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Hungary

Executive Summary

With a population of 9.7 million, Hungary has an open economy and GDP of approximately $61 billion.  Hungary has been a member of the European Union (EU) since 2004, and fellow member states are its most important trade and investment partners in addition to the United States. Foreign direct investment (FDI) from Asian sources has increased in the past decade, accounting for about five percent of the total FDI stock in 2019 and over a third of new foreign direct investment in 2020 Macroeconomic indicators were generally strong before the COVID-19 pandemic, with GDP growing by 4.9 percent in 2019. In 2020, however, Hungary’s GDP decreased by 5.1 percent. As the Government of Hungary (GOH) increased spending to support the economy and other priorities, the 2020 budget deficit reached approximately nine percent of GDP, which pushed up public debt to over 80 percent of GDP. Ratings agencies in 2020 maintained Hungary’s sovereign debt at BBB, two notches above investment grade, with a stable outlook. In 2020, the Finance Ministry forecasted 5 to 5.5 percent economic growth and a 6.5 percent budget deficit for 2021.

Hungary’s central location in Europe and high-quality infrastructure have made it an attractive destination for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).  Between 1989 and 2019, Hungary received approximately $97.8 billion in FDI, mainly in the banking, automotive, software development, and life sciences sectors.  The EU accounts for 89 percent of all in-bound FDI. The United States is the largest non-EU investor. The GOH actively encourages investments in manufacturing and sectors promising high added value and/or employment, including research and development, defense, and service centers.  To promote investment, the GOH lowered the corporate tax rate to nine percent in 2017, among the lowest rates in the EU. Hungary’s Value-Added Tax (VAT), however, is the highest in Europe at 27 percent.

Despite these advantages, Hungary’s regional economic competitiveness has declined in recent years.  Since early 2016, multinationals have identified shortages of qualified labor, specifically technicians and engineers, as the largest obstacle to investment in Hungary.  In certain industries, such as finance, energy, telecommunication, pharmaceuticals, and retail, unpredictable sector-specific tax and regulatory policies have favored national and government-linked companies.  Additionally, persistent corruption and cronyism continue to plague the public sector. According to Transparency International’s (TI) 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, Hungary placed 69th worldwide and tied with two other countries for 25th place out of 27 EU member states.  In 2016, the GOH withdrew from the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a transparency-focused international organization, after refusing to address the organization’s concerns about transparency and good governance. Both foreign and domestic investors report pressure to sell their businesses to government-affiliated investors.  Those who refuse to sell claim they face increased tax audits or spurious regulatory and court challenges.

Analysts remain concerned that the GOH may intervene in certain priority sectors to unfairly promote domestic ownership at the expense of foreign investors.  In September 2016, Prime Minister (PM) Viktor Orban announced that at least half of the banking, media, energy, and retail sectors should be in Hungarian hands. Observers note that through various tax changes the GOH has pushed several foreign-owned banks out of Hungary. The GOH has claimed it has increased Hungarian ownership in the banking sector to close to 60 percent, up from 40 percent in 2010.  In the energy sector, foreign-owned companies’ share of total revenue fell from 70 percent in 2010 to below 50 percent by the end of 2019. Foreign media ownership also has decreased drastically in recent years as GOH-aligned businesses have consolidated control of Hungary’s media landscape. The number of media outlets owned by GOH allies increased from around 30 in 2015 to nearly 500 in 2018.  In November 2018, the owners of 476 pro-GOH media outlets, constituting between 80 and 90 percent of all media, donated those outlets to the Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA) run by individuals with ties to the ruling Fidesz party.

As part of its COVID-19 pandemic response, the Parliament passed state of emergency (SOE) legislation in March and November 2020 that gave the GOH broad authority to bypass Parliament and govern by decree. The first SOE law did not have a sunset clause and remained in effect until June 2020 when the GOH repealed it. The GOH passed a second SOE law in November, this time for a 90-day period. Following the expiration of the 90-day term, the Parliament extended the SOE for another 90 days in February 2021. As part of the emergency measures, the GOH also extended measures for national security screening of foreign investments from December 31, 2020, until June 30, 2021, and may further extend this deadline.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 69 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 52 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 35 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 6,114 USD Amount https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 16,500USD amount http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

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 in Europe attract foreign investment. The GOH actively promotes Hungary to attract FDI, in manufacturing and export-oriented sectors. According to some reports, however, government policies have resulted in some foreign investors selling their stakes to the government or state-owned enterprises in other sectors, including banking and energy.  In 2019, net annual FDI amounted to $5.2 billion, and total gross FDI totaled $97.8 billion.

As a bloc, 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.  In terms of ultimate investor – i.e., country of origin – the United States was the second largest investor after Germany in 2019. In terms of direct investor location, Germany was the largest investor, followed by the Netherlands, Austria, Luxembourg, and then the United States. The majority of U.S. investment falls within the automotive, software development, and life sciences sectors.  Approximately 450 U.S. companies maintain a presence in Hungary. According to Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency (HIPA) data, U.S. foreign direct investment produced more jobs in Hungary in 2020 than investment from any other country.

Total, cumulative FDI from Asian sources has approximately doubled since 2010, accounting for over five percent of total FDI stock in 2019. South Korea made several major new investments in the manufacturing sector in 2019. According to HIPA, South Korea, Japan, China, India, and other Asian countries accounted for about 40 percent of the value of new foreign investment projects in Hungary in 2020.

The GOH 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, the corporate income tax rate to 9 percent in 2017, and the gradual reduction of the employer-paid welfare contribution from 27 percent in 2016 to 15.5 percent in 2020.  As of 2016, the GOH streamlined the National Tax and Customs authority (NAV) procedure to offer fast-track VAT refunds to customers categorized as “low-risk.”

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 discriminatory tax rates by 2015 and replaced them with flat taxes. Another 2014 law required retail companies with over $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 likewise determined that the law was discriminatory and launched an infringement procedure in 2016, leading the GOH to repeal the law in November 2018.

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. In April 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the GOH issued a decree that levied sector-specific taxes on the banking and retail sectors to fund crisis economic support. This progressive tax on retail grocery outlets is structured such that it applies mainly to large foreign retail firms.

In April 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the GOH issued a decree that levied sector-specific taxes on the banking and retail sectors to fund crisis economic support. This progressive tax on retail grocery outlets is structured such that it applies mainly to large foreign retail firms.

The GOH publicly declared its intention to reduce foreign ownership in the banking sector in 2012. Accordingly, various GOH initiatives have reduced foreign ownership from about 70 percent in 2008 to 40.5 percent by the end of 2020. These initiatives included a 2010 bank tax; a 2012 financial transaction tax levied on all cash withdrawals; and regulations enacted between 2012-2015 that 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 contracts with customers and had been permitted by Hungarian law.

While the pharmaceutical industry is competitive and profitable in Hungary, multinational enterprises 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 policies to weigh the cost of pharmaceutical procurement as heavily as 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 (AmCham) 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, now chaired by the Minister of Finance, 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. The GOH has regularly consulted foreign businesses and business associations as it has developed economic support measures during the pandemic. For more information, see:  https://kormany.hu/kulgazdasagi-es-kulugyminiszterium/strategiai-partnersegi-megallapodasok  and  https://www.amcham.hu/ .

The U.S.-Hungary Business Council (USHBC) – a private, non-profit organization established in 2016 – aims to facilitate and maintain dialogue between American corporate executives and 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:  https://www.us-hungarybusinesscouncil.com/ .

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign ownership is permitted with the exception of some “strategic” sectors including farmland and defense-related industries, which require special government permits.  As part of its economic measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, the GOH passed a decree which requires foreign investors to seek approval for foreign investments in Hungary.

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 right of first refusal before a new non-local farmer is allowed to purchase the land.  For legal entities and those who do not fulfill the above requirements , 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 Austrian farmers. Austria has reported the change to the European Commission, which initiated an infringement procedure against Hungary in 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 2015, the EC launched another – still ongoing – infringement procedure against Hungary concerning its restrictions on acquisitions of farmland.

The GOH passed a national security 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 60 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. In 2020, as part of the measures to mitigate the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the GOH passed an additional regulation requiring foreign investors to seek approval from the Ministry of Innovation and Technology (MIT) for greenfield or expansion of existing investments.

On April 6, Hungary’s Ministry of Interior (MOI) blocked an Austria’s Vienna Insurance Group from buying Dutch insurer Aegon’s Hungarian subsidiary, scuttling a four-country acquisition. The GOH granted the specific power to block this type of sale to the MOI in November 2020 under emergency COVID-related legislation, just one day before the parties agreed to the sale, after months of open negotiations.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

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

Business Facilitation

In 2006, Hungary joined the EU initiative to create a European network of “point of single contact” through which 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.  In recent years, the government has strengthened investor relations, signed strategic agreements with key investors, and established a National Competitiveness Council to formulate measures to increase Hungary’s economic competitiveness.

The registration of business enterprises 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 Authority (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 ($10,800); for private limited companies HUF 5,000,000 ($17,900), and for public limited companies HUF 20,000,000 ($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:  https://ceginformaciosszolgalat.kormany.hu/elektronikus-cegeljaras , and the Tax Authority https://en.nav.gov.hu/taxation/registration/specific_rules.html .

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

Outward Investment

The stock of total Hungarian investment abroad amounted to $36.8 billion in 2019.  Outward investment is mainly in manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, 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 such 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 express concerns 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 and foreign owners of major infrastructure, 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-affiliated 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 them.  Laws in Parliament can be found on Parliament’s website (https://www.parlament.hu/en/web/house-of-the-national-assembly).  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.

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, in March 2020, the Parliament passed a bill that established an indefinite state of emergency (SOE) in Hungary, allowing the GOH to govern by decree without parliamentary approval. The GOH used this decree to levy new sector-specific taxes, to take control of a Hungarian company that had been in an ownership dispute with the GOH, and to reallocate competencies and tax collection duties from an opposition-led municipality to a county-level body led by the ruling Fidesz party. The GOH did not include a sunset clause for the SOE – which resulted in criticism from foreign governments and domestic opposition parties – but repealed it in June 2020. During the second wave of the epidemic , the GOH passed separate SOE legislation with a 90-day sunset clause in November 2020 and extended it for another 90 days in February 2021. Interested investors are encouraged to contact Embassy points of contact for the most up-to-date information.

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 society organizations have complained about a loophole in the current law that allows individual Members of Parliament 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 related to laws – are published on the Parliament’s webpage.  Explanations attached to draft bills include a short summary on the aim of the legislation, but regulators only occasionally release public comments.

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

The GOH does not review regulations on the basis of formal 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.  Their analysis assessed 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.

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.  Modifications to a current budget, which in 2020 were quite substantial because of the pandemic, are not consolidated with the initial budget law and do not include economic analysis of the effects of those modifications. Information on debt obligations was publicly available, including online through the Hungarian Central Bank ( https://www.mnb.hu/en ) and Hungarian State Debt Manager’s (https://akk.hu/ ) 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); 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. Following Parliament’s passage of a bill on changes in the court system in December 2019, in April 2020 public administration and labor courts were dissolved, and first-level public administration and labor cases were transferred to county-level courts of justice. Although the current COVID-19 SOE law does not cover the court system, the GOH issued a decree in March 2020 on the operation of the courts to protect the health of court employees and customers. According to guidelines issued by the National Judicial Office in November 2020, individual access to court buildings is limited; those participating in court sessions need to follow social distancing rules and wear masks; and clients are encouraged to submit documents in electronic form.

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. The European Commission’s 2020 Rule of Law Report, issued in September 2020, cited judicial independence in Hungary as a source of concern. Most business complaints about the court system pertain to the lengthy proceedings rather than the fairness of the verdicts.  The GOH has said it hopes to improve the speed and efficiency of court proceedings with an updated Civil Procedure Code that 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 protects property and investment.  The Hungarian state may expropriate property only 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 national secuirty 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.  (Please see above section on limits on foreign control for more details).

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

Competition and Antitrust 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 60 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 into 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 uncompensated expropriation, nationalization, and any other arbitrary action by the GOH except in cases of threat to national security.  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 investors within the past several years that expropriations have been improperly executed, without proper remuneration. Parties involved in these cases turned to the domestic 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 an indirect expropriation attempt because they disproportionately targeted foreign firms with the apparent intent to force them to seek a buy-out from a domestic firm.  The GOH reversed these taxes in response to a 2015 European Commission injunction. Increasing reports of the use of government regulatory and tax agencies to pressure businesses to sell to government-affiliated investors has also raised concerns.

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 New York and ICSID Conventions.  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 shares no Bilateral Investment Treaty or Free Trade Agreement with the United States.  Since 2000 Hungary has been the respondent in some 16 known investor-State arbitration claims , although none of these involve U.S. investors.

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

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

In the last few years, parties have increasingly turned to mediation as a means 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 frequently included in investment contract between the foreign enterprise and GOH.  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.  An arbitral ruling may only be annulled in limited cases, and under special conditions.

Domestic courts do not favor State-owned enterprises (SOEs) disproportionately.  Investors can expect a fair trial even if SOEs are involved and in case of an unfavorable ruling, may elevate the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).  Investors do not generally 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 initiate bankruptcy proceedings only if 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 up to of 30 days for the debtor to settle the 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 what it considers unusually short deadlines in the process. The EU has also criticized the Hungarian system as being creditor-unfriendly, since bankruptcy proceedings typically only recover 44 cents on 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 ).

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Hungary has a well-developed incentive system for investors, the cornerstone of which is a special incentive package for investments over a certain value (typically over EUR 10 million or $11 million).  The incentives are designed to benefit investors who establish manufacturing facilities, logistics facilities, regional service centers, R&D facilities, and bioenergy facilities, or those who make tourism industry investments.  Incentive packages may consist of cash subsidies, development tax allowances, training subsidies, and job creation subsidies. The incentive system is compliant with EU regulations on competition and state aid and is administered by the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency (HIPA) and managed by the Ministry of Innovation and Technology (MIT) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT). The government provides non-refundable subsidies to foreign investments in less developed areas and certain sectors including research and development, innovation, and high-tech manufacturing, based on case-by-case government decisions. In 2020, the GOH extended additional incentives or support to foreign investments as part of its economic response to the pandemic. For more information please see: https://hipa.hu/tovabbi-kedvezo-modositasok-a-vissza-nem-teritendo-tamogatasi-rendszerben .

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Foreign trade zones were eliminated as a result of EU accession.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Hungary does not mandate the hiring of local employees. The number of work permits issued for third-country nationals is limited by law, but in recent years, this limit was well above the actual number of registered third-country employees.  Residency and work permits are issued by the Immigration Office and the local labor offices.

As of 2019, for investments in certain strategic sectors including the military, intelligence, public utilities, financial services, and electronic information systems, the Ministry of Interior issues investment permits, and in other key sectors, the Ministry for Innovation and Technology.  There are no laws in place requiring the fulfilment of special labor force related conditions to get investment permits. However, in certain cases, the GOH has established retention of workforce as a condition to award state grants to investors.

Hungary has no forced data localization policy.  Foreign IT providers do not need to turn over source code or provide access to encryption.  Hungary follows EU rules on transfer of personal data outside the economy. Storage of personal data is regulated by a data protection law and falls under the authority of a Data Protection Ombudsman.

There are no general performance requirements for investors in Hungary.  However, investors may receive government subsidies in the event they meet certain performance criteria, such as job creation or investment minimums, which are available to all enterprises registered in Hungary and are applied on a systematic basis.  To comply with EU rules, the GOH no longer grants tax holidays based on investment volume. There is no requirement that investors must purchase from local sources, but the EU Rule of Origin applies. Investors are not required to disclose proprietary information to the GOH as part of the regulatory process.

Hungary, as an EU Member State, follows the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on transmitting data outside of the EU and local data storage requirements.  The National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information is responsible for enforcing GDPR rules.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Hungary maintains a reliable land registry, which provides public information for anyone on the ownership, mortgage, and usufruct rights of a real estate or land parcel.  Secured interests in property (mortgages), both moveable and real, are recognized and enforced but there is no title insurance in Hungary.

According to the Land Law of 2013, only private Hungarian citizens or EU citizens resident in Hungary with a minimum of three years of experience in agriculture, or holding a degree in an agricultural field, can purchase farmland.  The law allows the lease of farmland up to 1200 hectares for a maximum of 20 years. There is no restriction for purchase or lease of non-farmland properties.

Hungarian law allows acquisitive prescription for unoccupied real property if the user of the property occupies it continuously for at least 15 years.

According to the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report, in 2020, Hungary ranked 29th in the world on the ease of registering property. Real estate and land purchase contracts must be countersigned by an attorney registered in Hungary.

Intellectual Property Rights

Hungary has an adequate legal structure for protecting intellectual property rights (IPR), although it lacks deterrent-level sentences for civil and criminal IPR infringement cases.  There has been no new major IPR legislation passed over the last year. According to some representatives of the pharmaceutical and software industries, enforcement could be improved if the Prosecutor General’s Office were to establish specialized IPR units.  The most common IPR violations in Hungary include the sale of imported counterfeit goods, including pharmaceuticals and Internet-based piracy. Most counterfeit goods sold in Hungary are of Chinese origin.

Hungary acceded to the European Patent Convention in 2003 and has accordingly amended the Hungarian Patent Act.  Hungary is a party to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO’s) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and many other major international IPR agreements, including some administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), such as the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performance and Phonograms Treaty.  As an EU Member State, Hungary is required to implement EU Directives and so is party to the EU Information Society Directive and EU Enforcement Directive, among others.

The United States and Hungary signed a Comprehensive Bilateral Intellectual Property Rights Agreement in 1993 that addresses copyright, trademarks, and patent protection.

In 2010, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the Hungarian Intellectual Property Office (HIPO) launched a pilot program to facilitate patent recognition between the United States and Hungary.  Due to the pilot’s success, in 2012 the USPTO and HIPO signed a Memorandum of Understanding to further streamline and expedite bilateral patent recognition. More details about this Patent Processing Highway (PPH) program can be found on HIPO’s website at  www.hipo.gov.hu/English/szabadalom/pph/ .

Hungary is not included in the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR’s) Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.

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

Resources for Rights Holders

Embassy Point of Contact for IPR issues:

Christopher Hallett
Economic Officer
HallettCJ@state.gov

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Hungarian financial system offers a full range of financial services with an advanced information technology infrastructure.  The Hungarian Forint (HUF) has been fully convertible since 2001, and both Hungarian financial market and capital market transactions are fully liberalized.  The Capital Markets Act of 2001 sets out rules on securities issues, including the conversion and marketing of securities. As of 2007, separate regulations were passed on the activities of investment service providers and commodities brokers (2007), on Investment Fund Managing Companies (2011), as well as on Collective Investments (2014), providing more sophisticated legislation than those in the Capital Markets Act.  These changes aimed to create a regulatory environment where free and available equity easily matches with the best investment opportunities. The 2016 modification of the Civil Code removed remaining obstacles to promote collection of public investments in the course of establishing a public limited company.

The  Budapest Stock Exchange (BSE)  re-opened in 1990 as the first post-communist stock exchange in the Central and Eastern European region.  Since 2010, the BSE has been a member of the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) Stock Exchange Group. In 2013, the internationally recognized trading platform Xetra replaced the previous trading system.  Currently, the BSE has 40 members and 62 issuers. The issued securities are typically shares, investment notes, certificates, corporate bonds, mortgage bonds, government bonds, treasury bills, and derivatives.  In 2021, the BSE had a market capitalization of $28.3 billion, and the average monthly equity turnover volume amounted to $2.1 billion. The most traded shares are OTP Bank, Gedeon Richter, MOL, Magyar Telekom, and Masterplast

Financial resources flow freely into the product and factor markets.  In line with IMF rules, international currency transactions are not limited and are accessible both in domestic or foreign currencies. Individuals can hold bank accounts in either domestic or foreign currencies and conduct transactions in foreign currency. Since March 2020, commercial banks introduced real time bank transfers for domestic currency transactions.

Commercial banks provide credit to both Hungarian and foreign investors at market terms.  Credit instruments include long-term and short-term liquidity loans. All banks publish total credit costs, which includes interest rates as well as other costs or fees.

Money and Banking System

There are no rules preventing a foreigner or foreign firm from opening a bank account in Hungary.  Valid personal documents (i.e., a passport) are needed and as of 2015, when the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) came into force, also a declaration of whether the individual is a U.S. citizen.  Banks have not discriminated against U.S. citizens in opening bank accounts based on FATCA.

The Hungarian banking system has strengthened over the past few years, and the capital position of banks is generally adequate even in the challenging economic environment created by COVID-19.  Following several years of deleveraging after the 2008 crisis, the banking system is mainly deposit funded. The penetration of the banking system decreased slightly in 2019 due to a relatively high GDP growth rate. The sector’s total assets amounted to 92.6 percent of GDP.

The Hungarian banking system is healthy and banks have a stable capital position.  The loan-to-deposit ratio has been gradually decreasing from its 160 percent peak in 2009 after the financial crisis to 85 percent in 2015, and has been fluctuating between this value and a 92.4 percent peak in 2019. In spring 2020, during the first wave of the COVID-19 in Hungary, it reached 91.6 percent but decreased to 81.7 percent by the end of the year. The liquidity cover ratio was 160 percent in the first wave of COVID-19, then climbed to 220.8 percent by the end of the year. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Central Bank restructured and expanded its monetary policy tools to provide liquidity to the financial sector through currency swaps, fixed-rate loans, and exemptions from minimum reserve requirements. The Central Bank also introduced instruments to influence short- and long-term term yields. It offered low-interest loans through commercial banks to the SME sector and launched a government securities purchase program on the secondary market.

The ratio of non-performing loans (NPLs) has been gradually decreasing from a high of 18 percent in 2013 to 4.1 percent in 2019 as a result of portfolio cleaning, the improving economic environment, and increased lending.  In the first wave of the pandemic the NPL ratio increased slightly, but by the end of the year it continued the decreasing trend and fell to 3.6 percent. The banking sector became profitable after several years of losses between 2010 and 2015, reaching a return on equity (ROE) record high of 16.8 percent in 2017. Since then, ROE has gradually decreased, to 12.3 percent by the end of 2019 and more steeply during the COVID-19 pandemic to 6.5 percent in December 2020, which is still slightly higher than the EU average. The banking sector’s total assets exceeded 90 percent of GDP in 2020, of which 64 percent were held by five banks. The largest bank in Hungary is OTP Bank, which is mostly Hungarian-owned and controls 25 percent of the market, with about $29 billion in assets.

Hungary has a modern two-tier financial system and a developed financial sector, although there have been some reports that regulatory issues have arisen as a result of the Central Bank’s (MNB) 2013 absorption of the Hungarian Financial Supervisory Authority (PSZAF), which had been the financial sector regulatory body.  Between 2000 and 2013, the PSZAF served as a consolidated financial supervisor, regulating all financial and securities markets. PSZAF, in conjunction with the MNB, managed a strong two-pillar system of control over the financial sector, producing stability in the market, effective regulation, and a system of checks and balances.  In 2013, the MNB absorbed the PSZAF and over the past few years has efficiently strengthened its supervisory role over the financial sector and established a customer protection system.

In accordance with the GOH’s stated goal of reducing foreign ownership in the financial sector, the proportion of foreign banks’ total assets in the financial sector decreased to about 40 percent in 2019, down from a peak of 70 percent before the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Foreign banks are subject to central bank uniform regulations and prudential measures, which are applied to Hungary’s entire financial market without discrimination. On March 2, 2020, MNB launched an immediate e-transfer system up to a maximum of HUF 10 million (about $32,000) for domestic transactions in HUF. Commercial banks have extensive direct correspondent banking relationships and are capable of transferring domestic or foreign currencies to most banks outside of Hungary.  Since 2018, however, the cashing of U.S. checks is no longer possible. No loss or jeopardy of correspondent banking relations has been reported.

Recent regulations restrict foreign currency loans to only those that earn income in foreign currency, in an effort to eliminate the risk of exchange rate fluctuations.  Foreign investors continue to have equal – if not better – access to credit on the global market, with the exception of special GOH credit concessions such as small business loans.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Hungarian forint (HUF) has been convertible for essentially all business transactions since January 1, 1996, and foreign currencies are freely available in all banks and exchange booths.  Hungary complies with all OECD convertibility requirements and IMF Article VIII. Act XCIII of 2001 on Foreign Exchange Liberalization lifted all remaining foreign exchange restrictions and allowed free movement of capital in line with EU regulations.

According to Hungary’s EU accession agreement, it must eventually adopt the Euro once it meets the relevant criteria. The GOH has not set a specific target date even though Hungary meets most of the necessary fiscal and financial criteria.  According to the Ministry of Finance, Hungary’s economic performance should mirror the Eurozone average more closely before adapting the Euro.

Short-term portfolio transactions, hedging, short, and long-term credit transactions, financial securities, assignments and acknowledgment of debt may be carried out without any limitation or declaration.  While the Forint remains the legal tender in Hungary, parties may settle financial obligations in a foreign currency. Many Hungarians took out mortgages denominated in foreign currency prior to the global financial crisis, and suffered when the Forint depreciated against the Swiss Franc and the Euro.  Despite strong pressure, the Hungarian Supreme Court ruled that there is nothing inherently illegal or unconstitutional in loan agreements that are foreign currency denominated, upholding existing contract law. New consumer loans, however, are denominated in Forints only, unless the debtor receives regular income in a foreign currency.

Market forces determine the value of the Hungarian Forint. Analysts note that the MNB’s consistently low interest rates have contributed to a nearly 30 percent decline in the value of the of the Forint against the Euro since 2010.

Remittance Policies

There is no limitation on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances of profits, debt service, capital, capital gains, returns on intellectual property, or imported inputs. The timeframes for remittances are in line with the financial sector’s normal timeframes (generally less than 30 days), depending on the destination of the transfer and on whether corresponding banks are easily found.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Hungary does not maintain a sovereign wealth fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

In the 1990s, there was considerable privatization of former State-owned enterprises (SOEs), primarily in strategic sectors such as energy and transportation.  Since 2010, the GOH has reversed this trend by making new investments in machinery production and the energy and telecommunications sectors, resulting in an increase of the number of SOEs.

As of 2020, there are more than 200 SOEs.  The state holds majority ownership in more than half of them.  In addition, there are a large number of municipality-owned companies.  SOEs are particularly active in the energy and utility sectors, banking, transportation, forestry, and postal services. SOEs have independent boards, but in practice, all strategic decisions require government approval.

Major SOEs include the National Asset Management Company (MNV), Magyar Posta, state energy company MVM, Hungarian State Railways (MAV), state gambling monopoly Szerencsejatek, National Infrastructure Development Company (NIF), car manufacturer RABA, and state-owned banks Exim bank, Hungarian Development Bank (MFB), Takarekbank, and Budapest Bank.  The GOH has a five percent direct stake in hydrocarbon company MOL, and 20 percent of the company is owned by two higher education foundations closely affiliated with the GOH.

A 2011 law on national assets lists the SOEs of strategic importance, which are to be kept in state ownership ( https://net.jogtar.hu/jr/gen/hjegy_doc.cgi?docid=a1100196.tv ); as of March 2021 there were 62 such companies.  There is no officially published, complete list of SOEs, but the State Asset Manager MNV has a list of companies under its control on its webpage.  The list does not cover all publicly owned companies:  http://mnv.hu/felso_menu/tarsasagi_portfolio/mnvportfolio .

In principle, the same rules apply to SOEs as to privately owned companies in most cases, but in practice, some companies report that SOEs often enjoy preferential treatment from certain authorities.  According to many businesses, since mid-2012, the GOH has made it more difficult for foreign-owned energy companies to operate in the Hungarian market. The GOH has publicly stated its interest in nationalizing some private energy firms.  In 2013, the GOH purchased E.ON’s wholesale and gas storage divisions and RWE’s retail gas company, Fogaz. In 2014 and 2015, the GOH acquired other energy companies. By the end of 2016, state-owned Fogaz became the only remaining retail gas utility provider in Hungary.  Press reports indicate the GOH intends to take over the electricity and heating retail markets as well.

Hungary adheres to OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance as well as to EU rules on SOEs.  The Hungarian National Asset Management Company is the state asset manager.

According to a 2015 study conducted by Transparency International (TI) Hungary, SOEs scored 61 points on a scale of 100 with regard to meeting transparency obligations in terms of data published on their websites, integrity, codes of ethics, and internal control systems.  TI noted that although there was a considerable improvement compared to the previous survey in 2013, none of the SOEs reviewed during their study was in full compliance with transparency and disclosure requirements as mandated by Hungarian law.

In a July 2018 State Audit Office (SAO) report on the monitoring of 62 SOEs, the SAO said that the investigated enterprises’ integrity and compliance regulations have improved over the past years and their current transparency and integrity level is satisfactory.  The report added that the auditing and asset management of SOEs could still be improved, and that owners should investigate SOEs more often than the current practice. An April 2020 SAO report investigated the integrity of 19 state-owned and municipality owned companies and found that the overwhelming majority of the companies had serious deficiencies in integrity measures protecting against corruption.

Privatization Program

In the 1990s, the privatization of state-owned enterprises (SOEs), including the energy sector, manufacturing, food processing, and chemical industries, ushered in a significant period of change.  As most SOEs have already been privatized, that trend has reversed since 2010 as the state has taken more ownership or de facto control in certain sectors, including energy and public utilities.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Hungary encourages multinational firms to follow the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, which promotes a due diligence approach to responsible business conduct (RBC).  The government has established a National Contact Point (NCP) in the Ministry of Finance for stakeholders to obtain information or raise concerns in the context of RBC. The Hungarian NCP has organized events to promote OECD guidelines among the business community, trade unions, government agencies, and NGOs.  Members of the Hungarian NCP include representatives of the Ministries of Finance, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Innovation and Technology, and Agriculture. The Hungarian NCP submits annual reports to the OECD Investment Commission. For more information, see:  http://oecd.kormany.hu/a-magyar-nemzeti-kapcsolattarto-pont .

In recent years, the Hungarian NCP has organized several conferences, the last one in January 2020, to promote RBC and OECD guidelines. It announced in 2017 its intention to formulate a new National Action Plan on Businesses and Human Rights.  According to the first National Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Action Plan formulated in 2015, key RBC priorities of the GOH included the employment of discriminated, disadvantaged, and disabled groups, environmental protection, and the expansion of sustainable economy.  The Hungarian Public Relations Association, CSR Hungary, and other NGOs are involved in elaborating the second National Action Plan. The Hungarian NCP reviews complaints from trade unions against multinational companies’ subsidiaries operating in Hungary and coordinates with relevant NPCs of the multinational company’s home country. RBC does not typically play a role in GOH procurement decisions, although the 2015 Public Procurement Act integrates concepts of CSR, responsible business conduct, and good practice.

Several NGOs and business associations promote RBC and CSR.  The one with the most members, CSR Hungary Forum – created in 2006 – established an annual award and trademark in 2008 to recognize business CSR efforts; others include the Hungarian Public Relations Association, “Kovet.”

According to a 2018 survey conducted by CSR Hungary, 60 percent of businesses have a CSR policy and 44 percent of businesses attribute a CSR orientation to increased competitiveness.  However, only about 34 percent of multinational and SOEs and 9 percent of SMEs report formally formulating a CSR action plan. According to Nielsen Global Omnibus research, over 60 percent of Hungary’s adult population prefers companies committed to CSR, exceeding the 54 percent average in the EU.

In 2017, Hungary’s independent agencies for labor rights protection, consumer protection, cultural heritage protection, and environment protection were merged into relevant ministries and county-level government offices.  Environmental NGOs criticized the transformation of the system and warned about the lack of independent agencies.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

The Hungarian Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Interior are responsible for combating corruption.  There is a growing legal framework in place to support their efforts. Hungary is a party to the UN Anticorruption Convention and the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and has incorporated their provisions into the penal code, as well as subsequent OECD and EU requirements on the prevention of bribery.  Parliament passed the Strasbourg Criminal Law Convention on Corruption of 2002 and the Strasbourg Civil Code Convention on Corruption of 2004. Hungary is a member of GRECO (Group of States against Corruption), an organization established by members of Council of Europe to monitor the observance of their standards for fighting corruption.  GRECO’s reports on evaluation and compliance are confidential unless the Member State authorizes the publication of its report.  For several years, the GOH has kept confidential GRECO’s most recent compliance report on prevention of corruption with respect to members of parliament, judges, and prosecutors, and a report on transparency of party financing.

Following calls from the opposition, NGOs, and other GRECO Member States, and a March 2019 visit by senior GRECO officials to Budapest, the GOH agreed to publish the reports in August 2019. The reports revealed that Hungary failed to meet 13 out of 18 recommendations issued by GRECO in 2015; assessed that Hungary’s level of compliance with the recommendations was “globally unsatisfactory”; and concluded that the country would therefore remain subject to GRECO’s non-compliance procedure. The compliance report on transparency of party financing noted some progress, but added that “the overall picture is disappointing.” A November 2020 GRECO report came to the same conclusion, adding that Hungary had made no progress since the prior year on implementing anticorruption recommendations for MPs, judges, and prosecutors.

In December 2016, the GOH withdrew its membership in the international anti-corruption organization the Open Government Partnership (OGP).  Following a letter of concern by transparency watchdogs to OGP’s Steering Committee in summer 2015, OGP launched an investigation into Hungary and issued a critical report.  The OGP admonished the GOH for its harassment of NGOs and urged it to take steps to restore transparency and to ensure a positive operating environment for civil society. The GOH — only the second Member State to be reprimanded by the organization — rejected the OGP report conclusions and withdrew from the organization.

In recent years, the GOH has amplified its attacks on NGOs – including transparency watchdogs – accusing them of acting as foreign agents and criticizing them for allegedly working against Hungarian interests.  Observers assess that this anti-NGO rhetoric endangered the continued operation of anti-corruption NGOs crucial to promoting transparency and good governance in Hungary. In 2017, Parliament passed legislation that many civil society activists criticized for placing undue restrictions on NGOs, including compelling organizations to register as “foreign-funded” if they receive funding from international sources. In a June 2020 ruling the European Court of Justice found the legislation in conflict with EU law.  In July 2018, the GOH passed legislation that criminalizes many activities primarily conducted by international NGOs that assist migrants and asylum seekers.  Although the legislation does not directly target transparency NGOs, transparency experts claim the GOH could use the overly broad definitions in the legislation to target virtually any NGO in Hungary.

Transparency International (TI) is active in Hungary.  TI’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index rated Hungary 69 out of 180 countries.  Among the 27 EU members, Hungary was tied for last place with two other member states. TI has noted that state institutions responsible for supervising public organizations were headed by people loyal to the ruling party, limiting their ability to serve as a check on the actions of the GOH.  TI and other watchdogs note that data on public spending remains problematically difficult to access since the GOH amended the Act on Freedom of Information in 2013 and 2015. Moreover, according to watchdogs and investigative journalists, the GOH, state agencies, and SOEs are increasingly reluctant to answer questions related to public spending, resulting in lengthy court procedures to receive answers to questions.  Even if the court orders the release of data, by the time it happens, the data has lost significance and has a weaker impact, watchdogs warn. In some cases, even when ordered to provide information, state agencies and SOEs release data in nearly unusable or undecipherable formats.

U.S. firms – along with other investors – identify corruption as a significant problem in Hungary.  According to the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Competitiveness Report, businesses considered corruption as the second most important obstacle to making a successful business in Hungary.

State corruption is also high on the list of EC concerns with Hungary.  The EC Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) has found high levels of fraud in EU-funded projects in Hungary and has levied fines and withheld development funds on several occasions.  Over the past few years, the EC has suspended payments of EU funds several times due to irregularities in Hungary’s procurement system.

TI and other anti-corruption watchdogs have highlighted EU-funded development projects as the largest source of corruption in Hungary.  A TI study found indications of corruption and overpricing in up to 90 percent of EU-funded projects. A 2016 study by Corruption Research Center Budapest (CRCB) based on public procurement data from 2009-2015 revealed that the massive influx of EU funds reduced competition and increased levels of corruption risk and overpricing in public procurements.  According to the study, EU-funded tenders performed poorly with regard to corruption risks, competitive intensity, and transparency, compared with Hungarian-funded tenders. EU funds in Hungary contribute to a system of political favoritism and fuel crony capitalism, the study concluded. CRCB reports from April and May 2020 found – after analyzing more than 240,000 public procurement contracts from 2005-2020 – that companies owned by individuals with links to senior government officials enjoy preferential treatment in public tenders and face less competition than other companies. The studies also revealed that the share of single-bidder public procurement contracts was over 40 percent in 2020, and that the corruption risk reached its highest level since 2005.

Hungary has legislation in place to combat corruption.  Giving or accepting a bribe is a criminal offense, as is an official’s failure to report such an incident.  Penalties can include confiscation of assets, imprisonment, or both. Since Hungary’s entry into the EU, legal entities can also be prosecuted.  Legislation prohibits members of parliament from serving as executives of state-owned enterprises. An extensive list of public officials and many of their family members are required to make annual declarations of assets, but there is no specified penalty for making an incomplete or inaccurate declaration.  It is common for prominent politicians to be forced to amend declarations of assets following revelations in the press of omission of ownership or part-ownership of real estate and other assets in asset declarations. Politicians are not penalized for these omissions.

Transparency advocates claim that Hungarian law enforcement authorities are often reluctant to prosecute cases with links to high-level politicians.  For example, they reported that, in November 2018, Hungarian authorities dropped the investigation into $50 million in EU-funded public lighting tenders won by a firm co-owned by a relative of the prime minister, despite concerns raised by OLAF, the European Anti-Fraud Office, about evidence of conflict of interest and irregularities involving the deal. According to media reports, OLAF concluded that at least some of the tenders were won due to what it considered organized criminal activity. The European Commission’s September 2020 Rule of Law Report states that although the prosecution office has launched a limited number of corruption-related investigations against Members of the European Parliament from the ruling Fidesz party, there has been no prosecution of high-level officials in recent years.

Annual asset declarations for the family members of public officials are not public and only parliamentary committees can look into them if there is a specified suspicion of fraud.  Transparency watchdogs warn that this makes the system of asset declarations inefficient and easy to circumvent as politicians can hide assets and revenues in their family members’ names.

The Public Procurement Act of 2015 initially included broad conflict of interest rules on excluding family members of GOH officials from participating in public tenders, but Parliament later amended the law to exclude only family members living in the same household.  While considered in line with the overarching EU directive, the law still leaves room for subjective evaluations of bid proposals and tender specifications to be tailored to favored companies.

While public procurement legislation is in place and complies with EU requirements, private companies and watchdog NGOs expressed concerns about pervasive corruption and favoritism in public procurements in Hungary.  According to their criticism, public procurements in practice lack transparency and accountability and are characterized by uneven implementation of anti-corruption laws. Additionally, transparency NGOs calculate that government-allied firms have won a disproportionate percentage of public procurement awards.  The business community and foreign governments share many of these concerns.  Multinational firms have complained that competing in public procurements presents unacceptable levels of corruption and compliance risk.  A 2019 European Commission study found that Hungary had the second-highest rate (40 percent) of one-bidder EU funded procurement contracts in the European Union.  In addition, observers have raised concerns about the appointments of Fidesz party loyalists to head quasi-independent institutions such as the Competition Authority, the Media Council, and the State Audit Office. Because it is generally understood that companies without political connections are unlikely to win public procurement contracts, many firms lacking such connections do not bid or compete against politically-connected companies.

The GOH does not require private companies to establish internal codes of conduct.

Generally, larger private companies and multinationals operating in Hungary have internal codes of ethics, compliance programs, or other controls, but their efficacy is not uniform.

Resources to Report Corruption

GOH Office Responsible for Combatting Corruption:

National Protective Service
General Director Zoltan Bolcsik
Phone: +36 1 433 9711
Fax: +36 1 433 9751
E-mail:  nvsz@nvsz.police.hu 

Transparency International Hungary
1055 Budapest
Falk Miksa utca 30. 4/2
Phone: +36 1 269 9534
Fax: +36 1 269 9535
E-mail:  info@transparency.hu 

10. Political and Security Environment

The security environment is relatively stable.  Politically motivated violence or civil disturbance is rare.  Violent crime is low, with street crimes the most frequently reported crimes in the country. Political violence is not common in Hungary.  The transition from communist authoritarianism to capitalist democracy was negotiated and peaceful, and free elections have been held consistently since 1990.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Hungary’s civilian labor force of 4.5 million is highly-educated and skilled.  Literacy exceeds 98 percent and about two-thirds of the work force has completed secondary, technical, or vocational education.  Hungary’s record low 3.3 percent unemployment rate at the end of 2019 increased to 4.3 percent early 2021 as a result of the pandemic, but it is lower than the EU average of 7.3 percent.  Hungary’s employment rate for the population aged 15-64 years was 70.2 percent in 2020, higher than the EU average of 67.8 percent. Hungary is particularly strong in engineering, medicine, economics, and science training, although emigration of Hungarians from these sectors to other EU member states has increased in recent years. In the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, out-migration temporarily declined but resumed during the second half of 2020.

Multinationals increasingly cite a skilled labor shortage as their biggest challenge in Hungary and note that Hungarian vocational institutions and universities need to adapt more quickly to changes in the market place.  An increasing number of young people are attending U.S.- and European-affiliated business schools in Hungary. Foreign language skills, especially in English and German, are becoming more widespread, yet Hungary still has the lowest level of foreign language proficiency in the EU.  According to 2018 data, only 37 percent of working-age Hungarians speak at least one foreign language, while the EU average is 66 percent.

As the rate of unemployment has declined, certain sectors have begun to face shortages of skilled and highly educated employees.  As Hungarians increasingly seek work abroad, shortages of highly educated and skilled labor are negatively affecting growth in certain regions and industries.  In addition, declining OECD Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) scores may signal that the workforce is losing its ability to learn new skills and adapt to changing market conditions. The government is attempting to address labor shortage by increasing the minimum wage, offering retraining programs t, incentivizing employment of young mothers and pensioners by lowering employer-paid welfare contributions, and reforming the education and vocational training system.  Shortages of skilled workers, particularly in the IT, financial, and manufacturing sectors, are more acute in the northwest and central regions of the country. In the eastern half of the country, unemployment levels are above average, even though the cost of labor is lower. Wages in Hungary are still significantly lower than those in Western Europe, despite the recent increase in minimum wage. Average Hungarian labor productivity is lower than the EU average, but exceeds that of other Central and Eastern European economies.

In 2016, the government, trade unions, and employer representatives signed a three-year agreement to increase the minimum wage for unskilled and skilled workers. The deal also included a more than 50-percent cut in the business tax for large companies from 19 percent to 9 percent as of 2017, as well as gradually lowering the payroll tax from 21.5 percent in 2016 by 2 percent each year, down to 15.5 percent as of July 2020, to offset increasing labor costs. In subsequent years the parties signed annual minimum wage agreements which increased the minimum wage by 8 percent in 2020 and by 3.6 percent in 2021. The GOH also facilitates the employment of workers from neighboring countries, primarily ethnic Hungarian minority communities in those countries. The GOH requires hiring of nationals in certain strategic sectors and some areas of public administration.

Labor law stipulates a severance payment in case of lay-off, as well as under certain conditions for an employee terminating a work contract.  The government pays unemployment benefits for three months and offers the services of local employment offices. The GOH did not extend this benefit beyond the normal three months during the pandemic. Labor laws are uniform and there are no waivers available to attract or retain investment.  Collective bargaining is increasingly common in large companies, education, public transport, retail, and medical services.

The 2012 changes to the Labor Law transferred some collective bargaining rights from trade unions to work councils.  (Although work councils have a similar mission to those of labor unions, each firm has its own work council, and thus lacks the collective reach of an industry-wide trade union.)  Hungary’s trade union membership rate is below 10 percent, while the EU average is 25 percent. About 20 percent of businesses have a collective bargaining agreement on labor conditions and benefits, well below the EU average of about 80 percent. During the COVID-19 pandemic the government passed regulations that allow businesses to unilaterally terminate collective bargaining agreements, which led to a few strikes, which have been resolved by negotiations. Beginning in 2021, the GOH decreased state support to trade unions and implemented budget changes to allows discretional funding to each trade union, which replaced the previously uniform system. Hungary has ratified all eight International Labor Organization (ILO) core conventions.

Labor dispute resolution includes mediation as well as court procedures.  Employees, however, typically agree with employers outside court or mediation procedures. In 2019, a six-day strike at Audi Hungary was resolved with an agreement between employers and employees for a 15- to 20-percent wage increase.  The success of this high-profile strike has led to a series of short-term strikes, or threats of strikes, at other companies. The majority of these strikes have been resolved quickly with wage increase concessions from management and changes in overtime payment and conditions.  All recent strikes have been peaceful and complied with Hungarian labor laws.

Hungary has been a member of the ILO since 1955.  Hungary’s labor law and practice are in line with international labor standards.  Discussions between the ILO and the GOH are ongoing on certain provisions of the 2012 modification of Hungary’s labor law, including the freedom of expression, registration of trade unions, and minimum level of public service in case of strike.

Hungary passed amendments to its Labor Code in December 2018 that increased the amount of overtime an employer can request and gives employers up to three years to reconcile and pay for overtime.  These highly unpopular changes led to a series of large protests throughout Hungary and currently are being reviewed by the European Commission. In 2020, as a part of its COVID-19 economic response plan, the government decreed that employers can implement flexible working hours and a 24-month working time frame to calculate overtime without prior agreement from the employee or union. Local labor organizations complained that the move rolled back hard-won concessions from the 2018 labor reform and that certain businesses abuse overtime possibilities to compensate for shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $163,475 2019 $163,469 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $5,684 2019 $6,114 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $2,032 2019 $91 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 61% 2019 60% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html 
  

* Source for Host Country Data: 2021 Hungarian National Bank, www.mnb.hu   

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 182,689 100% Total Outward 132,235 100%
Canada 29,677 16.2% Switzerland 53,045 40.1%
Cayman Islands 21,996 12% United States 15,726 11.9%
Netherlands #3 18761 10.3% Uruguay 10,216 7.7%
Germany 17,176 9.4% Netherlands 6,274 4.7%
Luxemburg 15,991 8.8% Ireland 4,658 3.5%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 13,989 100% All Countries 9,232 100% All Countries 4,758 100%
Luxembourg 4,013 28.7% Luxembourg 3,327 36% Luxembourg 686 14.4%
United States 1,939 13.9% United States 1,752 19% Austria 333 7%
Austria 973 7% Austria 640 6.9% Slovak Rep. 291 6.1%
Germany 674 4.8% Belgium 612 6.6% Czech Rep. 268 5.6%
Belgium 615 4.4% Germany 546 5.9% Poland 240 5.1%

14. Contact for More Information

U.S. Embassy Political and Economic Section
Szabadsag Ter 12
1054 Budapest, Hungary
BUDEcon@State.gov
+36 1 475 4400

Moldova

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

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

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

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

Other Investment Policy Reviews

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

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

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

Business Facilitation

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

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

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

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

Outward Investment

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

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Regulatory Considerations

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

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

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

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

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

Legal System and Judicial Independence

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

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

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

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

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

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

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

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

Competition and Antitrust Laws

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

Expropriation and Compensation

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

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

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

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

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

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

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

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

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

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

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

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

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

Bankruptcy Regulations

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

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

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

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

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

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

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

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

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

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

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

Intellectual Property Rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Moldova’s securities market is underdeveloped. Official National Bank of Moldova (NBM) statistics include data on portfolio investments, yet there is a lack of open-source information fully reflect the trends and relevance of these investments. NBM data shows that most portfolio investments target banks, while the National Statistics Bureau does not differentiate between foreign direct investment and portfolio investments of less than 10 percent in a company.

Laws, governmental decisions, NBM regulations, and Stock Exchange regulations provide the framework for capital markets and portfolio investment in Moldova. The government began regulatory reform in this area in 2007 with a view to spurring the development of the weak non-banking financial market. Since 2008, two bodies in particular – the NBM and the National Commission for Financial Markets – have regulated financial and capital markets.

Foreign investors are not restricted from obtaining credit from local banks, the main source of business financing. However, stringent lending practices limit access to credit for Moldovan companies, especially SMEs. The government has eased some lending regulations to assist SMEs to obtain credit during the COVID-19 pandemic. Local commercial banks provide mostly short-term, high-interest loans and require large amounts of collateral, reflecting the country’s perceived high economic risk. Progress in lending activity suffered a sharp reversal in 2015 after the late-2014 banking crisis, triggered by a massive bank fraud, which severely weakened the banking system. Extreme monetary tightening by the NBM following significant currency flight connected to the resulting bank bailouts led to prohibitively high interest rates. In recent years, lending conditions improved as interest rates continued to hover around nine percent.

Large investments can rarely be financed through a single bank and require a bank consortium. Recent years have seen growth in leasing and micro-financing, leading to calls for clear regulation of the non-bank financial sector. As a result, Parliament passed a new law on the non-bank financial sector, which entered into effect on October 1, 2018. Raiffeisen Leasing remains the only international leasing company which has opened a representative office in Moldova.

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the private sector’s access to credit instruments has been limited by the insufficiency of long-term funding, high interest rates, and unrealistic lending forecasts by banks. Financing through local private investment funds is virtually non-existent. A few U.S. investment funds have been active on the Moldovan market. The government adopted a 2018-2022 strategy for the development of the non-banking financial sector aimed at bolstering the capital markets combined with prudential supervision. A new Central Securities Depository was established under the supervision of the National Bank of Moldova to bring greater transparency and integrity to ownership and the recordkeeping associated with it.

Acting as an independent regulatory agency, the National Commission for Financial Markets (NCFM) supervises the securities market, insurance sector and non-bank financial institutions. A new capital markets law adopting EU regulations came into effect in 2013. It was designed to open up capital markets to foreign investors, strengthen NCFM’s powers of independent regulator, and set higher capital requirements on capital market participants.

Money and Banking System

In 2014, a crisis at three Moldovan banks (which resulted in their closure and the loss of USD 1.2 billion), two of them among the country’s largest, undermined confidence in the banking system. The role of a Moldovan bank in the “Russian Laundromat” case, estimated to have laundered from USD 20 to 80 billion, further underscored these challenges. The crisis shook Moldova’s banking system, causing some foreign correspondent banks to terminate ties with Moldovan banks and others to significantly tighten their lending.

In March 2020, Moldova successfully completed its IMF program after implementing reforms in financial and banking sectors. As a result of these reforms, the financial sector is better prepared to withstand the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis. There is a high degree of capital and liquidity, and an overall reduction of non-performing loans to below eight percent. Moldovan banks remain the main, albeit currently limited, source of business financing. The non-bank financial institutions however have been gaining sizable market share, especially in individual and SME lending, where banks have been encumbered by prudential banking rules. Bank assets account for about 52 percent of GDP. Banks are also the largest loan providers, with loans amounting to approximately USD 2.6 billion. The COVID-19 crisis slowed down bank lending in 2020.

Moldova currently has 11 commercial banks. The NBM regulates the commercial bank sector and reports to Parliament. Foreign bank subsidiaries must register in Moldova and operate under the local banking legislation. Although the integrity of true bank ownership records is questionable, foreign investors’ share in Moldovan banks’ capital is approximately 87 percent of total capital, and includes such major foreign investors as OTP Bank (Hungary), Erste Bank (Austria), Banca Transilvania (Romania) and Doverie Holding (Bulgaria).

As of December 31, 2020, total bank assets were MDL 103.9 billion (USD 6 billion) and 90 percent of total assets in the financial sector. Moldova’s three largest commercial banks account for roughly 65 percent of the total bank assets, as follows: Moldova Agroindbank – MDL 30.4 billion (USD 1.75 billion); Moldindconbank – MDL 21.3 billion (USD 1.2 billion); and Victoriabank – MDL 15.4 billion (USD 887.7 million). To prevent another crisis, the NBM instituted special monitoring of these top three banks over concerns about the transparency of bank shareholders; this monitoring was lifted in April 2020.

After 2016, the Moldovan Parliament adopted legislation that would strengthen the independence of decision making at the NCFM and NBM – to help address systemic supervisory problems that had a negative effect on Moldova’s financial sector. To strengthen the system of tracking shares and shareholders, with USAID assistance, authorities put in place a law establishing the aforementioned Centralized Securities Depository. In addition, all bank shares must be sold and purchased on the Moldovan Stock Exchange. These measures have improved the transparency and reliability of the financial sector.

NBM’s Banking Law of 2018 and the Bank Recovery and Resolution Law from 2016 bring the financial sector closer to harmonization with EU standards, including through the application of stronger risk-based supervision to banks, increased enforcement powers and monetary penalties applied to banks, structures to address problem banks, and strengthening the NBM’s ability to conduct risk assessments. Also, NBM required banks to increase their credit loss provisioning and take urgent action to reinforce internal risk management as well as procedures on related-party financing. In addition, the NBM developed a methodology to better identify the related parties at banks.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Moldova accepted Article VIII of the IMF Charter in 1995, which required liberalization of foreign exchange operations. There are no restrictions on the conversion or transfer of funds associated with foreign investment in Moldova. After the payment of taxes, foreign investors are permitted to repatriate residual funds. Residual fund transfers are not subject to any other duties or taxes and do not require special permissions. Moldova’s central bank uses a floating exchange rate regime and intervenes only to smooth sharp fluctuations.

Between late 2014 and early 2016, the national currency, the leu (plural lei), depreciated following challenges in the political environment, Russian bans on Moldovan food exports, and falling remittances from Russia, which impacted Moldova’s balance of payments. A massive banking fraud and a subsequent bailout program further undermined the leu, which depreciated by 36 percent. Since 2016, the National Bank has been pursuing a tight monetary policy that has contributed to a strengthening of the leu. In 2020, the national currency exchange rate fluctuated, but stabilized in the second half of the year.

Remittance Policies

No significant delays in the remittances of investment returns have been reported. Domestic commercial banks have accounts in leading multinational banks, and foreign investors enjoy the right to repatriate their earnings.

The Moldovan leu is the only accepted legal tender in the retail and service sectors in Moldova. Foreign exchange regulation of the NBM allows foreigners and residents to use foreign currencies in some current and capital transactions in the territory of Moldova. Generally, there are no difficulties associated with the exchange of foreign or local currency in Moldova.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The embassy is not aware of any sovereign wealth funds run by the government of Moldova.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Since gaining independence in 1992, Moldova has privatized most State-owned enterprises (SOEs), and most sectors of the economy are almost entirely in private hands. However, the government still fully or partially controls some enterprises operating in a variety of economic sectors. The major SOEs are northern electricity grids, Chisinau heating companies, fixed-line telephone operator Moldtelecom, and the state railway company. The government keeps a registry of state-owned assets, which is available on the website on the Public Property Agency http://www.app.gov.md/registrul-patrimoniului-public-3-384 .

SOEs are governed by the law on stock companies and the law on state enterprises as well as a number of governmental decisions. SOEs have boards of directors usually comprised of representatives of the line ministry, the Ministry of Economy and Infrastructure, and the Ministry of Finance. As a rule, SOEs report to the respective ministries, with those registered as joint stock companies being required to make their financial reports public. Moldova does not incorporate references to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance for SOEs in its normative acts.

Moldovan legislation does not formally discriminate between SOEs and private-run businesses. By law, governmental authorities must provide a level legal and economic playing field to all enterprises. However, SOEs are generally seen as better positioned to influence decision-makers than private sector competitors. In some cases, SOEs have allegedly used these advantages to prevent open competition in individual sectors.

The Law on Entrepreneurship and Enterprises has a list of activities restricted solely to SOEs, which includes, among others, human and animal medical research, manufacture of orders and medals, postal services (except express mail), sale and production of combat equipment and weapons, minting, and real estate registration.

Privatization Program

Moldova launched the first of several waves of privatization in 1994. In 2007, Parliament passed a new law governing management and privatization of SOEs. Two major privatizations in 2013 – of the then-largest bank, Banca de Economii, and the 49-year concession of the Chisinau Airport – subsequently proved highly controversial. Privatization efforts in 2014 and 2015 emphasized public-private partnerships as means for companies to gain access to SOEs in infrastructure-related projects. In 2018, the government held several rounds of privatization, selling its stake in 19 companies, including airline Air Moldova and gas interconnector Vestmoldtransgaz. In 2019, the government finished privatizing state tobacco company Tutun CTC, then announced a moratorium on all further privatizations, following controversies over past sales. The government resumed privatization in 2020, selling off MDL 420 million (USD 24.3 million) worth of state-owned assets in open outcry auctions.

To date, Moldova has conducted privatizations through open tenders organized at the stock exchange, open to interested investors. The government may also use open outcry auctions for some properties, so-called investment or commercial tenders to sell entire companies to buyers taking on investment commitments, or to the highest bidders or public-private partnerships for infrastructure related projects. The government publishes privatization announcements on the website of the Public Property Agency app.gov.md  and in the official journal Monitorul Oficial.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

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

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

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

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources to Report Corruption

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

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

10. Political and Security Environment

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

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

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

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

11. Labor Policies and Practices

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

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

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

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

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

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2020 $11,914 2020 $11,900 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $73.6 2019 $26.0 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 0 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 40.5% 2019 40.1% UNCTAD data available at https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/EconomicTrends/Fdi.html 

*National Bureau of Statistics and National Bank of Moldova are the primary source of the information. The FDI figure is preliminary.

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 4,269 100% Total Outward N/A N/A
Russia 869 20% N/A N/A N/A
Cyprus 716 17% N/A N/A N/A
The Netherlands 538 13% N/A N/A N/A
Romania 363 9% N/A N/A N/A
Germany 273 6% N/A N/A N/A
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

Note: Moldova does not submit data for the IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS). However, according to the National Bank of Moldova, the preliminary figure for total foreign portfolio investment amounted to USD 26.51 million in 2020. A breakdown by country for all portfolio investments is not available.

14. Contact for More Information

U.S. Embassy Chisinau, Moldova
Str. Alexei Mateevici 103
Chisinau MD 2009, Moldova
Main switchboard +373 (22) 40 83 00
Fax: +373 (22) 23 30 74/40 84 10
chisinaucommerce@state.gov 

Poland

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment

Poland welcomes foreign investment as a source of capital, growth, and jobs, and as a vehicle for technology transfer, research and development (R&D), and integration into global supply chains. The government’s Strategy for Responsible Development identified key goals for attracting investment, including improving the investment climate, a stable macroeconomic and regulatory environment, and high-quality corporate governance, including in state-controlled companies. By the end of 2019, according to IMF and National Bank of Poland data, Poland attracted around $234.9 billion (cumulative) in foreign direct investment (FDI), principally from Western Europe and the United States. In 2019, reinvested profits again dominated the net inflow of FDI to Poland. The greatest reinvestment of profits occurred in services and manufacturing, reflecting the change of Poland’s economy to a more service-oriented and less capital-intensive structure.

Foreign companies generally enjoy unrestricted access to the Polish market. However, Polish law limits foreign ownership of companies in selected strategic sectors, and limits acquisition of real estate, especially agricultural and forest land. Additionally, the current government has expressed a desire to increase the percentage of domestic ownership in some industries such as media, banking and retail which have large holdings by foreign companies, and has employed sectoral taxes and other measures to advance this aim. In March 2018, Sunday trading ban legislation went into effect, which has gradually phased out Sunday retail commerce in Poland, especially for large retailers. From 2020, the trade ban applies to all but seven Sundays a year. In 2020, a law was adopted requiring producers and importers of sugary and sweetened beverages to pay a fee. The government is planning to introduce (in mid-2021) an advertising tax – hailed as a “solidarity fee”- covering a wide array of entities including publishers, tech companies and cinemas. Only small media businesses would be exempt from the new levy. The revenue would support the National Health Fund, the National Fund for the Protection of National Monuments, and establish a new fund, the Media Support Fund for Culture and National Heritage, to support Polish culture and creators struggling due to the pandemic. Polish authorities have also publicly favored introducing a comprehensive digital services tax. The details of such a tax are unknown because no draft has been publicly released, but it would presumably affect mainly large foreign digital companies.

There are a variety of agencies involved in investment promotion:

The Ministry of Development has two departments involved in investment promotion and facilitation: the Investment Development and the Trade and International Relations Departments. The Deputy Minister supervising the Investment Development Department is also the ombudsman for foreign investors. https://www.gov.pl/web/przedsiebiorczosc-technologia/ 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) promotes Poland’s foreign relations including economic relations, and along with the Polish Chamber of Commerce (KIG), organizes missions of Polish firms abroad and hosts foreign trade missions to Poland. https://www.msz.gov.pl/ ; https://kig.pl/ 

The Polish Investment and Trade Agency (PAIH) is the main institution responsible for promotion and facilitation of foreign investment. The agency is responsible for promoting Polish exports, for inward foreign investment and for Polish investments abroad. The agency operates as part of the Polish Development Fund, which integrates government development agencies. PAIH coordinates all operational instruments, such as commercial diplomatic missions, commercial fairs and programs dedicated to specific markets and sectors. The Agency has opened offices abroad including in the United States (San Francisco and Washington, D.C, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and New York). PAIH’s services are available to all investors. https://www.paih.gov.pl/en 

The American Chamber of Commerce has established the American Investor Desk – an investor-dedicated know-how gateway providing comprehensive information on investing in Poland and investing in the USA: https://amcham.pl/american-investor-desk 

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Poland allows both foreign and domestic entities to establish and own business enterprises and engage in most forms of remunerative activity per the Entrepreneurs’ Law which went into effect on April 30, 2018. Forms of business activity are described in the Commercial Companies Code. Poland does place limits on foreign ownership and foreign equity for a limited number of sectors. Polish law limits non-EU citizens to 49 percent ownership of a company’s capital shares in the air transport, radio and television broadcasting, and airport and seaport operations sectors. Licenses and concessions for defense production and management of seaports are granted on the basis of national treatment for investors from OECD countries.

Pursuant to the Broadcasting Law, a television broadcasting company may only receive a license if the voting share of foreign owners does not exceed 49 percent and if the majority of the members of the management and supervisory boards are Polish citizens and hold permanent residence in Poland. In 2017, a team comprised of officials from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) and the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) was created in order to review and tighten restrictions on large media and limit foreign ownership of the media. While no legislation has been introduced, there is concern that possible future proposals may limit foreign ownership of the media sector as suggested by governing party politicians.

Over the past five years, Poland’s ranking on Reporters without Borders’ Press Freedom Index has dropped from 18th to 62nd. The governing Law and Justice (PiS) party aims to decrease foreign ownership of media, particularly outlets critical of their governing coalition. Approaches have included proposals to set caps on foreign ownership, the use of a state-controlled companies to purchase media, and the application of economic tools (taxes, fines, advertising revenue) to pressure foreign and independent media. In the insurance sector, at least two management board members, including the chair, must speak Polish. The Law on Freedom of Economic Activity (LFEA) requires companies to obtain government concessions, licenses, or permits to conduct business in certain sectors, such as broadcasting, aviation, energy, weapons/military equipment, mining, and private security services. The LFEA also requires a permit from the Ministry of Development for certain major capital transactions (i.e., to establish a company when a wholly or partially Polish-owned enterprise has contributed in-kind to a company with foreign ownership by incorporating liabilities in equity, contributing assets, receivables, etc.). A detailed description of business activities that require concessions and licenses can be found here: https://www.paih.gov.pl/publications/how_to_do_business_in_Poland 

Polish law restricts foreign investment in certain land and real estate. Land usage types such as technology and industrial parks, business and logistic centers, transport, housing plots, farmland in special economic zones, household gardens and plots up to two hectares are exempt from agricultural land purchase restrictions. Since May 2016, foreign citizens from European Economic Area member states, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway, as well as Switzerland, do not need permission to purchase any type of real estate including agricultural land. Investors from outside of the EEA or Switzerland need to obtain a permit from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration (with the consent of the Defense and Agriculture Ministries), pursuant to the Act on Acquisition of Real Estate by Foreigners, prior to the acquisition of real estate or shares which give control of a company holding or leasing real estate. The permit is valid for two years from the day of issuance, and the ministry can issue a preliminary document valid for one year. Permits may be refused for reasons of social policy or public security. The exceptions to this rule include purchases of an apartment or garage, up to 0.4 hectares of undeveloped urban land, and “other cases provided for by law” (generally: proving a particularly close connection with Poland). Laws to restrict farmland and forest purchases (with subsequent amendments) came into force April 30, 2016 and are addressed in more detail in Section 5, Protection of Property Rights.

Since September 2015, the Act on the Control of Certain Investments has provided for the national security-related screening of acquisitions in high-risk sectors including: energy generation and distribution; petroleum production, processing and distribution; telecommunications; media; mining; and manufacturing and trade of explosives, weapons and ammunition. Poland maintains a list of strategic companies which can be amended at any time, but is updated at least once a year, usually in late December. The national security review mechanism does not appear to constitute a de facto barrier for investment and does not unduly target U.S. investment. According to the Act, prior to the acquisition of shares of strategic companies (including the acquisition of proprietary interests in entities and/or their enterprises) the purchaser (foreign or local) must notify the controlling government body and receive approval. The obligation to inform the controlling government body applies to transactions involving the acquisition of a “material stake” in companies subject to special protection. The Act stipulates that failure to notify carries a fine of up to PLN 100,000,000 ($25,000,000) or a penalty of imprisonment between six months and five years (or both penalties together) for a person acting on behalf of a legal person or organizational unit that acquires a material stake without prior notification.

As part of the COVID-19 Anti-Crisis Shield, on June 24, 2020, new legislation entered into force extending significantly the FDI screening mechanism in Poland for 24 months. An acquisition from a country that is not a member of the EU, the EEA, or the OECD requires prior clearance from the President of the Polish Competition Authority if it targets a company generating turnover exceeding EUR 10 million (almost $12 million) that either: 1) is a publicly-listed company, 2) controls assets classified as critical infrastructure, 3) develops or maintains software crucial for vital processes (e.g., utilities systems, financial transactions, food distribution, transport and logistics, health care systems); 4) conducts business in one of 21 specific industries, including energy, gas and oil production, storage, distribution and transportation; manufacture of chemicals, pharmaceuticals and medical instruments; telecommunications; and food processing. The State Assets Ministry is preparing similar and more permanent measures.

In November 2019, the governing Law and Justice party reestablished a treasury ministry, known as the State Assets Ministry, to consolidate the government’s control over state-owned enterprises. The government dissolved Poland’s energy ministry, transferring that agency’s mandate to the State Assets Ministry. The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State Assets announced he would seek to consolidate state-owned companies with similar profiles, including merging Poland’s largest state-owned oil and gas firm PKN Orlen with state-owned Lotos Group. At the same time, the government is working on changing the rules of governing state-owned companies to have better control over the firms’ activities. In September 2020, a new government plenipotentiary for the transformation of energy companies and coal mining was appointed.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The government has not undergone any third-party investment policy review through a multilateral organization,

The OECD published its 2020 survey of Poland. It can be found here: https://www.oecd.org/economy/poland-economic-snapshot/ 

Additionally, the OECD Working Group on Bribery has provided recommendations on the implementation of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in Poland here:  https://www.oecd.org/poland/poland-should-urgently-implement-reforms-to-boost-fight-against-foreign-bribery-and-preserve-independence-of-prosecutors-and-judges.htm 

Business Facilitation

In 2020, government activities and regulations focused primarily on addressing challenges related to the outbreak of the pandemic.

The Polish government has continued to implement reforms aimed at improving the investment climate with a special focus on the SME sector and innovations. Poland reformed its R&D tax incentives with new regulations and changes encouraging wider use of the R&D tax breaks. As of January 1, 2019, a new mechanism reducing the tax rate on income derived from intellectual property rights (IP Box) was introduced. Please see Section 5, Protection of Property Rights of this report for more information.

A package of five laws referred to as the “Business Constitution”—intended to facilitate the operation of small domestic enterprises—was gradually introduced in 2018. The main principle of the Business Constitution is the presumption of innocence of business owners in dealings with the government.

Poland made enforcing contracts easier by introducing an automated system to assign cases to judges randomly. Despite these reforms and others, some investors have expressed serious concerns regarding over-regulation, over-burdened courts and prosecutors, and overly burdensome bureaucratic processes. Tax audit methods have changed considerably. For instance, in many cases an appeal against the findings of an audit must now be lodged with the authority that issued the initial finding rather than a higher authority or third party. Poland also enabled businesses to get electricity service faster by implementing a new customer service platform that allows the utility to better track applications for new commercial connections.

The Ministry of Finance and the National Tax Administration have launched an e-Tax Office, available online at https://www.podatki.gov.pl/ . The website, which will be constructed in stages through September 2022, will make it possible to settle all tax matters in a single user-friendly digital location. digital location.

In Poland, business activity may be conducted in the forms of a sole proprietor, civil law partnership, as well as commercial partnerships and companies regulated in provisions of the Commercial Partnerships and Companies Code. Sole proprietor and civil law partnerships are registered in the Central Registration and Information on Business (CEIDG), which is housed with the Ministry of Development here:  https://prod.ceidg.gov.pl/CEIDG.CMS.ENGINE/?D;f124ce8a-3e72-4588-8380-63e8ad33621f 

Commercial companies are classified as partnerships (registered partnership, professional partnership, limited partnership, and limited joint-stock partnership) and companies (limited liability company and joint-stock company). A partnership or company is registered in the National Court Register (KRS) and maintained by the competent district court for the registered office of the established partnership or company. Local corporate lawyers report that starting a business remains costly in terms of time and money, though KRS registration in the National Court Register averages less than two weeks according to the Ministry of Justice and four weeks according to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report. A 2018 law introduced a new type of company—PSA (Prosta Spółka Akcyjna – Simple Joint Stock Company). PSAs are meant to facilitate start-ups with simpler and cheaper registration procedures. The minimum initial capitalization is 1 PLN ($0.25) while other types of registration require 5,000 PLN ($1,274) or 50,000 PLN ($12,737). A PSA has a board of directors, which merges the responsibilities of a management board and a supervisory board. The provision for PSAs will enter into force in July 2021.

On August 5, 2020, the Government Legislation Center published the detailed assumptions of a draft amendment to the Commercial Companies Code developed by the Commission for Owner Oversight Reform with the Ministry of State Assets. The draft amendment’s primary assumption is to enact a so-called “holding law,” laying down the principles of how a parent company may instruct its subsidiaries, as well as stipulating the parent company’s liability and the principles of creditor, officer, and minority shareholder protections. Apart from introducing the holding law, the draft provides for several additional regulations, including those enhancing the supervisory board’s position, both within the holding law framework and for companies not comprising any group. The amendment is projected to come into force sometime in 2021.

On January 1, 2021, a new law on public procurement entered into force. This law was adopted by the Polish Parliament on September 11, 2019. The new law aims to reorganize the public procurement system and further harmonize it with EU law. The new public procurement law is also more transparent than the previous act.

Beginning in July 2021, an electronic system must be used for all applications submitted in registration proceedings by commercial companies disclosed in the National Court Register, i.e., both applications for registration, deletion, and any changes in the register.

A certified e-signature may be obtained from one of the commercial e-signature providers listed on the following website:  https://www.nccert.pl/ 

National Court Register (KRS): https://www.gov.pl/web/gov/uslugi-dla-przedsiebiorcy 

Agencies with which a business will need to file in order to register in the KRS include:

Central Statistical Office to register for a business identification number (REGON) for civil-law partnership http://bip.stat.gov.pl/en/regon/subjects-and-data-included-in-the-register/ 

ZUS – Social Insurance Agency http://www.zus.pl/pl/pue/rejestracja 

Ministry of Finance http://www.mf.gov.pl/web/bip/wyniki-wyszukiwania/?q=business percent20registration 

Both registers (KRS and REGON) are available in English and foreign companies may use them.

Poland’s Single Point of Contact site for business registration and information is: https://www.biznes.gov.pl/en/ 

Outward Investment

The Polish Agency for Investment and Trade (PAIH), under the umbrella of the Polish Development Fund (PFR), plays a key role in promoting Polish investment abroad. More information on PFR can be found in Section 7, State-Owned Enterprises and at its website: https://pfr.pl/ 

PAIH has 70 offices worldwide, including six in the United States.

PAIH assists entrepreneurs with administrative and legal procedures related to specific projects as well as with the development of legal solutions and with finding suitable locations, and reliable partners and suppliers.

The Agency implements pro-export projects such as “Polish Tech Bridges” dedicated to the outward expansion of innovative Polish SMEs.

Poland is a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Poland co-founded and actively supports the Three Seas Initiative, which seeks to improve north-south connections in road, energy, and telecom infrastructure in 12 countries on NATO’s and the EU’s eastern flank.

Under the Government Financial Support for Exports Program, the national development bank BGK (Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego) grants foreign buyers financing for the purchase of Polish goods and services. The program provides the following financing instruments: credit for buyers granted through the buyers’ bank; credit for buyers granted directly from BGK; the purchase of receivables on credit from the supplier under an export contract; documentary letters of credit post-financing; the discounting of receivables from documentary letters of credit; confirmation of documentary letters of credit; and export pre-financing. BGK has international offices in London and Frankfurt.

In May 2019, BGK and the Romanian development bank EximBank founded the Three Seas Fund, a commercial initiative to support the development of transport, energy and digital infrastructure in Central and Eastern Europe. As of March 2021, there were nine core sponsors involved in the Fund.

In July 2019, BGK, the European Investment Bank, and four other development banks (French Deposits and Consignments Fund, Italian Deposits and Loans Fund, the Spanish Official Credit Institute, and German Credit Institute for Reconstruction), began the implementation of the “Joint Initiative on Circular Economy” (JICE), the goal of which is to eliminate waste, prevent its generation and increase the efficiency of resource management. PFR TFI S.A, an entity also under the umbrella of PFR, supports Polish investors planning to or already operating abroad. PFR TFI manages the Foreign Expansion Fund (FEZ), which provides loans, on market terms, to foreign entities owned by Polish entrepreneurs. See https://www.pfrtfi.pl/  and https://pfr.pl/en/offer/foreign-expansion-fund.html 

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

A current list of all Poland’s BITs, including the documents themselves, can be found at: https://investmentpolicy.unctad.org/international-investment-agreements/countries/168/poland 

The United States and Poland signed a Treaty Concerning Business and Economic Relations in 1990 that was amended and re-ratified in October 2004 due to Poland’s entrance into the EU. In May 2020, all EU-member states, except Sweden, Finland, Austria and Ireland (Ireland is not a party to any intra-EU BITs), signed an agreement on the termination of intra-EU BITs. This agreement will terminate several intra-EU BITs which Poland still has or terminate the sunset clauses of the treaties already denounced by Poland. Sweden, Finland and Austria have announced their intention to sign bilateral agreements with Poland terminating the “sunset clauses” of the BITs denounced by Poland.     Poland has signed double taxation treaties with over 80 countries. The United States shares a double taxation treaty with Poland; an updated bilateral tax treaty was signed in February 2013 and is awaiting U.S. ratification. The “Agreement between the United States of America and the Republic of Poland on Social Security” prevents double taxation, enables resumption of payments to suspended beneficiaries, and allows transfer of benefit eligibility. The double taxation treaty does not cover stock options as part of remuneration packages, according to some investors.The Polish tax system underwent significant changes in 2018, many of which became effective in 2019, 2020 or will become effective in 2021. The most important changes involved:

  • An obligatory split payment mechanism;
  • A “White List” of VAT taxpayers (along with their VAT numbers and bank account details) and tax-deductible costs;
    Relief from income taxes for bad debts;
  • Major changes to the processes for “withholding tax” (postponed until 30 June 2021);
  • A new matrix of VAT rates;
  • The replacement of VAT returns with a new Uniform Control File (JPK) structure;
  • An agreement on cooperation in tax matters;
  • Incentives for registering intellectual property, a.k.a. “IP Box” (See Section 5 for more details); and
    New rules for accounting for tax loss.

More information can be found at http://taxsummaries.pwc.com/ID/Poland-Overview 

With a regulatory update in November 2020, Poland adopted several major changes on the taxation of businesses. The changes include the double taxation of some partnerships; deferral of corporate income tax (CIT) for small companies owned by individuals; an obligation for large companies to publish their tax strategies; and a new model of taxation for real estate companies.

Limited partnerships: The key update on limited partnerships (spolka komandytowa) imposes the status of “corporate profits taxpayer” for those with a seat or place of management in Poland, which previously had been tax transparent. The model results in double taxation: firstly on the level of the partnership’s profit, and secondly at the level of profit distribution to the partners. Limited partners will be entitled to an exemption on 50% of received distributions, but only up to approximately PLN 60,000 ($16,000 per year per limited partnership.

General partners (those with unlimited liability) will be entitled to credit proportionally for the entire income tax paid by the partnership, but only within five years. Thus, the new system will differentiate the tax position of limited and unlimited partners. The above regulations entered into force on January 1 2021. These rules will also apply to general partnerships (spolka jawaa) but only if the partners are not individuals, or if the taxpayers participating in their profits are not disclosed. General partnerships with disclosed partners will still be tax transparent.

Deferral of corporate income tax: Lump sum taxation, being a sort of deferral of income tax until the moment of dividend distribution, will apply to companies which select such a system for four years. Companies will have to be owned by individuals, have an annual turnover in the preceding year of up to approximately EUR 25 million, and not have shares in other entities or passive income exceeding 50% of turnover. There are other requirements and conditions for this system to apply, including consideration of employment, and investments in new assets.

Tax Strategies: Companies with a turnover exceeding EUR 50 million per year and tax capital groups will be obliged to prepare and publish strategy reports on the execution of their tax policy on their websites within 12 months following the end of the tax year.

Real estate companies – New model of taxation: Real estate companies will have a series of new duties to perform. For example, when a shareholder in the company sells shares, the company is required to pay any capital gains tax. Some real estate companies will be obliged to appoint a formal tax representative, and many will have to report information about their shareholders (those holding over 5 percent of shares).

Other changes include:

  • Entities operating in special economic zones (SEZs) will not be entitled to change the depreciation rates for new assets.
  • Losses carried forward will not be possible after further reorganizations.
  • Transfer pricing documentation will be required when the beneficial owner of the party to a transaction is from a tax haven.
  • A reduced 9 percent CIT rate will apply to companies with a turnover of up to EUR 2 million (increased from EUR 1.2 million).

As of January 1, 2021, retail outlets with high sales volume are required to pay additional taxes in Poland. While the Retail Sales Tax Act technically entered into force on September 1, 2016, no taxes were collected prior to 2021 due to questions from the European Commission (EC) about the legality of the tax. On March 16, 2021, the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) issued a judgment on the compatibility of Poland’s tax on retail sales with the EU law on state aid. The ECJ found that the Polish retail sales tax does not infringe EU law. The European Commission has announced that it will carefully analyze the ECJ’s verdict. This tax is levied on revenues from retail sales exceeding PLN 17 million ($4.3 million) in a given month. Two tax rates apply:

  • 0.8 percent of the tax base – applicable to revenues between PLN 17 million and PLN 170 million ($43 million);
  • 1.4 percent of the tax base over PLN 170 million ($43 million).

The retail sales tax is payable on a monthly basis, no later than the 25th day of the month following the month in which the revenue was earned.

Some U.S. investors have expressed concern that Poland’s tax authorities do not consistently uphold presumably binding tax decisions and sometimes seek retroactive payments after a reversal. Over the last three years, changes to the regulations on transfer pricing, withholding tax and value added tax (VAT) reporting have significantly increased the obligations on the part of taxpayers, in line with a long-term government strategy of increasing tax collection and the effectiveness of inspections. In 2020, tax offices carried out nearly one-fifth fewer audits than in 2019. Lower activity was the effect of restrictions and staffing problems during the pandemic. Irregularities were found more often, but the amount recovered to the budget was lower. This trend has been observed for a few years and shows that the tax system is being effectively sealed and taxpayers are more accurately selected for audits. The number of tax inspections is likely to increase in 2021 to confirm funds from Anti-Crisis Shield programs were not misused.

On February 2, the Polish government published a draft bill for a tax on revenues earned from digital and conventional advertising. Officially the bill was titled “the Act on additional revenue for the National Health Fund, the National Fund for the Protection of Historical Monuments, and the creation of a Media Support Fund for Culture and National Heritage.” The government has claimed the tax, which it refers to as a “solidarity levy,” is necessary to address the long-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, with economic winners supporting economic losers. The tax would apply rates from 2 to 15 percent of revenues earned and would enter into force on July 1, 2021. Media and digital companies have protested the proposed tax, and some have expressed concern that it could irreparably harm struggling media outlets and adversely affect independent journalism in Poland. The government continues to work on the bill.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Regulatory Considerations

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

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

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

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

Legal System and Judicial Independence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

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

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

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

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

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

Competition and Antitrust Laws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expropriation and Compensation

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

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

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

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

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

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

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

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

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

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

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

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

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

Bankruptcy Regulations

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

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

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Poland’s Plan for Responsible Development identified eight industries for development and incentives: aviation, defense, automotive parts manufacturing, ship building, information technology, chemicals, furniture manufacturing and food processing.  More information about the plan can be found at this link:  https://www.gov.pl/web/fundusze-regiony/plan-na-rzecz-odpowiedzialnego-rozwoju.  Poland encourages energy sector development through its energy policy, outlined in the November 2018 published draft report “Energy Policy of Poland until 2040” (PEP2040) and finally adopted by the government in February 2021.  The policy can be found at:  https://www.gov.pl/web/klimat/polityka-energetyczna-polski.

The policy foresees a primary role for fossil fuels until 2040 as well as strong growth in electricity production.  The government will continue to pursue developing nuclear energy and offshore wind power generation, as well as distributed generation.  The policy remains skeptical of onshore wind.  Poland’s National Energy and Climate Plan for years 2021-2030 (NECP PL) developed in line with the EU Regulation on the Governance of the Energy and Climate Action, together with PEP2040, pave the road to the new European Green Deal.  Poland may spend approximately $420 billion on the transformation of its energy sector in 2021-2040, according to the energy policy.  These investments would include about $230 billion in the fuel and energy sectors and about $90 billion in the generation segment, of which 80 percent will be spent on nuclear energy and renewables investments.

A new economic program called the “New Deal” (Nowy Lad), still awaiting public presentation as of March 2020, is likely to include proposals of significant changes to the tax system including incentives to attract capital to Poland.  The government claims the program consists of support schemes for domestic enterprises, new investment and development projects, as well as reforms of the healthcare system, social welfare, education, environmental, and energy policies.

A government strategy aims for a commercial 5G network to be operational in all cities by 2025.

The Ministry of Development has finished public consultations on its Industry Development White Paper, which identifies the government’s views on its most significant barriers to industrial activity.  This document will serve as a foundation for Poland’s Industrial Policy (PIP). The majority of public comments received focused on issues related to the education system not being tailored to the needs of industry, a workforce deficit, difficulties in obtaining funding, for R&D, environmental regulations, complex administrative procedures and legislation, labor regulations, and high energy prices.  The PIP is slated to become a strategic document, setting the direction for long-term industrial development.  The PIP will focus on five areas:  digitization, security, industrial production location, the Green Deal, and modern society.  The Ministry expects to finalize this strategic plan during the second quarter of 2021.  The government has not yet clarified how Poland’s Industrial Policy will align with other strategic documents, including the National Recovery Plan and the New Deal.

A company investing in Poland, either foreign or domestic, may receive assistance from the Polish government.  Foreign investors have the potential to access certain incentives such as:  income tax and real estate tax exemptions; investment grants of up to 50 percent of investment costs (70 percent for small and medium-sized enterprises); grants for research and development; grants for other activities such as environmental protection, training, logistics, or use of renewable energy sources.

Large priority-sector investments may qualify for the “Program for Supporting Investment of Considerable Importance for the Polish Economy for 2011-2030.”  The program, amended in October 2019, is one of the instruments enabling support for new investment projects, particularly relevant for the Polish economy.  Its main goal is to increase innovation and the competitiveness of the Polish economy.  Under the amended program, it is possible to co-finance large strategic investments as well as medium-sized innovative projects.  Projects that adapt modern technologies and provide for research and development activities are awarded.  The program is also conducive to establishing cooperation between the economic sector and academic centers.  The support is granted in the form of a subsidy, based on an agreement concluded between the Minister of Development and the investor.  The agreement regulates the conditions for the payment of subsidies and the investment implementation schedule.  Under the program, investment support may be granted in two categories: eligible costs for creating new jobs and investment costs in tangible and intangible assets.  Companies can learn more at: https://www.paih.gov.pl/why_poland/investment_incentives/programme_for_supporting_investments_of_major_importance_to_the_polish_economy_for_2011_-_2030

https://www.gov.pl/web/rozwoj/program-wspierania-inwestycji-o-istotnym-znaczeniu-dla-gospodarki-polskiej-na-lata-2011-2030

The Polish Investment Zone (PSI), the new system of tax incentives for investors which replaced the previous system of special economic zones (SEZ), was launched September 5, 2018.  Under the new law on the PSI, companies can apply for a corporate income tax (CIT) exemption for a new investment to be placed anywhere in Poland.  The CIT exemption is calculated based on the value of the investment multiplied by the percentage of public aid allocated for a given region based on its level of development (set percentage).  The CIT exemption is for 10-15 years, depending on the location of the investment.  Special treatment is available for investment in new business services and research and development (R&D).  A point system determines eligibility for the incentives.  Entities operating in special economic zones will not be entitled to change the depreciation rates for new assets starting 2021.

The deadline for utilizing available tax credits from the previous SEZ system is the end of 2026 (extended from 2020).  The new regulations also contain important changes for entities already operating in SEZs, even if they do not plan new investment projects.  This includes the possibility of losing the right to tax incentives in the event of fraud or tax evasion.  Investors should consider carefully the potential benefits of the CIT exemption in assessing new investments or expansion of existing investments in Poland.

More information on government financial support:  https://www.paih.gov.pl/why_poland/investment_incentives

The Polish government is seeking to increase Poland’s economic competitiveness by shifting toward a knowledge-based economy.  Public and private sector investment in R&D has been steadily growing since 2016, supported by EU funds dedicated to R&D and innovation.  Businesses may also take advantage of the EU primary research funding program, Horizon 2020 and its successor Horizon Europe.  The EU institutions set the 2021–2027 budget for Horizon Europe at EUR 95.5 billion (including EUR 5.4 billion from the Next Generation of the EU  Recovery Fund).  The first Horizon Europe Strategic Plan (2021-2024), which sets out key strategic orientations for the support of research and innovation, was adopted on March 15, 2021.  According to the European Commission, the program will start “as soon as possible in 2021.”  A few months’ delay in the start should not have a big impact on potential grantees because the Commission had already been making contingency plans and will still be spending money left over from Horizon 2020 over the next few years.  The conditions for participation, funding and other related formalities remain unchanged.

More information is available at:

Ministry of Funds and Regional Development:  https://www.gov.pl/web/fundusze-regiony/otwarte-konkursy-nabory-dotacje-i-dofinansowania

Ministry of Economic Development: https://www.gov.pl/web/rozwoj/programy-i-projekty

Horizon Europe 2021-2027:  https://ec.europa.eu/info/horizon-europe_en#proposal

As of January 1, 2019, the Innovation Box, or IP Box, reduces the tax rate applicable to income derived from intellectual property rights to 5 percent.  Taxpayers applying the IP Box shall be entitled to benefit from the tax preference until a given right expires (in case of a patented invention – 20 years).  In order to benefit from the program, taxpayers will be obliged to separately account for the relevant income.  Foreign investors may take advantage of this benefit as long as the relevant IP is registered in Poland.

The update of the National Reform Program (NRP) heralds the introduction of a new incentive measure for enterprises in the form of tax relief related to investments in automation and robotization (robotization relief).  According to an announcement from the Ministry of Finance, robotization relief should apply as of the first half of 2021.  Robotization relief is intended as a tax incentive available to all entities subject to income tax.  At the same time, eligibility for the relief will not depend on the business sector in which the enterprise operates or business size, making this solution available to all.  The new tax relief will operate in a similar manner as the existing research & development tax relief enabling taxpayers to make an additional deduction of eligible costs (expenses detailed in an exhaustive list) from the tax base.  Within the framework of robotization relief, it will be possible to deduct 50 percent of the eligible costs. According to the draft, the relief will apply within a specific time frame.  It has been announced that robotization relief will apply to expenses incurred on business robotization and automation in the years 2021-2025.  The deductions can be made in these years and in the six consecutive years thereafter.  It means that the last deductions of eligible expenses can be made in 2031.

There are numerous grants, preferential loans, and other financial instruments to encourage investment that protects the environment by increasing energy efficiency and to promote renewable energy sources and cogeneration systems.  Incentives are available mostly from EU funds and national funds and can cover up to 85 percent of eligible costs.

The Polish government does not issue sovereign guarantees for FDI projects.  Co-financing may be possible for partnering on large FDI projects, such as the planned central airport project or a nuclear power plant project.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Foreign-owned firms have the same opportunities as Polish firms to benefit from foreign trade zones (FTZs), free ports, and special economic zones (since January 2019, they make up the Polish Investment Zone).  The 2004 Customs Law (with later amendments) regulates operation of FTZs in Poland.  The Minister of Finance establishes duty-free zones.  The Ministers designate the zone’s managing authorities, usually provincial governors, who issue operating permits to interested companies for a given zone.

Most activity in FTZs involves storage, packaging, and repackaging.  As of April 2019, there were seven FTZs:  Gliwice, near Poland’s southern border; Terespol, near Poland’s border with Belarus; Mszczonow, near Warsaw; Warsaw’s Frederic Chopin International Airport; Szczecin; Swinoujscie; and Gdansk.  Duty-free shops are available only for travelers to non-EU countries.

There are bonded warehouses in:  Bydgoszcz-Szwederowo; Krakow-Balice; Wroclaw-Strachowice; Katowice-Pyrzowice; Gdansk-Trojmiasto; Lodz -Lublinek; Poznan-Lawica; Rzeszow-Jasionka, Warszawa-Modlin, Lublin, Szczecin-Goleniow; Radom-Sadkow, Olsztyn-Mazury.  Commercial companies can operate bonded warehouses.  Customs and storage facilities must operate pursuant to custom authorities’ permission.  Only legal persons established in the EU can receive authorization to operate a customs warehouse.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Poland has no policy of “forced localization” designed to force foreign investors to use domestic content in goods or technology.  Investment incentives apply equally to foreign and domestic firms.  Over 40 percent of firms in Special Economic Zones are Polish.  There is little data on localization requirements in Poland and there are no requirements for foreign information technology (IT) providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to surveillance (backdoors into hardware and software or turn over keys for encryption).  Exceptions exist in sectors where data are important for national security such as critical telecommunications infrastructure and in gambling.  The cross-border transfer rules in Poland are reasonable and follow international best practices, although some companies have criticized registration requirements as cumbersome.  In Poland, the Telecommunications Law (Act of 16 July 2004 – unified text, Journal of Laws 2018, item 1954) includes data retention provisions.  The data retention period is 12 months.

In the telecommunication sector, the Office of Electronic Communication (UKE) ensures telecommunication operators fulfill their obligations.  In radio and television, the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) acts as the regulator.  Polish regulations protect an individual’s personal data that are collected in Poland regardless of where the data are physically stored.  The Personal Data Protection Office (UODO) enforces personal data regulations.

Work is underway at the national level on the draft of a new Act on Open Data and Re-use of Public Sector Information.  This work follows adoption of the new Open Data Directive (Directive (EU) 2019/1024 on open data and the re-use of public sector information), which should be implemented into Polish law by July 17, 2021.

Post is not aware of excessively onerous visa, residence permit or similar requirements inhibiting mobility of foreign investors and their employees, though investors regularly note long processing times due to understaffing at regional employment offices.  U.S. companies have reported difficulties obtaining work permits for their non-EU citizen employees.  Both regulatory challenges and administrative delays result in permit processing times of 3 to 12 months.  This affects the hiring of new employees as well as the transfer of existing employees from outside Poland.  U.S. companies have complained they are losing highly-qualified employees to other destinations, such as Germany, where labor markets are more accessible.  The problem is especially acute in southern Poland.

Generally, Poland does not mandate local employment, but there are a few regulations that place de facto restrictions e.g., a certain number of board members of insurance companies must speak Polish.

Polish law limits non-EU citizens to 49 percent ownership of a company’s capital shares in the air transport, radio and television broadcasting sectors as well as airport and seaport operations.  There are also legal limits on foreign ownership of farm and forest lands as outlined in Section 2 of this report under Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment.  Pursuant to the Broadcasting Law, a TV broadcasting company may only receive a license if the voting share of its foreign owners does not exceed 49 percent and if they hold permanent residence in Poland.  In the insurance sector, at least two members of management boards, including the chair, must speak Polish.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Poland recognizes and enforces secured interests in property, movable and real. The concept of a mortgage exists in Poland, and there is a recognized system of recording such secured interests. There are two types of publicly available land registers in Poland: the land and mortgage register (ksiegi wieczyste), the purpose of which is to register titles to land and encumbrances thereon; and the land and buildings register (ewidencja gruntow i budynkow), the function of which is more technical as it contains information concerning physical features of the land, class of land and its use. Generally, real estate in Poland is registered and legal title can be identified on the basis of entries in the land and mortgage registers which are maintained by relevant district courts. Each register is accessible to the public and excerpts are available on application, subject to a nominal fee. The registers are available online.

Poland has a non-discriminatory legal system accessible to foreign investors that protects and facilitates acquisition and disposition of all property rights, including land, buildings, and mortgages. However, foreigners (both individuals and entities) must obtain a permit to acquire property (See Section 1 Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment). Many investors, foreign and domestic, complain the judicial system is slow in adjudicating property rights cases. Under the Polish Civil Code, a contract to buy real property must be made in the form of a notary deed. Foreign companies and individuals may lease real property in Poland without having to obtain a permit.

Widespread nationalization of property during and after World War II has complicated the ability to establish clear title to land in Poland, especially in major municipalities.  While the Polish government has an administrative system for reviewing claims for the restitution of communal property, former individual property owners must file and pursue claims in the Polish court system in order to receive restitution.  There is no general statute of limitations regarding the filing or litigation of private property restitution claims, but there are exceptions for specific cases.  For example, in cases involving the communist-era nationalization of Warsaw under the Bierut Decree, there were claims deadlines that have now passed, and under current law, those who did not meet the deadlines would no longer be able to make a claim for either restitution or compensation.  During 2020, Warsaw city authorities continued implementing a 2015 Law dubbed the Small Reprivatization Act.  This Law aimed to stop the problem of speculators purchasing Warsaw property claims for low values from the original owners or their heirs and then applying for a perpetual usufruct or compensation as the new legal owner.  On September 17, 2020, Parliament adopted further amendments to the 2015 law.  The revised legislation established new grounds on which the City of Warsaw must refuse the return of properties, for reasons outside claimants’ control. The president signed the legislation on September 29. NGOs and advocacy groups expressed serious concerns that the 2015 law fell short of providing just compensation to former owners who lost property as a result of the nationalization of properties by the communist-era government, and also properties taken during the Holocaust era. Legal experts expressed concern that the law limited the ability of petitioners to reclaim property unjustly taken from their lawful owners. The World Jewish Restitution Organization asserted that the time limits included in the law were insufficient for potential claimants, particularly Holocaust survivors and their heirs, to meet difficult documentary requirements.

Critics state the law might extinguish potential claims by private individuals of properties seized during World War II or the communist era, if no one comes forward to pursue a restitution claim within the time limit.  Any potential claimants who come forward within six months after publication of the affected property by the City of Warsaw will have an additional three months to establish their claim.  The city began publishing lists in 2017 and continued to do so during 2021.  The city’s website contains further information on these cases and the process to pursue a claim:  https://bip.warszawa.pl/Menu_podmiotowe/biura_urzedu/SD/ogloszenia/default.htm 

It is sometimes difficult to establish clear title to properties.  There are no comprehensive estimates of land without clear title in Poland.

The 2016 Agricultural Land Law banned the sale of state-owned farmland under the administration of the National Center for Support of Agriculture (NCSA) for five years.  Long-term state-owned farmland leases are available for farmers looking to expand their operations up to 300 hectares.  Foreign investors can (and do) lease agricultural land.  The 2016 Agricultural Land Law also imposed restrictions on sales of privately-owned farmland, giving the NCSA preemptive right of purchase.

The 2011 amendment to the law of Management of Farmland Administered by NCSA and 2016 Agricultural Land Law adversely affected tenants with long-term state-owned land leases.  According to the law, renters who did not return 30 percent of the land under lease to NCSA would not be eligible to have their leases extended beyond the current terms of the contract.  Currently, several entities, including U.S. companies, face the prospect of returning some currently leased land to the Polish government over the coming years.  Three of these entities appealed to the Ombudsman, who requested the Constitutional Tribunal (CT) to verify the law’s compliance with the constitution, but the cases were dismissed by the CT in the fall of 2020.  In June 2019, the Polish Parliament amended the Agricultural Land Law to loosen land sale requirements.  The amendment increased the size of private agricultural land, from 0.3 to 1.0 hectare that could be sold without the approval of the NCSA.  The new owner is not allowed to sell the land for five years.  The 2019 amendment did not change the land lease situation for larger operators, many of whom continue to remain ineligible to have their land leases extended.  The Law on Forest Land similarly prevents Polish and foreign investors from purchasing privately-held forests and gives state-owned entities (Lasy Panstwowe) preemptive right to buy privately-held forest land.

On March 9, 2021, the Council of Ministers approved a draft law amending the 2016 Agricultural Land Law. The amendment extends the ban on selling state-owned farmland under the administration of the NCSA for another five years, until May 1, 2026. If the draft amendment of the Agricultural Land Law is approved by Parliament, it will enter into force on May 1, 2021. The 2021 amendment will not change the land lease situation for larger operators, who will remain ineligible to have their land leases extended.

Intellectual Property Rights

Polish intellectual property rights (IPR) law is more strict than European Commission directives require.  Poland is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and a party to many of its treaties, including the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. Enforcement is improving across all sectors of Poland’s IPR regime.  Physical piracy (e.g., optical discs) is not a significant problem in Poland.  However, despite progress in enforcement, online piracy continues to be widespread as site blocking is still not possible in Poland due to lack of implementation of relevant EU legislation. A popular Polish cyberlocker platform is included on the 2020 Notorious Markets List. Poland does not appear in the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 Report.

Polish law requires a rights holder to start the prosecution process.  In Poland, authors’ and creators’ organizations and associations track violations and share these with prosecutors.  Rights holders express concern that penalties for digital IPR infringement are not high enough to deter violators.

In March 2019, amendments to the Act on Industrial Property Law came into force which are intended to implement EU Trademark Directive 2015/2436. The legislation introduced, inter alia, the abandonment of the graphical representation requirement, a new mechanism for trademark protection renewals, extended licensee’s rights, as well as remedies against counterfeit goods in transit and against infringing preparatory acts. The changes provide new tools to fight against infringement of trademark rights.

In April 2019, the EU adopted two directives on copyright, including: 2019/790 on copyright and related rights in the digital single market and 2019/789 regarding online broadcasting and re-broadcasting. Member states are required to transpose the reforms into national legislation by June 2021. The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage is responsible for drafting and implementing the legislation which has not yet been made available for public consultations.

In February 2020, additional amendments to the Act on Industrial Property entered into force which adapt Polish standards on inventions to those of the EU so as to streamline and speed up proceedings before the Polish Patent Office. The amendments to the Act also extend the exemption from patent and trademark renewal fees to support start-up entrepreneurs. The legislation complies with relevant provisions of the European Patent Convention and the WIPO Patent Cooperation Treaty.

In July 2020, amendments to the Code of Civil Procedure entered into force which, among other things, creates and operationalizes specialized IPR courts.  Poland’s new specialized courts will oversee cases related to all types of IPR, including copyright, and trademarks, industrial property rights, and unfair competition. New departments for IPR matters will be created at the District Courts in Gdansk, Katowice, Poznan, and Warsaw, and specialized departments will be established in the Courts of Appeal in Warsaw and Katowice. This will replace the current system in which IPR matters, including those relating to highly specialized issues such as patents, plant varieties, and trademarks, are examined by commercial departments of common courts.

A specialized court that was previously established within the 22nd Department of the District Court in Warsaw for cases involving EU trademarks and community designs will lose the exclusive competence to deal with those cases and will consider IPR claims regarding computer programs, inventions, designs utility, topography of integrated circuits, plant varieties, and trade secrets of a technical nature (i.e., matters of advanced complexity).  In order to conduct proceedings in these cases, it will be necessary to have highly trained judges who are familiar with IPR/IT issues. The new rules also require parties in IPR cases to be represented by professional lawyers, legal advisers, and patent attorneys. The changes represent a positive step for the court system, further contributing to the speed and efficiency of proceedings.

Tax incentives for IPR known collectively as “IP Box” or “Innovation Box,” included in the November 2018 tax amendment, have been applicable since January 2019. See Section 4 – Investment Incentives.

Polish customs tracks seizures of counterfeit goods but statistics for the reporting period are currently unavailable.

General information on copyright in Poland: http://www.copyright.gov.pl/pages/main-page/copyright-in-poland/general-information.php 

Polish Patent Office: http://www.uprp.pl/o-urzedzie/Lead03,14,56,1,index,pl,text/ 

Chancellery of the Prime Minister: https://www.gov.pl/cyfryzacja/co-robimy 

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/details.jsp?country_code=PL 

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Money and Banking System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

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

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

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

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

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

Remittance Policies

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

Sovereign Wealth Funds

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

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

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

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

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

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State-owned enterprises (SOEs) exist mainly in the defense, energy, transport, banking and insurance sectors.  The main Warsaw stock index (WIG) is dominated by state-controlled companies. The government intends to keep majority share ownership and/or state-control of economically and strategically important firms and is expanding the role of the state in the economy, particularly in the banking and energy sectors.  Some U.S. investors have expressed concern that the government favors SOEs by offering loans from the national budget as a capital injection and unfairly favoring SOEs in investment disputes.  Since Poland’s EU accession, government activity favoring state-owned firms has received careful scrutiny from Brussels.  Since the Law and Justice government came to power in 2015, there has been a considerable increase in turnover in managerial positions of state-owned companies (although this has also occurred in previous changes of government, but to a lesser degree) and increased focus on building national champions in strategic industries to be able to compete internationally.  There have also been cases of takeovers of foreign private companies by state-controlled companies the viability of which has raised doubts.  SOEs are governed by a board of directors and most pay an annual dividend to the government, as well as prepare and disclose annual reports.

A list of companies classified as “important for the economy” is at this link:  https://nadzor.kprm.gov.pl/spolki-z-udzialem-skarbu-panstwa

Among them are companies of “strategic importance” whose shares cannot be sold, including:  Grupa Azoty S.A., Grupa LOTOS S.A., KGHM Polska Miedz S.A., Energa S.A, and the Central Communication Port.

The government sees SOEs as drivers and leaders of its innovation policy agenda.  For example, several energy SOEs established a company to develop electro mobility.  The performance of SOEs has remained strong overall and broadly similar to that of private companies.  International evidence suggests, however, that a dominant role of SOEs can pose fiscal, financial, and macro-stability risks.

As of June 2020, there were over 349 companies in partnership with state authorities.  Among them there are companies under bankruptcy proceedings and in liquidation and in which the State Treasury held residual shares.  Here is a link to the list of companies, including under the control of which ministry they fall:  http://nadzor.kprm.gov.pl/spolki-z-udzialem-skarbu-panstwa.

The Ministry of State Assets, established after the October 2019 post-election cabinet reshuffle, has control over almost 180 enterprises.  Their aggregate value reaches several dozens of billions of Polish zlotys.  Among these companies are the largest chemical, energy, and mining groups; firms in the banking and insurance sectors; and transport companies.  This list does not include state-controlled public media, which are under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture or the State Securities Printing Company (PWPW) supervised by the Interior Ministry.  Supervision over defense industry companies has been shifted from the Ministry of Defense to the Ministry of State Assets.

According to the latest data from the National Bank of Poland, at the end of September 2019. stocks and shares held by state (and local government) institutions amounted to just over PLN 261 billion ($66 billion).

The same standards are generally applied to private and public companies with respect to access to markets, credit, and other business operations such as licenses and supplies.  Government officials occasionally exercise discretionary authority to assist SOEs.  In general, SOEs are expected to pay their own way, finance their operations, and fund further expansion through profits generated from their own operations.

On February 21, 2019, an amendment to the Act on the principles of management of state-owned property was adopted, which provides for the establishment of a new public special-purpose fund – the Capital Investment Fund.  The Fund is a source of financing for the purchase and subscription of shares in companies.  The Fund is managed by the Prime Minister’s office and financed by dividends from state-controlled companies.

A commission for the reform of corporate governance was established on February 10, 2020, by the Minister of State Assets.  The commission developed recommendations regarding the introduction of a law on consortia/holdings; changes in the powers of supervisory boards and their members, with particular emphasis on the rights and obligations of parent companies’ supervisory boards; changes in the scope of information obligations of companies towards partners or shareholders; and other changes, including in the Commercial Companies Code.  The Ministry of State Assets plans to introduce the regulations of the holding law into the Polish legal system in 2021, which is a part of a draft reform of commercial law prepared by the commission.  Some law offices expressed concerns that the solutions provided for in the amendment may impose new obligations on entrepreneurs conducting business activity in this form. Since coming to power in 2015, the governing Law and Justice party (PiS) has increased control over Poland’s banking and energy sectors

Proposed legislation to “deconcentrate” and “repolonize” Poland’s media landscape, including through the possible forced sale of existing investments, has met with domestic and international protest.  Critical observers allege that PiS and its allies are running a pressure campaign against foreign and independent media outlets aimed at destabilizing and undermining their businesses.  These efforts include blocking mergers through antimonopoly decisions, changes to licensing requirements, and the proposed new advertising tax.  Increasing government control over state regulatory bodies, advertising agencies and infrastructure such as printing presses and newsstands, are other possible avenues.  Since 2015, state institutions and state-owned and controlled companies have ceased to subscribe to or place advertising in independent media, cutting off an important source of funding for those media companies.  At the same time, public media has received generous support from the state budget.

In December 2020, state-controlled energy firm PKN Orlen, headed by PiS appointees, acquired control of Polska Press in a deal that gives the governing party indirect control over 20 of Poland’s 24 regional newspapers.  Because this acquisition was achieved without legislative changes, it has not provoked diplomatic repercussions with other EU member states or a head-on collision with Brussels over the rule of law.  Having successfully taken over a foreign-owned media company with this model, there are concerns PKN Orlen will continue to be used for capturing independent media not supportive of the government.

OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of SOEs

In Poland, the same rules apply to SOEs and publicly-listed companies unless statutes provide otherwise.  The state exercises its influence through its rights as a shareholder in proportion to the number of voting shares it holds (or through shareholder proxies).  In some cases, an SOE is afforded special rights as specified in the company’s articles, and in compliance with Polish and EU laws.  In some non-strategic companies, the state exercises special rights as a result of its majority ownership but not as a result of any specific strategic interest.  Despite some of these specific rights, the state’s aim is to create long-term value for shareholders of its listed companies by adhering to the OECD’s SOE Guidelines.  State representatives who sit on supervisory boards must comply with the Commercial Companies Code and are expected to act in the best interests of the company and its shareholders.  The European Commission noted that “Polska Fundacja Narodowa” (an organization established to promote Polish culture worldwide and funded by Polish SOEs) was involved in the organization and financing of a campaign supporting the controversial judiciary changes by the government.  The commission stated this was broadly against OECD recommendations on SOE involvement in financing political activities.

SOE employees can designate two fifths of the SOE’s Supervisory Board’s members.  In addition, according to Poland’s privatization law, in wholly state-owned enterprises with more than 500 employees, the employees are allowed to elect one member of the Management Board.  SOEs are subject to a series of additional disclosure requirements above those set forth in the Company Law.  The supervising ministry prepares specific guidelines on annual financial reporting to explain and clarify these requirements.  SOEs must prepare detailed reports on management board activity, plus a report on the previous financial year’s activity, and a report on the result of the examination of financial reports.  In practice, detailed reporting data for non-listed SOEs is not easily accessible.  State representatives to supervisory boards must go through examinations to be able to apply for a board position.  Many major state-controlled companies are listed on the Warsaw Stock Exchange and are subject to the “Code of Best Practice for WSE Listed Companies.”

On September 30, 2015, the Act on Control of Certain Investments entered into force.  The law creates mechanisms to protect against hostile takeovers of companies operating in strategic sectors (gas, power generation, chemical, copper mining, petrochemical and telecoms) of the Polish economy (see Section 2 on Investment Screening), most of which are SOEs or state-controlled.  In 2020, the government amended the legislation preventing hostile take overs.  The amendments will be in force for 24 months.  They are a part of the pandemic-related measures introduced by the Polish government. The SOE governance law of 2017 (with subsequent amendments) is being implemented gradually.  The framework formally keeps the oversight of SOEs centralized.  The Ministry of State Assets exercises ownership functions for the majority of SOEs.  A few sector-specific ministries (e.g., Culture and Infrastructure) also exercise ownership for SOEs with public policy objectives.  The Prime Minister’s Office oversees development agencies such as the Polish Development Fund and the Industry Development Agency.

Privatization Program

The Polish government has completed the privatization of most of the SOEs it deems not to be of national strategic importance.  With few exceptions, the Polish government has invited foreign investors to participate in major privatization projects.  In general, privatization bidding criteria have been clear and the process transparent.

The majority of SOEs classified as “economically important” or “strategically important” is in the energy, mining, media, telecommunications, and financial sectors.  The government intends to keep majority share ownership of these firms, or to sell tranches of shares in a manner that maintains state control.  The government is currently focused on consolidating and improving the efficiency of the remaining SOEs.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

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

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery 

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

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

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

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

Resources to Report Corruption 

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

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

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

10. Political and Security Environment

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

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Poland has a well-educated, skilled labor force.  Productivity, however, remains below OECD averages but is rising rapidly and unit costs are competitive.  In the last quarter of 2020, according to the Polish Central Statistical Office (GUS), the average gross wage in Poland was PLN 5,458 ($1,390 per month) compared to 5,198 ($1,324) in the last quarter of 2019.  Poland’s economy employed roughly 16.512 million people in the third quarter of 2020.  Eurostat measured total Polish unemployment at 3.3 percent, with youth unemployment at 11.5 percent in December 2020.  GUS reports unemployment rates differently and tends to be higher than Eurostat figures.  Unemployment varied substantially among regions:  the highest rate was 10.1 percent (according to GUS) in the north-eastern part of Poland (Warmia and Mazury), and the lowest was 3.7 percent (GUS) in the western province of Wielkopolska, at the end of the fourth quarter of 2020.  Unemployment was lowest in major urban areas.  Polish workers are usually eager to work for foreign companies, in Poland and abroad.  Since Poland joined the EU, up to two million Poles have sought work in other EU member states.

According to the Ministry of Development, Labor, and Technology, 1.5 million “simplified procedure” work declarations were registered in 2020, of which 1.3 million were for Ukrainian workers (compared to 1.5 million a year earlier).  Under the revised procedure, local authorities may verify if potential employers have actual job positions for potential foreign workers.  The law also authorizes local authorities to refuse declarations from employers with a history of abuse, as well as to ban employers previously convicted of human trafficking from hiring foreign workers.  The January 2018 revision also introduced a new type of work permit for foreign workers, the so-called seasonal work permit, which allow for legal work up to nine months in agriculture, horticulture, tourism and similar industries.  Ministry of Development, Labor, and Technology statistics show that during by August 2020, 137,403 seasonal work permits of this type were issued, of which 135,482 went to Ukrainians.  Ministry of Development, Labor, and Technology statistics also show that in 2020, 295,272 thousand Ukrainians received work permits, compared with 330,495 in 2019.

Polish companies suffer from a shortage of qualified workers.  According to a 2021 report, “Barometer of Professions,” commissioned by the Ministry of Development, Labor, and Technology, several industries suffer shortages, including the construction, manufacturing, -healthcare, and transportation industries.  The most sought-after workers in the construction industry include concrete workers, steel fixers, carpenters, and bricklayers.  Manufacturing companies seek electricians, electromechanical engineers, tailors, welders, woodworkers, machinery operators, and locksmiths.  Employment has expanded in service industries such as information technology, manufacturing, and administrative and support service activities.  The business process outsourcing industry in Poland has experienced dynamic growth.  The state-owned sector employs about a quarter of the work force, although employment in coal mining and steel are declining.

Since 2017, the minimum retirement age for men has been 65 and 60 for women.  Labor laws differentiate between layoffs and dismissal for cause (firing).  In the case of layoffs (when workers are dismissed for economic reasons in companies which employ more than 20 employees), employers are required to offer severance pay.  In the case of dismissal for cause, the labor law does not require severance pay.

Most workers hired under labor contracts have the legal right to establish and join independent trade unions and to bargain collectively.  Since 2020, the revised law on trade unions has expanded the right to form a union to persons who entered into an employment relationship based on a civil law contract and to persons who were self-employed.  Trade union influence is declining, though unions remain powerful among miners, shipyard workers, government employees, and teachers.  The Polish labor code outlines employee and employer rights in all sectors, both public and private, and has been gradually revised to adapt to EU standards.  However, employers tend to use temporary and contract workers for jobs that are not temporary in nature.  Employers have used short-term contracts because they allow firing with two weeks’ notice and without consulting trade unions.  Employers also tend to use civil instead of labor contracts because of ease of hiring and firing, even in situations where work performed meets all the requirements of a regular labor contract.

Polish law requires equal pay for equal work and equal treatment with respect to signing labor contracts, employment conditions, promotion, and access to training.  The law defines equal treatment as nondiscrimination in any way, directly or indirectly on the grounds of gender, age, disability, race, religion, nationality, political opinion, ethnic origin, denomination, sexual orientation, whether or not the person is employed temporarily or permanently, full time or part time.

The 1991 Law on Conflict Resolution defines the mechanism for labor dispute resolution.  It consists of four stages: first, the employer is obliged to conduct negotiations with employees; the second stage is a mediation process, including an independent mediator; if an agreement is not reached through mediation, the third stage is arbitration, which takes place at the regional court; the fourth stage of conflict resolution is a strike.

The Polish government adheres to the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) core conventions and generally complies with international labor standards.  However, there are several gaps in enforcing these standards, including legal restrictions on the rights of workers to form and join independent unions.  Cumbersome procedures make it difficult for workers to meet all of the technical requirements for a legal strike.  The law prohibits collective bargaining for key civil servants, appointed or elected employees of state and municipal bodies, court judges, and prosecutors.  There were some limitations with respect to identification of victims of forced labor.  Despite prohibitions against discrimination with respect to employment or occupation, such discrimination occurs.  Authorities do not consistently enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety, either in the formal or informal sectors.

The National Labor Inspectorate (NLI) is responsible for identifying possible labor violations; it may issue fines and notify the prosecutor’s office in cases of severe violations.  According to labor unions, however, the NLI does not have adequate tools to hold violators accountable and the small fines imposed as punishment are an ineffective deterrent to most employers.

The United States has no FTA or preference program (such as GSP) with Poland that includes labor standards.

In 2020, the provisions on the posting of workers were significantly modified and Poland implemented the EU Posted Workers Directive (2018/957/EU).

In 2020, Poland was among the top 10 countries in the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE) ranking offering women good conditions for running a business. According to the Mastercard report, 28 percent of companies in Poland are run by women.  At the end of 2019, however, the share of women on the boards of the 140 largest companies on the Warsaw Stock Exchange was less than 14 percent.

The COVID-19 pandemic dominated 2020, affecting the business world and forcing employers and employees to adapt to new working conditions.  Due to the growing popularity of remote work, the Ministry of Development, Labor, and Technology has commenced works aimed at introducing remote work to the provisions of the Labor Code for good.  New solutions will be introduced in 2021.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $595,7 2019 $595,9 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $4,720 2019 $10,403 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $529.1 2019 $ D/ BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 39.4% 2019 40.3% UNCTAD data available at

https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/EconomicTrends/Fdi.html

* Source for Host Country Data: In Poland, the National Bank of Poland (NBP) collects data on FDI. An annual FDI report and data are published at the end of the following year. GDP data are published by the Central Statistical Office. Final annual data are available at the end of May of the following year.

D/ Suppressed to avoid disclosure of data of individual companies.

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data of, 2019
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 235,504 100% Total Outward 25,422 100%
The Netherlands 50,552 21.5% Luxemburg 5,056 19.9%
Germany 43,909 18.6% Cyprus 3,222 12.7%
Luxemburg 29,670 7.9% Czech Republic 2,997 11.8%
France 20,908 0.9% Germany 1,530 6.0%
Spain 9,951 0.4% Hungary 1,496 5.9%

Results of table are consistent with the data of the National Bank of Poland (NBP).  NBP publishes FDI data in October/November.

A number of foreign countries register businesses in the Netherlands, Luxemburg and Cyprus, hence results for these countries include investments from other countries/economies.

Table 4: Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets, as of June 2020
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 36,942 100% All Countries 20,511 100% All Countries 16,432 100%
Int’l Org 4,918 13% Luxemburg 3.871 19% Int’l Org 4,918 30%
Luxemburg 4,562 12% Ireland 946 3% United States 2,937 18%
Hungary 1,365 4% Germany 695 3% Hungary 938 6%
Ireland 1,136 3% France 468 2% Sweden 840 5%
France 1,014 3% Hungary 427 2% Luxemburg 691 4%

* In Poland, the National Bank of Poland (NBP) collects data on FDI. An annual FDI report and data are published at the end of the following year. GDP data are published by the Central Statistical Office. Final annual data are available at the end of May of the following year.

14. Contact for More Information

Tisha Loeper-Viti
Trade and Investment Officer
U.S. Embassy Warsaw
Al Ujazdowskie 29/31War
saw, Poland 00-540 +48 22 504 2522
+48 22 504 2522
Loeper-VitiTR@state.gov

Romania

Executive Summary

Romania welcomes all forms of foreign investment. The government provides national treatment for foreign investors and does not differentiate treatment due to source of capital. Romania’s strategic location, membership in the European Union, relatively well-educated workforce, competitive wages, and abundant natural resources make it a desirable location for firms seeking to access European, Central Asian, and Near East markets. U.S. investors have found opportunities in the information technology, automotive, telecommunications, energy, services, manufacturing, consumer products, insurance, and banking sectors.

The investment climate in Romania remains a mixed picture, and potential investors should undertake due diligence when considering any investment. The European Commission’s 2020 European Semester Country Report for Romania points to persistent legislative instability, unpredictable decision-making, low institutional quality, and corruption as factors eroding investor confidence. The report also noted that important legislation was adopted without proper stakeholder consultation and often lacked impact assessments. Frequent reorganizations of public institutions also contribute to the significant degree of instability.

Prior government efforts to undermine prosecutors and weaken judicial independence had shaken investor confidence in anti-corruption efforts. Political rhetoric had taken an increasingly nationalist tone, with some political leaders occasionally accusing foreign companies of not paying taxes, taking advantage of workers and resources, and sponsoring anti-government protests. President Iohannis was reelected in November 2019 with a pro-business stance. The December 2020 parliamentary elections resulted in a pro-investment, center right coalition government with a parliamentary majority, providing increased political stability. The coalition has repeatedly voiced its support for rule of law and reform.

The government’s sale of minority stakes in state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in key sectors, such as energy generation and exploitation, has stalled since 2014. A bill passed in 2020 instituted a two-year ban on the sale of state assets and state equity in SOEs. The Government of Romania (GOR) is in the process of drafting legislation that will terminate the ban. Successive governments have weakened enforcement of the state-owned enterprise (SOE) corporate governance code by resorting to appointments of short-term interim managers to bypass the leadership requirements outlined in the corporate governance code. Instability in the management of SOEs hinders the ability to plan and invest.

Consultations with stakeholders and impact assessments are required before enactment of legislation. However, this requirement has been unevenly followed, and public entities generally do not conduct impact assessments. Frequent government changes have led to rapidly changing policies and priorities that serve to complicate the business climate. Romania has made significant strides to combat corruption, but it remains an ongoing challenge.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 69 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 55 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 46 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country historical stock positions) 2019 $3.46B https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $12,630 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Romania actively seeks foreign direct investment and offers a market of around 19.5 million consumers, a relatively well-educated workforce at competitive wages, a strategic location, and abundant natural resources. To date, favored areas for U.S. investment include IT and telecommunications, energy, services, manufacturing – especially in the automotive sector, consumer products, insurance, and banking. InvestRomania, part of the Ministry of Economy, is the government’s lead agency for promoting and facilitating foreign investment in Romania. InvestRomania offers assistance and advisory services free of charge to foreign investors and international companies for project implementation and opening new offices or manufacturing facilities.

Romania’s accession to the European Union (EU) on January 1, 2007 helped solidify institutional reform. However, legislative and regulatory unpredictability, lack of regulatory impact assessments, and low institutional capacity continue to negatively impact the investment climate. As in any foreign country, prospective U.S. investors should exercise careful due diligence, including consultation with competent legal counsel, when considering an investment in Romania. Governments in Romania have repeatedly allowed political interests or budgetary imperatives to supersede accepted business practices in ways harmful to investor interests.

The energy sector has suffered from unanticipated changes. In 2018, offshore natural gas companies benefited from a streamlined permitting process but were hit with a windfall profit tax that previously applied only to onshore gas production. Additionally, in February 2018, legislation changed the reference price for natural gas royalties from the Romanian market price to the Vienna Central European Gas Hub (CEGH) price, resulting in a significant increase in royalties. The GOR liberalized the natural gas market on July 1, 2020, and the electricity market as of January 1, 2021, for both household and non-household consumers.

In March 2021, the Parliament passed a bill reinforcing the government’s authority to vet the transfer of a petroleum agreement to a company from a non-EU country to determine if it is deemed to pose a threat to Romania’s national security. Transfer of a petroleum agreement must be approved through a government decision (GD).

Investments involving public authorities can be more complicated than investments or joint ventures with private Romanian companies. Large deals involving the government – particularly public-private partnerships and privatizations of key state-owned enterprises (SOE) – can be stymied by vested political and economic interests or bogged down due to a lack of coordination between government ministries.

In 2020, Romania capped the claw back tax in an effort to ease the burden on pharmaceutical companies. Designed to recoup drug reimbursement costs that exceeded budgeted amounts, the tax had increased up to 27.65 percent in 2019. In May 2020, President Klaus Iohannis signed off on a revised and differentiated claw back tax, capped at 25 percent for innovative medicines, 20 percent for generic medicines, and 15 percent for locally produced medicines. The claw back tax is one factor that continues to negatively impact the availability of drugs in the Romanian marketplace.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities are free to establish and own business enterprises, and to engage in all forms of remunerative activity. Romanian legislation and regulation provide national treatment for foreign investors, guarantee free access to domestic markets, and allow foreign investors to participate in privatizations. There is no limit on foreign participation in commercial enterprises. Foreign investors are entitled to establish wholly foreign-owned enterprises in Romania (although joint ventures are more typical), and to convert and repatriate 100 percent of after-tax profits.

Romania has established legal parameters to resolve contract disputes expeditiously. Mergers and acquisitions are subject to review by the Competition Council. According to the Competition Law, the Competition Council notifies Romania’s Supreme Defense Council regarding any merger or acquisition of stocks or assets which could impact national security. The Supreme Defense Council then reviews these referred mergers and acquisitions for potential threats to national security. To date, the Supreme Defense Council has not blocked any merger or acquisition. The Romanian capital account was fully liberalized in 2006, prior to gaining EU membership in 2007. Foreign firms are allowed to participate in the management and administration of investments, as well as to assign their contractual obligations and rights to other Romanian or foreign investors.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Romania has not undergone any third-party investment policy reviews through multilateral organizations in over ten years. The Heritage Foundation’s 2021 Economic Freedom Report saw Romania’s score fall slightly due to an increase in the country’s fiscal deficit. Romania scored best in the Tax Burden category due to its low income and corporate tax rates. Romania’s economy had been rising through the ranks of the “moderately free” – a classification given by the report – over the past decade and will need to improve the following to continue its ascent: Improving the judicial system, strengthening anti-corruption efforts, removing rigidities in the labor market, and further modernizing the financial sector.

According to the World Bank, economic growth rates have increased, but the benefits have not been felt by all Romanians. Progress on implementing reforms and improving the business environment has been uneven. The World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report and Doing Business in the European Union Report indicate that Romania ranks below the EU average in the ease of starting a business.

Business Facilitation

The National Trade Registry has an online service available in Romanian at https://portal.onrc.ro/ONRCPortalWeb/ONRCPortal.portal  . Romania has a foreign trade department and an investment promotion department within the Ministry of Economy. InvestRomania offers assistance and advisory services free of charge to foreign investors and international companies for project implementation and opening new offices or manufacturing facilities. More information is available at http://www.investromania.gov.ro/web/ .

According to the World Bank, it takes six procedures and 20 days to establish a foreign-owned limited liability company (LLC) in Romania, compared to the regional average for Europe and Central Asia of 5.2 procedures and 11.9 days. In addition to the procedures required of a domestic company, a foreign parent company establishing a subsidiary in Romania must authenticate and translate its documents. Foreign companies do not need to seek investment approval. A Trade Registry judge must hold a public hearing on the company’s application for registration within five days of submission of the required documentation. Registration documents can be submitted and the status of the registration request monitored online.

Companies in Romania are free to open and maintain bank accounts in any foreign currency, although, in practice, Romanian banks offer services only in Romanian lei (RON) and certain hard currencies (euros and U.S. dollars). The minimum capital requirement for domestic and foreign LLCs is RON 200 (USD 49). Areas for improvement include making all registration documents available to download online in English. Currently, only a portion are available online, and they are only in Romanian.

Romania defines microenterprises as having less than nine employees, small enterprises as having less than 50 employees, and medium-sized enterprises as having less than 250 employees. Regardless of ownership, microenterprises and SMEs enjoy “de minimis” and other state aid schemes from EU funds or from the state budget. Business facilitation mechanisms provide for equitable treatment of women in the economy.

Outward Investment

There are no restrictions or incentives on outward investment.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Romanian law requires consultations with stakeholders, including the private sector, and a 30-day comment period on legislation or regulation affecting the business environment (the “Sunshine Law”). Some draft pieces of legislation pending with the government are available in Romanian at  http://www.sgg.ro/acte-normative/ . Proposed items for cabinet meetings are not always publicized in advance or in full. As a general rule, the agenda of cabinet meetings should include links to the draft pieces of legislation (government decisions, ordinances, emergency ordinances, or memoranda) slated for government decision, but this is not always the case. Legislation pending with the parliament is available at http://www.cdep.ro/pls/proiecte/upl_pck.home  for the Chamber of Deputies and at https://www.senat.ro/legis/lista.aspx   for the Senate. The Chamber of Deputies is the decision-making body for economic legislation.

Foreign investors point to the excessive time required to secure necessary zoning permits, environmental approvals, property titles, licenses, and utility hook-ups.

The Sunshine Law (Law 52/2003 on Transparency in Public Administration) requires public authorities to allow the public to comment on draft legislation and sets the general timeframe for stakeholders to provide input; however, comments received are not published. The Sunshine Law’s public consultation timelines do not have enforceable penalties or sanctions, and thus public authorities can bypass its provisions without harm. In some cases, public authorities have set deadlines much shorter than the standards set forth in the law or passed a piece of legislation before the deadline for public input expired.

International Regulatory Considerations

As an EU member state since 2007, Romanian legislation is largely driven by the EU acquis, the body of EU legislation. European Commission (EC) regulations are directly applicable, while implementation of directives at the national level is done through the national legislation. Romania’s regulatory system incorporates European standards. Romania has been a World Trade Organization (WTO) member since January 1995 and a member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) since November 1971. Technical regulation notifications submitted by the EU are valid for all Member States. The EU signed the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in October 2015. Romania has implemented all TFA requirements.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Romania recognizes property and contractual rights, but enforcement through the judicial process can be lengthy, costly, and difficult. Foreign companies engaged in trade or investment in Romania often express concern about the Romanian courts’ lack of expertise in commercial issues. There are no specialized commercial courts, but there are specialized civil courts. Judges generally have limited experience in the functioning of a market economy, international business methods, intellectual property rights, or the application of Romanian commercial and competition laws. As stipulated in the Constitution, the judicial system is independent from the executive branch and generally considered procedurally competent, fair, and reliable. Affected parties can challenge regulations and enforcement actions in court. Such challenges are adjudicated in the national court system.

Inconsistency and a lack of predictability in the jurisprudence of the courts or in the interpretation of the laws remains a major concern for foreign and domestic investors and for wider society. Even when court judgments are favorable, enforcement of judgments is inconsistent and can lead to lengthy appeals. Failure to implement court orders or cases where the public administration unjustifiably challenges court decisions constitute obstacles to the binding nature of court decisions.

Mediation as a tool to resolve disputes is gradually becoming more common in Romania, and a certifying body, the Mediation Council, sets standards and practices. The professional association, the Union of Mediation Centers in Romania, is the umbrella organization for mediators throughout the county. Court-sanctioned and private mediation is available at recognized mediation centers in every county seat.

There is no legal mechanism for court-ordered mediation in Romania, but judges can encourage litigants to use mediation to resolve their cases. If litigants opt for mediation, they must present their proposed resolution to a judge upon completion of the mediation process. The judge must then approve the agreement.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Since Romania became a member of the European Union in 2007, the country has worked assiduously to create an EU-compatible legal framework consistent with a market economy and investment promotion. At the same time, implementation of these laws and regulations frequently lags or is inconsistent, and lack of legislative predictability undermines Romania’s appeal as an investment destination.

Romania’s legal framework for foreign investment is encompassed within a substantial body of law largely enacted in the late 1990s. It is subject to frequent revision. Major changes to the Civil Code were enacted in October 2011, including replacing the Commercial Code, consolidating provisions applicable to companies and contracts into a single piece of legislation, and harmonizing Romanian legislation with international practices. The Civil Procedure Code, which provides detailed procedural guidance for implementing the new Civil Code, came into force in February 2013. Fiscal legislation is revised frequently, often without scientific or data-driven assessment of the impact the changes may have on the economy.

Given the state of flux of legal developments, investors are strongly encouraged to engage local counsel to navigate the various laws, decrees, and regulations, as several pieces of investor-relevant legislation have been challenged in both local courts and the Constitutional Court. There have been few hostile takeover attempts reported in Romania. Romanian law has not focused on limiting potential mergers or acquisitions. There are no Romanian laws prohibiting or restricting private firms’ free association with foreign investors.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

Romania has extensively revised its competition legislation, bringing it closer to the EU Acquis Communautaire and best corporate practices. A new law on unfair competition came into effect in August 2014. Companies with a market share below 40 percent are no longer considered to have a dominant market position, thus avoiding a full investigation by the Romanian Competition Council (RCC), saving considerable time and money for all parties involved. Resale price maintenance and market and client sharing are still prohibited, regardless of the size of either party’s market share. The authorization fee for mergers or takeovers ranges between EUR 10,000 (USD 11,944) and EUR 50,000 (USD 59,720). The Fiscal Procedure Code requires companies that challenge an RCC ruling to front a deposit while awaiting a court decision on the merits of the complaint.

Romania’s Public Procurement Directives outline general procurements of goods and equipment, utilities procurement (“sectorial procurement”), works and services concessions, and remedies and appeals. An extensive body of secondary and tertiary legislation accompanies the four 2016 laws and has been subject to repeated revisions. Separate legislation governs defense and security procurements. In a positive move, this body of legislation moved away from the previous approach of using lowest price as the only public procurement selection criterion. Under the laws, an authority can use price, cost, quality-price ratio, or quality-cost ratio. The new laws also allow bidders to provide a simple form (the European Single Procurement Document) to participate in the award procedures. Only the winner must later submit full documentation.

The public procurement laws stipulate that challenges regarding procedure or an award can be filed with the National Complaint Council (NCC) or the courts. Disputes regarding execution, amendment, or termination of public procurement contracts can be subject to arbitration. The new laws also stipulate that a bidder has to notify the contracting authority before challenging either the award or procedure. Not fulfilling this notification requirement results in the NCC or court rejecting the challenge.

The EC’s 2020 European Semester Country Report for Romania notes that despite improved implementation, public procurement remains inefficient. According to the report, 97 percent of businesses think corruption is widespread in Romania, and 87 percent say it is widespread in public procurement managed by national authorities.

Expropriation and Compensation

The law on direct investment includes a guarantee against nationalization and expropriation or other equivalent actions. The law allows investors to select the court or arbitration body of their choice to settle disputes. Several cases involving investment property nationalized during the Communist era remain unresolved. In doing due diligence, prospective investors should ensure that a thorough title search is done to ensure there are no pending restitution claims against the land or assets.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Romania is a signatory to the 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. Romania is also a party to the European Convention on International Commercial Arbitration concluded in Geneva in 1961 and is a member of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID). Romania’s 1975 Decree 62 provides for legal enforcement of awards under the ICSID Convention.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Romania is a signatory to the New York Convention, the European Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (Geneva), and the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID). There have been 17 ICSID cases in total against Romania. Three of them involved U.S. investors. The arbitral tribunal ruled in favor of Romania in two of them. Eight investor-state arbitration cases against Romania are currently pending with the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards against the government. There is no history of extrajudicial action against investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Romania increasingly recognizes the importance of investor-state dispute settlement and has provided assurances that the rule of law will be enforced. Many agreements involving international companies and Romanian counterparts provide for the resolution of disputes through third-party arbitration. Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards and judgments of foreign courts. There are no statistics on the percentage of cases in which Romanian courts ruled against state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

Romanian law and practice recognize applications to other internationally known arbitration institutions, such as the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Paris Court of Arbitration and the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL). Romania has an International Commerce Arbitration Court administered by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Romania. Additionally, in November 2016, the American Chamber of Commerce in Romania (AmCham Romania) established the Bucharest International Arbitration Court (BIAC). This new arbitration center focuses on business and commercial disputes involving foreign investors and multinationals active in Romania.

According to the World Bank 2020 Doing Business Report, it takes on average 512 days to enforce a contract, from the moment the plaintiff files the lawsuit until actual payment. Associated costs can total around 27 percent of the claim. Arbitration awards are enforceable through Romanian courts under circumstances similar to those in other Western countries, although legal proceedings can be protracted.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Romania’s bankruptcy law contains provisions for liquidation and reorganization that are generally consistent with Western legal standards. These laws usually emphasize enterprise restructuring and job preservation. To mitigate the time and financial cost of bankruptcies, Romanian legislation provides for administrative liquidation as an alternative to bankruptcy. However, investors and creditors have complained that liquidators sometimes lack the incentive to expedite liquidation proceedings and that, in some cases, their decisions have served vested outside interests. Both state-owned and private companies tend to opt for judicial reorganization to avoid bankruptcy.

In December 2009, the debt settlement mechanism Company Voluntary Agreements (CVAs) was introduced as a means for creditors and debtors to establish partial debt service schedules without resorting to bankruptcy proceedings. The global economic crisis did, however, prompt Romania to shorten insolvency proceedings in 2011.

According to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, resolving insolvency in Romania takes 3.3 years on average, compared to 2.3 years in Europe and Central Asia, and costs 10.5 percent of the debtor’s estate, with the most likely outcome being a piecemeal sale of the company. The average recovery rate is 34.4 cents on the dollar. Globally, Romania stands at 56 in the ranking of 190 economies on the ease of resolving insolvency.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Currently, customs and tax incentives are available to investors in six free trade zones. State aid is available for investments in free trade zones under EU regional development assistance rules.

In 2007, Romania adopted EU regulations on regional investment aid and instituted state aid schemes for large investments, SMEs, and job creation. Both Romanian and EU state aid regulations aim to limit state aid in any form, such as direct state subsidies, debt rescheduling schemes, debt for equity swaps, or discounted land prices. The European Commission (EC) must be notified of and approve GOR state aid that exceeds the pre-approved monetary threshold for the corresponding category of aid. To benefit from the remaining state aid schemes, the applicant must secure financing separate from any public support for at least 25 percent of the eligible costs, either through his own resources or through external financing, and must document this financing in strict accordance with Ministry of Finance guidelines. Under amendments passed in 2010, the state aid scheme for regional projects scores applications based not only on the economics of the project, but also on the GDP per capita and unemployment rate for the county of intended investment. When granting state aid, the Ministry of Finance requires that the state revenues through taxes equals the state aid granted. Numerous foreign and U.S firms have successfully applied for and received Romanian State Aid.

The renewable energy support through Green Certificate System, part of the Renewable Energy Law, provided incentives for certain types of renewable energy. The support is not available for renewable energy investments made after January 1, 2017, but investors that qualified under the support system can trade certificates until 2032. The Green Certificates are traded in parallel with the energy produced. The Green Certificates are intended to provide an additional source of revenue for renewable energy producers. Repeated revisions to the support system – including deferring release of the certificates and lowering the mandatory green certificate quota that consumers and suppliers have to acquire – have created instability, however, in the renewables investment climate. Energy intensive industrial consumers receive exemptions from acquiring green certificates.

As an EU member state, Romania must receive EC approval for any state aid it grants not covered by the EU’s block exemption regulations. The Romanian Competition Council acts as a clearinghouse for the exchange of information between the Romanian authorities and the EC. The failure of state aid grantors to notify the EC properly of aid associated with privatizations has resulted in the Commission launching formal investigations into several privatizations. Investors should ensure that the government entities with which they work fully understand and fulfill their duty to notify competition authorities. Investors may wish to consult with EU and Romanian competition authorities in advance to ensure a proper understanding of notification requirements.

Companies operating in Romania can also apply for aid under EU-funded programs that are co-financed by Romania. When planning a project, prospective applicants must bear in mind that the project cannot start before the financing agreement is finalized; the application, selection, and negotiations can be lengthy. Applicants also must secure financing for non-eligible expenses and for their co-financing of the eligible expenses. Finally, reimbursement of eligible expenses – which must be financed upfront by the investor – is often very slow. Procurements financed by EU-funded programs above a certain monetary threshold must comply with public procurement legislation. In an effort to increase the rate of EU funds absorption, Romania has amended regulations to allow applicants to use the assets financed under EU-funded programs as collateral. However, Government of Romania entities’ understaffing and lack of management expertise, cumbersome procedures, and applicants’ difficulty obtaining private financing still significantly impede the absorption and implementation of EU funds.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Free Trade Zones (FTZs) received legal authority in Romania in 1992 under the authority of the Ministry of Transportation. General provisions include unrestricted entry and re-export of goods, and exemption from customs duties. The law further permits the leasing or transfer of buildings or land for terms of up to 50 years to corporations or natural persons, regardless of nationality. Foreign-owned firms have the same investment opportunities as Romanian entities in FTZs. Currently six FTZs, primarily located on the Danube River or close to the Black Sea, operate: Sulina, Constanta-Sud Agigea, Galati, Braila, Curtici-Arad, and Giurgiu. The administrator of each FTZ is responsible for all commercial activities performed within the zone.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The government generally does not mandate local employment. The notable exception is the Offshore Law (Law 256/2018), which requires that at least 25 percent of the employees of offshore titleholders have to be Romanian citizens with fiscal residence in Romania. There are no excessively onerous visa, residence, work permit, or similar requirements inhibiting mobility of foreign investors or their employees. There are no government-imposed conditions on permission to invest. The government does not require investors to establish or maintain data storage in Romania. Romania neither follows nor is there legislation requiring a “forced localization” policy for goods, technology, or data. Romania does not have requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code or provide access for government surveillance. Romania’s Constitutional Court has twice ruled such specific legislative drafts are unconstitutional. There are no measures that prevent or unduly impede companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside the country. There are no performance requirements imposed as a condition for establishing, maintaining or expanding an investment.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Romanian Constitution, adopted in December 1991 and revised in 2003, guarantees the right to ownership of private property. Mineral and airspace rights, and similar rights, are excluded from private ownership. Under the revised Constitution, foreign citizens can gain land ownership through inheritance. With EU accession, citizens of EU member states can own land in Romania, subject to reciprocity in their home country.

Companies owning foreign capital may acquire land or property needed to fulfill or develop company goals. If the company is dissolved or liquidated, the land must be sold within one year of closure and may only be sold to a buyer(s) with the legal right to purchase such assets. Investors can purchase shares in agricultural companies that lease land in the public domain from the State Land Agency, however, legislation passed in Fall 2020 imposed additional restrictions and limitations on the purchase of agricultural land by foreign investors.

The 2006 legislation that regulates the establishment of specialized mortgage banks also makes possible a secondary mortgage market by regulating mortgage bond issuance mechanisms. Commercial banks, specialized mortgage banks, and non-bank mortgage credit institutions offer mortgage loans. Romania’s mortgage market is now almost entirely private. The state-owned national savings bank (CEC Bank) also offers mortgage loans. Since 2000, the Electronic Archives of Security Interests in Movable Property (AEGRM) has overseen the filing of transactions regarding mortgages, assimilated operations, or other collateral provided by the law as well as their advertising. Most urban land has clear title, and the National Cadaster Agency (NCA) is slowly working to identify property owners and register land titles. According to the National Cadaster Plan, 2023 is the deadline for full registration of lands and buildings in the registry. According to NCA data, 1.9 million hectares of land and 37.7 percent of the estimated real estate assets (buildings) were registered in the cadaster registry as of March 2020.

Romania has made marginal improvement in implementing digital records of real estate assets, including land. The 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report ranks Romania 46 for the ease of registering property. The cadaster property registry is far from complete, and the lack of accurate and complete information for land ownership continues to be a challenge for private investors ‎and SOEs alike.

Intellectual Property Rights

Romania remains on the Watch List of the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 Report in 2021, it reportedly hosts an infringing website included in the 2020 Notorious Markets List. The United States continues to welcome the participation of the Romanian government on intellectual property rights (IPR)-related trainings and in international enforcement operations, as well as the continued working-level cooperation between stakeholders and law enforcement authorities. Internet piracy remains the most serious type of IPR infringement, and the technical sophistication of online piracy continues to increase. The shift of counterfeit goods trade from physical marketplaces to online networks, or social media marketplaces, has created new challengers for IPR enforcement. Low penalties for IPR crimes and the treatment of IPR violations without “social harm” often impede effective enforcement and prosecution. To increase the odds of IPR cases being brought to trial, law enforcement authorities have attempted to bundle charges of fraud, tax evasion, and organized crime activities with IPR violations, but frequently authorities forego IPR enforcement and focus on tax evasion. The government is taking additional steps to improve IPR enforcement coordination among public agencies and strengthen cooperation with private sector stakeholders.

Romania is a signatory to international conventions concerning IPR, including the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), and has enacted legislation protecting patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Romania passed broad IPR protection enforcement provisions as required by the WTO, yet gaps remain in enforcement. Romania has signed the Internet Convention to protect online authorship. In January 2020, Romania passed a law to enhance the transparency of collective rights management of copyrights, and in July 2020 passed legislation to implement the EU Trademark Directive. The new legislation introduced a series of changes, including removal of requirements for graphic representation of trademarks and allowing for registration of sound marks, multimedia marks, and holograms. To increase transparency, the law included provisions to clarify dates of completed trademark registration and their entry into force.

Romania is both a transit and destination country for counterfeit goods. China is the top country of origin for counterfeit goods. Customs officers can seize counterfeit products ex-officio and destroy them upon inspection and declaration by the rights holder. The government is responsible for paying for the storage and destruction of the counterfeit goods. The National Customs Directorate reported the seizure of 1.65 million pieces of counterfeit goods worth USD 9.35 million in 2020, compared to 6.11 million pieces worth USD 6.84 million in 2019. Customs authorities closely coordinate their efforts with the European Commission’s Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), the European Observatory on Infringements of Intellectual Property Rights, and other stakeholders to increase trans-border cooperation in line with the EU’s IPR action plan.

Patents

Romania is a party to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Patent Cooperation Treaty and the Paris Convention. Romanian patent legislation generally meets international standards with foreign investors accorded equal treatment with Romanian citizens under the law. Patents are valid for 20 years. Romania has been party to the European Patent Convention since 2002. Patent applications can be filed online. Since 2014, Romania has also enforced a distinct law regulating employee inventions. The right to file a patent belongs to the employer for up to two years following the departure of the employee.

Trademarks

Romania is party to the Madrid Agreement, the Singapore Treaty, and the Trademark Law Treaty. In 1998, Romania passed a trademark and geographical indications law, which was amended in 2010 to make it fully consistent with equivalent EU legislation at that time. The EU has since adopted a new Trademark Directive (EU Directive 2436/2015) that was to be implemented by all EU member states by January 2019. Law 84/1998 transposing the EU Directive 2015/2436 of the European Parliament and of the Council relating to Trademarks and Geographic Indications was approved by Parliament and came in force in July 2020.

Copyrights

Romania is a member of the Berne Convention, the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. The Romanian Copyright Office (ORDA) was established in 1996 and promotes and monitors copyright legislation. The General Prosecutor’s Office (GPO) provides national coordination of IPR enforcement. Many magistrates still tend to view copyright piracy as a “victimless crime” and this attitude has resulted in weak enforcement of copyright law.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Romania welcomes portfolio investment. In September 2019, the Financial Times and the London Stock Exchange (FTSE) promoted the Bucharest Stock Exchange (BVB) to Emerging Secondary Capital Market status from Frontier Capital Market classification.  The Financial Regulatory Agency (ASF) regulates the securities market. The ASF implements the registration and licensing of brokers and financial intermediaries, the filing and approval of prospectuses, and the approval of market mechanisms.

The BVB resumed operations in 1995 after a hiatus of nearly 50 years. The BVB operates a two-tier system with the main market consisting of 83 companies. The official index, BET, is based on an index of the ten most active stocks. BET-TR is the total return on market capitalization index, adjusted for the dividends distributed by the companies included in the index. Since 2015, the BVB also has an alternative trading system (MTS-AeRO) with 289 listed companies – mostly small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – and features relaxed listing criteria. The BVB allows trade in corporate, municipal, and international bonds. Investors can use gross basis trade settlements, and trades can be settled in two net settlement cycles. The BVB’s integrated group includes trading, clearing, settlement, and registry systems. The BVB’s Multilateral Trading System (MTS) allows trading in local currency of 16 foreign stocks listed on international capital markets.

Neither the government nor the Central Bank imposes restrictions on payments and transfers. Country funds, hedge funds, private pension funds, and venture capital funds continue to participate in the capital markets. Minority shareholders have the right to participate in any capital increase. Romanian capital market regulation is now EU-consistent, with accounting regulations incorporating EC Directives IV and VII.

Money and Banking System

Thirty- five banks and credit cooperative national unions currently operate in Romania. The largest is the privately-owned Transilvania Bank (18.4 percent market share), followed by Austrian-owned Romanian Commercial Bank (BCR-Erste, 14.2 percent); French-owned Romanian Bank for Development (BRD-Société Générale, 11.0 percent); Dutch-owned ING (9.5 percent); Austrian-owned Raiffeisen (9.2 percent), and Italian-owned UniCredit (8.1 percent).

The banking system is stable and well-provisioned relative to its European peers. According to the National Bank of Romania, non-performing loans (NPLs) have steadily fallen in recent years and currently account for 3.89 percent of total bank loans. As of December 2020, the banking system’s solvency rate was 22.7 percent, which has remained steady over recent years.

The government has encouraged foreign investment in the banking sector, and mergers and acquisitions are not restricted. The only remaining state-owned banks are the National Savings Bank (CEC Bank) and EximBank, comprising 10.63 percent of the market combined, having grown after the latter’s acquisition of Banca Romaneasca from Greek-owned NBG.

While the National Bank of Romania must authorize all new non-EU banking entities, banks and non-banking financial institutions already authorized in other EU countries need only notify the National Bank of Romania of plans to provide local services based on the EU passport.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government instituted a credit/lease installment moratorium in 2020, and later extended it into 2021. Borrowers are permitted a total of nine months of non-payment of their installments. As of September 2020, 558,000 borrowers applied for the installment moratorium, representing 14.7 percent of the total non-government credit balance.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Romania does not restrict the conversion or transfer of funds associated with direct investment. All profits made by foreign investors in Romania may be converted into another currency and transferred abroad at the market exchange rate after payment of taxes.

Romania’s national currency, the Leu, is freely convertible in current account transactions, in accordance with the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Article VII.

Remittance Policies

There is no limitation on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances of profits, debt service, capital gains, returns on intellectual property, or imported inputs. Proceeds from the sales of shares, bonds, or other securities, as well as from the conclusion of an investment, can be repatriated.

Romania implemented regulations liberalizing foreign exchange markets in 1997. The inter-bank electronic settlement system became fully operational in 2006, eliminating past procedural delays in processing capital outflows. Commission fees for real-time electronic banking settlements have gradually been reduced.

Capital inflows are also free from restraint. Romania concluded capital account liberalization in September 2006, with the decision to permit non-residents and residents abroad to purchase derivatives, treasury bills, and other monetary instruments.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Plans to establish a Sovereign Development and Investment Fund (SDIF) were repealed by the government in January 2020.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

According to the World Bank, there are approximately 1,200 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in Romania, of which around 300 are majority-owned by the Romanian government.  There is no published list of all SOEs since some are subordinated to the national government and some to local authorities. SOEs are governed by executive boards under the supervision of administration boards. Implementation of the Corporate Governance Code (Law 111/2016) remains incomplete and uneven.

SOEs are required by law to publish an annual report. Majority state-owned companies that are publicly listed, as well as state-owned banks, are required to be independently audited. Many SOEs are currently managed by interim boards, often with politically appointed members that lack sector and business expertise. The EC’s 2020 European Semester Country Report for Romania noted that the Corporate Governance Law is still only loosely applied. The appointment of interim boards has become standard practice. Administrative offences carry symbolic penalties, which do not change behavior. The operational and financial results of most state-owned enterprises deteriorated in 2019 and 2020.

Privatization Program

Privatization has stalled since 2014. The government has repeatedly postponed IPOs for hydropower producer Hidroelectrica, though its sale is currently slated for end-2021 pending repeal of the ban on the sales of state equities

As a member of the EU, Romania is required to notify the EC’s General Directorate for Competition regarding significant privatizations and related state aid. Prospective investors should seek assistance from legal counsel to ensure compliance with relevant legislation. The state aid schemes aim to enhance regional development and job creation through financial support for new jobs or investment in new manufacturing assets. The Ministry of Finance issues public calls for applications under the schemes. The government’s failure to consult with, and then formally notify, the EC properly has resulted in delays and complications in some previous privatizations.

Private enterprises compete with public enterprises under the same terms and conditions with respect to market access and credit. Energy production, transportation, and mining are majority state-owned sectors, and the government retains majority equity in electricity and natural gas transmission. The Ministry of Energy has authority over energy generation assets and natural gas production. According to the EU’s Third Energy Package directives, the same entity cannot control generation, production and/or supply activities, and at the same time control or exercise any right over a transmission system operator (TSO). Consequently, natural gas carrier Transgaz and national electricity carrier Transelectrica are under the Government’s General Secretariat. The Ministry of Infrastructure has authority over the entities in the transportation sector, including rail carrier CFR Marfa, national air carrier Tarom, and the Constanta Port Administration. There are currently no plans to privatize companies in the transportation sector.

Romanian law allows for the inclusion of confidentiality clauses in privatization and public-private partnership contracts to protect business proprietary and other information. However, in certain high-profile privatizations, parliament has compelled the public disclosure of such provisions.

9. Corruption

Romania’s fight against high- and medium-level corruption, a model in Southeastern Europe over the past decade, suffered significant setbacks between 2017 and late 2019 due to a concerted campaign under the previous government to weaken anti-corruption efforts, the criminal and judicial legislative framework, and judicial independence. Judicial institutions, NGOs, the EU, and NATO allied governments raised concerns about legislative initiatives that furthered this trend during that time period. In Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, Romania remained 44 out of 100. This is among the lowest ranking of EU member states, tying with Hungary and Bulgaria. The current government began rolling back the negative actions of the prior government, but this effort will take some time to have full effect.

Domestic and international rule-of-law observers and law enforcement criticized the wide range of amendments that the former government introduced to the criminal code and criminal procedure codes as weakening the investigative toolkits, including in fighting corruption between 2017 and 2019. In July 2019, the Constitutional Court found these changes unconstitutional, and the current government plans to revise these codes.

The European Commission under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), and the Council of Europe’s (COE) Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) prepared 2019 reports prior to the National Liberal Party (PNL) government taking power in November 2019. The October 2019 report, which covered actions taken through June 2019, confirmed the backtracking from the progress made in previous years and set out in the November 2018 report. The report also emphasized that key institutions needed to collectively demonstrate a strong commitment to judicial independence and the fight against corruption as indispensable cornerstones, and to ensure the capacity of national safeguards and checks and balances to act.

GRECO’s July 2019 Interim Compliance Report warned that statutes enacted through emergency ordinances, or with insufficient transparency and public consultation, weaken judicial independence. A June 2019 Venice Commission report was also highly critical of the use of Emergency Ordinances. A May 2019 non-binding referendum banned the use of Emergency Ordinances for issues related to the justice sector. The chapter on Romania in the EC’s 2020 report on the rule of law situation in the EU noted that in 2020 the government continued to affirm its commitment to restore the path of judicial reform after the reversals between 2017 and 2019.

After a political and media campaign against the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) resulted in the dismissal of the Chief Prosecutor of the DNA in 2018, the position remained vacant until a new government filled the position in March 2020. The DNA’s 2020 performance report showed that the failure to correct the legislative framework to incorporate the Constitutional Court decisions have negatively impacted the agency’s efficiency. The special prosecutor’s office set up by the previous government to investigate and prosecute judges and prosecutors, which appeared to only be undertaking politically motivated cases, continues to operate.

The current government has resumed efforts to have the special prosecutor’s office disbanded. Successful court challenges of the High Court of Cassation and Justice’s procedures triggered the review of numerous high-level corruption cases. Both the national Cabinet and Parliament adopted codes of conduct, yet their overly general provisions have so far rendered them inconsequential. Conflicts of interest, respect for standards of ethical conduct, and integrity in public office in general remained a concern for all three branches of government. Individual executive agencies enforced sanctions slowly, and agencies’ own inspection bodies were generally inactive.

In June 2019, the previous government adopted a sizable Administrative Code by emergency ordinance. The Code weakened the authority of the National Civil Service Agency to oversee civil service by merit-based selection, lowered the voting requirements for transferring management of properties by local councils, and limited local elected officials’ legal liability for official acts by shifting it to civil servants. Implementation of the 2016-2020 national anticorruption strategy, which the previous government adopted in 2016, has been slow, especially on prevention efforts. The government plans to draft the strategy for the 2021-2024 period based on a review of the previous one, which focused on strengthening administrative review and transparency within public agencies, prevention of corruption, increased and improved financial disclosure, conflict of interest oversight, more aggressive investigation of money laundering, and passage of legislation to allow for more effective asset recovery. The current government made more aggressive asset recovery a priority and has worked on a strategy for strengthening the National Agency for Managing Seized Assets (ANABI).

Romania implemented the revised EU Public Procurement Directives with the passage in 2016 of new laws to improve and make public procurement more transparent. The National Agency for Public Procurement has general oversight over procurements and can draft legislation, but procurement decisions remain with the procuring entities. State entities, as well as public and private beneficiaries of EU funds, are required by law to follow public procurement legislation and use the e-procurement system. Sectoral procurements, including private companies in energy and transportation, must follow the public procurement laws and tender via the e-procurement website. The February 2020 EU Country Report for Romania points out that public procurement remains inefficient.

In October 2016, the “Prevent” IT system, an initiative sponsored by the National Integrity Agency for ex-ante check of conflicts of interests in public procurement, was signed into law. The mechanism aims to avoid conflicts of interest by automatically detecting conflict of interests in public procurement before the selection and contract award procedure.

Laws prohibit bribery, both domestically and for Romanian companies doing business abroad. The judiciary remains paper-based and inefficient, and Romania loses several cases each year in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) due to excessive trial length. Asset forfeiture laws exist, but a functioning regime remains under development. Fully 80 percent of cases in the court system are property related.

While private joint stock companies use internal controls, ethics, and compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery, since 2017 the government has rolled back corporate governance rules for state-owned enterprises and has repeatedly resorted to profit and reserves distribution in dividends to bolster the budget. U.S. investors have complained of both government and business corruption in Romania, with the customs service, municipal officials, and local financial authorities most frequently named. According to the EC’s 2020 European Semester Country Report for Romania, the share of companies that perceive corruption as a problem increased in Romania in contrast with the EU average, which continued to decrease (now at 37 percent). Overall, 97 percent of businesses think that corruption is widespread in Romania, and 87 percent say it is widespread in public procurement managed by national authorities. On a more positive note, 50 percent of respondents think that those engaged in corruption would be caught by police, and 43 percent think that those caught for bribing a senior official receive appropriate sanctions. These results are both higher than the EU average.

Romania is a member of the Southeast European Law Enforcement Center (SELEC). NGOs enjoy the same legal protections as any other organization, but NGOs involved in investigating corruption receive no additional protections.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

Romania is member of the UN Anticorruption Convention and the Council of Europe’s Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO). Romania is not a member of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

Romania expressed interest to join the new anti-corruption working group of the Open Government Partnership initiative.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency responsible for combating corruption:

National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA)
Str. Stirbei Voda nr. 79-81, Bucuresti
+40 21 312 73 99
anticoruptie@pna.ro 
http://www.pna.ro/sesizare.xhtml?jftfdi=&jffi=sesizare 

Contact at “watchdog” organizations:

Laura Stefan
Executive Director
Expert Forum
Strada Semilunei, apt 1, Sector 2, Bucuresti
+40 21 211 7400
]laura.stefan@expertforum.ro
office@expertforum.ro 

Cristina Guseth
Director
Freedom House Romania
Bd. Ferdinand 125, Bucuresti +40 21 253 2838
guseth@freedomhouse.ro 

Elena Calistru
President
Funky Citizens
+40 723 627 448
elena@funkycitizens.org 

10. Political and Security Environment

Romania does not have a history of politically motivated damage to foreign investors’ projects or installations. Major civil disturbances are rare, though some have occurred in past years. Anti-shale gas protestors invaded the site of a U.S. energy company’s exploratory well in 2013, damaging the perimeter fence and some equipment.

During the February 2017 anti-government protests, and intermittently during the previous government, some government leaders pointed to “multinationals” as among the orchestrators of the protests. However, no officials took any action and public attention diminished. The current coalition government supports the creation of a business-friendly environment.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Romania has traditionally boasted a large, skilled labor force at comparatively low wage rates in most sectors. The labor pool has tightened in highly skilled professions, in particular the information technology and health sectors, due to emigration and a deteriorating primary and secondary education system that fails to adequately prepare many graduates, particularly in rural areas, for university. The university system is generally regarded as good, particularly in technical fields, though foreign and Romanian business leaders have urged reform of outdated higher education curricula to better meet the needs of a modern, innovation-driven market. Payroll taxes remain steep. As a result, an estimated 25 to 30 percent of the labor force works in the underground economy as “independent contractors” where their salaries are neither recorded, nor taxed. Even for registered workers, underreporting of actual salaries is common.

The unemployment rate in Romania declined by 0.3 percent from 4.2 percent in 2018 to 3.9 percent in 2019; however, the rate has risen due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was 5.6 percent in January 2021. Additional data show a shrinking labor supply. At 68.6 percent in 2019, the labor force participation rate – the portion of the working age population (15-64 years) who are employed or actively seeking employment – remains among the lowest in the EU. Romanian employers in the engineering, machinery, IT services, and healthcare sectors report difficulties in hiring and retaining employees as Romania faces a shortage of medium- to high-skill workers. As Romania’s emigration crisis deepens, other industries including food service and construction also face worker shortages. According to the EC, Romanians were the largest working age group of EU citizens residing in other member states in 2019 (19.4 percent of the working age resident population). Many emigrants are young and well qualified, constraining the supply of skilled labor remaining in Romania. The World Bank estimates that between 2000 and 2018, Romania’s population fell from 22.5 million to 19.5 million, with emigration accounting for more than 75 percent of the decline. Romania faces a shortage of healthcare staff as doctors and nurses continue to seek work abroad, motivated not only by the higher salaries, but also by the country’s antiquated medical system.  According to the Ministry of Health, roughly 10,000 doctors left Romania between 2017 and 2018.

The government lacks a comprehensive strategy to remedy labor shortages despite having taken some steps in recent years to attract and retain talent. Employees in some sectors have benefitted from fiscal incentives. For example, IT professionals are eligible for certain income tax exemptions. In addition, in 2018, the GOR introduced an additional income tax and social contributions exemption for a period of ten years for employees in the construction sector. The provision also introduced a specific minimum wage of RON 3,000 (USD 728) for construction workers. In 2017, the government adopted a unitary wage law to establish a more consistent framework for wages across the public sector. The law provided for a salary increase of at least 25 percent for most public sector employees; wages for some workers in the healthcare sector doubled in nominal terms as of March 2018. Discussions with unions and businesses continue on the specific applications of the Unitary Wage Law.

The Labor Code regulates the labor market in Romania, controlling contracting, jurisdiction, and the application of regulations. It applies to both national and foreign citizens working in Romania or abroad for Romanian companies. As an EU member state, Romania has no government policy that requires the hiring of nationals, but it has annual work permit quotas for other non-EU nationals. Starting in 2020, employers are no longer required to obtain General Immigration Inspectorate (IGI) approval for nationals from Moldova, Ukraine, and Serbia for fulltime labor contracts of up to 9 months per year. For 2021 the government decreased the annual work permits to 25,000, down from 30,000 in 2020. Work permits are valid for one year and are renewable with an individual work contract. Employers pay a EUR 100 tax for most foreign workers with the exception of seasonal workers and those present in Romania on student visas, for whom the tax is EUR 25. The government also reduced the cost of employing non-EU citizens in 2018. The amended legislation no longer requires employers to pay a minimum wage equivalent to the gross average wage. Normal minimum wage law applies with the exception that highly skilled non-EU workers must receive at least twice the gross minimum wage. Foreign companies still resort to expensive staff rotations, special consulting contracts, and non-cash benefits.

Since Romania’s revolution in 1989, labor-management relations have occasionally been tense, the result of economic restructuring and personnel layoffs. Trade unions, much better organized than employers’ associations, are vocal defenders of their rights and benefits. Employers are required to make severance payments for layoffs according to the individual labor contracts, company terms and conditions, and the applicable collective bargaining agreements. The Labor Code differentiates between layoffs and firing; severance payments are due only in case of layoffs. There is no treatment of labor specific to special economic zones, foreign trade zones, or free ports.

Romanian law allows workers to form and join independent labor unions without prior authorization, and workers freely exercise this right. Labor unions are independent of the government. Unions and employee representatives must typically notify the employer before going on strike and must take specific steps provided by law before launching a general strike, including holding discussions and attempting reconciliation with management representatives. Companies may claim damages from strike organizers if a court deems a strike illegal. Labor dispute mechanisms are in place to mediate any conflicts between employers and employees regarding economic, social, and professional interests. Unresolved conflicts are adjudicated in court according to the civil code. The employee, employer, or labor union may initiate proceedings. In 2019, employees from household appliances, electrical and railcar industries went on strike. They sought higher pay, better working conditions, and sufficient staffing.

Union representatives allege that few incidents of anti-union discrimination are officially reported because it is difficult to prove that employers laid-off employees in retaliation for union activities. The government has generally respected the right of association, and union officials state that registration requirements stipulated by law are complicated, but generally reasonable. The current law permits, but it does not impose, collective labor agreements for groups of employers or sectors of activity. Companies with more than 21 employees may use collective bargaining, which provides for written agreements between employees and the employer or employers’ association. According to the Ministry of Labor, companies and employees had finalized 8,233 collective labor agreements in 2019 and 4,364 collective labor agreements as of Q3 2020. Since 2014, Parliament has periodically considered reintroducing collective bargaining nationwide, a practice that previously established minimum pay and working conditions for the entire economy, but which the Social Dialogue Act eliminated in 2011.

As an EU and International Labor Organization member state, Romania observes international labor rights. The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but enforcement is not uniform or effective. As penalties are insufficient to deter violations, reports indicated that such practices continued to occur, often involving Roma, disabled persons, and children. The minimum age for most forms of employment is 16, but children may work with the consent of parents or guardians at age 15, provided the tasks correlate with their abilities. Employment in harmful or dangerous jobs is forbidden for those under the age of 18; the government maintains a list of dangerous jobs in which the employment of minors is restricted.

Romania does not waive or derogate labor laws and regulations to attract or retain investments. Since 2011, employers have had more flexibility to evaluate employees based on performance and hiring and firing procedures have been significantly relaxed. The main objective for Romania’s national labor strategy for 2014-2020 is the development of an efficient, dynamic, and flexible workforce. Romania aims to ensure that by 2020, 70 percent of people aged 20-64 will have access to a quality job which rewards them based on their capacity and competence and ensures a decent standard of living.

The minimum wage has more than tripled in nominal terms since 2012, rising from RON 700 (USD 170) to RON 2,300 (USD 558) per month in 2021. In addition, the government introduced a differentiated minimum wage in December 2018, decreeing that employees with a university degree, as required by the job description and one year on the job, must receive at least RON 2,350 (USD 570) monthly, 5 percent more than other minimum wage workers earn.  Despite these measures, Romania has the highest rate of employed persons at risk of poverty among EU member states; 15.7 percent in 2019.

Wage increases have been outpacing productivity growth since 2016. This led to a marked acceleration of hourly labor costs, which posted a 6 percent nominal increase in December 2020 as compared with the same period in 2019.

In December 2017, the GOR shifted the burden of mandatory payroll deductions for pensions, healthcare, and income taxes from employers to employees. To avoid reductions in employee net pay and retain labor in a tight market, many companies increased salaries to offset employee losses. Other companies, wary of further possible changes, offered monthly bonuses rather than formally amending employee contracts.

Separately, in December 2019, Parliament reduced payroll taxes for part-time workers. The bill reversed 2017 provisions when, in an effort to curtail underreporting of work, the government increased the minimum required payroll taxes that employers must pay for their part-time employees to equal those for a full-time employee earning minimum wage. Coupled with the change in the legal tax incidence of social contributions described above, the law had the unintended consequence that some employees owed more in social contributions than their monthly earnings. Subsequently, the government issued an ordinance in February 2018 to allow part-time workers to pay social contributions for their actual gross income only, mandating that the employer make up the difference. Effective January 1, 2020, part-time employees are taxed based on their actual earnings, and employers do not cover additional charges.

In 2018, the government passed new legislation clearly articulating the way the labor code applies to companies employing teleworkers, defining the distinction between teleworkers and employees who work full-time from home.

In response to COVID-19 restrictions, the government extended the categories of employees eligible for unemployment benefits to independently registered business people, lawyers, and individuals with income deriving from copyright and sports activities. In August 2020, the government adopted a flexible work scheme model that required employers to cover half of full-time wages, and the GOR to pay 75 percent of the difference between the gross wage and the basic wage paid to the employee based on the number of hours actually worked. As part of the same package, independent and seasonal workers affected by the epidemic could continue to receive 41.5 percent of the average gross wages for a limited period. Day workers and SME employees also would be able to receive separate, limited payments to cover wages and teleworking equipment. The law also allows for one caretaker of school-age children to receive paid days off for periods when schools are closed.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (USD) 2020 $250B 2020 $257B www.worldbank.org/en/country  https://insse.ro/cms/ 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country (stock positions, USD) 2020 $5.87B 2019 $3.46B BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/  National Office of the Trade Register National Bank of Romania
Host country’s FDI in the United States (stock positions, USD) N/A N/A 2019 $38M BEA data available at ttps://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as %host GDP N/A N/A 2019 2.5% UNCTAD data available at https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/EconomicTrends/Fdi.html 

* Source for Host Country Data:

National Statistics Institute: https://insse.ro/cms/ 

National Bank of Romania: https://www.bnr.ro/

National Office of the Trade Register: https://www.onrc.ro/ 

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 99,050 100% Total Outward N/A
Netherlands 23,012 23.2% Country #1 N/A
Austria 12,461 12.6% Country #2 N/A
Germany 12,219 12.3% Country #3 N/A
Italy 8,146 8.2% Country #4 N/A
Cyprus* 6,161 6.2% Country #5 N/A
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.*The National Bank of Romania estimates the United States to be #5 when methodology is altered to account for investments made by foreign subsidiaries of origin country companies.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (US Dollars, Millions)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 6,137 100% All Countries 1,839 100% All Countries 4,298 100%
Luxembourg 1,346 22% Luxembourg 851 46% International Organizations 859 20%
International Organizations 859 14% Austria 198 11% U.S. 666 15%
U.S. 769 13% Ireland 165 9% Luxembourg 495 12%
Austria 674 11% Germany 141 8% Austria 476 11%
Netherlands 397 6% Netherlands 129 7% France 286 7%

14. Contact for More Information

Kevin Manuel
B-dul Dr. Liviu Librescu 4-6
+40-21-200-3343
InfoBuch@state.gov

Slovakia

Executive Summary

Slovakia is a small, open, export-oriented economy, with a population of 5.5 million.  Slovakia joined the European Union (EU) and NATO in 2004 and the Eurozone in 2009.  Slovakia is an attractive destination for foreign direct investment (FDI), with a favorable geographic location in the heart of Europe, and an investment-friendly regulatory environment.  The current ruling coalition took power in March 2020 and has implemented a range of measures to simplify business regulations.

The Slovak economy contracted 5.2 percent in 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19. The country began a prolonged lockdown in October 2020, which is expected to significantly slow the economic recovery. As of March 2021, much of the economy remains shuttered. The hospitality and restaurant sectors have been hit particularly hard by the restrictions.

Employers’ combined social and health contributions are equivalent to 35 percent of wages.  The corporate income tax rate is 21 percent for companies with revenues at or above 100,000 euro. The tax rate for companies with revenues below 100,000 euro was lowered to 15 percent in 2020.

Attracting higher value-added investment is a top priority of the current ruling coalition, as well as attracting investment in less-developed regions of Slovakia. Priorities for EU fund spending include reforms to the underperforming education and healthcare systems, and efforts to root out endemic corruption.  Inefficiencies in drawing available EU funds persist. In 2020, the Slovak police launched a major anti-corruption drive charging a number of high-ranking judges and prosecutors, two former police presidents, and several high-profile businessmen with corruption-related crimes. The judiciary is also currently undergoing a major reform aimed at improving the efficiency and predictability of the system.

Slovakia remains the largest per capita car producer in the world, with four major car producers and hundreds of suppliers.  Manufacturing industries, including automotive; machinery and transport equipment; metallurgy and metal processing; electronics; chemicals; and pharmaceuticals remain attractive and have the potential for further growth.

Positive aspects of the Slovak investment climate include:

  • Membership in the EU and the Eurozone
  • An open, export-oriented economy close to western European markets
  • Investment incentives, including for foreign investors
  • A firm government commitment to EU deficit and debt targets
  • A sound banking sector deeply integrated with Europe

Negative aspects of the Slovak investment climate include:

  • High sensitivity to regional economic developments
  • Weak public administration, allegations of corruption, and a weak judiciary
  • Significant regional disparities, suboptimal national transport network
  • Low rates of public and private R&D investment
  • Heavy reliance on EU structural funds, chronic deficiencies in allocation of funds
Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 60 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 N/A http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 39 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 N/A http://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 N/A http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment 

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Slovakia is one of the most open economies in the EU.  The government’s overall attitude toward foreign direct investment (FDI) is positive, and the government does not limit or discriminate against foreign investors.  FDI plays an important role in the country’s economy, with major foreign investments in manufacturing and industry, financial services, information and communication technologies (ICT), and Business Service Centers, where U.S. companies have a significant presence.

Slovakia’s assets, including skilled labor, EU and Eurozone membership, and a central location in Europe have attracted a significant U.S. commercial and industrial presence, with investments from Accenture, Adient, Amazon, Amphenol, AT&T, Cisco, Dell, Garrett, GlobalLogic, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Lear, Oracle, U.S. Steel, Whirlpool, and others.

The Ministry of Economy coordinates efforts to improve the business environment, innovation, and support for less-developed regions.  Within the Ministry of Economy, the Slovak Investment and Trade Development Agency (SARIO) is responsible for identifying and    advising potential investors, providing in-depth information on the Slovak business environment, investment incentives, the process for setting up a business, as well as advising on suitable locations and real estate leasing. The government encourages investment through tax incentives and grants to support employment, regional development, and training.  Section Four of the Regional Investment Aid Act (57/2018) specifies the eligibility criteria for receiving assistance.

According to the National Bank of Slovakia’s preliminary data, in 2019, inward FDI flows to Slovakia reached 2.2 billion EUR, and inward FDI stock was 54 billion EUR.  EU Member States, including the Netherlands, Austria, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, and Germany, are the largest foreign investors in Slovakia.  South Korea remains by far the largest investor among non-EU countries.

The Act on Special Levy on Regulated Sectors (235/2012 Coll., and later amendments) imposes a special tax on regulated industries, including the energy and network industries, insurance companies, electronic communications companies, healthcare, air transport, and others.  The levy applies to profits generated from regulated activities above 3 million EUR.

The Slovak government requires ride-sharing and app-based hospitality platforms that are active on the local market to register a permanent office in Slovakia for tax collection purposes.   Platforms that have not yet registered an office must pay either a 19 or 35 percent withholding tax on the fees it pays to a foreign entity, based on the residence of the recipient of such fee and whether bilateral taxation treaties exist.

The government actively works with investors to keep them operating in the country. In late 2020, Volkswagen, already one of the largest private employers in the country, credited a decision to expand its investment, in part, to the government’s assistance in negotiations with local partners.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity in Slovakia.  Businesses can contract directly with foreign entities.  Private enterprises are free to establish, acquire, and dispose of business interests, but must pay all Slovak obligations of liquidated companies before transferring any remaining funds out of Slovakia.  All new businesses registered from October 2020 onwards must provide the national registration numbers of their partners, authorized representatives, and members of the boards of directors and supervisory boards when registering the business. Foreigners must provide their passport or residence permit numbers when registering the business.

In February 2021, Slovak Parliament approved legislation, over the opposition of representatives of the business community, requiring government review of ownership transfers larger than 10 percent of companies considered “critical infrastructure” – which includes a number of companies with foreign ownership. The law was passed through a fast-track procedure in response to a reported demand from Russian Sberbank that Slovakia’s electricity generator Slovenske Elektrarne back its debt to the bank with equity. The Economy Ministry has said that it will release a more robust Investment Screening Mechanism in 2021, which will be based on the EU Investment Screening Regulation 2020/1298, and will replace the fast-tracked legislation.

Slovakia has no formal performance requirements for establishing, maintaining, or expanding foreign investments.  Large-scale privatizations are possible via direct sale or public auction.  There are no formal requirements to approve FDI, though the government ultimately approves investment incentives.  If investment incentives apply, the Economy Ministry manages the associated government approval process.  The Act on Regional Investment Aid (57/2018) specifies that only three categories of projects may be subsidized: industrial production, technology, or business services.  An amendment to the Act in force from January 2021 slightly relaxed the conditions for receiving investment aid, increasing the maximum time to finish work on the investment project from three to five years.

The Slovak government treats foreign entities established in Slovakia in the same manner as domestic entities, and foreign entities face no impediments to participating in R&D programs financed and/or subsidized by the Slovak government.  Since January 2020, up to 200 percent of R&D spending is tax deductible.

The Slovak government holds stakes in a number of energy companies.  It has historically been less open to private investment in energy assets that it considers to be in the national security interest.  There are no domestic ownership requirements for telecommunications and broadcast licenses.  The Act on Civil Air Transport (143/1998 Coll.) sets out rules for foreign operators seeking to operate in Slovakia.

Please consult the following websites for more information:

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In its Investment Policy Monitor, The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) highlights Slovakia’s 2018 adoption of the Act on Regional Investment Aid and notes that tourism was excluded. The report highlights that income tax exemptions are the primary form of state aid, but direct subsidies for land purchase are also available, and investors may apply for job creation contributions from the government or may be permitted to let or own property at lower than a market value.

Business Facilitation

According to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report, Slovakia ranks 118 out of 190 countries surveyed on the ease of starting a business, up from 127 in 2019.  It takes, on average, 21.5 days to start a business versus 26.5 days in 2019, and involves seven procedures. There are business development companies that provide assistance with navigating the process of establishing a new business. The main agencies with which a company must register are the business registry, tax office, and social security agency.

In 2020, the Economy Ministry presented more than 500 measures that will decrease the administrative burden on businesses. More than 100 of these measures were approved by Parliament in July 2020. The Economy Ministry also announced plans for regular reviews of existing legislation to ensure it still serves its purpose, and stricter reviews during the transposition of EU legislation to ensure that the laws are not adding administrative burden beyond what is required.

The Central Government Portal “ slovensko.sk ” provides useful information on e-Government services for starting and running a business, citizenship, justice, registering vehicles, social security, etc.  Checklists of procedures necessary for registrations, applications for permits, etc., are currently available on the websites of the business registry, tax office and social security agency. The Economy Ministry is working on streamlining the information into one common platform.  The government has also announced plans for a major overhaul to the e-Government service portal to streamline access to public services.

Please consult the following websites for more information:

Outward Investment

Due to their limited size, Slovak companies have not made significant outward foreign direct investments.

Several state agencies share responsibility for facilitating outward investment and trade.  SARIO is officially responsible for export facilitation and attracting investment.  The Slovak Export-Import Bank (EXIM Bank) supports exports and outward investments with financial instruments to reduce risks related to insurance, credit, guarantee, and financial activities; it assists both large companies and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), and is the only institution in Slovakia authorized to provide export and outward investment-related government financial assistance.  The Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs runs a Business Center that provides services for exporters and helps identify investment opportunities.  Slovakia’s diplomatic missions, the Ministry of Finance’s Slovak Guarantee and Development Bank, and the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office for Investments and Regional Development also play a role in facilitating external economic relations. Slovakia does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.