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Bangladesh

Executive Summary

Bangladesh is the most densely populated non-city state country in the world, with the world’s eighth largest population (over 165 million) in a territory the size of Iowa.  Bangladesh is situated in the northeastern corner of the Indian subcontinent, sharing a 4,100 km border with India and a 247 km border with Burma. With sustained economic growth over the past decade, a large, young, and hard-working workforce, strategic location between the large South and Southeast Asian markets, and vibrant private sector, Bangladesh will likely attract increasing investment.

Buoyed by a growing middle class, Bangladesh has enjoyed consistent annual GDP growth of more than six percent over the past decade.  Much of this growth continues to be driven by the ready-made garments (RMG) industry, which exported USD 36.66 billion of products in FY 2017-18, second only to China, and continued remittance inflows, reaching nearly USD 15 billion in FY 2017-18.  Forecasts based on the first nine months of the 2018-19 fiscal year estimate Bangladesh is on track to reach USD 40 billion in garment exports for the fiscal year.

The Government of Bangladesh (GOB) actively seeks foreign investment, particularly in the agribusiness, garment/textiles, leather/leather goods, light manufacturing, energy, information and communications technology (ICT), and infrastructure sectors.  It offers a range of investment incentives under its industrial policy and export-oriented growth strategy with few formal distinctions between foreign and domestic private investors. Bangladesh received USD 3.0 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) in FY 2017-18, up from USD 2.45 billion the previous year.  However, the rate of FDI inflows is only around 1 percent of GDP, one of the lowest of rates in Asia.

Bangladesh has made gradual progress in reducing some constraints on investment, including taking steps to better ensure reliable electricity, but inadequate infrastructure, limited financing instruments, bureaucratic delays, and corruption continue to hinder foreign investment.  New government efforts to improve the business environment show promise but implementation has yet to be seen. Slow adoption of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms and sluggish judicial processes impede the enforcement of contracts and the resolution of business disputes.

A series of terrorist attacks in 2015-17, including the July 1, 2016 Holey Bakery attack in Dhaka’s diplomatic enclave, resulted in increased security restrictions for many expatriates, including U.S. Embassy staff.  National elections, which were held on December 30, 2018, are prone to instances of political violence. The influx of more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees since August 2017 has also raised security concerns.

International brands and the international community continue to press the GOB to meaningfully address worker rights and factory safety problems in the country.  With support from the international community and the private sector, Bangladesh has made significant progress on fire and workplace safety. Critical work remains on safeguarding workers’ rights to freely associate and bargain collectively, including in the Export Processing Zones (EPZs).  

The GOB has limited resources for intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and counterfeit goods are readily available in Bangladesh.  Government policies in the ICT sector are still under development. Current policies grant the government broad powers to intervene in that sector.

Capital markets in Bangladesh are still developing and the financial sector is still highly dependent on banks.

Table 1

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 149 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2018 176 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 116 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in Partner Country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $460 http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $1,470 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Bangladesh actively seeks foreign investment, particularly in the agribusiness, garment and textiles, leather and leather goods, light manufacturing, energy, information and communications technology (ICT), and infrastructure sectors.  It offers a range of investment incentives under its industrial policy and export-oriented growth strategy with few formal distinctions between foreign and domestic private investors.

Foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own, operate, and dispose of interests in most types of business enterprises. Four sectors, however, are reserved for government investment:

  • Arms and ammunition and other defense equipment and machinery;
  • Forest plantation and mechanized extraction within the bounds of reserved forests;
  • Production of nuclear energy;
  • Security printing.

The Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) is the principal authority tasked with promoting supervising and promoting private investment.  The BIDA Act of 2016 approved the merger of the now disbanded Board of Investment and the Privatization Committee. BIDA performs the following functions:

  • Provides pre-investment counseling services
  • Registers and approves of private industrial projects
  • Issues approval of branch/liaison/representative offices
  • Issues work permits for foreign nationals
  • Issues approval of royalty remittances, technical know-how and technical assistance fees
  • Facilitates import of capital machinery and raw materials
  • Issues approvals for foreign loans and supplier credits

BIDA’s newly designed website has aggregated information regarding Bangladesh investment policies and ease of doing business indicators: http://bida.gov.bd/  .  

The Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority (BEPZA) acts as the investment supervisory authority in export processing zones (EPZs).  BEPZA is the one-stop service provider and regulatory authority for companies operating inside EPZs. In addition, Bangladesh plans to establish over 100 Economic Zones (EZs) throughout the country over the next several years.  The EZs are designed to attract additional foreign investment to locations throughout the country. The Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority (BEZA) is responsible for supervising and promoting investments in the economic zones (EZs).  

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own, operate, and dispose of interests in most types of business enterprises. Bangladesh allows private investment in power generation and natural gas exploration, but efforts to allow full foreign participation in petroleum marketing and gas distribution have stalled.  Regulations in the area of telecommunication infrastructure currently include provisions for 60 percent foreign ownership (70 percent for tower sharing).

Four sectors are reserved for government investment and exclude both foreign and domestic private sector activity:

  • Arms and ammunition and other defense equipment and machinery;
  • Forest plantation and mechanized extraction within the bounds of reserved forests;
  • Production of nuclear energy;
  • Security printing.

In addition, there are 17 controlled sectors that require prior clearance/ permission from the respective line ministries/authorities. These are:

  1. Fishing in the deep sea
  2. Bank/financial institution in the private sector
  3. Insurance company in the private sector
  4. Generation, supply and distribution of power in the private sector
  5. Exploration, extraction and supply of natural gas/oil
  6. Exploration, extraction and supply of coal
  7. Exploration, extraction and supply of other mineral resources
  8. Large-scale infrastructure projects (e.g. flyover, elevated expressway, monorail,     economic zone, inland container depot/container freight station)
  9. Crude oil refinery (recycling/refining of lube oil used as fuel)
  10. Medium and large industry using natural gas/condescend and other minerals as raw material
  11. Telecommunication service (mobile/cellular and land phone)
  12. Satellite channels
  13. Cargo/passenger aviation
  14. Sea-bound ship transport
  15. Sea-port/deep seaport
  16. VOIP/IP telephone
  17. Industries using heavy minerals accumulated from sea beach

While discrimination against foreign investors is not widespread, the government frequently promotes local industries and some discriminatory policies and regulations exist. For example, the government closely controls approvals for imported medicines that compete with domestically-manufactured pharmaceutical products and it has required majority local ownership of new shipping and insurance companies, albeit with exemptions for existing foreign-owned firms, following a prime ministerial directive.  In practical terms, foreign investors frequently find it necessary to have a local partner even though this requirement may not be statutorily defined.

In certain strategic sectors, the GOB has placed unofficial barriers on foreign companies’ ability to divest from the country.

Business Registration

The Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA), formerly the Board of Investment, is responsible for screening, reviewing, and approving FDI in Bangladesh.  BIDA is directly supervised by the Prime Minister’s office and the Chairman of BIDA has Minister-equivalent rank. There have been instances where receiving approval was delayed.  Once the foreign investor’s application is submitted to BIDA, the authorities review the proposal to ensure the investment does not create conflicts with local business. Investors note it is frequently necessary to separately register with other entities such as the National Board of Revenue.  According to the World Bank, business registration in Bangladesh takes 19.5 days on average with nine distinct steps: http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/bangladesh/   .  

BIDA’s resources on Ease of Doing Business, Investment Opportunity, Potential Sectors, and Doing Business in Bangladesh are also available at:  

Requirements vary by sector, but all foreign investors are also required to obtain clearance certificates from relevant ministries and institutions with regulatory oversight.  BIDA establishes time-lines for the submission of all the required documents. For example, if a proposed foreign investment is in the healthcare equipment field, investors need to obtain a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Directorate General for Health Services under the Ministry of Health.  The NOC states that the specific investment will not hinder local manufacturers and is in alignment with the guidelines of the ministry. Negative outcomes can be appealed, except for applications pertaining to the four restricted sectors previously mentioned.

A foreign investor also must register its company with the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms (RJSC&F) and open a local bank account under the registered company’s name.  For BIDA screening, an investor must submit the RJSC&F Company Registration certificate, legal bank account details, a NOC from the relevant ministry, department, or institution, and a project profile (if the investment is more than USD 1.25 million) along with BIDA’s formatted application form.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In 2013 Bangladesh completed an investment policy review (IPR) with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and can be found at: http://unctad.org/en/pages/newsdetails.aspx?OriginalVersionID=444&Sitemap_x0020_Taxonomy=Investment percent20Policy percent20Reviews percent20(IPR);#20;#UNCTAD percent20Home  .

Bangladesh has not conducted an IPR through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

A Trade Policy Review was last done by the World Trade Organization in October 2012 and can be found at:  https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp370_e.htm  .

With EU assistance, Bangladesh conducted a trade policy review, the “Comprehensive Trade Policy of Bangladesh” which was published by the Ministry of Commerce in September 2014.  Current Bangladesh government export and import policies are available at: http://www.mincom.gov.bd/site/page/30991fcb-8dfc-4154-a58b-09bb86f60601/Policy  .

Business Facilitation

The Government has had limited success reducing the time required to establish a company.  BIDA and BEZA are both attempting to establish one-stop business registration shops and these agencies have proposed draft legislation for this purpose.  In February 2018, the Bangladesh Parliament passed the “One Stop Service Bill 2018,” which aims to streamline business and investment registration processes.  Expected streamlined services from BIDA include: company registration, name clearance issuance, tax certificate and taxpayer’s identification number (TIN), value added tax (VAT) registration, visa recommendation letter issuance, work permit issuance, foreign borrowing request approval, and environment clearance.  BIDA started its online one-stop service (OSS) on a trial basis in January 2018. Businesses are currently getting 15 types of services online. BIDA aims to automate 150 processes from 34 government agencies once the OSS becomes fully operational.

Companies can register their business at the Office of the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms:  www.roc.gov.bd  .  However, the online business registration process is not clear and cannot be used by a foreign company to attain the business registration as certain steps are required to be performed in-person.  

In addition, BIDA has branch/liaison office registration information on its website at: http://bida.gov.bd/  .  

Other agencies with which a company must typically register are as follows:

  • City Corporation – Trade License
  • National Board of Revenue – Tax & VAT Registration
  • Chief Inspector of Shops and Establishments – Employment of workers notification.

The company registration process now takes around 15 workdays to complete.  The process to open a branch or liaison office is approximately one month. The process for a trade license, tax registration, and VAT registration requires seven days, two days, and three weeks, respectively.  

Outward Investment

Outward foreign direct investment is generally restricted through the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act of 1947.  As a result, the Bangladesh Bank plays a key role in limiting outbound investment. In September 2015, the government amended the 1947 Act by adding a “conditional provision” that permits outbound investment for export-related enterprises.  Private sector contacts note that the few international investments approved by the Bangladesh Bank have been limited to large exporting companies with international experience.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Bangladesh has signed bilateral investment treaties with 28 countries, including Austria, the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Japan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Netherlands, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Singapore, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.  

The U.S.-Bangladesh Bilateral Investment Treaty, signed on March 12, 1986, entered into force on July 23, 1989.  The Foreign Investment Act includes a guarantee of national treatment. The United States and Bangladesh also signed a bilateral treaty for the avoidance of double taxation on September 26, 2004.  The United States ratified it on March 31, 2006. The parties exchanged instruments of ratification on August 7, 2006. The treaty became effective for most taxpayers beginning in the 2007 tax year.

Bangladesh has successfully negotiated several regional trade and economic agreements, including the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA), the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA), and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral, Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).  Bangladesh has not signed any bilateral free trade agreements (FTA), but started FTA discussions with Sri Lanka in March 2017 with the intention to sign the agreement by the end of 2018. In August 2017, Bangladesh also signed a memorandum of understanding with Turkey to begin discussions towards an FTA.  It has also announced plans to negotiate agreements with Cambodia and Thailand.

Bangladesh has taken steps to strengthen bilateral economic relations with India by reducing trade barriers and improving connectivity.  Bangladesh gained duty-free access to India via regional trade agreements including the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Preferential Trading Arrangement (SAPTA) signed in 1993 and the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement signed in 2004.  Tariff reduction under SAFTA started from July 2006. Under SAFTA, Bangladesh can export goods duty-free to India, with the exception of alcohol and tobacco. India also provides duty-free and preferential tariff treatment to Bangladesh under the Duty Free Tariff Preference (DFTP) Scheme for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) effective from August 13, 2008.  As a founding member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and as a Less Developed Country (LDC), Bangladesh has been an active advocate for LDC interests in WTO negotiations. In reality, however, many non-tariff barriers between Bangladesh and India continue to inhibit increased regional trade. These include anti-dumping and countervailing duties, conformity in testing/assessment, compliance with sanitary and phytosanitary standards, rules of origin, visa restrictions, and trade facilitation like poor logistic facilities at land ports.  India is the destination for less than 2 percent of Bangladesh’s exports.

Bangladesh met all three criteria required to graduate from LDC status at the triennial review of the UN’s Economic and Social Council Committee for Development Policy held in March 2018.  Bangladesh expects to fully graduate from LDC status in 2024 and then receive a three-year transition period during which it can still enjoy LDC-specific benefits. After 2027, Bangladesh is expected to lose access to several trade preferences program, including the European Union’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Everything but Arms (EBA) program and other preferential financing arrangements.  To gain access to the EU’s GSP+ program, Bangladesh will need to ratify 27 international conventions on human and labor rights, environment, and governance.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Since 1989, the government has gradually moved to decrease regulatory obstruction of private business.  The Bangladeshi chambers of commerce have called for a greater voice for the private sector in government decisions and for privatization, but at the same time, many support protectionism and subsidies for their own industries.  The result is that policy and regulations in Bangladesh are often not clear, consistent, or publicized. Registration and regulatory processes are alleged to be frequently used as rent-seeking opportunities. The major rule-making and regulatory authority exist at the national level—under each Ministry with many final decisions being made at the top-most levels, including the Prime Minister’s office (PMO).  The PMO is actively engaged in controlling policies, as well as foreign investment in government-controlled projects. 

The Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA)—a merger of the Board of Investment (BOI) and the Privatization Commission (PC)—was formed in accordance with the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority Bill 2016 passed by Parliament on July 25, 2016.  The bill established BIDA as the lead private investment promotion and facilitation agency in Bangladesh. The move came amid complaints about redundancies in the BOI’s and the PC’s overlapping mandates and concerns that the PC had not made sufficient progress. BIDA hopes to become a “one-stop shop” for investors and a “true” investment promotion authority rather than simply follow the referral service-orientation of BOI.  Currently, BIDA is not yet a one-stop shop and companies must still seek approvals from relevant line ministries

Bangladesh has achieved incremental progress in using information technology to improve the transparency and efficiency of some government services and to develop independent agencies to regulate the energy and telecommunication sectors.  Some investors cited government laws, regulations, and implementation as impediments to investment.  The government has historically limited opportunities for the private sector to comment on proposed regulations.  In 2009, Bangladesh adopted the Right to Information Act that provides for multilevel stakeholders consultation through workshops or media outreach.  Although the consultation process exists, it is still weak and subject to further improvement.

Ministries do not generally publish and release draft proposals to the public.  However, several government organizations, including the Bangladesh Bank (central bank), BIDA, the Ministry of Commerce, and the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission have occasionally posted draft legislation and regulations online and solicited feedback from the business community.  In some instances, parliamentary committees have also reached out to relevant stakeholders for input on draft legislation. The media continues to be the main information source for the public on many draft proposals. There is also no legal obligation to publish proposed regulations, consider alternatives to proposed regulation, or solicit comments from the general public.

Regulatory agencies generally do not solicit comments on proposed regulations from the general public; however, when a consultation occurs, comments may be received through public media consultation, feedback on websites (e.g., in the past, the Bangladesh Bank received comments on monetary policy), focus group discussions, or workshops with relevant stakeholders.  There is no government body tasked with soliciting and receiving comments, but the Bangladesh Government Press of the Ministry of Information is entrusted with the authority of disseminating government information to the public. The law does not require regulatory agencies to report on the results of consultations and, in practice, regulators do not generally report the results.  Widespread use of social media in Bangladesh has created an additional platform for public input into developing regulations and government officials appear to be sensitive to this form of messaging.

The government printing office, The Bangladesh Government Press (http://www.dpp.gov.bd/bgpress/  ), publishes the weekly “Bangladesh Gazette” every Thursday.  The gazette provides official notice of government actions, including the issuance of government rules and regulations and the transfer and promotion of government employees.  Laws can also be accessed at http://bdlaws.minlaw.gov.bd/  .

Bangladesh passed the Financial Reporting Act of 2015 which created the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) in 2016 in an aim to establish transparency and accountability in the accounting and auditing of financial institutions.  However, the FRC is not fully functional as the regulations that will govern the accountings, earning reports, and disclosure of companies have not yet been formulated. Accounting practices and quality varies widely in Bangladesh.  Internationally known and recognized firms have begun establishing local offices in Bangladesh and the presence of these firms is positively influencing the accounting norms in the country. Some firms are capable of providing financial reports audited to international standards while others maintain unreliable (or multiple) sets of accounting reports.  Regulatory agencies also do not conduct impact assessment of proposed regulations; hence, regulations are often not reviewed on the basis of data-driven assessments. National budget documents are not prepared according to internationally accepted standards.

International Regulatory Considerations

The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) aims to integrate regional regulatory systems between Bangladesh, India, Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal, and Bhutan.  However, efforts to advance regional cooperation measures have stalled in recent years and regulatory systems remain uncoordinated.

Local law is based on the English common law system but most fall short of international standards. The country’s regulatory system remains weak and many of the laws and regulations are not enforced and standards are not maintained.

Bangladesh has been a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since January 1995.  The WTO requires all signatories to the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) to establish a National Inquiry Point and Notification Authority to gather and efficiently distribute trade-related regulatory, standards, and conformity assessment information to the WTO Member community.  Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institute (BSTI) has been working as the National Enquiry Point for the WTO-TBT Agreement since 2002. There is an internal committee on WTO affairs in BSTI and it participates in the notification activities to WTO through the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Industries.

Focal Points and Methods of Contact are:  

General Contact:

Email: ictcell.bsti@gmail.com
Tel: +880-2-8870275

Email address for WTO-TBT National Enquiry Point: bsti_pub@bangla.net

Focal Points for WTO:

  • Md. Muazzem Hossain, Director General, BSTI, Dhaka; Email: dg@bsti.gov.bd, Tel: +880-2-8870275
  • Mr. Shajjatul Bari, Deputy Director, Standards Wing, BSTI, Dhaka; Email: dstd@bsti.gov.bd, Tel: +880-2-8870278, Cell: +8801672790239
  • Mr. Md. Munir Chowdhury, Director General, WTO Cell, Ministry of Commerce; Email: dg.wto@mincom.gov.bd, Tel: +880-2-9545383, Cell: +88 0171 1591060
  • Focal Points for Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS), Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) and Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS):
  • Mr. Md. Hafizur Rahman, Director, WTO Cell, Ministry of Commerce: Email: director1.wto@mincom.gov.bd, Tel: +880-2-9552105, Cell: +88 0171 1861056
  • Mr. Md. Hamidur Rahman Khan, Director, WTO Cell, Ministry of Commerce-
  • Email: director2.wto@mincom.gov.bd, Tel: +880-2-9549195, Cell: +88 01711372093

Link to BSTI: http://www.bsti.gov.bd/  

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Bangladesh is a common law based jurisdiction.  Many of the basic laws of Bangladesh, such as the penal code, civil and criminal procedural codes, contract law, and company law are influenced by English common laws.  However, family laws, such as laws relating to marriage, dissolution of marriage, and inheritance are based on religious scripts and therefore differ between religious communities.  The Bangladeshi legal system is based on a written constitution and the laws often take statutory forms that are enacted by the legislature and interpreted by the higher courts. Ordinarily, executive authorities and statutory corporations cannot make any law, but can make by-laws to the extent authorized by the legislature.  Such subordinate legislation is known as rules or regulations and is also enforceable by the court. As a common law system, statutes are typically short and set out basic rights and responsibilities that are then elaborated on by the courts in their application and interpretation. The Judiciary of Bangladesh acts through (1) The Superior Judiciary having appellate, revision, and original jurisdiction and (2) Sub-Ordinate Judiciary having original jurisdiction.

Since 1971, Bangladesh’s legal system has been updated in the areas of company, banking, bankruptcy, and money loan court laws and other commercial laws.  An important impediment to investment in Bangladesh is a weak and slow legal system in which the enforceability of contracts is uncertain.  The judicial system does not provide for interest to be charged in tort judgments, which means delays in proceedings carry no penalties.  Bangladesh does not have a separate court or division of a court dedicated solely to hearing commercial cases. The Joint District Judge court (a civil court) is responsible for enforcing contracts.

Some notable commercial laws include:

  • The Contract Act, 1872 (Act No. IX of 1930)
  • The Sale of Goods Act, 1930 (Act No. III of 1930)
  • The Partnership Act, 1932 (Act No. IX of 1932)
  • The Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 (Act No. XXVI of 1881)
  • The Bankruptcy Act, 1997 (Act No. X of 1997)
  • The Arbitration Act, 2001 (Act No. I of 2001).

The judicial system of Bangladesh has never been completely independent from the interference of the executive branch of the government.  In a significant milestone, the government in 2007 separated the country’s judiciary from the executive but the executive retains strong influence over the judiciary through control of judicial appointments.  Other pillars of the justice system, including the police, courts, and legal profession, are also closely aligned with the executive branch.  In lower courts, corruption is widely perceived as a serious problem.  Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable under the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.

Bangladesh scored a 3.33 in the World Bank’s 2017 Judicial Independence Index on a 1-7 band score with 7 being the best ranking.  That was up from 2016 when it scored a 2.38.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Major laws affecting foreign investment include: the Foreign Private Investment (Promotion and Protection) Act of 1980, the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority Act of 1980, the Companies Act of 1994, the Telecommunications Act of 2001, the Industrial Policy Act of 2005, the Industrial Policy Act of 2010, and the Bangladesh Economic Zones Act 2010.  The Industrial Policy Act of 2016 was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Industrial Purchase on February 24, 2016 and replaces the Industrial Policy of 2010.

The Industrial Policy Act of 2016 offers incentives for “green” (environmental), high-tech, or “transformative” industries.  Foreign investors who invest USD 1 million or transfer USD 2 million to a recognized financial institution can apply for Bangladeshi citizenship.  The Government of Bangladesh will provide financial and policy support for high-priority industries (those that create large-scale employment and earn substantial export revenue) and creative industries (architecture, arts and antiques, fashion design, film and video, interactive laser software, software, and computer and media programming).  Specific importance will be given to agriculture and food processing, ready-made garments (RMG), information and communication technology (ICT), software, pharmaceuticals, leather and leather products, and jute and jute goods.

In 2017, BIDA submitted proposed legislation for a One-Stop Service Act (OSS), which was approved by the Parliament in February 2018, to attract further foreign direct investment to Bangladesh.  In addition, Petrobangla, the state-owned oil and gas company, has modified its production sharing agreement contract for offshore gas exploration to include an option to export gas.

BIDA has a “one-stop” website that provides relevant laws, rules, procedure, and reporting requirements for investors at: http://www.bida.gov.bd/  .   Aside from information on relevant business laws and licenses, the website includes information on Bangladesh’s investment climate, opportunities for business, potential sectors, and how to do business in Bangladesh.  The website also has an eService Portal for Investors which provides services like visa recommendations for foreign investors, approval/extension of work permits for expatriates, approval of foreign borrowing, and approval/renewal of branch/liaison and representative offices.  However, the effectiveness of these online services is questionable.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The GOB formed an independent agency in 2011 called the “Bangladesh Competition Commission (BCC)” under the Ministry of Commerce.  The Bangladesh Parliament then passed the Competition Act in June 2012. However, the BCC has experienced operational delays and it has not received sufficient resources to fully operate.  Currently, the WTO Cell of the Ministry of Commerce handles most competition-related issues.

In January 2016, the two parent companies of Malaysia-based Robi and India-based Airtel signed a formal deal to merge their operations in Bangladesh, completing the country’s first telecommunications merger.  The deal, valued at USD 12.5 million, is to date Bangladesh’s largest corporate merger. The merger raised anti-competition concerns but it was completed in November 2016 after the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gave final approvals.  

Expropriation and Compensation

Since the Foreign Investment Act of 1980 banned nationalization or expropriation without adequate compensation, the GOB has not nationalized or expropriated property from foreign investors.  In the years immediately following independence in 1971, widespread nationalization resulted in government ownership of more than 90 percent of fixed assets in the modern manufacturing sector, including the textile, jute, and sugar industries and all banking and insurance interests, except those in foreign (but non-Pakistani) hands.  During the last 20 years, the government has since taken steps to privatize many of these industries and the private sector has developed into a main driver of the country’s sustained economic growth.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Bangladesh is a signatory to the International Convention for the Settlement of Disputes (ICSID) and it acceded in May 1992 to the United Nations Convention for the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.  Alternative dispute resolutions are possible under the Bangladesh Arbitration Act of 2001. The current legislation allows for enforcement of arbitral awards.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Bangladeshi law allows contracts to refer investor-state dispute settlement to third country fora for resolution.  The U.S.-Bangladesh Bilateral Investment Treaty also stipulates that parties may, upon the initiative of either of them and as a part of their consultation and negotiation, agree to rely upon non-binding, third-party procedures, such as the fact-finding facility available under the Rules of the “Additional Facility (“Facility”) of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (“Centre”).”  If the dispute cannot be resolved through consultation and negotiation, then the dispute shall be submitted for settlement in accordance with the applicable dispute-settlement procedures upon which they have previously agreed. Bangladesh is also a party to the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Agreement for the Establishment of an Arbitration Council, signed November 2005, which aims to establish a permanent center for alternative dispute resolution in one of the SAARC member countries.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Bangladeshi law allows contracts to refer dispute settlement to third country fora for resolution.  The Bangladesh Arbitration Act of 2001 and amendments in 2004 reformed alternative dispute resolution in Bangladesh.  The Act consolidated the law relating to both domestic and international commercial arbitration. It thus creates a single and unified legal regime for arbitration in Bangladesh.  Although the new Act is principally based on the UNCITRAL Model Law, it is a patchwork as some unique provisions are derived from the Indian Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996 and some from the English Arbitration Act 1996.

In practice, enforcement of arbitration results is applied unevenly and the GOB has challenged ICSID rulings, especially those that involve rulings against the GOB.  The timeframe for dispute resolution is unpredictable and has no set limit. It can be done as quickly as a few months, but often takes years depending on the type of dispute.  Anecdotal information indicates average resolution time can be as high as 16 years. Local courts may be biased against foreign investors in resolving disputes.

Bangladesh is a signatory of the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards and recognizes the enforcement of international arbitration awards.  Domestic arbitration is under the authority of the district judge court bench and foreign arbitration is under the authority of the relevant high court bench.

The ability of the Bangladeshi judicial system to enforce its own awards is weak.  Senior members of the government have been effective in using their offices to resolve investment disputes on several occasions, but the GOB’s ability to resolve investment disputes at a lower level is mixed.  The GOB does not publish the numbers of investment disputes involving U.S. or foreign investors. Anecdotal evidence indicates investment disputes occur with limited frequency and the involved parties often resolve the disputes privately rather than seek government intervention.  

The practice of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in Bangladesh has many challenges, including lack of funds, lack of lawyer cooperation, and lack of good faith.  Slow adoption of ADR mechanisms and sluggish judicial processes impede the enforcement of contracts and the resolution of business disputes in Bangladesh.

As in many countries, Bangladesh has adopted a “conflicts of law” approach to determining whether a judgment from a foreign legal jurisdiction is enforceable in Bangladesh.  This single criterion allows Bangladesh courts broad discretion in choosing whether to enforce foreign judgments with significant effects on matrimonial, adoption, corporate, and property disputes.  Most enterprises in Bangladesh, and especially state-owned enterprises (SOEs), whose leadership is nominated by the ruling government party, maintain strong ties with the government.  Thus domestic courts strongly tend to favor SOEs and local companies in investment disputes.

Investors are also increasingly turning to the Bangladesh International Arbitration Center (BIAC) for dispute resolution.  BIAC is an independent arbitration center established by prominent local business leaders in April 2011 to improve commercial dispute resolution in Bangladesh to stimulate economic growth.  The council committee is headed by the President of International Chamber of Commerce—Bangladesh (ICCB) and includes the presidents of other prominent chambers such as like Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) and Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI).  The center operates under the Bangladesh Arbitration Act of 2001. According to BIAC, fast track cases are resolved in approximately six months while typical cases are resolved in one year. Major Bangladeshi trade and business associations such as the American Chamber of Commerce in Bangladesh (AmCham) can sometimes help to resolve transaction disputes.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Many laws affecting investment in Bangladesh are old and outdated.  Bankruptcy laws, which apply mainly to individual insolvency, are sometimes not used in business cases because of the series of falsified assets and uncollectible cross-indebtedness supporting insolvent banks and companies.  A Bankruptcy Act was enacted in 1997 but has been ineffective in addressing these issues. An amendment to the Bank Companies Act of 1991 was enacted in 2013. Some bankruptcy cases fall under the Money Loan Court Act which has more stringent and timely procedures.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Details regarding fiscal and non-fiscal incentives are available on the BIDA website: http://bida.gov.bd/?page_id=146  . Current regulations permit a tax holiday for designated “thrust” (strategic) sectors and infrastructure projects established between July 01, 2011 and June 30, 2019.  Industries set up in Export Processing Zones (EPZs) are also eligible for tax holidays. Thrust sectors subject to exemption include: certain pharmaceuticals, automobile manufacturing, contraceptives, rubber latex, chemicals or dyes, certain electronics, bicycles, fertilizer, biotechnology, commercial boilers, certain brickmaking technologies, compressors, computer hardware, energy efficient appliances, insecticides, pesticides, petro-chemicals, fruit and vegetable processing, textile machinery, tissue grafting, and tire manufacturing industries. Physical infrastructure projects eligible for exemptions include: deep sea ports, elevated expressways, road overpasses, toll road and bridges, EPZs, gas pipelines, information technology parks, industrial waste and water treatment facilities, liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, electricity transmission, rapid transit projects, renewable energy projects, and ports.

In addition to the above tax rebate, manufacturers located in rural areas and commencing commercial operations between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2019 are eligible for tax exemptions of up to 20 percent for the first 10 years of production.

Independent non-coal fired power plants (IPPs) commencing production (COD) after January 1, 2015 are granted a 100 percent tax exemption for five years, a 50 percent exemption for years 6-8, and a 25 percent exemption for years 9-10.  For coal-fired IPPs contracting with the GOB before June 30, 2020 and COD before June 30, 2023, the tax exemption rate is 100 percent for the first 15 years of operations. For power projects, import duties are waived for imports of capital machinery and spare parts.

The valued-added tax (VAT) rate on exports is zero.  For companies that only export, import duties are waived for imports of capital machinery and spare parts.  For companies that primarily export (80 percent of production and above), an import duty rate of one percent is charged for imports of capital machinery and spare parts identified and listed in notifications to relevant regulators.  Import duties are also waived for EPZ industries and other export oriented industries for imports of raw materials consumed in production.

Special incentives are provided to encourage non-resident Bangladeshis to invest in the country.  Incentives include the ability to buy newly issued shares and debentures in Bangladeshi companies.  A quota of 10 percent of primary shares has been fixed for non-resident Bangladeshis. Furthermore, non-resident Bangladeshis can maintain foreign currency deposits in Non-resident Foreign Currency Deposit (NFCD) accounts.

In the past several years, U.S. companies have experienced difficulties securing the investment incentives initially offered by the GOB.  Several companies have reported instances of infrastructure guarantees (ranging from electricity to gas connections) not being fully delivered or tax exemptions being delayed, either temporarily or indefinitely.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Under the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority Act of 1980, the government established an EPZ in Chattogram in 1983.  Additional EPZs now operate in Dhaka (Savar), Mongla, Ishwardi, Cumilla, Uttara, Karnaphuli (Chattogram), and Adamjee (Dhaka).  Korean investors are also operating a separate and private EPZ in Chattogram.

Investments that are wholly foreign-owned, joint ventures, and wholly Bangladeshi-owned companies are all permitted to operate in and enjoy equal treatment in the EPZs.  Approximately one dozen U.S. firms—mostly textile producers—are currently operating in Bangladesh EPZs. Investors have begun to view intermittent infrastructure services, including electricity and gas connections, and increasing costs as making the EPZs less attractive.

In 2010, Bangladesh enacted the Special Economic Zone Act that allows for the creation of privately owned economic zones (EZs) that can produce for export and domestic markets.  The EZs provide special fiscal and non-fiscal incentives to domestic and foreign investors in designated underdeveloped areas throughout Bangladesh. The International Finance Corporation provided assistance to the GOB to establish an EZ authority, the Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority (BEZA), modeled after BEPZA, to implement the new law and oversee the establishment of EZs. The government recently announced plans to create up to 100 new EZs and invited private companies to develop the zones.  Several EZs are moving forward under this initiative: http://www.beza.gov.bd/  .  However, assurances regarding access to necessary infrastructure and other resources, including gas and power, have not been made.  

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Performance Requirements

The Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) has set restrictions for the employment of foreign nationals and the issuance of work permits as follows:

  • Nationals of countries recognized by Bangladesh are eligible for employment consideration;
  • Expatriate personnel will only be considered for employment in enterprises duly registered with the appropriate regulatory authority;
  • Employment of foreign nationals is generally limited to positions for which qualified local workers are unavailable;
  • Persons below 18 years of age are not eligible for employment;
  • The board of directors of the employing company must issue a resolution for each offers or extension of employment;
  • The percentage of foreign employees should not exceed 5 percent in industrial sectors and 20 percent in commercial sectors, including among senior management positions;
  • Initial employment of any foreign national is for a term of two years, which may be extended based on merit;
  • The Ministry of Home Affairs will issue necessary security clearance certificates.

In response to the high number of expatriate workers in the ready-made garment industry, BIDA has issued informal guidance encouraging industrial units to refrain from hiring additional semi-skilled foreign experts and workers.  Overall, the government looks favorably on investments that employ significant numbers of local workers and/or provide training and transfers of technical skills.

The GOB does not formally mandate that investors use domestic content in goods or technology.  However, companies bidding on government procurement tenders are often informally encouraged to have a local partner and to produce or assemble a percentage of their products in country.

Data Storage Requirements

According to a legal overview by the Telenor Group, for reasons of national security or in times of emergency, several regulations and amendments, including the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Act, 2001 (the “BTRA”), Information and Communication Technology Act 2006 (the “ICT Act”), and the Telegraph Act 1885 (the “1885 Act”), grant law enforcement and intelligence agencies legal authority to lawfully seek disclosure of communications data and request censorship of communications.  A draft Digital Security Act of 2016 (the “Digital Security Act”) was adopted by the Parliament in October 2018.

On the grounds of national security and maintaining public order, the GOB can authorize relevant government authorities (intelligence agencies, national security agencies, investigation agencies, or any officer of any law enforcement agency) to suspend or prohibit the transmission of any data or any voice call and to record or collect user information relating to any subscriber to a telecommunications service.  

Under section 30 of the ICT Act, the GOB, through the ICT Controller, may access any computer system, any apparatus, data, or any other material connected with a computer system, for the purpose of searching for and obtaining any such information or data.  The ICT Controller may, by order, direct any person in charge of, or otherwise concerned with the operation of a computer system, data apparatus, or material, to provide reasonable technical and other assistance as may be considered necessary. Under section 46 of the ICT Act, the ICT Controller can also direct any government agency to intercept any information transmitted through any computer resource, and may order any subscriber or any person in charge of computer resources to provide all necessary assistance to decrypt relevant information.

There is no direct reference in the BTRA to the storage of metadata.  Under the broad powers granted to the BTRA, however, the GOB, on the grounds of national security and public order, may require telecommunications operators to keep records relating to the communications of a specific user.  Telecommunications operators are also required to provide any metadata as evidence if ordered to do so by any civil court.

The ICT Controller enforces the ICT Act and the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) enforces the BTRA.  The Ministry of Home Affairs grants approval for use of powers given under the BTRA. The ICT Act also established a Cyber Tribunal to adjudicate cases.  If approved, the Digital Security Act would create a Digital Security Agency (DSA) empowered to monitor and supervise digital content. Also under the Digital Security Act, for reasons of national security or maintenance of public order, the Director General (DG) of the DSA would be authorized to block communications and to require that service providers facilitate the interception, monitoring, and decryption of a computer or other data source.  

The Bangladesh Road Transport Authority’s (BRTA) Ride-sharing Service Guideline 2017 came into force on March 8, 2018.  The new regulations included requirements that ride sharing companies keep data servers within Bangladesh.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Although land, whether for purchase or lease, is often critical for investment and as security against loans, antiquated real property laws and poor record-keeping systems can complicate land and property transactions.  Instruments take effect from the date of execution, not the date of registration, so a bona fide purchaser can never be certain of title. Land registration records have historically been prone to competing claims. Land disputes are common, and both U.S. companies and citizens have filed complaints about fraudulent land sales.  For example, sellers fraudulently claiming ownership have transferred land to good faith purchasers while the actual owners were living outside of Bangladesh. In other instances, U.S.-Bangladeshi dual citizens have purchased land from legitimate owners only to have third parties make fraudulent claims of title to extort settlement compensation.

Property owners can obtain mortgages but parties generally avoid registering mortgages, liens, and encumbrances due to the high cost of stamp duties (i.e., transaction taxes based on property value) and other charges.  There are also concerns that non-registered mortgages are often unenforceable.

Article 42 of the Bangladesh Constitution guarantees a right to property for all citizens but property rights are often not protected due to a weak judiciary system.  The Transfer of Property Act of 1882   and the Registration Act of 1908   are the two main laws that regulate transfer of property in Bangladesh but these laws do not have any specific provisions covering foreign and/or non-resident investors.  Currently, foreigners and non-residents can incorporate a company with the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms. The company would be considered a local entity and would be able to buy land in its name.

Intellectual Property Rights

Counterfeit goods are readily available in Bangladesh.  The GOB has limited resources for intellectual property rights (IPR) protection.  Industry estimates that 90 percent of business software is pirated. A number of U.S. firms, including film studios, manufacturers of consumer goods, and software firms, have reported violations of their IPR.  Investors note that police are willing to investigate counterfeit goods producers when informed but are unlikely to initiate independent investigations.

The Software Alliance, also known as BSA, is a trade group established by Microsoft Corporation in 1988.  It opened a Bangladesh office in early 2014 as a platform to improve IPR protection in Bangladesh. Public awareness of IPR is growing, thanks in part to the efforts of the Intellectual Property Rights Association of Bangladesh: http://www.ipab.org.bd/ .  Bangladesh is not currently listed in the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 or Notorious Markets reports.  Bangladesh is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and acceded to the Paris Convention on Intellectual Property in 1991.

Bangladesh has slowly made progress toward bringing its legislative framework into compliance with the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).  The government enacted a Copyright Law in July 2000 (amended in 2005), a Trademarks Act in 2009, and Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act in 2013. The Department of Patents, Designs and Trademarks (DPDT) drafted a new Patent Act in 2014 prepared in compliance with the requirements of the TRIPS Agreement.  However the draft act still remains under Ministry of Industries review and this effort has not made measurable progress during the past year.

A number of government agencies are empowered to take action against counterfeiting, including the NBR/Customs, Mobile Courts, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), and local Police.  The Department of National Consumer Rights Protection (DNCRP) is charged with tracking and reporting on counterfeit goods and the NBR/Customs tracks counterfeit goods seizures at ports of entry.  Reports are not publicly available.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Capital markets in Bangladesh are still developing and the financial sector remains highly dependent on bank lending.  Current government policy inhibits the creation of reliable benchmarks for long-term bonds and prevents the development of a tradable bond market.  

Bangladesh is home to the Dhaka Stock Exchange (DSE) and the Chittagong Stock Exchange (CSE).  The Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission (BSEC), a statutory body formed in 1993 and attached to the Ministry of Finance, regulates both.  As of March 2019, the DSE market capitalization stood at USD 48.6 billion.

Although the GOB has a positive attitude towards foreign portfolio investors, participation remains low due to limited liquidity and the lack of publicly available and reliable company information.  The DSE has attracted some foreign portfolio investors to the country’s capital market; however, the volume of foreign investment in Bangladesh remains a small fraction of total market capitalization.  As a result, foreign portfolio investment has had limited influence on market trends and Bangladesh’s capital markets have been largely insulated from the volatility of international financial markets. Bangladeshi markets continue to rely primarily on domestic investors and Bangladeshi firms increasingly rely on capital markets to finance investment projects.  In March 2017, the government relaxed investment rules making it possible for foreign investors to use local currency to invest directly in local companies through the purchase of corporate shares.

BSEC has formed separate committees to establish a central clearing and settlement company, allow venture capital and private equity firms, launch derivatives products, and activate the bond market.  In December 2013, BSEC became a full signatory of International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) Memorandum of Understanding.

BSEC has taken steps to improve regulatory oversight, including installing a modern surveillance system, the “Instant Market Watch,” that provides real time connectivity with exchanges and depository institutions.  As a result, the market abuse detection capabilities of BSEC have improved significantly. A new mandatory Corporate Governance Code for listed companies was introduced in August 2012. Demutualization of both the DSE and CSE was completed in November 2013 to separate ownership of the exchanges from trading rights. A majority of the members of the Demutualization Board, including the Chairman, are independent directors. Apart from this, a separate tribunal has been established to resolve capital market-related criminal cases expeditiously.  All these reforms target a disciplined market with better infrastructure so that entrepreneurs can raise capital and attract foreign investors.

The Demutualization Act 2013 also directed DSE to pursue a strategic investor who would acquire a 25 percent stake in the bourse.  DSE opened bids for a strategic partner in February 2018 and, in September 2018, the Chinese consortium of Shenzhen and Shanghai stock exchanges became DSE’s strategic partner after buying a 25 percent share of DSE for taka 9.47 billion (USD 112.7 million).  

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Bangladesh is an Article VIII member and maintains restrictions on the unapproved exchange, conversion, and/or transfer of proceeds of international transactions into non-resident taka-denominated accounts.  Since 2015, authorities have relaxed restrictions by allowing some debits of balances in such accounts for outward remittances, but there is currently no established timetable for the complete removal of the restrictions.

Money and Banking System

The Bangladesh Bank (BB) acts as the central bank of Bangladesh.  It was established on December 16, 1971 through the enactment of the Bangladesh Bank Order-1972.  General supervision and strategic direction of BB has been entrusted to a nine-member Board of Directors, which is headed by the BB Governor.  BB has 45 departments and 10 branch offices.

According to the BB, four types of banks operate in the formal financial system: State Owned Commercial Banks (SOCBs), Specialized Banks, Private Commercial Banks (PCBs), and Foreign Commercial Banks (FCBs).  Some 59 “scheduled” banks in Bangladesh operate under the full control and supervision of the center as per the Bangladesh Bank Order 1972. The scheduled banks including six SOCBs, three specialized government banks established for specific objectives like agricultural or industrial development, 41 PCBs, and nine FCBs as of March 2019.  The scheduled banks are licensed to operate under Bank Company Act 1991 (Amended 2013). There are also five non-scheduled banks in Bangladesh, established for special and definite objectives and operating under Acts that are enacted for meeting up those objectives.

Currently, 34 non-bank financial institutions (FIs) are operating in Bangladesh.  They are regulated under the Financial Institution Act, 1993 and controlled by the BB.  Out of the total, two are fully government owned, one is a subsidiary of an SOCB, 15 are private domestic initiatives, and 15 are joint venture initiatives.  Major sources of funds of these financial institutions are term deposits (at least three months tenure), credit facilities from banks and other financial institutions, call money, as well as bonds and securitization.

The major difference between banks and FIs are as follows:

FIs cannot issue checks, pay-orders, or demand drafts,

FIs cannot receive demand deposits,

FIs cannot be involved in foreign exchange financing,

FIs can employ diversified financing modes like syndicated financing, bridge financing, lease financing, securitization instruments, private placement of equity etc.

Microfinance institutions (MFIs) remain the dominant players in rural financial markets.  According to the Bangladesh Microcredit Regulatory Authority, as of June 2017, there were 783 licensed micro-finance institutions operating a network of 17,120 branches with 29.2 million members.  A 2014 Institute of Microfinance survey study showed that around 40 percent of the adult population and 75 percent of households had access to financial services in Bangladesh.

The banking sector has had a mixed record of performance over the past several years, but the sector has maintained overall healthy growth.  Total assets in the banking sector stood at 62.5 percent of gross domestic product at end of September 2018. The gross non-performing loan (NPL) ratio was 11.45 percent at end of September 2018.

On December 26, 2017, the BB issued a circular warning citizens and financial institutions about the risks associated with cryptocurrencies.  The circular noted that using cryptocurrencies may violate existing money laundering and terrorist financing regulations and that users may incur financial losses.  According to the BB, the circular did not constitute a ban. Bangladesh foreign exchange regulations, which limit outward payments, largely prevent the use of cryptocurrencies in Bangladesh.  The BB issued similar warnings against cryptocurrencies in 2014.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange Policies

Free repatriation of profits is legally allowed for registered companies and profits are generally fully convertible.  However, companies report that the procedures for repatriation of foreign currency are lengthy and cumbersome. The Foreign Investment Act guarantees the right of repatriation of invested capital, profits, capital gains, post-tax dividends, and approved royalties and fees for businesses.  The central bank’s exchange control regulations and the U.S.-Bangladesh Bilateral Investment Treaty (in force since 1989) provide similar investment transfer guarantees. The Bangladesh Investment Development Authority may need to approve repatriation of royalties and other fees.

Since 2013, Bangladesh has tried to manage its exchange rate vis-à-vis the U.S. dollar within a fairly narrow range.  Until 2017, the Bangladesh taka traded between 76 and 78.8 taka to the dollar. The taka has depreciated relative to the dollar since October 2017 reaching 84.25 taka per dollar as of March 2019, despite ongoing interventions from the Bangladesh Bank.  The Bangladesh currency, the taka, is approaching full convertibility for current account transactions, such as imports and travel, but not for capital account transactions, such as investing, currency speculation, or e-commerce.

Remittance Policies

There are no set time limitations or waiting periods for remitting all types of investment returns.  Remitting dividends, returns on investments, interest, and payments on private foreign debts do not require approval from the central bank and transfers are done within one to two weeks.  For repatriating lease payments, royalties and management fees, some central bank approval is required, and this process can take between two and three-weeks. If a company fails to submit all the proper documents for remitting, it may take up to 60 days.  Foreign investors have reported difficulties transferring funds to overseas affiliates and making payments for certain technical fees without the government’s prior approval to do so. Additionally, some regulatory agencies have reportedly blocked the repatriation of profits due to sector-specific regulations.  The U.S. Embassy also received complaints of American citizens not being able to transfer the proceeds of sales of their properties. There is no mechanism in place for foreign investors to repatriate through government bonds issued in lieu of foreign currency payments. Bangladesh is not involved in currency manipulation tactics.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) notes that Bangladesh has established the legal and regulatory framework to meet its Anti-Money Laundering/Counterterrorism Finance (AML/CTF) commitments.  The Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), an independent and collaborative international organization based in Bangkok, conducted its mutual evaluation of Bangladesh’s AML/CTF regime in September 2018 and found that Bangladesh had made significant progress since the last Mutual Evaluation Report (MER) in 2009, but that Bangladesh still faces significant money laundering and terrorism financing risks.  The APG reports are available online: http://www.fatf-gafi.org/countries/#Bangladesh  .

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Bangladesh Finance Ministry first announced in 2015 that it is exploring the possibility of establishing a sovereign wealth fund for the purposes of investing a portion of Bangladesh’s foreign currency reserves.  In February 2017, the Cabinet initially approved a USD 10 billion “Bangladesh Sovereign Wealth Fund,” (BSWF) that will be created with funds from excess foreign exchange reserves. The government claims the BSWF will be used to invest in “public interest” projects.  Bangladesh does not currently follow the Santiago Principles, a voluntary set of 24 principles and practices designed to promote transparency, good governance, accountability, and prudent investment practices while encouraging a more open dialogue and deeper understanding of sovereign wealth fund activities.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The government privatized 74 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) during the past 20 years, but many SOEs retain an important role in the economy, particularly in the financial and energy sectors.  Out of the 74 SOEs, 54 were privatized through outright sale and 20 through offloading of shares. The Privatization Commission (PC) has slowed its rate of privatization activities and in 2016, the PC merged with the Board of Investment (BOI) to form a new Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA).  The 54 non-financial public enterprises in the country have been categorized into 7 sectors following the Bangladesh Standard Industrial Classification (BSIC) and their economic and financial performances are analyzed in the government budget.

Bangladesh’s 45 non-financial SOEs are spread among seven sectors – industrial; power, gas and water; transport and communication; trade; agriculture; construction; and services.  The list of non-financial SOEs and relevant budget details are published in Bangla in the Ministry of Finance’s SOE Budget Summary 2017-18: http://www.mof.gov.bd/site/page/5eed2680-c68c-4782-9070-13e129548aac/SOE-Budget  .

The current government has taken steps to restructure several SOEs to improve their competitiveness.  The GOB converted Biman Bangladesh Airline, the national airline, into a public limited company that initiated a rebranding and fleet renewal program, including the purchase of ten aircraft from Boeing, eight of which were delivered as of March 2019.  Three nationalized commercial banks (NCBs)—Sonali, Janata, and Agrani—have been converted to public limited companies. The GOB also liberalized the telecommunications sector in the last decade, which led to the development of a competitive cellular phone market.

The contribution of SOEs to gross domestic product, value-added production, employment generation, and revenue earning is substantial.  SOEs usually report to the ministries, though the government has allowed some enhanced autonomy for certain SOEs, such as Biman Bangladesh Airline.  SOEs maintain control of rail transportation whereas private companies compete freely in air and road transportation. The corporate governance structure of SOEs in Bangladesh has been restructured as per the guidelines published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), but the country’s practices are still not up to OECD standards.  There are no guidelines regarding ownership of SOEs, and while SOEs are required to prepare annual reports and make financial disclosures, disclosure documents are often unavailable to the public.  Each SOE has an independent board of directors composed of both government and private sector nominees. The boards report to the relevant regulatory ministry.  Most SOEs have strong ties with the government, and the ruling government party nominates most SOE leaders.  As the government controls most of the SOEs, domestic courts tend to favor the SOEs in investment disputes.

The Bangladesh Petroleum Act of 1974 grants authority for the government to award natural resources contracts and the Bangladesh Oil, Gas and Mineral Corporation Ordinance of 1984 gives Petrobangla, the state-owned oil and gas company, authority to assess and award natural resource contracts and licenses, to both SOEs and private companies.  Currently, oil and gas firms can pursue exploration and production ventures only through production sharing agreements with Petrobangla.

Privatization Program

Since 2010, the government’s privatization drive has slowed.  Previous privatization drives were plagued with allegations of corruption, undervaluation, political favoritism, and unfair competition.  Nonetheless, the government has publicly stated its goal of continuing the privatization drive. SOEs can be privatized through a variety of methods including: sales through international tender; sales of government shares in the capital market; transfers of some portion of the shares to the employees of the enterprises when shares are sold through the stock exchange; sale of government shares to a private equity company (restructuring); mixed sales methods; management contracts; leasing; and direct asset sales (liquidation).  In 2010, 22 SOEs were included in the Privatization Commission’s (now the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority’s) program for privatization. However, a study on privatized industries in Bangladesh conducted by the Privatization Commission in 2010 found that only 59 percent of the entities were in operation after being privatized and 20 percent of them were permanently closed down—implying a lack of planning or business motivation of their private owners. Later, in 2014, the government declared that SOEs would not be privatized via direct selling but instead by the offloading of shares in the SOE.  The government believed this to be a viable way for ensuring greater accountability for the management of the SOEs while minimizing the government’s exposure. However, unless the offloading of shares involves more than 50 percent of the SOE’s shares, the government would not divest control over the SOE. Additional information is available on the BIDA website at: http://bida.gov.bd/?page_id=4771 .

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The business community is increasingly aware of and engaged in responsible business conduct (RBC) activities with multinational firms leading the way.  While many firms in Bangladesh fall short on RBC activities and instead often focus on philanthropic giving, some of the leading local conglomerates have begun to incorporate increasingly rigorous environmental and safety standards in their workplaces.  U.S. companies present in Bangladesh maintain diverse RBC activities. Consumers in Bangladesh are generally less aware of RBC, and consumers and shareholders exert little pressure on companies to engage in RBC activities.

While many international firms are aware of OECD guidelines and international best practices in RBC, many local firms have limited familiarity with international standards.  There are currently two RBC NGOs active in Bangladesh:

CSR Bangladesh, http://www.csrbangladesh.org/aboutus.php  

CSR Centre Bangladesh, http://www.csrcentre-bd.org  .

Along with the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI), the CSR Centre is the joint focal point for United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) and its principles in Bangladesh.  The UN Global Compact is the world’s largest corporate citizenship and sustainability initiative. The Centre is a member of a regional RBC platform called the South Asian Network on Sustainability and Responsibility (SANSAR).  Currently, SANSAR has five member countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan.

While several NGOs have proposed National Corporate Social Responsibility Guidelines, the GOB has yet to adopt any national standards for RBC.  As a result, the GOB encourages enterprises to follow generally accepted RBC principles but does not mandate any specific guidelines.

Bangladesh has natural resources, but it has not joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).  The country does not adhere to the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.

9. Corruption

Corruption remains a serious impediment to investment and economic growth in Bangladesh.  While the government has established legislation to combat bribery, embezzlement, and other forms of corruption, enforcement is inconsistent.  The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is the main institutional anti-corruption watchdog. With amendments to the Money Prevention Act, the ACC is no longer the sole authority to probe money-laundering offenses.  Although it still has primary authority for bribery and corruption, other agencies will now investigate related offenses:

  • Bangladesh Police (Criminal Investigation Department) – Most predicate offenses.
  • NBR – VAT, taxation, and customs offenses.
  • Department of Narcotics Control – Drug related offenses.

The current Awami League-led government has publicly underscored its commitment to anticorruption efforts and reaffirmed the need for a strong ACC, but opposition parties claim that the ACC is used by the government to harass political opponents.  Efforts to ease public procurement rules and a recent constitutional amendment that reduced the independence of the ACC may undermine institutional safeguards against corruption. Bangladesh is a party to the UN Anticorruption Convention, but it has still not joined the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Public Officials.

Corruption is common in public procurement, tax and customs collection, and regulatory authorities.  Corruption, including bribery, raises the costs and risks of doing business. By some estimates, off-the-record payments by firms may result in an annual reduction of two to three percent of GDP.  Corruption has a corrosive impact on the broader business climate market and opportunities for U.S. companies in Bangladesh. It also deters investment, stifles economic growth and development, distorts prices, and undermines the rule of law.

Resources to Report Corruption

Mr. Iqbal Mahmood
Chairman
Anti-Corruption Commission, Bangladesh
1, Segun Bagicha, Dhaka 1000
+88-02-8333350
Email: chairman@acc.org.bd

Contact at “watchdog” organization:

Advocate Sultana Kamal
Chairperson
Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB)
MIDAS Centre (Level 4 & 5), House-5, Road-16 (New) 27 (Old), Dhanmondi, Dhaka – 1209
+880 2 912 4788 / 4789 / 4792
Email: 
edtib@ti-bangladesh.org, info@ti-bangladesh.org, advocacy@ti-bangladesh.org

10. Political and Security Environment

Prime Minister Hasina’s ruling Awami League party won 289 parliamentary seats out of 300 in a December 30, 2018 election that was marred by wide-spread vote-rigging, ballot-box stuffing, and intimidation.  Harassment, intimidation and violence during the pre-election period made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to meet, hold rallies, and campaign freely. The clashes between rival political parties and general strikes that previously characterized the political environment in Bangladesh have become far less frequent in the wake of the Awami League’s increasing dominance of the country and crackdown on dissent.  Many civil society groups have expressed concern about the apparent trend toward a one-party state and the marginalization of all political opposition groups.

Americans are advised to exercise increased caution due to crime and terrorism when traveling to Bangladesh.  Some areas have increased risk. For further information, see the State Department’s travel website for the Worldwide Caution, Travel Advisories, and Bangladesh Country Specific Information.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Bangladesh’s comparative advantage in cheap labor for manufacturing is partially offset by lower productivity due to poor skills development, inefficient management, pervasive corruption, and inadequate infrastructure.  Bangladeshi workers have a strong reputation for hard work, entrepreneurial spirit, and a positive and optimistic attitude. With an average age in Bangladesh of 26 years, the country boasts one of the largest and youngest labor forces in the world.

Bangladesh has labor laws that specify employment conditions, working hours, minimum wage levels, leave policies, health and sanitary conditions, and compensation for injured workers.  Freedom of association and the right to join unions are guaranteed in the constitution. In practice, compliance and enforcement of labor laws are inconsistent, and companies frequently discourage the formation of labor unions.  Export Processing Zones (EPZs) are a notable exception to the national labor law in that they do not allow trade union participation, but the government is considering amendments to change that (see below). Historically, unions have been heavily politicized and labor-management relations contentious.

Bangladesh’s garment sector has undergone several reforms since the April 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse and the November 2012 Tazreen Fashions factory fire that together killed over 1,230 workers.  With support from the international community and the private sector, Bangladesh has made significant progress on fire and workplace safety. Critical work remains on safeguarding workers’ rights to freely associate and bargain collectively, including in the Export Processing Zones (EPZs).  

In June 2013, President Obama suspended Bangladesh’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) trade benefits.  Accompanying this decision was a 16-point Action Plan that set forth specific steps to address workers’ rights and safety in Bangladesh.  In July 2013, the EU, the International Labor Organization (ILO), the GOB, and the United States jointly developed a Sustainability Compact.  

Bangladesh has made significant progress in factory fire and structural safety remediation, thanks in part to two industry-led initiatives, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (Alliance), which represents U.S. brands, and Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (Accord), which represents European brands.  Inspection and remediation of RMG factories outside the purview of the Alliance and the Accord are handled by the GOB, with assistance from the ILO, under the National Initiative. Only 20 percent of factories under the National Initiative, however, have completed remediation. The GOB has established a Remediation Coordination Center (RCC) to take over responsibility from the Alliance and Accord.

The Alliance successfully concluded its factory inspection and remediation operations at the end of 2018, as scheduled, but has quietly established a local NGO (Nirapon) to monitor remediated factories to ensure there is no backsliding.  Meanwhile, the Accord continues to seek to remain in Bangladesh to complete the remediation of the 1,600 factories under its remit. A Bangladeshi court initially ruled that Accord could not continue operations in Bangladesh past November 2018, but has subsequently instructed the Bangladesh government to try to work out a mutually acceptable, time-bound transition plan with the Accord.  The next court hearing to review where those negotiations stand is scheduled for May 2019.

Significant work remains to address freedom of association restrictions.  In December 2016, a widespread crackdown on union members drew international condemnation.  In response, the international community pressed the GOB to implement several labor reforms.  

The U.S. government suspended Bangladesh’s access to the U.S. General System of Preferences (GSP) over labor rights violations following a six-year formal review conducted by USTR.  The decision, announced in 2013, in the months following the Rana Plaza collapse that resulted in more than 1,100 deaths, was accompanied by a 16-point GSP Action Plan to help guide Bangladesh’s path to reinstatement of the trade benefits.  While some progress has been made in the intervening years, several key issues remain unaddressed. Preliminary analysis of recent revisions to the Bangladesh Labor Act (BLA) and Export Processing Zone (EPZ) law indicate they fail to allow free association and the formation of unions particularly in the ready-made garment (RMG) sector, and fall short of international labor standards.  The U.S. government funds efforts to improve occupational safety and health alongside labor rights in the readymade garments (RMG) sector in partnership with other international partners, civil society, businesses, and the GOB. The United States is also working with the EU, Canada, and the International Labor Organization (ILO) to continuously improve working conditions in the RMG sector via the Sustainability Compact, a coordination platform launched in 2013.  Labor unrest in December 2018 and January-February 2019 followed a disproportionate wage hike announced by the GOB, which increased the pay of entry-level workers by 50 percent, but left the wages of more skilled employees unchanged. In a subsequent crackdown, some 11,000 workers who participated in the mostly peaceful protests were reportedly terminated or forced to resign, and many of them were blacklisted and unable to find new employment.

The Bangladesh parliament in 2018 passed a series of amendments to the Bangladesh Labor Act and the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) law to address some concerns voiced by the International Labor Organization (ILO).  The European Union (EU) noted that 50 sections of the BLA had been amended.  The amendments reduced the membership requirement for the formation of trade unions from 30 to 20 percent and repealed conditional provisions for the employment of child labor in hazardous industries, while shortening time limits for the registration of unions from 60 to 55 days.  The amendments also established a festival allowance for the labor force and provided legal protections for women deprived of maternity leave.

The EU’s preliminary assessment of the EPZ law amendments indicated the BLA changes were made applicable to EPZ.  For example, the 20 percent threshold was now applicable to “Worker Welfare Associations” (WWA), which are allowed in EPZs in lieu of trade unions.  The Government of Bangladesh (GOB)’s Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) had also been given the authority to inspect factory conditions within EPZs. 

The ILO’s Committee of Experts (COE) is analyzing the BLA amendments.  The term “Committee of Experts” refers to a group of jurists who examine reports from governments on any of the eight fundamental and four governance ILO Conventions they (the governments) may have ratified.  Bangladesh ratified the Labor Inspection Convention, 1947 (No. 81) in 1972.  Meanwhile, the COE continues to wait for an official English translation of the EPZ law amendments before it can begin its analysis of the contents of the amendments.  There is no timeframe for the COE’s completion of the review.

The EU felt the reduction of the membership requirement to 20 percent was an “eyewash” because the GOB had erected other barriers to prevent trade union registration.  The Bangladesh office of the Solidarity Center (SC) shared EU’s concerns and feels the BLA amendments were most “obstructive” in the area of registering new unions, including the 20 percent vote required to recognize a union, which could easily be manipulated by factory management to favor “yellow” or corrupt, undemocratic unions over independent unions.  SC feels the main challenge with the BLA was not its lack of protections, but its lack of implementation.

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

The U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the Government of Bangladesh signed an updated bilateral agreement in May 1998: https://www.opic.gov/sites/default/files/docs/asia/bangladeshbilateral.pdf .  However, OPIC is not currently authorized for operation in the courty.  Investors should check OPIC’s website for updates: https://www.opic.gov/doing-business-us/OPIC-policies/where-we-operate  .  More information on OPIC services can be found at: www.opic.gov  .  

Bangladesh is also a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA): http://www.miga.org  .

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy

Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2017 $249,700 2016 $221,400 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD?locations=BD  
Foreign Direct Investment 2017 $2,200 2016 $2,300 UNCTAD World Investment Report 2018  
U.S. FDI in Partner Country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $460 2016 $458 https://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm?Area=631  
Host Country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $2 2016 N/A https://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm?Area=631  
Total Inbound Stock of FDI as % host GDP 2017 0.86% 2016 1.05% https://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationWebflyer.aspx?publicationid=2130  


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 $14,091 100% Total Outward $328 100%
United States $3,316 23.5% United Kingdom $84 25.6%
United Kingdom $1,559 11.1% China, P.R.: Hong Kong $76 23.2%
Singapore $934 6.6% Nepal $44 13.4%
Australia $860 6.1% India $42 12.8%
South Korea $811 5.8% United Arab Emirates $31 9.5%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Portfolio Investment Assets (June, 2018)
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $3,584 100% All Countries $10 100% All Countries $3,574 100%
-United States $587 16.4% Pakistan $10 100% United States $587 16.4%
Germany $581 16.2% N/A N/A N/A Germany $581 16.3%
United Kingdom $383 10.7% N/A N/A N/A United Kingdom $383 10.7%
Spain $235 6.6% N/A N/A N/A Spain $235 6.6%
France $201 5.6% N/A N/A N/A France $201 5.6%

Burma

Executive Summary

Burma’s economic reforms since 2011 have created opportunities for investment throughout the country.  With a rich natural resource base, a young labor force, and prime geographic location, Burma’s economy has tremendous potential.  Recent reforms — opening up retail and wholesale trade to FDI, allowing FDI into the insurance sector, and initial steps to streamline business regulation — should begin to attract more foreign investment and sustain higher growth levels.  Many challenges remain, however, with Burma ranking 171 out of 190 — behind Iraq and Sudan — on the World Bank’s index for the ease of doing business.  Electricity shortages, limited infrastructure, and weak institutions continue to hinder foreign investment.  While still facing implementation challenges, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government has countered government corruption and called for greater transparency and foreign investment.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 132 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/cpi2018  
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 171 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 N/A https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $55.9** https://www.dica.gov.mm/sites/dica.gov.mm/files/document-files/yearly_country.pdf 
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 1,201 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

** In 2018, Burma changed its fiscal reporting period from an April to March reporting period to an October to September period.  This amount only represents U.S. FDI between April and September 2018.

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment

Burma recognizes the value of investment to boost economic growth and development, and it is open to foreign investors.  That said, implementation of liberal investment laws and policies are often slowed and sometimes blocked by local rent-seeking economic actors who benefit from the status quo.  In 2016, Burma passed the Myanmar Investment Law (MIL) to attract more investment from both foreign and domestic businesses. The MIL simplified the rules and regulations for investment to bring Burma more in line with international standards.  The MIL includes a “negative list” of prohibited, restricted, and special sectors. Burma also has three Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in Thilawa, Dawei, and Kyauk Phyu with preferential policies for businesses that locate there, including one-stop-shop service.

The new Companies Law went into effect on August 1, 2018.  Under the new law, foreign investment of up to 35 percent is allowed in domestic companies— which also opens the stock exchange to limited foreign participation.  It also updates and streamlines business regulations.  In tandem with the Companies Law’s entry into force, the government instituted online company registration through “MyCo” (https://www.myco.dica.gov.mm  ).  MyCo also includes a searchable company registry, which should improve transparency on corporate data and ease due diligence research.  The Companies Law makes it easier to start and operate small businesses, and provides the government with tools to enforce corporate governance rules and regulations.

In April 2019, the government awarded licenses to five international insurance firms to offer wholly-foreign-owned life insurance options in the country.

In November 2018, the government created the Ministry for Foreign Investment and Economic Relations (MIFER) to facilitate investment.  The Directorate for Investment and Company Administration (DICA), Burma’s investment promotion agency, was moved from the Ministry of Planning and Finance to MIFER.  One of DICA’s roles is to encourage and facilitate both foreign and local investment by providing information, fostering coordination and networks between investors and continually exploring new opportunities in Burma that would benefit both the nation and the business community.  In addition to DICA, MIFER also oversees the Foreign Economic Relations Department (FERD), which was transferred to MIFER from the Ministry of Planning and Finance.

In May 2018, the Ministry of Commerce issued Notification 25/2018, which opened up the wholesale and retail sector to direct foreign investment.

There is no evidence that the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) discriminates against foreign investors.  In June 2017, the MIC announced ten prioritized sectors for foreign and Burmese investors: agriculture and livestock, power, education, health care, logistics, construction for affordable housing, export promotion industries, import substitution industries, aircraft and airports, and establishment of industrial estates and urban areas.

The government engages with chambers of commerce and foreign companies on investment.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

The Myanmar Investment Law (MIL) went into effect in April 2017 and applies to all investment in Burma, both domestic and foreign.  According to the MIL, some investments require a permit while others do not. The MIL also lists specific sectors where tax incentives are available.  Under the MIL, foreign investors are now able to enter into long-term leases. The MIL revised restrictions on investment to liberalize investment. Section 42 of the MIL lists types of investment activities that only the Union government can undertake; that are not permitted for foreign investors; that are permitted only as a joint-venture with resident citizens or citizen-owned entities; and that are subject to specifically prescribed conditions (e.g. approval from relevant ministries).

When forming or registering a business in Burma, generally two options exist: (i) registration under the new Companies Law or (ii) registration as an MIC-company under the MIL (with registration under the 2014 Special Economic Zone Law for businesses located in a Special Economic Zone as a third option).  Under the MIL, investors involved in the following businesses must still submit a proposal to the MIC and apply for a permit: businesses/investment activities that are strategic for the Union; large, capital-intensive investment projects; projects which have large potential impacts on the environment and local communities; businesses/investment activities that use state-owned land and buildings; and/or businesses/investment activities that the government designates as requiring the submission of a proposal to the MIC.

The State-Owned Economic Enterprises Law, enacted in March 1989, is still in effect today.  It regulates certain investments and economic activities. While the 1989 law stipulated that state-owned enterprises (SOE) have the sole right to carry out a range of economic activities, including teak extraction, oil and gas, banking and insurance, and electricity generation, in practice many of these areas are now open to private sector investment.  For instance, the 2016 Rail Transportation Enterprise Law allows foreign and local businesses to make certain investments in railways, including in the form of public-private partnerships.

More broadly, the MIC, “in the interest of the State,” can make exceptions to the State-Owned Economic Enterprise Law.  The MIC has routinely granted numerous exceptions including through joint ventures or special licenses in the areas of insurance, banking (for domestic investors only), mining, petroleum and natural gas extraction, telecommunications, radio and television broadcasting, and air transport services.

The Burmese military is associated with the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings, Ltd. (UMEHL) and runs the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), two large conglomerates with many commercial interests. 

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 report includes an analysis of Burma’s investment sectors and business environment, and can be found at:  http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/myanmar/  

The World Bank also conducted an enterprise survey of Burma in 2016, the results of which can be found at: http://www.enterprisesurveys.org/data/exploreeconomies/2016/myanmar  

The OECD conducted an investment policy review of Burma in March 2014.  The entire report can be found at: http://www.oecd.org/daf/inv/investment-policy/Myanmar-IPR-2014.pdf .

The World Trade Organization (WTO) conducted a trade policy review of Burma in March 2014.  The entire report can be found at: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp393_e.htm  .

Business Facilitation

The Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA) website (http://www.dica.gov.mm/  ) provides information on how to register a business in Burma, which can be done online as of August 2018, or in person at DICA’s offices.  Registration is the first step a businessperson must take before incorporating a company or making an investment in Burma, whether that person is a citizen of Burma or a foreigner.  In accordance with the Companies Law and the Special Companies Act of 1950, a company may register in one of the following forms: as a private or public company by Burmese citizens, as a foreign company or branch of a foreign company, as a joint venture company, or as an association/nonprofit organization.  First steps include checking availability of the company name at DICA or on the online registry, obtaining company registration forms in person or online from DICA, submitting the forms, and paying a company registration fee. The new Companies Law eliminated the need for companies to get a “permit to trade,” removing an obstacle to businesses under the previous version of the law.

The Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) is responsible for verifying and approving certain investment proposals and regularly issues notifications about sector-specific developments.  The MIC is comprised of representatives and experts from government ministries, departments and governmental and non-governmental bodies. Companies can use the DICA website to retrieve information on requirements for MIC permit applications and submit a proposal to the MIC.  If the proposal meets the criteria, it will be accepted within 15 days. If accepted, the MIC will review the proposal and reach a decision within 90 days. The MIC issued a March 2016 statement granting authority to state and regional investment committees to approve any investment with capital of under USD 5 million.  Such investments no longer require approval from the MIC.

To attract foreign and domestic investors, the MIC has released lists of townships that fall under three different zones: underdeveloped, moderately developed, and adequately developed.  Investors will receive a tax break of seven years, five years, or three years when they make investments in these respective zones. A total of 166 townships fall under the least-developed-zone category.  In 2017, DICA expanded its presence throughout Burma to support companies and promote investment in of all the country’s states and regions.

Outward Investment

Burma does not promote outward investment, but it does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Burma has signed and ratified bilateral investment agreements with China, India, Japan, South Korea, Laos, Philippines, and Thailand.  It has also signed bilateral investment agreements with Israel and Vietnam although these have not yet entered into force. Burma has engaged in investment treaty negotiations with Bangladesh, China, Hong Kong, Iran, Mongolia, Russia, and Serbia.  Texts of the agreements or treaties that have come into force are available on the UNCTAD website at: http://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/IIA/CountryBits/144  .

In 2013, the United States and Burma signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement.

Burma does not have a bilateral investment treaty or a free trade agreement with the United States.

Through its membership in ASEAN, Burma is also a party to the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement, as well as to the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, the ASEAN-Korea Free Trade Agreement, and the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, all of which contain an investment chapter that provides protection standards to qualifying foreign investors.

Burma has border trade agreements with Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, and Thailand.

Burma has Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreements with the United Kingdom, Singapore, India, Malaysia, Vietnam and South Korea.

Burma does not have a bilateral taxation treaty with the United States.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Burma lacks regulatory and legal transparency.  In the past, all regulations were subject to change with no advance or written notice, and without opportunity for public comment.  Some ministries now engage in public consultation before finalizing bills for parliamentary consideration or issuing new regulations and this practice is becoming more widespread.  For instance, the government solicited public comments on the 2016 Investment Law, including the drafting of the rules and regulations, which went through three rounds of public consultations.  While there is no legal requirement to have public consultation, 75 percent of parliamentarians are elected representatives of their constituencies and are expected to respond to public engagement.  An active and vocal civil society also results in more public discourse about proposed legislation and regulations than in the past.

The government of Burma publishes information online on government websites and has established websites through which businesses can access trade information.  The Ministry of Commerce publishes a weekly Commerce Journal and a monthly Trade News booklet, providing trade-related information, and in 2016, launched the National Trade Portal (https://myanmartradeportal.gov.mm/en  ).  The government of Burma publishes new regulations and laws in government-run newspapers and “The State Gazette.”  Burma has issued the annual Citizen Budget in the Burmese language since FY 2015-16. The Ministry of Planning and Finance has published quarterly budget execution reports, six-month-overview-of-budget-execution reports and annual budget execution reports on its website since FY 2015-16.  The Burmese government also publishes its debt obligation report on the Treasury Department’s Facebook page. (See https://www.facebook.com/pages/biz/Treasury-Department-of-Myanmar-777018172438019/  ).  For more information on Burma’s regulatory transparency see http://rulemaking.worldbank.org/data/explorecountries/myanmar  .

As part of the government’s commitment to transparency of its regulatory system, Burma became a candidate country in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in 2014, and in January 2016 Burma’s Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) National Coordination Office, a global standard for the promotion of revenue transparency, submitted the country’s first EITI report.  The government announced its new EITI authority, the administrative body for the EITI process, in December 2016. In 2018, the government published its second and third reports for FY 2014/15 and FY 2015/16 FY, and in March 2019 it published its fourth sector report. A forestry sector report is expected in 2019. (See https://eiti.org/myanmar  .)

International Regulatory Considerations

The Ministry of Commerce’s National Trade Portal and Repository contains all of Burma’s laws, processes, forms, and points of contact for trade.  This portal increases transparency in Burma and also meets Burma’s requirements under Articles 12 and 13 of the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement.  While Burma is not in compliance with WTO notification requirements, the government developed a WTO notification strategy that should increase the number and quality of notifications. The Trade Portal can be found at: http://www.myanmartradeportal.gov.mm/index.php  .

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Burma’s legal system is a unique combination of customary law, English common law and statutes introduced through the pre-independence India Code, and post-independence Burmese legislation.  Where there is no statute regulating a particular matter, courts are to apply Burma’s general law, which is based on English common law as adopted and modified by Burmese case law.  Every state and region has a High Court, with lower courts in each district and township.   High Court judges are appointed by the President while district and township judges are appointed by the Chief Justice through the Office of the Supreme Court of the Union. The Union Attorney General’s Office law officers (prosecutors) operate sub-national offices in each state, region, district, and township.

The Attorney General enforces standards of due process in the criminal justice system and provides the government’s law officers with a mandate to act as an independent check in the criminal justice system.  The Ministry of Home Affairs, led by a minister appointed by the Commander-in-Chief but reporting to the President, retains oversight of the Myanmar Police Force, which files cases directly with the courts. While foreign companies have the right to bring cases to and defend themselves in local courts, there are concerns about the impartiality and lack of independence of the courts.

In order to address the concerns of foreign investors regarding dispute settlement, the government acceded in 2013 to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (“New York Convention”).  In 2016, Burma’s parliament enacted the much-anticipated Arbitration Law, putting the New York Convention into effect and replacing arbitration legislation that was more than 70 years old. Since April 2016, foreign companies can pursue arbitration in a third country.  However, the Arbitration Law does not eliminate all risks. There is still a limited track record of enforcing foreign awards in Burma and inherent jurisdictional risks remain in any recourse to the local legal system. The Arbitration Law however brings Burma’s legislation more in line with internationally accepted standards in arbitration.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The MIC plays a leading role in the regulation of foreign investment, and approves all investment projects receiving incentives except those in special economic zones, which are handled by the Central Working Body, set up under the existing Special Economic Zone Law.  Joint ventures between foreign investors and SOEs are the responsibility of the relevant line ministries. There is no evidence that the MIC discriminates against foreign investors.

The MIL outlines the procedures the MIC must take when considering foreign investments.  Investment approvals are made on a case-by-case basis. The MIC evaluates foreign investment proposals and stipulates the terms and conditions of investment permits.  To obtain an investment permit, the investor must submit a proposal in the prescribed form to the MIC, together with supporting documentation, including details of intended activities and the financial credibility of the company/individual; an undertaking not to engage in trading activities; and annual reports for the last two financial years, or copies of the company’s head office’s balance sheet and profit-and-loss account for the last two financial years, notarized by the Burmese Embassy in the country where the company is incorporated.  The MIC accepts or rejects an application within 15 days, and decides whether to approve the proposal within 60 days. The Chairman of the MIC gives the final approval.

The MIC does not record foreign investments that do not require MIC approval.  Joint ventures with military-controlled enterprises require MIC approval and abide by the same rules as other investments.  Many smaller investments may go unrecorded. Once licensed, foreign firms may register their companies locally, use their permits to obtain resident visas, lease cars and real estate, and obtain import and export licenses from the Ministry of Commerce.  Foreign companies may register locally without an MIC license, in which case they are not entitled to receive the benefits and incentives provided for in the MIL. Many import and export licenses requirements have been removed since 2014; for more information see https://www.myanmartradeportal.gov.mm/en/guide-to-import-export  

More information on the MIC can be found at: http://www.dica.gov.mm/en/apply-mic-permit  .

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

A Competition Law was passed on February 24, 2015, and went into effect on February 24, 2017.  The objective of the law is to protect public interest from monopolistic acts, limit unfair competition, and prevent abuse of dominant position and economic concentration that weakens competition.

The law classifies four types of behavior as sanctionable violations: acts restricting competition (applicable to all persons); acts leading to monopolies (applicable only to entrepreneurs); unfair competitive acts (applicable only to entrepreneurs); and business combinations such as mergers.  The law also restricts the production of goods, market penetration, technological development, and investment, although the government may exempt restrictive agreements “if they are aimed at reducing production costs and benefit consumers,” such as reshaping the organizational structure and business model of a business so as to improve its efficiency; enhancing technology and technological advances for the improvement of the quality of goods and service; and promoting competitiveness of small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Burma is not party to any bilateral or regional agreement on anti-trust cooperation.

Expropriation and Compensation

The 2016 MIL prohibits nationalization and states that foreign investments approved by the MIC will not be nationalized during the term of their investment.  In addition, the law guarantees that the government of Burma will not terminate an enterprise without reasonable cause, and upon expiration of the contract, the government of Burma guarantees an investor the withdrawal of foreign capital in the foreign currency in which the investment was made.  Finally, the law states that “the Union government guarantees that it shall not cease an investment enterprise operating under a Permit of the Commission before the expiry of the permitted term without any sufficient reason.”

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Burma is not a party to the 1965 Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of other States (ICSID).  In 2016, the Burmese parliament enacted the Arbitration Law, putting the 1958 New York Convention into effect (see international arbitration below).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

To date, Burma has not been party to any investment dispute.  In addition, Burma has not been party to any dispute settlement proceeding at the WTO.

Under the 2016 Arbitration Law, local courts should recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards against the government unless a valid ground for refusal to enforce exists.  Valid grounds for refusal include: one or more parties’ inability to conclude an arbitration agreement; the invalidity of the arbitration agreement, lack of due process, the award falls outside the scope of the arbitration agreement; the arbitration was not in compliance with the applicable laws; or the award is not in force or has been set aside.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The 2016 Arbitration Law is based on the UNCITRAL Model Law (Model Law), addressing arbitration in Burma as well as the enforcement of a foreign award in Burma.  For example, the provisions relating to the definition of an arbitration agreement, the procedure of appointing arbitrator(s) and the grounds for setting aside an award are mirrored in the Arbitration Law and the Model Law; however there are some differences between these two laws.  For instance, while parties are free to decide on the substantive law in an international commercial arbitration, the Arbitration Law provides that arbitrations seated in Burma must adopt Burmese law as the substantive law.  This may create uncertainty as to what can be defined as an international commercial dispute, since parties are allowed to adopt any foreign law as substantive law.  According to the Arbitration Law, foreign arbitral awards can be enforced if they are the result of a commercial dispute and were made at a place covered by international conventions connected to Burma and as notified in the State Gazette by the President.  If the Burmese court is satisfied with the award, it has to enforce it as if it were a decree of a Burmese court. While observers note that there are still issues to be resolved, the Arbitration Law brings Burma’s legislation much closer to international arbitration standards and legislation.

Bankruptcy Regulations

There is no bankruptcy law in Burma.  Existing, antiquated insolvency laws – such as the Insolvency Act of 1910 and the Insolvency Act of 1920 – are rarely used.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

According to the MIL, investors may enjoy corporate tax exemption for seven, five or three years depending on whether investment takes place in underdeveloped, moderately developed or adequately developed regions, although income tax exemptions shall be granted only to investments in promoted sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, power generation, etc.  The promoted sectors can be found at the DICA website: https://www.dica.gov.mm/en/investment-promotion  .

MIC permit holders are entitled to tax incentives and the right to use land. With a MIC permit, foreign companies can lease regional government approved land for initial periods of up to 50 years, and with the possibility of two consecutive ten-year extensions.

DICA is officially mandated to coordinate investment promotion under the MIC, although different ministries and agencies promote investment in different sectors (e.g. the Ministry of Tourism promotes responsible tourism investment).  DICA is responsible for encouraging and facilitating foreign investment by providing information, fostering coordination and networks between investors, and continually exploring new opportunities in Burma that would benefit both the nation and the business communities.  DICA’s head office is in Yangon and it has 14 branches throughout the country including Naypyitaw, Mandalay, Taunggyi, Mawlamyaing, Pathein, Monyaw, Dawei, Hpa-an, Bago, Magway, Loikaw, Myitkyina, Sittwe and Hakha. DICA uses seminars, workshops, investment fairs and other events to promote investment, as well as its website: http://www.dica.gov.mm/en  .

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The Myanmar Economic Zones Law also contains specific investment incentives.  Under the law, investors located in an SEZ may apply for income tax exemption for the first five years from the date of commencement of commercial operations, followed by a reduction of the income tax rate by 50 percent for the succeeding five-year period.  Under the law, if profits during the third five-year period are reinvested within one year, investors can apply for a 50 percent reduction of the income tax rate for profits derived from such reinvestment.  In August 2015, the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development issued new rules governing the SEZs, including the establishment of a One-Stop Service Department to ease the approval and permitting of investments in SEZs, incorporate companies, issue entry visas, issue the relevant certificates of origin, collect taxes and duties, and approve employment permits and/or permissions for factory construction and other investments.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Foreign investors must recruit at least 25 percent of their skilled employees from the local labor force in the first two years of their investment.  The local employment ratio increases to 50 percent for the third and fourth years, and 75 percent for the fifth and sixth years. The investors are also required to submit a report to MIC with details of the practices and training methods that have been adopted to improve the skills of Burmese nationals.

Foreign investors are not required to use domestic content in goods or technology.  Burma is currently developing laws, rules and regulations on information technology (IT).  It does not have in place requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to surveillance.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The MIL provides that any foreign investor may enter into long-term leases with private landlords or – in the case of state-owned land – the relevant government departments or government organizations, if the investor has obtained a Permit or Endorsement issued by the MIC.  Upon issuance of a Permit or an Endorsement, a foreign investor may enter into leases with an initial term of up to 50 years (with the possibility to extend for two additional terms of ten years each). Longer periods of land utilization or land leases may be allowed by the MIC to promote the development of difficult-to-access regions with lower development.

In September 2018, Burma amended the Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Lands Management Law and required occupants of land considered vacant, fallow or virgin to go to the nearest land records office and register within a six-month period.  The six-month deadline was intended to offer clear title to lands for investment and infrastructure construction. However, controversy exists over which lands were designated as vacant, fallow or virgin and whether the notification or registration period was sufficient.

In January 2016, the government published the approved National Land Use Policy.  The policy includes provisions on ensuring the use of effective environmental and social safeguard mechanisms; improving public participation in decision-making processes related to land use planning; improving public access to accurate information related to land use management; and developing independent dispute resolution mechanisms.  The policy is to be updated every five years as necessary and stipulates that a new national land law will be drafted and enacted using this policy.  The policy also establishes the National Land Use Council. Chaired by the Vice President, the council constitutes the highest authority within the government presiding over land issues, and is intended to ensure the policy and new national land law are implemented and used as a guide for the harmonization of all existing laws relating to land in the country.

A continuing area of concern for foreigners involves investment in large-scale land projects.  Property rights for large plots of land for investment commonly are disputed because ownership is not well established, particularly following a half-century of military expropriations.  It is not uncommon for foreign firms to face complaints from local communities about inadequate consultation and compensation regarding land.

Burma’s parliament passed the Condominium Law in 2016.  The law states that up to 40 percent of condominium units of “saleable floor area” can be sold to foreign buyers.  Condominium owners shall also have the shared ownership of both the land and apartment.  In 2017 the Ministry of Construction pasted the Condominium Rules, implementing and clarifying provisions of the Condominium law.  One clarification per the rules is that state-owned land may be registered as condominium land (Rules 20 and 21).

In accordance with the Transfer of Immovable Property Restriction Law of 1987, mortgages of immovable property are prohibited if the mortgage holder is a foreigner, foreign company or foreign bank.

Intellectual Property Rights

Burma improved its intellectual property rights protection in 2019 by enacting three laws on intellectual property: the Trademark Law, the Industrial Design Law, and the Patent Law.  A fourth law on copyrights has been passed by Parliament but has not yet been signed by the President. The laws improve protections for intellectual property owners by offering legal protections and implementing fines or legal actions in case of infringement.

The Trademark Law introduces a “first-to-file” system from the previous “first-to-use” system.  Trademark holders who previously registered their trademark will need to re-register their marks.  The new law also includes protections for “well-known” trademarks. Geographical indications will also be protected through registration.  In anticipation of passage of the trademark bill, Burma established a single national Intellectual Property Office that will monitor compliance with intellectual property laws and be responsible for developing IPR policy rules and regulations.  In addition, the WTO has delayed required implementation of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPs) Agreement for Least Developed Nations – including Burma – until 2021.

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

For Intellectual Property Rights issues in Burma, please contact:

Kitisri Sukhapinda, Regional IP Attache
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
American Embassy Bangkok, Thailand
Tel: (662) 205-5913
Email: kitisri.sukhapinda@trade.gov

Information on the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) Burma Chapter can be found at: http://www.amchammyanmar.com/  

Information on legal service providers available in Burma can be found at: https://mm.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/attorneys/

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Burma has very small publicly traded equity and debt markets.  Banks have been the primary buyers of government bonds issued by Burma’s Central Bank, which has established a nascent bond market auction system.  The Central Bank issues government treasury bonds with maturities of two, three, and five years.

The Burmese government opened the Yangon Stock Exchange in 2015, and the first company was listed on March 25, 2016.  As of April 2018, five companies are listed on the exchange. Japan Exchange Group and Japan-based Daiwa Securities Group helped launched the stock exchange, owning a combined 49 percent of the stock exchange, with the remaining 51 percent owned by state-owned Myanma Economic Bank.  In 2013, the Securities Exchange Law came into effect, establishing a securities and exchange commission and helping clarify licensing for securities businesses (such as dealing, brokerage, underwriting, investment advisory and company representation). The Companies Law allows foreign investment of up to 35 percent in domestic companies and allows foreign investment in the stock market.

Money and Banking System

In October 2014, the government awarded limited banking licenses to nine foreign banks – all from the Asia-Pacific region – allowing each bank to set up one branch and provide loans to foreign companies.  All nine banks began operations by the end of October 2015. In mid-December 2015, the Burmese government announced a second round of foreign bank licensing, designed to increase the presence of banks headquartered in a wider variety of countries, and in early March 2016 the Central Bank granted new licenses to banks headquartered in India, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam.  In November 2018, the Central Bank published new guidelines that permit locally licensed foreign banks to offer “any financing services and other banking services” to local corporations. Previously, the thirteen foreign banks in Burma were only allowed to offer export financing and related banking services to foreign corporations. No domestic banks currently have a correspondent bank account with a U.S.-based bank.

The Financial Institution Law was enacted in January 2016 and in July 2017 the Central Bank issued four regulations on capital adequacy ratio, asset classification and provisioning, large exposures and liquidity ratio requirements, aiming to align Burma’s banking standards with international Basel II standards.  Since then Burmese banks have pushed back against the timeline of implementation of these regulations, arguing that special circumstances in Burma’s banking industry warrant special treatment.

Insufficient access to formal sources of credit is one of the most frequently identified obstacles to doing business in Burma, according to numerous business surveys.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Burmese kyat has a free-floating exchange rate.  Starting from February 5, 2019, the Central Bank calculates a market-based reference exchange rate from the volume-weighted average exchange rate of interbank and bank-customer deals during the day.

Remittance Policies

According to the MIL, foreign investors have the right of remittance of foreign currency.  Foreign investors are allowed to remit foreign currency overseas through banks authorized to conduct foreign banking business at the prevailing exchange rate.  Banks began introducing remittance services during 2012 and the volume of such formal transfer is low but growing, according to local bank managers.

Nevertheless, in practice, the transfer of money in or out of Burma has been difficult, as many international banks have been slow to update their internal prohibitions on conducting business in Burma, given the long history of U.S. and European sanctions that had isolated the country.  The majority of foreign currency transactions are conducted through banks in Singapore.

The difficulties presented by the formal banking system are reflected in the continued use of informal sources of finance for loans and remittances by both the public and businesses.  Although these informal sources tend to have higher interest charges, they offer an alternative to the limited loan services offered by banks, which generally provide only short-term credit for trade on a limited basis and require collateral.  Remittances are also often made through a well-developed informal financial network (commonly known as the “Hundi system”).

Burma is a “country of primary money laundering concern” according to the 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.  According to the report, Burma is not a regional or offshore financial center, and its historically isolated banking sector is just beginning to reconnect to the international financial system.  However, the report notes that Burma’s prolific drug production and lack of financial transparency make it attractive for money laundering. Burma enacted anti-money-laundering laws in 2014 and issued relevant rules in 2015.  Burma’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) is the agency responsible for undertaking investigation and legal action. The FIU is now a part of Burma’s police force under the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The FIU is building its capacity to become an independent unit in line with the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force.  In July 2016, Burma was delisted from the Financial Action Task Force list. While Burma is still designated as a jurisdiction of “primary money laundering concern” under Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the U.S. Department of the Treasury issued an administrative exception to this finding in October 2016, similar to waivers issued for certain banks since 2012, thereby allowing corresponding banking relationships with the United States.  For more information on the Department of Treasury exception, please see: https://www.fincen.gov/news/news-releases/fincen-issues-exception-prohibition-imposed-section-311-action-against-burma  

Burma does not engage in currency manipulation tactics.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Burma does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Revenue from SOEs contributes about 42 percent of the total revenue of Burma, while SOEs costs amount to 36 percent of expenditures.  In July 2016, the NLD announced 12 economic policies including to reform SOEs and privatize SOEs to enable the private sector to create employment opportunities.  The disaggregate figures of each SOE under the respective ministries are made public in the Burmese language.

Starting in 2012, the government of Burma began taking steps to reduce SOEs’ reliance on government support and to make them more competitive through joint ventures.  This included reducing budget subsidies for financing the raw material requirements of SOEs. The government of Burma has moved in the direction of public private partnerships, corporatization, and privatization.  Burma is not party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) within the framework of the WTO.

SOEs can secure loans at four percent interest rates from state-owned banks, with approval from the cabinet.  Private enterprises, unlike SOEs, are forced to provide land or other real estate as collateral in order to be considered for a loan.  However, SOEs are now subject to stricter financial discipline, as the government has sharply cut direct subsidies to the SOEs while opening markets for competition with the private sector.  Furthermore, the government is removing the easy credit from state banks. SOEs historically had an advantage over private entities in terms of land access since, according to the Constitution, the State owns all the land.

Privatization Program

According to the government of Burma, the private sector accounts for a majority of the country’s GDP, with the State participating in telecommunication services, social and public administration, energy, forestry, construction, and electricity.  The activities of the two military-owned conglomerates of MEHL and MEC are not included in the budget data; while a common sense understanding of “state-owned” would likely include them, these companies are not considered SOEs under Burmese law.

The NLD government has prioritized the privatization of SOEs, largely because many of these entities cost the government money.  In May 2016, the NLD appointed the new members of the Privatization Commission headed by a Vice-President. The Minister of Planning and Finance is the secretary of the commission.  Privatization can take the form of system-sharing, public-private partnership, private-private partnership, franchise, joint-venture, and sales of assets in line with international standards.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Burma’s awareness of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is growing.  However, many local companies (and some international firms) still equate CSR with in-kind donations or charitable contributions.  In recent years the Union of Myanmar Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), Burma’s largest private sector association, has been promoting the United Nations Global Compact and CSR principles in general.

Burma has implemented the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

9. Corruption

The elected government has continued to prioritize fighting corruption, and resources have been allocated to facilitate the growth of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) into an institution vested with the authority to lead that fight.  In 2018, the government amended its anti-corruption law to give the ACC greater authority to scrutinize government procurements, and the ACC has used that authority to initiate criminal cases against a few high-ranking and some mid-ranking officials for financial impropriety and abuse of office.  The ACC opened a branch office in Yangon in April 2019, and intends to open a branch in Mandalay in May 2019, as it continues to increase its investigative capacity.

The country, however, still lacks a framework that would effectively support a sustained and systematic fight against corruption.  While there have been efforts to reduce some opportunities for higher-level corruption, the lack of transparency regarding military budgets and expenditures remains a substantial impediment to reforms.  In addition, a large swath of the economy is engaged in illegal activities beyond the control of the government. These include the production, transportation and distribution of narcotics, and the smuggling of jade, gemstones, timber, wildlife, and wildlife products.  There are efforts to promote accountability for government officials, but lack of resources for key government functions, including law enforcement, remains a driver for low-level corruption. In its 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index, Transparency International rated Burma 132 out of 180 countries, a slight decline in ranking from the previous year.  Investors might face corruption when seeking investment permits, during the taxation process, when applying for import and export licenses, and when negotiating land and real estate leases.

The Government of Burma, however, recognizes the importance of fighting corruption as a quintessential part of efforts to improve democratic governance.

Resources to Report Corruption

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

Burma signed the UN Anticorruption Convention in 2005, and ratified it December 20, 2012.

Burma is not party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

Resources to Report Corruption

Anti Corruption Commission
Cluster (1), Sports’ Village, Wunna Theikdi Ward
Nay Pyi Taw
Phone : + 95 67 810 334 7
Email : myanmaracc2014@gmail.com
http://www.accm.gov.mm/acc/index.php?route=common/home  

10. Political and Security Environment

The government is sensitive to the threat of terrorism and is engaged with international partners on this issue.  There is no evidence to suggest that international terrorist organizations have operational capacity in Burma or are actively targeting Western interests.  Although both Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and ISIS in the Philippines (ISIS-P) have called for attacks in Burma as a result of the Rakhine crisis involving the Rohingya people, these calls are so far largely seen as aspirational in nature.  Additionally, crime in Burma is low compared to other countries within the region. While violence or demonstrations rarely target U.S. or other Western interests in Burma, several ethnic armed groups are engaged in ongoing civil conflict with the government of Burma, which occurs almost exclusively in the ethnic states.  On October 15, 2015, the government of Burma and eight ethnic armed groups (EAGs) signed a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).  Two additional armed ethnic groups joined the NCA in February 2018. However, several ethnic armed groups, including the most powerful ones, have not signed the NCA and some signatories continue to fight with the military and other EAGs.

While most of the major cities are quite safe, several areas of the country, particularly the ethnic states, routinely see conflict between the government and EAGs, as well as inter-ethnic violence between EAGs.  One of the ways these conflicts manifest is in the use of landmines and attacks involving improvised explosive devices. These incidents generally target government security forces, but there have been collateral casualties among the civilian population.  The continued use of landmines by the Burmese military and EAGs in the north, northeast, and southeast continue to routinely result in civilian casualties. Civilians have also been killed as a result of clashes between the military and the EAGs, as well as inter-ethnic conflicts.

On August 25, 2017, a Rohingya insurgent group attacked about 30 security outposts in northern Rakhine State.  The government characterized this event as a terrorist attack, and Burmese security forces launched clearance operations throughout northern Rakhine State.  Hundreds of Rohingya villages were burned, and there were widespread, credible allegations of abuses by security forces. An estimated 730,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh, and tens of thousands of non-Rohingya are displaced inside Rakhine State.  In November 2017, the U.S. Secretary of State determined that the situation constituted ethnic cleansing. Violence has not spread to other areas of Burma as a result of the crisis in Rakhine State although, as noted above, certain states in Burma continue to experience ethnic or religious violence.  Burma has a minority Muslim population, and violence between Buddhists and Muslims did occur in other parts of the country in 2013 and 2014 following intercommunal violence in Rakhine State in 2012. Since late 2018, there has been a marked increase in violence as a result of the ongoing conflict between the Burmese security forces and fighters from the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic Rakhine, largely Buddhist, EAG.  A number of townships in northern Rakhine and southern Chin are currently off limits for U.S. government travel due to the violence from this conflict.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

In October 2011, the Government of Burma passed the Labor Organization Law, which legalized the formation of trade unions and allows workers to strike.  As of April 2019 roughly 2,900 enterprise level unions had been formed in a variety of industries ranging from garments and textiles to agriculture to heavy industry.  The passage of the Labor Organization Law has engendered a nascent labor movement in Burma, and there is a low, yet increasing, level of awareness of labor issues among workers, employers, and even government officials.

Burma’s labor costs are low, even when compared to most of its Southeast Asian neighbors.  Skilled labor and managerial staff are in high demand and short supply, leading to high turnover.  The military’s nationalization of schools in 1964, its discouragement of English language classes in favor of Burmese, the lack of investment in education by the previous governments of Burma, and the repeated closing of Burmese universities from 1988 to the mid-2000’s have taken a toll on the country’s work force.  Most people in the 15-39-year-old demographic group lack technical skills and English proficiency. In order to address this gap, the government of Burma’s Employment and Skill Development Law entered into effect in December 2013 and is being revised. The law provides for compulsory contributions on the part of employers to a “skill development fund,” although this provision has not been implemented.  According to the government, 70 percent of Burma’s population is employed in agriculture.

According to the World Bank’s 2014 “Ending Poverty and Boosting Prosperity in a Time of Transition” report on Burma, 73 percent of the total labor force in Burma was employed in the informal sector in 2010, or 57 percent excluding agricultural workers.  Casual laborers represented another 18 percent, mainly from the rural areas. Unpaid family workers represent another 15 percent. According to the government’s labor force survey, the informal sector accounts for 75.6 percent.

A new national minimum wage went into effect in May 2018, raising the minimum daily wage from 3,600 kyat (USD 2.40) to 4,800 kyat (USD 3.20).  The minimum wage covers a standard eight-hour work day across all sectors and industries, and applies to all workers except for those in businesses with less than 15 employees.  While the previous minimum wage has been widely implemented, compensation for overtime work is still unclear.

The Burmese government, in an effort to align Burma’s labor regulations with international standards and increase trade and investment in the country, set out to abolish all antiquated labor laws and to introduce new labor laws and regulations.  The government passed a number of labor reforms and amended a range of labor-related laws, such as the 2016 Shops and Establishment Law and the Payment of Wages Law. Parliament passed a new Occupational Safety and Health Law in March 2019 and a Settlement of Labor Disputes Law in May 2019.

In November 2016, the U.S. government reinstated Burma’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) trade benefit in recognition of the progress that the government had made in protecting workers’ rights.  The U.S. government reauthorized the GSP program globally in March 2018 through December 31, 2020.

In September 2016, a National Tripartite Dialogue Forum (NTDF) was created to provide a venue for the Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population to engage with employers and workers, especially in drafting legislation.  The NTDF meets regularly and is currently reviewing a draft of the Labor Organization Law as well as the Employment and Skill Development Law.

In November 2014, the governments of the United States, Burma, Japan, Denmark, and the ILO formally launched the Initiative to Promote Fundamental Labor Rights and Practices in Myanmar (Initiative) and held the third Stakeholder’s Forum in January 2018.  The overarching goal of the Initiative is to promote a culture of compliance with fundamental labor rights. The Initiative is intended to cultivate relationships between business, labor, and civil society stakeholders and the government of Burma.

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

In May 2013, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) signed an Investment Incentive Agreement with Burma.   OPIC provides political risk insurance, debt financing, and private equity capital to support U.S. investors and their investments. OPIC can provide political risk insurance for currency inconvertibility, expropriation, and political violence for U.S. investments including equity, loans and loan guarantees, technical assistance, leases, and consigned inventory or equipment.  Most recently, in April 2019, OPIC signed an agreement providing USD 8 million in support for a microfinance enterprise in Burma.

In 2014, the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM Bank) announced that it would open for sovereign-backed business in Burma to help finance short-term and medium-term U.S. export sales.  In July 2017 EXIM Bank also authorized long-term transactions in the public sector.

In December 2013, Burma became a member of the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), which means that direct foreign investment into the country is eligible for the agency’s investment guarantees.

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) 2018 N/A 2018 $74,002 https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2017/02/weodata/weorept.aspx?sy=2015&ey=2022&scsm=1&ssd=1&sort=country&ds=.&br=1&pr1.x=66&pr1.y=14&c=518&s=NGDPD&grp=0&a=  
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $55.9* N/A N/A N/A
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions)** N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP** N/A N/A 2017 38.4% https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx    

* https://www.dica.gov.mm/sites/dica.gov.mm/files/document-files/yearly_country.pdf  . In 2018, Burma changed its fiscal reporting period from an April to March reporting period to an October to September period.  This amount only represents U.S. FDI between April and September 2018
**Accurate statistical data is limited in Burma, although this capacity is also being developed.


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 (2017)* Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward Amount 100% N/A
China $8,734 33.1% N/A
Singapore $7,779 29.5% N/A
Thailand  $2,256 8.6% N/A
United Kingdom $1,915 7.3% N/A
Japan $1,167 4.4% N/A
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

* According to http://data.imf.org/CDIS  


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Data not available.

Cambodia

Executive Summary

Cambodia has experienced strong economic growth, with average annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth near seven percent over the last decade, driven by growing exports (particularly in garment and footwear products) and domestic consumption. Tourism is another large contributor to growth, with tourist arrivals reaching 6 million in 2018. Cambodia’s GNI per capita stood at USD 1,230 in 2017, while the average annual inflation rate was estimated at 3.2 percent.

Investing in Cambodia can be a relatively straightforward process.  Foreign direct investment (FDI) incentives available to investors include 100 percent foreign ownership of companies, corporate tax holidays of up to eight years, a 20 percent corporate tax rate after the incentive period ends, duty-free import of capital goods, and no restrictions on capital repatriation.

Despite these incentives, Cambodia has not historically attracted significant U.S. investment. Apart from the country’s relatively small market size, there are other factors dissuading U.S. investors: corruption, a limited supply of skilled labor, inadequate infrastructure (including high energy costs), and a lack of transparency in some government approval processes. Failure to consult the business community on new economic policies and regulations has also created difficulties for domestic and foreign investors alike. Notwithstanding these challenges, a number of American companies have maintained investments in the country, and in December 2016, Coca-Cola officially opened a USD 100 million bottling plant in Phnom Penh.

The story of FDI in Cambodia cannot be told without mentioning China, which has increased its investments in Cambodia sharply in the past five years.  The rise in FDI highlights China’s desire for influence in Cambodia, and Southeast Asia more broadly. Moreover, the rise in investment from China indicates that Chinese businesses, many that are state-owned enterprises, may not assess the challenges in Cambodia’s business environment in the same manner as U.S. businesses. While figures vary, the World Bank estimates that Chinese FDI accounted for 60 percent of total FDI-funded projects in Cambodia in 2017, and that share rose to 90 percent in the first six months of 2018.

Physical infrastructure projects, including commercial and residential real estate developments, continue to attract the bulk of FDI. However, there has been a recent increase in investment in manufacturing industries, including garments and agro-processing.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 161 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 138 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 98 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $151.0 http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $1,230 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

As mentioned above, Cambodia has an open and liberal foreign investment regime and actively courts FDI. The primary law governing investment is the 1994 Law on Investment. The government permits 100 percent foreign ownership of companies in most sectors. In a few sectors, such as cigarette manufacturing, movie production, rice milling, gemstone mining and processing, publishing and printing, radio and television, wood and stone carving production, and silk weaving, foreign investment is subject to local equity participation or prior authorization from authorities. There is little or no official discrimination against foreign investors either at the time of initial investment or after investment. Some foreign businesses, however, have reported that they are at disadvantaged vis-a-vis Cambodian or other foreign rivals that engage in acts of corruption or tax evasion or take advantage of Cambodia’s poor regulatory enforcement.

The Council for the Development of Cambodia’s (CDC) is the lead investment promotion agency in Cambodia and is the principal government agency responsible for providing incentives to stimulate investment. Investors are required to submit an investment proposal to either the CDC or the Provincial-Municipal Investment Sub-committee to obtain a Qualified Investment Project (QIP) status depending on capital level and location of the investment question. This agency also facilitates public-private consultation mechanism that is considered to improve investment climate in Cambodia.  The forum acts as a platform for the private sector to raise concerns for the government to solve. More information about investment and investment incentives in Cambodia may be found on the website at: www.cambodiainvestment.gov.kh  .

To facilitate foreign investment, Cambodia has created special economic zones (SEZs). These zones provide companies with ready access to land, infrastructure, and services to facilitate the set-up and operation of businesses. Services provided include utilities, tax services, customs facilitation, and other administrative services designed to support import-export processes. Projects within the SEZs are also offered with incentives such as tax holidays; zero rate value-added tax; and import duty exemption for raw materials, machinery and equipment. The primary authority responsible for SEZs is the Cambodia Special Economic Zone Board (CSEZB).  The largest of these SEZs is located in Sihanoukville and hosts primarily Chinese companies.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

There are few limitations on foreign control and ownership in Cambodia. Foreign investors may own 100 percent of their investment projects except in the sectors mentioned above. According to Cambodia’s 2003 Amended Law on Investment and related sub-decrees, there are no limitations based on shareholder nationality or discrimination against foreign investors, except in relation to investments in real property or state-owned enterprises. Both the Law on Investment and the Amended Law on Investment state that the majority of interest in land, however, must be held by one or more Cambodian citizens. Pursuant to the Law on Public Enterprise, the Cambodian government must directly or indirectly hold more than 51 percent of the capital or the right to vote in state-owned enterprises. In addition, the Cambodian Bar has periodically taken actions to restrict or impede the work of foreign lawyers or foreign law firms.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In compliance with World Trade Organization (WTO) requirements, Cambodia conducted its first review of trade policies and practices in November 2011. The second review was conducted on November 21-23, 2017. Cambodia’s full trade policy review report can be found on the WTO website: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp464_e.htm  . Cambodia also conducted an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development investment policy review in 2017.

In response to the WTO trade policy review recommendations, Cambodia completed the following reforms:

  • Elimination of the Certificate of Origin requirement for exports to countries where a certificate is not required;
  • Implementation of online business registration;
  • Adoption of a competitive hiring process for Ministry of Commerce staff;
  • Implementation of risk evaluation measures for the Cambodia Import-Export Inspection and Fraud Repression Directorate General (CamControl) and creation of a CamControl risk management unit;
  • Enactment of the Law on Public Procurement;
  • Enactment of three judicial system laws: the Law on Court Structures, the Law on the Duties and Discipline of Judges and Prosecutors, and the Law on the Organization and Functioning of the Supreme Council of Magistracy;
  • Creation of the Commercial Court as a specialized Court of First Instance;
  • The creation of a credit bureau;
  • Establishment of a Telecom Regulator of Cambodia (TRC); in 2012, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunication transferred its regulatory role to the TRC;
  • Enactment of the Law on Telecommunications in December 2015; and
  • Enactment of the Law on Animal Health and Production in February 2016.

Areas of ongoing or planned reforms include a law on Special Economic Zones, amending the Standards Law, and enacting laws on competition, cyber security, food safety, and e-commerce.

Business Facilitation

All businesses are required to register with the Ministry of Commerce (MoC) and the General Department of Taxation (GDT). In January 2016, the Ministry of Commerce launched an online business registration portal that allows all existing and new businesses to register their companies at www.businessregistration.moc.gov.kh  . The link also provides sources of information for various types of business registration documents. Depending on the types of business activities, new businesses are also required to register with other relevant ministries. In addition to registering with the MoC and the GDT, for example, travel agencies must register with the Ministry of Tourism, and private universities must register with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. The GDT also established their E-tax registration that can be found at owp.tax.gov.kh:50005/epaymentowpweb  . The World Bank’s 2019 Ease of Doing Business Report ranks Cambodia 138 of 190 countries globally for the ease of starting a business. The report notes that it includes nine separate procedures and can take up to three months to complete all business, tax, and employment registration processes.

Cambodia’s 1994 Law on Investment created an investment licensing system to regulate the approval process for foreign direct investment and provide incentives to potential investors. The website of the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) provides a list of laws, rules, procedures and regulations, which could be useful for foreign investors. CDC’s website is found here: www.cambodiainvestment.gov.kh  .

Outward Investment

There are no restrictions on domestic citizens investing abroad. A number of local companies have already invested in neighboring countries, particularly Laos and Myanmar, in various sectors including banking, IT services, legal and consulting services, and the entertainment industry.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

BITs or FTAs

Cambodia has signed bilateral investment treaties (BITs) with 27 countries: Austria, Bangladesh, Belarus, China, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia (later terminated), Japan, Kuwait, Laos, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Pakistan, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Vietnam.  Cambodia does not have a BIT with the United States.

As a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Cambodia has signed regional investment agreements including the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement, the ASEAN-Hong Kong Investment Agreement, the ASEAN-India Investment Agreement, the ASEAN-China Investment Agreement, and the ASEAN-Korea Investment Agreement.

Cambodia is also a party to several regional free trade agreements that include provisions to liberalize trade as well as investment.  They include the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, the ASEAN-Japan EPA, and ASEAN Framework Agreements with Korea, India, China, and the EU, that include investment provisions.  ASEAN is also a party to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP) that is currently under negotiation.

In July 2006, Cambodia signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) with the United States to promote greater trade and investment in both countries and provide a forum to address bilateral trade and investment issues. In January 2019, the fifth TIFA meeting took place in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Bilateral Taxation Treaties

Cambodia does not have a bilateral taxation treaty with the United States, but has entered into six double taxation agreements with Brunei, China, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Details of those agreements are available on Cambodia’s General Department of Taxation (GDT) website: www.tax.gov.kh/en/ir.php  .

In the past, Cambodia’s GDT has lacked the capacity to collect taxes on a large scale. As a result, many companies evaded paying salary taxes, value-added taxes, and real estate taxes, despite being required to do so under Cambodian laws. The GDT has taken steps, however, to increase tax revenue both by building capacity within the organization and through better implementation of existing tax laws.

Application of Cambodia’s tax laws, while improving, remains inconsistent. In some cases, foreign investors face greater scrutiny to pay taxes than their domestic counterparts.  In others, the GDT has been criticized for employing audits and assessing large tax obligations for political purposes.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Numerous issues related to the general lack of transparency in the regulatory regime arise from the lack of legislation and limited capacity of key institutions, further exacerbated by weakness of the court system.  Investors often complain that the decisions of Cambodian regulatory agencies are inconsistent, arbitrary, or motivated by corruption. For example, in May 2016 in what was perceived as a populist move, the government set caps on retail fuel prices, with little consultation with petroleum companies.  Following this development, in April 2017, the National Bank of Cambodia introduced the interest rate cap on loans provided by the microfinance industry with no consultation with the relevant stakeholders at all. Some investors have expressed concern over draft cyber legislation that has not been subject to stakeholder consultations.   

Cambodian ministries and regulatory agencies are not legally obligated to publish the text of proposed regulations before their enactment.  Draft regulations are only selectively available for public consultation with relevant non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private sector or other parties before their enactment.  Approved or passed laws are available on websites of some line Ministries but are not always up to date. The Council of Jurists, the government body reviewing law and regulation, publishes a list of updated laws and regulations on its website at www.coj.gov.kh  .

Under Prakas (sub-decree) 643 of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, enterprises must submit their annual financial statements to be audited by an independent auditor registered with the Kampuchea Institute of Certified Public Accountants and Auditors (KICPAA) provided those enterprises meet two of the following three criteria: (1) annual turnover above KHR 3 billion (approximately USD 750,000); (2) total assets above KHR 2 billion (approximately USD 500,000); and (3) more than 100 employees. QIPs registered with the CDC are also obligated to submit their annual financial statement to be audited by an independent auditor registered with the KICPAA.

International Regulatory Considerations

As a member of the ASEAN since 1999, Cambodia is required to comply with certain rules and regulations with regard to free trade agreements with the 10 ASEAN member states. These include tariff-free importation of information and communication technology (ICT) equipment, harmonizing custom coding, harmonizing the medical device market, as well as compliance with tax regulations on multi-activity businesses, among others.

As a member of the WTO, Cambodia has been drafting new laws and amending existing laws and regulations to comply with WTO rules. Relevant laws and regulations are notified to the WTO legal committee after their adoption. A list of Cambodian legal updates in compliance with the WTO is described in the above section regarding Investment Policy Reviews.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Cambodian legal system is primarily based on French civil law. Under the 1993 Constitution, the King is the head of state and the elected Prime Minister is the head of government. Legislative power is vested in a bicameral parliament, while the judiciary makes up the third branch of government. Contractual enforcement is governed by Decree Number 38 D Referring to Contract and Other Liabilities. More information on this decree can be found at www.cambodiainvestment.gov.kh/decree-38-referring-to-contract-and-other-liabilities_881028-2.html  .

Although the Cambodian Constitution calls for an independent judiciary, most investors are generally reluctant to use the Cambodian judicial system because the courts are perceived as unreliable and susceptible to external political influence or bribery. Both local and foreign businesses report problems with inconsistent judicial rulings, corruption, and difficulty enforcing judgments. For these reasons, most commercial disputes are currently resolved through negotiations facilitated by the Ministry of Commerce, the Council for the Development of Cambodia, the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, or other institutions.

Cambodia adopted a Commercial Arbitration Law in 2006. In 2010, the government provided for the establishment of the National Commercial Arbitration Center (NCAC), the country’s first alternative dispute resolution mechanism, to enable companies to resolve commercial disputes more quickly and inexpensively than through the court system. The NCAC was officially launched in March 2013, but has limited capacity.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Cambodia’s 1994 Law on Investment created an investment licensing system to regulate the approval process for foreign direct investment and provide incentives to potential investors. In March 2003, the government simplified licensing and increased transparency and predictability by enacting the Law on the Amendment to the Law on Investment (Amended Law on Investment). Sub-decree No. 111 on the Implementation of the Law on the Amendment to the Law on Investment, issued in September 2005, lays out detailed procedures for registering a QIP, which is entitled to certain taxation incentives, with the CDC and provincial/municipal investment subcommittees.

Information about investment and investment incentives in Cambodia may be found on the CDC’s website: www.cambodiainvestment.gov.kh  .

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The government has announced plans to draft a competition law but the law has yet to be enacted. A competition department was established under the Directorate General of CamControl in 2016. The department aims to work on drafting laws and regulations on competition, study, and coordinate with various relevant agencies on local and international competition. The draft law is now reportedly being considered in a technical working group at the Council of Ministers and Council of Jurists.

Expropriation and Compensation

Land rights are a contentious issue in Cambodia, complicated by the fact that most property holders do not have legal documentation of their ownership because of official policies and social upheaval during Khmer Rouge era in the 1970s. Numerous cases have been reported of influential individuals or groups acquiring land titles or concessions through political and/or financial connections and then using force to displace communities to make way for commercial enterprises.

In late 2009, the National Assembly approved the Law on Expropriation, which sets broad guidelines on land-taking procedures for public interest purposes. It defines public interest activities to include construction, rehabilitation, preservation, or expansion of infrastructure projects, and development of buildings for national defense and civil security. These provisions include construction of border crossing posts, facilities for research and exploitation of natural resources, and oil pipeline and gas networks. Property can also be expropriated for natural disasters and emergencies, as determined by the government. Legal procedures regarding compensation and appeals are expected to be established in a forthcoming sub-decree, which is under internal discussion within the technical team of the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

The government has shown willingness to use tax issues for political purposes.  For instance, in 2017, a U.S.-owned independent newspaper had its bank account frozen purportedly for failure to pay taxes. It is believed that, while the company may have had some tax liability, the action taken by Cambodia’s General Department of Taxation, notably an inflated tax assessment, was politically motivated and intended to halt operations. These actions took place at the same time the government took steps to reduce the role of press and independent media in the country as part of a wider anti-democratic crackdown.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Cambodia has been a member of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention – also known as the Washington Convention) since 2005. Cambodia is also a signatory to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards 1958 (the New York Convention) since 1960.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

International arbitration is available for Cambodian commercial disputes. In March 2014, the Supreme Court of Cambodia upheld the decision of the Cambodian Court of Appeal, which had ruled in favor of the recognition and enforcement of an arbitral award issued by the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board of Seoul, South Korea. Cambodia became a member of the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes in January 2005.

In 2009, the International Center approved a U.S. investor’s request for arbitration in a case against the Cambodian government, and in 2013, the tribunal rendered an award in favor of Cambodia.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Commercial disputes can also be resolved through the National Commercial Arbitration Center (NCAC), Cambodia’s first alternative dispute resolution mechanism, which was officially launched in March 2013.  Arbitral awards issued by foreign arbitrations are admissible in the Cambodian court system. An example can be drawn from its recognition and enforcement of arbitral award issued by the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board in 2014. 

Bankruptcy Regulations

Cambodia’s 2007 Law on Insolvency was intended to provide collective, orderly, and fair satisfaction of creditor claims from debtor properties and, where appropriate, the rehabilitation of the debtor’s business. The Law on Insolvency applies to the assets of all business people and legal entities in Cambodia. The World Bank’s 2018 Doing Business Report ranks Cambodia 79 out of 190 in terms of the “ease of resolving insolvency.”

In 2012, Credit Bureau Cambodia (CBC) was established in an effort to create a more transparent credit market in the country. CBC’s main role is to provide credit scores to banks and financial institutions and to improve access to credit information.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

All investments must be registered with the Ministry of Commerce. The Cambodian Law on Investment and the Amended Law on Investment offers varying types of investment incentives for projects that meet specified criteria. Investors seeking an incentive must submit an application to the CDC. Investors who wish to apply are required to pay an application fee of KHR 7 million (approximately USD 1,750), which covers securing necessary approvals, authorizations, licenses, or registrations from all relevant ministries and entities, including stamp duties. Under a 2008 sub-decree, the CDC is required to seek approval from the Council of Ministers for investment proposals that involve capital of USD 50 million or more, politically sensitive issues, the exploration and exploitation of mineral or natural resources, or infrastructure concessions. The CDC is also required to seek approval from the Council of Ministers for investment proposals that will have a negative impact on the environment or the government’s long-term strategy.

Since 2011, tax incentives have been provided for rice farming, paddy rice purchase, and the export of milled rice. Meanwhile QIPs are entitled to receive different incentives such as corporate tax holiday; special depreciation allowance; and import taxes exemption on production equipment, construction materials, and production inputs used to produce exports. Investment projects located in designated special promotion zones or export-processing zones are also entitled to the same incentives. Industry-specific investment incentives, such as a three-year profit tax exemption, may be available in the agriculture and agro-industry sectors. More information about the criteria and investment areas eligible for incentives can be found at the following link: www.cambodiainvestment.gov.kh/investment-scheme/investment-incentives.html  .

Investment activities excluded from incentives are detailed in the September 2005 Sub-Decree on the Implementation of the Amendment to the Law on Investment. These include the following sectors: retail, wholesale, and duty-free stores; entertainment establishments (including restaurants, bars, nightclubs, massage parlors, and casinos); tourism service providers; currency and financial services; press and media-related activities; professional services; and production and processing of tobacco and wood products. Incentives also may not be applied to investments in the production of certain products if the investment is less than USD 500,000. This includes food and beverages; textiles, garments, and footwear; and plastic, rubber, and paper products. Investors are not required to place a deposit guaranteeing their investment except in cases involving a concession contract or real estate development project.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

To facilitate the country’s development, the Cambodian government has shown great interest in increasing exports via geographically defined special economic zones (SEZs). In December 2005, the government adopted the Sub-Decree on Special Economic Zones to speed up the creation of the zones by detailing the procedures, conditions, and incentives for investors. The Government is also drafting the law on Special Economic Zones, which is now undergoing technical review within the CDC. There are currently 13 special SEZs, which are located in Phnom Penh, Koh Kong, Kandal, Kampot, Sihanoukville, and near the borders of Thailand and Vietnam. The main investment sectors in these zones include garments, shoes, bicycles, food processing, auto parts, motorcycle assembly, and electrical equipment manufacturing. Twelve more SEZs are either planned or now under construction.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The Law on Investment permits investors to hire foreign nationals for employment as managers, technicians, or skilled workers if the qualifications and/or expertise are not available in Cambodia. According to the Cambodian Labor Law, the number of foreign employees should not exceed ten percent of the total number of Cambodian employees. In practice, companies can request an increase in this ratio from the Ministry of Labor.

Under Cambodian law, most foreign investments and foreign investors are subject to the following taxes: corporate profits tax (20 percent), tax on individual salaries (0 to 20 percent), withholding taxes (4 to 15 percent), value-added taxes (0 to ten percent), and import duties (0 to 35 percent).

Cambodia does not have any forced localization policy that obligates foreign investors to use domestic contents in goods or technology. Cambodia also does not currently require foreign Information Technology providers to turn over source code. The General Department of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications oversees ICT-related policy in Cambodia.  As mentioned above, as of early 2019, both cyber and e-commerce legislation were still in draft form. These laws, when finalized, could change data localization requirements.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Mortgages exist in Cambodia, and Cambodian banks often require certificates of property ownership as collateral before approving loans. The mortgages recording system, which is handled by private banks, is generally considered reliable.

Cambodia’s 2001 Land Law provides a framework for real property security and a system for recording titles and ownership. Land titles issued prior to the end of the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-79) are not recognized due to the severe dislocations that occurred during that time period. The government is making efforts to accelerate the issuance of land titles, but in practice, the titling system is reported to be cumbersome, expensive, and subject to corruption. The majority of property owners lack documentation proving ownership. Even where title records exist, recognition of legal titles to land has not been uniform, and there are reports of court cases in which judges have sought additional proof of ownership.

Foreigners are constitutionally forbidden to own land in Cambodia; however, the 2001 Land Law allows long and short-term leases to foreigners. Cambodia also allows foreign ownership in multi-story buildings, such as condominiums, from the second floor up. 

Cambodia was ranked 124 out of 190 economies for ease of registering property in the 2019 World Bank Doing Business Report.

Intellectual Property Rights

Infringement of IPR is prevalent in Cambodia. Counterfeit and pirated goods are readily available in local markets and stores, and the enforcement  is weak. IP-infringing goods include counterfeit apparel, footwear, cigarettes, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, and pirated media such as software, music, and books. Although Cambodia is not a major center for the production and export of counterfeit or pirated materials, local businesses report that the problem is growing because of the lack of enforcement. To date, however, Cambodia has not been listed by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) in its annual Special 301 Report, which identifies trading partners that do not adequately protect and enforce IPR.

Cambodia has enacted several laws pursuant to its WTO commitments on intellectual property. Its key IP laws include the Law on Marks, Trade Names and Acts of Unfair Competition (2002), the Law on Copyrights and Related Rights (2003), the Law on Patents, Utility Models and Industrial Designs (2003), the Law on Management of Seed and Plant Breeder’s Rights (2008), the Law on Geographical Indications (2014), and the Law on Compulsory Licensing for Public Health (2018).Cambodia joined WIPO in 1995 and has acceded to a number of international IPR protocols, including the Paris Convention (1998), the Madrid Protocol (2015), the WIPO Patent Cooperation Treaty (2016), The Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Design (2017), and the Lisbon Agreement on Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indications (2018). Despite this, many of the commitments included in these treaties remain unfulfilled due to Cambodia’s lack of institutional capacity.

To combat the trade in counterfeit goods, the Cambodian Counter Counterfeit Committee (CCCC) was established in 2014 under the Ministry of Interior to investigate claims, seize illegal goods, and prosecute counterfeiters. The Economic Police, Customs, the Cambodia Import-Export Inspection and Fraud Repression Directorate General, and the Ministry of Commerce also have IPR enforcement responsibilities; however, the division of responsibility among each agency is not clearly defined. This causes confusion to rights owners and muddles the overall IPR environment. Although in recent years seizure of counterfeit goods has increased, seizure usually does not occur unless a formal complaint has been made.

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see the World Intellectual Property Organization’s country profiles at www.wipo.int/directory/en/details.jsp?country_code=KH  

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

In a move designed to address the need for capital markets in Cambodia, the Cambodia Securities Exchange (CSX) was founded in 2011 and started trading in 2012. Though the CSX is one of the world’s smallest securities markets, it has taken steps to increase the number of listed companies, including attracting SMEs. It currently has five listed companies, including the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority, the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port, and Taiwanese garment manufacturer Grand Twins International.

In September 2017, the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) adopted a Prakas on Conditions for Banking and Financial Institutions to be listed on the Cambodia Securities Exchange. The Prakas sets additional requirements for banks and financial institutions that intend to issue securities to the public. This includes prior approval from the NBC and minimum equity of KHR 60 billion (approximately USD 15 million).

Cambodia’s bond market is at the beginning stages of development. The regulatory framework for corporate bonds was bolstered in 2017 through the publication of the Prakas on Public Offering of Debt Securities, the Prakas on Accreditation of Bondholders Representative, and the Prakas on Accreditation of Credit Rating Agency.  The country’s first corporate bond was issued in 2018, and a second is expected in 2019. There is currently no sovereign bond market, but the government has stated its intention of making government securities available to investors by 2022.

Money and Banking System

The National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) regulates the operations of banking systems in Cambodia. Foreign banks and branches are freely allowed to register and operate in the country. There are 39 commercial banks, 15 specialized banks (set up to finance specific turn-key projects such as real estate development), 54 licensed microfinance institutions, and seven licensed microfinance deposit taking institutions in Cambodia. NBC has also granted licenses to 11 financial leasing companies and one credit bureau company to improve transparency and credit risk management and encourage more lending to small-and medium-sized enterprise customers.

In November 2018, Moody’s Investor Services affirmed Cambodia’s issuer rating at B2 with a stable outlook. The overall B2 rating was based on Cambodia’s robust GDP growth prospects, macroeconomic stability, and efforts to strengthen government revenue. However, Moody’s cited several potential threats such as a weak institutional framework, low incomes, and the high dollarization of loans and deposits that make Cambodia vulnerable to negative shocks.

Cambodia’s banking sector continues to experience strong growth. The banking sector’s assets, including those of micro-finance institutions (MFIs), rose 20.2 percent year-over-year in 2017 to 135.1 trillion riel (USD 33.8 billion), while capital grew 23.6 percent to 25.7 trillion riel (USD 6.4 billion). Loans and deposits grew 18.3 percent and 24.5 percent respectively, which resulted in a decrease of the loan-to-deposit ration from 114 percent to 110 percent.  The ratio of non-performing loans remained steady at 2.4 percent in 2017.

The government does not use the regulation of capital markets to restrict foreign investment. Banks have been free to set their own interest rates since 1995, and increased competition between local institutions has led to a gradual lowering of interest rates from year to year. However, in April 2017, at the direction of Prime Minister Hun Sen, the NBC capped interest rates on loans offered by MFIs at 18 percent per annum. The move was designed to protect borrowers, many of whom are poor and uneducated, from excessive interest rates.

In March 2016, the NBC doubled the minimum capital reserve requirement for banks to USD 75 million for commercial banks and USD 15 million for specialized banks. Based on the new regulations, deposit-taking microfinance institutions now have a USD 30 million reserve requirement, while traditional microfinance institutions have a USD 1.5 million reserve requirement.

The Cambodian banking system is gradually shifting from a cash-based economy to an electronic payment culture as more financial institutions launch internet or mobile banking and expand their ATM networks. Evidence of the maturation of the financial sector includes the greater number of financial products and services offered, as well as the numbers of people of use them. In 2017, the National Bank of Cambodia measured financial inclusion at 55 percent. In addition, it said the number of depositors increased by 15 percent to 3.5 million, 42 percent of which are female, and the number of borrowers rose 1 percent to 755,000.

In February 2019, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an intergovernmental organization whose purpose is to develop policies to combat money laundering, cited Cambodia for being “deficient”  with regard to its anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) controls and policies. The government has committed to working with FATF to address these deficiencies through a jointly-developed action plan.  Should Cambodia not address the deficiencies, it could risk landing on the FATF “black list,” something that could negatively impact the banking sector and the country’s ability to access the international capital markets.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Though Cambodia has its own currency, the riel (denoted as KHR), U.S. dollars are widely in circulation in Cambodia and remain the primary currency for most large transactions. There are no restrictions on the conversion of capital for investors.

Cambodia’s 1997 Law on Foreign Exchange states that there shall be no restrictions on foreign exchange operations through authorized banks. Authorized banks are required, however, to report the amount of any transfer equaling or exceeding USD 100,000 to the NBC on a regular basis.

Loans and borrowings, including trade credits, are freely contracted between residents and nonresidents, provided that loan disbursements and repayments are made through an authorized intermediary. There are no restrictions on the establishment of foreign currency bank accounts in Cambodia for residents.

The exchange rate between the riel and U.S. dollar is governed by a managed float and has been stable at around one USD to KHR 4,000. Daily fluctuations of the exchange rate are low, typically under three percent. The Embassy is not aware of any cases in which investors have encountered obstacles in converting local currency to foreign currency or in sending capital out of the country. In the past several years, the Cambodian government has taken steps to increase general usage of the riel but, as noted above, the country’s economy remains largely dollarized.

Remittance Policies

Article 11 of the Law on the Amendment to the Law on Investment of 2003 states that QIPs can freely remit abroad foreign currencies purchased through authorized banks for the discharge of financial obligations incurred in connection with investments. These financial obligations include:

  • Payment for imports and repayment of principal and interest on international loans;
  • Payment of royalties and management fees;
  • Remittance of profits; and
  • Repatriation of invested capital in case of dissolution.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Cambodia does not have a Sovereign Wealth Fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Cambodia currently has 15 state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Cambodian SOEs include Electricite du Cambodge, Sihanoukville Autonomous Port, Telecom Cambodia, Cambodia Shipping Agency, Cambodia Postal Services, Rural Development Bank, Green Trade Company, Printing House, Siem Reap Water Supply Authority, Construction and Public Work Lab, Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority, Phnom Penh Autonomous Port, Kampcheary Insurance, Cambodia Life Insurance, Cambodia Securities Exchange.

In accordance with the Law on General Stature of Public Enterprises, there are two types of commercial SOEs in Cambodia. One type is that the state company’s capital is 100 percent owned by the Government, and another type is a joint-venture in which a majority of capital is owned by the state and a minority by private investors.

Each SOE is under the supervision of a line ministry or government institution and is overseen by a board of directors drawn from among senior government officials. Private enterprises are generally allowed to compete with state-owned enterprises under equal terms and conditions. These entities are also subject to the same taxes and value-added tax rebate policies as private-sector enterprises. SOEs are covered under the law on public procurement, which was promulgated in January 2012, and their financial reports are audited by the appropriate line ministry, the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and the National Audit Authority.

Privatization Program

There are no ongoing privatization programs, nor has the government announced any plans to privatize existing SOEs.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The government does not have policies to promote responsible business conduct (RBC) or corporate social responsibility (CSR). However, there is strong awareness of RBC among larger and multinational companies in the country. U.S. companies, for example, have implemented a wide range of CSR activities to promote skills training, the environment, general health and well-being, and financial education. These programs have been warmly received by both the general public and the government.

A number of economic land concessions in Cambodia have led to high profile land rights cases. The Cambodian government has recognized the problem, but in general, has not effectively and fairly resolved land rights claims. The Cambodian government does not have a national contact point for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) multinational enterprises guidelines and does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

9. Corruption

Corruption remains a significant issue in Cambodia for investors.  An increase in foreign investment from investors willing to engage in corrupt practices, combined with sometimes opaque official and unofficial investment processes, has served to facilitate an overall rise in corruption, which is reported to already be at high levels.  In its Global Competitiveness Report 2018, the World Economic Forum ranked Cambodia 134th out of 140 countries for incidence of corruption.  Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perception index ranked Cambodia 161 of 180 countries globally, the lowest ranking of all ten ASEAN member states.

Those engaged in business have identified corruption, particularly within the judiciary, customs services, and tax authorities, as one of the greatest deterrents to investment in Cambodia. Foreign investors from countries that overlook or encourage bribery have significant advantages over foreign investors from countries that criminalize such activity.

Cambodia adopted an Anti-Corruption Law in 2010 to combat corruption by criminalizing bribery, abuse of office, extortion, facilitation payments, and accepting bribes in the form of donations or promises. Under the law, all civil servants must also declare their financial assets to the government every two years. Cambodia’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), established the same year, has investigative powers and a mandate to provide education and training to government institutions and the public on anti-corruption compliance. Since its formation, the ACU has launched a few high-profile prosecutions against public officials, including members of the police and judiciary. The ACU has also tackled the issue of ghost workers in the government, in which non-existent employees collect salaries. 

The ACU, in collaboration with the private sector, has also established guidelines encouraging companies to create internal codes of conduct prohibiting bribery and corrupt practices. Companies can sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the ACU pledging to operate corruption-free and to cooperate on anti-corruption efforts. Since the program started in 2015, more than 80 private companies have signed a MOU with the ACU. In 2018, the ACU completed a first draft of a code of conduct for public officials, which has not yet been finalized.

Despite the passage of the Anti-Corruption Law and the creation of the ACU, enforcement remains weak. Local and foreign businesses report that they must often make informal payments to expedite business transactions. Since 2013, Cambodia has published the official fees for public services, but the practice of paying additional fees remains common. Despite a pay raise in 2016, the minimum salary for administrative civil servants remain below the level required to maintain a suitable quality of life in Cambodia, so public employees remain susceptible to bribes. Furthermore, the process for awarding government contracts is not transparent and is susceptible to corruption.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

Cambodia ratified the UN Convention against Corruption in 2007 and endorsed the Action Plan of the Asian Development Bank / OECD Anti-Corruption Initiative for Asia and the Pacific in 2003. Cambodia is not a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery.

Resources to Report Corruption

Om Yentieng
President, Anti-Corruption Unit
No. 54, Preah Norodom Blvd, Sangkat Phsar Thmey 3, Khan Daun Penh, Phnom Penh
Telephone: +855-23-223-954
Email: info@acu.gov.kh

Preap Kol
Executive Director, Transparency International Cambodia
#13 Street 554, Phnom Penh
Telephone: +855-23-214430
Email: info@ticambodia.org

10. Political and Security Environment

Foreign companies have been the targets of violent protests in the past, such as the 2003 anti-Thai riots against the Embassy of Thailand and Thai-owned commercial establishments. More recently, there were reports that Vietnamese-owned establishments were looted during a January 2014 labor protest. Authorities have also used force, including truncheons, electric cattle prods, fire hoses, and even gunfire, to disperse protestors. Incidents of violence directed at businesses, however, are rare. The Embassy is unaware of any incidents of political violence directed at U.S. or other non-regional interests.

Nevertheless, political tensions remain. After relatively competitive communal elections in June 2017, where Cambodia’s opposition party won nearly 50 percent of available seats, the government took steps to strengthen its grip on power and eliminated meaningful political activity.  In September 2017, the head of the country’s leading opposition party was arrested and charged with treason, and in November 2017, the same opposition party was banned. In July 2018, Prime Minister Hun Sen won a landslide victory, and his ruling party swept all 125 parliamentary seats, in a national election that was criticized by the United States as being neither free nor fair. The government has also taken steps to limit free speech and stifle independent media, including forcing independent news outlets and radio stations to cease operations. While there are few overt signs the country is growing less secure today, the possibility for insecurity exists going forward, particularly if a large percentage of the population remains disenfranchised.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Cambodia’s economy is primarily focused on four sectors: agriculture, garment production, tourism, and construction. The agricultural sector employees some 60 to 65 percent of the labor force. There are over one million people working in the garment and footwear sector, the majority of whom are women; around 620,000 are employed in the tourism sector; and a further 200,000 people in construction according to Government of Cambodia statistics. Around 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians work abroad – the official statistic is 1.2 million, but most experts estimate the figure far higher. Around 55 percent of the population is under the age of 25. The United Nations has estimated that around 300,000 new job seekers enter the labor market each year.

Given the severe disruption to the Cambodian education system and loss of skilled Cambodians during the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge period, workers with higher education or specialized skills are few and in high demand. The Cambodia Socio-Economic Survey conducted in 2014 (the latest report available) found that about 36 percent of the labor force had completed a primary education. Only seven percent of the labor force had completed secondary education. The 2015-2016 Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum (WEF) identified an inadequately educated workforce as one of the most serious problems to doing business in Cambodia. Cambodia ranked 48 out of 137 on labor market efficiency of the WEF 2017-2018. Many middle management positions in the formal garment sector are filled by foreign nationals.

Cambodia’s 2016 Trade Union Law (TUL) erects barriers to the right of association and the rights to organize and bargain freely. The ILO has stated publicly that the law could hinder Cambodia’s obligations to international labor conventions 87 and 98, and has suggested substantial revisions to the law both during the 2017 meeting of the Committee on Application of Standards, and through a Direct Mission sent by the ILO to investigate the law’s implementation. The government has not made any public commitment to amend the law.

Unresolved labor disputes are mediated first on the shop-room floor, after which they are brought to the MOLVT for conciliation. If conciliation fails, then the cases may be brought to the Arbitration Council (AC), an independent state body that interprets labor regulations in collective disputes, such as when multiple employees are dismissed. Since the TUL went into force, AC cases have decreased from over 30 per month to fewer than five, although that number began to increase again in 2019 due to regulatory changes.

The labor code prohibits forced or compulsory labor; establishes 15 as the minimum allowable age for paid work; and sets 18 as the minimum age for anyone engaged in work that is hazardous, unhealthy, or unsafe. The statute also guarantees an eight-hour workday and 48-hour workweek and provides for time-and-a-half pay for overtime or work on an employee’s day off. Enforcement of all labor laws, however, is lax. The labor inspectorate focuses primarily on export-oriented factories in the garment and footwear sector. 

In 2018, Cambodia amended its Labor Law to eliminate severance packages in favor of a “seniority” bonus paid to workers every six months. The amendment was intended to solve the problem of foreign factory owners absconding, leaving behind unpaid salaries and severances. The law and its implementing regulation did not, however, provide clear guidance on how to compensate workers for seniority they had already accrued prior to amendment’s passage.  This remains a point of dispute between workers and company owners, and the precise legal requirements for the timing of seniority payments on back wages remains unclear. 

Cambodia maintains a minimum wage for workers in the garment and footwear sector. The minimum wage for garment workers was set at USD 182 per month in 2019 by the Labor Advisory Committee (LAC), a tripartite group comprised of representatives from the government, labor, and manufacturers. Since 2010, the wage rate for workers in the sector has increased from USD 61 to USD 182. In 2018, the government passed a new Minimum Wage Law, which will for the first time allow minimum wages outside of the garment and footwear sector.  The law has not yet been put into effect.

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

Cambodia has an agreement with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) to encourage investment. A number of companies in Cambodia have received approval for OPIC financing, including loans to financial institutions for the purposes of microfinance. The BUILD Act, signed into law in October 2018, will consolidate OPIC with USAID’s Development Credit Authority into a new agency: the United States International Development Finance Corporation (DFC). The DFC will maintain many aspects of OPIC’s programs, but with additional tools and flexibility, it is intended to substantially increase the U.S. government’s support for private-sector led development in the world’s least developed countries. The DFC is expected to be operationalized by the end of 2019.

The Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) provides financing and insurance for purchases of U.S. exports by private-sector buyers in Cambodia on repayment terms of up to seven years. In 2018, Ex-Im made its first loan to a Cambodian business, facilitating the sale of a grain silo.  Ex-Im support is typically limited to transactions with a commercial bank functioning as an obligor or guarantor. Ex-Im will, however, consider transactions without a bank on a case-by-case basis. Cambodia is also a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency of the World Bank, which offers political-risk insurance to foreign investors.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

There has been a surge in FDI inflows to Cambodia in recent years. Though FDI goes primarily to infrastructure, including commercial and residential real estate projects, it has also recently favored investments in manufacturing and agro-processing. Cambodia reports its total stock of FDI reached USD 7.1 billion in 2018, up from USD 6.8 billion in 2017.

Investment into Cambodia is dominated by China, and the level of investment from China has surged especially in the last five years. Cambodia reports that its FDI from China reached USD 1.6 billion (year-end 2018), while fixed asset investment from China reached USD 15.3 billion. Taiwan and Hong Kong are also major sources of investment in Cambodia, accounting for USD 614 million and USD 376 million of FDI, respectively, through 2018.

Cambodian investments into other countries are still quite small. Through 2017, the IMF reports a total of USD 367 million of Cambodian investments, with most going to China and Singapore.

NOTE: Discrepancies exists between IMF counterpart country data and the investment figures reported by Cambodia’s official source, the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC). In some cases, counterpart country data reports much larger FDI stocks in Cambodia than reported by CDC. In other cases, the data from the Cambodia government is the only source available. Many of Cambodia’s key FDI partners (notably China, Taiwan and Hong Kong) do not report FDI figures to the IMF.

There are also discrepancies in the reported total stock of U.S. FDI in Cambodia. For FDI through 2017, the U.S. government (BEA) reports USD 151 million, the IMF reports USD 110 million, and Cambodia reports only USD 100 million.

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) 2018 $24,400 2017 $22,158 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD?locations=KH  
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $100 2017 $151 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm?Area=607  
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2017 $5 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm?Area=607   
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 29% 2017 99.2% https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx   

* Source for Host Country Data: The Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) provides official government data on investment in Cambodia, but not all data is published online. See:  www.cambodiainvestment.gov.kh/why-invest-in-cambodia/investment-environment/investment-trend.html 


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Direct Investment From/in Counterpart Economy Data (Through 2017)
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment  Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $6,254 100% Total Outward $367 100%
Netherlands $1,487 23.8% China $189 51.5%
Korea, Republic of $1,479 23.6% Singapore $160 43.6%
Thailand $1,186 19.0% Philippines $21 5.7%
Malaysia $1,085 17.3% Myanmar $10 2.7%
France $428   6.8% India $6 1.6%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Data retrieved from IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey database (mirror data, as reported by counterpart economies) presents a much different picture of FDI into Cambodia as compared to that provided by the Cambodian government. For example, Cambodia reports USD 6.8 billion total FDI through year-end 2017 (USD 7.1 through year-end 2018), while the IMF reports only USD 2.8 billion.


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

N/A – IMF CPIS Data for Cambodia is not available.

China

Executive Summary

China is one of the top global foreign direct investment destinations due to its large consumer base and integrated supply chains.  China remains, however, a relatively restrictive investment environment for foreign investors due to restrictions in key economic sectors.  Obstacles to investment include ownership caps and requirements to form joint venture partnerships with local Chinese firms, as well as the requirement often imposed on U.S. firms to transfer technology as a prerequisite to gaining market access.  While China made modest openings in some sectors in 2018, such as financial services, insurance, new energy vehicles, and shipbuilding, China’s investment environment continues to be far more restrictive than those of its main trading partners, including the United States.

China relies on the Special Administrative Measures for Foreign Investment Access (known as the “nationwide negative list”) to categorize market access restrictions for foreign investors in defined economic sectors.  While China in 2018 reduced some restrictions, foreign participation in many industries important to U.S. investors remain restricted, including financial services, culture, media, telecommunications, vehicles, and transportation equipment.

Even in sectors “open” to foreign investment, foreign investors often face difficulty establishing an investment due to stringent and non-transparent approval processes to gain licenses and other needed approvals.  These restrictions shield inefficient and monopolistic Chinese enterprises in many industries – especially state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and other enterprises deemed “national champions” – from competition against private and foreign companies.  In addition, lack of transparency in the investment process and lack of rule of law in China’s regulatory and legal systems leave foreign investors vulnerable to discriminatory practices such as selective enforcement of regulations and interference by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in judicial proceedings.  Moreover, industrial policies such as Made in China 2025 (MIC 2025), insufficient protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPR), requirements to transfer technology, and a systemic lack of rule of law are further impediments to successful foreign investments in China.

During the CCP 19th Party Congress held in October 2017, CCP leadership underscored Party Chairman Xi Jinping’s primacy by adding “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era” to the Party Charter.  In addition to significant personnel changes, the Party announced large-scale government and Party restructuring plans in early 2018 that further strengthened Xi’s leadership and expanded the role of the Party in all facets of Chinese life: cultural, social, military, and economic.  An increasingly assertive CCP has caused concern among the foreign business community about the ability of future foreign investors to make decisions based on commercial and profit considerations, rather than political dictates from the Party.

Although market access reform has been slow, the Chinese government has pledged greater market access and national treatment for foreign investors and has pointed to key announcements and new developments, which include:

  • On June 28, 2018 the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) jointly announced the release of Special Administrative Measures for Foreign Investment Access (i.e., “nationwide negative list”), which replaced the Foreign Investment Catalogue.  The negative list was reformatted to remove “encouraged” economic sectors and divided restrictions and prohibitions by industry.  Some of the liberalizations were previously announced, like financial services and insurance (November 2017) and automobile manufacturing and shipbuilding (April 2018).  A new version of the negative list is expected to be released in 2019.
  • On June 30, 2018 NDRC and MOFCOM jointly released the Special Administrative Measures for Foreign Investment Access in the Pilot Free Trade Zones (i.e., the Free Trade Zone, or FTZ, negative list).  The FTZ negative list matched the nationwide negative list with a few exceptions, including: foreign equity caps of 66 percent in the development of new varieties corn and wheat (the nationwide cap is 49 percent), removal of joint venture requirements on oil and gas exploration, and removal of the prohibition on radioactive mineral smelting and processing, including nuclear fuel production.
  • On December 25, 2018 the NDRC and MOFCOM jointly released The Market Access Negative List.  This negative list, unlike the nationwide negative list that applies only to foreign investors, defines prohibitions and restrictions to investment for all investors, both foreign and domestic.  This negative list attempted to unify guidance on allowable investments previously found in piecemeal laws and regulations that were often industry-specific. This list also highlighted what economic sectors are only open to state-owned investors.
  • On March 17, 2019 the National People’s Congress passed a Foreign Investment Law (FIL) that effectively replaced existing law governing foreign investment (i.e., the China-Foreign Joint Venture Law, the Contract Joint Venture Law, and the Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprises Law).  As drafted, the FIL would address longstanding concerns of U.S. investors, including forced technology transfer and national treatment; however, due to lack of details and implementation guidelines, it is not clear how foreign investor rights would be protected.

While Chinese pronouncements of greater market access and fair treatment of foreign investment is welcome, details are needed on how these policies will address longstanding problems foreign investors have faced in the Chinese market, including  being subject to inconsistent regulations, licensing and registration problems, insufficient IPR protections, and various forms of Chinese protectionism that have created an unpredictable and discriminatory business climate.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 87 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2018 46 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 17 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $107,556   http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $8,690 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

China continues to be one of the largest recipients of global FDI due to a relatively high economic growth rate, growing middle class, and an expanding consumer base that demands diverse, high quality products.  FDI has historically played an essential role in China’s economic development. In recent years, due to stagnant FDI growth and gaps in China’s domestic technology and labor capabilities, Chinese government officials have prioritized promoting relatively friendly FDI policies promising market access expansion and national treatment for foreign enterprises through general improvements to the business environment. They also have made efforts to strengthen China’s legal and regulatory framework to enhance broader market-based competition.  Despite these efforts, the on-the-ground reality for foreign investors in China is that the operating environment still remains closed to many foreign investments across a wide range of industries.

In 2018, China issued the nationwide negative list that opened up a few new sectors to foreign investment and promised future improvements to the investment climate, such as leveling the playing field and providing equal treatment to foreign enterprises.  However, despite these reforms, FDI to China has remained relatively stagnant in the past few years. According to MOFCOM, total FDI flows to China slightly increased from about USD126 billion in 2017 to just over USD135 billion in 2018, signaling that modest market openings have been insufficient to generate significant foreign investor interest in the market.  Rather, foreign investors have continued to perceive that the playing field is tilted towards domestic companies. Foreign investors have continued to express frustration that China, despite continued promises of providing national treatment for foreign investors, has continued to selectively apply administrative approvals and licenses and broadly employ industrial policies to protect domestic firms through subsidies, preferential financing, and selective legal and regulatory enforcement.  They also have continued to express frustration over China’s weak protection and enforcement of IPR; corruption; discriminatory and non-transparent anti-monopoly enforcement that forces foreign companies to license technology at below-market prices; excessive cybersecurity and personal data-related requirements; increased emphasis on requirements to include CCP cells in foreign enterprises; and an unreliable legal system lacking in both transparency and rule of law.

China seeks to support inbound FDI through the MOFCOM “Invest in China” website (www.fdi.gov.cn  ).  MOFCOM publishes on this site laws and regulations, economic statistics, investment projects, news articles, and other relevant information about investing in China.  In addition, each province has a provincial-level investment promotion agency that operates under the guidance of local-level commerce departments.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

In June 2018, the Chinese government issued the nationwide negative list for foreign investment that replaced the Foreign Investment Catalogue.  The negative list identifies industries and economic sectors restricted or prohibited to foreign investment. Unlike the previous catalogue that used a “positive list” approach for foreign investment, the negative list removed “encouraged” investment categories and restructured the document to group restrictions and prohibitions by industry and economic sector.  Foreign investors wanting to invest in industries not on the negative list are no longer required to obtain pre-approval from MOFCOM and only need to register their investment.

The 2018 foreign investment negative list made minor modifications to some industries, reducing the number of restrictions and prohibitions from 63 to 48 sectors.  Changes included: some openings in automobile manufacturing and financial services; removal of restrictions on seed production (except for wheat and corn) and wholesale merchandizing of rice, wheat, and corn; removal of Chinese control requirements for power grids, building rail trunk lines, and operating passenger rail services; removal of joint venture requirements for rare earth processing and international shipping; removal of control requirements for international shipping agencies and surveying firms; and removal of the prohibition on internet cafés.  While market openings are always welcomed by U.S. businesses, many foreign investors remain underwhelmed and disappointed by Chinese government’s lack of ambition and refusal to provide more significant liberalization. Foreign investors continue to point out these openings should have happened years ago and now have occurred mainly in industries that domestic Chinese companies already dominate.

The Chinese language version of the 2018 Nationwide Negative List: http://www.ndrc.gov.cn/zcfb/zcfbl/201806/W020180628640822720353.pdf .

Ownership Restrictions

The foreign investment negative list restricts investments in certain industries by requiring foreign companies enter into joint ventures with a Chinese partner, imposing control requirements to ensure control is maintained by a Chinese national, and applying specific equity caps.  Below are just a few examples of these investment restrictions:

Examples of foreign investments that require an equity joint venture or cooperative joint venture for foreign investment include:

  • Exploration and development of oil and natural gas;
  • Printing publications;
  • Foreign invested automobile companies are limited to two or fewer JVs for the same type of vehicle;
  • Market research;
  • Preschool, general high school, and higher education institutes (which are also required to be led by a Chinese partner);
  • General Aviation;
  • Companies for forestry, agriculture, and fisheries;
  • Establishment of medical institutions; and
  • Commercial and passenger vehicle manufacturing.

Examples of foreign investments requiring Chinese control include:

  • Selective breeding and seed production for new varieties of wheat and corn;
  • Construction and operation of nuclear power plants;
  • The construction and operation of the city gas, heat, and water supply and drainage pipe networks in cities with a population of more than 500,000;
  • Water transport companies (domestic);
  • Domestic shipping agencies;
  • General aviation companies;
  • The construction and operation of civilian airports;
  • The establishment and operation of cinemas;
  • Basic telecommunication services;
  • Radio and television listenership and viewership market research; and
  • Performance agencies.

Examples of foreign investment equity caps include:

  • 50 percent in automobile manufacturing (except special and new energy vehicles);
  • 50 percent in value-added telecom services (excepting e-commerce);
  • 51 percent in life insurance firms;
  • 51 percent in securities companies;
  • 51 percent futures companies;
  • 51 percent in security investment fund management companies; and
  • 50 percent in manufacturing of commercial and passenger vehicles.

Investment restrictions that require Chinese control or force a U.S. company to form a joint venture partnership with a Chinese counterpart are often used as a pretext to compel foreign investors to transfer technology against the threat of forfeiting the opportunity to participate in China’s market.  Foreign companies have reported these dictates and decisions often are not made in writing but rather behind closed doors and are thus difficult to attribute as official Chinese government policy. Establishing a foreign investment requires passing through an extensive and non-transparent approval process to gain licensing and other necessary approvals, which gives broad discretion to Chinese authorities to impose deal-specific conditions beyond written legal requirements in a blatant effort to support industrial policy goals that bolster the technological capabilities of local competitors.  Foreign investors are also often deterred from publicly raising instances of technology coercion for fear of retaliation by the Chinese government.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)

China is not a member of the OECD.  The OECD Council decided to establish a country program of dialogue and co-operation with China in October 1995.  The most recent OECD Investment Policy Review for China was completed in 2008 and a new review is currently underway.

OECD 2008 report: http://www.oecd.org/daf/inv/investment-policy/oecdinvestmentpolicyreviews-china2008encouragingresponsiblebusinessconduct.htm  .

In 2013, the OECD published a working paper entitled “China Investment Policy: An Update,” which provided updates on China’s investment policy since the publication of the 2008 Investment Policy Review.

World Trade Organization (WTO)

China became a member of the WTO in 2001.  WTO membership boosted China’s economic growth and advanced its legal and governmental reforms.  The sixth and most recent WTO Investment Trade Review for China was completed in 2018. The report highlighted that China continues to be one of the largest destinations for FDI with inflows mainly in manufacturing, real-estate, leasing and business services, and wholesale and retail trade.  The report noted changes to China’s foreign investment regime that now relies on the nationwide negative list and also noted that pilot FTZs use a less restrictive negative list as a testbed for reform and opening.

Business Facilitation

China made progress in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey by moving from 78th in 2017 up to 46th place in 2018 out of 190 economies.  This was accomplished through regulatory reforms that helped streamline some business processes including improvements related to cross-border trading, setting up electricity, electronic tax payments, and land registration.  This ranking, while highlighting business registration improvements that benefit both domestic and foreign companies, does not account for major challenges U.S. businesses face in China like IPR protection and forced technology transfer.

The Government Enterprise Registration (GER), an initiative of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), gave China a low score of 1.5 out of 10 on its website for registering and obtaining a business license.  In previous years, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) was responsible for business license approval. In March 2018, the Chinese government announced a major restructuring of government agencies and created the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) that is now responsible for business registration processes.  According to GER, SAMR’s Chinese website lacks even basic information, such as what registrations are required and how they are to be conducted.

The State Council, which is China’s chief administrative authority, in recent years has reduced red tape by eliminating hundreds of administrative licenses and delegating administrative approval power across a range of sectors.  The number of investment projects subject to central government approval has reportedly dropped significantly. The State Council also has set up a website in English, which is more user-friendly than SAMR’s website, to help foreign investors looking to do business in China.

The State Council Information on Doing Business in China: http://english.gov.cn/services/doingbusiness  

The Department of Foreign Investment Administration within MOFCOM is responsible for foreign investment promotion in China, including promotion activities, coordinating with investment promotion agencies at the provincial and municipal levels, engaging with international economic organizations and business associations, and conducting research related to FDI into China.  MOFCOM also maintains the “Invest in China” website.

MOFCOM “Invest in China” Information: http://www.fdi.gov.cn/1800000121_10000041_8.html  

Despite recent efforts by the Chinese government to streamline business registration procedures, foreign companies still complain about the challenges they face when setting up a business.  In addition, U.S. companies complain they are treated differently from domestic companies when setting up an investment, which is an added market access barrier for U.S. companies. Numerous companies offer consulting, legal, and accounting services for establishing wholly foreign-owned enterprises, partnership enterprises, joint ventures, and representative offices in China.  The differences among these corporate entities are significant, and investors should review their options carefully with an experienced advisor before choosing a particular Chinese corporate entity or investment vehicle.

Outward Investment

Since 2001, China has initiated a “going-out” investment policy that has evolved over the past two decades.  At first, the Chinese government mainly encouraged SOEs to go abroad and acquire primarily energy investments to facilitate greater market access for Chinese exports in certain foreign markets.  As Chinese investors gained experience, and as China’s economy grew and diversified, China’s investments also have diversified with both state and private enterprise investments in all industries and economic sectors.  While China’s outbound investment levels in 2018 were significantly less than the record-setting investments levels in 2016, China was still one of the largest global outbound investors in the world. According to MOFCOM outbound investment data, 2018 total outbound direct investment (ODI) increased less than one percent compared to 2017 figures.  There was a significant drop in Chinese outbound investment to the United States and other North American countries that traditionally have accounted for a significant portion of China’s ODI. In some European countries, especially the United Kingdom, ODI generally increased. In One Belt, One Road (OBOR) countries, there has been a general increase in investment activity; however, OBOR investment deals were generally relatively small dollar amounts and constituted only a small percentage of overall Chinese ODI.

In August 2017, in reaction to concerns about capital outflows and exchange rate volatility, the Chinese government issued guidance to curb what it deemed to be “irrational” outbound investments and created “encouraged,” “restricted,” and “prohibited” outbound investment categories to guide Chinese investors.  The guidelines restricted Chinese outbound investment in sectors like property, hotels, cinemas, entertainment, sports teams, and “financial investments that create funds that are not tied to specific investment projects.” The guidance encouraged outbound investment in sectors that supported Chinese industrial policy, such as Strategic Emerging Industries (SEI) and MIC 2025, by acquiring advanced manufacturing and high-technology assets.  MIC 2025’s main aim is to transform China into an innovation-based economy that can better compete against – and eventually outperform – advanced economies in 10 key high-tech sectors, including: new energy vehicles, next-generation IT, biotechnology, new materials, aerospace, oceans engineering and ships, railway, robotics, power equipment, and agriculture machinery. Chinese firms in MIC 2025 industries often receive preferential treatment in the form of preferred financing, subsidies, and access to an opaque network of investors to promote and provide incentives for outbound investment in key sectors.  The outbound investment guidance also encourages investments that promote China’s OBOR development strategy, which seeks to create connectivity and cooperation agreements between China and countries along the Chinese-designated “Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road” through an expansion of infrastructure investment, construction materials, real estate, power grids, etc.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

China has 109 Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) in force and multiple Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with investment chapters.  Generally speaking, these agreements cover topics like expropriation, most-favored-nation treatment, repatriation of investment proceeds, and arbitration mechanisms.  Relative to U.S.-negotiated BITs and FTA investment chapters, Chinese agreements are generally considered to be weaker and offer less protections to foreign investors.

A list of China’s signed BITs:

The United States and China last held BIT negotiations in January 2017.  China has been in active bilateral investment agreement negotiations with the EU since 2013.  The two sides have exchanged market access offers and have expressed an intent to conclude talks by 2020.  China also has negotiated 17 FTAs with trade and investment partners, is currently negotiating 14 FTAs and FTA-upgrades, and is considering eight further potential FTA and FTA-upgrade negotiations.  China’s existing FTA partners are Maldives, Georgia, ASEAN, Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Australia, Singapore, Pakistan, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Costa Rica, Iceland, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan.  China concluded its FTAs with Maldives and Georgia in 2017.

China’s signed FTAs:

The United States and China concluded a bilateral taxation treaty in 1984.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

In assessing China’s regulatory governance effectiveness, the World Bank Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance gave China a composite score of 1.75 out 5 points.  The World Bank attributed China’s relatively low score to the futility of foreign companies appealing administrative authorities’ decisions, given partial courts; not having laws and regulations in one accessible place that is updated regularly; the lack of impact assessments conducted prior to issuing new laws; and other concerns about public comments and transparency.

World Bank Rule Making Information: http://rulemaking.worldbank.org/en/data/explorecountries/china  

In various business climate surveys, U.S. businesses operating in China consistently cite arbitrary legal enforcement and the lack of regulatory transparency among the top challenges of doing business in China.  These challenges stem from a complex legal and regulatory system that provides government regulators and authorities broad discretion to selectively enforce regulations, rules, and other guidelines in an inconsistent and impartial manner, often to the detriment of foreign investor interests.  Moreover, regulators are often allowed to hinder fair competition by allowing authorities to ignore Chinese legal transgressors while at the same time strictly enforcing regulations selectively against foreign companies.

Another compounding problem is that Chinese government agencies rely on rules and enforcement guidelines that often are not published or even part of the formal legal and regulatory system.  “Normative Documents” (opinions, circulars, notices, etc.), or quasi-legal measures used to address situations where there is no explicit law or administrative regulation, are often not made available for public comment or even published, yet are binding in practice upon parties active in the Chinese market.  As a result, foreign investors are often confronted with a regulatory system rife with inconsistencies that hinders business confidence and generates confusion for U.S. businesses operating in China.

One of China’s WTO accession commitments was to establish an official journal dedicated to the publication of laws, regulations, and other measures pertaining to or affecting trade in goods, services, Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), or the control of foreign exchange.  The State Council’s Legislative Affairs Office (SCLAO) issued two regulations instructing Chinese agencies to comply with this WTO obligation and also issued Interim Measures on Public Comment Solicitation of Laws and Regulations and the Circular on Public Comment Solicitation of Department Rules, which required government agencies to post draft regulations and departmental rules on the official SCLAO website for a 30-day public comment period.  Despite the fact this requirement has been mandated by Chinese law and was part of the China’s WTO accession commitments, Chinese ministries under the State Council continue to post only some draft administrative regulations and departmental rules on the SCLAO website.  When drafts are posted for public comment, the comment period often is less than the required 30 days.

China’s proposed draft regulations are often drafted without using scientific studies or quantitative analysis to assess the regulation’s impact.  When Chinese officials claim an assessment was made, the methodology of the study and the results are not made available to the public. When draft regulations are available for public comment, it is unclear what impact third-party comments have on the final regulation.  Many U.S. stakeholders have complained of the futility of the public comment process in China, often concluding that the lack of transparency in regulation drafting is purposeful and driven primarily by industrial policy goals and other anti-competitive factors that are often inconsistent with market-based principles.  In addition, foreign parties are often restricted from full participation in Chinese standardization activities, potentially providing Chinese competitors opportunity to develop standards inconsistent with international norms and detrimental to foreign investor interests.

In China’s state-dominated economic system, it is impossible to assess the motivating factors behind state action.  The relationships are often blurred between the CCP, the Chinese government, Chinese business (state and private owned), and other Chinese stakeholders that make up the domestic economy.  Foreign invested enterprises perceive that China prioritizes political goals, industrial policies, and a desire to protect social stability at the expense of foreign investors, fairness, and overall rule of law.  These blurred lines are on full display in some industries that have Chinese Self-Regulatory Organizations (SROs) that make licensing decisions. For instance, a Chinese financial institution who is a direct competitor to a foreign enterprise applying for a license may be a voting member of the governing SRO and can either influence other SRO members or even directly adjudicate the application of the foreign license.  To protect market share and competitive position, this company likely has an incentive to disapprove the license application, further hindering fair competition in the industry or economic sector.

For accounting standards, Chinese companies use the Chinese Accounting Standards for Business Enterprises (ASBE) for all financial reporting within mainland China.  Companies listed overseas (including in Hong Kong) may choose to use ASBE, the International Financial Reporting Standards, or Hong Kong Financial Reporting Standards.

International Regulatory Considerations

China has been a member of the WTO since 2001.  As part of its accession agreement, China agreed to notify the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Committee) of all draft technical regulations.  Compliance with this WTO commitment is something Chinese officials have promised in previous dialogues with U.S. government officials. The United States remains concerned that China continues to issue draft technical regulations without proper notification to the TBT Committee

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Chinese legal system is based on a civil law model that borrowed heavily from the legal systems of Germany and France but retains Chinese legal characteristics.  The rules governing commercial activities are found in various laws, regulations, and judicial interpretations, including China’s civil law, contract law, partnership enterprises law, security law, insurance law, enterprises bankruptcy law, labor law, and several interpretations and regulations issued by the Supreme People’s Court (SPC).  While China does not have specialized commercial courts, it has created specialized courts and tribunals for the hearing of intellectual property disputes. In 2014, China launched three intellectual property (IP) courts in Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai. In October 2018, the National People’s Congress approved the establishment of an national-level appellate tribunal within the SPC to hear civil and administrative appeals of technically complex IP cases .

China’s Constitution and various laws provide contradictory statements about court independence and the right of judges to exercise adjudicative power free from interference by administrative organs, public organizations, and/or powerful individuals.  However in practice, courts are heavily influenced by Chinese regulators. Moreover, the Chinese Constitution established that the “leadership of the Communist Party” is supreme, which in practices makes judges susceptible to party pressure on commercial decisions impacting foreign investors.  This trend of central party influence in all areas, not just in the legal system, has only been strengthened by President Xi Jinping’s efforts to consolidate political power and promote the role of the party in all economic activities. Other reasons for judicial interference may include:

  • Courts fall under the jurisdiction of local governments;
  • Court budgets are appropriated by local administrative authorities;
  • Judges in China have administrative ranks and are managed as administrative officials;
  • The CCP is in charge of the appointment, dismissal, transfer, and promotion of administrative officials;
  • China’s Constitution stipulates that local legislatures appoint and supervise the courts; and
  • Corruption may also influence local court decisions.

While in limited cases U.S. companies have received favorable outcomes from China’s courts, the U.S. business community consistently reports that Chinese courts, particularly at lower levels, are susceptible to outside political influence (particularly from local governments), lack the sophistication and educational background needed to understand complex commercial disputes, and operate without transparency.  U.S. companies often avoid challenging administrative decisions or bringing commercial disputes before a local court because of perceptions that these efforts would be futile and for fear of future retaliation by government officials.

Reports of business disputes involving violence, death threats, hostage-taking, and travel bans involving Americans continue to be prevalent.  However, American citizens and foreigners in general do not appear to be more likely than Chinese nationals to be subject to this kind of coercive treatment.  Police are often reluctant to intervene in what they consider internal contract disputes.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The legal and regulatory framework in China controlling foreign direct investment activities is more restrictive and less transparent across-the-board compared to the investment frameworks of developed countries, including the United States.  China has made efforts to unify its foreign investment laws and clarify prohibited and restricted industries in the negative list.

On March 17, 2019 China’s National People’s Congress passed the Foreign Investment Law (FIL) that intends to replace existing foreign investment laws.  This law will go into effect on January 1, 2020 and will replace the previous foreign investment framework based on three foreign-invested entity laws: the China-Foreign Equity Joint Venture Enterprise Law, the China-Foreign Cooperative Joint Venture Enterprise Law, and the Foreign-Invested Enterprise (FIE) Law.  The FIL provides a five-year transition period for foreign enterprises established under previous foreign investment laws, after which all foreign enterprises will be subject to similar laws as domestic companies, like the company law, the enterprise law, etc.

In addition to these foreign investment laws, multiple implementation guidelines and other administrative regulations issued by the State Council that are directly derived from the law also affect foreign investment.  Under the three current foreign investment laws, such implementation guidelines include:

  • Implementation Regulations of the China-Foreign Equity Joint Venture Enterprises Law;
  • Implementation Regulations of the China-Foreign Cooperative Joint Venture Enterprise Law;
  • Implementation Regulations of the FIE Law;
  • State Council Provisions on Encouraging Foreign Investment;
  • Provisions on Guiding the Direction of Foreign Investment; and
  • Administrative Provisions on Foreign Investment to Telecom Enterprises.

In addition to the three central-level laws mentioned above, there are also over 1,000 rules and regulatory documents related to foreign investment in China,  issued by government ministries, including:

  • the Foreign Investment Negative List;
  • Provisions on Mergers and Acquisition (M&A) of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors;
  • Administrative Provisions on Foreign Investment in Road Transportation Industry;
  • Interim Provisions on Foreign Investment in Cinemas;
  • Administrative Measures on Foreign Investment in Commercial Areas;
  • Administrative Measures on Ratification of Foreign Invested Projects;
  • Administrative Measures on Foreign Investment in Distribution Enterprises of Books, Newspapers, and Periodicals;
  • Provision on the Establishment of Investment Companies by Foreign Investors; and
  • Administrative Measures on Strategic Investment in Listed Companies by Foreign Investors.

The State Council has yet to provide a timeframe for new implementation guidelines for the Foreign Investment Law that will replace the implementation guidelines under the previous foreign investment system.  While the FIL reiterates existing Chinese commitments in regards to certain elements of the business environment, including IP protection for foreign-invested enterprises, details on implementation and the enforcement mechanisms available to foreign investors have yet to be provided.

In addition to central-level laws and implementation guidelines, local regulators and governments also enact their own regulations, rules, and guidelines that directly impact foreign investment in their geographical area.  Examples include the Wuhan Administration Regulation on Foreign-Invested Enterprises and Shanghai’s Municipal Administration Measures on Land Usage of Foreign-Invested Enterprises.

A Chinese language list of Chinese laws and regulations, at both the central and local levels: http://www.gov.cn/zhengce/  .

FDI Laws on Investment Approvals

Foreign investments in industries and economic sectors that are not explicitly restricted or prohibited on the foreign investment negative list are not subject to MOFCOM pre-approval, but notification is required on proposed foreign investments.  In practice, investing in an industry not on the negative list does not guarantee a foreign investor national treatment in establishing an foreign investment as investors must comply with other steps and approvals like receiving land rights, business licenses, and other necessary permits.  In some industries, such as telecommunications, foreign investors will also need to receive approval from regulators or relevant ministries like the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

The Market Access Negative List issued December 2018 incorporated the previously issued State Council catalogue for investment projects called the Decision on Investment Regime Reform and the Catalogue of Investment Projects subject to Government Ratification (Ratification Catalogue).  Both foreign enterprises and domestic firms are subject to this negative list and both are required to receive government ratification of investment projects listed in the catalogue.  The Ratification Catalogue was first issued in 2004 and has since undergone various reiterations that have shortened the number of investment projects needed for ratification and removed previous requirements that made foreign investors file for record all investment activities.  The most recent version was last issued in 2016. Projects still needing ratification by NDRC and/or local DRCs include investments surpassing a specific dollar threshold, in industries experiencing overcapacity issues, or in industries that promote outdated technologies that may cause environmental hazards.  For foreign investments over USD300 million, NDRC must ratify the investment. For industries in specific sectors, the local Development and Reform Commission (DRC) is in charge of the ratification.

Ratification Catalogue: http://www.gov.cn/zhengce/content/2016-12/20/content_5150587.htm  

When a foreign investment needs ratification from the NDRC or a local DRC, that administrative body is in charge of assessing the project’s compliance with China’s laws and regulations; the proposed investment’s compliance with the foreign investment and market access negative lists and various industrial policy documents; its national security, environmental safety, and public interest implications; its use of resources and energy; and its economic development ramifications.  In some cases, NDRC also solicits the opinions of relevant Chinese industrial regulators and “consulting agencies,” which may include industry associations that represent Chinese domestic firms. This presents potential conflicts of interest that can disadvantage foreign investors seeking to receive project approval. The State Council may also weigh in on high-value projects in “restricted” sectors.

If a foreign investor has established an investment not on the foreign investment negative list and has received NDRC approval for the investment project if needed, the investor then can apply for a business license with a new ministry announced in March 2018, the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR).  Once a license is obtained, the investor registers with China’s tax and foreign exchange agencies. Greenfield investment projects must also seek approval from China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment and the Ministry of Natural Resources. In several sectors, subsequent industry regulatory permits are required. The specific approvals process may vary from case to case, depending on the details of a particular investment proposal and local rules and practices.

For investments made via merger or acquisition with a Chinese domestic enterprise, an anti-monopoly review and national security review may be required by SAMR if there are competition concerns about the foreign transaction.  The anti-monopoly review is detailed in a later section of this report, on competition policy.

Article 12 of MOFCOM’s Rules on Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investment stipulates that parties are required to report a transaction to SAMR if:

  • Foreign investors obtain actual control, via merger or acquisition, of a domestic enterprise in a key industry;
  • The merger or acquisition affects or may affect “national economic security”; or
  • The merger or acquisition would cause the transfer of actual control of a domestic enterprise with a famous trademark or a Chinese time-honored brand.

If SAMR determines the parties did not report a merger or acquisition that affects or could affect national economic security, it may, together with other government agencies, require the parties to terminate the transaction or adopt other measures to eliminate the impact on national economic security.  They may also assess fines.

In February 2011, China released the State Council Notice Regarding the Establishment of a Security Review Mechanism for Foreign Investors Acquiring Domestic Enterprises.  The notice established an interagency Joint Conference, led by NDRC and MOFCOM, with authority to block foreign M&As of domestic firms that it believes may impact national security.  The Joint Conference is instructed to consider not just national security, but also “national economic security” and “social order” when reviewing transactions. China has not disclosed any instances in which it invoked this formal review mechanism.  A national security review process for foreign investments was written into China’s new Foreign Investment Law, but with very few details on how the process would be implemented.

Chinese local commerce departments are responsible for flagging transactions that require a national security review when they review them in an early stage of China’s foreign investment approval process.  Some provincial and municipal departments of commerce have published online a Security Review Industry Table listing non-defense industries where transactions may trigger a national security review, but MOFCOM has declined to confirm whether these lists reflect official policy.  In addition, third parties such as other governmental agencies, industry associations, and companies in the same industry can seek MOFCOM’s review of transactions, which can pose conflicts of interest that disadvantage foreign investors.  Investors may also voluntarily file for a national security review.

U.S.  Chamber of Commerce report on Approval Process for Inbound Foreign Direct Investment: http://www.uschamber.com/sites/default/files/reports/020021_China_InvestmentPaper_hires.pdf .

Foreign Investment Law

On March 15, 2019 the National People’s Congress passed the Foreign Investment Law (FIL) that replaced all existing foreign investment laws, including the China-Foreign Joint Venture Law, the Contract Joint Venture Law, and the Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprises Law.  The FIL is significantly shorter than the 2015 draft version issued for public comment and the text is vague and provides loopholes through which regulators could potentially discriminate against foreign investors. While the law made policy declarations on important issues to U.S. and other foreign investors (e.g.,  equal protection of intellectual property, prohibitions again certain kinds of forced technology transer, and greater market access,), specifics on implementation and enforcement were lacking.  The law goes into effect on January 1, 2020. Many high-level Chinese officials have stated that the implementation guidelines and other corresponding legal changes will be developed prior to the law going into effect.  The content of these guidelines and future corresponding changes to other laws to become consistent with the FIL will largely determine the impact it will have on the investment climate.

Free Trade Zone Foreign Investment Laws

China issued in 2015 the Interim Measures on the National Security Review of Foreign Investment in Free Trade Zones.  The definition of “national security” is broad, covering investments in military, national defense, agriculture, energy, infrastructure, transportation, culture, information technology products and services, key technology, and manufacturing.

In addition, MOFCOM issued the Administrative Measures for the Record-Filing of Foreign Investment in Free Trade Zones, outlining a more streamlined process that foreign investors need to follow to register investments in the FTZs.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

China uses a complex system of laws, regulations, and agency specific guidelines at both the central and provincial levels that impacts an economic sector’s makeup, sometimes as a monopoly, near-monopoly, or authorized oligopoly.  These measures are particularly common in resource-intensive sectors such as electricity and transportation, as well as in industries seeking unified national coverage like telecommunication and postal services. The measures also target sectors the government deems vital to national security and economic stability, including defense, energy, and banking.  Examples of such laws and regulations include the Law on Electricity (1996), Civil Aviation Law (1995), Regulations on Telecommunication (2000), Postal Law (amended in 2009), Railroad Law (1991), and Commercial Bank Law (amended in 2003), among others.

Anti-Monopoly Law

China’s Anti-Monopoly Law (AML) went into effect on August 1, 2008.  The National People Congress in March 2018 announced that AML enforcement authorities previously held by three government ministries would be consolidated into a new ministry called the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR).  This new agency would still be responsible for AML enforcement and cover issues like concentrations review (M&As), cartel agreements, abuse of dominant market position, and abuse of administrative powers. To fill in some of the gaps from the original AML and to address new commercial trends in China’s market, SAMR has started the process of issuing draft implementation guidelines to clarify enforcement on issues like merger penalties, implementation of abuse of market dominant position, etc.  By unifying antitrust enforcement under one agency, the Chinese government hopes to consolidate guidelines from the three previous agencies and provide greater clarity for businesses operating in China. Generally, the AML enforcement agencies have sought public comment on proposed measures and guidelines, although comment periods can be less than 30 days.

In addition to the AML, the State Council in June 2016 issued guidelines for the Fair Competition Review Mechanism that targets administrative monopolies created by government agents, primarily at the local level.  The mechanism not only requires government agencies to conduct a fair competition review prior to issuing new laws, regulations, and guidelines, to certify that proposed measures do not inhibit competition, but also requires government agencies to conduct a review of all existing rules, regulations, and guidelines, to eliminate existing laws and regulations that are competition inhibiting.  In October 2017, the State Council, State Council Legislative Affairs Office, Ministry of Finance, and three AML agencies issued implementation rules for the fair competition review system to strengthen review procedures, provide review criteria, enhance coordination among government entities, and improve overall competition-based supervision in new laws and regulations. While local government bodies have reported a completed review of over 100,000 different administrative documents, it is unclear what changes have been made and what impact it has had on actually improving the competitive landscape in China.

While procedural developments such as those outlined above are seen as generally positive, the actual enforcement of competition laws and regulations is uneven.  Inconsistent central and provincial enforcement of antitrust law often exacerbates local protectionism by restricting inter-provincial trade, limiting market access for certain imported products, using measures that raise production costs, and limiting opportunities for foreign investment.  Government authorities at all levels in China may also restrict competition to insulate favored firms from competition through various forms of regulations and industrial policies. While at times the ultimate benefactor of such policies is unclear, foreign companies have expressed concern that the central government’s use of AML enforcement is often selectively used to target foreign companies, becoming an extension of other industrial policies that favor SOEs and Chinese companies deemed potential “national champions.”

Since the AML went into effect, the number of M&A transactions reviewed each year by Chinese officials has continued to grow.  U.S. companies and other observers have expressed concerns that SAMR is required to consult with other Chinese agencies when reviewing a potential transaction and that other agencies can raise concerns that are often not related to competition to either block, delay, or force one or more of the parties to comply with a condition in order to receive approval.  There is also suspicion that Chinese regulators rarely approve “on condition” any transactions involving two Chinese companies, thus signaling an inherent AML bias against foreign enterprises.

Under NDRC’s previous enforcement of price-related monopolies, some procedural progress in AML enforcement was made, as they started to release aggregate data on investigations and publicize case decisions.  However, many U.S. companies complained that NDRC discouraged companies from having legal representation during informal discussions or even during formal investigations. In addition, the investigative process reportedly lacked basic transparency or specific best practice guidance on procedures like evidence gathering.  Observers continue to raise concern over the use of “dawn raids” that can be used at any time as a means of intimidation or to prop up a local Chinese company against a competing foreign company in an effort to push forward specific industrial policy goals. Observers also remain concerned that Chinese officials during an investigation will fail to protect commercial secrets and have access to secret and proprietary information that could be given to Chinese competitors.

In prior bilateral dialogues, China committed to strengthening IP protection and enforcement.  However, concerns remain on how China views the intersection of IP protection and antitrust. Previous AML guidelines issued by antitrust regulators for public comment disproportionately impacted foreign firms (generally IP rights holders) by requiring an IP rights holder to license technology at a “fair price” so as not to allow abuse of the company’s “dominant market position.”  Foreign companies have long complained that China’s enforcement of AML serves industrial policy goals of, among other things, forcing technology transfer to local competitors. In other more developed antitrust jurisdictions, companies are free to exclude competitors and set prices, and the right to do so is recognized as the foundation of the incentive to innovate.

Another consistent area of concern expressed by foreign companies deals with the degree to which the AML applies – or fails to apply – to SOEs and other government monopolies, which are permitted in some industries.  While SAMR has said AML enforcement applies to SOEs the same as domestic or foreign firms, the reality is that only a few minor punitive actions have been taken against provincial level SOEs. In addition, the AML explicitly protects the lawful operations of SOEs and government monopolies in industries deemed nationally important.  While SOEs have not been entirely immune from AML investigations, the number of investigations is not commensurate with the significant role SOEs play in China’s economy. The CCP’s proactive orchestration of mergers and consolidation of SOEs in industries like rail, marine shipping, metals, and other strategic sectors, which in most instances only further insulates SOEs from both private and foreign competition, signaling that enforcement against SOEs will likely remain limited despite potential negative impacts on consumer welfare.

Expropriation and Compensation

Chinese law prohibits nationalization of foreign-invested enterprises, except under “special circumstances.”  Chinese laws, such as the Foreign Investment Law, states there are circumstances for expropriation of foreign assets that may include national security or a public interest needs, such as large civil engineering projects.  However, the law does not specify circumstances that would lead to the nationalization of a foreign investment. Chinese law requires fair compensation for an expropriated foreign investment but does not provide details on the method or formula used to calculate the value of the foreign investment.  The Department of State is not aware of any cases since 1979 in which China has expropriated a U.S. investment, although the Department has notified Congress through the annual 527 Investment Dispute Report of several cases of concern.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

China is a contracting state to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) and has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the New York Convention).  The domestic legislation that provides for enforcement of foreign arbitral awards related to these two Conventions includes the Arbitration Law adopted in 1994, the Civil Procedure Law adopted in 1991 (later amended in 2012), the Law on Chinese-Foreign Equity Joint Ventures adopted in 1979 (amended most recently in 2001), and a number of other laws with similar provisions.  China’s Arbitration Law has embraced many of the fundamental principles of The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law’s Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Chinese officials typically urge private parties to resolve commercial disputes through informal conciliation.  If formal mediation is necessary, Chinese parties and the authorities typically prefer arbitration to litigation.  Many contract disputes require arbitration by the Beijing-based China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC).  Established by the State Council in 1956 under the auspices of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT), CIETAC is China’s most widely-utilized arbitral body in China for foreign-related disputes.  Some foreign parties have obtained favorable rulings from CIETAC, while others have questioned CIETAC’s fairness and effectiveness.

CIETAC also had four sub-commissions located in Shanghai, Shenzhen, Tianjin, and Chongqing.  CCPIT, under the authority of the State Council, issued new arbitration rules in 2012 that granted CIETAC headquarters greater authority to hear cases than the sub-commissions.  As a result, CIETAC Shanghai and CIETAC Shenzhen declared independence from the Beijing authority, issued new rules, and changed their names. This split led to CIETAC disqualifying the former Shanghai and Shenzhen affiliates from administering arbitration disputes, raising serious concerns among the U.S. business and legal communities over the validity of arbitration agreements arrived at under different arbitration procedures and the enforceability of arbitral awards issued by the sub-commissions.  In 2013, the Supreme People’s Court issued a notice clarifying that any lower court that hears a case arising out of the CIETAC split must report the case to the court before making a decision. However, this notice is brief and lacks detail like the timeframe for the lower court to refer and the timeframe for the Supreme People’s Court to issue an opinion.

Beside the central-level arbitration commission, there are also provincial and municipal arbitration commissions that have emerged as serious domestic competitors to CIETAC.  A foreign party may also seek arbitration in some instances from an offshore commission. Foreign companies often encounter challenges in enforcing arbitration decisions issued by Chinese and foreign arbitration bodies.  In these instances, foreign investors may appeal to higher courts.

The Chinese government and judicial bodies do not maintain a public record of investment disputes.  The Supreme People’s Court maintains an annual count of the number of cases involving foreigners but does not provide details about the cases, identify civil or commercial disputes, or note foreign investment disputes.  Rulings in some cases are open to the public.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Articles 281 and 282 of China’s Civil Procedural Law governs the enforcement of judgments issued by foreign courts.  The law states that Chinese courts should consider factors like China’s treaty obligations, reciprocity principles, basic Chinese law, Chinese sovereignty, Chinese social and public interests, and national security before determining if the foreign court judgment should be recognized.  As a result of this broad criteria, there are few examples of Chinese courts recognizing and enforcing a foreign court judgment. China has bilateral agreements with 27 countries on the recognition and enforcement of foreign court judgments, but not with the United States.

Article 270 of China’s Civil Procedure Law also states that time limits in civil cases do not apply to cases involving foreign investment.  According to the 2012 CIETAC Arbitration Rules, in an ordinary procedure case, the arbitral tribunal shall render an arbitral award within six months (in foreign-related cases) from the date on which the arbitral tribunal is formed.  In a summary procedure case, the arbitral tribunal shall make an award within three months from the date on which the arbitral tribunal is formed.

Bankruptcy Regulations

China’s Enterprise Bankruptcy Law took effect on June 1, 2007 and applies to all companies incorporated under Chinese laws and subject to Chinese regulations.  This includes private companies, public companies, SOEs, foreign invested enterprises (FIEs), and financial institutions.  China’s primary bankruptcy legislation generally is commensurate with developed countries’ bankruptcy laws and provides for reorganization or restructuring, rather than liquidation.  However, due to the lack of implementation guidelines and the limited number of previous cases that could provide legal precedent, the law has never been fully enforced.  Most corporate debt disputes are settled through negotiations led by local governments.  In addition, companies are disincentivized from pursing bankruptcy because of the potential for local government interference and fear of losing control over the bankruptcy outcome.  According to experts, Chinese courts not only lack the resources and capacity to handle bankruptcy cases, but bankruptcy administrators, clerks, and judges all lack relevant experience.

In the October 2016 State Council Guiding Opinion on Reducing Enterprises’ Leverage Ratio, bankruptcy was identified as a tool to manage China’s corporate debt problems.  This was consistent with increased government rhetoric throughout the year in support of bankruptcy.  For example, in June 2016, the Supreme People’s Court issued a notice to establish bankruptcy divisions at intermediate courts and to increase the number of judges and support staff to handle liquidation and bankruptcy issues.  On August 1, 2016, the court also launched a new bankruptcy and reorganization electronic information platform: http://pccz.court.gov.cn/pcajxxw/index/xxwsy  .

The number of bankruptcy cases has continued to grow rapidly since 2015.  According to a National People’s Congress (NPC) official, in 2018, 18,823 liquidation and bankruptcy cases were accepted by Chinese courts, an increase of over 95 percent from last year.  11,669 of those cases were closed, an increase of 86.5 percent from the year before.  The Supreme People’s Court (SPC) reported that in 2017, 9,542 bankruptcy cases were accepted by the Chinese courts, representing a 68.4 percent year-on-year increase from 2016, and 6,257 cases were closed, representing a 73.7 percent year-on-year increase from 2016. The SPC has continued to issue clarifications and new implementing measures to improve bankruptcy procedures.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

To attract foreign investment, different provinces and municipalities offer preferential packages like a temporary reduction in taxes, resources and land use benefits, reduction in import and/or export duties, special treatment in obtaining basic infrastructure services, streamlined government approvals, research and development subsidies, and funding for initial startups.  Often, these packages stipulate that foreign investors must meet certain benchmarks for exports, local content, technology transfer, and other requirements.  Preferential treatment often occurs in specific sectors that the government has identified for policy support, like technology and advanced manufacturing, and will be specific to a geographic location like a special economic zone (like FTZs), development zone, or a science park.  The Chinese government has also prioritized foreign investment in inland China by providing incentives to invest in seven new FTZs located in inland regions (2017) and offering more liberalizations to foreign investment through its Catalogue of Priority Industries for Foreign Investment in Central and Western China that provides greater market access to foreign investors willing to invest in less developed areas in Central and Western China.

While state subsidies has long been an area that foreign investors have criticized for distorting competition in certain industries, Chinese officials have publicly pledged that foreign investors willing to manufacture products in China can equally participate in the research and development programs financed by the Chinese government.  The Chinese government has also said foreign investors have equal access to preferential policies under initiatives like Made in China 2025 and Strategic Emerging Industries that seek to transform China’s economy into an innovation-based economy that becomes a global leader in future growth sectors.  In these high-tech and advanced manufacturing sectors, China needs foreign investment because it lacks the capacity, expertise, and technological know-how to conduct advanced research or manufacture advanced technology on par with other developed economies.  Announced in 2015, China’s MIC 2025 roadmap has prioritized the following industries: new-generation information technology, advanced numerical-control machine tools and robotics, aerospace equipment, maritime engineering equipment and vessels, advanced rail, new-energy vehicles, energy equipment, agricultural equipment, new materials, and biopharmaceuticals and medical equipment.  While mentions of MIC 2025 have all but disappeared from public discourse, a raft of policy announcements at the national and sub-national level indicate China’s continued commitment to developing these sectors.  Foreign investment plays an important role in helping China move up the manufacturing value chain.  However, there are a large number of economic sectors that China deems sensitive due to broadly defined national security concerns, including “economic security,” which can effectively close off foreign investment to those sectors.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

China has customs-bonded areas in Shanghai, Tianjin, Shantou, Guangzhou, Dalian, Xiamen, Ningbo, Zhuhai, Fuzhou, and parts of Shenzhen.  In addition to these official duty-free zones identified by China’s State Council, there are also numerous economic development zones and “open cities” that offer preferential treatment and benefits to investors, including foreign investors.

In September 2013, the State Council in conjunction with the Shanghai municipal government, announced the Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone that consolidated the geographical area of four previous bonded areas into a single FTZ.  In April 2015, the State Council expanded the pilot to include new FTZs in Tianjin, Guangdong, and Fujian. In March 2017, the State Council approved seven new FTZs in Chongqing, Henan, Hubei, Liaoning, Shaanxi, Sichuan, and Zhejiang, with the stated purpose to integrate these areas more closely with the OBOR initiative – the Chinese government’s plan to enhance global economic interconnectivity through joint infrastructure and investment projects that connect China’s inland and border regions to the rest of the world.  In October 2018, the Chinese government rolled out plans to convert the entire island province of Hainan into an FTZ that will take effect in 2020. This FTZ aims to provide a more open and high-standard trade and investment hub focused on improved rule of law and financial services. In addition to encourage tourism development, the Hainan FTZ will also seek to develop high-tech industries while preserving the ecology of the island. The goal of all China’s FTZs is to provide a trial ground for trade and investment liberalization measures and to introduce service sector reforms, especially in financial services, that China expects eventually to introduce in other parts of the domestic economy.

The FTZs should offer foreign investors “national treatment” for the market access phase of an investment in industries and sectors not listed on the FTZ “negative list,” or on the list of industries and economic sectors restricted or prohibited for foreign investment.  The State Council published an updated FTZ negative list in June 2018 that reduced the number of restrictions and prohibitions on foreign investment from 95 items down to 45. The most recent negative list did not remove many commercially significant restrictions or prohibitions compared to the nationwide negative list also released in June 2018.

Although the FTZ negative list in theory provides greater market access for foreign investment in the FTZs, many foreign firms have reported that in practice, the degree of liberalization in the FTZs is comparable to other opportunities in other parts of China.  According to Chinese officials, over 18,000 entities have registered in the FTZs. The municipal and central governments have released a number of administrative and sector-specific regulations and circulars that outline the procedures and regulations in the zones.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

As part of China’s WTO accession agreement, China promised to revise its foreign investment laws to eliminate sections that imposed export performance, local content, balanced foreign exchange through trade, technology transfer, and create research and development center requirements on foreign investors as a prerequisite to enter China’s market.  As part of these revisions, China committed to only enforce technology transfer requirements that do not violate WTO standards on IP and trade-related investment measures. In practice, however, China has not completely lived up to these promises with some U.S. businesses reporting that local officials and regulators sometimes only accept investments with “voluntary” performance requirements or technology transfer that helps develop certain domestic industries and support the local job market.  Provincial and municipal governments will sometimes restrict access to local markets, government procurement, and public works projects even for foreign firms that have already invested in the province or municipality. In addition, Chinese regulators have reportedly pressured foreign firms in some sectors to disclose IP content or provide IP licenses to Chinese firms, often at below market rates. These practices not only run contrary to WTO principles but hurt the competitive position of foreign investors.

China also called to restrict the ability of both domestic and foreign operators of “critical information infrastructure” to transfer personal data and important information outside of China while also requiring those same operators to only store data physically in China.  These potential restrictions have prompted many firms to review how their networks manage data. Foreign firms also fear that calls for use of “secure and controllable,” “secure and trustworthy,” etc. technologies will curtail sales opportunities for foreign firms or that foreign companies may be pressured to disclose source code and other proprietary information, putting IP at risk.  In addition, prescriptive technology adoption requirements, often in the form of domestic standards that diverge from global norms, in effect gives preference to domestic firms and their technology. These requirements not only hinder operational effectiveness but also potentially puts in jeopardy IP protection and overall competitiveness of foreign firms operating in China.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Foreign companies have long complained that the Chinese legal system, responsible for mediating acquisition and disposition of property, has inconsistently protected the legal real property rights of foreigners.

Urban land is entirely owned by the State.  The State can issue long-term land leases to individuals and companies, including foreigners, subject to many restrictions.  China’s Property Law stipulates that residential property rights will renew automatically, while commercial and industrial grants shall be renewed if the renewal does not conflict with other public interest claims.  A number of foreign investors have reported that their land use rights were revoked and given to developers to build neighborhoods designated for building projects by government officials. Investors often complain that compensation in these cases has been nominal.

In rural China, collectively-owned land use rights are more complicated.  The registration system chronically suffers from unclear ownership lines and disputed border claims, often at the expense of local farmers who are excluded from the process by village leaders making “handshake deals” with commercial interests.  The central government announced in 2016, and reiterated in 2017 and 2018, plans to reform the rural land registration system so as to put more control in the hands of farmers, but some experts remain skeptical that changes will be properly implemented and enforced.

China’s Securities Law defines debtor and guarantor rights, including rights to mortgage certain types of property and other tangible assets, including long-term leases.  Chinese law does not prohibit foreigners from buying non-performing debt, which can only be acquired through state-owned asset management firms. However, in practice, Chinese official often use bureaucratic hurdles that limit foreigners’ ability to liquidate assets, further discouraging foreign purchase of non-performing debt.

Intellectual Property Rights

Following WTO accession, China updated many laws and regulations to comply with the WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and other international agreements.  However, despite the changes to China’s legal and regulatory regime, some aspects of China’s IP protection regime fall short of international best practices.  In addition, enforcement ineffectiveness of Chinese laws and regulations remains a significant challenge for foreign investors trying to protect their IPR.

Major impediments to effective IP enforcement include the unavailability of deterrent-level penalties for infringement, a lack of transparency, unclear standards for establishing criminal investigations, the absence of evidence production methods to compel evidence from infringers, and local protectionism, among others.  Chinese government officials tout the success of China’s specialized IP courts – including the establishment of a new appellate tribunal within the SPC – as evidence of its commitment to IP protection; however, while this shows a growing awareness of IPR in China’s legal system, civil litigation against IP infringement will remain an option with limited effect until there is an increase in the amount of damages an infringer pays for IP violations.

Chinese-based companies remain the largest IP infringers of U.S. products.  Goods shipped from China (including those transshipped through Hong Kong) accounted for an estimated 87 percent of IPR-infringing goods seized at U.S. borders.  (Note: This U.S.  Customs statistic does not specify where the fake goods were made.)  China imposes requirements that U.S. firms develop their IP in China or transfer their IP to Chinese entities as a condition to accessing the Chinese market, or to obtain tax and other preferential benefits available to domestic companies.  Chinese policies can effectively require U.S. firms to localize research and development activities, practices documented in the March 2018 Section 301 Report released by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).  China remained on the Priority Watch List in the 2019 USTR Special 301 Report, and several Chinese physical and online markets were included in the 2018 USTR Notorious Markets Report.  For detailed information on China’s environment for IPR protection and enforcement, please see the following reports:

For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local intellectual property offices, please see the World Intellectual Property Organization’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en  

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

China’s leadership has stated that it seeks to build a modern, highly developed, and multi-tiered capital market.  Bank loans continue to provide the majority of credit options (reportedly around 81.4 percent in 2018) for Chinese companies, although other sources of capital, such as corporate bonds, equity financing, and private equity are quickly expanding their scope, reach, and sophistication in China.  In the past three years, Chinese regulators have taken measures to rein in the rapid growth of China’s “shadow banking” sector, which includes vehicles such as wealth management and trust products.  The measures have achieved positive results. The share of trust loans, entrust loans and undiscounted bankers’ acceptances dropped a total of 15.2 percent in total social financing (TSF) – a broad measure of available credit in China, most of which was comprised of corporate bonds. TSF’s share of corporate bonds jumped from a negative 2.31 percent in 2017 to 12.9 percent in 2018. Chinese regulators regularly use administrative methods to control credit growth, although market-based tools such as interest rate policy and adjusting the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) play an increasingly important role.

The People’s Bank of China (PBOC), China’s central bank, has gradually increased flexibility for banks in setting interest rates, formally removing the floor on the lending rate in 2013 and the deposit rate cap in 2015 – but is understood to still influence bank’s interest rates through “window guidance.”  Favored borrowers, particularly SOEs, benefit from greater access to capital and lower financing costs, as they can use political influence to secure bank loans, and lenders perceive these entities to have an implicit government guarantee.  Small- and medium-sized enterprises, by contrast, have the most difficulty obtaining financing, often forced to rely on retained earnings or informal investment channels.

In 2018, Chinese regulators have taken measures to improve financing for the private sector, particularly small, medium and micro-sized enterprises (SMEs).  On November 1, 2018, Xi Jinping held an unprecedented meeting with private companies on how to support the development of private enterprises. Xi emphasized to the importance of resolving difficult and expensive financing problems for private firms and pledged to create a fair and competitive business environment.  He encouraged banks to lend more to private firms, as well as urged local governments to provide more financial support for credit-worthy private companies. Provincial and municipal governments could raise funds to bailout private enterprises if needed. The PBOC increased the relending and rediscount quota of RMB 300 billion for SMEs and private enterprises at the end of 2018.  The government also introduced bond financing supportive instruments for private enterprises, and the PBOC began promoting qualified PE funds, securities firms, and financial asset management companies to provide financing for private companies. The China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission’s (CBIRC) Chairman said in an interview that one-third of new corporate loans issued by big banks and two-thirds of new corporate loans issued by small and medium-sized banks should be granted to private enterprises, and that 50 percent of new corporate loans shall be issued to private enterprises in the next three years.  At the end of 2018, loans issued to SMEs accounted for 24.6 percent of total RMB loan issuance. The share dropped 1 percent from 25.6 percent in 2017. Interest rates on loans issued by the six big state-owned banks – Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), China Construction Bank (CCB), Bank of China (BOC), Agriculture Bank of China (ABC), Bank of Communications and China Postal Savings Bank – to SMEs averaged 4.8 percent, in the fourth quarter of 2018, down from 6 percent in the first quarter of 2018.

Direct financing has expanded over the last few years, including through public listings on stock exchanges, both inside and outside of China, and issuing more corporate and local government bonds.  The majority of foreign portfolio investment in Chinese companies occurs on foreign exchanges, primarily in the United States and Hong Kong.  In addition, China has significantly expanded quotas for certain foreign institutional investors to invest in domestic stock markets; opened up direct access for foreign investors into China’s interbank bond market; and approved a two-way, cross-border equity direct investment scheme between Shanghai and Hong Kong and Shenzhen and Hong Kong that allows Chinese investors to trade designated Hong Kong-listed stocks through the Shanghai and Shenzhen Exchanges, and vice versa.  Direct investment by private equity and venture capital firms is also rising, although from a small base, and has faced setbacks due to China’s capital controls that complicate the repatriation of returns

Money and Banking System

After several years of rapid credit growth, China’s banking sector faces asset quality concerns.  For 2018, the China Banking Regulatory Commission reported a non-performing loans (NPL) ratio of 1.83 percent, higher than the 1.74 percent of NPL ratio reported the last quarter of 2017.  The outstanding balance of commercial bank NPLs in 2018 reached 2.03 trillion RMB (approximately USD295.1 billion).  China’s total banking assets surpassed 268 trillion RMB (approximately USD39.1 trillion) in December 2018, a 6.27 percent year-on-year increase.  Experts estimate Chinese banking assets account for over 20 percent of global banking assets.  In 2018, China’s credit and broad money supply slowed to 8.1 percent growth, the lowest published rate since the PBOC first started publishing M2 money supply data in 1986.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange Policies

While the central bank’s official position is that companies with proper documentation should be able to freely conduct business, in practice, companies have reported challenges and delays in getting foreign currency transactions approved by sub-national regulatory branches.  In 2017, several foreign companies complained about administrative delays in remitting large sums of money from China, even after completing all of the documentation requirements.  Such incidents come amid announcements that the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) had issued guidance to tighten scrutiny of foreign currency outflows due to China’s rapidly decreasing foreign currency exchange.  China has since announced that it will gradually reduce those controls, but market analysts expect they would be re-imposed if capital outflows accelerate again.

Under Chinese law, FIEs do not need pre-approval to open foreign exchange accounts and are allowed to retain income as foreign exchange or to convert it into RMB without quota requirements.  Foreign exchange transactions related to China’s capital account activities do not require review by SAFE, but designated foreign exchange banks review and directly conduct foreign exchange settlements.  Chinese officials register all commercial foreign debt and will limit foreign firms’ accumulated medium- and long-term debt from abroad to the difference between total investment and registered capital.  China issued guidelines in February 2015 that allow, on a pilot basis, a more flexible approach to foreign debt within several specific geographic areas, including the Shanghai Pilot FTZ.  The main change under this new approach is to allow FIEs to expand their foreign debt above the difference between total investment and registered capital, so long as they have sufficient net assets.

Chinese foreign exchange rules cap the maximum amount of RMB individuals are allowed to convert into other currencies at approximately USD50,000 each year and restrict them from directly transferring RMB abroad without prior approval from SAFE.  In 2017, authorities further restricted overseas currency withdrawals by banning sales of life insurance products and capping credit card withdrawals at USD5,000 per transaction.  SAFE has not reduced this quota, but during periods of higher than normal capital outflows, banks are reportedly instructed by SAFE to increase scrutiny over individuals’ requests for foreign currency and to require additional paperwork clarifying the intended use of the funds, with the express intent of slowing capital outflows.

China’s exchange rate regime is managed within a band that allows the currency to rise or fall by 2 percent per day from the “reference rate” set each morning.  In August 2015, China announced that the reference rate would more closely reflect the previous day’s closing spot rate.  Since that change, daily volatility of the RMB has at times been higher than in recent years, but for the most part, remains below what is typical for other currencies.  In 2017, the PBOC took additional measures to reduce volatility, introducing a “countercyclical factor” into its daily RMB exchange rate calculation.  Although the PBOC reportedly suspended the countercyclical factor in January 2018, the tool remains available to policymakers if volatility re-emerges.

Remittance Policies

The remittance of profits and dividends by FIEs is not subject to time limitations, but FIEs need to submit a series of documents to designated banks for review and approval.  The review period is not fixed, and is frequently completed within one or two working days of the submission of complete documents.  In the past year, this period has lengthened during periods of higher than normal capital outflows, when the government strengthens capital controls.

Remittance policies have not changed substantially since SAFE simplified some regulations in January 2014, devolving many review and approval procedures to banks.  Firms that remit profits at or below USD50,000 dollars can do so without submitting documents to the banks for review.

For remittances above USD50,000, the firm must submit tax documents, as well as the formal decision by its management to distribute profits.

For remittance of interest and principle on private foreign debt, firms must submit an application form, a foreign debt agreement, and the notice on repayment of the principle and interest.  Banks will then check if the repayment volume is within the repayable principle.

The remittance of financial lease payments falls under foreign debt management rules.  There are no specific rules on the remittance of royalties and management fees.  In August 2018, SAFE raised the reserve requirement for foreign currency transactions from zero to 20 percent, significantly increasing the cost of foreign currency transactions.  The reserve ratio was introduced in October 2015 at 20 percent, which was lowered to zero in September 2017.

The Financial Action Task Force has identified China as a country of primary concern.  Global Financial Integrity (GFI) estimates that over S1 trillion of illicit money left China between 2003 and 2012, making China the world leader in illicit capital flows.  In 2013, GFI estimated that another USD260 billion left the country.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

China officially has only one sovereign wealth fund (SWF), the China Investment Corporation (CIC).  Established in 2007, CIC manages over USD941.4 billion in assets (as of 2017) and invests on a 10-year time horizon.  China’s sovereign wealth is also invested by a subsidiary of SAFE, the government agency that manages China’s foreign currency reserves, and reports directly to the PBOC.  The SAFE Administrator also serves concurrently as a PBOC Deputy Governor.

CIC publishes an annual report containing information on its structure, investments, and returns.  CIC invests in diverse sectors like financial, consumer products, information technology, high-end manufacturing, healthcare, energy, telecommunication services, and utilities.

China also operates other funds that function in part like sovereign wealth funds, including: China’s National Social Security Fund, with an estimate USD341.4 billion in assets; the China-Africa Development Fund (solely funded by the China Development Bank), with an estimated USD5 billion; the SAFE Investment Company, with an estimated USD439.8 billion; and China’s state-owned Silk Road Fund, established in December 2014 with USD40 billion to foster investment in OBOR partner countries.  Chinese SWFs do not report the percentage of their assets that are invested domestically.

Chinese SWFs follow the voluntary code of good practices known as the Santiago Principles and participate in the IMF-hosted International Working Group on SWFs.  The Chinese government does not have any formal policies specifying that CIC invest funds consistent with industrial policies or in government-designated projects, although CIC is expected to pursue government objectives.  The SWF generally adopts a “passive” role as a portfolio investor.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

China has approximately 150,000 SOEs which are wholly owned by the state.  Around 50,000 (33 percent) are owned by the central government and the remainder by local governments.  The central government directly controls and manages 96 strategic SOEs through the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), of which around 60 are listed on stock exchanges domestically and/or internationally.  SOEs, both central and local, account for 30 to 40 percent of total GDP and about 20 percent of China’s total employment.  SOEs can be found in all sectors of the economy, from tourism to heavy industries.

SASAC regulated SOEs: http://www.sasac.gov.cn/n2588035/n2641579/n2641645/c4451749/content.html  .

China’s leading SOEs benefit from preferential government policies aimed at developing bigger and stronger “national champions.”  SOEs enjoy favored access to essential economic inputs (land, hydrocarbons, finance, telecoms, and electricity) and exercise considerable power in markets like steel and minerals.  SOEs have long enjoyed preferential access to credit and the ability to issue publicly traded equity and debt.

During the November 2013 Third Plenum of the 18th Party Congress – a hallmark session that announced economic reforms, including calling for the market to play a more decisive role in the allocation of resources – President Xi Jinping called for broad SOE reforms.  Cautioning that SOEs still will remain a key part of China’s economic system, Xi emphasized improved SOE operational transparency and legal reforms that would subject SOEs to greater competition by opening up more industry sectors to domestic and foreign competitors and by reducing provincial and central government preferential treatment of SOEs.  The Third Plenum also called for “mixed ownership” economic structures, providing greater economic balance between private and state-owned businesses in certain industries, including equal access to factors of production, competition on a level playing field, and equal legal protection.

At the 2018 Central Economic Work Conference, Chinese leaders said in 2019 they will promote a greater role for the market, as well as renewed efforts on reforming SOEs – to include mixed ownership reform.  In delivering the 2019 Government Work Report, Premier Li Keqiang pledged to improve corporate governance, including allowing SOE company boards, rather than SASAC, to appoint senior leadership. 

OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance

SASAC participates in the OECD Working Party on State Ownership and Privatization Practices (WPSOPP).  Chinese officials have indicated China intends to utilize OECD SOE guidelines to improve the professionalism and independence of SOEs, including relying on Boards of Directors that are independent from political influence.  However, despite China’s Third Plenum commitments in 2013 (i.e., to foster “market-oriented” reforms in China’s state sectors), Chinese officials and SASAC have made minimal progress in fundamentally changing the regulation and business conduct of SOEs.  China has also committed to implement the G-20/OECD Principles of Corporate Governance, which apply to all publicly-listed companies, including listed SOEs.

Chinese law lacks unified guidelines or a governance code for SOEs, especially among provincial or locally-controlled SOEs.  Among central SOEs managed by SASAC, senior management positions are mainly filled by senior CCP members who report directly to the CCP, and double as the company’s Party secretary

The lack of management independence and the controlling ownership interest of the State make SOEs de facto arms of the government, subject to government direction and interference.  SOEs are rarely the defendant in legal disputes, and when they are, they almost always prevail, presumably due to the close relationship with the CCP.  U.S. companies often complain about the lack of transparency and objectivity in commercial disputes with SOEs.  In addition, SOEs enjoy preferential access to a disproportionate share of available capital, whether in the form of loans or equity.

In its September 2015 Guiding Opinions on Deepening the Reform of State-Owned Enterprises, the State Council instituted a system for classifying SOEs as “public service” or “commercial enterprises.”  Some commercial enterprise SOEs were further sub-classified into “strategic” or “critically important” sectors (i.e., with strong national economic or security importance).  SASAC has said the new classification system would allow the government to reduce support for commercial enterprises competing with private firms and instead channel resources toward public service SOEs.

Other recent reforms have included salary caps, limits on employee benefits, and attempts to create stock incentive programs for managers that have produced mixed results.  However, analysts believe minor reforms will be ineffective as long as SOE administration and government policy are intertwined.

A major stumbling block to SOE reform is that SOE regulators are outranked in the CCP party structure by SOE executives, which minimizes SASAC and other government regulators’ effectiveness at implementing reforms.  In addition, SOE executives are often promoted to high-ranking positions in the CCP or local government, further complicating the work of regulators.

During the Third Plenum of the CCP’s 18th Central Committee, in 2013, the CCP leadership announced that the market would play a “decisive role” in economic decision making and emphasized that SOEs needed to focus resources in areas that “serve state strategic objectives.”  However, experts point out that despite these new SOE distinctions, SOEs continue to hold dominant shares in their respective industries, regardless of whether they are strategic, which may further restrain private investment in the economy.  Moreover, the application of China’s Anti-Monopoly Law, together with other industrial policies and practices that are selectively enforced by the authorities, protects SOEs from private sector competition.

China is not a party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) within the framework of the WTO, although Hong Kong is listed.  During China’s WTO accession negotiations, Beijing signaled its intention to join GPA.  And, in April 2018, President Xi announced his intent to join GPA, but no timeline has been given for accession.

Investment Restrictions in “Vital Industries and Key Fields”

The intended purpose of China’s State Assets Law is to safeguard and protect China’s economic system, promoting “socialist market economy” principles that fortify and develop a strong, state-owned economy.  A key component of the State Assets Law is enabling SOEs to play the leading role in China’s economic development, especially in “vital industries and key fields.”  To accomplish this, the law encourages Chinese regulators to adopt policies that consolidate SOE concentrations to ensure dominance in industries deemed vital to “national security” and “national economic security.” This principle is further reinforced by the December 2006 State Council announcement of the Guiding Opinions Concerning the Advancement of Adjustments of State Capital and the Restructuring of State-Owned Enterprises, which called for more SOE consolidation to advance the development of the state-owned economy, including enhancing and expanding the role of the State in controlling and influencing “vital industries and key fields relating to national security and national economic lifelines.”  These guidelines defined “vital industries and key fields” as “industries concerning national security, major infrastructure and important mineral resources, industries that provide essential public goods and services, and key enterprises in pillar industries and high-tech industries.”

Around the time the guidelines were published, the SASAC Chairman also listed industries where the State should maintain “absolute control” (e.g., aviation, coal, defense, electric power and the state grid, oil and petrochemicals, shipping, and telecommunications) and “relative control” (e.g., automotive, chemical, construction, exploration and design, electronic information, equipment manufacturing, iron and steel, nonferrous metal, and science and technology).  China has said these lists do not reflect its official policy on SOEs.  In fact, in some cases, regulators have allowed for more than 50 percent private ownership in some of the listed industries on a case-by-case basis, especially in industries where Chinese firms lack expertise and capabilities in a given technology Chinese officials deemed important at the time.

Parts of the agricultural sector have traditionally been dominated by SOEs.  Current agriculture trade rules, regulations, and limitations placed on foreign investment severely restrict the contributions of U.S. agricultural companies, depriving China’s consumers of the many potential benefits additional foreign investment could provide.  These investment restrictions in the agricultural sectors are at odds with China’s objective of shifting more resources to agriculture and food production in order to improve Chinese lives, food security, and food safety.

Privatization Program

At the November 2013 Third Plenum, the Chinese government announced reforms to SOEs that included selling shares of SOEs to outside investors.  This approach is an effort to improve SOE management structures, emphasize the use of financial benchmarks, and gradually take steps that will bring private capital into some sectors traditionally monopolized by SOEs like energy, telecommunications, and finance.  In practice, these reforms have been gradual, as the Chinese government has struggled to implement its SOE reform vision and often opted to utilize a preferred SOE consolidation approach. In the past few years, the Chinese government has listed several large SOEs and their assets on the Hong Kong stock exchange, subjecting SOEs to greater transparency requirements and heightened regulatory scrutiny.  This approach is a possible mechanism to improve SOE corporate governance and transparency. Starting in 2017, the government began pushing the mixed ownership model, in which private companies invest in SOEs and outside managers are hired, as a possible solution, although analysts note that ultimately the government (and therefore the CCP) remains in full control regardless of the private share percentage.  Over the last year, President Xi and other senior leaders have increasingly focused reform efforts on strengthening the role of the State as an investor or owner of capital, instead of the old SOE model in which the state was more directly involved in managing operations.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

General awareness of Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) standards (including environmental, social, and governance issues) is a relatively new concept to most Chinese companies, especially companies that exclusively operate in China’s domestic market.  Chinese laws that regulate business conduct use voluntary compliance, are often limited in scope and are frequently cast aside when RBC priorities are superseded by other economic priorities. In addition, China lacks mature and independent NGOs, investment funds, worker unions, worker organizations, and other business associations that promote RBC, further contributing to the general lack of awareness in Chinese business practices.

The Foreign NGO Law remains a concern for U.S. organizations due to the restrictions on many NGO activities, including promotion of RBC and corporate social responsibility (CSR) best practices.  For U.S. investors looking to partner with a Chinese company or to expand operations by bringing in Chinese suppliers, finding partners that meet internationally recognized standards in areas like labor, environmental protection, worker safety, and manufacturing best practices can be a challenge.  However, the Chinese government has placed greater emphasis on protecting the environment and elevating sustainability as a key priority, resulting in more Chinese companies adding environmental concerns to their CSR initiatives.

In 2014, China signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the OECD to cooperate on RBC initiatives.  This MOU, however, does not require or necessarily mean that Chinese companies will adhere to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.  Industry leaders have pushed for China to comply with OECD guidelines and establish a national contact point or RBC center.  As a result, MOFCOM in 2016 launched the RBC Platform, which serves as the national contact point on RBC issues and supplies information to companies about RBC best practices in China.

In 2014, China participated in the OECD’s RBC Global Forum, including hosting a workshop in Beijing in May 2015.  Policy developments from the workshops included incorporation of human rights into social responsibility guidelines for the electronics industry; referencing the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights; mandating social impact assessments for large footprint projects; and agreeing to draft a new law on public participation in environmental protection and impact assessments.

The MOFCOM-affiliated Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Metals, Minerals, and Chemical Importers and Exporters (CCCMC) also signed a separate MOU with the OECD in October 2014, to help Chinese companies implement RBC policies in global mineral supply chains.  In December 2015, CCCMC released Due Diligence Guidelines for Responsible Mineral Supply Chains, which draw heavily from the OECD Due Diligence Guidelines.  China is currently drafting legislation to regulate the sourcing of minerals, including tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold, from conflict areas.  China is not a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), but Chinese investors participate in EITI schemes where these are mandated by the host country.

9. Corruption

Corruption remains endemic in China.  The lack of an independent press, along with the lack of independence of corruption investigators, who answer to and are managed by the CCP, all hamper the transparent and consistent application of anti-corruption efforts.

Chinese anti-corruption laws have strict penalties for bribes, including accepting a bribe, which is a criminal offense punishable up to life imprisonment or death in “especially serious” circumstances.  Offering a bribe carries a maximum punishment of up to five years in prison, except in cases with “especially serious” circumstances, when punishment can extend up to life in prison.

In August 2015, the NPC amended several corruption-related parts of China’s Criminal Law.  For instance, bribing civil servants’ relatives or other close relationships is a crime with monetary fines imposed on both the bribe-givers and the bribe-takers; bribe-givers, mainly in minor cases, who aid authorities can be given more lenient punishments; and instead of basing punishments solely on the specific amount of money involved in a bribe, authorities now have more discretion to impose punishments based on other factors.

In February 2011, an amendment was made to the Criminal Law, criminalizing the bribing of foreign officials or officials of international organizations.  However, to date, there have not been any known cases in which someone was successfully prosecuted for offering this type of bribe.

In March 2018, the NPC approved the creation of the National Supervisory Commission (NSC), a new government anti-corruption agency that resulted from the merger of the Ministry of Supervision and the CCP’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).  The NSC absorbed the anti-corruption units of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and those of the National Bureau of Corruption Prevention.  In addition to China’s 89 million CCP members, the new commission has jurisdiction over all civil servants and employees of state enterprises, as well as managers in public schools, hospitals, research institutes, and other public service institutions.  Lower-level supervisory commissions have been set up in all provinces, autonomous regions, municipalities, and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps.  The NPC also passed the State Supervision Law, which provides the NSC with its legal authorities to investigate, detain, and punish public servants.

The CCDI remains the primary body for enforcing ethics guidelines and party discipline, and refers criminal corruption cases to the NSC for further investigation.

President Xi Jinping’s Anti-Corruption Efforts

Since President Xi’s rise to power in 2012, China has undergone an intensive and large-scale anti-corruption campaign, with investigations reaching into all sectors of the government, military, and economy.  President Xi labeled endemic corruption as an “existential threat” to the very survival of the CCP that must be addressed.  Since then, each CCP annual plenum has touched on judicial, administrative, and CCP discipline reforms needed to thoroughly root out corruption.  Judicial reforms are viewed as necessary to institutionalize the fight against corruption and reduce the arbitrary power of CCP investigators, but concrete measures have emerged slowly.  To enhance regional anti-corruption cooperation, the 26th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Ministers Meeting adopted the Beijing Declaration on Fighting Corruption in November 2014.

According to official statistics, from 2012 to 2018 the CCDI investigated 2.17 million cases – more than the total of the preceding ten years.  In 2018 alone, the CCP disciplined around 621,000 individuals, up almost 95,000 from 2017.  However, the majority of officials only ended up receiving internal CCP discipline and were not passed forward for formal prosecution and trial.  A total of 195,000 corruption and bribery cases involving 263,000 people were heard in courts between 2013 and 2017, according to the Supreme People’s Court.  Of these, 101 were officials at or above the rank of minister or head of province.  In 2018, a large uptick of 51 officials at or above the provincial/ministerial level were disciplined by the NSC.  One group heavily disciplined in recent years has been the discipline inspectors themselves, with the CCP punishing more than 7,900 inspectors since late-2012.  This led to new regulations being implemented in 2016 by CCDI that increased overall supervision of its investigators.

China’s overseas fugitive-hunting campaign, called “Operation Skynet,” has led to the capture of more than 5,000 fugitives suspected of corruption.  In 2018 alone, CCDI reported that 1,335 fugitives suspected of official crimes were apprehended, including 307 corrupt officials mainly suspected for graft.  Anecdotal information suggests the Chinese government’s anti-corruption crackdown oftentimes is inconsistently and discretionarily applied, raising concerns among foreign companies in China.  For example, to fight rampant commercial corruption in the medical/pharmaceutical sector, China’s health authority issued “black lists” of firms and agents involved in commercial bribery.  Several blacklisted firms were foreign companies.  Additionally, anecdotal information suggests many Chinese government officials responsible for approving foreign investment projects, as well as some routine business transactions, are slowing approvals to not arouse corruption suspicions, making it increasingly difficult to conduct normal commercial activity.

While central government leadership has welcomed increased public participation in reporting suspected corruption at lower levels, direct criticism of central government leadership or policies remains off-limits and is seen as an existential threat to China’s political and social stability.  Some citizens who have called for officials to provide transparency and public accountability by disclosing public and personal assets, or who have campaigned against officials’ misuse of public resources, have been subject to criminal prosecution.

United Nations Anti-Corruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combating Bribery

China ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2005 and participates in APEC and OECD anti-corruption initiatives.  China has not signed the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery, although Chinese officials have expressed interest in participating in the OECD Working Group on Bribery meetings as an observer.

Resources to Report Corruption

The following government organization receives public reports of corruption:

Anti-Corruption Reporting Center of the CCP Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and the Ministry of Supervision, Telephone Number: +86 10 12388.

10. Political and Security Environment

The risk of political violence directed at foreign companies operating in China remains low.  Each year, government watchdog organizations report tens of thousands of protests throughout China.  The government is adept at handling protests without violence, but given the volume of protests annually, the potential for violent flare-ups is real.  Violent protests, while rare, have generally involved ethnic tensions, local residents protesting corrupt officials, environmental and food safety concerns, confiscated property, and disputes over unpaid wages.

In recent years, the growing number of protests over corporate M&A transactions has increased, often because disenfranchised workers and mid-level managers feel they were not included in the decision process.  China’s non-transparent legal and regulatory system allows the CCP to pressure or punish foreign companies for the actions of their governments. The government has also encouraged protests or boycotts of products from certain countries, like Korea, Japan, Norway, Canada, and the Philippines, in retaliation for unrelated policy decisions.  Examples of politically motivated economic retaliation against foreign firms include boycott campaigns against Korean retailer Lotte in 2016 and 2017 in retaliation for the decision to deploy the Thermal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) to the Korean Peninsula, which led to Lotte closing and selling its China operations; and high-profile cases of gross mistreatment of Japanese firms and brands in 2011 and 2012 following disputes over islands in the East China Sea.  Recently, some reports suggest China has retaliated against some Canadian companies and products as a result of a domestic Canadian legal issue that impacted a large Chinese enterprise.

There have also been some cases of foreign businesspeople that were refused permission to leave China over pending commercial contract disputes.  Chinese authorities have broad authority to prohibit travelers from leaving China (known as an “exit ban”) and have imposed exit bans to compel U.S. citizens to resolve business disputes, force settlement of court orders, or facilitate government investigations.  Individuals not directly involved in legal proceedings or suspected of wrongdoing have also been subject to lengthy exit bans in order to compel family members or colleagues to cooperate with Chinese courts or investigations. Exit bans are often issued without notification to the foreign citizen or without a clear legal recourse to appeal the exit ban decision.

In the past few years, Chinese authorities have detained or arrested several foreign nationals, including American citizens, and have refused to notify the U.S. Embassy or allow access to the American citizens detained for consular officers to visit.  These trends are in direct contravention of recognized international agreements and conventions.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

For U.S. companies operating in China, finding adequate human resources remains a major challenge.  Finding, developing, and retaining domestic talent, particularly at the management and highly-skilled technical staff levels, remain difficult challenges often cited by foreign firms.  In addition, labor costs continue to be a concern, as salaries along with other inputs of production have continued to rise. Foreign companies also continue to cite air pollution concerns as a major hurdle in attracting and retaining qualified foreign talent to relocate to China.  These labor concerns contribute to a small, but growing, number of foreign companies relocating from China to the United States, Canada, Mexico, or other parts of Asia.

Chinese labor law does not protect rights such as freedom of association and the right of workers to strike.  China to date has not ratified the United Nations International Labor Organization conventions on freedom of association, collective bargaining, and forced labor, but it has ratified conventions prohibiting child labor and employment discrimination.  Foreign companies often complain of difficulty navigating China’s ever-evolving labor laws, social insurance laws, and different agencies’ implementation guidelines on labor issues. Compounding the complexity, local characteristics and the application by different localities of national labor laws often vary.

Although required by national law, labor contracts are often not used by domestic employers with local employees.  Without written contracts, employees struggle to prove employment, thus losing basic labor rights like claiming severance and unemployment compensation if terminated, as well as access to publicly-provided labor dispute settlement mechanisms.  Similarly, regulations on agencies that provide temporary labor (referred to as “labor dispatch” in China) have tightened, and some domestic employers have switched to hiring independent service provider contractors in order to skirt the protective intent of these regulations.  These loopholes incentivize employers to skirt the law because compliance leads to substantially higher labor costs. This is one of many factors contributing to an uneven playing field for foreign firms that compete against domestic firms that circumvent local labor laws.

Establishing independent trade unions is illegal in China.  The law allows for worker “collective bargaining”; however, in practice, collective bargaining focuses solely on collective wage negotiations – and even this practice is uncommon.  The Trade Union Law gives the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), a CCP organ chaired by a member of the Politburo, control over all union organizations and activities, including enterprise-level unions.  The ACFTU’s priority task is to “uphold the leadership of the Communist Party,” not to protect workers’ rights or improve their welfare. The ACFTU and its provincial and local branches aggressively organize new constituent unions and add new members, especially in large multinational enterprises, but in general, these enterprise-level unions do not actively participate in employee-employer relations.  The absence of independent unions that advocate on behalf of workers has resulted in an increased number of strikes and walkouts in recent years.

ACFTU enterprise unions issue a mandatory employer-borne cost of 2 percent of payroll for membership.  While labor laws do not protect the right to strike, “spontaneous” worker protests and work stoppages occur with increasing regularity, especially in labor intensive and “sunset” industries (i.e., old and declining industries such as low-end manufacturing).  Official forums for mediation, arbitration, and other similar mechanisms of alternative dispute resolution have generally been ineffective in resolving labor disputes in China.  Some localities actively discourage acceptance of labor disputes for arbitration or legal resolution. Even when an arbitration award or legal judgment is obtained, getting local authorities to enforce judgments is problematic.

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

In the aftermath of the Chinese crackdown on Tiananmen Square demonstrations in June 1989, the United States suspended Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) programs in China.  OPIC honors outstanding political risk insurance contracts. The Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, an organization affiliated with the World Bank, provides political risk insurance for investors in China.  Some foreign commercial insurance companies also offer political risk insurance, as does the People’s Insurance Company of China.

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) 2018 (*) $13,239,840 2017 $12,238,000 www.worldbank.org/en/country   
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S.  FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 (**) $82,500 2017 $107,556 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 (**) $67,400 2017 $39,518 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2017 (**) %16.4 2017 12.6% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx  

*China’s National Bureau of Statistics (90.031 trillion RMB converted at 6.8 RMB/USD estimate)
** Statistics gathered from China’s Ministry of Commerce official data


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 $2,688,470 100% Total Outward N/A 100%
China, PR: Hong Kong $1,242,441 46.21% N/A N/A N/A
Brit Virgin Islands $285,932 10.64% N/A N/A N/A
Japan $164,765 6.13% N/A N/A N/A
Singapore $107,636 4.00% N/A N/A N/A
Germany $86,945 3.23% N/A N/A N/A
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Source: IMF Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS)


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Data not available.

El Salvador

Executive Summary

The outgoing government of El Salvador (GOES) is generally perceived as unsuccessful at improving the investment climate.  Political polarization, cumbersome bureaucracy, an ineffective judicial system, and widespread violence and extortion have all contributed to this perception.  The GOES has taken some measures to improve the business climate, with very limited results. The most commonly cited impediments to doing business in El Salvador include the discretionary application of laws/ regulations, lengthy and unpredictable permitting procedures, and customs delays.

President-elect Nayib Bukele assumes office on June 1, 2019.  He has pledged to support investors and make El Salvador a more attractive destination for investment.  The incoming administration’s plans to improve the investment climate will be evident soon after Bukele takes office.

In 2015, El Salvador’s second Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact entered into force.  The five-year USD 277 million Compact (plus USD 88.2 million from GOES funding) seeks to improve El Salvador’s investment climate by improving its productivity and competitiveness in international markets.  MCC Compact information is available at https://www.mcc.gov/where-we-work/program/el-salvador-investment-compact.

El Salvador began implementing the Simplified Administrative Procedures Law in February 2019.  This law seeks to streamline and consolidate administrative processes among GOES entities to facilitate investment.  In 2016, El Salvador adopted the Electronic Signature Law to facilitate e-commerce and trade, which is still pending implementation.

In August 2018, El Salvador recognized the People’s Republic of China and ceased to recognize Taiwan.  El Salvador signed several memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with China, but has not entered into negotiations with China for an investment or trade agreement.  Although the GOES announced the cancellation of its trade agreement with Taiwan in February 2019, the Supreme Court halted the cancellation in March 2019 and the agreement remains in force.

In November 2018, El Salvador officially joined the Northern Triangle Customs Union with Guatemala and Honduras following the ratification of the Accession Protocol by Legislative Assembly.  The Customs Union inaugurated the first integrated border post in El Salvador in December 2018. Northern Triangle countries continue technical-level negotiations to operationalize the Customs Union, harmonize customs regulations and procedures, interconnect automated systems, and finalize which goods will freely move within the single customs territory.  Full implementation of the Customs Union is targeted for 2020.

In recent years, El Salvador has lagged behind the region in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI).  The sectors with the largest investment have historically been textiles and retail establishments, though investment in energy projects has been increasing steadily.

In November 2018, El Salvador and Bolivia signed a Partial Scope Agreement that is pending ratification in the Legislative Assembly.  In 2018, El Salvador also ratified a free trade agreement (FTA) with South Korea, signed trade agreements with Cuba and Bolivia, and reinitiated long-stalled FTA negotiations with Canada.

In December 2018, El Salvador adopted the Regulatory Improvement Law (LMR), which establishes the Regulatory Improvement Institution (OMR), an MCC compact investment, as the government’s sole institution for regulatory reform.  OMR will coordinate the regulatory improvement process and the simplification of business procedures and paperwork.  In addition, El Salvador enacted the Law on the Elimination of Bureaucratic Barriers in December 2018 that creates a specialized tribunal to verify that regulations and procedures are implemented in compliance with the law.  The new tribunal has the authority to sanction public officials who impose administrative requirements not contemplated in the law.

Table 1

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 105 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2018 85 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 104 of 126 http://www.globalinnovationindex.org/content/page/data-analysis
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $3,037 http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $3,560 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment

The GOES recognizes that attracting FDI is crucial to improving the economy.  El Salvador does not have laws or practices that discriminate against foreign investors.  The GOES does not screen or prohibit FDI. However, FDI levels are still paltry and lag far behind regional neighbors. The Central Bank reported net FDI inflows of USD 839.6 million in 2018.

The Exports and Investment Promotion Agency of El Salvador (PROESA) supports investment in nine main sectors: textiles and apparel; business services; tourism; aeronautics; agro-industry; medical devices; footwear manufacturing; logistic and infrastructure networks; and healthcare services.  PROESA provides information for potential investors about applicable laws, regulations, procedures, and available incentives for doing business in El Salvador. Website: http://www.proesa.gob.sv/investment/sector-opportunities 

The National Association of Private Enterprise (ANEP), El Salvador’s umbrella business/private sector organization, has established an ongoing dialogue with relevant GOES ministries.  http://www.anep.org.sv/ 

As part of a 2018 reorganization, the GOES created the post of Presidential Commissioner for Investment.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign citizens and private companies can freely establish businesses in El Salvador.

No single natural or legal person – whether national or foreign – can own more than 245 hectares (605 acres) of land.  The Salvadoran Constitution stipulates there is no restriction on foreign ownership of rural land in El Salvador, unless Salvadoran nationals face restrictions in the corresponding country.  Rural land to be used for industrial purposes is not subject to the reciprocity requirement.

The 1999 Investments Law grants equal treatment to foreign and domestic investors.  With the exception of limitations imposed on micro businesses, which are defined as having 10 or fewer employees and yearly sales of USD 121,319.40 or less, foreign investors may freely establish any type of domestic businesses.  Investors who begin operations with 10 or fewer employees must present plans to increase employment to the Ministry of Economy’s National Investment Office.

The Investment Law provides that any extractive resource is the exclusive property of the state.  The GOES may grant private concessions for resource extraction, though there have been no new permits issued in recent years.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

El Salvador has been a World Trade Organization (WTO) member since 1995.  The latest trade policy review performed by the WTO was published in 2016 (document: WT/TPR/S/226/Rev.1).

https://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/FE_Search/FE_S_S006.aspx?Query=
(@Symbol=%20wt/tpr/s/*)%20and%20((%20@Title=%20el%20salvador
%20)%20or%20(@CountryConcerned=%20el%20salvador))&Language=
ENGLISH&Context=FomerScriptedSearch&languageUIChanged=true#
 

The latest investment policy review performed by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was in 2010. http://unctad.org/en/Docs/diaepcb200920_en.pdf 

Business Facilitation

El Salvador has various laws that promote and protect investments, as well as providing benefits to local and foreign investors.  These include: the Investments Law, the International Services Law; the Free Trade Zones Law; the Tourism Law, the Renewable Energy Incentives Law; the Law on Public Private Partnerships; the Special Law for Streamlining Procedures for the Promotion of Construction Projects; and the Legal Stability Law for Investments.

Business Registration

Per the World Bank, registering a new business in El Salvador requires nine steps taking an average of 16.5 days.  According to the World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Report, El Salvador ranks 147 in the “Starting a Business” indicator.  El Salvador launched an online business registration portal in 2017 designed to give entrepreneurs a one-stop shop for registering new companies.  Specifically, the online business registration website allows new businesses the ability to formalize registration within three days and conduct administrative operations through the online platform.  The portal (https://miempresa.gob.sv/  ) is available to all, though services are available only in Spanish.

The GOES’ Business Services Office (Oficina de Atencion Empresarial) caters to entrepreneurs and investors.  The office has two divisions: “Growing Your Business” (Crecemos Tu Empresa) and the National Investment Office (Direccion Nacional de Inversiones, DNI).  “Growing Your Businesses” provides business advice, especially for micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises.  The DNI administers investment incentives and facilitates business registration.

Contact information:

Business Services Office
Telephone: (503) 2590-9000
Address: 1 calle Poniente, final 41 avenida Norte, N.°8, San Salvador.  Schedule: Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Crecemos Tu Empresa
E-mail: crecemostuempresa@minec.gob.sv
Website: www.minec.gob.sv/crecemostuempresa  

The National Investment Office:

Telephone: (503) 2590-5116.

The Directorate for Coordination of Productive Policies at the Ministry of Economy focuses on five areas: Productive Development, Capacity Building, Trade Facilitation, Taxation, and Export Promotion.  Website: http://www.minec.gob.sv  

The Productive Development Fund (FONDEPRO) provides grants to small enterprises to strengthen competitiveness.  Website: http://www.fondepro.gob.sv/  

The National Commission for Micro and Small Businesses (CONAMYPE) supports micro and small businesses by providing training, technical assistance, financing, venture capital, and loan guarantee programs.  CONAMYPE also provides assistance on market access and export promotion, marketing, business registration, and the promotion of business ventures led by women and youth. Website: https://www.conamype.gob.sv/  

The Micro and Small Businesses Promotion Law defines a microenterprise as a natural or legal person with annual gross sales up to 482 minimum monthly wages, equivalent to USD 121,319.40 and up to ten workers.  A small business is defined as a natural or legal person with annual gross sales between 482 minimum monthly wages (USD 121,319.40) and 4,817 minimum monthly wages (USD 1,212,438.90) and up to 50 employees. To facilitate credit to small businesses, Salvadoran law allows for inventories, receivables, intellectual property rights, consumables, or any good with economic value to be used as collateral for loans.

El Salvador provides equitable treatment for women and under-represented minorities.  The GOES does not provide targeted assistance to under-represented minorities. CONAMYPE provides specialized counseling to female entrepreneurs and women-owned small businesses.

Outward Investment

While the government encourages Salvadoran investors to invest in El Salvador, it neither promotes nor restricts investment abroad.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

El Salvador has bilateral investment treaties in force with Argentina, Belize, BLEU (Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union), Chile, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Republic of Korea, Morocco, the Netherlands, Paraguay, Peru, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and Uruguay.  El Salvador is one of the five Central American Common Market countries, which have an investment treaty among themselves.

The CAFTA-DR entered into force in 2006, between the United States and El Salvador.  CAFTA-DR’s investment chapter provides protection to most categories of investment, including enterprises, debt, concessions, contract, and intellectual property.  Under this agreement, U.S. investors enjoy the right to establish, acquire, and operate investments in El Salvador on an equal footing with local investors. Among the rights afforded to U.S. investors are due process protections and the right to receive a fair market value for property in the event of expropriation.  Investor rights are protected under CAFTA-DR by an effective, impartial procedure for dispute settlement that is transparent and open to the public.

El Salvador also has free trade agreements (FTAs) with Mexico, Chile, Panama, Colombia, and Taiwan.  Although the GOES announced the cancellation of the Taiwan FTA in February 2019, the Supreme Court halted the cancellation in March 2019 and the FTA will remain in force until the Supreme Court rules on the case.

In 2018, El Salvador ratified an FTA with South Korea, which also includes investment provisions.  This FTA is pending ratification from South Korea’s National Assembly to enter into effect. El Salvador’s FTAs with Mexico, Chile, and Panama also include investment provisions.  El Salvador reinitiated trade agreement negotiations with Canada, which will likely include investment provisions. The Salvadoran government signed a Partial Scope Agreement (PSA) with Cuba in 2011 and an additional Protocol to the PSA in October 2019.  El Salvador and Bolivia signed a PSA in November 2018 that is pending ratification in the Legislative Assembly. The PSA agreement with Ecuador entered into force in 2017.

El Salvador, along with Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama, signed an Association Agreement with the European Union that establishes a Free Trade Area.  The agreement, which entered into force with El Salvador in 2013, includes a provision for access to a wider range of EU development aid. El Salvador and Central American countries are negotiating with United Kingdom to ensure continuity post-Brexit.

El Salvador does not have a bilateral taxation treaty with the United States.

On October 2018, El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly ratified the OECD Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters  .  The jurisdictions participating in the Convention can be found at: www.oecd.org/ctp/exchange-of-tax-information/Status_of_convention.pdf 

El Salvador became a member of the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes in 2011.  The OECD published El Salvador’s Phase 1 peer review report, which demonstrates its commitment to international standards for tax transparency and exchange of information, in 2015.  The Phase 2 peer review on implementation of the standards, published in 2016, concluded that El Salvador is “largely compliant.”

In December 2018, the Directorate General of Internal Revenues (DGII) re-interpreted tax rules and modified the criteria to classify companies as large taxpayers.  The re-classification subjects free zone companies to several tax obligations, including the payment of the Special Contribution for Citizen Security (CESC).  Enacted in 2015, the CESC applies a five-percent tax on the profits of companies whose net income exceeds USD 500,000.  CESC proceeds finance security measures, including the GOES’ Plan El Salvador Seguro (Secure El Salvador Plan).

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The laws and regulations of El Salvador are relatively transparent and generally foster competition.  Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms. However, the discretionary application of rules can complicate routine transactions, such as customs clearances and permitting applications.  Regulatory agencies are often understaffed and inexperienced in dealing with complex issues. New foreign investors should review the regulatory environment carefully. In addition to applicable national laws and regulations, localities may impose permitting requirements on investors.

Companies have noted that the GOES has enacted laws and regulations without following required notice and comment procedures.  The Regulatory Improvement Law, enacted in December 2018, requires government agencies to publish online the list of laws and regulations they plan to approve, reform or repeal each year.  Institutions cannot adopt or modify regulations and laws not included in that list. Prior to adopting or amending laws or regulations, the Simplified Administrative Procedures Law requires the GOES to perform a Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) based on a standardized methodology.  Proposed legislation and regulations, as well as RIAs, must be made available for public comment. In practice, the Legislative Assembly does not publish draft legislation on its website and does not solicit comments on pending legislation. The GOES does not yet require the use of a centralized online portal to publish regulatory actions.  The implications of the recent reforms are not yet apparent, though private sector stakeholders have expressed support for the measures.

The GOES controls the price of some goods and services, including electricity, liquid propane gas, gasoline, fares on public transport, and medicines.  The government also directly subsidizes water services and residential electricity rates.

The Superintendent of Electricity and Telecommunications (SIGET) oversees electricity rates, telecommunications, and distribution of electromagnetic frequencies.  The Salvadoran government subsidizes residential consumers for electricity use of up to 100 kWh monthly. The electricity subsidy costs the government between USD 50 million to USD 60 million annually.  Energy sector companies have warned that the government’s inability to pay the subsidies in a timely manner has discouraged investment in new generation capacity.

El Salvador’s public finances are relatively transparent.  Budget documents, including the executive budget proposal, enacted budget, and end-of-year reports, as well as information on debt obligations are accessible to the public at: http://www.transparenciafiscal.gob.sv/ptf/es/  .  An independent institution, the Court of Accounts, audits the financial statements, economic performance, cash flow statements, and budget execution of all GOES ministries and agencies.  The results of these audits are publicly available online. However, the Office of the President manages reserved expenses and other special funds that are not subject to disclosure or audit.

International Regulatory Considerations

El Salvador belongs to the Central American Common Market and the Central American Integration System (SICA), organizations which are working on regional integration, (e.g., harmonization of tariffs and customs procedures).  El Salvador commonly incorporates international standards, such as the Pan-American Standards Commission (Spanish acronym COPANT), into its regulatory system.

El Salvador is a member of the WTO, adheres to the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement), and has adopted the Code of Good Practice annexed to the TBT Agreement.  El Salvador is also a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and has notified its Categories A, B, and C commitments. El Salvador has established a National Trade Facilitation Committee as required by the TFA, though it has met only twice since its formation.

El Salvador is a member of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development’s international network of transparent investment procedures: http://tramites.gob.sv  .  Investors can find information on administrative procedures applicable to investment and income-generating operations including the name and contact details for those in charge of procedures, required documents and conditions, costs, processing time, and legal bases for the procedures.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

El Salvador’s legal system is codified law.  Commercial law is based on the Commercial Code and the corresponding Commercial and Civil Code of Procedures.  There are specialized commercial courts that resolve disputes.

Although foreign investors may seek redress for commercial disputes through Salvadoran courts, many investors report the legal system to be slow, costly, and unproductive.  Local investment and commercial dispute resolution proceedings routinely last many years. The judicial system is independent of the executive branch, but may be subject to manipulation by diverse interests.  Final judgments are at times difficult to enforce. The Embassy recommends that potential investors carry out proper due diligence by hiring competent local legal counsel.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Miempresa is the Ministry of Economy’s website for new businesses in El Salvador.  At Miempresa, investors can register new companies with the Ministry of Labor, Social Security Institute, pension fund administrators, and certain municipalities; request a tax identification number/card; and perform certain administrative functions. Website: https://www.miempresa.gob.sv/  

The country’s eRegulations site provides information on procedures, costs, entities, and regulations involved in setting up a new business in El Salvador.  Website: http://tramites.gob.sv/  

The Exports and Investment Promoting Agency of El Salvador (PROESA) is responsible for attracting domestic and foreign private investment, promoting exports of goods and services, evaluating and monitoring the business climate, and driving investment and export policies. PROESA provides direct technical assistance to investors interested in starting up operations in El Salvador, regardless of the size of the investment or number of employees.  Website: http://www.proesa.gob.sv/  

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Office of the Superintendent of Competition reviews transactions for competition concerns.  The OECD and the Inter-American Development Bank have indicated that the Superintendent employs enforcement standards that are consistent with global best practices and has appropriate authority to enforce the Competition Law effectively.  Superintendent decisions may be appealed directly to the Supreme Court, the country´s highest court. Website: http://www.sc.gob.sv/home/  

Expropriation and Compensation

The Constitution allows the government to expropriate private property for reasons of public utility or social interest.  Indemnification can take place either before or after the fact. There are no recent cases of expropriation. In 1980, a rural/agricultural land reform established that no single natural or legal person could own more than 245 hectares (605 acres) of land, and the government expropriated the land of some large landholders.  In 1980, private banks were nationalized, but were subsequently returned to private ownership in 1989-90. A 2003 amendment to the Electricity Law requires energy generating companies to obtain government approval before removing fixed capital from the country.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

El Salvador is a member state to the ICSID Convention.  ICSID is included in a number of El Salvador’s investment treaties as the forum available to foreign investors.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

In 2016, ICSID ruled in favor of El Salvador on a case brought by an international mining company that sought to force government acceptance of a gold-mining project.  Following the ruling, El Salvador banned the exploration and extraction of metal mining in the country.

The rights of investors from CAFTA-DR countries are protected under the trade agreement’s dispute settlement procedures.  There have been no successful claims by U.S. investors under CAFTA-DR. There are currently no pending claims by U.S. investors.

For foreign investors from a country without a trade agreement with El Salvador, amended Article 15 of the 1999 Investment Law limits access to international dispute resolution and may obligate them to use national courts.  Submissions to national dispute panels and panel hearings are open to the public. Interested third parties have the opportunity to be heard.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

A 2002 law allows private sector organizations to establish arbitration centers for the resolution of commercial disputes, including those involving foreign investors.  In 2009, El Salvador modified its arbitration law to allow parties to appeal a ruling to the Salvadoran courts. Investors have complained that the modification dilutes the efficacy of arbitration as an alternative method of resolving disputes.  Arbitrations takes place at the Arbitration and Mediation Center, a branch of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of El Salvador. Website: http://www.mediacionyarbitraje.com.sv/  

El Salvador is a signatory to the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention) and the Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (The Panama Convention).  Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards and court judgments, but the process can be lengthy and difficult.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Commercial Code, the Commercial Code of Procedures, and the Banking Law all contain sections that deal with the process for declaring bankruptcy.  However, there is no separate bankruptcy law or court. According to data collected by the 2019 World Bank’s Doing Business report, resolving insolvency in El Salvador takes 3.5 years on average and costs 12 percent of the debtor’s estate, with the most likely outcome being that the company will be sold piecemeal.  The average recovery rate is 32.5 percent. Globally, El Salvador ranks 89 out of 190 on Ease of Resolving Insolvency. Website: http://www.doingbusiness.org/~/media/WBG/DoingBusiness/Documents/Profiles/Country/SLV.pdf 

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The International Services Law, approved in 2007, established service parks and centers with incentives similar to those received by El Salvador’s free trade zones.  Service park developers are exempted from income tax for 15 years, municipal taxes for ten years, and real estate transfer taxes. Service park administrators are exempted from income tax for 15 years and municipal taxes for ten years.

Firms located in the service parks/service centers may receive the following permanent incentives:

Tariff exemption for the import of capital goods, machinery, equipment, tools, supplies, accessories, furniture, and other goods needed for the development of the service activities, and full exemption from income tax and municipal taxes on company assets.

Service firms operating under the existing Free Trade Zone Law are also eligible for the incentives.  Firms providing services to the Salvadoran market cannot receive the incentives. Eligible services include: international distribution, logistical international operations, call centers, information technology, research and development, marine vessels repair and maintenance, aircraft repair and maintenance, entrepreneurial processes (e.g., business process outsourcing), hospital-medical services, international financial services, container repair and maintenance, technology equipment repair, elderly and convalescent care, telemedicine, and cinematography postproduction services.

The Tourism Law establishes tax incentives for those who invest a minimum of USD 25,000 in tourism-related projects in El Salvador, including: value-added tax exemption for the acquisition of real estate; import tariffs waiver for construction materials, goods, equipment (subject to limitation); and, a ten-year income tax waiver.  The investor also benefits from a five-year exemption from land acquisition taxes and a 50 percent reduction of municipal taxes. To take advantage of these incentives, the enterprise must contribute five percent of its profits during the exemption period to a government-administered Tourism Promotion Fund. More information about tax incentives for tourism, please visit: http://www.mitur.gob.sv/ii-aspectos-legales-en-beneficio-de-la-inversion-contemplados-en-la-ley-de-turismo/  

The Renewable Energy Incentives Law promotes investment projects that use renewable energy sources.  In 2015, the Legislative Assembly approved amendments to the Law to encourage the use of renewable energy sources and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.  These reforms extended the incentives to power generation using renewable energy sources, such as hydro, geothermal, wind, solar, marine, biogas and biomass.  The incentives include a 10-year exemption in full from customs duties on the importation of machinery, equipment, materials, and supplies used for the construction and expansion of substations, transmission or sub-transmission lines.  Revenues directly derived from power generation based on renewable sources enjoy full exemption from income tax for a period of five years in case of projects above 10 megawatts and 10 years for smaller projects. The Law also provides a tax exemption on income derived directly from the sale of certified emission reductions (CERs) under the Mechanism for Clean Development of the Kyoto Protocol, or carbon markets (CDM).

El Salvador does not issue guarantees or directly co-finance foreign direct investment projects.  However, El Salvador has a Public-Private Partnerships Law that allows private investment in the development of infrastructure projects, including in areas of health, education and security.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The 1998 Free Trade Zone Law is designed to attract investment in a wide range of activities, although the vast majority of the businesses in free trade zones are textile plants.  A Salvadoran partner is not needed to operate in a free trade zone, and some textile operations are completely foreign-owned.

There are 17 free trade zones in El Salvador.  They host 242 companies in sectors including textiles, distribution, call centers, business process outsourcing, agribusiness, agriculture, electronics, and metallurgy.  Owned primarily by Salvadoran, U.S., Taiwanese, and Korean investors, free trade zone firms employ more than 84,000 people. The point of contact is the Chamber of Textile, Apparel and Free Trade Zones of El Salvador (CAMTEX) at: https://www.camtex.com.sv/site/  .

The 1998 law established rules for free trade zones and bonded areas.  The free trade zones are outside the nation’s customs jurisdiction while the bonded areas are within its jurisdiction, but subject to special treatment.  Local and foreign companies can establish themselves in a free trade zone to produce goods or services for export or to provide services linked to international trade.  The regulations for the bonded areas are similar.

Qualifying firms located in the free trade zones and bonded areas may enjoy the following benefits:

  • Exemption from all duties and taxes on imports of raw materials and the machinery and equipment needed to produce for export.
  • Exemption from taxes for fuels and lubricants used for producing exports if they not domestically produced.
  • Exemption from income tax, municipal taxes on company assets and property for either 15 years (if the company is located in the metropolitan area of San Salvador) or 20 years (if the company is located outside of the metropolitan area of San Salvador).
  • Exemption from taxes on certain real estate transfers, e.g., the acquisition of goods to be employed in the authorized activity.

Companies in the free trade zones are also allowed to sell goods or services in the Salvadoran market if they pay applicable taxes on the proportion sold locally.  Additional rules apply to textile and apparel products.

Regulations allow a WTO-complaint “drawback” to refund custom duties paid on imported inputs and intermediate goods exclusively used in the production of goods exported outside of the Central American region.  Regulations also included the creation of a Business Production Promotion Committee with the participation of the private and public sector to work on policies to strengthen the export sector, and the creation of an Export and Import Center.

All import and export procedures are handled by the Import and Export Center (Centro de Trámites de Importaciones y Exportaciones – CIEX El Salvador).  More information about the procedures can be found at: http://www.ciexelsalvador.gob.sv/registroSIMP/  

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

El Salvador’s Investment Law does not require investors to meet export targets, transfer technology, incorporate a specific percentage of local content, or fulfill other performance criteria.  Labor laws require that 90 percent of the workforce in plants and in clerical positions be Salvadoran citizens. Nationality restrictions are more lax for professional and technical jobs.

Foreign investors and domestic firms are eligible for the same incentives. Exports of goods and services are exempt from value-added tax.

Investors who plan to live and work in El Salvador for an extended period need to obtain temporary residency, which may be renewed periodically.  Under Article 11 of the Investment Law, foreigners with investments totaling more than USD 1 million may obtain Investor’s Residency status, which allows them to work and remain in the country.  This residency may be requested within 30 days of registering the investment. It allows residency for the investor and family members for a period of one year, and may be extended annually.

It is customary for companies to hire local attorneys to manage the process of obtaining residency.  The American Chamber of Commerce in El Salvador can also provide information regarding the process. Website:  http://www.amchamsal.com/?lang=en  

The International Services Law establishes tax benefits for businesses that invest at least USD 150,000 during the first year of operations, including working capital and fixed assets, hire no fewer than 10 permanent employees, and have at least a one-year contract.  For hospital/medical services to qualify, the minimum capital investment must be USD 10 million, if surgical services are provided, or a minimum of USD 3 million, if surgical services are not provided. Hospitals or clinics must be located outside of major metropolitan areas, and medical services must be provided only to patients with insurance.

El Salvador does not require investors to incorporate a specific percentage of local content, to turn over source code or provide access to surveillance, or to fulfill other performance criteria.  Business-related data may be freely transferred outside of El Salvador.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Private property, both non-real estate and real estate, is recognized and protected in El Salvador.  Mortgages and real property liens exist. Companies that plan to buy land or other real estate are advised to hire competent local legal counsel to guide them on the property’s title prior to purchase.

Per the Constitution, no single natural or legal person–whether national or foreign–can own more than 245 hectares (605 acres) of land. Reciprocity applies to the ownership of rural land, i.e., El Salvador does not restrict the ownership of rural land by foreigners, unless Salvadoran citizens are restricted in the corresponding states.  The restriction on rural land does not apply if used for industrial purposes.

Real property can be transferred without government authorization.  For title transfer to be valid regarding third parties, however, it needs to be properly registered.  Laws regarding rental property tend to favor the interests of tenants. For instance, tenants may remain on property after their lease expires, provided they continue to pay rent.  Likewise, the law limits the permissible rent and makes eviction processes extremely difficult.

Squatters occupying private property in “good faith” can eventually acquire title.  If the owner of the property is unknown, squatters can acquire title after 20 years of good faith possession through a judicial procedure; if the owner is known, squatters can acquire title after 30 years.

Squatters may never acquire title to public land, although municipalities often grant the right of use to the squatter.

Zoning is regulated by municipal rules.  Municipalities have broad power regarding the use of property within their jurisdiction.  Zoning maps, if they exist, are generally not available to the public.

The perceived ineffectiveness of the judicial system discourages investments in real estate and makes execution of real estate guarantees difficult.  Securitization of real estate guarantees or titles is legally permissible but does not occur frequently in practice.

El Salvador ranks 73rd of 190 economies on the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 report in the Ease of Registering Property category.  According to the collected data, registering a property takes an average of six steps over a period of 31 days, and costs 3.8 percent of the reported value of the property.

Intellectual Property Rights

El Salvador’s intellectual property rights (IPR) legal framework is strong.  El Salvador revised several laws to comply with CAFTA-DR’s provisions on IPR, such as extending the copyright term to 70 years.  The Intellectual Property Promotion and Protection Law (1993, revised in 2005), Law of Trademarks and Other Distinctive Signs (2002, revised in 2005), and Penal Code establish the legal framework to protect IPR.  Investors can register trademarks, patents, copyrights, and other forms of intellectual property with the National Registry Center’s Intellectual Property Office. In 2008, the government enacted test data exclusivity regulations for pharmaceuticals (for five years) and agrochemicals (for 10 years) and ratified an international agreement extending protection to satellite signals.

El Salvador’s enforcement of IPR protections falls short of its written policies.  Salvadoran authorities have limited resources to dedicate to enforcement of IPR laws.  The National Civil Police (PNC) has an Intellectual Property Section with seven investigators, while the Attorney General’s Office (FGR) has 13 prosecutors in its Private Property division that also has responsibility for other property crimes including cases of extortion.  According to ASPI, the PNC section coordinates well with other government and private entities. Nevertheless, the PNC admits that a lack of resources and expertise (e.g., regarding information technology) hinders its effectiveness in combatting IPR crimes.

The National Directorate of Medicines (NDM) has registered 82 products for data protection since 2008, including three in 2017 and eight in 2018.  The NDM protects the confidentiality of relevant test data and the list of such protected medications is available at the NDM’s website: https://www.medicamentos.gob.sv/index.php/es/servicios-m/informes/unidad-de-registro-y-visado/listado-de-productos-farmaceuticos-con-proteccion-de-datos-de-prueba 

The Salvadoran Intellectual Property Association (ASPI – Asociacion Salvadoreña de Propiedad Intelectual) notes that piracy is common in El Salvador because the police focus on investigating criminal networks rather than points of sale.  Trade in counterfeit medicines and pirated software is common.

In 2018, the PNC arrested 38 individuals for reproducing copyrighted material.  In 2018, the PNC also conducted 39 inspections and 20 raids, where it seized 30,300 pirated optical media discs (CDs and DVDs), along with five burner towers used to make pirated discs, and tens of thousands of fake products, including clothing (2,275 articles), footwear (2,526 pairs), toys (114,960 items), parts for sewing machines, and mobile phones.  Additionally, in a 2018 operation at El Salvador’s international airport, the Drug Division of the PNC and DNM confiscated 4,950 packages of counterfeit pharmaceuticals in violation of IP laws.

Contraband and counterfeit products, especially cigarettes, liquor, toothpaste and cooking oil, remain widespread.  According to the GOES and private sector contacts, most unlicensed or counterfeit products in El Salvador were imported.  The Distributors Association of El Salvador (ADES) estimated in 2017 that around 50 percent of the liquor consumed in El Salvador is smuggled.  Most contraband cigarettes come in from China, Panama, and Paraguay and undercut legitimately-imported cigarettes, which are subject to a 39 percent tariff.  According to ADES, most contraband cigarettes are smuggled in by gangs, with the complicity of Salvadoran authorities. A 2017 study by CID Gallup Latin America, noting the link between contraband cigarettes and gang finances, estimated that 32 percent of the 940 million cigarettes consumed annually in El Salvador are contraband.  Gallup estimated that the GOES lost USD 15 million in tax revenue due to cigarette smuggling in 2014.

Customs officials have identified some counterfeit products arriving directly from China through the Salvadoran seaport of Acajutla.  In 2018, Customs officials seized 39 shipments based on the presumption of containing fake products. These shipments primarily involved toys (e.g., Disney, Marvel, Hello Kitty, Barbie, and DC Comics), footwear (e.g., Adidas, Nike, Puma, and Converse), and handbags (e.g., Michael Kors).

The national Intellectual Property Registry has 22 registered geographical indications for El Salvador.  In 2018, the GOES registered four new geographic indications involving Denominations of Origin for “Jocote Baron Rojo San Lorenzo” (a sour fruit), “Pupusa de Olocuilta” (a variant of El Salvador’s traditional food), “Camarones de la Bahia de Jiquilisco” (shrimp from the Jiquilisco Bay), and “Loroco San Lorenzo” (flower used in Salvadoran cuisine).  Existing geographic indications include “Balsamo de El Salvador” (balm for medical, cosmetic, and gastronomic uses – since 1935), “Cafe Ilamatepec” (coffee – since 2010), and “Chaparro” (Salvadoran hard liquor- since 2016).

El Salvador is not listed in the notorious market report nor Special 301 list.  There are no IP-related laws pending.

El Salvador is a signatory of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works; the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property; the Geneva Convention for the Protection of Producers of Phonograms Against Unauthorized Duplication; the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty; the WIPO Performance and Phonograms Treaty; the Rome Convention for the Protection of Performers, Phonogram Producers, and Broadcasting Organizations; and the Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances (2012), which grants performing artists certain economic rights (such as rights over broadcast, reproduction, and distribution) of live and recorded works.

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=SV  

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Superintendent of the Financial System supervises individual and consolidated activities of banks and non-bank financial intermediaries, financial conglomerates, stock market participants, insurance companies, and pension fund administrators.  Foreign investors may obtain credit in the local financial market under the same conditions as local investors. Interest rates are determined by market forces, with the interest rate for credit cards and loans capped at 1.6 times the weighted average effective rate established by the Central Bank.  The maximum interest rate varies according to the loan amount and type of loan (consumption, credit cards, mortgages, home repair/remodeling, business, and microcredits).

In January 2019, El Salvador eliminated the Financial Transactions Tax (FTT), which was enacted in 2014.

The 1994 Securities Market Law established the present framework for the Salvadoran securities exchange.  Stocks, government and private bonds, and other financial instruments are traded on the exchange, which is regulated by the Superintendent of the Financial System.

Foreigners may buy stocks, bonds, and other instruments sold on the exchange and may have their own securities listed, once approved by the Superintendent.  Companies interested in listing must first register with the National Registry Center’s Registry of Commerce. In 2018, the exchange averaged daily trading volumes between USD 10 million and USD 16 million.  Government-regulated private pension funds, Salvadoran insurance companies, and local banks are the largest buyers on the Salvadoran securities exchange. For more information, visit: https://www.bolsadevalores.com.sv/  

Money and Banking System

All but one of the major banks operating in El Salvador are regional banks owned by foreign financial institutions.  Given the high level of informality, measuring the penetration of financial services is difficult; however, it remains relatively low between 30 percent- according to the Salvadoran Banking Association (ABANSA) – and 40 percent- reported by the Superintendence of the Financial System (SSF).  The banking system is sound and generally well-managed and supervised. El Salvador’s Central Bank is responsible for regulating the banking system, monitoring compliance of liquidity reserve requirements, and managing the payment systems. No bank has lost its correspondent banking relationship in recent years.  There are no correspondent banking relationships known to be in jeopardy.

The banking system’s total assets as of January 2019 totaled USD 18 billion.  Under Salvadoran banking law, there is no difference in regulations between foreign and domestic banks and foreign banks can offer all the same services as domestic banks.

The Non-Bank Financial Intermediaries Law regulates the organization, operation, and activities of financial institutions such as cooperative savings associations, non-governmental organizations, and other microfinance institutions.  The Money Laundering Law requires financial institutions to report suspicious transactions to the Attorney General. However, there is no regulatory scheme in place to supervise the filing of reports by Non-Bank Financial Intermediaries.  As such, these entities, although designated filers under the law, rarely file suspicious activity reports.

The Insurance Companies Law regulates the operation of both local and foreign insurance firms. Foreign firms, including U.S., Colombian, Canadian, Honduran, Panamanian, and Spanish companies, have invested in Salvadoran insurers.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange Policies

There are no restrictions on transferring investment-related funds out of the country.  Foreign businesses can freely remit or reinvest profits, repatriate capital, and bring in capital for additional investment.  The 1999 Investment Law allows unrestricted remittance of royalties and fees from the use of foreign patents, trademarks, technical assistance, and other services.  Tax reforms introduced in 2011, however, levy a five percent tax on national or foreign shareholders’ profits. Moreover, shareholders domiciled in a state, country or territory that is considered a tax haven or has low or no taxes, are subject to a tax of twenty-five percent.

The Monetary Integration Law dollarized El Salvador in 2001.  The U.S. dollar accounts for nearly all currency in circulation and can be used in all transactions.  Salvadoran banks, in accordance with the law, must keep all accounts in U.S. dollars. Dollarization is supported by remittances – almost all from workers in the United States – that totaled USD 5.47 billion in 2018.

Remittance Policies

There are no restrictions placed on investment remittances.  The Caribbean Financial Action Task Force’s Ninth Follow-Up report on El Salvador  (https://www.cfatf-gafic.org/index.php/member-countries/el-salvador  ) noted that El Salvador has strengthened its remittances regimen, prohibiting anonymous accounts and limiting suspicious transactions.  In 2015, the Legislature approved reforms to the Law of Supervision and Regulation of the Financial System so that any entity sending or receiving systematic or substantial amounts of money by any means, at the national and international level, falls under the jurisdiction of the Superintendence of the Financial System.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

El Salvador does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

El Salvador has successfully liberalized many sectors, though it maintains state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in energy production, water supply and sanitation, ports and airports, and the national lottery (see chart below).

SOE 2019 Budgeted Revenue Number of Employees
National Lottery  USD         51,653,500.00  150
State-run Electricity  Company (CEL)  USD          362,033,465.00  895
Water Authority (ANDA) USD          221,265,600.00  4,356
Port Authority (CEPA) USD          140,589,815.00  2,104

Although the GOES privatized energy distribution in 1999, it maintains significant energy production facilities through state-owned Rio Lempa Executive Hydroelectric Commission (CEL), a significant producer of hydroelectric and geothermal energy.  The primary water service provider is the National Water and Sewer Administration (ANDA), which provides services to 96 percent of urban areas and 77 percent of rural areas in El Salvador. As an umbrella institution, ANDA defines policies, regulates and provides services.  The Autonomous Executive Port Commission (CEPA) operates both the seaports and the airports. CEL, ANDA, and CEPA Board Chairs hold Minister-level rank and report directly to the President.

The Law on Public Administration Procurement and Contracting (LACAP) covers all procurement of goods and services by all Salvadoran public institutions, including the municipalities.  Exceptions to LACAP include: procurement and contracting financed with funds coming from other countries (bilateral agreements) or international bodies; agreements between state institutions; and the contracting of personal services by public institutions under the provisions of the Law on Salaries, Contracts and Day Work.  The government publishes tenders by government institutions at: https://www.comprasal.gob.sv/comprasal_web/  .

Alba Petroleos is a joint venture between a consortium of mayors from the FMLN party and a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA.  Alba Petroleos operates 55 gasoline service stations across the country and businesses in a number of other industries, including energy production, food production, medicines, micro-lending, supermarkets, and bus transportation.  Critics have charged that the conglomerate receives preferential treatment and have also alleged that Alba Petroleos’ commercial practices, including financial reporting, are non-transparent. Although audited financial statements are not available to the public, Alba Petroleos is at risk of insolvency.  A February 2019 report from the Court of Accounts notes that Alba Petroleos had losses equivalent to 113 percent of its capital (Alba Petroleos refuse to publish financial statements).

Privatization Program

El Salvador is not engaged in a privatization program and has not announced plans to privatize.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The private sector in El Salvador, including several prominent U.S. companies, has embraced the concept of responsible business conduct (RBC).  Several local foundations promote RBC practices, entrepreneurial values, and philanthropic initiatives. El Salvador is also a member of international institutions such as Forum Empresa (an alliance of RBC institutions in the Western Hemisphere), AccountAbility (UK), and the InterAmerican Corporate Social Responsibility Network.  Businesses have created RBC programs to provide education and training, transportation, lunch programs, and childcare. In addition, RBC programs have included inclusive hiring practices and assistance to communities in areas such as health, education, senior housing, and HIV/AIDS awareness. Organizations monitoring RBC are able to work freely.

The Secretariat of Transparency and Corruption was launched in 2009 to develop guidelines, strategies, and actions to promote transparency and combat corruption in government (see: http://www.presidencia.gob.sv/temas/secretaria-de-participacion-ciudadana-transparencia-y-anticorrupcion-de-la-presidencia/  ).  The watchdog organization Transparency International is represented in-country by the Salvadoran Foundation for Development (FUNDE).

El Salvador does not waive or weaken labor laws, consumer protection, or environmental regulations to attract foreign investment.  El Salvador’s ability to effectively and fairly enforce domestic laws is limited by a lack of resources. El Salvador does not allow metal mining activity.

9. Corruption

U.S. companies operating in El Salvador are subject to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Corruption can be a challenge to investment in El Salvador.  El Salvador ranks 105 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index.  While El Salvador has laws, regulations, and penalties to combat corruption, their effectiveness is at times questionable.  Soliciting, offering, or accepting a bribe is a criminal act in El Salvador. The Attorney General’s Anticorruption and Anti-Impunity Unit handles allegations of corruption against public officials.  The Constitution establishes a Court of Accounts that is charged with investigating public officials and entities and, when necessary, passing such cases to the Attorney General for prosecution. Executive-branch employees are subject to a code of ethics, including administrative enforcement mechanisms, and the government established an Ethics Tribunal in 2006.

Corruption scandals at the federal, legislative, and municipal levels are commonplace and there have been credible allegations of judicial corruption.  Three of the past four presidents have been indicted for corruption, and a former Attorney General is in prison on corruption-related charges. The law provides criminal penalties for corruption, but implementation is generally perceived as ineffective.  In 2017, a civil court found former president Mauricio Funes guilty of illicit enrichment and ordered him to repay over USD 200,000. In 2018, the Attorney General brought additional embezzlement and money laundering charges against Funes, who fled to Nicaragua in 2017, where he currently enjoys asylum.  In March 2019, the Supreme Court unanimously approved the Attorney General’s December 2018 petition to request Funes’ extradition. In 2018, former president Elias Antonio (Tony) Saca pleaded guilty to embezzling more than USD 300 million in public funds. The court sentenced him to 10 years in prison and ordered him to repay USD 26 million.

The NGO Social Initiative for Democracy stated that officials, particularly in the judicial system, often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.  Long-standing government practices in El Salvador, including cash payments to officials, shielded budgetary accounts, and diversion of government funds, facilitate corruption and impede accountability.  For example, the accepted practice of ensuring party loyalty through off-the-books cash payments to public officials (i.e., sobresueldos) has persisted across five presidential administrations.  El Salvador has an active, free press that reports on corruption.  In 2015, the Probity Section of the Supreme Court began investigating allegations of illicit enrichment of public officials.  In 2017, Supreme Court Justices ordered its Probity Section to audit legislators and their alternates. The illicit enrichment law requires appointed and elected officials to declare their assets to the Probity Section.  The declarations are not available to the public, and the law does not establish sanctions for noncompliance.

The law provides for the right of access to government information, but authorities have not always effectively implemented the law.  The law gives a narrow list of exceptions that outline the grounds for nondisclosure and provide for a reasonably short timeline for the relevant authority to respond, no processing fees, and administrative sanctions for non-compliance.

In 2011, El Salvador approved the Law on Access to Public Information and joined the Open Government Partnership.  The Open Government Partnership promotes government commitments made jointly with civil society on transparency, accountability, citizen participation and use of new technologies (http://www.opengovpartnership.org/country/el-salvador  ).

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combating Bribery

El Salvador is not a signatory to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.  El Salvador is a signatory to the UN Anticorruption Convention and the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Convention against Corruption.

Resources to Report Corruption

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

Doctor Jose Nestor Castaneda Soto, President of the Court of Government Ethics
Court of Government Ethics (Tribunal de Etica Gubernamental)
87 Avenida Sur, No.7, Colonia Escalon, San Salvador
(503) 2565-9403
Email: n.castaneda@teg.gob.sv
http://www.teg.gob.sv/  

Licenciado Raúl Ernesto Melara Morán
Fiscalia General de La Republica (Attorney General’s Office)
Edificio Farmavida, Calle Cortez Blanco
Boulevard y Colonia Santa Elena
(503) 2593-7400
(503) 2593-7172
Email: xvpocasangre@fgr.gob.sv
http://www.fiscalia.gob.sv/  

Chief Justice Oscar Armando Pineda Navas
Avenida Juan Pablo II y 17 Avenida Norte
Centro de Gobierno
(503) 2271-8743
Email: conchita.presidenciacsj@gmail.com
http://www.csj.gob.sv  

Contact at “watchdog” organization (international, regional, local or nongovernmental organization operating in the country/economy that monitors corruption, such as Transparency International):

Roberto Rubio-Fabián
Executive Director, National Development Foundation (Fundacion Nacional para el Desarrollo – FUNDE)
Fundacion Nacional para el Desarrollo, Calle Arturo Ambrogi #411, entre 103 y 105 Avenida Norte, Colonia Escalon, San Salvador
(503) 2209-5300
Email: direccion@funde.org

Resources to request government information

Access to Public Information Institute (IAIP for its initials in Spanish)

Rene Eduardo Carcamo
Commissioner President of the IAIP
Prolongacion Ave. Alberto Masferrer y Calle al Volcán, Edif. Oca Chang # 88
(503) 2205-3800
Email: rcarcamo@iaip.gob.sv
https://www.iaip.gob.sv/  

10. Political and Security Environment

El Salvador’s 12-year civil war ended in 1992.  Since then, there has been no political violence aimed at foreign investors.

The crime threat level in El Salvador is critical and the Travel Advisory warns U.S. citizens of the high rates of crime and violence.  A majority of serious crimes in El Salvador are never solved. El Salvador lacks sufficient resources to properly investigate and prosecute cases and to deter crime.  For more information, visit: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/ElSalvador.html

El Salvador has thousands of known gang members from several gangs including Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and 18th Street (M18). Gang members engage in violence or use deadly force if resisted.  These “maras” concentrate on extortion, violent street crime, car-jacking, narcotics and arms trafficking, and murder for hire. Extortion is a common crime in El Salvador. U.S. citizens who visit El Salvador for extended periods are at higher risk for extortion demands. Bus companies and distributors often must pay extortion fees to operate within gang territories, and these costs are passed on to paying customers.  The World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Competitiveness Index reported that costs due to organized crime for Salvadoran businesses are the highest among 140 countries. In 2017, the World Bank estimated that companies in El Salvador allocated 3.4 percent of their revenues to security and crime prevention, the highest in Central America.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

In 2018, El Salvador had a labor force of approximately three million, according to the Ministry of Economy.  Informal employment accounts for approximately 72 percent of the economy. While Salvadoran labor is regarded as hard-working, general education and professional skill levels are low.  According to many large employers, there is a lack of middle management-level talent, which sometimes results in the need to bring in managers from abroad. Employers do not report labor-related difficulties in incorporating technology into their workplaces.

The Salvadoran Constitution guarantees the right of employees in the private sector to organize into associations and unions.  In practice, unions are independent of the government and employers. Unions may strike only to obtain or modify a collective bargaining agreement or to protect professional rights.  They must also engage in negotiation, mediation, and arbitration processes before striking, although many groups skip or go through these steps quickly.  Employers are free to hire union or non-union labor. Closed shops are illegal. Labor laws are generally in accordance with internationallyrecognized standards, but are not enforced consistently by government authorities.  Although El Salvador has improved labor rights since the CAFTA-DR entered into force and the passage of the 2014 Special Trafficking in Persons Law, there remains room for better implementation.

The Ministry of Labor (MOL) is responsible for enforcing the law.  The government proved more effective in enforcing the minimum wage law in the formal sector than in the informal sector. Unions reported the ministry failed to enforce the law for subcontracted workers hired for public reconstruction contracts.  The government provided its inspectors updated training in both occupational safety and labor standards. As of June 2018, MOL conducted 13,315 inspections, in addition to 3,857 follow-up inspections, and levied USD 777,000 in fines against businesses.

The law sets a maximum normal workweek of 44 hours, limited to no more than six days and to no more than eight hours per day, but allows overtime (to be paid at a rate of double the usual hourly wage).  The law mandates that full-time employees receive pay for an eight-hour day of rest in addition to the 44-hour normal workweek. The law provides that employers must pay double-time for work on designated annual holidays, a Christmas bonus based on the time of service of the employee, and 15 days of paid annual leave.  The law prohibits compulsory overtime. The law states that domestic employees are obligated to work on holidays if their employer makes this request, but they are entitled to double pay. The government does not adequately enforce these laws.

While workers have the right to strike, the law contains cumbersome and complex registration procedures for conducting a legal strike.  The law does not recognize the right to strike for public and municipal employees or for workers in essential services, which include those services where disruption would jeopardize or endanger life, security, health, or normal conditions of existence for some or all of the population.  The law does not specify which services meet this definition, and courts apply this provision on a case-by-case basis. The law places several other restrictions on the right to strike, including the requirement that 30 percent of all workers in an enterprise must support a strike for it to be legal and that 51 percent must support the strike before all workers are bound by the decision to strike.  In addition, unions may strike only to obtain or modify a collective bargaining agreement or to protect the common professional interests of the workers. They must also engage in negotiation, mediation, and arbitration processes before striking, although many groups often skip or go through these steps quickly. The law prohibits workers from appealing a government decision declaring a strike illegal.

The government does not effectively enforce the laws on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining in all cases.  Resources to conduct inspections were inadequate, and remedies remained ineffective. Penalties for employers who disrupt the right of a union to exist were generally not sufficient to deter violations.  The Ministry of Labor lacks sufficient resources to enforce the law fully. Judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. According to union representatives, the government did not consistently enforce labor rights for public workers, maquila/textile workers, subcontractors in the construction industry, security guards, informal sector workers, or migrant workers.  In 2018, the Ministry of Labor received 1,778 complaints of violations of the labor code, including 565 instances of failure to pay the minimum wage, and 15 claims of violations for labor discrimination.

El Salvador’s Labor Law mandates that the minimum wage must be proposed by the National Minimum Wage Council.  In January 2017, El Salvador raised the minimum wage in four sectors: commercial/industrial, textiles, seasonal harvesting, and agriculture.  The minimum wage increase applied to Salvadorans working in the formal economy, approximately 28 percent of the labor force or 770,000 people.

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) has an agreement with El Salvador that requires governmental approval on each project application.  In December 2017, OPIC announced its Northern Triangle initiative to leverage USD 1 billion in private investment in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras over the next two years.  Currently, OPIC is supporting eight projects in El Salvador, as well as several regional projects that include El Salvador. More information on the Northern Triangle initiative is available at https://www.opic.gov/opic-action/regional-priorities/northern-triangle  

El Salvador uses the U.S. dollar, so full inconvertibility insurance is unnecessary.  El Salvador is a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).

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) 2017 $24,805.44 2017 $24,805  https://data.worldbank.org/country/el-salvador  
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $2,611.41 2017 $3,037 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm?Area=209  
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 N.A. 2017 N.A. BEA data available at http://bea.gov/international/direct_investment_multinational_companies_comprehensive_data.htm  
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2017 10.5% 2017 12.2% N/A

* Central Bank, El Salvador.  In 2018, the Central Bank released GDP estimates using the new national accounts system from 2008 and using 2005 as the base year.


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Direct Investment From/in Counterpart Economy Data (2017)*
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 9,603 100% Total Outward 2 100%
Panama  2,661 27.7% Guatemala 1 44%
United States 2,611 27.2% Nicaragua 1 34%
Mexico 871 9.1% Costa Rica 0 12%
Spain 867 9.0% Honduras 0 44%
Colombia 851 8.9%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

*Coordinated Direct Investment Survey, International Monetary Fund


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

There is no IMF data for portfolio investment assets available for El Salvador.

Eswatini

Executive Summary

Eswatini is a landlocked kingdom in Southern Africa. Although the official government policy is to encourage foreign investment as a means to drive economic growth, the pace of reforming investment policies is slow. Following a September 2018 general election, a new Prime Minister and cabinet (including several former CEOs and others with significant private sector experience) took office and assumed the task of turning around Eswatini’s economy. The Eswatini Investment Promotion Authority (EIPA) advocates for foreign investors and facilitates regulatory approval, but lacks clout and has failed to attract any significant companies in the last five years.  Recent positive developments include the country’s January 2018 reinstatement under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and the enactment of the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act and updated intellectual property legislation.

The Swati government has prioritized the energy sector, particularly renewable energy, and developed a Grid Code and Renewable Energy and Independent Power Producer (RE&IPP) Policy to create a transparent regulatory regime and attract investment. Eswatini generally imports 80 percent of its power from South Africa and Mozambique. With both South Africa and Mozambique experiencing electricity shortages, Eswatini is working to increase its own energy generation using renewable sources. To that end, the country has two new photovoltaic projects scheduled to come on line within the next year. Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) is also an emerging sector, which Eswatini has tried to support through initiatives such as e-governance and the Royal Science and Technology Park. The digital migration program of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) presents ICT opportunities in the country.

Incentives to invest in Eswatini include repatriation of profits, fully serviced industrial sites, purpose-built factory shells at competitive rates, and duty exemptions on raw materials for manufacture of goods to be exported outside the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). Financial incentives for all investors include tax allowances and deductions for new enterprises, including a 10-year exemption from withholding tax on dividends and a low corporate tax rate of 10 percent for approved investment projects. New investors also enjoy duty-free import of machinery and equipment. SEZ investors may benefit from a 20-year exemption from all corporate taxation (followed by taxation at 5 percent); full refunds of customs duties, value-added tax, and other taxes payable on goods purchased for use as raw material, equipment, machinery, and manufacturing; unrestricted repatriation of profits; and full exemption from foreign exchange controls for all operations conducted within the SEZ.

Royal family involvement in the mining sector has discouraged potential investors in that sector. Eswatini’s land tenure system, where the majority of rural land is “held in trust for the Swati nation,” has discouraged long-term investment in commercial real estate and agriculture.

Eswatini’s poor human rights and labor rights record previously jeopardized its access to export markets and donor support. Recent reforms such as the enactment of the new Public Order Act and Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence Act have meaningfully improved the country’s legal framework. After requalifying as an AGOA beneficiary in January 2018, Eswatini turned its attention to trying to qualify for Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) support. To advance these efforts, the country has launched an effort to improve its relatively poor rankings on MCC indicators such as political rights, civil liberties, and business start-up.

Table 1

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 89 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2018 117 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2015 123 of 141 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country (M USD, stock positions) 2018 N/A http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $2,950 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment

The Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini (GKoE) regards foreign direct investment (FDI) as one of the five pillars of its Sustainable Development and Inclusive Growth (SDIG) Program, and a means to drive the country’s economic growth, obtain access to foreign markets for its exports, and improve international competitiveness. While the government has strongly encouraged foreign investment over the past 15 years, it has not been very effective in implementing that policy. The government has largely adopted a laissez faire approach, hoping that the country’s location and resources will attract FDI on their own. Eswatini does not have a unified policy on investment. Instead, individual ministries have their own investment facilitation policies, which include policies on Small and Medium Enterprises (SME), agriculture, energy, transportation, mining, education, and telecommunications. Calls for more concerted action on these policies have intensified in the last few years as Eswatini has suffered from drought, fiscal challenges, and general economic recession.

The Swati constitution states, generally, that non-citizens and/or companies with a majority of non-citizen shareholders may not own land unless they were vested in their ownership rights before the constitution entered into force in 2006. On the other hand, the constitution’s general prohibition “may not be used to undermine or frustrate an existing or new legitimate business undertaking of which land is a significant factor or base.” Furthermore, non-citizens and non-citizen majority-owned companies may hold long-term (up to 99 years) leases on Title and Swati Nation Land. Besides land ownership laws, there are no laws that discriminate against foreign investors.

In practice, most successful foreign investors associate local partners to navigate Eswatini’s complex bureaucracy. In addition, the majority of the land is Swati Nation Land held by the king “in trust for the Swati Nation” and cannot be purchased by foreign investors. Foreign investors that require significant land for their enterprise must engage the Land Management Board to negotiate long-term leases.

The Eswatini Investment Promotion Authority (EIPA) is the state-owned enterprise (SOE) charged with designing and implementing strategies for attracting desired foreign investors.

Eswatini’s Investment Policy (http://www.eipa.org.sz/images/documents/pdf/Swaziland_Investment_Policy_2012_2.pdf) and Industrial Policy (http://www.eipa.org.sz/images/documents/pdf/Industrial_Development_Policy percent202015_2022_Swaziland_FINAL_AND_ADOPTED.pdf ) are available online. EIPA is currently functional and helpful, but it is not yet a one-stop-shop for foreign investors. EIPA services include:

  • Attract and promote local and foreign direct investments
  • Identify and disseminate trade and investment opportunities
  • Provide investor facilitation and aftercare services
  • Promote internal and external trade
  • Undertake research and policy analysis
  • Facilitate company registration and business licenses/permits
  • Facilitate work permits and visas for investors
  • Provide a one stop shop information and support facility for businesses
  • Export product development
  • Facilitation of participation in external trade fairs
  • Buyer-Seller Missions

The GKoE continues its attempts to improve the ease of doing business in the country through the Investor Roadmap Unit (IRU). The IRU engages with businesses and government to review and report on the progress and implementation of the investor roadmap reforms.

EIPA has an aftercare division for purposes of investment retention, which is a direct avenue for investors to communicate concerns they may have. Most investors who stay beyond the initial period during which the GKoE offers investment incentives have opted to remain long-term.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Both foreign and domestic private entities have a right to establish businesses and acquire and dispose of interest in business enterprises. Foreign investors own several of Eswatini’s largest private businesses, either fully or with minority participation by Swati institutions.

There are no general limits on foreign ownership and control of companies, which can be 100 percent foreign owned and controlled. The only exceptions on foreign ownership and control are in the mining sector and in relation to land ownership. The Mines and Minerals Act of 2011 requires that the King (in trust for the Swati Nation) be granted a 25-percent equity stake in all mining ventures, with another 25 percent equity stake granted to the GKoE. There are also sector-specific trade exclusions that prohibit foreign control, which include business dealings in firearms, radioactive material, explosives, hazardous waste, and security printing.

Foreign investments are screened only through standard background and credit checks. Under the Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism (Prevention) Act of 2011, investors must submit certain documents including proof of residence and source of income for deposits. EIPA also conducts general screening of FDI monies through credit bureau checks and Interpol. This screening is not a barrier to investing in Eswatini. There are no discriminatory mechanisms applied against US foreign direct investors.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In 2015, the WTO performed a Trade Policy Review of the Southern African Customs Union, which included Namibia, Botswana, Eswatini, South Africa, and Lesotho (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp424_e.htm  ). Eswatini’s portion of that review is available online: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/s324-04_e.pdf .

Business Facilitation

Eswatini does not have a single overarching business facilitation policy. Policies that address business facilitation are spread across the spectrum of relevant ministries. The IRU is the public entity responsible for the review and monitoring of business environment reforms. EIPA facilitates foreign and domestic investment opportunities and has a fairly modern, up-to-date website: http://www.EIPA.org.sz/index.php/en/  . Certain GKoE application forms are available online at the EIPA website. Recent developments in the business facilitation space include the online registration of companies via the link www.online.gov.sz  . However, some of the steps (payment of statutory fees, such as the reservation of name and registration fee, and Eswatini Revenue Authority tax clearance) still must be completed offline. According to the Doing Business Report, the process of registering a company in Eswatini takes approximately 10 days. In practice, the process can take much longer for foreign investors.

The main organization representing the private sector is Business Eswatini, which represents more than 80 percent of large businesses in Eswatini, works on a wide range of issues of interest to the private sector, and seeks to build partnerships with the government to promote commercial development. Through Business Eswatini, the private sector is represented in a number of national working committees, including the National Trade Negotiations Team (NTNT).

Outward Investment

The government does not specifically promote or incentivize outward investment, which remains a relatively new phenomenon for Eswatini.

The GKoE generally does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad. The only two exceptions apply to the Public Service Pension Fund and the Eswatini National Provident Fund, which are state-owned enterprises (SOEs) required by law to invest a minimum of 50 percent of their balance sheets in the domestic economy.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Eswatini has bilateral investment treaties in force with the United Kingdom, Taiwan, and Germany. Eswatini has signed bilateral investment agreements with Egypt, Kuwait, and Mauritius, but these have not entered into force. Eswatini does not have a bilateral investment treaty with the United States.

In 2014, the European Union (EU) concluded negotiations on an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) group comprised of Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Eswatini. The EPA entered into force in October 2016.

As Eswatini is part of COMESA, SADC, and SACU, it is a party to other agreements in force such as the SACU-US TIDCA, SACU – Mercosur, SADC Investment Protocol, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA)-SACU FTA, the COMESA-US TIFA, and the SADC –EAC-COMESA TFTA. Eswatini does not have a bilateral taxation treaty with the United States.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

In general, the laws of the country are transparent, including laws to foster competition. The Swaziland Competition Act came into force in 2007, and the Competition Commission Regulations came into effect in 2011. The Swaziland Competition Commission (SCC) is a statutory body charged with the administration and enforcement of the Competition Act of 2007. The legal and regulatory environment is underdeveloped, but currently growing as the GKoE has recently established additional regulatory bodies in the financial, energy, communications, and construction procurement sectors. These bodies generally attempt to emulate the regulatory practices of South Africa or Britain.

Eswatini’s rule-making and regulatory authority lies with the central government and may be delegated by the relevant line ministry to a department, parastatal, or board. The primary custodian of policy and regulation is the minister responsible for the relevant law. All laws, regulations, and policies are applied at a national level. There are no regulatory processes managed by nongovernmental organizations or private sector associations. Regulatory enforcement actions can be reviewed through the court system, and court rulings are publicly available.

Adherence to the International Financial Reporting Standard (IFRS) is required for listed companies, financial institutions, and government-owned companies. It remains optional for small and medium enterprises.

Proposed laws and regulations are published in the government Gazette and have a public comment period of thirty days prior to a bill’s presentation to parliament. Ministries sometimes consult with selected members of the public and private sectors through stakeholder meetings. Most draft regulations are not available online, but can be acquired in hard copy through the government printing office for a fee. Regulations are generally developed and reviewed through various stakeholder consultations. The use of science and data to inform regulatory reform is not widespread.

Foreign investors coming into the country can join Business Eswatini on equal footing with Eswatini nationals. Business Eswatini often serves as the link between the private sector and the government. There are no informal regulatory processes that apply to foreign investors.

Eswatini public finance and debt obligations are published online through the budget estimates book as well as the Central Bank of Eswatini’s annual report.

International Regulatory Considerations

Eswatini is part of four distinct economic blocks: the Common Monetary Area (CMA), the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). The standards of membership in these blocks are primarily based on British law and have been domesticated accordingly into each context.

Eswatini is a member of the WTO and notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade. Eswatini signed and ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in 2016 and has begun implementing its requisites. The TFA entered into force in February 2017 and requires prompt and transparent publication of trade-related information. Eswatini developed a trade portal in partnership with the World Bank to make reliable trade-related information accessible to the private sector. The GKoE approved the portal, which now is at the data collection stage.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Eswatini has a dual legal system consisting of a set of courts that follow Roman-Dutch law and a set of national courts that follow Swati law and custom. The former consists of a Court of Appeals (Supreme Court) and a High Court, in addition to magistrate’s courts in each of the four districts. The traditional courts deal with minor offenses and violations of traditional Swati law and custom. Sentences in traditional courts are subject to appeal and review at the Court of Appeals and High Court. The western-style court system enforces contracts and property rights.

The country has various written commercial and contractual laws. Commercial and contractual disputes are handled in the magistrate court or High Court depending on the amount in controversy. There are currently no specialized commercial courts; however, the government is in the process of establishing a Small Claims Bench. Specialized Industrial Courts hear industrial relations matters.

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the courts are generally independent of executive control or influence in nonpolitical criminal and civil cases not involving the royal family or government officials. The current judicial process is procedurally competent, fair, and reliable, although the capacity of the judiciary to handle cases in a timely manner is extremely limited, creating significant case backlogs.

Enforcement of laws and regulations is appealable up to the Supreme Court.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Swaziland Investment Promotion Act of 1998 established EIPA and provides for the freedom of investment, protection of investment, and non-discrimination on the part of the government with respect to investors. The Competition Act of 2007 proscribes anti-competitive trade practices and specifies requirements for mergers and acquisitions, and protection of consumer welfare. The new economic recovery strategy (Revised National Development Strategy) has emphasized the need to promote further reforms in order to facilitate investment.

In February 2018, the GKoE enacted the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act in an effort to attract foreign direct investment. The benefits for an SEZ investor include: a 20-year exemption from all corporate taxation, followed by taxation at the rate of 5 percent; full refunds of customs duties, value-added tax, and all other taxes payable in respect of goods purchased for use as raw material, equipment, machinery, and manufacturing; unrestricted repatriation of profits; and full exemption from foreign exchange controls for all operations conducted within the SEZ.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Swaziland Competition Commission (SCC) was established in 2007 to encourage competition in Eswatini’s economy by controlling anti-competitive trade practices, mergers, and acquisitions; protecting consumer welfare; and providing an institutional mechanism for implementing these objectives. The Swaziland Competition Act (http://www.compco.co.sz/documents/Competition percent20Act percent202007 percent20scanned18 percent20Februry percent202010.pdf ) and Competition Commission Regulations (http://www.compco.co.sz/documents/Competition percent20Commission percent20Regulations percent20Notice percent202010.pdf ) are available online. All entities must submit their merger and acquisition plans to the SCC for prior approval. Although the SCC has the power to not only investigate and regulate, but also to issue administrative decisions relating to mergers, competition, and anti-trust, it has yet to issue a formal decision. There have been no rulings against foreign investors since the establishment of the Swaziland Competition Commission.

Expropriation and Compensation

The law prohibits expropriation and nationalization. The Swati constitution narrowly limits the GKoE’s powers to deprive a landowner of “property or any interest in or right over property,” except where “necessary,” conducted pursuant to a court order, and compensated by the “prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation.” Anyone whose property interests are threatened by expropriation is also expressly granted due process rights under the constitution. There have been no recent cases of foreign-owned businesses being expropriated, and, when disputes have arisen in the past, there has been due process through Swati institutions and/or international tribunals.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Eswatini is a member state of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention). It is not a signatory to the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. There is no specific legislation providing for enforcement of awards under international conventions, but the Swati legal system has effectively enforced court decisions and international arbitration awards in the past.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Eswatini is a member state of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). Eswatini, as a member of SACU, signed a Trade, Investment and Development Cooperative Agreement in 2008 with the United States. There have been no claims under this agreement.

There have been at least two major investment disputes involving foreign investors in the past ten years, but none involving U.S. citizens.

The Eswatini government accepts binding international arbitration of investment disputes between foreign investors and the state. All government agreements with international investors/parties include venue and choice of law provisions. Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government, but do not have jurisdiction against the king, who is constitutionally protected.

Eswatini has not had any reported incidents of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The only alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanism available to settle disputes between two private parties is in the labor sector. The Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration Commission (CMAC), which is governed by the Industrial Relations Act of 2000, resolves employer-employee disputes. Eswatini does not have a domestic arbitration body to deal with investment or commercial disputes.

Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards and judgments of foreign courts.

SOEs are rarely involved in investment disputes. In the last 10 years, there has been only one such dispute involving an SOE (telecommunications), and it was a trade restraint matter in which the SOE lost the case. There have not been any complaints about the court processes, and court records are available online for public scrutiny at: https://www.swazilii.org/  .

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Insolvency Act of 1955 is the law that governs bankruptcy in Eswatini. The insolvent debtor or his agent petitions the court for the acceptance of the surrender of the debtor’s estate for the benefit of his creditors. Creditors need to petition with the court and provide documents supporting their claim. Bankruptcy is only criminalized if the debtor, trustee, or sole owner does not comply with the requirements of the creditor. For example, if he/she fails to submit documents or declare assets, or if he/she obstructs or hinders a liquidator appointed under the Act in the performance of his functions, then he/she could be found guilty of an offense.

The most widely used credit bureau in Eswatini is Transunion.

In the World Bank’s 2018 Doing Business Report, Eswatini ranks 119 out of 190 economies for ease of resolving insolvency.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

SEZ investors have access to numerous investment incentives more fully described above in “Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment” and below in “Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation.” For non-SEZ investors, the Minister of Finance has the discretion to apply a reduced tax rate of 10 percent for the first ten-year period of operation, which is available for businesses that qualify under the Development Approval Order. Capital goods imported into the country for productive investments are exempt from import duties. Raw materials imported into the country to manufacture products to be exported outside the SACU area are also exempt from import duties. The law allows for repatriation of profits and dividends including salaries for expatriate staff and capital repayments. The Central Bank of Eswatini guarantees loans raised by investors for export markets. There is also provision of loss cover that a company can carry over in case it incurs a loss in the year of assessment. Eswatini has a human resources training rebate that offers a tax credit for 150 percent of the cost of training.

The GKoE issues guarantees for key sectors like transportation and energy. There have been no reports of government jointly financing FDI projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

In February 2018, the GKoE enacted the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act in an effort to attract foreign direct investment. The Act establishes two designated SEZs: the Royal Science and Technology Park and King Mswati III International Airport. According to the Act, investors may establish additional SEZs outside of these designated areas by satisfying the minimum requirements and submitting an application to the Minister of Commerce. Under the Act, foreign-owned firms have the same investment opportunities as Swati entities.

To operate within an SEZ, a beneficiary company must meet the following minimum requirements (among others): at least 90 percent of its employees must be paid at or above the threshold for income taxation (approximately USD 330/month); at least two thirds of its employees must be Swati citizens; and the minimum capital investment must be E30 million (USD 2.1 million) for sole companies and E70 million (USD 5 million) for joint ventures. The benefits for an SEZ investor include: a 20-year exemption from all corporate taxation, followed by taxation at the rate of 5 percent; full refunds of customs duties, value-added tax, and all other taxes payable in respect of goods purchased for use as raw material, equipment, machinery, and manufacturing; unrestricted repatriation of profits; and full exemption from foreign exchange controls for all operations conducted within the SEZ.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security’s Training and Localization Unit requires the hiring of qualified Swati workers where possible, even at executive positions. The mandate of the Unit is to ensure the maximum utilization of local manpower resources and to formulate training plans in conjunction with industries so as to maximize employment. It also facilitates and provides information on the process of obtaining work permits. Foreign investors are required to apply for residence and work permits. Although they are generally awarded, business people complain that the process is cumbersome.

There are no government-imposed conditions on permission to invest. The government does not follow a “forced localization” policy. However, in the manufacturing sector, if a company plans to label a product for export as “Made in Eswatini,” the government requires that the local content of such export be at least 25 percent.

There are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code or provide access to encryption. The technology industry in Eswatini is still in its infancy.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

There are two major categories of land tenure: Swati Nation Land (SNL) and Title Deed Land (TDL), each subject to different rules and procedures. More than 60 percent of Eswatini’s territory is SNL, governed by the country’s traditional structures. SNL is “held in trust for the Swati people” by the King, who appoints chiefs to oversee its use. The chiefs keep records of who “owns” or resides on land in their chiefdom. For TDL, the Eswatini government recognizes and enforces secured interest in property and there is a reliable system of recording security interests. The Constitution protects the right to own property, but most rural land is SNL and is not covered by this constitutional protection. Most urban property, on the other hand, is TDL. The law allows for eminent domain in limited circumstances, but requires prompt payment of adequate compensation.

In the World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Report, Eswatini ranks 107 out of 190 economies for ease of registering property. This ranking refers to property in periurban areas, where TDL is widely available. SNL is not titled, and lending institutions are reluctant to use it as collateral. Though foreign or non-resident individuals generally may not own land (with some exceptions), foreign-owned businesses are able to own or lease land. Legally purchased property cannot revert to other owners (must be “willing buyer, willing seller”).

Intellectual Property Rights

Protection for patents, trademarks, and copyrights is currently inadequate under Swati law. Patents are currently protected under a 1936 act that automatically extends patent protection, upon proper application, to products that have been patented in either South Africa or Great Britain. Trademark protection is addressed in the Trademarks Act of 1981. Copyright protections are addressed under four statutes, dated 1912, 1918, 1933, and 1936.

Laws enacted in 2018 have updated Eswatini’s intellectual property legal framework.  The Copyright and Neighboring Rights Act of 2014 (replacing the Copyright Act of 1912) protects literary, musical, artistic, audio-visual, sound recordings, broadcasts, and published editions. It also criminalizes the illicit recording and false representation of someone else’s work. The Swaziland Intellectual Property Tribunal Act of 2015 establishes an Intellectual Property Tribunal, which will be responsible for hearing all matters and disputes involving intellectual property in Eswatini.

The Trademarks (Amendment) Act of 2015 brings the (1981) Trademarks Act into compliance with provisions of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), the Madrid Agreement concerning International Registration of Marks, and the Banjul Protocol on Trademarks.

Eswatini does not track and report on seizures of counterfeit goods.

Eswatini is not included in the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Notorious Markets List or the Special 301 Report.

For additional information about national laws 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

Eswatini’s capital markets are closely tied to those of South Africa and operate under conditions generally similar to the conditions in that market. In 2010, the GKoE passed the Securities Act to strengthen the regulation of portfolio investments. The Act was primarily intended to facilitate and develop an orderly, fair, and efficient capital market in the country.

Eswatini has a small stock exchange with only a handful of companies currently trading. In 2010, the Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA) was established. This institution governs non-bank financial institutions including capital markets, insurance firms, retirement funds, building societies, micro-finance institutions, and savings and credit cooperatives. The royal wealth fund and national pension fund invest in the private equity market, but otherwise there are few professional investors.

Existing policies neither inhibit nor facilitate the free flow of financial resources. The demand is simply not present. The Central Bank respects International Monetary Fund (IMF) Article VIII. Credit is allocated on market terms. Foreign investors are able to get credit and equity from the local market. A variety of credit instruments are available to the private sector including Central Bank of Eswatini loan guarantees for the export markets and for small businesses.

Money and Banking System

54 percent of the Swati adult population is banked. Despite a slow rate of economic growth, the Swati banking sector remains stable and financially sound. Asset quality improved as the ratio of non-performing loans (NPLs) to gross loans, moved from 8.2 percent in 2017 to 7.7 percent in 2018.

The estimated total assets for the country’s banks is estimated at E19.4 billion (USD 1.4 billion) as at June 2018, up from E17.9 billion (USD 1.3 billion) in March 2017. Eswatini has a central bank system. Eswatini’s banks are primarily subsidiaries of South African banks. Standard Bank is the largest bank by capital assets and employs about 400 workers. In 2018, the Central Bank of Eswatini under the Financial Institutions Act of 2005 awarded a new commercial banking license to Farmer’s Bank.

Eswatini’s financial sector is liberalized and allows foreign banks or branches to operate under the supervision of the Central Bank’s laws and regulations (http://www.centralbank.org.sz/financialregulation/banksupervision/index.php  ). Foreigners may establish a bank account in Eswatini if they have residency in one of the CMA countries (Eswatini, South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia).

There have been no bank closures or banks in jeopardy in the last three years. Hostile takeovers are uncommon.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange Policies

There are no limitations on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances. Dividends derived from current trading profits are freely transferable on submission of appropriate documentation to the Central Bank, subject to provision for the non-resident shareholder tax of 15 percent. Local credit facilities may not be utilized for paying dividends. Eswatini is part of the Common Monetary Area (CMA), which also includes South Africa, Namibia, and Lesotho. All capital transfers into Eswatini from outside the CMA require prior approval of the Central Bank to avoid problems in the subsequent repatriation of interest, dividends, profits, and other income accrued. Otherwise, there are no restrictions placed on the transfers.

Eswatini mainly deals with three international currencies: the U.S. Dollar, the Euro, and the British Pound. The Swati Lilangeni is pegged 1:1 to the South African Rand, which is accepted as legal tender throughout Eswatini. To obtain foreign currency other than Rand, one must apply through an authorized dealer, and a resident who acquires foreign currency must sell it to an authorized dealer for the local currency within ninety days. No person is permitted to hold or deal in foreign currency other than authorized dealers, namely, First National Bank (FNB), Nedbank, Standard Bank, or Swazi Bank.

Because the Lilangeni is pegged to the Rand, its value is determined by the monetary policy of the CMA, which is heavily influenced by the South African Reserve Bank.

Remittance Policies

There have been no recent changes to investment remittance policies. There are no specified time limitations on remittances. Once documentation is complete (e.g., latest company financial statements) and relevant taxes paid, SWIFT transfers require an average of one week, and other electronic transfers can take less than a week (SWIPPS offers real-time transactions).

SWIPSS, Eswatini’s Real Time Gross Settlement System, is an advanced interbank electronic payment system that facilitates the efficient, safe, secure and real-time transmission of high-value funds in the banking sector. Direct access to SWIPSS is limited to only the four commercial banks, and these banks act as intermediaries for other financial institutions.

As part of the government policy to attract foreign investment, dividends derived from current trading profits are freely transferable on submission of documentation (including latest annual financial statements of the company concerned) subject to provision for non-resident shareholders tax. The Eswatini government does not issue dollar-denominated bonds. Otherwise, there are no limitations on the inflow and outflow of funds for remittances of profits or revenue.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

In 1968, the late King Sobhuza II created a Royal Charter that governs the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) in Eswatini, Tibiyo TakaNgwane. This fund is not subject to government or parliamentary oversight and does not provide information on assets or financial performance to the public. Tibiyo TakaNgwane publishes an annual report with financials, but it is not required by law to do so as it is not registered under the Companies Act of 1912. The annual reports are not made public or submitted to any other state organ for debate or review. The SWF obtains independent audits at the discretion of its Board of Directors.

Tibiyo TakaNgwane states in its objectives that it supports the government in fostering economic independence and self-sufficiency. It widely invests in the economy and holds shares in most major industries, e.g., sugar, real estate, beverages, dairy, hotels, and transportation. For its social responsibility practices, it provides some scholarships to students. The SWF and the government co-invest to exercise majority control in many instances. Tibiyo TakaNgwane invests entirely in the local economy and local subsidiaries of foreign companies. It has shares in a number of private companies. Sometimes foreign companies can form partnerships with Tibiyo, especially if the foreign company wants to raise capital and can manage the project on its own.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Eswatini has over 30 SOEs, which are active in agribusiness, information and communication, energy, automotive and ground transportation  , health, housing, travel and tourism, building education, business development, finance, environment, and publishing, media, and entertainment  .

The Swati government defines SOEs as private enterprises, separated into two categories. Category A represents SOEs that are wholly owned by government. Category B represents SOEs in which government has a minority interest, or which monitor other financial institutions or a local government authority. These categories are further broken down into profit-making SOEs with a social responsibility focus, those that are profit-making and developmental, those that are regulatory, and those that are regulatory but developmental. SOEs purchase and supply goods and services to and from the private sector including foreign firms. Those in which government is a minority shareholder are subject to the same tax burden and tax rebate policies as the private sector. The Public Enterprise Act governs SOEs. The Boards of the respective SOEs review their budgets before tabling them to the relevant line ministry, which, in turn, tables them to Parliament for scrutiny by the Public Accounts Committee. The Ministry of Finance’s Public Enterprise Unit (PEU) maintains a published list of SOEs, available on request from the PEU. SOEs do not receive non-market based advantages from government.

Eswatini SOEs generally conform to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance for SOEs. Senior managers of SOEs report to the board and, in turn, the board reports to a line minister. The minister then works with the Standing Committee on Public Enterprise (SCOPE), which is composed of cabinet ministers. SOEs are governed by the Public Enterprises Act, which requires audits of the SOEs and public annual reports. Government is not involved in the day-to-day management of SOEs. Boards of SOEs exercise their independence and responsibility. The Public Enterprise Unit provides regular monitoring of SOEs. The line minister of the SOE appoints the board and, in some cases, the appointments are politically motivated. In some cases, the king appoints his own representative as well. Generally, court processes are nondiscriminatory in relation to SOEs.

A published list of SOEs can be found on: http://www.gov.sz/index.php/component/content/article/141-test/1995-swaziland-enterprise-parastatals?Itemid=799  

Eswatini SOEs operate primarily in the domestic market.

Privatization Program

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has long advised the Eswatini government to privatize SOEs, particularly in the telecommunications sector and the electricity sector. In response, the government has passed several laws, and privatization efforts have begun to advance. The past two years have seen the launch of several private telecommunications companies such as Swazi Mobile, which has lowered prices and improved mobile and data offerings in the country.

Sectors and timelines have not been prioritized for future privatization, although it is likely that some SOEs following the public launch of the Revised National Development Strategy.

The government is working to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign electricity by promoting renewable energy production. Eswatini imports the bulk of its electricity from South Africa and Mozambique, reaching 100 percent importation during a recent drought, since domestic production comes predominantly from hydropower. With assistance from USAID’s Southern Africa Energy Program (SAEP), the government has developed a National Grid Code and a Renewable Energy and Independent Power Producer (RE&IPP) Policy to provide a framework for the sector and incentivize investors. SAEP is currently providing technical assistance on two separate 10-megawatt photovoltaic projects that are projected to integrate into the grid by late 2019.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The Swati government encourages foreign and local enterprises to follow generally accepted responsible business conduct (RBC) principles. Multinational enterprises in the country have robust standards for RBC, and consumers often recognize their efforts; however, smaller domestic companies are less likely to have RBC programs. The Development Approval Order, which is part of the income tax law, allows a company to receive a tax rate discounted by up to 10 percent if it makes significant RBC investments. Government enforcement is sporadic, but generally does not vary based on whether a company is domestic or foreign. Requirements are not waived to attract foreign investment. The government does not have corporate governance, accounting, and executive compensation standards to protect shareholders. There are no independent NGOs monitoring RBC.

The local courts are responsible for ensuring human rights, labor rights, consumer protection, environmental protections, and other laws/regulations intended to protect individuals from adverse business impacts. The courts have not demonstrated a bias against foreign-owned corporations.

The mining sector of Eswatini does not have enough economic significance to warrant special consideration by government. It is treated consistently with other sectors of similar size.

9. Corruption

The Prevention of Corruption Act and the Swaziland Public Procurement Act are the two laws that combat corruption by all persons, including public officials. The Public Procurement Act prohibits public sector workers and politicians from supplying the government with goods or services; however, this prohibition does not extend to family members of officials. The Eswatini Public Procurement Agency (ESPPRA) conducted capacity building exercises nationwide with both public and private companies to increase knowledge and encourage adoption of universally practiced purchasing systems. According to Section 27 of the Public Procurement Regulations, suppliers are prohibited from offering gifts or hospitality, directly or indirectly, to staff of a procuring entity, members of the tender board, and members of the ESPPRA. While avoiding conflict of interest and establishing codes of conduct are policies that are encouraged, they are not effectively enforced. Some companies use internal controls and audit compliance programs to try to track and prevent bribery.

Eswatini is a signatory to the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption and Related Offenses and the SADC Protocol against Corruption. Eswatini has signed and ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention, but it is not party to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

Only the Anti-Corruption Commission is legally allowed to investigate corruption and does not provide protection to NGOs involved in investigating corruption. Given the Commission’s current capacity, “government procurement” is the most likely area to find corruption in Eswatini. The global competitiveness report ranks Swaziland 79 of 140 countries on incidence of corruption. Transparency International reports Eswatini as the 14th least corrupt country in Africa  

Though no US firms have cited corruption, the 2015 Africa Competitiveness report found that 12.8 percent of business owners saw corruption as a hurdle to doing business in Eswatini, impacting profits, contracts, and investment decisions for their companies. There is a public perception of corruption in the executive and legislative branches of government and a consensus that the government does little to combat it. There have been credible reports that a person’s relationship with government officials influenced the awarding of government contracts; the appointment, employment, and promotion of officials; recruitment into the security services; and school admissions. Authorities rarely took action on reported incidents of nepotism.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency responsible for combating corruption:

Dan Dlamini
Commissioner
Eswatini Anti-Corruption Commission
3rd Floor, Mbandzeni House, Mbabane
+268-2404-3179/0761
anticorruption@realnet.co.sz

10. Political and Security Environment

There are few incidents of politically motivated violence. In 2017, the Swati government enacted a new Public Order Act and amendments to the Suppression of Terrorism Act that have dramatically reduced restrictions on speech and expression. Through April 2019, the GKoE has honored the newly expanded legal freedoms. There are no examples from the past ten years of damage to projects or installations. Overall, Eswatini has a long record of political stability with sporadic nonviolent protest; however, poor living and working conditions, widespread poverty, income inequality, and a large and growing youth population continue to yield a political environment conducive to unrest.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The structure of the labor market and economic fundamentals in Eswatini are better developed than in many other Sub-Saharan African countries. For example, GDP per capita is higher, the informal sector is smaller, exports are more diversified, the overall education level is higher, and the labor pool is predominantly domestic. Nevertheless, although Eswatini is considered a middle-income country, it has many characteristics of a low-income country. The minimum wage is low, inequality is high (0.51 Gini coefficient), poverty is widespread, the middle class is small, overall unemployment (especially youth unemployment) is high, and female representation is low.

Eswatini has a shortage of technically skilled labor. The government has identified several sectors as priorities in terms of building skilled labor capacity: agricultural engineering, ICT, medicine, medical imaging, and occupational health. Other priority fields that the government may sponsor include physiotherapy, paramedic studies, forestry, special education, clinical and dental science, and pharmacy. 

The law requires that employers give first preference to Swati nationals unless they cannot find candidates with the necessary qualifications. 

The Employment Act states that if an employer contemplates adjusting employment to respond to fluctuating market conditions, the employer must give no less than one month’s notice to the Labor Commissioner and the trade union. The employer must provide the number of employees to be affected, their occupations and remuneration, the reasons for the adjustment, the effective date, financial statements and audited accounts of the company, and options that have been considered to avert the situation. Section 34 of the Employment Act says if the services of an employee are terminated other than being fired, a severance allowance amounting to ten working days’ wages for each completed year in excess of one year continuously employed by that employer is due. Layoffs are defined as temporary absences from work that are necessitated by the employer facing certain difficulties that are temporary in nature, while firing refers to the sacking of an employee. There are no social safety net programs for workers who are laid off. 

Labor laws are not waived in order to attract or retain investment. In 2018, Eswatini enacted the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act in an effort to attract foreign direct investment. In order to operate within an SEZ, a beneficiary company must meet the following minimum requirements (among others): at least 90 percent of its employees must be paid at or above the threshold for income taxation (approximately USD 330/month); at least two thirds of its employees must be Swati citizens; and the minimum capital investment must be E30 million (USD 2.1 million) for sole companies and E70 million (USD 5.0 million) for joint ventures.

The law provides that workers, except for those in essential services, have the right to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. Labor unions practice collective bargaining, but there are few industry associations and bargaining is conducted largely with individual employers in the private sector. Collective bargaining is common in the financial and textile sectors. 

The Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration Commission (CMAC) serves as Eswatini’s labor dispute resolution mechanism. Labor disputes generally start at CMAC with mediation and arbitration. Either party can refuse arbitration and bring the case to the Industrial Court; however, due to severe backlogs at the court, the matter may not be heard for several years. According to the Industrial Relations Act, workers can engage in a strike action if there is an unresolved dispute.

Although the law permits strikes, the right to strike is strictly regulated, and the administrative requirements to register a legal strike made striking difficult. Strikes and lockouts are prohibited in essential services, and the minister’s power to modify the list of these essential services provides for broad prohibition of strikes in nonessential sectors, including postal services, telephone, telegraph, radio, and teaching. The procedure for announcing a strike action requires advance notice of at least seven days. The law details the steps to be followed when disputes arise and provides penalties for employers who conduct unauthorized lockouts. When disputes arise with civil servant unions, the government often intervenes to reduce the chances of a strike action, which may not be called legally until all avenues of negotiation are exhausted and a secret ballot of union members conducted.

Eswatini has ratified the eight core ILO conventions; however, compliance gaps with international labor standards continue to remain in both law and practice. The law provides that workers, except for those in essential services, have the right to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law provides for the registration of unions and federations but grants far-reaching powers to the labor commissioner with respect to determining eligibility for registration. Unions must represent at least 50 percent of employees in a workplace and submit their constitutions to be automatically recognized. The law also gives employers discretion to recognize a union as a collective employee representative if it has less than 50 percent membership, and furthermore, allows employers to set conditions for such recognition. The Department of Labor has inspectors who verify whether companies adhere to labor regulations, health and safety standards, and wage laws. The Minister of Labor sets minimum wages through the Wages Councils. 

In 2018, Eswatini enacted a new Public Order Act that substantially loosened restrictions on public gatherings, including eliminating the requirement for prior consent for gatherings of fewer than 50 persons and completely removing restrictions on private gatherings. A gathering no longer requires permission, but instead only requires notice that provides basic information as to time, place, date, and logistics. Demonstrators no longer have to provide information as to the content of their planned speech.

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

There is potential for an Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) program in Eswatini, particularly in the renewable energy industry; however, there is not yet an OPIC agreement between Eswatini and the United States. The GKoE has demonstrated a commitment towards encouraging private sector investment.

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) 2016 $3,817 2017 $4,434 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) N/A N/A N/A
Host country’s FDI in the United States (M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A N/A
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2016 23% 2017 19.5% N/A


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Foreign direct investment position data are not available for Eswatini.


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Data not available.

Ethiopia

Executive Summary

Over the last year, Ethiopia has undertaken unprecedented economic and political reforms.  The new Ethiopian government, led by Prime Minister (PM) Abiy Ahmed, who was sworn in on April 2, 2018, announced at the outset its plan to democratize the country, reform the economy, and increase private sector participation.  Early in his tenure, PM Abiy addressed some of the public’s numerous longstanding grievances, including: ending the State of Emergency imposed by the government prior to his ascension; closing a notorious detention center; releasing thousands of detained individuals; restoring mobile internet throughout the country; retiring members of the political “old guard,” who were perceived as in the way of reform; and, reframing the government’s posture towards opposition parties.

On the economic front, the new administration is working to partially or wholly privatize major state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in the telecom, aviation, power, sugar, railway, and industrial parks sectors.  In addition, the Government of Ethiopia (GOE) lifted a restriction on the logistics sector and enacted a law that allows Public Private Partnerships (PPP) to gradually open up some sectors of the economy to foreign investors.  Ethiopia’s rapprochement with Eritrea could possibly open up alternative ports for trade. Furthermore, the country recently ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement and eased visa requirements for African Union member countries with the goal of enhancing regional trade and tourism and attracting foreign direct investment (FDI).  The GOE announced its commitment to modernize the financial sector, improve the ease of doing business, and enhance macroeconomic and fiscal management.

Ethiopia’s economy is currently in transition.  Coming off a decade of double-digit growth, fueled primarily by public infrastructure projects funded through debt, the GOE has tightened its belt, reducing inefficient government expenditures, putting a moratorium on most new government mega-projects, and attempting to get its accounts in order at bloated state-owned enterprises (SOEs).  The IMF put the growth of the Ethiopian economy at 7.7 percent for FY2017/18 and is projecting an 8.5 percent annual growth rate for the medium term. Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa after Nigeria, with a population of over 100 million, approximately two-thirds of whom are under age 30. Low-cost labor, a national airline with 105 passenger connections, and growing consumer markets are key elements attracting foreign investment.

Ethiopia’s imports in the last year have experienced a slight decline in large part due to a reduction in public investment programs and a dire foreign exchange shortage.  Distressingly, export performance remains weak, declining due to falling primary commodity prices and an overvalued exchange rate. The acute foreign exchange shortage (the Ethiopian birr is not a freely convertible currency) and the absence of capital markets are choking private sector growth.  Companies often face long lead-times importing goods and dispatching exports due to logistical bottlenecks, high land-transportation costs, and bureaucratic delays. Ethiopia is not a signatory of major intellectual property rights treaties.

All land in Ethiopia belongs to “the people” and is administered by the government.  Private ownership does not exist, but “land-use rights” have been registered in most populated areas.  The GOE retains the right to expropriate land for the “common good,” which it defines to include expropriation for commercial farms, industrial zones, and infrastructure development.  Successful investors in Ethiopia conduct thorough due diligence on land titles at both the state and federal levels, and undertake consultations with local communities regarding the proposed use of the land.  The largest volume of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Ethiopia comes from China, followed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Political instability associated with various ethnic conflicts could negatively impact the investment climate and lower future FDI inflow.

Table 1

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 114 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/country/ETH
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2019 159 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 N/A https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/gii-2018-report#
U.S. FDI in partner country (M USD, stock positions) 2018 $600 http://www.investethiopia.gov.et/
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $740 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

In November 2018, the GOE created a new one page government priority dashboard entitled “Ethiopia: A New Horizon of Hope.”  The dashboard, which predominantly focuses on the economy, pinpoints “Key Facts and Challenges” in areas such as “Financial Sector,” “Macro-Economic Management,” and “Export and Revenue Mobilization.”  The dashboard proposes push-to-grow manufacturing and emphasizes agriculture, information communication and technology, and tourism as pillars of a productive economy. The plan also sets concrete targets to raise credit available to the private sector by 20 percent per year and encourages increased private sector participation in several sectors, including power generation and logistics.  The government is currently undertaking changes in legislation and institutions to implement the economic reforms laid out in the dashboard. In addition, Ethiopia has started implementing a Public Private Partnership (PPP) proclamation, equivalent to a law, which would permit foreign investment and ownership of public infrastructure, with an initial focus on power generation and road construction.

Given the scale of investment required to achieve the goal of becoming a middle income economy by 2025 and the announcement of new economic reforms, the country needs significant inflows of FDI.  Tax incentives for investment in the high-priority sectors, such as manufacturing, agribusiness, textiles, sugar, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, minerals, and metal processing, underscore the government’s focus on FDI.

In June 2018, the GOE announced plans to partially privatize Ethiopian Airlines, EthioTelecom, Ethiopian Electric Power, and Ethiopian Shipping and Logistics Service Enterprise, and fully privatize railways, sugar projects, industrial parks and government-owned hotels.  The GOE has taken concrete measures to open up closed sectors, including drafting a bill to open the aviation sector, drafting legislation to create a new telecommunications regulator and allow foreign investment in that sector, allow minority stakes in joint-ventures by foreign logistics companies, allowing Ethiopian diaspora to hold shares in private Ethiopian banks, and commissioning a study to advise on how best to open up the financial sector.

While laws and regulations may change relatively quickly under the current dynamic reform period, under the existing code, foreign investment is prohibited in wholesale trade (excluding supply of petroleum and its by-products as well as wholesale trade by foreign investors of their locally-produced products), most import trade, export trade of raw coffee, khat, oilseeds, pulses, the export of live sheep, goats, and cattle not raised or fattened by the investor, construction companies (excluding those designated as grade 1), tanning of hides and skins up to crust level, hotels (excluding star-designated hotels), restaurants and bars (excluding international and specialized restaurants), trade auxiliary and ticket selling services, transport services, bakery products and pastries for the domestic market, grinding mills, hair salons, clothing workshops (except garment factories), building and vehicle maintenance, saw milling and timber production, museums, theaters and cinema hall operations, and printing industries.  As part of its ongoing economic reform efforts, the government is in the process of revising the investment code. Foreigners of Ethiopian origin can obtain a resident card from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that allows them to invest in many sectors closed to other foreigners. While foreign firms cannot engage in joint ventures in closed sectors, they are allowed to supply goods and services to Ethiopian firms in these sectors.

The Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC) has the mandate to promote and facilitate investments in Ethiopia and its services including: 1) to promote the country’s investment opportunities; 2) to issue investment permits, business licenses, and construction permits; 3) to issue commercial registration certificates and renewals; 4) to negotiate and sign bilateral investment agreements; and, 5) to issue work permits.  In addition, the EIC has the mandate to advise the government on policies to improve the investment climate. At the local level, regional investment agencies facilitate regional investment. Ethiopia’s rank on the 2019 World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index improved from 2018, moving from 161 to 159 out of 190 countries. Progress was primarily in the area of reducing barriers to starting a new business by removing competence certificate for certain businesses; reducing the time it takes to obtain planning consent for construction permits; and, establishing specialized benches to resolve commercial cases addressing contract enforcement.  The World Bank also identified areas where Ethiopia’s Ease of Doing Business worsened from 2018 relative to other ranked countries, including getting electricity, registering property, and resolving insolvency. In order to improve the investment climate, attract more FDI, and tackle unemployment challenges, a committee has been formed by the Prime Minister’s Office to systematically examine each indicator on the Doing Business Index, identify factors that inhibit businesses, and envision placing Ethiopia among the top 100 doing business ranking countries.

The American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) works on voicing the concerns of the U.S. businesses in Ethiopia.  AmCham has provided a mechanism to compete with investors from India, China, the U.K, and the Netherlands, who meet regularly with government officials through their respective associations to discuss issues that hinder their operation in Ethiopia.  The Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce also organizes a monthly business forum, which enables the business community to discuss issues related to the investment climate with government officials by sector.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish, acquire, own, and dispose of most forms of business enterprises.  However, there are sectors (mentioned above) that are closed to foreign investors. There is no private ownership of land. All land is owned by the state, but can be leased for up to 99 years.  Small-scale rural landholders have indefinite use rights, but cannot lease out holdings for extended periods, except in the Amhara Region. The 2011 Urban Land Lease Proclamation allows the government to determine the value of land in transfers of leasehold rights, in an attempt to curb speculation by investors.

A foreign investor intending to buy an existing private enterprise or buy shares in an existing enterprise needs to obtain prior approval from the EIC.  While foreign investors have complained about inconsistent interpretation of the regulations governing investment registration (particularly relating to accounting for in-kind investments), they generally do not face undue screening of FDI, unfavorable tax treatment, denial of licenses, discriminatory import or export policies, or inequitable tariff and non-tariff barriers.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Over the past four years, the EIC has undertaken an independent review of its investor services in an effort to streamline the investment process.  According to the EIC, the Commission has already implemented at least 28 services pertaining to licensing and registration, and duty-free importation of capital goods for investment in manufacturing.  The EIC has three Deputy Commissioners, with responsibilities for the following divisions: Investment Operations; Industrial Parks Regulation; and, Policy and Investment Climate Improvement.

Business Facilitation

The EIC has established a one-stop shop service to cut the time and cost of acquiring investment and business licenses.  If all requirements are met, it is now possible to obtain a business license in a single day, although this remains the exception rather than the rule.  According to the 2019 World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report, on average, it takes 32 days to start a business in Ethiopia. Meanwhile, the EIC has adopted a Customer or Account Manager system to build lasting relationships and provide post-investment assistance to investors.  U.S. investors report that the EIC often fails to meet its own stringent deadlines. The EIC readily admits that many bureaucratic barriers to investment remain, but hopes to eliminate many of these in the future.

Currently, more than 95 percent of Ethiopia’s trade passes through the Port of Djibouti, with residual trade passing through the Somaliland port of Berbera or Port Sudan.  In March 2018, Ethiopia concluded an agreement with the Somaliland Ports Authority and DP World to acquire a 19 percent stake in the joint venture developing the Port of Berbera.  The agreement will help Ethiopia secure an additional logistical gateway for its increasing import and export trade. Following the July 2018 rapprochement with Eritrea, the Ethiopian government has investigated the opportunity of accessing an alternative port at either Massawa or Asseb.

The Government of Ethiopia is working to improve business facilitation services by making the licensing and registration process easier and faster, by registering foreign Chambers and business associations in Ethiopia to advocate for their respective country businesses.  U.S. companies can obtain detailed information for the registration of their business in Ethiopia from an online investment guide to Ethiopia (https://www.theiguides.org/public-docs/guides/ethiopia  ).  Though the government is taking positive steps to socially empower women (half of the new cabinet are women), there is no special treatment provided to those who wish to engage in business.

Online business registration is not yet available, but the Ministry of Trade and Industry claims to have plans to migrate the paper-based registration process to a digital system at some unnamed time in the future.  In 2016, the government revised its commercial registration and business licensing legislation, which eliminated some cumbersome and duplicative requirements, such as the yearly renewal of business registrations and the 15,000 ETB (approximately USD 680) minimum capital requirements to set up limited liability companies.  In 2018 the government removed the need to obtain a certificate of competence for certain types of businesses, made the process of obtaining construction permits faster by reducing the time to obtain planning consent, and made enforcing contracts easier by establishing specialized benches to resolve commercial cases.

The full Doing Business Report is available here: http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/ethiopia  
http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/data/exploreeconomies/ethiopia#DB_sb  

Outward Investment

There is no outward investment by domestic investors from Ethiopia as citizens/local investors are not allowed to hold foreign accounts.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Ethiopia is a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) and it has bilateral investment and protection agreements with Algeria, Austria, China, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, Finland, France, Iran, Israel, Italy, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey and Yemen.  Other bilateral investment agreements have been signed but are not in force with Belgium/Luxemburg, Brazil, Equatorial Guinea, India, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates. Ethiopia signed a protection of investment and property acquisition agreement with Djibouti. A Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations, which entered into force in 1953, governs economic and consular relations with the United States.

Ethiopia is a member of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), a regional economic block, which has 21 member countries.  The body has introduced a 10 percent tariff reduction on goods imported from member states. However, Ethiopia has not yet joined the COMESA free trade area.

In 2019 Ethiopia ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement, which aims to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, to pave the way for accelerating the establishment of the Continental Customs Union and the African customs union.  Ethiopia is the 21st country to sign the agreement, with just one more country needing to ratify to make AfCFTA operational.

There is no double taxation treaty between the United States and Ethiopia.  Ethiopia has such taxation treaties with fourteen countries, including Italy, Kuwait, Romania, Russia, Tunisia, Yemen, Israel, South Africa, Sudan, and the United Kingdom.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Ethiopia’s regulatory system is generally considered fair, though there are instances in which burdensome regulatory or licensing requirements have prevented the local sale of U.S. exports, particularly health-related products.  Investment decisions can involve multiple government ministries lengthening the registration and investment process.

The Constitution is the highest law of the country.  The Parliament enacts proclamations, which are followed by regulations that are passed by the Council of Ministers, and implementing directives that are passed by ministries or agencies.  The government engages the public for feedback before passage of draft legislation through public meetings, and regulatory agencies request comments on proposed regulations from stakeholders.  Ministries or regulatory agencies do neither impact assessment for proposed regulations nor ex-post reviews. Parties that are affected by an adopted regulation can request reconsideration or appeal to the relevant administrative agency or court.  But there is no requirement to periodically review regulations to see whether they are still needed or should be revised.

All proclamations and regulations in Ethiopia are published in official gazettes and most of them are available online http://www.hopr.gov.et/web/guest/122   and https://chilot.me/federal-laws/2/  

Legal matters related to the federal government are entertained by Federal Courts while state matters go to state courts.  To ensure consistency of legal interpretation and promote predictability of courts, the Federal Supreme Court Cassation Division is empowered to give binding legal interpretation on all federal and state matters.  Though there are no publicly listed companies in Ethiopia, all banks and insurance companies are obliged to adhere to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).

Regulations related to human health and environmental pollution are often enforced.  In January 2019, the Federal and Oromia State Environment, Forest and Climate Changes Commissions shut down three tanneries in Oromia state for what was said to be repeated environmental pollution offenses.  The government also suspended the business license of MIDROC Gold Mine in May 2018 following weeks of protests by local communities who accused the company of causing health and environmental hazard in the Oromia regional state.  In February 2019, the Ethiopian parliament passed a bill entitled ‘Food and Medicine Administration Proclamation,’ which bans smoking in all indoor workplaces, public spaces, and means of public transport and prohibits alcohol promotion on broadcasting media.

Ethiopia is a member of UNCTAD’s international network of transparent investment procedures  .  Foreign and national investors can find detailed information from the investment commission website http://www.investethiopia.gov.et/investment-process   and https://www.theiguides.org/public-docs/guides/ethiopia   on administrative procedures applicable to investment and income generating operations including the number of steps, name, and contact details of the entities and persons in charge of procedures, required documents and conditions, costs, processing time, and legal bases justifying the procedures.

The government released its five year public finance administration strategic plan (2018-2022) in March 2018, mapping out reforms in government revenue and expenditure forecasting, government accounts management, internal audit, public procurement administration, public debt management, and public financial transparency and accountability.  In support of this initiative, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) issued a directive on Public Financial Transparency and Accountability in October 2018. The directive mandates that all public institutions report their budgetary performance and financial accounts in platforms that are accessible to the wider public in a timely manner. It also makes the MOF responsible for disseminating a regular and detailed physical and financial performance evaluation of large publically-funded projects.  The directive further outlines a clear timeline for the publication of each major piece of budgetary information, such as the pre-budget macroeconomic and fiscal framework, the enacted budget, quarterly execution reports, annual execution reports, and the annual audit report.

International Regulatory Considerations

Ethiopia ratified the AfCFTA on March 21, 2019.  ACFTA aims to create a single, continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments.  Ethiopia is also a member of Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), a regional economic block, which has 21 member countries and has introduced a 10 percent tariff reduction on goods imported from member states.  However, Ethiopia has not yet joined the COMESA free trade area. Ethiopia resumed the WTO accession process in 2018, which began in 2003, with the goal of acceding in 2020.

Ethiopian standards, however, have a national scope and applicability and some of them, particularly those related to human health and environmental protection, are mandatory.  The Ethiopian Standards Agency is the national standards body of Ethiopia.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Ethiopia has codified criminal and civil laws, including commercial and contractual law.  According to the contractual law, a contract agreement is binding between contracting parties.  Disputes between the parties can be taken to the court. There are, however, no specialized courts for commercial law cases, although there are specialized benches both at the federal and state courts.

While there have been allegations of executive branch interference in judiciary cases with political implications, there is no evidence of interference in purely commercial disputes.  The country has a procedural code for civil and criminal court but the practice is minimal. Enforcement actions are appealable and there are at least three appeal processes from the lower courts to the Supreme Court.  The Criminal Procedure Code follows the inquisitorial system of adjudication.

Companies that operate businesses in Ethiopia assert that courts lack adequate experience and staffing, particularly with respect to commercial disputes.  While property and contractual rights are recognized, judges often lack understanding of commercial matters, including bankruptcy and contractual disputes.  In addition, cases often face extended scheduling delays. Contract enforcement remains weak, though Ethiopian courts will at times reject spurious litigation aimed at contesting legitimate tenders.

Ethiopia is in the process of reforming the Commercial Code to bring it in line with international best practices.  The draft legislation appears to address many concerns raised by the business community, including the creation of a commercial court under the regular court system to improve the expertise of judges as well as increase the speed with which commercial disputes can be resolved.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Investment Proclamation and Regulation of 2012 (later amended in 2014), is Ethiopia’s main legal regime related to foreign direct investment (FDI).  These laws instituted the opening of economic sectors to FDI, the requirements for FDI registration, and the investment incentives that are available to investors.

The following industrial sectors have been designated investment priorities: textiles and garments, leather and leather products, sugar and sugar-related products, cement, metals and engineering, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, renewable energy, and agro-processing.  Investments in those areas receive tax and duty incentives as established in Proclamation 769/2012  .

The 2014 amendment to the Investment Proclamation authorizes the EIC to adjudicate appeals submitted by foreign and domestic investors.  The EIC Investment Board is empowered to authorize the granting of new or additional incentives other than those outlined under the regulations and to authorize foreign investment in areas otherwise exclusively reserved for domestic investors, if the exception is in the national interest.  The EIC’s website  (http://www.investethiopia.gov.et/  ) outlines the government’s policy and priorities, registration processes, and provides regulatory details for investors.  In addition, the Ethiopian Investment Guide website (https://www.theiguides.org/public-docs/guides/ethiopia  ) provides relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors.

The revised Commercial Registration and Business Licensing Proclamation eliminated some cumbersome and duplicative requirements, including the yearly renewal of business registrations and the minimum capital requirements to set up limited liability companies, and requires a competency certificate in sectors such as health, security and environment.  The Proclamation allows registration of franchises and holding companies.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Ethiopia’s Trade Practice and Consumers Protection Authority (TPCPA), operating under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, is tasked with promoting a competitive business environment by regulating anti-competitive, unethical, and unfair trade practices to enhance economic efficiency and social welfare.  It has an administrative tribunal with a jurisdiction on matters pertaining to market competition and consumer protection. The authority also annually entertains many cases associated with consumer protection and unfair trade practices.

There are no restrictions for foreign companies or foreign-owned subsidiaries in the areas open to foreign investments.  The EIC reviews investment transactions for compliance with FDI requirements and restrictions as outlined by the Investment Proclamation and its amendments. Nonetheless, companies have complained that SOEs receive favorable treatment in the government tender process.  The public sector’s heavy involvement in economic development means that SOEs often obtain a sizeable portion of open tenders.

Expropriation and Compensation

Per the 2012 Investment Proclamation, no investment by a domestic or foreign investor or enterprise can be expropriated or nationalized, wholly or partially, except when required by public interest in compliance with the law and with payment of adequate compensation.  Such investments may not be seized, impounded, or disposed of except under a court order.

The former Derg military regime nationalized many properties in the 1970s.  The current government’s position is that property seized lawfully by the Derg (by court order or government proclamation published in the official gazette) remain the property of the state.  In most cases, property seized by oral order or other informal means is gradually being returned to the rightful owners or their heirs through a lengthy bureaucratic process. Claimants are required to pay for improvements made by the government during the time it controlled the property.  Public Enterprises, Assets, and Administration stopped accepting requests from owners for return of expropriated properties in July of 2008.

According to local and foreign businesses operating in the Oromia region, there have been a number of isolated incidents threatening investors in the region.  Various pretexts have been used to close down legitimate operations. False charges have been filed with regional courts, property has been confiscated, and bank accounts have been frozen, all in the name of “returning the land” to the “rightful owners” or “creating job opportunities” for the youth.  Regional officials, however, deny any systematic attack on investors and have repeatedly provided assurance that all legitimate investors will be protected. Meanwhile, other investors who have invested heavily in government and community relations and actively engaged local and regional officials have prospered.  The experience of investors is overall uneven and clear trends are not evident.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Since 1965, Ethiopia has been a non-signatory member state to the International Centre for Settlement of Disputes (ICSID) Convention, but has not ratified the convention on The Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The constitution as well as the investment law guarantees the right of any investor to lodge complaints related to his/her investment with the appropriate investment agency.  If he/she has a grievance against the decision, he/she can appeal to the investment board or to the respective regional agency as appropriate. While disputes can be resolved by international arbitration if both parties agree, enforcement of an arbitration decision is contingent on the Ethiopian court system.  However, if a dispute arises between foreign investors and the state, it will be settled based on the relevant bilateral investment treaty.

Due to an overloaded court system, dispute resolution can last for years.  According to the 2019 World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report, it takes on average 530 days to enforce contracts through the courts.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Arbitration has become a widely used means of dispute settlement among the business community as Ethiopian civil code recognizes Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms as means of dispute resolution.  The Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce has an Arbitration Center to assist with arbitration. However, there is no guarantee that the award of an international arbitral tribunal will be accepted and implemented by Ethiopian authorities.  Ethiopia is not a party to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Arbitral Awards, which creates uncertainty for potential investors and serves as disincentive to invest. There are no publicly available statistics that indicate courts’ decision bias towards state-owned enterprises (SOEs) on investment/commercial disputes that involve them.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Ethiopian Commercial Code (Book V) outlines bankruptcy provisions and proceedings and   establishes a court system that has jurisdiction over bankruptcy proceedings. The primary purpose of the law is to protect creditors, equity shareholders, and other contractors.  Bankruptcy is not criminalized. In practice, there is limited application of bankruptcy procedures due to lack of knowledge on the part of the private sector.

According to the 2019 World Bank Doing Business Report, Ethiopia stands at 148 in the ranking of 190 economies with respect to resolving insolvency.  Ethiopia’s score on the strength of insolvency framework index is 5.0. (Note: The index ranges from zero to 16, with higher values indicating insolvency legislation that is better designed for rehabilitating viable firms and liquidating nonviable ones.)

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Investment Regulation 270/2012 and the 2014 amendment outline incentives for investors.  New investors in manufacturing, agro-processing, and selected agricultural products are entitled to income tax exemption ranging from two to five years depending on the location of the investment.  Any investor who produces for export or supplies to an exporter, or who exports at least 60 percent of his products or services, is entitled to an additional two years of income tax exemption.

An investor who establishes a new enterprise in less prosperous areas shall be entitled to an income tax deduction of 30 percent for three consecutive years after the expiry of the regular income tax exemption period.  These areas include Gambella, Benshangul/Gumuz, Afar (except in areas within 15 kilometers from each bank of the Awash River), Somali, Guji, Borena Zones of Oromia, South Omo Zone, Segen, Bench Maji Zone, Sheka Zone, Dawro Zone, Kaffa Zone, Konta, and Basketo Special Woredas of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region.

Ethiopian investment laws provide protection and guarantees to local and foreign investors.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The Industrial Park Proclamation 886/2015 mandates Ethiopian Industrial Parks Corporation to develop and administer industrial parks owned by government.  The law designates industrial parks as duty-free zones, and domestic as well as foreign operators in the parks are exempt from income tax for up to 10 years.  Investors operating in parks are also exempt from duties and other taxes on the import of capital goods, construction materials, and raw materials for production of export commodities and vehicles.

An investor who operates in a designated Industrial Development Zone in or near Addis Ababa is entitled to two years of income tax exemptions, and four more years income tax exemption if the investment is made in an industrial park in other areas, provided 80 percent or more of production is for export or constitutes input for an exporter.

Industrial Parks can be developed by either government or private developers.  In practice, the majority have been developed by the Ethiopian government with Chinese financing.  The government has announced plans to construct a total of 17 industrial parks in various locations around the country.  As of April 2019, operational industrial parks include Hawassa Industrial Park, Bole Lemi-I, East Industrial Park, George Shoe Park, Meleke Industrial Park,  Kombolcha Industrial Park, Adama Industrial Park and Debreberhan Industrial Park.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Ethiopia does not formally impose performance requirements on foreign investors, though investors in Ethiopia routinely encounter business visa delays and onerous paperwork requirements.  In addition, investors are required to allocate a minimum capital of USD 200,000 per project. For joint investments with a domestic partner, the investment requirement is lowered to USD 150,000.

There are no forced localization or data storage requirements for private investors.  Local content in terms of hiring, products, and services is strongly encouraged but not required.  The Department for Immigration and Nationality Affairs issues residence permits for those with investment permits.  The government also provides multiple entry five year visas for investors in industrial parks. An investor can employ qualified expatriate experts necessary to operations, but is responsible for replacing them by local experts within a limited period.  Top management positions are exempted from this requirement and ex-patriates can fill these positions indefinitely. Although not a legal requirement, in joint ventures with state-owned enterprises investors report informal requirements of up to 30 percent domestic content in goods and/or technology.

EthioTelecom is the sole telecommunications service provider in Ethiopia. In 2018, the government announced plans to liberalize the sector and open the market to foreign service providers.  In February of 2019, the Council of Ministers approved a bill to establish a regulatory agency for communication services that would adequately regulate the telecommunications sector and open it to foreign investment; the bill is awaiting approval by the Parliament.  Proclamation No. 808/2013 mandates the Information Network Security Agency (INSA) to control the import and export of information technology, to build an information technology testing and evaluation laboratory center, and to regulate cryptographic products and their transactions.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The constitution recognizes and protects ownership of private property.  However, all land in Ethiopia belongs to “the people” and is administered by the government.  Private ownership does not exist, but land-use rights have been registered in most populated areas.  As land is public property, it cannot be mortgaged. Confusion with respect to the registration of urban land-use rights, particularly in Addis Ababa, is common.  Allegations of corruption in the allocation of urban-land to private investors by government agencies are a major source of popular discontent. The government retains the right to expropriate land for the common good, which it defines as including expropriation for commercial farms, industrial zones, and infrastructure development.  While the government claims to allocate only sparsely settled or empty land to investors, some people have been resettled. In particular, traditional grazing land has often been defined as empty and expropriated, leading to resentment, protests and, in some cases, conflict. In addition, leasehold regulations vary in form and practice by region.  Successful investors in Ethiopia conduct thorough due diligence on land titles at both state and federal levels, and conduct consultations with local communities regarding the proposed use of the land before investing.

We encourage potential investors to ensure their needs are communicated clearly to the host government.  It is important for investors to understand who had land-use rights preceding them, and to research the attitude of local communities to an investor’s use of that land, particularly in region of Oromia, where conflict between international investors and local communities has occurred.

The 2019 World Bank Doing Business Report has ranked Ethiopia 144 out of 190 economies in registering property, as it take on average 52 days to register property.

Intellectual Property Rights

The Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office (EIPO) oversees intellectual property rights (IPR) issues.  Ethiopia is not yet a signatory to a number of major IPR treaties, such as the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty, the Berne Convention for Literary and Artistic Works, the Madrid System for the International Registration of Marks, or the Patent Cooperation Treaty.  The government expressed its intention to accede to the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the Marrakesh Protocol, and the Madrid Protocol. To meet this objective, EIPO is drafting a ratification proclamation. EIPO has been tasked primarily to protect Ethiopian patents and copyrights and to fight pirated software. Generally, EIPO is weak in terms of staff and budget, and it does not have law enforcement authority.  Abuse of U.S. trademarks is rampant, particularly in the hospitality and retail sectors. The government does not publicly track counterfeit goods seizures, and no estimates are available. Ethiopia is not included in the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report or Notorious Markets List.

EIPO contact and office information is available at http://www.eipo.gov.et/  

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles   from this page

http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/details.jsp?country_code=ET  

Embassy POC: Economic Officer, Helena Schrader, USEmbassyPolEconExternal@state.gov

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Credit is tight and banks often require 100 percent collateral, making access to credit one of the greatest hindrances on the Ethiopian economy writ large.  A 2011 measure requiring non-government banks to invest the equivalent of 27 percent of their loan disbursement portfolio in National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE) bonds has exacerbated liquidity shortages.

Ethiopia does not have securities markets, and sales/purchases of debt are heavily regulated.  The government is drafting legislation to regulate the over-the-counter market for private share companies.  In March 2019, Moody’s reaffirmed Ethiopia’s credit worthiness at ‘B1 stable,’ while S&P and Fitch maintained their original rating of ‘B.’  According to Moody’s, Ethiopia’s credit profile reflects its very high levels of economic growth; strong investment in infrastructure, energy, and manufacturing; and, low debt-servicing costs set against challenges that include external vulnerability risks and internal stability problems.  Moody’s expects Ethiopia’s economy to grow by approximately 8 percent over the next few years. It puts external vulnerability, geopolitical risk, continued social unrest, and the vulnerability of its relatively small economy to weather cycles and volatility in coffee and gold prices as the key credit challenges going forward.  Conversely, successful export diversification, the smooth and timely completion of infrastructure programs, improved business conditions, a structural reduction of external vulnerabilities leading to a steady accumulation of foreign exchange reserves, and a cessation of domestic and regional geopolitical tensions would all improve Ethiopia’s credit profile.

The Ethiopian government has announced, as part of the overall economic reform effort, its intention to liberalize the financial sector, to include introducing capital markets, opening the banking sector to foreign companies, expanding credit available to the private sector, enabling a system of e-commerce, and expanding the monetary policy tools available to the NBE.  While most outside observers believe that PM Abiy Ahmed and other key economic officials are sincere in their intentions, entrenched interests, low capacity, and financial constraints will likely delay the full implementation of these goals.

The government offers a limited number of 28-day, 3-month, and 6-month Treasury bills, but prohibits the interest rate from exceeding the bank deposit rate.  The government began to offer a one-year Treasury bill in 2011, with yields currently below 3 percent. This market remains unattractive to the private sector and 100 percent of the T-bills are held by public enterprises, primarily the Public Social Security Agency and the Development Bank of Ethiopia.  The NBE plans to introduce a market for government securities, corporate bonds, and a stock market.

In December 2014, Ethiopia issued its first eurobond, raising USD 1 billion at a rate of 6.625 percent.  The 10-year bond was oversubscribed, indicating continued market interest in high-growth sub-Saharan African markets.  According to the Ministry of Finance, the bond proceeds are being used to finance industrial parks, the sugar industry, and power transmission infrastructure.  Due to an increasing external debt load, the Ethiopian government has committed to refrain from non-concessional financing for new projects and to shift ongoing projects to concessional financing when possible.

The Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX), launched in 2008, trades commodities such as coffee, sesame seeds, maize, wheat, mung beans, chickpeas, soybeans, and green beans.  The government launched ECX to increase transparency in commodity pricing, alleviate food shortages, and encourage the commercialization of agriculture. Critics allege that ECX policies and pricing structures are inefficient compared to direct sales at prevailing market rates, triggering an amendment to the ECX law in July 2017, which eliminated a number of criticized regulations, and permitted the trading of financial instruments at a future date.  This amendment paves the way for securities markets in the future using the framework of the commodities exchange.

Money and Banking System

Ethiopia has seventeen commercial banks, two of which are state-owned banks, and fifteen of which are privately owned banks.  The Development Bank of Ethiopia, a state-owned bank, provides loans to investors in priority sectors. In September 2011, the NBE raised the minimum paid-up capital required to establish a new bank from ETB 75 million to 500 million, which effectively stopped the entry of most new banks.  Foreign banks are not permitted to provide financial services in Ethiopia; however, since April 2007, Ethiopia has allowed some foreign banks to open liaison offices in Addis Ababa to facilitate credit to companies from their countries of origins. Chinese, German, Kenyan, Turkish, and South African banks have opened liaison offices in Ethiopia, but the market remains completely closed to foreign retail banks.

Based on recently made available data, the state-owned Commercial Bank of Ethiopia mobilizes more than 60 percent of total bank deposits, bank loans, and foreign exchange.  The NBE controls the bank’s minimum deposit rate, which now stands at 7 percent, while loan interest rates are allowed to float. Real deposit interest rates have been negative in recent years, mainly due to inflation.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

All foreign currency transactions must be approved by the NBE.  Ethiopia’s national currency (the Ethiopian birr) is not freely convertible.  In September 2018, the GOE removed the limit on holding foreign currency accounts faced by non-resident Ethiopians and non-resident foreign nationals of Ethiopian origin.

Foreign exchange reserves were heavily depleted in 2012 and have remained at critically low levels since then.  By June 2018, gross reserves were USD 2.2 billion, covering approximately 1.6 months of imports. According to the IMF, heavy government infrastructure investment, along with debt servicing and a large trade imbalance, have all fueled the intense demand for foreign exchange.  In addition, the decrease in foreign exchange reserves has been exacerbated by weaker-than-expected earnings from coffee exports and low international commodity prices for other important exports such as gold and oil seeds. Businesses encounter delays of six months to two years in obtaining foreign exchange, and they must deposit the full equivalent in birr in their account to begin the process to obtain foreign exchange.  The foreign exchange crunch has intensified recently, with delays of more than a year reported. Slowdowns in manufacturing due to foreign exchange shortages are common, and high-profile local businesses have closed their doors altogether due to the inability to import required goods in a timely fashion.

Although government policy gives the repatriation of profits “priority,” in reality, due to the foreign exchange shortage, companies have experienced delays of up to two years in the repatriation of larger volumes of profits.  Local sourcing of inputs and partnering with export-oriented partners are strategies employed by the private sector to address the foreign exchange shortage, but access to foreign exchange remains a problem that limits growth, interferes with maintenance and spare parts replacement, and inhibits imports of adequate raw materials.

The foreign exchange shortage distorts the economy in a number of other ways: it fuels the contraband trade through Somaliland because birr is an unofficial currency there and can be used for the purchase of products from around the world.  Exporters, who have priority access to foreign exchange, sell their allocations to importers at inflated rates, creating a black-market for dollars that is roughly 33 percent over the official rate. Other exporters use their foreign exchange earnings to import consumer goods with high margins rather than re-investing profits in their core business.  Meanwhile, the lack of access to foreign exchange impacts the ability of American citizens living in Ethiopia to pay their taxes, or for students to pay school fees abroad.

According to data from NBE, the birr depreciated approximately 98 percent against the U.S. dollar between August 2010 and February 2018, primarily through a series of controlled steps, including a 20 percent devaluation in September 2010 and a 15 percent devaluation in October 2017.  As of March 2019, the official exchange rate was approximately 28.40 birr per dollar. The illegal parallel market exchange rate for the same time was approximately 36 per dollar with spikes up to 38 birr per dollar.

Following the 15 percent devaluation of the Ethiopian birr, the NBE increased the minimum saving interest rate from four percent to seven percent, and limited the outstanding loan growth rate in commercial banks to 16.5 percent, which limits their loan provision for businesses other than export and manufacturing sectors.  Moreover, banks were instructed to transfer 30 percent of their foreign exchange earnings to the account of NBE so the regulator can use the foreign exchange to meet the strategic needs of the country, including payments to procure petroleum and sugar, as well as to cover transportation costs of imported items.

Ethiopia’s Financial Intelligence Unit monitors suspicious currency transfers, including large transactions exceeding ETB 200,000 (roughly equivalent to U.S. reporting requirements for currency transfers exceeding USD 10,000).  Ethiopia citizens are not allowed to hold or open an account in foreign exchange. Ethiopian residents entering the country from abroad should declare their foreign currency in excess of USD 1,000 and non-residents in excess of USD 3,000. Residents are not allowed to hold foreign currency for more than 30 days after acquisition.  A maximum of ETB 1000 in cash can be carried out of the country.

Remittance Policies

Ethiopia’s Investment Proclamation allows all registered foreign investors, whether or not they receive incentives, to remit profits and dividends, principal and interest on foreign loans, and fees related to technology transfer.  Foreign investors may remit proceeds from the sale or liquidation of assets, from the transfer of shares or of partial ownership of an enterprise, and funds required for debt servicing or other international payments. The right of expatriate employees to remit their salaries is granted by NBE foreign exchange regulations.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Ethiopia has no sovereign wealth funds.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State-owned enterprises (SOEs) dominate major sectors of the economy.  There is a state monopoly or state dominance in telecommunications, power, banking, insurance, air transport, shipping, railway, industrial parks, petroleum importing, and sugar sectors.   State-owned enterprises have considerable advantages over private firms including priority access to credit and customs clearances. While there are no conclusive reports of credit preference for these entities, there are indications that they receive incentives, such as priority foreign exchange allocation, preferences in government tenders, and marketing assistance.  Ethiopia does not publish financial data for most state-owned enterprises, but Ethiopian Airlines and the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia have transparent accounts.

Ethiopia is not a member to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and does not adhere to the guidelines on corporate governance of SOEs.  Corporate governance of SOEs is structured and monitored by a board of directors composed of senior government officials and politically-affiliated individuals, but there is a lack of transparency in the structure of SOEs.

Privatization Program

In July 2018 the government announced the intention to privatize a minority share of Ethiopian Airlines, EthioTelecom, Ethiopian Shipping and Logistics Service Enterprise, and power generation projects, and to fully privatize sugar projects, railways, and industrial parks.  The privatization program will be implemented through public tenders and will be open to local and foreign investors. The background work for the privatization in several sectors is underway, including asset valuation of the enterprises, standardization of the financial reports, and establishment of modernized legal and regulatory frameworks.

The government has sold more than 370 public enterprises since 1995, mainly small companies in the trade and service sectors, which were largely nationalized by the Derg military regime in the 1970s.  Currently, twenty two SOEs are under the Public Enterprise, Assets, and Administration Agency.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Some larger international companies in Ethiopia have introduced corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs; however, most Ethiopian companies do not officially practice CSR, although individual entrepreneurs engage in charity, sometimes on a large scale.  There are efforts to develop CSR programs by the Ministry of Industry in collaboration with the World Bank, U.S. Agency for International Development, and other institutions.

The government encourages CSR programs for both local and foreign direct investors but does not maintain specific guidelines for these programs, which are inconsistently applied and not controlled or monitored.  In early 2015, the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce & Sectorial Associations published a ‘Model Code of Ethics for Ethiopian Businesses’ that was endorsed by former Ethiopian President Mulatu Teshome as a model for the business community.

Ethiopia was admitted as a candidate-member to the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) in 2014, but has not embraced the need for independent, non-governmental organizations and civil society to be engaged in the process.  As a result, full-membership during the next scheduled review in 2019 remains uncertain. Per the Commercial Code, extractive industries and other businesses are expected to conduct statuary audits of their financial statements at the end of each financial year, though the financial statements are not available to the public, only to financial institutions and share companies.

9. Corruption

The Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (FEACC) is charged with preventing corruption and is accountable to the Office of the Prime Minister.  The Commission is mandated to provide ethics training and education to prevent corruption.  The investigation and prosecution of corruption crimes are the mandates of the Federal Police Commission and the Federal Attorney General, respectively.

The Federal Police are mandated to investigate corruption crimes committed by public officials as well as “Public Organizations.”  The latter are defined as any organs in the private sector that administer money, property, or any other resources for public purposes.  Examples of such organizations include share companies, real estate agencies, banks, insurance companies, cooperatives, labor unions, professional associations, and others.

Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures perceived levels of public sector corruption, rated Ethiopia’s corruption at 34 (the score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of zero to 100, with the former indicating highly corrupt and the latter indicating very clean).  Its comparative rank in 2018 was 114 out of 180 countries, compared to 107 out of 180 countries in 2017.

In December, the American Chamber of Commerce in Ethiopia polled its members and asked what the leading business climate challenges were.  Transparency and governance ranked as the 4th leading business climate challenge, ahead of licensing and registration and public procurement.

Ethiopian and foreign businesses routinely encounter corruption in tax collection, customs clearance, and land administration.  Many past procurement deals for major government contracts, especially in the power generation, telecommunications, and construction sectors were widely viewed as corrupt.

PM Abiy Ahmed has launched a corruption clean-up that has resulted in several hundred arrests.  In connection with the embezzlement schemes involving hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars, particularly with government procurement irregularities, the government arrested and charged in September 2018 over 40 mid- and senior-level Metal Engineering Technology Corporation (METEC) officials.  In addition, the PM transferred the management of large government projects from METEC (which is widely viewed by the public as corrupt) to other government organizations. Similarly, in April 2019, the government arrested 59 officials and business people suspected of corruption. The officials are primarily from the following government institutions: Public Procurement & Property Disposal Service, Food & Drug Administration Agency, Pharmaceuticals Fund & Supply Agency, and the Ethiopian Water Works Construction Enterprise.

Ethiopia is not a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.  Ethiopia is a signatory to the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption. Ethiopia is also member of the East African Association of Anti-Corruption Authorities.  In 2003, Ethiopia signed the UN Anticorruption Convention that was ratified in November 2007.  It is a criminal offense to give or receive bribes, and bribes are not tax deductible.

Resources to Report Corruption

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

Federal Police Commission
Addis Ababa
+251 11 861-9595

Contact at “watchdog” organization:

Transparency Ethiopia
Addis Ababa
+251 11 827-9746
Email: TiratEthiopia@gmail.com

10. Political and Security Environment

Ethnic conflict —often sparked by historical grievances or resource competition, including land disputes— has resulted in varying levels of violence that have internally displaced as many as two million people nationwide.  Communal conflict between Oromos and Somalis has persisted along their shared border.  Remnants of the Oromo Liberation Front, an opposition movement, have battled ethnic neighbors, regional security forces, and the military.  In the south, conflict between communities in the Guji and Gedeo zones has been particularly violent and intractable.  Disputed territory in the north between the Amhara and Tigray regions is a continuing flash point.  Recent violence between Oromos and Amharas has occurred along a main road from Addis Ababa to the north.

Under PM Abiy’s administration, political space in Ethiopia has opened dramatically.  Constitutional rights, including freedoms of assembly and expression, are broadly respected.  Political prisoners have been released. Opposition parties have been allowed to form or return to the country, and they operate freely. Independent media is re-establishing itself, and laws are being revised to facilitate the rebuilding of civil society.  Nationwide elections are scheduled for May of 2020.  The electoral and pre-electoral period could represent a potential catalyst for unrest.

PM Abiy has also initiated a process of modernization, de-politicization, professionalization, and civilian accountability in his security services.  The past year provides numerous examples where security forces have allowed demonstrators space to operate peacefully.  In some instances, though, security forces have failed to stop ethnic violence in a timely fashion.  Though foreigners are rarely, if ever, specifically targeted, spillover ethnic violence has occasionally resulted in the deaths of foreign employees.

The new administration has also increased regional autonomy.  Successful American investors tell us that understanding the different business climates across the regions—there are different regional taxation regimes, unique ethnic conflicts, varying levels of reception towards profit-making companies, and contrasting approaches to policing and security issues—is key to successfully investing in Ethiopia.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

More than 80 percent of Ethiopia’s 100 million people work in agriculture.  The second-most important employer is the government. If the population continues to grow at the current rate of 2.5 percent, Ethiopia will have more than 138 million people by 2030, only 27 percent of whom will live in urban areas.  Ethiopia’s youth, between the ages of 15 and 29, account for 30 percent of the population; 70 million Ethiopians are under the age of 30. The youth unemployment rate in urban settings is over 25 percent (CSA, 2018). The gender gap in employment is high; the unemployment rate among young women in urban areas is over 30 percent, compared with 19 percent for young men.  Young women are three times more likely to be neither in employment, education, or training (NEET). According to International Labor Organization (ILO) statistics, Ethiopia’s youth NEET accounts for 10.5 percent of the youth population (5.7 percent for men, 15.1 percent for women).

Although labor remains readily available and inexpensive in Ethiopia, skilled manpower is scarce.  Approximately 50 percent of Ethiopians over the age of 15 are illiterate according to UNESCO’s definition.  Primary school enrollment rate (age 7 to 14), on the other hand, has now reached 94 percent. To increase the skilled labor force, the GOE has undertaken a rapid expansion of the university system in the last 20 years, increasing the number of higher public education institutions from three to 49.  It has adopted an education policy that requires 70 percent of public university students to study science, engineering, or technology subjects, but many students are not well-prepared by secondary school to study in those fields.

Ethiopia has ratified all eight core International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions.  The Ethiopian Criminal Code outlaws work specified as hazardous by ILO conventions. There is no national minimum wage, and public sector employees – the largest group of wage earners – earned a monthly minimum wage of ETB 420 (approximately USD 19).

Labor unions and confederations are separate entities from the government, and are subject to a great deal of regulation and direct pressure/involvement from the government.  The Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU) comprises well over two hundred thousand members in enterprise-based unions in a variety of sectors, but there is no formal requirement for unions to join the CETU.  Much of the labor force remains in small scale agriculture/industry and thus is not covered by enterprise unions. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs’ Directorate of Harmonious Industrial Relations provides labor dispute resolution services, although the caseload and the directorate’s capacity are low.

The Constitution and other laws provide workers, except for civil servants and certain categories of workers primarily in the public sector, with the right to form and join unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively.  Other laws and regulations that explicitly or potentially infringe upon workers’ rights to associate freely and to organize include: the Civil Society and Organizations (CSO) law; Council of Ministers Regulation No. 168/2009 on Charities and Societies to reinforce the CSO law; and, Proclamation No. 652/2009 on Antiterrorism.  Parliament recently approved a revised CSO law and the antiterrorism law is in the revision process. Such laws and detailed requirements make legal strike actions difficult to carry out. In practice, labor strikes are rare, but there has been an uptick in the last year. Employers offering contracted employment are required to provide severance pay.  The vast majority of employees that work in small scale agriculture and textiles, however, do so without a contract. Large labor surpluses and lax labor law enforcement allow employers to retain employees without contracts that ensure strong worker protections.

The GOE drafted revisions to the Labor Code that will bring Ethiopian labor law into better conformity with international labor standards.  The draft law is currently before the Council of Ministers; once approved, it will proceed to the Parliament for approval. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA) claimed that the draft legislation includes language to form a tripartite council to set a national minimum wage and that the ILO has conducted a wage study to help inform the council’s decision.  It is unclear what, if any, language is included to address gaps related to the right to organize, bargain collectively, and associate freely.

Although the government actively engages with the international community to combat child labor and human trafficking, which includes forced/coerced labor, both remain widespread in Ethiopia.  The Ethiopian Parliament ratified ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor in May 2003. While not a pressing issue in the formal economy, child labor is common in the informal sector, including construction, agriculture, textiles, manufacturing, mining, and domestic work.  Child labor is present in both urban and rural areas. According to the ILO International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor, more than 50 percent of Ethiopia’s child laborers work in the agriculture sector. Ethiopian traditional woven textiles are included on the U.S. government’s Executive Order 13126 list of goods that have been known to be produced by forced or indentured child labor.  Both NGO and Ethiopian government sources concluded that goods produced (in the agricultural sector and traditional weaving industry in particular) via child labor are largely intended for domestic consumption, and not slated for export. Employers are prohibited from hiring children under the age of 14, and for certain types of hazardous work the minimum age is 18. Ethiopia has a National Action Plan (NAP) for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor, which it is currently updating.  The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs conducts tens of thousands of targeted inspections on occupation safety and standards, although they are not legally empowered to assess fines for infractions and they do not make this data publically available. Due to the shortage of labor inspectors and other enforcement resources, and the fact that inspectors do not inspect informal work sites, most child labor goes unreported.

In 2015, the Ethiopian Parliament ratified an overhaul to its Anti-Human Trafficking and Smuggling criminal code (covered in the 2016 Trafficking in Persons report published by the Department of State).  The government also passed an Overseas Labor Proclamation that legalizes and regulates the employment of Ethiopians in foreign countries. The Government of Ethiopia lifted the ban of overseas employment of domestic workers in the Gulf States in January 2018.  In 2018 preparations were underway to register employment agencies, develop pre-departure materials and centers, identify government and private vocational enters, and provide skills training for domestic workers. A year later, it is still unclear that lifting the ban will decrease the flow of irregular migration due largely to the lengthy and costly process required for regular migration.  Over the past few years, the government has become much more engaged in combatting trafficking in persons, and the number of arrests and prosecutions of traffickers has increased.

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) has offered risk insurance and loans to U.S. investors in Ethiopia in the past, but is not currently present in Ethiopia.

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) 2017/18 $84,356 2017 $80,561 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) 2018 $600  2018 N/A http://www.investethiopia.gov.et/  
Host country’s FDI in the United States (M USD, stock positions) 2017 N/A 2017 N/A http://bea.gov/international/direct_investment_multinational_companies_comprehensive_data.htm  
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 10.6% 2017 23.6% http://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx  

*National Bank of Ethiopia and Ethiopian Investment Commission


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 $8,930  100% Total Outward*** N/A N/A
China $2,219  24.9% N/A N/A N/A
Saudi Arabia $1,525  17.1% N/A N/A N/A
Turkey $917  10.3% N/A N/A N/A
India $719 8.1% N/A N/A N/A
EU** $685 7.7% N/A N/A N/A
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Data regarding inward direct investment are not available for Ethiopia via IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS) site (http://data.imf.org/CDIS  ) so we have used data from Ethiopian investment Commission.

*The yearly average exchange rate is used for each year from 1992-2017 to convert the amount of FDI from domestic currency into USD.
** EU includes Netherlands, France, Ireland, Germany and UK.
*** Total Outward investment data are not available.


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Data regarding the equity/debt breakdown of portfolio investment assets are not available for Ethiopia via the IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS) and are not available for external publication from the Government of Ethiopia.

Honduras

Executive Summary

The United States is Honduras’ most important economic partner.  While the Honduran government places a priority on improving the investment climate as a means of attracting investment and promoting economic growth, meaningful reform has been slow.  As of April 2019, the Honduran Congress is debating plans to merge the three institutions charged with attracting increased foreign direct investment: the National Investment Committee, ProHonduras, and President Hernandez’s signature Honduras 20/20, an ambitious initiative to create 600,000 new jobs by 2020.  Economic reforms and continued commitment to fiscal stability in Honduras have led to a stabilized macroeconomic environment and positive outlooks and debt upgrades from major international ratings agencies.  Some foreign companies with investments in Honduras, however, continue to face challenges. Inconsistent and expensive energy, corruption, weak institutions, high levels of crime, low education levels, and poor infrastructure hamper Honduras’ investment climate.  While the political climate has stabilized since the weeks of protests that followed the November 2017 presidential election, continued low-level protests and uncertainty also pose a challenge to the investment climate.

The Honduran government implemented several measures to improve investment and trade facilitation.  In November 2016, the Government of Honduras launched the Presidential Commission for Integral Reform of the Customs System to simplify import/export procedures and improve relevant efficiency aspects of Honduran customs services.  In July 2016, Honduras formally ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, which contains provisions for expediting the movement, release, and clearance of goods, and sets out measures for effective cooperation for customs compliance and trade facilitation issues.  In June 2017, Honduras and Guatemala initiated a Customs Union to foster and increase efficient cross-border trade. El Salvador subsequently approved joining the Customs Union in July 2018. In July 2017, the Government of Honduras shifted management of product registration from the Ministry of Health to a new, more efficient Sanitary Regulatory Agency, leading to a decrease in the backlog of 13,000 sanitary registrations.  Finally, in February 2019, the Government of Honduras established the National Trade Committee, chaired by the Minister of Economic Development.

Many of the approximately 200 U.S. companies that operate in Honduras take advantage of protections available in the Central American and Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR).  Honduras’ participation in CAFTA-DR has enhanced U.S. export opportunities and diversified the composition of bilateral trade. Substantial intra-industry trade now occurs in textiles and electrical machinery, alongside continued trade in traditional Honduran exports such as coffee and bananas.  In addition to liberalizing trade in goods and services, CAFTA-DR includes important disciplines relating to investment, customs administration and trade facilitation, technical barriers to trade, government procurement, telecommunications, electronic commerce, intellectual property rights, transparency, and labor and environmental protection.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 132 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 121 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 105 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $1.4 Billion  http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $2,250 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment

The Honduran government is generally open to foreign investment.  Low labor costs, proximity to the U.S. market, and the large Caribbean port of Puerto Cortes make Honduras attractive to investors.  At the same time, however, inconsistent and expensive energy, corruption, weak institutions, high levels of crime, low educational levels, and poor infrastructure hamper Honduras’ investment climate.

Entities that make up the legal framework for investment include the Honduran constitution; the investment chapter of CAFTA-DR; a self-executing international agreement that takes precedence over most domestic law; and the 2011 Law for the Promotion and Protection of Investments.  The Honduran constitution requires all foreign investment complement, but not substitute for, national investment. Honduras’ legal obligations guarantee national treatment and most favored nation treatment for U.S. investments in most sectors of the Honduran economy and include enhanced benefits in the areas of insurance and arbitration for domestic and foreign investors.  CAFTA-DR has equal status in Honduras with the constitution in most sectors of the Honduran economy.

Critics complain that lack of clarity and overlapping responsibilities among the multiple entities charged with attracting increased foreign direct investment hinder results.  As of April 2019, the Government of Honduras put forward draft legislation currently being debated by the Honduran Congress that would merge the National Investment Council, ProHonduras, and President Hernandez’s signature initiative Honduras 20/20, an ambitious plan to create 600,000 jobs in six targeted sectors by the year 2020.  It remains uncertain whether the proposed changes will galvanize the political will required to push forward significant reforms.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Honduras’ Investment Law does not limit foreign ownership of businesses, except for those specifically reserved for Honduran investors, including small firms with capital less than USD 6,300 and the domestic air transportation industry.  For all investments, at least 90 percent of companies’ labor forces must be Honduran and companies must pay at least 85 percent of their payrolls to Hondurans.  Majority ownership by Honduran citizens is required for companies benefiting from the Agrarian Reform Law, including in sectors of commercial fishing, forestry, local transportation, radio, and television.  There is no screening or approval process specific to foreign direct investments in Honduras. Foreign investors are subject to the same requirements for environmental and other regulatory approvals as domestic investors.

Investors can establish, acquire, and dispose of enterprises at market prices under freely negotiated conditions without government intervention.  Private enterprises fairly compete with public enterprises on market access, credit, and other business operations. Foreign investors have the right to own property, subject to certain restrictions established by the Honduran constitution and several laws relating to property rights.  Investors may acquire, profit, use, and dispose of property ownership with the exception of land within 40 kilometers of international borders and shorelines. Honduran law does permit, however, foreign individuals to purchase properties close to shorelines in designated “tourism zones.”

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In 2016, the World Trade Organization conducted a Trade Policy review of Honduras: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/s336_e.pdf .

Business Facilitation

The Honduran government simplified administrative procedures for establishing a company in recent years.  According to the 2019 World Bank Doing Business Report, the average time required for starting a business in Honduras is 13 days and requires 11 procedures.  Honduras’ business registration information portal (http://www.honduras.eregulations.org/  ) provides information on registering a business, including information fees, agencies, and required documents.  The World Bank’s Honduras Investment Regulation Portal provides quantitative indicators on Honduras’ laws, regulations, and practices affecting foreign companies (http://iab.worldbank.org/data/exploreeconomies/honduras  ).

Outward Investment

Honduras does not promote or incentivize outward investment.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

A Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) between the United States and Honduras entered into force in 2001.  The U.S.-Honduras Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Consular Rights (1928) provides for Most Favored Nation treatment for investors of either country.  The United States and Honduras also signed an agreement for the guarantee of private investments in 1955 and an agreement on investment guarantees in 1966.  CAFTA-DR supersedes most provisions of these agreements. Honduras and the United States signed a Tax Information Exchange Agreement in 1990. In 2014, Honduras and the United States signed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.

Provisions for investment are included in free trade agreements between Honduras and the United States, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Taiwan, South Korea, and the European Union.  These agreements supersede many of the provisions of Honduras’ separate Bilateral Investment Treaties with these countries. Honduras also has separate Bilateral Investment Treaties with the Republic of Korea and with Switzerland.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Though CAFTA-DR requires host governments publish proposed regulations that could affect businesses or investments, the Honduran government does not routinely post proposed regulations.  The lack of a formal notification process prevents nongovernmental groups, foreign companies, and other entities from commenting on proposed regulations. The government of Honduras publishes approved regulations in the official government Gazette.  Honduras lacks an indexed legal code so lawyers and judges must maintain the publication of laws on their own. Procedural red tape to obtain government approval for investment activities is common.

Some U.S. investors experience long waiting periods for environmental permits and other regulatory and legislative approvals.  Sectors in which U.S. companies frequently encounter problems include infrastructure, telecoms, mining, and energy. Generally, regulatory requirements are complex and lengthy, and may be influenced by political factors.  Regulatory approvals require congressional intervention if the time exceeds a presidential term of four years. Current regulations are available at the Honduran government’s eRegulations website (http://honduras.eregulations.org/  ).  While the majority of regulations are at the national level, municipal level regulations also exist.  No significant regulatory changes of relevance to foreign investors were announced since the last report.  Public comments received by regulators are not published. Honduras has made strides, in part with technical assistance from the U.S. Department of Treasury, to make public finances and debt obligations more transparent.

International Regulatory Considerations

As a member of the WTO, Honduras notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Honduras has a civil law system.  The Honduran Commercial Code, enacted in 1950, regulates business operations and falls under the jurisdiction of the Honduran civil court system.  The Civil Procedures Code, which entered into force in 2010, introduced the use of open, oral arguments for adversarial procedures. The Civil Procedures Code provides improved protection of commercial transactions, property rights, and land tenure.  It also offered a more efficient process for the enforcement of rulings issued by foreign courts. Despite these codes, U.S. claimants have complain about the lack of transparency and the slow administration of justice in the courts. U.S. firms report favoritism, external pressure, and bribes within the judicial system.  They also complain about the poor quality of legal representation from Honduran attorneys.

Resolving an investment or commercial dispute in the local Honduran courts is often a lengthy process.  Foreign investors report dispute resolution typically involves multiple appeals and decisions at different levels of the Honduran judicial system.  Each decision can take months or years, and it is usually not possible for the parties to predict the time required to obtain a decision. Final decisions from Honduran courts or from arbitration panels often require subsequent enforcement from lower courts to take effect, requiring additional time.  Foreign investors sometimes prefer to resolve disputes with suppliers, customers, or partners out of court when possible.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Honduras’ Investment Law requires all local and foreign direct investment be registered with the Investment Office in the Secretariat of Industry and Commerce.  Upon registration, the Investment Office issues certificates to guarantee international arbitration rights under CAFTA-DR. An investor who believes the government has not honored a substantive obligation under CAFTA-DR may pursue CAFTA-DR’s dispute settlement mechanism, as detailed in the Investment Chapter.  The claim’s proceedings and documents are generally open to the public.

The Government of Honduras requires authorization for both foreign and domestic investments in the following areas:

  • Basic health services
  • Telecommunications
  • Generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity
  • Air transport
  • Fishing, hunting, and aquaculture
  • Exploitation of forestry resources
  • Agricultural and agro-industrial activities exceeding land tenancy limits established by the Agricultural Modernization Law of 1992 and the Land Reform Law of 1974
  • Insurance and financial services
  • Private education services
  • Investigation, exploration, and exploitation of mines, quarries, petroleum and related substances.

In 2015, the Honduran government implemented the online National Investment Register as a starting point for creating a one-stop foreign and domestic investment facility (www.prohonduras.hn  ).  Formalizing a business, however, still requires visiting a municipal chamber of commerce window for registration and permits.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Competition (CDPC) is the Honduran government agency that reviews proposed transactions for competition-related concerns.  Honduras’ Competition Law established the CDPC in 2005 as part of the effort to implement CAFTA-DR. The Honduran Congress appoints the members of the CDPC, which functions an independent regulatory commission.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Honduran government has the authority to expropriate property for purposes of land reform or public use.  The National Agrarian Reform Law provides that idle land fit for farming can be expropriated and awarded to indigent and landless persons via the Honduran National Agrarian Institute.  In 2013, the Honduran government passed legislation regarding recovery and reassignment of concessions on underutilized assets. Both local and foreign firms have expressed concerns that the law does not specify what the government considers “underutilized.”  The government has not published implementing regulations for the law nor indicated plans to use the law against any private sector firm.

Government expropriation of land owned by U.S. companies is rare.  Seizure actions by squatters on both Honduran and non-U.S. foreign landowners are most common in agricultural areas.  Some occupations turn violent, especially in the Bajo Aguan region in the department of Colon. Owners of disputed land have found pursuing legal avenues costly, time consuming, and legally inconclusive.  CAFTA-DR’s Investment Chapter Section 10.7 states no party may expropriate or nationalize a covered investment either directly or indirectly, with limited public purpose exceptions that require prompt and adequate compensation.

Under the Agrarian Reform Law, the Honduran government must compensate expropriated land partly in cash and partly in 15-, 20-, or 25-year government bonds.  The portion to be paid in cash cannot exceed USD 1,000 if the expropriated land has at least one building and it cannot exceed USD 500 if the land is in use but has no buildings.  If the land is not in use, the government will compensate entirely in 25-year government bonds.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

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

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

CAFTA-DR provides dispute settlement procedures between the United States and Honduras.  CAFTA-DR’s Investment Chapter dispute settlement mechanism allows an investor who believes the government has not honored a substantive obligation under CAFTA-DR to request a binding international arbitration.  Proceedings and documents submitted to substantiate the claim are generally open to the public. The agreement provides basic protections, such as nondiscriminatory treatment, limits on performance requirements, the free transfer of funds related to an investment, protection from expropriation other than in conformity with customary international law, a minimum standard of treatment, and the ability to hire key managerial personnel regardless of nationality.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Honduras’ Conciliation and Arbitration Law, established in 2000, outlines procedures for arbitration and defines the procedures under which they take place.  The Investment Law permits investors to request arbitration directly, a swifter and more cost-effective means of resolving disputes between commercial entities.  Arbitrators and mediators may have specialized expertise in technical areas involved in specific disputes. Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards issues against the government.  Judgements from foreign courts are recognized and enforceable under local courts.

The following links provide more localized information:

Tegucigalpa Chamber of Industry and Commerce – Center for Conciliation and Arbitration: https://www.ccit.hn/cca/  

San Pedro Sula Chamber of Industry and Commerce – Center for Conciliation and Arbitration: http://www.ccichonduras.org/es/?p=1571  

Numerous U.S. investors who have been involved with the local judicial system complain it can be inefficient, lacks transparency, and is subject to domestic influence and/or corruption.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Companies that default in payment of their obligations in Honduras can declare bankruptcy.  A Honduran court must ratify a bankruptcy in order for it to take effect. These cases are regulated by the Commerce Code.

The judicial ruling that declares the bankruptcy of the company establishes the value of the assets, the recognition and classification of the credits, the  procedure for the sale of assets and the schedule for the payment of the obligations, in the case that it is not possible for the company to continue its operations.  The ruling must be published in The Gazette. The liquidation of companies is always a judicial matter, except in the case of banking institutions which are liquidated by the National Banking and Insurance Commission.

Any creditor or a company itself may initiate the liquidation procedure, which is generally a civil matter.  The Judge appoints a liquidator to execute the procedure. A mechanism that a company has to prevent bankruptcy is to request a suspension of payments from the judge.  If approved by the judge and the creditors, the company is able to reach an agreement with its creditors that allows the same administrative board to maintain control of the company.

A company may be prosecuted for fraudulently declaring bankruptcy in the case that the administrative board or shareholders withdraw their assets before the declaration, alter accounting books making it impossible to determine the real situation of the company, or favor certain creditors granting them benefits that they would not be entitled to otherwise.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The 2017 Tourism Incentives Law offers tax exemptions for national and international investment in tourism development projects.  The law provides income tax exemptions for the first 10 years of a project and permits the duty-free import of goods needed for a project, including publicity materials.  To receive benefits, a business must be located in a designated tourism zone. Restaurants, casinos, nightclubs and movie theaters, and certain other businesses are not eligible for incentives under this law.  Foreigners or foreign companies seeking to purchase property exceeding 3,000 square meters for tourism or other development projects in designated tourism zones must present an application to the Honduran Tourism Institute at the Ministry of Tourism.  The buyer must prove a contract to purchase the property exists and present feasibility studies and plans about the proposed tourism project.

In October 2018 President Hernandez introduced legislation creating a number of new tax incentives to promote job growth for small and medium enterprises.  The new laws entered into effect in November 2018 following publication in the official Gazette. The legislation provides access to credit and tax relief to encourage existing businesses to go through the formal registration process as well as encourage the creation of new companies.  The legislation includes provisions granting tax exemptions on national and municipal taxes and reduced permitting and licensing fees for new businesses.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The Honduran government does not provide direct export subsidies, but does offer tax exemptions to firms in a free trade zone.  The Temporary Import Law allows exporters to introduce raw materials, parts, and capital equipment (except vehicles) into Honduras exempt from surcharges and customs duties if a manufacturer incorporates the input into a product for export (up to five percent can be sold locally).  The government allows the establishment of export processing zones anywhere in the country. Companies operating in export processing zones are exempt from paying import duties and other charges on goods and capital equipment. In addition, the production and sale of goods within export processing zones are exempt from state and municipal income taxes for the first 10 years of operation.  The government permits companies operating in an export processing zone unrestricted repatriation of profits and capital. Companies are required, however, to purchase the Lempiras needed for their local operations from Honduran commercial banks or from foreign exchange trading houses registered with the Central Bank.

Most industrial parks and export processing zones are located in the northern Department of Cortes, with close access to Puerto Cortes, Honduras’ major Caribbean port, and San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ major commercial city.  The government treats industrial parks and export processing zones as offshore operations and therefore companies must pay customs duties on products manufactured in the parks and sold in Honduras. In addition, the government treats Honduran inputs as exports, which companies must pay for in U.S. dollars.  Most companies operating in these parks are involved in apparel assembly, though the government and park operators have begun to diversify into other types of light industry, including automotive parts and electronics assembly. Additional information on Honduran free trade zones and export processing zones is available from the Honduran Manufacturers Association (http://www.ahm-honduras.com/  ).

In 2013, the Government of Honduras signed a law to allow establishment of Economic Development and Employment Zones (ZEDEs) to boost job growth and attract foreign investment.  Following a backlash from local and international NGOs concerned about labor rights, land issues, and environmental protection, the push for ZEDEs remained dormant until August 2017, when President Hernández revived the concept as a key job creation tool in conjunction with Honduras Plan 20/20 and his reelection campaign.  Per the Tourism Law, privately owned tourism zones permit free importation of equipment, supplies, and vehicles. As of May 2019 there are no ZEDEs operating in Honduras, though officials insist the first ZEDE will soon be operational.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The Honduran government encourages foreign investors to hire locally and to make use of domestic content, especially in manufacturing and agriculture.  The government looks favorably on investment projects that contribute to employment growth, either directly or indirectly. U.S. investors in Honduras have not reported instances in which the government has imposed performance or localization requirements on investments.

The Honduran government and courts can require foreign and domestic investors that operate in Honduras to turn over data for use in criminal investigations or civil proceedings.  Honduran law enforcement, prosecutors, and civil courts have the authority to make such requests.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Honduran law recognizes secured interests in movable and real property.  The Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Tegucigalpa (CCIT) and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of San Pedro Sula (CCIC) both manage their own merchant records.  The national property registry is managed by the Property Institute. Honduras’ secured transactions law gives a concession to the CCIT and CCIC to administer their own merchant registries.

Land title procedures have been an issue leading to investment disputes involving U.S. nationals who are landowners.  Title insurance is not widely available in Honduras and approximately 80 percent of the privately held land in the country is either untitled or improperly titled.  Resolution of disputes in court often takes years. There are claims of widespread corruption in land sales, deed filing, and dispute resolution, including claims against attorneys, real estate companies, judges, and local officials.  Although Honduras has made some progress, the property registration system is perceived as unreliable and represents a constraint on investment, particularly in the Bay Islands. In addition, a lack of implementing regulations leads to long delays in the awarding of titles in some regions

Intellectual Property Rights

The legislative framework for protection of intellectual property rights (IPR), which includes the Honduran copyright law and its industrial property law, is generally adequate but often poorly implemented.  Honduras implements its obligations under the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Honduran law protects data exclusivity for a period of five years and protects process patents, but does not recognize second-use patents.  The Property Institute (IP) and Public Ministry handle protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights.

CAFTA-DR Chapter 15 on Intellectual Property Rights further provides for the protection and enforcement of a range of intellectual property rights, which are consistent with U.S. and international standards as well as with emerging international standards of IPR protection and enforcement.  There are also provisions on deterrence of piracy and counterfeiting. Additionally, CAFTA-DR provides authorities the ability to confiscate pirated goods and investigate intellectual property cases on their own initiative.

The Honduran legal framework provides deterrence against piracy and counterfeiting by requiring the seizure, forfeiture, and destruction of counterfeit and pirated goods and the equipment used to produce them.  The law also provides for statutory damages for copyright and trademark infringement, to ensure monetary damages are awarded even when losses associated with an infringement are difficult to assign.

Honduras is not listed in USTR’s Special 301 report or the Notorious Markets List.

Resources for Rights Holders

A list of local attorneys is available at https://hn.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/local-resources-of-u-s-citizens/attorneys/.

The Honduran-American Chamber of Commerce works with U.S. and Honduran companies that encounter commercial challenges, including intellectual property rights issues (http://www.amchamhonduras.org/  ).  For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see World Intellectual Property Organization’s country profiles: http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/  .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

There are no government restrictions on foreign investors’ access to local credit markets, though the local banking system generally extends only limited amounts of credit.  Investors should not consider local banks a significant capital resource for new foreign ventures unless they use specific business development credit lines made available by bilateral or multilateral financial institutions such as the Central American Bank for Economic Integration.

A limited number of credit instruments are available in the local market.  The only security exchange operating in the country is the Central American Securities Exchange (BCV) in Tegucigalpa, but investors should exercise caution before buying securities listed on it.  Supervised by the National Banking and Insurance Commission (CNBS), the BCV theoretically offers instruments to trade bankers’ acceptances, repurchase agreements, short-term promissory notes, Honduran government private debt conversion bonds, and land reform repayment bonds.  In practice, however, the BCV is almost entirely composed of short- and medium-term government securities and no formal secondary market for these bonds exists.

A few banks have placed fixed rate and floating rate notes extended to three years in maturity, but outside of the banks’ issuances, the private sector does not sell debt or corporate stock on the exchange.  Any private business is eligible to trade its financial instruments on the BCV, and firms that participate are subject to a rigorous screening process, including public disclosure and ratings by a recognized rating agency.  Historically, traded firms generally have had economic ties to the different business and financial groups represented as shareholders of the exchange. As a result, risk management practices are lax and public confidence in the institution is limited.

Money and Banking System

The Honduran financial system is comprised of commercial banks, state-owned banks, savings and loans institutions, and financial companies.  There are currently 15 commercial banks operating in Honduras. There is no offshore banking or homegrown blockchain technologies in Honduras.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange Policies

Article 10.8 of CAFTA-DR ensures the free transfer of funds related to a covered investment.  Local financial institutions freely exchange U.S. dollars and other foreign currencies. Foreigners may open bank accounts with a valid passport.  For deposits exceeding the maximum deposits specified for different account types (corporate or small-medium enterprises), banks require documentation verifying the fund’s origin.

The Investment Law guarantees foreign investors access to foreign currency needed to transfer funds associated with their investments in Honduras, including:

  • Imports of goods and services necessary to operate
  • Payment of royalty fees, rents, annuities, and technical assistance
  • Remittance of dividends and capital repatriation

The Central Bank of Honduras   instituted a crawling peg in 2011 that allows the lempira to fluctuate against the U.S. dollar by seven percent per year.  The Central Bank mandates any daily price of the crawling peg be no greater than 100.075 percent of the average for the prior seven daily auctions.  These restrictions limit devaluation to a maximum of 4.8 percent annually. As of mid-May, the exchange rate is 24.43lempira to the U.S. dollar.

The Central Bank uses an auction system to allocate of foreign exchange based on the following regulations:

  • The Central Bank sets base prices every five auctions according to the differential between the domestic inflation rate and the inflation rate of Honduras’ main commercial partners.
  • The Central Bank’s Board of Directors determines the procedure to set the base.
  • The Board of Directors establishes the exchange commission and the exchange agencies in their foreign exchange transactions.
  • Individuals and corporate bodies can participate in the auction system for dollar purchases, either by themselves or through an exchange agency.  The offers can be no less than USD 10,000, no more than USD 300,000 for individuals, and no more than USD 1.2 million for corporations.
  • To date, the U.S. Embassy in Honduras has not received complaints from individuals with regard to converting or transferring funds associated with investments.

Remittance Policies

The Investment Law guarantees investors the right to remit their investment returns and, if they liquidate their investments, to remit the principal capital invested.  Foreign investors that choose to remit their investment proceeds from Honduras do so through foreign exchange transactions at Honduran banks or foreign banks operating in Honduras.  These exchange transactions are subject to the same foreign exchange process and regulation as other transactions.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Honduras does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Most state-owned enterprises are in telecommunications, electricity, water utilities, and commercial ports.  The main state-owned Honduran telephone company, Hondutel, has private contracts with eight foreign and domestic carriers.  The Government of Honduras has yet to establish a legal framework for foreign companies to obtain licenses and concessions to provide long distance and international calling.  As a result, investors remain unsure if they can become fully independent telecommunication service providers.

The state-owned National Electric Energy Company (ENEE) is the single greatest contributor to the country’s fiscal deficit.  Energy reform legislation, passed in 2014, called for the separation of ENEE into three independent units for distribution, transmission, and generation. International energy observers, including the World Bank, cite a lack of…political will and vested interests from Honduran political and economic elite who profit from inflated generation contracts, stalling efforts to unbundle ENEE.  While the Honduran government is leading efforts to reform the energy sector and reform ENEE, they face serious structural problems including high electricity system losses, a transmission system in need of upgrades, vulnerability of generation costs to volatile international oil prices, an electricity tariff that does not reflect actual costs, and the high costs of long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs).  ENEE experienced an operational deficit of USD 191.4 million in 2017, up USD 28.4 million from the previous full year. In 2017, the Honduran government issued USD 700 million in sovereign bonds to cover payment arrears and refinance the most expensive existing debtThe IMF recommended thatENEE lower the cost of power generation, increase tariffs, invest in transmission upgrades, and reduce losses in order to reduce its deficit.

ENEE controls most hydroelectric generation, which accounts for about one-third of total capacity.  Approximately 50 percent of all power generation comes from diesel and bunker fuel oil plants and the remaining 20 percent comes from wind, solar, and biomass.  Following a push for renewable energy in 2014, the government approved more than 80 contracts between ENEE and private producers for almost 2000 megawatts of new clean energy, although many of these projects are unlikely to materialize.  In 2018, the government cancelled an incentive programs offering a USD 0.03 per kilowatt-hour for renewable power due to high costs. Many businesses have installed on-site power generation systems to supplement or substitute for power from ENEE due to high costs and uncertainty about the semi-privatization process.

Honduran law grants municipalities the right to manage water distribution and to grant concessions to private enterprises.  Major cities with public-private concessions include San Pedro Sula, Puerto Cortes, and Choloma. The state water authority National Autonomous Aqueduct and Sewer Service (SANAA) manages Tegucigalpa’s water distribution.  The Honduran National Port Company (ENP) is the state-owned organization that oversees management the country’s government-operated maritime ports, including Puerto Cortes, La Ceiba, Puerto Castilla, and San Lorenzo. Private companies Central American Port Operators and Maritime Ports of Honduras have 30-year concessions to operate container and bulk shipping facilities at Honduras’ principal port Puerto Cortes.

Privatization Program

The Honduran government is not actively seeking to privatize state-owned enterprises though it is seeking to increase private sector participation in the electric system.  As part of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) December 2014 standby arrangement, concluded in December 2017, the Honduran government initiated reform of the state-owned energy company ENEE and created an independent Electric Energy Regulatory Commission.  In preparation for another IMF standby arrangement, the Honduran government is preparing a plan to separate ENEE. While the structure of the new entity is unclear, under the previous standby arrangement, Honduras was supposed to reform ENEE by creating a holding company with four components: a distribution company with an operations subcontractor supported by a trust agreement; a concession for the transmission network; a not-for-profit organization with public-private ownership to control the overall electrical system; and a privatized generation company that owns all ENEE generating facilities.  The majority of the reforms were not realized, with the exception of a 2016 sub-contract by a Colombian-Honduran consortium to manage energy distribution.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Awareness of the importance of Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) is growing among both producers and consumers in Honduras.  An increasing number of local and foreign companies operating in Honduras include conduct-related responsibility practices in their business strategies.  The Honduran Corporate Social Responsibility Foundation (FUNDAHRSE) leads efforts to promote transparency in the business climate and provides the Honduran private sector, particularly small- and medium-sized businesses, with the skills to engage in responsible business practices.  FUNDAHRSE’s members can apply for the foundation’s “Corporate Social Responsibility Enterprise” seal for exemplary responsible business conduct involving activities in health, education, environmental, codes of ethics, employment relations, and responsible marketing.

RBC related to the environment and outreach to local communities are especially important to the success of investment projects in Honduras.  Several major foreign investment projects in Honduras have stalled due to concerns about environmental impact, land rights issues, lack of transparency, and problematic consultative processes with local communities, particularly indigenous communities.  Efforts to pass legislation in support of International Labor Organization Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples has stalled in congress, although nascent efforts within the business community to revive the legislative process are underway. Successful foreign investors in Honduras implement a proactive strategy to build trust and effective dialogue with local communities.  Investors should both meet Honduran legal obligations and employ international best practices and standards to engage with communities to reduce the risk of conflict and promote sustainable and equitable development.

Examples of international best practices include the following:

  • Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights Initiative
  • The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
  • The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

9. Corruption

Following anticorruption protests in 2015, President Hernandez signed an agreement with the Organization of American States to form the Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH).  MACCIH has four principle objectives:

  • Prevent and combat corruption and impunity
  • Criminal justice system reform
  • Political and electoral reform
  • Public security

Since its inception in April 2016, MACCIH has worked with the Public Ministry to achieve success on several significant cases, including against current and former public officials.  MACCIH advanced justice reform by lobbying the Honduran Congress to pass a Law on Financing, Transparency, and Oversight of Political Parties in Honduras.  They also presented draft legislation for a Law of Effective Collaboration (similar to plea-bargaining) to the Honduran authorities.  MACCIH worked with the Public Ministry to create a special anti-corruption unit (UFECIC) to pursue large-scale corruption cases.  MACCIH established a Civil Society Observatory to monitor the criminal justice system in the country and work with civil society to implement a cohesive strategy to address systemic corruption.  MACCIH faces the end of its mandate in January 2020 without agreement for an extension between the OAS and the Honduran government.

U.S. businesses and citizens report corruption in the public sector and the judiciary is a significant constraint to investment in Honduras.  Historically, corruption has been pervasive in government procurement, issuance of government permits, customs, real estate transactions (particularly land title transfers), performance requirements, and the regulatory system.  Since 2012, the Honduran government signed agreements with Transparency International, the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative, and the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative. Honduras is also receiving support from the Millennium Challenge Corporation in the development of an e-procurement platform and public procurement auditing.

Honduras’s Rankings on Key Corruption Indicators

Measure Year Index/Ranking
TI Corruption Index 2018 29.0/100, 132 of 180
World Bank Doing Business May 2018 121/190
MCC Government Effectiveness FY 2018 -0.30 (13 percent)
MCC Rule of Law FY 2018 -0.73 (10 percent)
MCC Control of Corruption FY 2018 -0.16 (37 percent)

The United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) deems it unlawful for a U.S. person, and certain foreign issuers of securities to make corrupt payments to foreign public officials for the purpose of obtaining or retaining business for directing business to any person.  The FCPA also applies to foreign firms and persons who take any act in furtherance of such a corrupt payment while in the United States. For more information, see the FCPA Lay-Person’s Guide: http://www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/  .

Honduras is a member of the UN Anticorruption Convention, which entered into force on December 14, 2005.  The UN Convention is the first global comprehensive international anticorruption agreement and requires countries to establish criminal penalties for a wide range of acts of corruption.  The UN Convention covers a broad range of issues from basic forms of corruption such as bribery and solicitation, embezzlement, trading in influence to the concealment and laundering of the proceeds of corruption.  The UN Convention contains transnational business bribery provisions that are functionally similar to those in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Anti-Bribery Convention.

Honduras is a member of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption (OAS Convention), which entered into force in March 1997.  The OAS Convention establishes a set of preventive measures against corruption; provides for the criminalization of certain acts of corruption, including transnational bribery and illicit enrichment; and contains a series of provisions to strengthen the cooperation between its states parties in areas such as mutual legal assistance and technical cooperation.

Resources to Report Corruption

Companies that face corruption-related challenges in Honduras may contact the following organizations to request assistance.

Public Ministry
Eva Naza
Coordinator for External Cooperation
Email: cooperacionexterna.mp@gmail.com

The Public Ministry is the Honduran government agency responsible for criminal prosecutions, including corruption cases.

Association for a More Just Society (ASJ)
Yahayra Yohana Velasquez Duce
Director of Transparency
Residencial El Trapiche, 2da etapa Bloque B, Casa #25
Telephone: +504-2235-2291
Email: info@asjhonduras.com

ASJ is a nongovernmental Honduran organization that works to reduce corruption and increase transparency.  It is an affiliate of Transparency International.

National Anti-Corruption Council (CNA)
Alejandra Ferrera
Executive Board Assistant
Colonia San Carlos, calle Republica de Mexico
Telephone: 504-2221-1181
Email: aferrera@cna.hn

CAN is a Honduran civil society organization comprised of Honduran business groups, labor groups, religious organizations, and human rights groups.

U.S. Embassy Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Attention: Economic Section
Avenida La Paz
Tegucigalpa M.D.C., Honduras
Telephone Numbers: (504) 2236-9320, 2238-5114
Fax Number: (504) 2236-9037

Companies can also report corruption through the Department of Commerce Trade Compliance Center Report a Trade Barrier website: http://tcc.export.gov/Report_a_Barrier/index.asp  .

10. Political and Security Environment

Despite recent progress on improving security in Honduras, crime and violence rates remain high and add cost and constraint to investments.  While the political climate has stabilized since the weeks of protests that followed the November 2017 presidential election, continued low-level protests and uncertainty pose a challenge to ongoing stability.

U.S. citizens should be aware that large public gatherings might become unruly or violent quickly.  For more information, consult the Department of State’s latest travel warning: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/honduras-travel-advisory.html.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Honduras has a large supply of low-skilled labor.  Due to low average education levels, there is a limited supply of skilled workers in all technological fields, including medical and high technology industries.  The unemployment rate in Honduras is 6.7 percent and 48.6 percent is underemployed. Approximately 62.8 percent of workers are in the informal economy. Honduran law lays out a multi-tier system for calculating minimum wage, based on the employment sector and size of the company.  The Ministry of Labor, private sector, and labor confederations renegotiate specific starting levels on a multi-annual basis. Effective January 1, 2019 the minimum salary will go up 4.7 percent to 7 percent, and in 2020 it will go up from 5 percent to 7 percent.

The Honduran Labor Law prescribes a maximum eight-hour workday, 44-hour workweek, and at least one 24-hour rest period per week.  The Labor Code requires paid vacation of 10 workdays after one year, and 20 workdays after four years. Most employment sectors also receive two months bonuses as part of the base salary, known as the 13th and 14th month salary, issued in mid-December and mid-June, respectively.  New hires receive a prorated amount based on time-in-service during their first year of employment. The Labor Code requires companies to pay one month’s salary to employees terminated without cause. Companies do not owe severance to employees who resign or are terminated for cause.  Employees terminated for cause can contest the basis for the termination in court to claim severance. There are no government-provided unemployment benefits in Honduras, although unemployed individuals may have access to their accumulated pension funds.

Many employers hire employees on a temporary basis under the Temporary Employment Law.  In some cases, employers will renew employees under short-term contracts, sometimes over a period of years.  Labor groups allege that some employers use temporary contracts to avoid responsibility for severance, provide employee benefits, and prevent union formation.  The Honduran Secretariat of Labor and Social Security (STSS) is responsible for registering collective bargaining agreements. The Labor Code prohibits the employment of persons under the age of 14, but grants special permission for minors between ages 16 and 18 to work evenings as long as it does not affect schooling.  The majority of the violations of the labor-related provisions of the children’s code occur in the agricultural sector and informal economy.

While Honduran labor law closely mirrors International Labor Organization standards, the U.S. Department of Labor has raised serious concerns regarding the effective enforcement of Honduran labor laws.  Labor organizations allege the Honduran Ministry of Labor fails to enforce labor laws, including the right to form unions, reinstating employees unjustly fired for union activities, child labor, minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health.  A U.S. Department of Labor report provided recommendations to address labor concerns in Honduras and called for a monitoring and action plan (MAP) to improve labor law enforcement in Honduras. In October 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor released a MAP assessment update noting significant progress toward addressing areas of concern and extending the MAP’s mandate for an additional year.

The U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices describes a number of labor and human rights compliance issues that affect the Honduran labor market https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/honduras/).  These include employers’ anti-union discrimination, refusal to engage in collective bargaining, threats against union leaders, employer control of unions, blacklisting of employees who support unions, and refusal of Honduran labor inspectors.

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

The U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) provides loan guarantees (typically used for large projects) and direct loans reserved for projects sponsored by or substantially involving U.S. small businesses and cooperatives.  OPIC can normally guarantee or lend from USD 100,000 to USD 250 million per project.  OPIC also offers insurance against risks of currency inconvertibility, expropriation, and political violence. The Export-Import Bank of the U.S. also provides project financing in Honduras. Honduras is a party to the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency.

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 Source
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) N/A N/A 2016 $21,520 World Bank Honduras: https://data.worldbank.org/country/honduras   
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source USG or International Statistical Source Source
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2016 $1,100 BEA Data
http://bea.gov/international/direct_investment_multinational_companies_comprehensive_data.htm   
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2016 $3.0 BEA Data
http://bea.gov/international/direct_investment_multinational_companies_comprehensive_data.htm   
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2016 65.79% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx  


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 $15,029 100% Total Outward $2,273 100%
USA $2,502 18.07% Panama $1,005 49.90%
Mexico $2,152 15.54% El Salvador $317 15.74%
United Kingdom $1,516 10.95% Guatemala $279 13.85%
Luxembourg $1,321 9.54% Costa Rica $216 10.72%
Canada $1,199 8.66% Colombia $146 7.25%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $308 100% All Countries $10 100% All Countries $297 100%
International Organizations $193 63% Panama $6 60% International Organizations $193 65%
United States $95 31% United States $5 50% United States $90 30%
France $8 2% N/A N/A N/A France $8 3%
Panama $6 2% N/A N/A N/A Canada $5 2%
Canada $5 2% N/A N/A N/A Australia $2 1%

Indonesia

Executive Summary

While Indonesia’s population of 268 million, GDP over USD 1 trillion, growing middle class, and stable economy are attractive to U.S. investors, different entities have noted that investing in Indonesia remains challenging. Since October 2014, the Indonesian government under President Joko Widodo, widely referred to as ‘Jokowi,’ has prioritized boosting infrastructure investment to support Indonesia’s economic growth goals, and has committed to reducing bureaucratic barriers to investment, including the launch of a “one-stop-shop” for permits and licenses via the online single submission (OSS) system at the Investment Coordination Board. However, factors such as a decentralized decision-making process, legal uncertainty, economic nationalism, and powerful domestic vested interests in both the private and public sectors, create a complex investment climate. Other factors relevant to investors include: government requirements, both formal and informal, to partner with Indonesian companies, and to purchase goods and services locally; restrictions on some imports and exports; and, pressure to make substantial, long-term investment commitments. While the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission continues to investigate and prosecute high-profile corruption cases, investors still cite corruption as an obstacle to pursuing opportunities in Indonesia.

Other barriers to foreign investment that have been reported include difficulties in government coordination, the slow rate of land acquisition for infrastructure projects, relatively weak enforcement of contracts, bureaucratic issues challenging the efficiency of the process, and ambiguous legislation in regards to tax enforcement. Businesses have also complained about changes to rules at the government discretion with little or no notice and opportunity for comment, and lack of communication with companies in the development of laws and regulations. Investors have noted that new regulations are at times difficult to understand and often not properly communicated to those impacted. In addition, companies have complaint of the complexity of  coordination among ministries that continues to delay some processes important to companies, such as securing business licenses and import permits.

Indonesia restricts foreign investment in some sectors through a Negative Investment List. The latest version, issued in 2016, details the sectors in which foreign investment is restricted and outlines the foreign equity limits in a number of other sectors. The 2016 Negative Investment List allows greater foreign investments in some sectors, including e-commerce, film, tourism, and logistics. In health care, the 2016 list loosens restrictions on foreign investment in categories such as hospital management services and manufacturing of raw materials for medicines, but tightens restrictions in others such as mental rehabilitation, dental and specialty clinics, nursing services, and the manufacture and distribution of medical devices. Companies have reported that energy and mining still face significant foreign investment barriers.

Indonesia began to abrogate its more than 60 existing Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) in February 2014, allowing some of the agreements to expire. The United States does not have a BIT with Indonesia.

Despite the challenges that the industry has reported, Indonesia continues to attract foreign investment. Singapore, China, Japan, South Korea, and the United States were among the top sources of foreign investment in the country in 2017 (latest available full-year data). Private consumption is the backbone of the largest economy in ASEAN, making Indonesia a promising destination for a wide range of companies, ranging from consumer products and financial services, to digital start-ups and franchisors. Indonesia has ambitious plans to improve its infrastructure with a focus on expanding access to energy, strengthening its maritime transport corridors, which includes building roads, ports, railways and airports, as well as improving agricultural production, telecommunications, and broadband networks throughout the country. Indonesia continues to attract U.S. franchises and consumer product manufacturers. UN agencies and the World Bank have recommended that Indonesia do more to grow financial and investor support for women-owned businesses, noting obstacles that women-owned business sometimes face in early-stage financing.

Table 1

Measure Year Index or Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions index 2018 89 of 175 https://www.transparency.org/cpi2018
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2019 73 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 85 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $15,170 M http://www.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $3,540 https://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD?locations=ID

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

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

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

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

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

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

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

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

Other Investment Policy Reviews

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

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

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

Business Facilitation

Business Registration

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

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

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

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

Screening of FDI

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

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

Outward Investment

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

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Indonesia has investment agreements with 41countries, including: Algeria, Australia, Bangladesh, Chile, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Guyana, Iran,  Jamaica, Jordan, Libya, Mauritius, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovak Republic, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Syria, Sweden, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.

In 2014, Indonesia began to abrogate its existing BITs by allowing the agreements to expire. By 2018, 26 BITs had expired, including those with Argentina, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cambodia, China, Denmark, Egypt, France, Finland, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Romania, Singapore, Spain, Slovakia, Switzerland, Turkey, and Vietnam. However, Indonesia renewed its BIT with Singapore in October 2018. Indonesia is currently developing a new model BIT that could limit the scope of Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions.

The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) arrangement came into effect on January 1, 2016, and was expected to reduce barriers for goods, services and some skilled employees across ASEAN. Under the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, duties on imports from ASEAN countries generally range from zero to five percent, except for products specified on exclusion lists. Indonesia also provides preferential market access to Australia, China, Japan, Korea, India, Pakistan, and New Zealand under regional ASEAN agreements and to Japan under a bilateral agreement. In accordance with the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement (FTA), in August 2012 Indonesia increased the number of goods from China receiving duty-free access to 10,012 tariff lines. Indonesia is also participating in negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which includes the 10 ASEAN Member States and 6 additional countries (Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea and New Zealand). In February 2019, RCEP entered the 25th round of negotiations, which included discussion on trade in goods, trade in services, investment, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property, competition, dispute settlement, e-commerce, SMEs and other issues. In March 2019, ASEAN and Japan signed the First Protocol to Amend their Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.

Indonesia has been actively engaged in bilateral FTA negotiations. In 2018, Indonesia signed trade agreements with Australia, Chile, and the European Free Trade Association (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland). Indonesia is currently negotiating bilateral trade agreements with the European Union, Iran, Japan, Malaysia, Morocco, Mozambique, South Korea, Tunisia, and Turkey. In addition, Indonesia seeks to initiate trade negotiations with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Gulf Cooperation Council, South Africa, and Kenya.

The United States and Indonesia signed the Convention between the Government of the Republic of Indonesia and the Government of the United States of America for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of the Fiscal Evasion with Respect to Taxes on Income in Jakarta on July 11, 1988. This was amended with a Protocol, signed on July 24, 1996. There is no double taxation of personal income.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Regulatory Considerations

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

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

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

Legal System and Judicial Independence

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

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

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

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

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

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

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

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

Expropriation and Compensation

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

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

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

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

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

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

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

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

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

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

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

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

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

Bankruptcy Regulations

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

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Indonesia provides incentive facilities through fiscal incentives, non-fiscal incentives, and other benefits. Fiscal incentives are in the form of tax holidays, tax allowances, and exemptions of import duties for capital goods and raw materials for investment. As part of the Economic Policy Package XVI, Indonesia issued a modified tax holiday scheme in November 2018 through Ministry of Finance (MOF) Regulation 150/2018, which revokes MOF Regulation 35/2018.  This regulation is intended to attract more direct investment in pioneer industries and simplify the application process through the OSS. The period of the tax holiday is extended up to 20 years; the minimum investment threshold is IDR 100 trillion (USD 7.14 billion), which is a significant reduction from the previous regulation at IDR 500 trillion (USD 35.7 billion). In addition to the tax holiday, depending on the investment amount, this regulation also provides either 25 or 50 percent income tax reduction for the two years after the end of the tax holiday. The following table explains the parameters of the new scheme:

Provision New Capital Investment IDR 100 billion to less than IDR 500 billion New Capital Investment IDR more  than IDR 500 billion
Reduction in Corporate Income Tax Rate

 

50 percent 100 percent
Concession Period

 

5 years 10 years
Transition Period 25 percent Corporate Income Tax Reduction for the next 2 years 50 percent Corporate Income Tax Reduction for the next 2 years

Based on BKPM Regulation 1/2019, the coverage of pioneer sectors was expanded to the digital economy, agricultural, plantation, and forestry, bringing the total to eighteen industries:

  1. Upstream basic metals;
  2. Oil and gas refineries;
  3. Petrochemicals derived from petroleum, natural gas, and coal;
  4. Inorganic basic chemicals;
  5. Organic basic chemicals;
  6. Pharmaceutical raw materials;
  7. Semi-conductors and other primary computer components;
  8. Primary medical device components;
  9. Primary industrial machinery components;
  10. Primary engine components for transport equipment;
  11. Robotic components for manufacturing machines;
  12. Primary ship components for the shipbuilding industry;
  13. Primary aircraft components;
  14. Primary train components;
  15. Power generation including waste-to-energy power plants;
  16. Economic infrastructure;
  17. Digital economy including data processing; and
  18. Agriculture, plantation, and forestry-based processing

Government Regulation No. 9/2016 expanded regional tax incentives for certain business categories in May 2016. Apparel, leather goods, and footwear industries in all regions are now eligible for the tax incentives. In this regulation, existing tax facilities are maintained, including:

  • Deduction of 30 percent from taxable income over a six-year period
  • Accelerated depreciation and amortization
  • Ten percent of withholding tax on dividend paid by foreign taxpayer or a lower rate according to the avoidance of double taxation agreement
  • Compensation losses extended from 5 to 10 years with certain conditions for companies that are:
    1. Located in industrial or bonded zone;
    2. Developing infrastructure;
    3. Using at least 70 percent domestic raw material;
    4. Absorbing 500 to 1000 laborers;
    5. Doing research and development (R&D) worth at least 5 percent of the total investment over 5 years;
    6. Reinvesting capital; or,
    7. Exporting at least 30 percent of their product.

The government also provides the facility of Government-Borne Import Duty (Bea Masuk Ditanggung Pemerintah /BMDTP) with zero percent import duty to improve industrial competitiveness and public goods procurement in high value added, labor intensive, and high growth sectors. MOF Regulation 209/2018 provides zero import duty for imported raw materials in 36 sectors including plastics, cosmetics, polyester, resins, other chemical materials, machinery for agriculture, electricity, toys, vehicle components, telecommunication, fertilizer, and pharmaceuticals until December 2019.

Research and Development

At present, Indonesia does not have formal regulations granting national treatment to U.S. and other foreign firms participating in government-financed or subsidized research and development programs. The Ministry for Research and Technology and Higher Education handles applications on a case-by-case basis.

Natural Resources

Indonesia’s vast natural resource wealth has attracted significant foreign investment over the last century and continues to offer significant prospects. However, some report that a variety of government regulations have made doing business in the resources sector increasingly difficult, and Indonesia now ranks near the bottom, 70th of 83 jurisdictions in the Fraser Institute’s 2018 Mining Policy Perception Index. In 2012, Indonesia banned the export of raw minerals, dramatically increased the divestment requirements for foreign mining companies, and required major mining companies to renegotiate their contracts of work with the government. The ban on the export of raw minerals went into effect in January 2014. In July 2014, the government issued regulations that allowed, until January 2017, the export of copper and several other mineral concentrates with export duties and other conditions imposed. When the full ban came back into effect in January 2017, the government issued new regulations that again allowed exports of copper concentrate and other specified minerals, but imposed  more onerous requirements. Of note for foreign investors, provisions of the regulations require that to be able to export non-smelted mineral ores, companies with contracts of work must convert to mining business licenses—and thus be subject to prevailing regulations—and must commit to build smelters within the next five years. Also, foreign-owned mining companies must gradually divest over ten years 51 percent of shares to Indonesian interests, with the price of divested shares determined based on fair market value and not taking into account existing reserves. The 2009 mining law devolved the authority to issue mining licenses to local governments, who have responded by issuing more than 10,000 licenses, many of which have been reported to overlap or be unclearly mapped. In the oil and gas sector, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court disbanded the upstream regulator in 2012, injecting confusion and more uncertainty into the natural resources sector. Until a new oil and gas law is enacted, upstream activities are supervised by the Special Working Unit on Upstream Oil and Gas (SKK Migas).

Infrastructure

Since taking office in October 2014, President Jokowi has made infrastructure development a top priority. The government originally announced plans to add 35,000 megawatts of electricity capacity by 2019, but in 2017 revised this target downward to 19,000 megawatts. The Jokowi administration also announced plans to create a maritime nexus, to include the development or expansion of 24 ports and other transportation infrastructure.  The Indonesian government is also implementing a PPP scheme to develop broadband internet access throughout the country as part of its “Palapa Ring” initiative. The initiative, which will install over 12,000 kilometers of fiber optic cable, is divided into three segments.  The western and central segments have been completed, and the eastern segment is expected to be complete by the end of 2019. Following completion of the Palapa Ring, Indonesia plans to deploy high-throughput satellites to connect remote and frontier areas for internet access. Many businesses report that the current institutional arrangement for infrastructure development still suffers from functional overlap, lack of capacity for public-private partnership (PPP) projects in regional governments, lack of solid value-for-money methodologies, crowding out of the private sector by state-owned enterprises (SOEs), legal uncertainty, lack of a solid land-acquisition framework, long-term operational risks for the private sector, unwillingness from stakeholders to be the first ones to test a new policy approach, and, especially, lack of a PPP apex agency. Currently infrastructure development is largely taking place through SOEs, with PPPs having only a marginal share of infrastructure projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Trade/ Trade Facilitation

Indonesia offers numerous incentives to foreign and domestic companies that operate in special trade zones throughout Indonesia. The largest zone is the free trade zone (FTZ) island of Batam, located just south of Singapore. Neighboring Bintan Island and Karimun Island also enjoy FTZ status. Investors in FTZs are exempt from import duty, income tax, VAT, and sales tax on imported capital goods, equipment, and raw materials until the portion of production destined for the domestic market is “exported” to Indonesia, in which case fees are owed only on that portion.  Foreign companies are allowed up to 100 percent ownership of companies in FTZs. Companies operating in FTZs may lend machinery and equipment to subcontractors located outside of the zone for a maximum two-year period.

Indonesia also has numerous Special Economic Zones (SEZs), regulated under Law No. 39/2009, Government Regulation No. 2/2011 on SEZ management, and Government Regulation No. 96/2015. These benefits include a reduction of corporate income taxes for a period of years (depending on the size of the investment), income tax allowances, and expedited or simplified administrative processes for import/export, expatriate employment, immigration, and licensing. As of April 2019, Indonesia has identified twelve SEZs in manufacturing and tourism centers that are operational or under construction, with 20 additional areas proposed as new SEZs. Ten SEZs are operational (though development is sometimes limited) at: 1) Sei Mangkei, North Sumatera; 2) Tanjung Lesung, Banten, 3) Palu, Central Sulawesi; 4) Mandalika, West Nusa Tenggara, 5) Arun Lhokseumawe, Aceh, 6) Galang Batang, Bintan, Riau Islands 7) Tanjung Kelayang, Pulau Bangka, Bangka Belitung Islands; 8) Bitung, North Sulawesi; 9) Morotai, North Maluku; 10) Maloy Batuta Trans Kalimantan, East Kalimantan. Two more SEZs are expected to operate in 2019: Tanjung Api-Api, South Sumatera; and Sorong, Papua. In 2016, the government began the process of transitioning Batam from an FTZ to SEZ in order to provide further investment incentives in Batam. The Indonesian government announced in December 2018 that it plans to transition management of the Batam FTZ to the local government, creating a single regulatory authority on the island. The conversion to an SEZ is expected to be finished in 2019 and will not affect the status of the neighboring FTZs on Bintan and Karimun islands.

Indonesian law also provides for several other types of zones that enjoy special tax and administrative treatment.  Among these are Industrial Zones/Industrial Estates (Kawasan Industri), bonded stockpiling areas (Tempat Penimbunan Berikat), and Integrated Economic Development Zones (Kawasan Pengembangan Ekonomi Terpadu).  Indonesia is home to 97 industrial estates that host thousands of industrial and manufacturing companies.  Ministry of Finance Regulation No. 105/2016 provides several different tax and customs facilities available to companies operating out of an industrial estate, including corporate income tax reductions, tax allowances, VAT exemptions, and import duty exemptions depending on the type of industrial estate.  Bonded stockpile areas include bonded warehouses, bonded zones, bonded exhibition spaces, duty free shops, bonded auctions places, bonded recycling areas, and bonded logistics centers. Companies operating in these areas enjoy concessions in the form of exemption from certain import taxes, luxury goods taxes, and value added taxes, based on a variety of criteria for each type of location. Most recently, bonded logistics centers (BLCs) were introduced to allow for larger stockpiles, longer temporary storage (up to three years), and a greater number of activities in a single area. The Ministry of Finance issued Regulation 28/2018, providing additional guidance on the types of BLCs and shortening approval for BLC applications. By September 2018, Indonesia had designated 59 BLCs in 81 locations, with plans to designate more in eastern Indonesia.  KAPET zones, first announced in a 1996 presidential decree, are eligible for partial tax holidays, certain income tax exemptions and deductions, flexible treatment of amortization of capital and losses, and fiscal loss compensation. In 2018, Ministry of Finance and the Directorate General for Customs and Excise (DGCE) issued regulations (MOF Regulation No. 131/2018 and DGCE Regulation No. 19/2018) to streamline the licensing process for bonded zones.  Together the two regulations are intended to reduce processing times and the number of licenses required to open a bonded zone.

Shipments from FTZs and SEZs to other places in the Indonesia customs area are treated similarly to exports and are subject to taxes and duties.  Under MOF Regulation 120/2013, bonded zones have a domestic sales quota of 50 percent of the preceding realization amount on export, sales to other bonded zones, sales to free trade zones, and sales to other economic areas (unless otherwise authorized by the Indonesian government).  Sales to other special economic areas are only allowed for further processing to become capital goods, and to companies which have a license from the economic area organizer for the goods relevant to their business.

In 2017, the government issued Presidential Regulation 91 on the Acceleration of Business Operations, aiming to reduce and simplify the Indonesian business licensing regime, including in SEZs. Under this regulation, Indonesia has established national, ministerial, provincial and regional task forces to examine inefficiencies in the process of starting a business, including business licensing practices, the availability of one-stop business registration in SEZs and FTZs, and data sharing between different jurisdictions. The Coordinating Ministry for Economic Affairs, which leads implementation of the regulation, reports that all Indonesian provinces, FTZs, and SEZs, and more than 90 percent of regencies (kabupaten) had established one-stop business licensing services by February 2018.  Under the new rules, businesses that apply for a license under a one-stop system must begin setting up within 90 days unless given an extension. The regulation also provides that the central government may take control of business licensing if a local government unduly delays business license issuance. Business and bonded zone licensing is increasingly integrated into Indonesia’s OSS.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Performance Requirements

Indonesia expects foreign investors to contribute to the training and development of Indonesian nationals, allowing the transfer of skills and technology required for their effective participation in the management of foreign companies. Generally, a company can hire foreigners only for positions that the government has deemed open to non-Indonesians. Employers must have training programs aimed at replacing foreign workers with Indonesians. If a direct investment enterprise wants to employ foreigners, the enterprise should submit an Expatriate Placement Plan (RPTKA) to the Ministry of Manpower.

Indonesia recently made significant changes to its foreign worker regulations. Under Presidential Regulation No. 20/2018, issued in March 2018, the Ministry of Manpower now has two days to approve a complete RPTKA application, and an RPTKA is not required for commissioners or executives. An RPTKA’s validity is now based on the duration of a worker’s contract (previously it was valid for a maximum of five years). The new regulation no longer requires expatriate workers to go through the intermediate step of obtaining a Foreign Worker Permit (IMTA). Instead, expatriates can use an endorsed RPTKA to apply with the immigration office in their place of domicile for a Limited Stay Visa or Semi-Permanent Residence Visa (VITAS/VBS). Expatriates receive a Limited Stay Permit (KITAS) and a blue book, valid for up to two years and renewable for up to two extensions without leaving the country. Regulation No. 20/2018 also abolished the requirement for all expatriates to receive a technical recommendation from a relevant ministry. However, ministries may still establish technical competencies or qualifications for certain jobs, or prohibit the use of foreign worker for specific positions, by informing and obtaining approval from the Ministry of Manpower. Foreign workers who plan to work longer than six months in Indonesia must apply for employee social security and/or insurance.

Regulation No. 20/2018 provides for short-term working permits (maximum 6 months) for activities such as conducting audits, quality control, inspections, and installation of machinery and electrical equipment. Ministry of Manpower issued Regulation No.10/2018 to implement Regulation 20/2018, revoking its Regulation No. 16/2015 and No. 35/2015. Regulation 10/2018 provides additional details about the types of businesses that can employ foreign workers, sets requirements to obtain health insurance for expatriate employees, requires companies to appoint local “companion” employees for the transfer of technology and skill development, and requires employers to “facilitate” Indonesian language training for foreign workers. Any expatriate who holds a work and residence permit must contribute USD 1,200 per year to a fund for local manpower training at regional manpower offices. The Ministry of Manpower is preparing additional rules listing the specific types of jobs that will be open for foreign workers. Foreign workers will not be eligible for positions not listed in the decree. Some U.S. firms report difficulty in renewing KITASs for their foreign executives. In February 2017, the Ministry of Energy and Natural resources abolished regulations specific to the oil and gas industry, bringing that sector in line with rules set by the Ministry of Manpower.

With the passage of a defense law in 2012 and subsequent implementing regulations in 2014, Indonesia established a policy that imposes offset requirements for procurements from foreign defense suppliers. Current laws authorize Indonesian end users to procure defense articles from foreign suppliers if those articles cannot be produced within Indonesia, subject to Indonesian local content and offset policy requirements. On that basis, U.S. defense equipment suppliers are competing for contracts with local partners. The 2014 implementing regulations still require substantial clarification regarding how offsets and local content are determined. According to the legislation and subsequent implementing regulations, an initial 35 percent of any foreign defense procurement or contract must include local content, and this 35 percent local content threshold will increase by 10 percent every five years following the 2014 release of the implementing regulations until a local content requirement of 85 percent is achieved. The law also requires a variety of offsets such as counter-trade agreements, transfer of technology agreements, or a variety of other mechanisms, all of which are negotiated on a per-transaction basis. The implementing regulations also refer to a “multiplier factor” that can be applied to increase a given offset valuation depending on “the impact on the development of the national economy.” Decisions regarding multiplier values, authorized local content, and other key aspects of the new law are in the hands of the Defense Industry Policy Committee (KKIP), an entity comprising Indonesian interagency representatives and defense industry leadership. KKIP leadership indicates that they still determine multiplier values on a case-by-case basis, but have said that once they conclude an industry-wide gap analysis study, they will publish a standardized multiplier value schedule. According to government officials, rules for offsets and local content apply to major new acquisitions only, and do not apply to routine or recurring procurements such as those required for maintenance and sustainment.

WTO/Trade-Related Investment Measures

Indonesia notified the WTO of its compliance with Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMS) on August 26, 1998. The 2007 Investment Law states that Indonesia shall provide the same treatment to both domestic and foreign investors originating from any country. Nevertheless, the government pursues policies to promote local manufacturing that could be inconsistent with TRIMS requirements, such as linking import approvals to investment pledges, or requiring local content targets in some sectors.

Data Localization Requirements

In 2012, Indonesia issued Government Regulation No. 82/2012 requiring certain “public service providers” to establish data storage and disaster recovery centers on Indonesian soil. The regulation went into effect in October 2017 and several ministries have issued data localization regulations, including regulations related to data privacy, peer-to-peer lending, and insurance. As of April 2019, the Indonesian government has prepared a draft amendment to Government Regulation No. 82/2012 that would classify data into three categories: strategic, high-level, and low-level. The draft amendment offers vague definitions of these categories, defining strategic data as data potentially disruptive to the national governance, security, stability of the financial system, and/or other criteria established by law. The proposed amendment would require that “strategic” data be managed, stored, and processed only in Indonesia. The draft regulation would allow high- and low-level data to be managed, stored, and processed overseas so long as it does not reduce the effective implementation of Indonesian legal jurisdiction, subject to technical requirements established by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (KOMINFO).  The draft regulation would give financial sector regulators independent authority to identify and set conditions on the treatment of high-level financial data. It remains unclear how the proposed regulation would affect existing data localization requirements and what additional requirements may be imposed if the revised regulation is issued.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Basic Agrarian Law of 1960, the predominant body of law governing land rights, recognizes the right of private ownership and provides varying degrees of land rights for Indonesian citizens, foreign nationals, Indonesian corporations, foreign corporations, and other legal entities. Indonesia’s 1945 Constitution states that all natural resources are owned by the government for the benefit of the people. This principle was augmented by the passage of a land acquisition bill in 2011 that enshrined the concept of eminent domain and established mechanisms for fair market value compensation and appeals. The National Land Agency registers property under Regulation No. 24/1997, though the Ministry of Forestry administers all ‘forest land’. Registration is sometimes complicated by local government requirements and claims, as a result of decentralization. Registration is also not conclusive evidence of ownership, but rather strong evidence of such. Government Regulation No.103/2015 on house ownership by foreigners domiciled in Indonesia allows foreigners to have a property in Indonesia with the status of a “right to use” for a maximum of 30 years, with extensions available for up to 20 additional years.

Intellectual Property Rights

Indonesia is currently on the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 priority watch list for intellectual property rights (IPR) protection. According to U.S. stakeholders, Indonesia’s failure to effectively protect intellectual property and enforce IPR laws has resulted in high levels of physical and online piracy. Local industry associations have reported tens of millions of pirated films, music, and software in circulation in Indonesia in recent years, causing potentially billions of dollars in losses.  Indonesian physical markets, such as Pasar Mangga Dua, and online markets Tokopedia, Bukalapak, and IndoXXI.com were included in USTR’s Notorious Markets list in 2018.

Indonesian efforts to enhance IP protection policy were mixed this year. The 2016 Patent Law, continues to be a source of significant concern for IP stakeholders, especially expansive compulsory license provisions and a requirement under Article 20 to produce a patented product in Indonesia within 36 months of the grant of a patent. In July 2018, the Ministry of Law and Human Rights (MLHR) enacted Ministerial Regulation 15/2018, allowing patent holders to request a five-year, renewable exemption from the 36-month local production requirement under Article 20.  However, MLHR issued Ministerial Regulation 39/2018 on December 28, providing new procedures for obtaining compulsory licenses for a variety of patented products. Regulation 39/2018 would allow individuals, government institutions, and patent holders to apply for a compulsory license on three bases: 1) failure to produce a patented product in Indonesia within 36 months; 2) use of a patent in a manner detrimental to the public interest; and 3) where a patent cannot be implemented without utilizing another party’s patent. The new regulation also gives MLHR the discretion to grant compulsory licenses to produce, import, and export patented products needed to remedy human disease in Indonesia and third countries.

MLHR reports that the five-year exemption from local production requirements under Regulation 15/2018 will continue to be available despite the issuance of Regulation 39/2018. The 2016 Patent Law contains several other provisions that some have defined as “concerning”, including a  definition of “invention” that potentially imposes an additional “increased meaningful benefit” requirement for patents on new forms of existing compounds, an expansive national interest test for proposed patent licenses, and disclosure of genetic information and traditional knowledge to promote access and benefit sharing.  The Directorate General for Intellectual Property (DGIP) is currently drafting guidelines on pharmacy, computer, and biotechnology patents for examiners; DGIP plans to release the guidelines in 2019.

DGIP has become more active in its efforts to collect patent annuity fees. On August 16, 2018, DGIP issued a circular letter warning stakeholders that it may refuse to accept new patent applications from rights holders that have not paid patent annuity fee debts. The letter gave rights holders until February 16, 2019, to settle unpaid patent annuity payments. On February 17, 2019, DGIP issued another circular letter on its website to extend the period of time for a patent holder to settle any unpaid annuities for 6 months to August 17, 2019. The U.S. government continues to monitor implementation of this policy with DGIP and industry stakeholders.

Indonesia deposited its instrument of accession to the Madrid Protocol with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in October 2017 and issued implementing regulations in June 2018. Under the new rules, Madrid Protocol applicants are required to register their application with DGIP first, and must be Indonesian citizens, domiciled in Indonesia, or have clear industrial or commercial interests in Indonesia. Although the Trademark Law of 2016 expanded recognition of non-traditional marks, Indonesia still does not recognize certification marks. In response to stakeholder concerns over a lack of consistency in treatment of international well-known trademarks, the Supreme Court issued Circular Letter 1/2017, which advised Indonesian judges to recognize cancellation claims for well-known international trademarks with no time limit stipulation.

The Ministry of Finance’s Directorate General for Customs and Excise (DGCE) continued to implement ex officio authorities to investigate shipments of infringing goods in 2018. Under MOF Regulation 40/2018, DGCE launched an online trademark recordation system that enables customs officials to detain a shipment of potentially IP-infringing goods for up to two days in order to inform a registered rights holder of the suspect shipment. Once the rights holder confirms the shipment is suspect, it has four days to file a request to suspend the shipment with the Indonesian Commercial Court. Rights holders are required to provide a monetary guarantee of IDR 100 million (approximately USD 7,700) when they request suspension of a shipment. Despite  business stakeholder concerns, the GOI retained a requirement that only companies with offices domiciled in Indonesia may use the recordation system.

In 2015, DGIP and KOMINFO jointly released implementing regulations under the Copyright Law to provide for rights holders to report websites that offer IP-infringing products and sets forth procedures for blocking IP-infringing sites. Also in 2015, Indonesia’s Creative Economy Agency (BEKRAF) launched an anti-piracy task force with film and music industry stakeholders. BEKRAF reported that the taskforce remained focused on coordinating the review of complaints from industry about infringing websites in 2018. KOMINFO reported that it blocked 442 infringing websites in 2018.

DGIP reports that its directorate of investigation has increased staffing to 187 investigators, including 40 nationwide investigators and 147 staff certified to act as local investigators in 33 provinces when needed for a pending case, and saw the number of investigations double from 16 in 2017 to 36 in 2018. BPOM, Indonesia’s food and drug administration, reported the seizure of more than USD 6.3 billion in counterfeit drugs and cosmetics during the year. Trademark, Patent, and Copyright legislation requires a rights-holder complaint for investigations, and DGIP and BPOM investigators lack the authority to make arrests so must rely on police cooperation for any enforcement action.

Resources for Rights Holders

Additional information regarding treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, can be found at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) country profile website http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .For a list of local lawyers, see: http://jakarta.usembassy.gov/us-service/attorneys.html.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Indonesia Stock Exchange (IDX) index has 618 listed companies as of December 2018 with a market capitalization of USD 526 billion. There were 57 initial public offerings in 2018 – the most in 26 years. As of January 2019, domestic entities conducted more than half of total IDX stock trades (65.08 percent). In November 2018, IDX introduced T+2 settlement, with sellers now receiving proceeds within two days instead of the previous standard of three days (T+3).

In 2011, the IDX launched the Indonesian Sharia Stock Index (ISSI), its first index of sharia-compliant companies, primarily to attract greater investment from Middle East companies and investors. In 2017, the IDX introduced the first online sharia stock trading platform. As of December 2018, the ISSI is composed of 403 stocks that are a part of IDX’s Jakarta Composite Index, with a total market cap of USD 275 billion.

Government treasury bonds are the most liquid bonds offered by Indonesia. Treasury bills are less liquid due to their small issue size. Liquidity in BI-issued Sertifikat Bank Indonesia (SBI) is also limited due to the three-month required holding period. The government also issues sukuk (Islamic treasury notes) treasury bills as part of its effort to diversify Islamic debt instruments and increase their liquidity. Indonesia’s sovereign debt as of December 2018 was rated as BBB- by Standard and Poor, BBB by Fitch Ratings and Baa2 by Moody’s.

The Financial Services Supervisory Authority (OJK) began overseeing capital markets and non-banking institutions in 2013, replacing the Capital Market and Financial Institution Supervisory Board, and assumed BI’s supervisory role over commercial banks as of 2014. Foreigners have access to the Indonesian capital markets and are a major source (37.32 percent of government securities) of portfolio investment. Indonesia respects International Monetary Fund (IMF) Article VIII by refraining from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions. Foreign ownership of Indonesian companies may be limited in certain industries as determined by the Negative Investment List.

Money and Banking System

Although there is some concern regarding the operations of the many small and medium sized family-owned banks, the banking system is generally considered sound, with banks enjoying some of the widest interest rate margins in the region. As of May 2018, the 11 top banks had IDR 4,877 trillion (USD 348.3 billion) in total assets. Loans grew 11.5 percent in 2018 compared to 8.1 percent a year earlier. Gross non-performing loans in December 2018 remained at 2.4 percent y-o-y from 2.4 percent the previous year. For 2019, analysts project annual credit growth at 10-12 percent and deposit growth around 8-10 percent for Indonesia’s banking industry.

OJK Regulation No.56/03/2016 has limited bank ownership to no more than 40 percent by any single shareholder, applicable to foreign and domestic shareholders. This does not apply to foreign bank branches in Indonesia. Foreign banks may establish branches if the foreign bank is ranked in the top 200 global banks by assets.  A special operating license is required from OJK in order to establish a foreign branch. The OJK granted an exception in 2015 for foreign banks buying two small banks and merging them. To establish a representative office, a foreign bank must be ranked in the top 300 global banks by assets. In 2017, HSBC, which previously registered as a foreign branch, changed its legal status to a Limited Liability Company and merged with a local bank subsidiary which it had purchased in 2008.

In 2015, OJK eased rules for foreigners to open a bank account in Indonesia. Foreigners can open a bank account with a balance between USD 2,000-50,000 with just their passport. For accounts greater than USD 50,000, foreigners must show a supporting document such as a reference letter from a bank in the foreigner’s country of origin, a local domicile address, a spousal identity document, copies of a contract for a local residence, and/or credit/debit statements.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The rupiah (IDR), the local currency, is freely convertible. Currently, banks must report all foreign exchange transactions and foreign obligations to the central bank, Bank Indonesia (BI). With respect to the physical movement of currency, any person taking rupiah bank notes into or out of Indonesia in the amount of IDR 100 million (approximately USD 7,377) or more, or the equivalent in another currency, must report the amount to DGCE. The limit for any person or entity to bring foreign currency bank notes into or out of Indonesia is the equivalent of IDR 1 billion (USD 71,429).

Banks on their own behalf or for customers may conduct derivative transactions related to derivatives of foreign currency rates, interest rates, and/or a combination thereof. BI requires borrowers to conduct their foreign currency borrowing through domestic banks registered with BI. The regulations apply to borrowing in cash, non-revolving loan agreements, and debt securities.

Under the 2007 Investment Law, Indonesia gives assurance to investors relating to the transfer and repatriation of funds, in foreign currency, on:

  • capital, profit, interest, dividends and other income;
  • funds required for (i) purchasing raw material, intermediate goods or final goods, and (ii) replacing capital goods