of TEDAs created the legal framework to establish TEDAs (a.k.a. free trade zones), defining the incentives for developers investing in the development of these zones and companies operating within the zones. The Ministry of Finance and Economy has announced two investment opportunities that seek private sector developers to obtain, develop, and operate fully serviced areas located in Koplik (61 hectares) and Spitalle (100 hectares). Interested investors and developers can find more information for the development of TEDAs at the following link: http://aida.gov.al/faqe/zonat-me-zhvillim-teknik-dhe-ekonomik .
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
Although visa, residence, and work permit requirements are straightforward and do not pose an undue burden on potential investors, the Law on Foreigners requires foreign investors to prove that foreign employees constitute less than 10 percent of the investor’s total workforce before a work permit is granted. There is no minimum requirement for domestic content in goods or technology.
According to current legislation in force, companies with sensitive data (primarily in telecommunications, banking, and energy) are not authorized to transfer data abroad. To do so, they must receive approval and fulfill certain security criteria. As such, many companies operating in Albania are returning their data to Albania. The two largest private datacenters in Albania belong to telecom operator Albtelekom and the Albanian Telecommunication Union (ATU).
Corruption is a continuing problem in Albania, undermining the rule of law and jeopardizing economic development. Albania ranked 99th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). Despite some improvement in the index from 2013 and 2014, progress in tackling corruption has been slow and unsteady. Albania remains one of the most corrupt countries in Europe, according to the CPI. The passage by Parliament of constitutional amendments in July 2016 to reform the judicial system was a major step forward, and reform, once fully implemented, is expected to position the country as a more attractive destination for international investors.
Judicial reform has been described as the most significant developments in Albania since the end of communism, and nearly one-third of the constitution was rewritten as part of the effort. The reform also entails the passage of laws to ensure implementation of the constitutional amendments. Judicial reform’s vetting process will ensure that prosecutors and judges with unexplained wealth, insufficient training, or those who have issued questionable past decisions are removed from the system. The reform is also establishing an independent prosecutor and a specialized investigation unit to investigate and prosecute corruption and organized crime. Once fully implemented, judicial reform will discourage corruption, promote foreign and domestic investment, and allow Albania to compete more successfully in the global economy.
UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery
The government has ratified several corruption-related international treaties and conventions and is a member of major international organizations and programs dealing with corruption and organized crime. Albania has ratified the Civil Law Convention on Corruption (Council of Europe), the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption (Council of Europe), the Additional Protocol to Criminal Law Convention on Corruption (Council of Europe), and the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). Albania has also ratified several key conventions in the broader field of economic crime, including the Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime (2001); and the Convention on Cybercrime (2002). Albania has been a member of the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) since the ratification of the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption, in 2001, and is a member of the Stability Pact Anti-Corruption Network (SPAI). Albania is not a member of the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in international Business Transactions.
Resources to Report Corruption
In an effort to curb corruption, the government announced a new platform in 2017, “Shqiperia qe Duam” – “The Albania We Want,” which invites citizens to submit complaints and allegations of corruption and misuse of office by government officials. The platform has a dedicated link for businesses. The Integrated Services Delivery Agency (ADISA), a government entity, provides a second online portal to report corruption.
10. Political and Security Environment
While political violence is rare, political protests in 2019 have included instances of civil disobedience, low-level violence, and the use of tear gas by police. Albania’s June 2017 elections and transition to a new government were peaceful. On January 21, 2011, security forces shot and killed four protesters during a violent political demonstration. In its external relations, Albania remains a source of stability in the region and maintains generally friendly relations with neighboring countries.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Albania’s labor force numbers around 1.2 million people, according to official data. After peaking at 18.2 percent in the first quarter of 2014, the official estimated unemployment rate has decreased in recent years, falling to 12.3 percent in December 2018. However, unemployment among persons aged 15-29 remains high, at 23 percent. Around 40 percent of the population is self-employed in the agriculture sector. Informality remains widespread in the Albanian labor market. A 2016 International Labor Organization (ILO) report on the informal economy showed that informal employment constituted 32 percent of the labor market in Albania excluding the agriculture sector.
The institutions that oversee the labor market include the Ministry of Finance, Economy, and Labor; the Ministry of Health and Social Protection; the National Employment Service; the State Labor Inspectorate; and private actors such as employment agencies and vocational training centers. Albania has adopted a wide variety of regulations to monitor labor abuses, but enforcement remains weak due to persistent informality in the work force.
Outward labor migration remains an ongoing problem affecting the Albanian labor market. For example, recent media reports say a significant number of doctors and nurses have emigrated to Europe, mostly to Germany. In December 2018, the average public administration salary was approximately 63,276 Albanian lek (approximately USD 575) per month. The GOA increased the national minimum wage in January 2019 to 26,000 lek per month (approximately USD 225), but it remains the lowest in the region.
While some in the labor force are highly skilled, many work in low-skill industries or have outdated skills. The government provides fiscal incentives for labor force training for the inward processing industry, which in Albania includes the footwear and textile sectors. The National Employment Service provided training and internship opportunities to 8,500 registered job seekers in 2018. It also promotes self-employment through the establishment of new businesses. In March 2019, Parliament approved a new law on employment promotion, which defined public policies on employment and support programs. Albania has a tradition of a strong secondary educational system, while vocational schools are viewed as less prestigious and attract fewer students. However, the government has more recently focused attention on vocational education. In 2018, 20.5 percent of high school pupils were enrolled in vocational schools, compared with 15.7 percent in 2013.
Law 108/2013 of 2013, “On Foreigners,” and various decisions of the Council of Ministers regulate the employment regime in Albania. The law limits to 10 percent the number of foreigners hired by employers in Albania. However, employment can be regulated through special laws in the case of specific projects, or to attract foreign investment, and wages and training costs may be tax deductible. The law on Free Trade Zones also provides fiscal incentives for labor taxes in case of investments in the zone.
The Labor Code includes rules regarding contract termination procedures that distinguish layoffs from terminations. Employment contracts can be limited or unlimited in duration, but typically cover an unlimited period if not specified in the contract. Employees can collect up to 12 months of salary in the event of an unexpected interruption of the contract. Unemployment compensation makes up around 50 percent of the minimum wage.
Pursuant to the Labor Code and the recently amended “Law on the Status of the Civil Employee,” both individual and collective employment contracts regulate labor relations between employees and management. While there are no official data recording the number of collective bargaining agreements used throughout the economy, they are widely used in the public sector, including by state-owned enterprises. Albania has a labor dispute resolution mechanism as specified in the Labor Code, but the mechanism is considered weak.
Albania has been a member of the International Labor Organization since 1991 and has ratified 54 out of 189 ILO conventions, including the entire set of fundamental and governance conventions. The implementation of labor relations and standards remains a challenge according to the ILO. Furthermore, labor dialogue has suffered from the 2017 division of the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection into two different institutions.
U.S. Department of State Human Rights Report: https://www.state.gov/reports-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/
U.S. Department of Labor Child Labor Report: http://www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
China continues to be one of the largest recipients of global FDI due to a relatively high economic growth rate, growing middle class, and an expanding consumer base that demands diverse, high quality products. FDI has historically played an essential role in China’s economic development. In recent years, due to stagnant FDI growth and gaps in China’s domestic technology and labor capabilities, Chinese government officials have prioritized promoting relatively friendly FDI policies promising market access expansion and national treatment for foreign enterprises through general improvements to the business environment. They also have made efforts to strengthen China’s legal and regulatory framework to enhance broader market-based competition. Despite these efforts, the on-the-ground reality for foreign investors in China is that the operating environment still remains closed to many foreign investments across a wide range of industries.
In 2018, China issued the nationwide negative list that opened up a few new sectors to foreign investment and promised future improvements to the investment climate, such as leveling the playing field and providing equal treatment to foreign enterprises. However, despite these reforms, FDI to China has remained relatively stagnant in the past few years. According to MOFCOM, total FDI flows to China slightly increased from about USD126 billion in 2017 to just over USD135 billion in 2018, signaling that modest market openings have been insufficient to generate significant foreign investor interest in the market. Rather, foreign investors have continued to perceive that the playing field is tilted towards domestic companies. Foreign investors have continued to express frustration that China, despite continued promises of providing national treatment for foreign investors, has continued to selectively apply administrative approvals and licenses and broadly employ industrial policies to protect domestic firms through subsidies, preferential financing, and selective legal and regulatory enforcement. They also have continued to express frustration over China’s weak protection and enforcement of IPR; corruption; discriminatory and non-transparent anti-monopoly enforcement that forces foreign companies to license technology at below-market prices; excessive cybersecurity and personal data-related requirements; increased emphasis on requirements to include CCP cells in foreign enterprises; and an unreliable legal system lacking in both transparency and rule of law.
China seeks to support inbound FDI through the MOFCOM “Invest in China” website (www.fdi.gov.cn ). MOFCOM publishes on this site laws and regulations, economic statistics, investment projects, news articles, and other relevant information about investing in China. In addition, each province has a provincial-level investment promotion agency that operates under the guidance of local-level commerce departments.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
In June 2018, the Chinese government issued the nationwide negative list for foreign investment that replaced the Foreign Investment Catalogue. The negative list identifies industries and economic sectors restricted or prohibited to foreign investment. Unlike the previous catalogue that used a “positive list” approach for foreign investment, the negative list removed “encouraged” investment categories and restructured the document to group restrictions and prohibitions by industry and economic sector. Foreign investors wanting to invest in industries not on the negative list are no longer required to obtain pre-approval from MOFCOM and only need to register their investment.
The 2018 foreign investment negative list made minor modifications to some industries, reducing the number of restrictions and prohibitions from 63 to 48 sectors. Changes included: some openings in automobile manufacturing and financial services; removal of restrictions on seed production (except for wheat and corn) and wholesale merchandizing of rice, wheat, and corn; removal of Chinese control requirements for power grids, building rail trunk lines, and operating passenger rail services; removal of joint venture requirements for rare earth processing and international shipping; removal of control requirements for international shipping agencies and surveying firms; and removal of the prohibition on internet cafés. While market openings are always welcomed by U.S. businesses, many foreign investors remain underwhelmed and disappointed by Chinese government’s lack of ambition and refusal to provide more significant liberalization. Foreign investors continue to point out these openings should have happened years ago and now have occurred mainly in industries that domestic Chinese companies already dominate.
The Chinese language version of the 2018 Nationwide Negative List: http://www.ndrc.gov.cn/zcfb/zcfbl/201806/W020180628640822720353.pdf .
The foreign investment negative list restricts investments in certain industries by requiring foreign companies enter into joint ventures with a Chinese partner, imposing control requirements to ensure control is maintained by a Chinese national, and applying specific equity caps. Below are just a few examples of these investment restrictions:
Examples of foreign investments that require an equity joint venture or cooperative joint venture for foreign investment include:
- Exploration and development of oil and natural gas;
- Printing publications;
- Foreign invested automobile companies are limited to two or fewer JVs for the same type of vehicle;
- Market research;
- Preschool, general high school, and higher education institutes (which are also required to be led by a Chinese partner);
- General Aviation;
- Companies for forestry, agriculture, and fisheries;
- Establishment of medical institutions; and
- Commercial and passenger vehicle manufacturing.
Examples of foreign investments requiring Chinese control include:
- Selective breeding and seed production for new varieties of wheat and corn;
- Construction and operation of nuclear power plants;
- The construction and operation of the city gas, heat, and water supply and drainage pipe networks in cities with a population of more than 500,000;
- Water transport companies (domestic);
- Domestic shipping agencies;
- General aviation companies;
- The construction and operation of civilian airports;
- The establishment and operation of cinemas;
- Basic telecommunication services;
- Radio and television listenership and viewership market research; and
- Performance agencies.
Examples of foreign investment equity caps include:
- 50 percent in automobile manufacturing (except special and new energy vehicles);
- 50 percent in value-added telecom services (excepting e-commerce);
- 51 percent in life insurance firms;
- 51 percent in securities companies;
- 51 percent futures companies;
- 51 percent in security investment fund management companies; and
- 50 percent in manufacturing of commercial and passenger vehicles.
Investment restrictions that require Chinese control or force a U.S. company to form a joint venture partnership with a Chinese counterpart are often used as a pretext to compel foreign investors to transfer technology against the threat of forfeiting the opportunity to participate in China’s market. Foreign companies have reported these dictates and decisions often are not made in writing but rather behind closed doors and are thus difficult to attribute as official Chinese government policy. Establishing a foreign investment requires passing through an extensive and non-transparent approval process to gain licensing and other necessary approvals, which gives broad discretion to Chinese authorities to impose deal-specific conditions beyond written legal requirements in a blatant effort to support industrial policy goals that bolster the technological capabilities of local competitors. Foreign investors are also often deterred from publicly raising instances of technology coercion for fear of retaliation by the Chinese government.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)
China is not a member of the OECD. The OECD Council decided to establish a country program of dialogue and co-operation with China in October 1995. The most recent OECD Investment Policy Review for China was completed in 2008 and a new review is currently underway.
OECD 2008 report: http://www.oecd.org/daf/inv/investment-policy/oecdinvestmentpolicyreviews-china2008encouragingresponsiblebusinessconduct.htm .
In 2013, the OECD published a working paper entitled “China Investment Policy: An Update,” which provided updates on China’s investment policy since the publication of the 2008 Investment Policy Review.
World Trade Organization (WTO)
China became a member of the WTO in 2001. WTO membership boosted China’s economic growth and advanced its legal and governmental reforms. The sixth and most recent WTO Investment Trade Review for China was completed in 2018. The report highlighted that China continues to be one of the largest destinations for FDI with inflows mainly in manufacturing, real-estate, leasing and business services, and wholesale and retail trade. The report noted changes to China’s foreign investment regime that now relies on the nationwide negative list and also noted that pilot FTZs use a less restrictive negative list as a testbed for reform and opening.
China made progress in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey by moving from 78th in 2017 up to 46th place in 2018 out of 190 economies. This was accomplished through regulatory reforms that helped streamline some business processes including improvements related to cross-border trading, setting up electricity, electronic tax payments, and land registration. This ranking, while highlighting business registration improvements that benefit both domestic and foreign companies, does not account for major challenges U.S. businesses face in China like IPR protection and forced technology transfer.
The Government Enterprise Registration (GER), an initiative of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), gave China a low score of 1.5 out of 10 on its website for registering and obtaining a business license. In previous years, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) was responsible for business license approval. In March 2018, the Chinese government announced a major restructuring of government agencies and created the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) that is now responsible for business registration processes. According to GER, SAMR’s Chinese website lacks even basic information, such as what registrations are required and how they are to be conducted.
The State Council, which is China’s chief administrative authority, in recent years has reduced red tape by eliminating hundreds of administrative licenses and delegating administrative approval power across a range of sectors. The number of investment projects subject to central government approval has reportedly dropped significantly. The State Council also has set up a website in English, which is more user-friendly than SAMR’s website, to help foreign investors looking to do business in China.
The State Council Information on Doing Business in China: http://english.gov.cn/services/doingbusiness
The Department of Foreign Investment Administration within MOFCOM is responsible for foreign investment promotion in China, including promotion activities, coordinating with investment promotion agencies at the provincial and municipal levels, engaging with international economic organizations and business associations, and conducting research related to FDI into China. MOFCOM also maintains the “Invest in China” website.
MOFCOM “Invest in China” Information: http://www.fdi.gov.cn/1800000121_10000041_8.html
Despite recent efforts by the Chinese government to streamline business registration procedures, foreign companies still complain about the challenges they face when setting up a business. In addition, U.S. companies complain they are treated differently from domestic companies when setting up an investment, which is an added market access barrier for U.S. companies. Numerous companies offer consulting, legal, and accounting services for establishing wholly foreign-owned enterprises, partnership enterprises, joint ventures, and representative offices in China. The differences among these corporate entities are significant, and investors should review their options carefully with an experienced advisor before choosing a particular Chinese corporate entity or investment vehicle.
Since 2001, China has initiated a “going-out” investment policy that has evolved over the past two decades. At first, the Chinese government mainly encouraged SOEs to go abroad and acquire primarily energy investments to facilitate greater market access for Chinese exports in certain foreign markets. As Chinese investors gained experience, and as China’s economy grew and diversified, China’s investments also have diversified with both state and private enterprise investments in all industries and economic sectors. While China’s outbound investment levels in 2018 were significantly less than the record-setting investments levels in 2016, China was still one of the largest global outbound investors in the world. According to MOFCOM outbound investment data, 2018 total outbound direct investment (ODI) increased less than one percent compared to 2017 figures. There was a significant drop in Chinese outbound investment to the United States and other North American countries that traditionally have accounted for a significant portion of China’s ODI. In some European countries, especially the United Kingdom, ODI generally increased. In One Belt, One Road (OBOR) countries, there has been a general increase in investment activity; however, OBOR investment deals were generally relatively small dollar amounts and constituted only a small percentage of overall Chinese ODI.
In August 2017, in reaction to concerns about capital outflows and exchange rate volatility, the Chinese government issued guidance to curb what it deemed to be “irrational” outbound investments and created “encouraged,” “restricted,” and “prohibited” outbound investment categories to guide Chinese investors. The guidelines restricted Chinese outbound investment in sectors like property, hotels, cinemas, entertainment, sports teams, and “financial investments that create funds that are not tied to specific investment projects.” The guidance encouraged outbound investment in sectors that supported Chinese industrial policy, such as Strategic Emerging Industries (SEI) and MIC 2025, by acquiring advanced manufacturing and high-technology assets. MIC 2025’s main aim is to transform China into an innovation-based economy that can better compete against – and eventually outperform – advanced economies in 10 key high-tech sectors, including: new energy vehicles, next-generation IT, biotechnology, new materials, aerospace, oceans engineering and ships, railway, robotics, power equipment, and agriculture machinery. Chinese firms in MIC 2025 industries often receive preferential treatment in the form of preferred financing, subsidies, and access to an opaque network of investors to promote and provide incentives for outbound investment in key sectors. The outbound investment guidance also encourages investments that promote China’s OBOR development strategy, which seeks to create connectivity and cooperation agreements between China and countries along the Chinese-designated “Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road” through an expansion of infrastructure investment, construction materials, real estate, power grids, etc.
4. Industrial Policies
To attract foreign investment, different provinces and municipalities offer preferential packages like a temporary reduction in taxes, resources and land use benefits, reduction in import and/or export duties, special treatment in obtaining basic infrastructure services, streamlined government approvals, research and development subsidies, and funding for initial startups. Often, these packages stipulate that foreign investors must meet certain benchmarks for exports, local content, technology transfer, and other requirements. Preferential treatment often occurs in specific sectors that the government has identified for policy support, like technology and advanced manufacturing, and will be specific to a geographic location like a special economic zone (like FTZs), development zone, or a science park. The Chinese government has also prioritized foreign investment in inland China by providing incentives to invest in seven new FTZs located in inland regions (2017) and offering more liberalizations to foreign investment through its Catalogue of Priority Industries for Foreign Investment in Central and Western China that provides greater market access to foreign investors willing to invest in less developed areas in Central and Western China.
While state subsidies has long been an area that foreign investors have criticized for distorting competition in certain industries, Chinese officials have publicly pledged that foreign investors willing to manufacture products in China can equally participate in the research and development programs financed by the Chinese government. The Chinese government has also said foreign investors have equal access to preferential policies under initiatives like Made in China 2025 and Strategic Emerging Industries that seek to transform China’s economy into an innovation-based economy that becomes a global leader in future growth sectors. In these high-tech and advanced manufacturing sectors, China needs foreign investment because it lacks the capacity, expertise, and technological know-how to conduct advanced research or manufacture advanced technology on par with other developed economies. Announced in 2015, China’s MIC 2025 roadmap has prioritized the following industries: new-generation information technology, advanced numerical-control machine tools and robotics, aerospace equipment, maritime engineering equipment and vessels, advanced rail, new-energy vehicles, energy equipment, agricultural equipment, new materials, and biopharmaceuticals and medical equipment. While mentions of MIC 2025 have all but disappeared from public discourse, a raft of policy announcements at the national and sub-national level indicate China’s continued commitment to developing these sectors. Foreign investment plays an important role in helping China move up the manufacturing value chain. However, there are a large number of economic sectors that China deems sensitive due to broadly defined national security concerns, including “economic security,” which can effectively close off foreign investment to those sectors.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
China has customs-bonded areas in Shanghai, Tianjin, Shantou, Guangzhou, Dalian, Xiamen, Ningbo, Zhuhai, Fuzhou, and parts of Shenzhen. In addition to these official duty-free zones identified by China’s State Council, there are also numerous economic development zones and “open cities” that offer preferential treatment and benefits to investors, including foreign investors.
In September 2013, the State Council in conjunction with the Shanghai municipal government, announced the Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone that consolidated the geographical area of four previous bonded areas into a single FTZ. In April 2015, the State Council expanded the pilot to include new FTZs in Tianjin, Guangdong, and Fujian. In March 2017, the State Council approved seven new FTZs in Chongqing, Henan, Hubei, Liaoning, Shaanxi, Sichuan, and Zhejiang, with the stated purpose to integrate these areas more closely with the OBOR initiative – the Chinese government’s plan to enhance global economic interconnectivity through joint infrastructure and investment projects that connect China’s inland and border regions to the rest of the world. In October 2018, the Chinese government rolled out plans to convert the entire island province of Hainan into an FTZ that will take effect in 2020. This FTZ aims to provide a more open and high-standard trade and investment hub focused on improved rule of law and financial services. In addition to encourage tourism development, the Hainan FTZ will also seek to develop high-tech industries while preserving the ecology of the island. The goal of all China’s FTZs is to provide a trial ground for trade and investment liberalization measures and to introduce service sector reforms, especially in financial services, that China expects eventually to introduce in other parts of the domestic economy.
The FTZs should offer foreign investors “national treatment” for the market access phase of an investment in industries and sectors not listed on the FTZ “negative list,” or on the list of industries and economic sectors restricted or prohibited for foreign investment. The State Council published an updated FTZ negative list in June 2018 that reduced the number of restrictions and prohibitions on foreign investment from 95 items down to 45. The most recent negative list did not remove many commercially significant restrictions or prohibitions compared to the nationwide negative list also released in June 2018.
Although the FTZ negative list in theory provides greater market access for foreign investment in the FTZs, many foreign firms have reported that in practice, the degree of liberalization in the FTZs is comparable to other opportunities in other parts of China. According to Chinese officials, over 18,000 entities have registered in the FTZs. The municipal and central governments have released a number of administrative and sector-specific regulations and circulars that outline the procedures and regulations in the zones.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
As part of China’s WTO accession agreement, China promised to revise its foreign investment laws to eliminate sections that imposed export performance, local content, balanced foreign exchange through trade, technology transfer, and create research and development center requirements on foreign investors as a prerequisite to enter China’s market. As part of these revisions, China committed to only enforce technology transfer requirements that do not violate WTO standards on IP and trade-related investment measures. In practice, however, China has not completely lived up to these promises with some U.S. businesses reporting that local officials and regulators sometimes only accept investments with “voluntary” performance requirements or technology transfer that helps develop certain domestic industries and support the local job market. Provincial and municipal governments will sometimes restrict access to local markets, government procurement, and public works projects even for foreign firms that have already invested in the province or municipality. In addition, Chinese regulators have reportedly pressured foreign firms in some sectors to disclose IP content or provide IP licenses to Chinese firms, often at below market rates. These practices not only run contrary to WTO principles but hurt the competitive position of foreign investors.
China also called to restrict the ability of both domestic and foreign operators of “critical information infrastructure” to transfer personal data and important information outside of China while also requiring those same operators to only store data physically in China. These potential restrictions have prompted many firms to review how their networks manage data. Foreign firms also fear that calls for use of “secure and controllable,” “secure and trustworthy,” etc. technologies will curtail sales opportunities for foreign firms or that foreign companies may be pressured to disclose source code and other proprietary information, putting IP at risk. In addition, prescriptive technology adoption requirements, often in the form of domestic standards that diverge from global norms, in effect gives preference to domestic firms and their technology. These requirements not only hinder operational effectiveness but also potentially puts in jeopardy IP protection and overall competitiveness of foreign firms operating in China.
Corruption remains endemic in China. The lack of an independent press, along with the lack of independence of corruption investigators, who answer to and are managed by the CCP, all hamper the transparent and consistent application of anti-corruption efforts.
Chinese anti-corruption laws have strict penalties for bribes, including accepting a bribe, which is a criminal offense punishable up to life imprisonment or death in “especially serious” circumstances. Offering a bribe carries a maximum punishment of up to five years in prison, except in cases with “especially serious” circumstances, when punishment can extend up to life in prison.
In August 2015, the NPC amended several corruption-related parts of China’s Criminal Law. For instance, bribing civil servants’ relatives or other close relationships is a crime with monetary fines imposed on both the bribe-givers and the bribe-takers; bribe-givers, mainly in minor cases, who aid authorities can be given more lenient punishments; and instead of basing punishments solely on the specific amount of money involved in a bribe, authorities now have more discretion to impose punishments based on other factors.
In February 2011, an amendment was made to the Criminal Law, criminalizing the bribing of foreign officials or officials of international organizations. However, to date, there have not been any known cases in which someone was successfully prosecuted for offering this type of bribe.
In March 2018, the NPC approved the creation of the National Supervisory Commission (NSC), a new government anti-corruption agency that resulted from the merger of the Ministry of Supervision and the CCP’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI). The NSC absorbed the anti-corruption units of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and those of the National Bureau of Corruption Prevention. In addition to China’s 89 million CCP members, the new commission has jurisdiction over all civil servants and employees of state enterprises, as well as managers in public schools, hospitals, research institutes, and other public service institutions. Lower-level supervisory commissions have been set up in all provinces, autonomous regions, municipalities, and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. The NPC also passed the State Supervision Law, which provides the NSC with its legal authorities to investigate, detain, and punish public servants.
The CCDI remains the primary body for enforcing ethics guidelines and party discipline, and refers criminal corruption cases to the NSC for further investigation.
President Xi Jinping’s Anti-Corruption Efforts
Since President Xi’s rise to power in 2012, China has undergone an intensive and large-scale anti-corruption campaign, with investigations reaching into all sectors of the government, military, and economy. President Xi labeled endemic corruption as an “existential threat” to the very survival of the CCP that must be addressed. Since then, each CCP annual plenum has touched on judicial, administrative, and CCP discipline reforms needed to thoroughly root out corruption. Judicial reforms are viewed as necessary to institutionalize the fight against corruption and reduce the arbitrary power of CCP investigators, but concrete measures have emerged slowly. To enhance regional anti-corruption cooperation, the 26th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Ministers Meeting adopted the Beijing Declaration on Fighting Corruption in November 2014.
According to official statistics, from 2012 to 2018 the CCDI investigated 2.17 million cases – more than the total of the preceding ten years. In 2018 alone, the CCP disciplined around 621,000 individuals, up almost 95,000 from 2017. However, the majority of officials only ended up receiving internal CCP discipline and were not passed forward for formal prosecution and trial. A total of 195,000 corruption and bribery cases involving 263,000 people were heard in courts between 2013 and 2017, according to the Supreme People’s Court. Of these, 101 were officials at or above the rank of minister or head of province. In 2018, a large uptick of 51 officials at or above the provincial/ministerial level were disciplined by the NSC. One group heavily disciplined in recent years has been the discipline inspectors themselves, with the CCP punishing more than 7,900 inspectors since late-2012. This led to new regulations being implemented in 2016 by CCDI that increased overall supervision of its investigators.
China’s overseas fugitive-hunting campaign, called “Operation Skynet,” has led to the capture of more than 5,000 fugitives suspected of corruption. In 2018 alone, CCDI reported that 1,335 fugitives suspected of official crimes were apprehended, including 307 corrupt officials mainly suspected for graft. Anecdotal information suggests the Chinese government’s anti-corruption crackdown oftentimes is inconsistently and discretionarily applied, raising concerns among foreign companies in China. For example, to fight rampant commercial corruption in the medical/pharmaceutical sector, China’s health authority issued “black lists” of firms and agents involved in commercial bribery. Several blacklisted firms were foreign companies. Additionally, anecdotal information suggests many Chinese government officials responsible for approving foreign investment projects, as well as some routine business transactions, are slowing approvals to not arouse corruption suspicions, making it increasingly difficult to conduct normal commercial activity.
While central government leadership has welcomed increased public participation in reporting suspected corruption at lower levels, direct criticism of central government leadership or policies remains off-limits and is seen as an existential threat to China’s political and social stability. Some citizens who have called for officials to provide transparency and public accountability by disclosing public and personal assets, or who have campaigned against officials’ misuse of public resources, have been subject to criminal prosecution.
United Nations Anti-Corruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combating Bribery
China ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2005 and participates in APEC and OECD anti-corruption initiatives. China has not signed the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery, although Chinese officials have expressed interest in participating in the OECD Working Group on Bribery meetings as an observer.
Resources to Report Corruption
The following government organization receives public reports of corruption:
Anti-Corruption Reporting Center of the CCP Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and the Ministry of Supervision, Telephone Number: +86 10 12388.
10. Political and Security Environment
The risk of political violence directed at foreign companies operating in China remains low. Each year, government watchdog organizations report tens of thousands of protests throughout China. The government is adept at handling protests without violence, but given the volume of protests annually, the potential for violent flare-ups is real. Violent protests, while rare, have generally involved ethnic tensions, local residents protesting corrupt officials, environmental and food safety concerns, confiscated property, and disputes over unpaid wages.
In recent years, the growing number of protests over corporate M&A transactions has increased, often because disenfranchised workers and mid-level managers feel they were not included in the decision process. China’s non-transparent legal and regulatory system allows the CCP to pressure or punish foreign companies for the actions of their governments. The government has also encouraged protests or boycotts of products from certain countries, like Korea, Japan, Norway, Canada, and the Philippines, in retaliation for unrelated policy decisions. Examples of politically motivated economic retaliation against foreign firms include boycott campaigns against Korean retailer Lotte in 2016 and 2017 in retaliation for the decision to deploy the Thermal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) to the Korean Peninsula, which led to Lotte closing and selling its China operations; and high-profile cases of gross mistreatment of Japanese firms and brands in 2011 and 2012 following disputes over islands in the East China Sea. Recently, some reports suggest China has retaliated against some Canadian companies and products as a result of a domestic Canadian legal issue that impacted a large Chinese enterprise.
There have also been some cases of foreign businesspeople that were refused permission to leave China over pending commercial contract disputes. Chinese authorities have broad authority to prohibit travelers from leaving China (known as an “exit ban”) and have imposed exit bans to compel U.S. citizens to resolve business disputes, force settlement of court orders, or facilitate government investigations. Individuals not directly involved in legal proceedings or suspected of wrongdoing have also been subject to lengthy exit bans in order to compel family members or colleagues to cooperate with Chinese courts or investigations. Exit bans are often issued without notification to the foreign citizen or without a clear legal recourse to appeal the exit ban decision.
In the past few years, Chinese authorities have detained or arrested several foreign nationals, including American citizens, and have refused to notify the U.S. Embassy or allow access to the American citizens detained for consular officers to visit. These trends are in direct contravention of recognized international agreements and conventions.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
For U.S. companies operating in China, finding adequate human resources remains a major challenge. Finding, developing, and retaining domestic talent, particularly at the management and highly-skilled technical staff levels, remain difficult challenges often cited by foreign firms. In addition, labor costs continue to be a concern, as salaries along with other inputs of production have continued to rise. Foreign companies also continue to cite air pollution concerns as a major hurdle in attracting and retaining qualified foreign talent to relocate to China. These labor concerns contribute to a small, but growing, number of foreign companies relocating from China to the United States, Canada, Mexico, or other parts of Asia.
Chinese labor law does not protect rights such as freedom of association and the right of workers to strike. China to date has not ratified the United Nations International Labor Organization conventions on freedom of association, collective bargaining, and forced labor, but it has ratified conventions prohibiting child labor and employment discrimination. Foreign companies often complain of difficulty navigating China’s ever-evolving labor laws, social insurance laws, and different agencies’ implementation guidelines on labor issues. Compounding the complexity, local characteristics and the application by different localities of national labor laws often vary.
Although required by national law, labor contracts are often not used by domestic employers with local employees. Without written contracts, employees struggle to prove employment, thus losing basic labor rights like claiming severance and unemployment compensation if terminated, as well as access to publicly-provided labor dispute settlement mechanisms. Similarly, regulations on agencies that provide temporary labor (referred to as “labor dispatch” in China) have tightened, and some domestic employers have switched to hiring independent service provider contractors in order to skirt the protective intent of these regulations. These loopholes incentivize employers to skirt the law because compliance leads to substantially higher labor costs. This is one of many factors contributing to an uneven playing field for foreign firms that compete against domestic firms that circumvent local labor laws.
Establishing independent trade unions is illegal in China. The law allows for worker “collective bargaining”; however, in practice, collective bargaining focuses solely on collective wage negotiations – and even this practice is uncommon. The Trade Union Law gives the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), a CCP organ chaired by a member of the Politburo, control over all union organizations and activities, including enterprise-level unions. The ACFTU’s priority task is to “uphold the leadership of the Communist Party,” not to protect workers’ rights or improve their welfare. The ACFTU and its provincial and local branches aggressively organize new constituent unions and add new members, especially in large multinational enterprises, but in general, these enterprise-level unions do not actively participate in employee-employer relations. The absence of independent unions that advocate on behalf of workers has resulted in an increased number of strikes and walkouts in recent years.
ACFTU enterprise unions issue a mandatory employer-borne cost of 2 percent of payroll for membership. While labor laws do not protect the right to strike, “spontaneous” worker protests and work stoppages occur with increasing regularity, especially in labor intensive and “sunset” industries (i.e., old and declining industries such as low-end manufacturing). Official forums for mediation, arbitration, and other similar mechanisms of alternative dispute resolution have generally been ineffective in resolving labor disputes in China. Some localities actively discourage acceptance of labor disputes for arbitration or legal resolution. Even when an arbitration award or legal judgment is obtained, getting local authorities to enforce judgments is problematic.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
The Ministry of Economic Development (MED) is responsible for overseeing investment policy in Russia. The Foreign Investment Advisory Council (FIAC), established in 1994, is chaired by the Prime Minister and currently includes 53 international company members and four companies as observers. The FIAC allows select foreign investors to directly present their views on improving the investment climate in Russia, and advises the government on regulatory rule-making. Russia’s basic legal framework governing investment includes 1) Law 160-FZ, July 9, 1999, “On Foreign Investment in the Russian Federation”; 2) Law No. 39-FZ, February 25, 1999, “On Investment Activity in the Russian Federation in the Form of Capital Investment”; 3) Law No. 57-FZ, April 29, 2008, “Foreign Investments in Companies Having Strategic Importance for State Security and Defense”; and 2) the Law of the RSFSR No. 1488-1, June 26, 1991, “On Investment Activity in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR).” This framework nominally attempts to guarantee equal rights for foreign and local investors in Russia. However, exemptions are permitted when it is deemed necessary to protect the Russian constitution, morality, health, human rights, and national security or defense, and to promote the socioeconomic development of Russia. Foreign investors may freely use their revenues and profits obtained from Russia-based investments for any purpose provided they do not violate Russian law.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Russian law places two primary restrictions on land ownership by foreigners. First are restrictions on foreign ownership of land located in border areas or other “sensitive territories.” The second restricts foreign ownership of agricultural land: foreign individuals and companies, persons without citizenship, and agricultural companies more than 50-percent foreign-owned may hold agricultural land through leasehold right. As an alternative to agricultural land ownership, foreign companies typically lease land for up to 49 years, the maximum legally allowed.
President Vladimir Putin signed in October 2014 the law “On Mass Media,” which took effect on January 1, 2015, and restricts foreign ownership of any Russian media company to 20 percent (the previous law applied a 50 percent limit only to Russia’s broadcast sector). U.S. stakeholders have also raised concerns about similar limits on foreign direct investments in the mining and mineral extraction sectors; they describe the licensing regime as non-transparent and unpredictable as well. In December 2018, the State Duma approved in its first reading a draft bill introducing new restrictions on online news aggregation services. If adopted, foreign companies, including international organizations and individuals, would be limited to a maximum of 20 percent ownership interest in Russian news aggregator websites.
Russia’s Commission on Control of Foreign Investment (Commission) was established in 2008 to monitor foreign investment in strategic sectors in accordance with the SSL. Between 2008 and 2017, the Commission received 484 applications for foreign investment, 229 of which were reviewed, according to the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS). Of those 229, the Commission granted preliminary approval for 216 (94 percent approval rate), rejected 13, and found that 193 did not require approval. (See https://fas.gov.ru/p/presentations/86). In 2018, the Commission reviewed 24 applications and granted approvals for investments worth RUB 400 billion (USD 6.4 billion). International organizations, foreign states, and the companies they control, are treated as single entities under this law, and with their participation in a strategic business, subject to restrictions applicable to a single foreign entity.
Since January 1, 2019, foreign providers of electronic services to business customers in Russia (B2B e-services) have new Russian value-added tax (VAT) obligations. These include: (1) VAT registration with the Russian tax authorities (even for VAT exempt e-services); (2) invoice requirements; and (3) VAT reporting to the Russian tax authorities and VAT remittance rules.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The WTO conducted the first Trade Policy Review of the Russian Federation in September 2016. Reports relating to the review are available at: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp445_e.htm .
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) issues an annual review of investment and new industrial policies: https://unctad.org/sections/dite_dir/docs/wir2018/wir18_fs_ru_en.pdf and an investment policy monitor: https://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/IPM
The Agency for Strategic Initiatives (ASI) was created by President Putin in 2011 to increase innovation and reduce bureaucracy. Since 2014, ASI has released an annual ranking of Russia’s regions in terms of the relative competitiveness of their investment climates, and provides potential investors with important information about regions most open to foreign investment. ASI provides a benchmark to compare regions, the “Regional Investment Standard,” and thus has stimulated competition between regions, causing an overall improved investment climate in Russia. See https://asi.ru/investclimate/rating/ (in Russian). The Federal Tax Service (FTS) operates Russia’s business registration website: www.nalog.ru.Per law (Article 13 of Law 129-FZ of 2001), a company must register with a local FTS office within 30 days of launching a new business, and he business registration process must not take more than three days, according to. Foreign companies may be required to notarize the originals of incorporation documents included in the application package. To establish a business in Russia, a company must pay a registration fee of RUB 4,000 and register with the FTS. Starting January 1, 2019, a registration fee waived for online submission of incorporation documents. See http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/russia .
The Russian government established in 2010 an ombudsman for investor rights protection to act as partner and guarantor of investors, large and small, and as referee in pre-court mediation facilitation. The First Deputy Prime Minister was appointed as the first federal ombudsman. In 2011, ombudsmen were established at the regional level, with a deputy of the Representative of the President acting as ombudsman in each of the seven federal districts. The ombudsman’s secretariat, located in the Ministry of Economic Development, attempts to facilitate the resolution of disputes between parties. Cases are initiated with the filing of a complaint by an investor (by e-mail, phone or letter), followed by the search for a solution among the parties concerned. According to the breakdown of problems reported to the ombudsman, the majority of cases are related to administrative barriers, discrimination of companies, exceeding of authority by public officials, customs regulations, and property rights protection.
In June 2012, a new mechanism for protection of entrepreneur’s rights was established. Boris Titov, the head of the business organization “Delovaya Rossia” was appointed as the Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneur’s Rights.
In 2018, Russia implemented four reforms that increased its score in World Bank’s Doing Business ranking. First, Russia made the process of obtaining a building permit faster by reducing the time needed to obtain construction and occupancy permits. Russia also increased quality control during construction by introducing risk-based inspections. Second, it made getting electricity faster by imposing new deadlines for connection procedures and by upgrading the utility’s single window as well as its internal processes. Getting electricity was also made cheaper by reducing the costs to obtain a connection to the electric network. Third, Russia made paying taxes less costly by allowing a higher tax depreciation rate for fixed assets. Fourth, Russia made trading across borders easier by prioritizing online customs clearance and introducing shortened time limits for its automated completion.
The Russian government does not restrict Russian investors from investing abroad. In effect since 2015, Russia’s “de-offshorization law” (376-FZ) requires that Russian tax residents notify the government about their overseas assets, potentially subjecting these to Russian taxes.
While there are no restrictions on the distribution of profits to a nonresident entity, some foreign currency control restrictions apply to Russian residents (both companies and individuals), and to foreign currency transactions. As of January 1, 2018, all Russian citizens and foreign holders of Russian residence permits are considered Russian “currency control residents.” These “residents” are required to notify the tax authorities when a foreign bank account is opened, changed, or closed and when there is a movement of funds in a foreign bank account. Individuals who have spent less than 183 days in Russia during the reporting period are exempt from the reporting requirements and the restrictions on the use of foreign bank accounts.
4. Industrial Policies
Since 2005, Russia’s industrial investment incentive regime has granted tax breaks and other government incentives to foreign companies in certain sectors in exchange for producing locally. As part of its WTO Protocol, Russia agreed to eliminate the elements of this regime that are inconsistent with the Trade-Related Investment Measures TRIMS Agreement by July 2018. The TRIMS Agreement requires elimination of measures such as those that require or provide benefits for the use of domestically produced goods (local content requirements), or measures that restrict a firm’s imports to an amount related to its exports or related to the amount of foreign exchange a firm earns (trade balancing requirements). Russia notified the WTO that it had terminated these automotive investment incentive programs as of July 1, 2018. However, shortly thereafter, the Ministry of Industry and Trade announced that it would provide support to automotive manufacturers if they meet certain production quotas and local content requirements. The government is developing a new points-based system to estimate vehicle localization levels to determine original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM)’s eligibility for Russian state support. The government will provide state support only to OEMs whose finished vehicles are deemed to be of Russian origin, which will depend upon them scoring at least 2,000 points under the new system to get some assistance and 6,000 point to enjoy a full range of support measures. Points will be awarded for localizing the supply of certain components.
The government also introduced Special Investment Contracts (SPIC) as an alternative incentive program in 2015. On December 18, 2017, the government changed the rules for concluding SPIC, to increase investment in Russia by offering tax incentives and simplified procedures for government interactions. These contracts, generally negotiated with and signed by the Ministry of Industry and Trade, ostensibly allow for the inclusion of foreign companies in Russia’s import substitution programs by providing access to certain subsidies to foreign producers if local production is established. In principle, these contracts may also aid in expediting customs procedures. In practice, however, reports suggest even companies that sign such contracts find their business hampered by policies biased in favor of local producers. The amendments aim to improve the SPIC mechanism by clarifying investment requirements and necessary documentation. They also provide a timeframe and procedures for application review, and for amending or terminating a SPIC. Finally, the amendments allow for broader composition of the SPIC private partner: the investor may now procure not only manufacturing services, but also engineering, distribution, and financial services, among others.
The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) was established in 2011 as a state-backed private equity fund to operate with long term financial and strategic investors and by offering co-financing for foreign investments directed at the modernization of the Russian economy. RDIF participates in projects estimated from USD 50 to USD 500 million, with a share in the project not exceeding 50 percent. RDIF has attracted long-term foreign capital investments totaling more than USD 40 billion in the following sectors: energy, energy saving technologies, telecommunications, healthcare and other areas. RDIF has also developed a system for foreign co-investment in its projects that allows foreign investors to participate automatically in each RDIF project.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
Russia continues to promote the use of high-tech parks, special economic zones, and industrial clusters, which offer additional tax and infrastructure incentives to attract investment. “Resident companies” can receive a broad range of benefits, including exemption from profit tax, value-added tax, property tax, import duties, and partial exemption from social fund payments. The government evaluates and grants funding for investments on a yearly basis.
Russia has 25 special economic zones (SEZs), which fall in one of four categories: industrial and production zones; technology and innovation zones; tourist and recreation zones; and port zones. As of January 2018, 15 U.S. companies are working in Russian SEZs. According to Russian data, U.S. investors had invested over USD 1 billion in SEZs as of October 2018, making the U.S. the second largest investor in Russian SEZs. A Russian Audit Chamber investigation of SEZs in April 2017 found the zones have had no measurable impact on the Russian economy since they were founded in 2005. “Territories of Advanced Development,” a separate but similar program, was launched in 2015 with plans to create areas with preferential tax treatment and simplified government procedures in Siberia, Kaliningrad, and the Russian Far East. In May 2016, President Putin ordered work on 10 existing SEZ’s to cease and suspended the creation of any new SEZs, at least until a more integrated approach to SEZ’s and “Territories of Advanced Development” was put in place.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
Russian law generally does not impose performance requirements, and they are not widely included as part of private contracts in Russia. Some have appeared, however, in the agreements of large multinational companies investing in natural resources and in production-sharing legislation. There are no formal requirements for offsets in foreign investments. Since approval for investments in Russia can depend on relationships with government officials and on a firm’s demonstration of its commitment to the Russian market, these conditions may result in offsets in practice.
In certain sectors, the Russian government has pressed for localization and increased local content. For example, in a bid to boost high-tech manufacturing in the renewable energy sector, Russia guarantees a 12 percent profit over 15 years for windfarms using turbines with at least 65 percent local content. Russia is currently considering local content requirements for industries that have high percentages of government procurement, such as medical devices and pharmaceuticals. Russia is not a signatory to the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement. Consequently, restrictions on public procurement have been a major avenue for Russia to implement localization requirements without running afoul of international commitments.
Russia’s data storage provisions (the “Yarovaya law”) took effect on July 1, 2018, with providers being required to store data in “full volume” beginning October 1, 2018. The Yarovaya law requires domestic telecoms and ISPs to store all customers’ voice calls and texts for six months; ISPs must store data traffic for one month. The Yarovaya law initially required even longer retention with a shorter implementation window, which companies criticized as costly and unworkable.
The Central Bank of Russia has imposed caps on the percentage of foreign employees in foreign banks’ subsidiaries. The ratio of Russian employees in a subsidiary of a foreign bank is set at less than 75 percent. If the executive of the subsidiary is a non-resident of Russia, at least 50 percent of the bank’s managing body should be Russian citizens.
Despite some government efforts to combat it, the level of corruption in Russia remains high. Endemic corruption at the highest levels of government was the focus of nationwide protests in March 2017 led by one of Russia’s opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Anti-corruption protests continued across Russia in April 2017, days after President Vladimir Putin admitted Russia had a problem with state corruption. The protests hit the capital and several other cities, but attendance was notably smaller than in March 2017, when Russians took to the streets in droves demanding government reforms to tackle the issue. Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perception Index (CPI), ranked Russia 138 out of 180.
Russia’s CPI scores declined in 2018 to 28, down from 29 in 2015-2017. Roughly 39 percent of entrepreneurs surveyed by the Russian Chamber of Commerce in June-July 2018 said corruption declined in the preceding six months, while 9.5 percent said corruption intensified. Businesses mainly experienced corruption during applications for permits (39.2 percent), during inspections (34.5 percent), and in the procurement processes at the municipal level (30 percent).
In December 2018, Russia’s Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika reported 7,800 corruption convictions in 2018, including of 837 law enforcement officers, 63 elected officials at regional and municipal levels, and 606 federal, regional, and municipal officials. Among these corruption convictions was Sakhalin Region’s former governor, Aleksandr Horoshavin, sentenced to 13 years in prison for bribery and money laundering.
In December 2018, the Russian government awarded 46 million rubles (USD 690,000) to a private company to direct discussions on anticorruption and civil-society development across the country. During 2019, the contractor will conduct 135 events in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Crimea, and 17 regions in Russia. These will include round table discussions, lectures, seminars, forums, and conferences. The company will also conduct social polling and in-depth interviews.
Russia adopted a law in 2012 requiring individuals holding public office, state officials, municipal officials, and employees of state organizations to submit information on the funds spent by them and members of their families (spouses and underage children) to acquire certain types of property, including real estate, securities, stock, and vehicles. The law also required public servants to disclose the source of the funds for these purchases and to confirm the legality of the acquisitions. Recent anti-corruption campaigns include guidance for government employees and establishment of a legal framework for lobbying. In 2014, government plans called for an education campaign for employees and students in tertiary education on bribery and the law. In 2015, federal legislation provided a clear definition of conflict of interest as a situation in which the personal interest (direct or indirect) of an official affects or may affect the proper, objective, and impartial performance of official duties.
The 2016 anti-corruption plan, typically adopted for two years, called for anti-corruption activity in the judiciary, investigations into conflicts of interest, and increased practical cooperation between the NGO/expert community and government officials. Legislative amendments were introduced in 2017 to improve the anti-corruption climate including the creation of a registry of officials charged with corruption-related offences (entered into force on January 1, 2018). The information about the officials who were dismissed for having committed corruption-related offences will be kept in the registry for the period of five years. The employer of an official dismissed for corruption will be responsible for entering the information in the online database. The Constitutional Court gave clear guidance to law enforcement bodies on the issue of asset confiscation due to the illicit enrichment of officials. Russia has ratified the UN Convention against Corruption, but its ratification did not include article 20, which deals with illicit enrichment. The Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption reported in 2016 that Russia fully complied with 11 recommendations – and partially complied with 10 – provided by this organization during the previous periodic review.
Nonetheless, the Russian government acknowledged difficulty enforcing the law effectively, and Russian officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Some analysts have expressed concern that a lack of depth in the compliance culture in Russia will render Russia’s adherence to international treaties a formality that does not function in reality. The implementation and enforcement of the many measures required by these conventions have not yet been fully tested. In recent years, there appear to have been a greater number of prosecutions and convictions of mid-level bureaucrats for corruption, although real numbers were difficult to obtain. The areas of government spending that ranked highest in corruption were public procurement, media, national defense, and public utilities.
Corruption in the past was mostly associated with large construction or infrastructure projects. Russia’s Federal Security Service stated in February 2016 that RUB5 billion (USD 77 million) of defense spending was lost to corruption in 2014. In 2016, authorities brought corruption charges against three governors, one federal minister, one deputy minister, the head of Federal Customs (charges were later dropped), and the deputy head of the Federal Investigative Committee. Not one law-enforcement agency managed to avoid high-level corruption investigations in their ranks, including the newly-formed National Guard. In September of 2016, Russian authorities arrested an MVD colonel who allegedly had stashed more than USD 120 million in cash in a Moscow apartment.
It is important for U.S. companies, irrespective of size, to assess the business climate in the relevant market in which they will be operating or investing and to have effective compliance programs or measures to prevent and detect corruption, including foreign bribery. U.S. individuals and firms operating or investing in Russia should take time to become familiar with the relevant anticorruption laws of both Russia and the United States in order to comply fully with them. They should also seek, when appropriate, the advice of legal counsel.
Additional country information related to corruption can be found in the U.S. State Department’s annual Human Rights Report available at https://www.state.gov/reports-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/.
Resources to Report Corruption
Ambassador at Large for International Anti-Corruption Cooperation
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
32/34 Smolenskaya-Sennaya pl, Moscow, Russia
+7 499 244-16-06
Transparency International – Russia
Rozhdestvenskiy Bulvar, 10, Moscow
Individuals and companies that wish to report instances of bribery or corruption that impact, or potentially impact their operations, and to request the assistance of the United States Government with respect to issues relating to issues of corruption may call the Department of Commerce’s Russia Corruption Reporting hotline at (202) 482-7945, or submit the form provided at http://tcc.export.gov/Report_a_Barrier/reportatradebarrier_russia.asp
10. Political and Security Environment
Political freedom continues to be limited by restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, and association and crackdowns on political opposition, independent media, and civil society. In the aftermath of Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea in March 2014, nationalist rhetoric increased markedly. Russian laws give the government the authority to label NGOs as “foreign agents” if they receive foreign funding, greatly restricting the activities of these organizations. Since the law’s enactment, more than 150 NGOs have been labelled foreign agents. A law enacted in May 2015 authorizes the government to designate a foreign organization as “undesirable” if it is deemed to pose a threat to national security or national interests. Fourteen foreign organizations currently have this designation and are banned from operations in Russia.
According to the Russian press, 7,700 individuals were convicted of economic crimes in 2018; the Russian business community alleges many of these cases were the result of commercial disputes. Potential investors should be aware of the risk of commercial disputes being criminalized. In Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan in the northern Caucasus region, Russia continues to battle resilient separatists who increasingly ally themselves with ISIS. These jurisdictions and neighboring regions in the northern Caucasus have a high risk of violence and kidnapping. Since December 2016, the number of terror attacks in Chechnya claimed by ISIS has increased markedly, as have counterterror military operations. Chechens and other North Caucasus natives have joined the ranks of ISIS fighters by the thousands, and the group has issued threats against Chechen and Russian targets. In the past, ISIS affiliated cells have carried out attacks in major Russian cities, including Moscow and St. Petersburg. In 2016, Russian law enforcement reportedly thwarted planned ISIS cell attacks in both cities.
Public protests continue to occur sporadically in Moscow and other cities. Authorities frequently refuse to grant permits for opposition protests, and there is usually a heavy police presence at demonstrations. Large-scale protests took place on March 26, 2017, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets in coordinated demonstrations in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and dozens of other cities across Russia to protest government corruption. Police arrested more than 1,000 people.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
The Russian labor market remains fragmented, characterized by limited labor mobility across regions and substantial differences in wages and employment conditions. Earning inequalities are significant, enforcement of labor standards remains relatively weak, and collective bargaining is underdeveloped. Employers regularly complain about shortages of qualified skilled labor. This phenomenon is due, in part, to weak linkages between the education system and the labor market. In addition, the economy suffers from a general shortage of highly skilled labor. Meanwhile, a large number of inefficient enterprises, with high vacancy levels offer workers unattractive, uncompetitive salaries and benefits. After years of gradual hikes, the monthly minimum wage in Russia will finally be increased to the official “subsistence” level of RUB 11,163 (USD 196) on May 1, 2019, eight months ahead of the original schedule. Employers are required to make severance payments when laying off employees in light of worsening market conditions.
The rate of actual unemployment, calculated according to International Labor Organization (ILO) methodology, averaged 4.9 percent in 2018. As of the end of 2017, Moscow and the Republic of Ingushetia had the lowest and highest unemployment rates in the country – 1.2 percent and 26.3 percent, respectively. Real wages increased in 2018 by 6.8 percent year-on-year, with retail sales expanding by 2.6 percent year-on-year. Private businesses must compete with SOEs, which dominate the economy. Recent surveys indicate Russians would prefer to work for SOEs because they offer better salaries and benefits. SOEs and the public sector employ 33 percent of Russia’s 65.6 million economically active persons. The public sector, which maintains inefficient and unproductive positions, directly accounts for about 24.5 percent of the workforce.
The 2002 Labor Code governs labor standards in Russia. Normal labor inspections identify labor abuses and health and safety standards in Russia. The government generally complies with ILO conventions protecting worker rights, though enforcement is often insufficient, as the Russian government employs a limited number of labor inspectors.
Official statistics show 1.8 million registered migrant workers in 2017 (down from 1.83 million in 2017) who have valid work permits from visa countries or work “patents” from visa-free Central Asian countries. Workers from EAEU countries (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan) are eligible to work in Russia without work authorization documents. The Russian Interior Ministry estimated at the end of 2018 that the number of illegal immigrants in Russia accounted for about 2.0 million people and continued to fall. Migrant workers are concentrated in the construction, retail, housing, and utilities sectors. The Russian government enacted sectoral restrictions for foreign workers in 2016 that cap the percentage of foreign workers allowed in different industries.