Nigeria

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

In 1995 the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission Act dismantled years of controls and limits on foreign direct investment (FDI), opening nearly all sectors to foreign investment, allowing for 100 percent foreign ownership in all sectors (with the exception of the petroleum sector, where FDI is limited to joint ventures or production sharing contracts), and creating the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC) with a mandate to encourage and assist investment in Nigeria.  The NIPC features a One-Stop Investment Center (OSIC) that nominally includes participation of 27 governmental and parastatal agencies (not all of which are physically present at the OSIC, however) in order to consolidate and streamline administrative procedures for new businesses and investments. Foreign investors receive largely the same treatment as domestic investors in Nigeria, including tax incentives. However, without strong political and policy support, and because of the unresolved challenges to investment and business in Nigeria, the ability of the NIPC to attract new investment has been limited.

The Nigerian government has continued to promote import substitution policies such as trade restrictions and local content requirements in a bid to attract investment that would develop domestic capacity to produce products and services that would otherwise be imported.  The import bans and high tariffs used to advance Nigeria’s import substitution goals have been undermined by smuggling of targeted products (most notably rice and poultry) through the country’s porous borders, and by corruption in the import quota systems developed by the government to incentivize domestic investment.  Despite the government’s stated goal to attract investment, investors generally find Nigeria a difficult place to do business.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

There are currently no limits on foreign control of investments in Nigeria.  However, in some instances regulatory bodies may insist on Nigerian equity as a prerequisite to doing business.  The NIPC Act of 1995 liberalized the ownership structure of business in Nigeria, so that foreign investors can now own and control 100 percent of the shares in any company (as opposed to the earlier arrangement of 60 percent – 40 percent in favor of Nigerians).

The lack of restrictions applies to all industries, except in the oil and gas sector where investment is limited to joint ventures or production-sharing agreements.  Additional laws restrict industries to domestic investors if they are considered crucial to national security, such as firearms, ammunition, and military and paramilitary apparel.  Foreign investors must register with the NIPC after incorporation under the Companies and Allied Matters Decree of 1990. The Act prohibits the nationalization or expropriation of foreign enterprises except in cases of national interest.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The OECD completed an investment policy review of Nigeria in May 2015. (http://www.oecd.org/countries/nigeria/oecd-investment-policy-reviews-nigeria-2015-9789264208407-en.htm   ).  The WTO published a trade policy review of Nigeria in 2017 which also includes a brief overview and assessment of Nigeria’s investment climate.  That review is available at: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp456_e.htm   .

The United Nations Council on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) published an investment policy review of Nigeria and a Blue Book on Best Practice in Investment Promotion and Facilitation in 2009 (available at unctad.org).  The recommendations from its reports continue to be valid: Nigeria needs to diversify FDI away from the oil and gas sector by improving the regulatory framework, investing in physical and human capital, taking advantage of regional integration and reviewing external tariffs, fostering linkages and local industrial capacity, and strengthening institutions dealing with investment and related issues.  NIPC and the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) developed a compendium of investment incentives which is available online at: https://nipc.gov.ng/compendium 

Business Facilitation

Although the NIPC offers the One-Stop Investment Centre, Nigeria does not have an online single window business registration website, as noted by Global Enterprise Registration (www.GER.co).  The Nigerian Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) maintains an information portal, and in 2018 the Trade Ministry launched an online portal for investors called ‘iGuide Nigeria’ (https://theiguides.org/public-docs/guides/nigeria).  While many steps for business registration can be completed online, the final step requires submitting original documents to a CAC office in exchange for final registration.  On average, it takes eight procedures and 10 days to establish a foreign-owned limited liability company (LLC) in Nigeria (Lagos), significantly faster than the regional average for Sub-Saharan Africa at 23 days.  Time required is likely to vary in different parts of the country. Only a local legal practitioner accredited by the Corporate Affairs Commission can incorporate companies in Nigeria. According to the Nigerian Foreign Exchange (Monitoring and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, foreign capital invested in an LLC must be imported through an authorized dealer, which will issue a Certificate of Capital Importation.  This certificate entitles the foreign investor to open a bank account in foreign currency. Finally, a company engaging in international trade must get an import-export license from the Nigerian Customs Service.

Although not online, the One-Stop Investment Center co-locates relevant government agencies in one place in order to provide more efficient and transparent services to investors.  Investors may pick up documents and approvals that are statutorily required to establish an investment project in Nigeria. The Center assists with visas for investors, company incorporation, business permits and registration, tax registration, immigration, and customs issues.  The Nigerian government has not established uniform definitions for micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) with different agencies using different definitions, so the process may vary from one company to another.

Outward Investment

The Nigerian Export Promotion Council administered an Export Expansion Grant (EEG) scheme to improve non-oil export performance, but the government suspended the program in 2014 due to concerns about corruption on the part of companies who collected the grants but did not actually export.  After a period of re-evaluation and revision, the program was relaunched in 2018. The federal government set aside 5.12 billion naira (roughly USD 14.2 million) in the 2019 budget for the EEG scheme. The Nigerian Export-Import (NEXIM) Bank provides commercial bank guarantees and direct lending to facilitate export sector growth, although these services are underused.  NEXIM’s Foreign Input Facility provides normal commercial terms of three to five years (or longer) for the importation of machinery and raw materials used for generating exports.

Agencies created to promote industrial exports remain burdened by uneven management, vaguely-defined policy guidelines, and corruption.  Nigeria’s inadequate power supply and lack of infrastructure coupled with the associated high production costs leave Nigerian exporters at a significant disadvantage.  Many Nigerian businesses fail to export because they find meeting international packaging and safety standards is too difficult or expensive. Similarly, firms often are unable to meet consumer demand for a consistent supply of high-quality goods in quantities sufficient to support exports as well as the domestic market.  Therefore, the vast majority of Nigeria’s manufacturers remain unable or uninterested in competing in the international market, especially given the size of Nigeria’s domestic market.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Nigeria’s legal, accounting, and regulatory systems comply with international norms, but enforcement remains uneven.  Opportunities for public comment and input into proposed regulations sometimes occur. Professional organizations set standards for the provision of professional services, such as accounting, law, medicine, engineering, and advertising.  These standards usually comply with international norms. No legal barriers prevent entry into these sectors.

Ministries and regulatory agencies develop and make public anticipated regulatory changes or proposals and publish proposed regulations before their application.  The general public has the opportunity to comment through targeted outreach, including business groups and stakeholders, and during the public hearing process before a bill becomes law.  There is no specialized agency tasked with publicizing proposed changes and the time period for comment may vary. Ministries and agencies do conduct impact assessments, including environmental assessments, but impact assessment methodology may vary.  The National Bureau of Statistics reviews regulatory impact assessments conducted by other agencies. Laws and regulations are publicly available.

Fiscal management occurs at all three tiers of government: national, 36 state governments and Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and 774 local governments.  Revenues from oil and non-oil sources are collected into the federation account and then shared among the different tiers of government by the Federal Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) in line with a statutory sharing formula.  All state governments are allowed to collect internally generated revenues, which vary from state to state. However, the fiscal federalism structure does not compel states to be accountable to the federal government or transparent about revenues generated or received from the federation account.  The national government’s finances are more transparent as budgets are made public and the financial data are published by agencies such as the CBN, Debt Management Office, and the National Bureau of Statistics. However, the financial dealings of the state-owned oil company, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, are very opaque.

The Debt Management Office (DMO) puts Nigeria’s total debt stock at USD 79.4 billion as of December 2018 – USD 25.2 billion or nearly 32 percent of which is external.  Debts owed by state governments rose 110 percent from USD 5.92 billion between 2014 and 2017, during which the national government had allocated USD 4.8 billion to bail out several states that could not pay salaries.  The total debt figures presented by the DMO usually do not include off-balance-sheet financing such as sovereign guarantees.

International Regulatory Considerations

Foreign companies operate successfully in Nigeria’s service sectors, including telecommunications, accounting, insurance, banking, and advertising.  The Investment and Securities Act of 2007 forbids monopolies, insider trading, and unfair practices in securities dealings. Nigeria is not a party to the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement (GPA).  Nigeria generally regulates investment in line with the WTO’s Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMS) Agreement, but the government’s local content requirements in the oil and gas sector and the ICT sector may conflict with Nigeria’s commitments under TRIMS.

In December 2013, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), under the auspices of the Ministry of Communication, issued the Guidelines for Nigerian Content Development in the ICT sector.  These guidelines require original ICT equipment manufacturers, within three years from the effective date of the guidelines, to use 50 percent local manufactured content and to use Nigerian companies in providing 80 percent of value added on networks.  The guidelines also require multinational companies operating in Nigeria to source all hardware products locally; all government agencies to procure all computer hardware only from NITDA-approved original equipment manufacturers; and ICT companies to host all consumer and subscriber data locally, use only locally manufactured SIM cards for telephone services and data, and to use indigenous companies to build cell towers and base stations.  Enforcement of the guidelines is largely inconsistent.  The Nigerian government generally lacks the capacity and resources to monitor labor practices, technology compliancy, and digital data flows.  There are reports that individual Nigerian companies periodically lobby the National Assembly and/or NITDA to address allegations (warranted or not) against foreign firms that they are in non-compliance with the guidelines.

The goal is to promote development of domestic production of ICT products and services for the Nigerian and global markets, but the guidelines pose impediments and risks to foreign investment and U.S. companies by interrupting their global supply chain, increasing costs, disrupting global flow of data, and stifling innovative products and services.  Industry representatives remain concerned about whether the guidelines would be implemented in a fair and transparent way towards all Nigerian and foreign companies. All ICT companies, including Nigerian companies, use foreign manufactured products as Nigeria does not have the capacity to supply ICT hardware that meets international standards.

Nigeria is a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which implemented a Common External Tariff (CET) beginning in 2015 with a five-year phase in period.  An internal CET implementation committee headed by the Fiscal Policy/Budget Monitoring and Evaluation Department of the Nigeria Customs Service was set up to develop the implementation work plans that were consistent with national and ECOWAS regulations by the year 2020.  The country has also put in place a CET monitoring committee, domiciled at the Ministry of Finance consisting of a number of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) that have issues related to the CET. Under the CET, Nigeria applies five tariff bands: zero duty on capital goods, machinery, and essential drugs not produced locally; 5 percent duty on imported raw materials; 10 percent duty on intermediate goods; 20 percent duty on finished goods; and 35 percent duty on goods in certain sectors such as palm oil, meat products, dairy and poultry that the Nigerian government seeks to protect.  Under the CET, ECOWAS member governments are permitted to assess import duties higher than the maximum allowed in the tariff bands (but not to exceed a total effective duty of 70 percent) for up to 3 percent of the 5,899 tariff lines included in the ECOWAS CET.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Nigeria has a complex, three-tiered legal system comprised of English common law, Islamic law, and Nigerian customary law.  Common law governs most business transactions, as modified by statutes to meet local demands and conditions. The Supreme Court sits at the pinnacle of the judicial system and has original and appellate jurisdiction in specific constitutional, civil, and criminal matters as prescribed by Nigeria’s constitution.  The Federal High Court has jurisdiction over revenue matters, admiralty law, banking, foreign exchange, other currency and monetary or fiscal matters, and lawsuits to which the federal government or any of its agencies are party. The Nigerian court system is slow and inefficient, lacks adequate court facilities and computerized document-processing systems, and poorly remunerates judges and other court officials, all of which encourages corruption and undermines enforcement.  Judges have frequently failed to appear for trials.  In addition, the pay for court officials is low, and they often lack proper equipment and training.

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial branch remains susceptible to pressure from the executive and legislative branches.  Political leaders have influenced the judiciary, particularly at the state and local levels.

The World Bank’s publication, Doing Business 2019, ranked Nigeria 92 out of 190 on enforcement of contracts, a significant improvement from previous years.  The Doing Business report credited business reforms for improving contract enforcement by issuing new rules of civil procedure for small claims courts which limit adjournments to unforeseen and exceptional circumstances but noted that there can be variation in performance indicators between cities in Nigeria (as in other developing countries).  For example, resolving a commercial dispute takes 476 days in Kano but 447 days in Lagos. In the case of Lagos, the 447 days includes 40 days for filing and service, 265 days for trial and judgment and 142 days for enforcement of the judgment with total costs averaging 42 percent of the claim. In Kano, however, filing and service only takes 21 days with enforcement of judgement only taking 90 days, but trial and judgment accounts for 365 days with total costs averaging lower at 28.4 percent of the claim.  In comparison, in OECD countries the corresponding figures are an average of 582 days and averaging 21.2 percent of the claim and in sub-Saharan countries an average of 655 days and averaging 42.3 percent of the claim.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The NIPC Act of 1995 allows 100 percent foreign ownership of firms, except in the oil and gas sector where investment remains limited to joint ventures or production-sharing agreements.  Laws restrict industries to domestic investors if they are considered crucial to national security, such as firearms, ammunition, and military and paramilitary apparel. Foreign investors must register with the NIPC after incorporation under the Companies and Allied Matters Decree of 1990.  The Act prohibits the nationalization or expropriation of foreign enterprises except in cases of national interest, but the Embassy is unaware of specific instances of such interference by the government.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

After years of debate, the Nigerian government enacted the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act in February 2019.  The bill repealed the Consumer Protection Act of 2004 and replaced the previous Consumer Protection Council with a Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission while also creating a Competition and Consumer Protection Tribunal to handle issues and disputes arising from the operations of the Act.  Under the terms of the Act, businesses will be able to lodge anti-competitive practices complaints against other firms in the Tribunal.  The bill prohibits agreements made to restrain competition, such as agreements on price fixing, price rigging, collusive tendering, etc. (with specific exemptions for collective bargaining agreements and employment, among other items). The bill empowers the President of Nigeria to regulate prices of certain goods and services on the recommendation of the Commission.

The law prescribes stringent fines for non-compliance.  A general fine imposed by this law for offences committed by companies is an amount up to 10 percent of the company’s annual turnover in the preceding business year.  The law will supersede previous systems whereby particular regulatory agencies had consumer protection oversight and the Investment and Securities Act had provisions on competition.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Nigerian government has not expropriated or nationalized foreign assets since the late 1970s, and the NIPC Act of 1995 forbids nationalization of a business or assets unless the acquisition is in the national interest or for a public purpose.  In such cases, investors are entitled to fair compensation and legal redress. A U.S.-owned waste management investment expropriated by Abia State in 2008 is the only known U.S. expropriation case in Nigeria.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Nigeria is a member of the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes and the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (also called the “New York Convention”).  The Arbitration and Conciliation Act of 1988 provides for a unified and straightforward legal framework for the fair and efficient settlement of commercial disputes by arbitration and conciliation. The Act created internationally-competitive arbitration mechanisms, established proceeding schedules, provided for the application of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) arbitration rules or any other international arbitration rule acceptable to the parties, and made the New York Convention applicable to contract enforcement, based on reciprocity.  The Act allows parties to challenge arbitrators, provides that an arbitration tribunal shall ensure that the parties receive equal treatment, and ensures that each party has full opportunity to present its case. Some U.S. firms have written provisions mandating International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) arbitration into their contracts with Nigerian partners. Several other arbitration organizations also operate in Nigeria.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Nigeria’s civil courts have jurisdiction over disputes between foreign investors and the Nigerian government as well as between foreign investors and Nigerian businesses.  The courts occasionally rule against the government. Nigerian law allows the enforcement of foreign judgments after proper hearings in Nigerian courts. Plaintiffs receive monetary judgments in the currency specified in their claims.

Section 26 of the NIPC Act of 1995 provides for the resolution of investment disputes through arbitration as follows:

  1. Where a dispute arises between an investor and any Government of the Federation in respect of an enterprise, all efforts shall be made through mutual discussion to reach an amicable settlement.
  2. Any dispute between an investor and any Government of the Federation in respect of an enterprise to which this Act applies which is not amicably settled through mutual discussions, may be submitted at the option of the aggrieved party to arbitration as follows:
    1. in the case of a Nigerian investor, in accordance with the rules of procedure for arbitration as specified in the Arbitration and Conciliation Act; or
    2. in the case of a foreign investor, within the framework of any bilateral or multilateral agreement on investment protection to which the Federal Government and the country of which the investor is a national are parties; or
    3. in accordance with any other national or international machinery for the settlement of investment disputes agreed on by the parties.
  3. Where in respect of any dispute, there is disagreement between the investor and the Federal Government as to the method of dispute settlement to be adopted, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Dispute Rules shall apply.

Nigeria is a signatory to the 1958 Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.  Nigerian courts have generally recognized contractual provisions that call for international arbitration. Nigeria does not have a bilateral investment treaty or free trade agreement with the United States.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Bankruptcy Regulations

Reflecting Nigeria’s business culture, entrepreneurs generally do not seek bankruptcy protection.  Claims often go unpaid, even in cases where creditors obtain judgments against defendants. Under Nigerian law, the term bankruptcy generally refers to individuals whereas corporate bankruptcy is referred to as insolvency.  The former is regulated by the Bankruptcy Act of 1990, as amended by the Bankruptcy Decree 109 of 1992. The latter is regulated by Part XV of the Companies and Allied Matters Act Cap 59 1990 which replaced the Companies Act, 1968.  The Embassy is not aware of U.S. companies that have had to avail themselves of the insolvency provisions under Nigerian law.

Panama

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Panama depends heavily on foreign investment and has worked to make the investment process attractive and simple.  With few exceptions, the Government of Panama makes no distinction between domestic and foreign companies for investment purposes.  Panama benefits from stable and consistent economic policies, a dollarized economy, and a government that consistently supports trade and open markets.

The United States runs a multi-billion dollar trade surplus with Panama.  Both countries signed a Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA) that entered into force in October 2012.  The U.S.-Panama TPA has significantly liberalized trade in goods and services, including financial services.  The TPA also includes sections on customs administration and trade facilitation, sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures, technical barriers to trade, government procurement, investment, telecommunications, electronic commerce, intellectual property rights, and labor and environmental protection.

Panama has one of the few Latin American economies that is predominantly services-based.  Services represent nearly 90 percent of Panama’s GDP. The TPA has improved U.S. firms’ access to Panama’s services sector and gives U.S. investors better access than other WTO Members under the General Agreement on Trade in Services.  All services sectors are covered under the TPA, except where Panama has made specific exceptions. Under the agreement, Panama has provided improved access in sectors like express delivery, and granted new access in certain areas that had previously been reserved for Panamanian nationals.  In addition, Panama is a full participant in the WTO Information Technology Agreement.

The office of Panama’s Vice Minister of International Trade within the Ministry of Commerce and Industry is the principal entity responsible for promoting and facilitating foreign investment and exports.  Through its Proinvex service (http://proinvex.mici.gob.pa  ) the government provides investors with information, expedites specific projects, leads investment-seeking missions abroad, and supports foreign investment missions to Panama.  In some cases, other government offices may work with investors to ensure that regulations and requirements for land use, employment, special investment incentives, business licensing, and other requirements are met.  While there is no formal investment screening by the GOP, the government does monitor large foreign investments.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

The Panamanian government does impose some limitations on foreign ownership in the retail and media sectors where, in most cases, ownership must be Panamanian.  However, foreign investors can continue to use franchise arrangements to own retail within the confines of Panamanian law (under the TPA, direct U.S. ownership of consumer retail is allowed in limited circumstances).

In addition to limitations on ownership, the exercise of approximately 55 professions is reserved for Panamanian nationals.  Medical practitioners, lawyers, accountants, and customs brokers must be Panamanian citizens. Most recently, the Panamanian government instituted a regulation requiring that ride share platforms use drivers that possess commercial licenses, which are available only to Panamanian nationals.  The Panamanian government also requires foreigners in some sectors to obtain explicit permission to work.

With the exceptions of retail trade, the media, and several professions, foreign and domestic entities have the right to establish, own, and dispose of business interests in virtually all forms of remunerative activity.  Foreigners need not be legally resident or physically present in Panama to establish corporations or to obtain local operating licenses for a foreign corporation. Business visas (and even citizenship) are readily obtainable for significant investors.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

N/A

Business Facilitation

Procedures regarding how to register foreign and domestic businesses, as well as how to obtain a notice of operation, can be found at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry’s website (https://www.panamaemprende.gob.pa/  ) where one may register a foreign company, create a branch of a registered business, or register as an individual trader from any part of the world.  Corporate applicants must submit notarized documents to the Mercantile Division of the Public Registry, the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Social Security Institute.  Panamanian government statistics state that applications for foreign businesses take between one to six days to process.

The process for online business registration is clear and available to foreign companies.  Panama is ranked 48 out of 190 countries for starting a business and 99 out of 190 for protecting minority investors, according to the 2019 World Bank’s Doing Business Report (http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/data/exploreeconomies/panama#DB_rp  ).

Outward Investment

No data is presently available on outward investment.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Panama has five regulators, three that supervise the activities of financial entities (banking, securities, and insurance), and two that supervise the activities of non-financial entities (“designated non-financial businesses and professions (DNFBPs)” and cooperatives).  Each of the regulators regularly publish detailed sector reports, fines and sanctions on their websites. Panama’s banking regulator began publishing fines and sanctions in late 2016. The securities and insurance regulators have published fines and sanctions since 2010. Law 23 of 2015 created the regulator for DNFBPs, which began publishing fines and sanctions in 2018.

In 2012, Panama modified the securities law to regulate brokers, fund managers, and matters related to the securities industry.  The Securities Superintendent is generally considered a competent and effective regulator. Panama is a full signatory to the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO).

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

International Regulatory Considerations

In 2006, at the time of the negotiations of the TPA, the parties also signed an agreement regarding “Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and Technical Standards Affecting Trade in Agricultural Products.”  That agreement entered into force on December 20, 2006.

The Panamanian Food Safety Authority (AUPSA) was established by Decree Law 11 in 2006 to issue science-based sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) import policies for agricultural and food products entering Panama.  AUPSA does not have regulatory authority for domestic products. In the last four years, AUPSA, as well as other parts of the government, have implemented or proposed measures that restrict market access. These measures have also increased AUPSA’s ability to limit the import of certain agricultural goods, for example as fresh or chilled onions.  In that particular case, AUPSA modified its import requirement adding that imported onions can only be commercialized before the 120 days of harvest of the onion bulb, and each shipment must be accompanied by a laboratory analysis certification of free of Ditylenchus dipsaci.  In another case, AUPSA certified that a bio-tech agricultural product met international standards and did not pose a threat to human consumption, but the Ministry of Health (MINSA) refused to recognize U.S. and international standards, which resulted in a loss of investment of over USD 100 million.    

On April 10, 2018 the President of Panama vetoed the Draft Bill 577 of October 16, 2017, which would have modified Decree Law 11 of 2006 that created the Panamanian Food Safety Authority (AUPSA).  On October 3, 2018 this draft bill 577 was approved again by the National Assembly’s, after the bill was partially vetoed by Panama’s President due to concerns over whether they would unduly restrict trade and market access. The bill is currently pending.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

In 2016, Panama transitioned from the civil to accusatory justice system with the goal of simplifying and expediting criminal cases.  Fundamental procedural rights in civil cases are broadly similar to those available in U.S. civil courts, although some notice and discovery rights, particularly in administrative matters, may be less extensive than in the United States.  Judicial pleadings are not always a matter of public record, nor are the processes always transparent.

Some U.S. firms have reported inconsistent, unfair, and/or biased treatment from Panamanian courts.  The judicial system’s capacity to resolve contractual and property disputes is often weak and open to corruption.  The World Economic Forum’s 2017-2018 Global Competitiveness Report rated Panama’s judicial independence at 120 of 137 countries.  The Panamanian judicial system suffers from poorly trained personnel, case backlogs, and a lack of independence. Furthermore, under Panamanian law, only the National Assembly may initiate corruption investigations against Supreme Court judges, and only the Supreme Court may initiate investigations against members of the National Assembly, which in turn has led to charges of a de facto “non-aggression pact” between the branches.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Panama has different laws governing incentives depending on the activity, including the Multinational Headquarters Law, the Tourism Law, the Investment stability Law, miscellaneous laws associated with certain sectors, including the film industry, call centers, certain industrial activities, and agriculture exports.  In addition, laws may differ depending on the economic zone, including the Colon Free Zone, the Panama Pacifico Special Economic Area, and the City of Knowledge. Proinvex (http://proinvex.mici.gob.pa/  ) provides more details on tax and other benefits.

Government policy and law treat Panamanian and foreign investors equally with respect to access to credit.  Panamanian interest rates closely follow international rates (e.g., the U.S. federal funds rate, the London Interbank Offered Rate – LIBOR, etc…), plus a country-risk premium.

The Ministries of Tourism, Public Works, and Industry and Commerce court foreign investment, but once a company invests in Panama, have been less able to provide assistance to foreign investors to help them navigate their new environment, especially in tourism, branding, imports, and infrastructure development.  Although individual ministers have been responsive to U.S. companies, the root issues are more difficult to address. U.S. companies frequently complain about non-payment issues from several ministries, which have stalled payments without any official statement as to the merits of the contract terms.

Some private companies, including multinational corporations, have issued bonds in the local securities market.  Companies rarely issue stock on the local market and, when they do, often issue shares without voting rights. Investor demand is generally limited because of the small pool of qualified investors.  While wealthy Panamanians may hold overlapping interests in various businesses, there is not an established practice of having cross-shareholding or stable shareholder arrangements, designed to restrict foreign investment through mergers and acquisitions.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Panama’s Consumer Protection and Anti-Trust Agency, established by Law 45, October 31, 2007, and modified by Law 29 of June 2008, reviews transactions for competition related concerns and serves as a consumer protection agency.

Expropriation and Compensation

Panamanian law recognizes the concept of eminent domain.  In at least one circumstance, a U.S. company has expressed concern about not being reimbursed at fair market value following the government’s revocation of a concession.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Panama is a Party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention and the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards).  

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Resolving commercial and investment disputes in Panama can be a lengthy and complex process.  Despite protections built into the U.S.-Panamanian trade agreements, investors have repeatedly struggled to resolve investment issues in courts.  There are frequent claims of bias and favoritism in the court system and complaints about the lack of adequate titling, inconsistent regulations, and a lack of trained officials outside of the capital.  The World Economic Forum – Global Competitiveness Index 2017-2018 report ranks the independence of Panama’s judicial system 120 out of 137 countries (http://reports.weforum.org/global-competitiveness-index-2017-2018/countryeconomy-profiles/#economy=PAN  ).  There have been allegations that politically connected businesses have benefited from court decisions, and that judges have “slow-rolled” dockets for years without taking action.  Many Panamanian legal firms suggest writing binding arbitration clauses into all commercial contracts.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Panamanian government accepts binding international arbitration of disputes with foreign investors.  Panama is a party to the 1958 New York Convention as well as to the 1975 Panama Convention. Panama became a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in 1996.  Panama adopted the UNCITRAL model arbitration law as amended in 2006. Law 131 of 2013 regulates national and international commercial arbitrations in Panama.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Commercial law is comprehensive and well established.  The World Bank 2019 Doing Business currently ranks Panama 113/190 for resolving insolvency because of slow court systems and complexity of the process.  Panama adopted a new bankruptcy law in 2015, but Panama’s Doing Business ranking has not yet shown material improvement for this metric.

Philippines

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Philippines seeks foreign investment to generate employment, promote economic development, and contribute to sustained growth.  The Board of Investments (BOI) and PEZA are the lead investment promotion agencies (IPAs). They provide incentives and special investment packages to investors.  Noteworthy advantages of the Philippine investment landscape include free trade zones, including PEZAs, and a large, educated, English-speaking, relatively low-cost Filipino workforce.  Philippine law treats foreign investors the same as their domestic counterparts, except in sectors reserved for Filipinos by the Philippine Constitution and the Foreign Investment Act (see details under Limits on Foreign Control section).  Additional information regarding investment policies and incentives are available on the BOI   and PEZA   websites.

Restrictions on foreign ownership, inadequate public investment in infrastructure, and lack of transparency in procurement tenders hinder foreign investment.  The Philippines’ regulatory regime remains ambiguous in many sectors of the economy, and corruption is a significant problem. Large, family-owned conglomerates, including San Miguel, Ayala, and SM, dominate the economic landscape, crowding out other smaller businesses.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreigners are prohibited from fully owning land under the 1987 Constitution, although the 1993 Investors’ Lease Act allows foreign investors to lease a contiguous parcel of up to 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) for a maximum of 75 years.  Dual citizens are permitted to own land.

The 1991 Foreign Investment Act (FIA) requires the publishing every two years of the Foreign Investment Negative List (FINL), which outlines sectors in which foreign investment is restricted.  The latest FINL was released in October 2018. The FINL bans foreign ownership/participation in the following investment activities: mass media (except recording and internet businesses); small-scale mining; private security agencies; utilization of marine resources, including the small-scale use of natural resources in rivers, lakes, and lagoons; cooperatives; cockpits; manufacturing of firecrackers and pyrotechnic devices; and manufacturing, repair, stockpiling and/or distribution of nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological weapons and anti-personnel mines.  With the exception of the practices of law, radiologic and x-ray technology, and marine deck and marine engine officers, other laws and regulations on professions allow foreigners to practice in the Philippines if their country permits reciprocity for Philippine citizens, these include medicine, pharmacy, nursing, dentistry, accountancy, architecture, engineering, criminology, teaching, chemistry, environmental planning, geology, forestry, interior design, landscape architecture, and customs brokerage. In practice, however, language exams, onerous registration processes, and other barriers prevent this from taking place.

The Philippines limits foreign ownership to 40 percent in the manufacturing of explosives, firearms, and military hardware.  Other areas that carry varying foreign ownership ceilings include: private radio communication networks (40 percent); private employee recruitment firms (25 percent);  advertising agencies (30 percent); natural resource exploration, development, and utilization (40 percent, with exceptions); educational institutions (40 percent, with some exceptions); operation and management of public utilities (40 percent); operation of commercial deep sea fishing vessels (40 percent); Philippine government procurement contracts (40 percent for supply of goods and commodities); contracts for the construction and repair of locally funded public works (40 percent with some exceptions); ownership of private lands (40 percent); and rice and corn production and processing (40 percent, with some exceptions).

Retail trade enterprises with capital of less than USD 2.5 million, or less than USD 250,000, for retailers of luxury goods, are reserved for Filipinos.  The Philippines allows up to full foreign ownership of insurance adjustment, lending, financing, or investment companies; however, foreign investors are prohibited from owning stock in such enterprises, unless the investor’s home country affords the same reciprocal rights to Filipino investors.

Foreign banks are allowed to establish branches or own up to 100 percent of the voting stock of locally incorporated subsidiaries if they can meet certain requirements.  However, a foreign bank cannot open more than six branches in the Philippines. A minimum of 60 percent of the total assets of the Philippine banking system should, at all times, remain controlled by majority Philippine-owned banks.  Ownership caps apply to foreign non-bank investors, whose aggregate share should not exceed 40 percent of the total voting stock in a domestic commercial bank and 60 percent of the voting stock in a thrift/rural bank.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) conducted a Trade Policy Review of the Philippines in March 2018 and an Investment Policy Review of the Philippines in 2016, respectively.  The reviews are available online at the WTO website. (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp468_e.htm ) and OECD website (http://www.oecd.org/daf/oecd-investment-policy-reviews-philippines-2016-9789264254510-en.htm ).

Business Facilitation

Business registration in the Philippines is cumbersome due to multiple agencies involved in the process.  It takes an average of 31 days to start a business in Quezon City in Metro Manila, according to the 2019 World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report.  Touted as one of the Duterte Administrations’ landmark laws, the Republic Act No. 11032 or the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act amends the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007, and legislates standardized deadlines for government transactions, a single business application form, a one-stop-shop, automation of business permits processing, a zero contact policy, and a central business databank.

The law was passed in May 2018, and it creates an Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA – http://arta.gov.ph/  ) under the Office of the President to carry out the mandate of business facilitation.  ARTA is governed by a council that includes the Secretary’s of Trade and Industry, Finance, Interior and Local Governments, and Information and Communications Technology.  The Department of Trade and Industry serves as interim Secretariat for ARTA. Without the rules and regulations being issued, compliance has not been in effect. The implementing rules and regulations are currently being drafted (http://arta.gov.ph/pages/IRR.html  ).

The Philippines also signed into law the Revised Corporation Code, a business friendly legislation amendment that encourages entrepreneurship, improves the ease of business, and promotes good corporate governance.  This new law amends part of the four-decade-old Corporation Code and allows for existing and future companies to hold a perpetual status of incorporation, compared to the previous 50-year term limit which required renewal.  More importantly, the amendments allow for the formation of one-person corporations, providing more flexibility to conduct business; the old code required all incorporation to have at least five stockholders and provided less protection from liabilities.

Outward Investment

There are no restrictions on outward portfolio investments for Philippine residents, defined to include non-Filipino citizens who have been residing in the country for at least one year; foreign-controlled entities organized under Philippine laws; and branches, subsidiaries, or affiliates of foreign enterprises organized under foreign laws operating in the country.  However, outward investments funded by foreign exchange purchases above USD 60 million or its equivalent per investor per year, or per fund per year for qualified investors, may require prior approval.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Proposed Philippine laws must undergo public comment and review.  Government agencies are required to craft implementing rules and regulations (IRRs) through public consultation meetings within the government and with private sector representatives after laws are passed.  New regulations must be published in newspapers or in the government’s official gazette, available online, before taking effect (https://www.gov.ph/ ). The 2016 Executive Order on Freedom of Information (FOI) mandates full public disclosure and transparency of government operations, with certain exceptions.  The public may request copies of official records through the FOI website (https://www.foi.gov.ph/).  Implementing rules for the Executive Order had not been fully developed, as of April 2019.  The order is criticized for its long list of exceptions, rendering the policy less effective.

Stakeholders report regulatory enforcement in the Philippines is generally weak, inconsistent, and unpredictable.  Many U.S. investors describe business registration, customs, immigration, and visa procedures as burdensome and frustrating.  Regulatory agencies are generally not statutorily independent but are attached to cabinet departments or the Office of the President and, therefore, are subject to political pressure.  Issues in the judicial system also affect regulatory enforcement.

International Regulatory Considerations

The Philippines is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and provides notice of draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade  (TBT).

The Philippines continues to fulfill required regulatory reforms under the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).  The Philippines is still completing its National Single Window (NSW) Phase 2 Project and targets to run and connect the NSW trade portal to the ASEAN Single Window (ASW) by end of 2019.

The Philippines passed the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act in 2016, which enables the country to largely comply with the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation.  However, the various implementing rules and regulations to execute specific provisions had not been completed by the Department of Finance and the Bureau of Customs as of April 2019.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Philippines has a mixed legal system of civil, common, Islamic, and customary laws, along with commercial and contractual laws.

The Philippine judicial system is a separate and largely independent branch of the government, made up of the Supreme Court and lower courts.  The Supreme Court is the highest court and sole constitutional body. More information is available on the court’s website   (http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/).  The lower courts consist of: (a) trial courts with limited jurisdictions (i.e. Municipal Trial Courts, Metropolitan Trial Courts, etc.); (b) Regional Trial Courts (RTCs); (c) Shari’ah District Courts (Muslim courts); and (d) Court of Appeals (appellate courts).  Special courts include the “Sandiganbayan” (anti-graft court for public officials) and the Court of Tax Appeals. Several RTCs have been designated as Special Commercial Courts (SCC) to hear intellectual property (IP) cases, with four SCCs authorized to issue writs of search and seizure on IP violations, enforceable nationwide.  In addition, nearly any case can be appealed to appellate courts, including the Supreme Court, increasing caseloads and further clogging the judicial system.

Foreign investors describe the inefficiency and uncertainty of the judicial system as a significant disincentive to investment.  Many investors decline to file dispute cases in court because of slow and complex litigation processes and corruption among some personnel.  The courts are not considered impartial or fair. Stakeholders also report an inexperienced judiciary when confronted with complex issues such as technology, science, and intellectual property cases.  The Philippines ranked 149th out of 190 economies, and 23rd among 25 economies from East Asia and the Pacific, in the World Bank’s 2018 Ease of Doing Business report in terms of enforcing contracts.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The BOI regulates and promotes investment into the Philippines.  The Investment Priorities Plan (IPP), administered by the BOI, identifies preferred economic activities approved by the President.  Government agencies are encouraged to adopt policies and implement programs consistent with the IPP.

The Foreign Investment Act (FIA) requires the publishing of the Foreign Investment Negative List (FINL) that outlines sectors in which foreign investment is restricted.  The FINL consists of two parts: Part A details sectors in which foreign equity participation is restricted by the Philippine Constitution or laws; and Part B lists areas in which foreign ownership is limited for reasons of national security, defense, public health, morals, and/or the protection of small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

The 1995 Special Economic Zone Act allows PEZAs to regulate and promote investments in export-oriented manufacturing and service facilities inside special economic zones, including grants of fiscal and non-fiscal incentives.

Further information about investing in the Philippines is available at BOI website (http://boiown.gov.ph/ ) and PEZA website (http://www.peza.gov.ph/ ).

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The 2015 Philippine competition law established the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC), an independent body mandated to resolve complaints on issues such as price fixing and bid rigging, and to stop mergers that would restrict competition.  More information is available on PCC website (http://phcc.gov.ph/#content ). The Department of Justice (https://www.doj.gov.ph/ ) prosecutes criminal offenses involving violations of competition laws.

Expropriation and Compensation

Philippine law allows expropriation of private property for public use or in the interest of national welfare or defense in return for fair market value compensation.  In the event of expropriation, foreign investors have the right to receive compensation in the currency in which the investment was originally made and to remit it at the equivalent exchange rate.  However, the process of agreeing on a mutually acceptable price can be protracted in Philippine courts. No recent cases of expropriation involve U.S. companies in the Philippines.

The 2016 Right-of-Way Act facilitates acquisition of right-of-way sites for national government infrastructure projects and outlines procedures in providing “just compensation” to owners of expropriated real properties to expedite implementation of government infrastructure programs.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

The Philippines is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and has adopted the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, or the New York Convention.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The Philippines is signatory to various bilateral investment treaties that recognize international arbitration of investment disputes.  Since 2002, the Philippines has been respondent to six investment dispute cases filed before the ICSID. Details of cases involving the Philippines are available on the ICSID website  .

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Investment disputes can take years to resolve due to systemic problems in Philippine courts.  Lack of resources, understaffing, and corruption make the already complex court processes protracted and expensive. Several laws on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms (i.e. arbitration, mediation, negotiation, and conciliation) were approved to decongest clogged court dockets.  Public-Private Partnership (PPP) infrastructure contracts are required to include ADR provisions to make resolving disputes less expensive and time-consuming.

A separate action must be filed for foreign judgments to be recognized or enforced under Philippine law.  Philippine law does not recognize or enforce foreign judgments that run counter to existing laws, particularly those relating to public order, public policy, and good customary practices.  Foreign arbitral awards are enforceable upon application in writing to the regional trial court with jurisdiction. The petition may be filed any time after receipt of the award.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The 2010 Philippine bankruptcy and insolvency law provides a predictable framework for rehabilitation and liquidation of distressed companies, although an examination of some reported cases suggests uneven implementation.  Rehabilitation may be initiated by debtors or creditors under court-supervised, pre-negotiated, or out-of-court proceedings. The law sets conditions for voluntary (debtor-initiated) and involuntary (creditor-initiated) liquidation.  It also recognizes cross-border insolvency proceedings in accordance with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency, allowing courts to recognize proceedings in a foreign jurisdiction involving a foreign entity with assets in the Philippines.  Regional trial courts designated by the Supreme Court have jurisdiction over insolvency and bankruptcy cases. The Philippines ranked 63rd out of 190 economies, and eighth among 25 economies from East Asia and the Pacific, in the World Bank’s 2018 Ease of Doing Business report in terms of resolving insolvency and bankruptcy cases.

Portugal

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Government of Portugal recognizes the importance of foreign investment and sees it as a driver of economic growth.  Portuguese law is based on a principle of non-discrimination, meaning foreign and domestic investors are subject to the same rules.  Foreign investment is not subject to any special registration or notification to any authority, with exceptions for a few specific activities.

The Portuguese Agency for Foreign Investment and Commerce (AICEP) is the lead for promotion of trade and investment.  AICEP is responsible for the attraction of foreign direct investment (FDI), global promotion of Portuguese brands, and export of goods and services.  It is the primary point of contact for investors with projects over EUR 25 million or companies with a consolidated turnover of more than EUR 75 million.  For foreign investments not meeting these thresholds, AICEP will make a preliminary analysis and direct the investor to assistance agencies such as the Institute of Support to Small- and Medium- Sized Enterprises and Innovation (IAPMEI), a public agency within the Ministry of Economy that provides technical support, or to AICEP Capital Global, which offers technology transfer, incubator programs, and venture capital support.  AICEP does not favor specific sectors for investment promotion. It does, however, provide a “Prominent Clusters” guide on its website where it advocates investment in Portuguese companies by sector: http://www.portugalglobal.pt/EN/SourceFromPortugal/prominent-clusters/Pages/prominent-clusters.aspx  .

The Portuguese government maintains regular contact with investors through the Confederation of Portuguese Business (CIP), the Portuguese Chamber of Commerce and Industry and AICEP.  More information can be found at these websites:

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

There are no legal restrictions in Portugal on foreign investment.  To establish a new business, foreign investors must follow the same rules as domestic investors, including mandatory registration and compliance with regulatory obligations for specific activities.  There are no nationality requirements and no limitations on the repatriation of profits or dividends.

Shareholders not resident in Portugal must obtain a Portuguese taxpayer number for tax purposes.  EU residents may obtain this number directly with the tax administration (in person or by means of an appointed proxy); non-EU residents must appoint a Portuguese resident representative to handle matters with tax authorities.

There are national security limitations on both foreign and domestic investments with regard to certain economic activities.  Portuguese government approval is required in the following sectors: defense, water management, public telecommunications, railway, maritime transportation, and air transport.  Any economic activity that involves the exercise of public authority also requires government approval; private sector companies can operate in these areas only through a concession contract.

Portugal additionally limits foreign investment with respect to the production, transmission, and distribution of electricity, the manufacturing of gas, the pipeline transportation of fuels, wholesale services of electricity, retailing services of electricity and non-bottled gas, and services incidental to electricity and natural gas distribution.  Concessions in the electricity and gas sectors are assigned only to companies with headquarters and effective management in Portugal.

Portugal also limits foreign investment in the provision of executive search services, placement services of office support personnel, and publicly-funded social services.

Investors wishing to establish new credit institutions or finance companies, acquire a controlling interest in such financial firms, and/or establish a subsidiary must have authorization from the Bank of Portugal (for EU firms) or the Ministry of Finance (for non-EU firms).  Non-EU insurance companies seeking to establish an agency in Portugal must post a special deposit and financial guarantee and must have been authorized for such activity by the Ministry of Finance for at least five years.

Portugal enacted a national security investment review framework in 2014, giving the Council of Ministers authority to block specific foreign investment transactions.  Reviews can be triggered on national security grounds in strategic industries like energy, transportation and communication. Investment reviews can be conducted in cases where the purchaser acquiring control is an individual or entity not belonging to the European Union.  In such instances, the review process is overseen by the relevant Portuguese ministry according to the assets in question.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The OECD presented in February 2019 its latest Economic Survey of Portugal, including an updated macro overview and a set of policy recommendations.  The report can be found at: http://www.oecd.org/economy/surveys/Portugal-2019-economic-survey-overview.pdf 

Business Facilitation

Since 2010, the Portuguese Government has prioritized policies to increase the country’s appeal as a destination for foreign investment.  In 2007, the Government established AICEP, a promotion agency for investment and foreign trade that also, through its subsidiary AICEP Global Parques, manages industrial parks and provides business location solutions for investors.

The government has developed effective warehouse and transport logistics, especially at the Sines Port terminal southwest of Lisbon, and telecommunications infrastructure has improved.  In March 2018, construction began on an 80-kilometer railway line between Evora and Elvas, which will improve commercial transportation between the Portuguese ports of Sines and Lisbon, and the Southwestern European Logistics Platform (PLSWE) in Badajoz, Spain, reducing freight transportation times to the rest of Europe.  On January 11, the Portuguese Government launched a EUR 22 billion infrastructure investment plan for 2019 to 2030, listing 72 projects across transportation, energy and water.

Established in 2012, Portugal’s “Golden Visa” program gives fast-track residence permits to foreign investors meeting certain conditions, including making a capital transfer of at least EUR 1 million, creating at least 10 jobs in Portugal, or acquisition of real estate worth at least EUR 500 million.  Since 2012, Portugal has issued 7,208 golden visas to investors. Visa programs such as Portugal’s “Golden Visa” initiative have recently come under scrutiny in the European Union.

Other measures implemented to help attract foreign investment include the easing of some labor regulations to increase workplace flexibility and the creation of a special EU-funded program, Portugal 2020, for projects above EUR 25 million.  Finally, to combat the perception of a cumbersome regulatory climate, the Government has created a “Cutting Red Tape” website detailing measures taken since 2005 to reduce bureaucracy, and the Empresa na Hora (“Business in an Hour”) program that facilitates company incorporation by citizens and non-citizens in less than 60 minutes.  More information is available at http://www.empresanahora.pt/ENH/sections/EN_homepage   and http://www.cuttingredtape.mj.pt/uk/asp/default.asp  .

Portuguese citizens can alternatively register a business online through the “Citizen’s Portal” available at: https://bde.portaldocidadao.pt/evo/landingpage.aspx  .  Companies must also register with the Directorate General for Economic Activity (DGAE), the Tax Authority (AT), and with the Social Security administration.  The government’s service standard for online business registration is a two to three day turnaround but the online registration process can take as little as one day.

Portugal defines an enterprise as micro-, small-, and medium-sized based on its headcount, annual turnover, or the size of its balance sheet.  To qualify as a micro-enterprise, a company must have less than 10 employees and no more than EUR 2 million in revenues or EUR 2 million in assets.  Small enterprises must have less than 50 employees and no more than EUR 10 million in revenues or EUR 10 million in assets. Medium-sized enterprises must have less than 250 employees and no more than EUR 50 million in revenues or EUR 43 million in assets.  The Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprise (SME) Support Institute (IAPMEI) offers financing, training, and other services for SMEs based in Portugal: http://www.iapmei.pt/  .

More information on laws, procedures, registration requirements, and investment incentives for foreign investors in Portugal is available on AICEP’s website: http://www.portugalglobal.pt/  
EN/InvestInPortugal/investorsguide2/
howtosetupacompany/Paginas/ForeignInvestment.aspx
 
.

Outward Investment

The Portuguese government does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.  On the contrary, it promotes outward investment through AICEP’s Customer Managers, Export Stores and its External Commercial Network that, in cooperation with the diplomatic and consular network, are operating in about 80 markets.  AICEP provides support and advisory services on the best way of approaching foreign markets, identifying international business opportunities of Portuguese companies, particularly SMEs. See more at: http://www.portugalglobal.pt/PT/sobre-nos/
Paginas/sobre-nos.aspx#sthash.aifdjkOs.dpuf
 
.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Government of Portugal employs transparent policies and effective laws to foster competition, and the legal system welcomes FDI.  Regulations drafted by ministries or agencies must be approved by Parliament, and, in some cases, by European authorities. All proposed regulations are subject to a 20 to 30 day public consultation period during which the proposed measure is published on the relevant ministry or regulator’s website.  Only after ministries or regulatory agencies have conducted an impact assessment of the proposed (not yet adopted) regulation, can the text be enacted and published at: www.parlamento.pt  .  Ministries or regulatory agencies report the results of the consultations through a consolidated response published on the website of the relevant ministry or regulator.

Rule-making and regulatory authorities exist within several sectors including the energy, telecommunications, securities markets, financial and health sectors.  Regulations are enforced at the local level through district courts, on the national level through the Court of Auditors, and at the supra-national level through EU mechanisms including the European Court of Justice, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank.

The government regularly publishes key regulatory actions here: http://www.en.parlamento.pt/  .

The OECD, EC, and IMF also publish key regulatory actions and/or summaries thereof at: https://www.oecd.org/portugal/  https://ec.europa.eu/info/business-economy-euro/economic-performance-and-forecasts/economic-performance-country_en   and http://www.imf.org/external/country/PRT/index.htm  .

Parliament publishes draft bills on its website, http:/www.en.parlamento.pt   and at http://www.portugal.gov.pt/pt/pm/documentos.aspx  , allowing for public review of proposals before they are voted on and become law.  UTAO, the Parliamentary Technical Budget Support Unit, is a nonpartisan body composed of economic and legal experts that supports parliamentary budget deliberations by providing the Budget Committee with quality analytical reports on the executive’s budget proposal(s).  More information on UTAO can be found here: https://www.parlamento.pt/OrcamentoEstado/Paginas/UTAO_UnidadeTecnicadeApoioOrcamental.aspx  .

In addition, the Portuguese Public Finance Council conducts an independent assessment of the consistency, compliance with stated objectives, and sustainability of public finances, while promoting fiscal transparency, and publishing all of its assessments online at: http://www.cfp.pt/?lang=en  .

The legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms.  Since 2005, all listed companies have been required to comply with International Financial Reporting Standards as adopted by the European Union (“IFRS”), which closely parallels the U.S. GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles).  See more at: http://ec.europa.eu/finance/company-reporting/standards-interpretations/index_en.htm#related-information  .

Portugal’s Competition Authority enforces adherence to domestic competition and public procurement rules.  The European Commission further ensures adhesion to EU administrative processes among its member states.

Public finances are generally deemed transparent, closely scrutinized by Eurostat and monitored by an independent technical budget support unit, UTAO, and the Supreme Audit Institution ‘Tribunal de Contas’.  Over the last decades, Portugal has also consolidated within the State accounts many state-owned enterprises, making budget analysis more accurate.

International Regulatory Considerations

Portugal has been a member of the EU since 1986, a member of the Schengen area since 1995, and joined the Eurozone in 1999.  Portugal complies with EU directives regarding equal treatment of foreign and domestic investors. Portugal has been a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since 1995.

With the Treaty of Lisbon’s entry into force in 2009, trade policy and rules on foreign direct investment became exclusive EU competencies, as part of the block’s common commercial policy.

The European Central Bank (ECB) is the central bank for the euro (EUR) and determines monetary policy for the 19 Eurozone member states, including Portugal.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Portuguese legal system is a civil law system, based on Roman law.  The hierarchy among various sources of law is as follows: (i) Constitutional laws and amendments; (ii) the rules and principles of general or common international law and international agreements; (iii) ordinary laws enacted by Parliament; (iv) instruments having an effect equivalent to that of laws, including approved international conventions or decisions of the Constitutional Court; (v) regulations used to supplement and implement laws.

The country’s Commercial Company Law and Civil Code define Portugal’s legal treatment of corporations and contracts.  Portugal has specialized family courts, labor courts, commercial courts, maritime courts, intellectual property courts, and competition courts.  The judicial system is independent of the executive branch.

Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable, and are adjudicated in national Appellate Courts, with the possibility to appeal to the European Court of Justice.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Bank of Portugal (Portugal’s central bank) defines FDI as “an act or contract that obtains or increases enduring economic links with an existing Portuguese institution or one to be formed.” A non-resident who invests in at least 10 percent of a resident company’s equity and participates in the company’s decision-making is considered a foreign direct investor.

The Embassy is not aware of any new laws over the last 12 months that regulate FDI, or significant decisions that have changed how foreign investors or their investments are treated.  Current information on laws, procedures, registration requirements, and investment incentives for foreign investors in Portugal is available at AICEP’s website: http://www.portugalglobal.pt/  
EN/InvestInPortugal/investorsguide2/
howtosetupacompany/Paginas/ForeignInvestment.aspx
 
.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The domestic agency that reviews transactions for competition-related concerns is the Portuguese Competition Authority (Autoridade de Concorrencia) and the international agency is the European Commission’s Directorate General for Competition (DG Comp).

The Competition Authority’s mandate derives from Law No.  19/2012 (dated May 8, 2012). It specifically prohibits collusion between companies to fix prices, limit supplies, share markets or sources of supply, discriminate in transactions, or force unrelated obligations on other parties.  Similar prohibitions apply to any company or group with a dominant market position. The law also requires prior government notification of mergers or acquisitions that would give a company more than 30 percent market share in a sector, or mergers or acquisitions among entities that had total sales in excess of EUR 150 million in the preceding financial year.  The Competition Authority has 60 days to determine if the merger or acquisition can proceed. The European Commission may claim authority on cross-border competition issues or those involving entities large enough to have a significant EU market share.

Expropriation and Compensation

There have been no recent cases of expropriation of foreign assets or companies in Portugal.

Under Portugal’s Expropriation Code, the government may expropriate property and its associated rights if it is deemed to support the public interest, and upon payment of prompt, adequate, and effective compensation.  The code outlines criteria for calculating fair compensation based on market values. The decision to expropriate as well as the fairness of compensation can be challenged in national courts.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Portugal 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 1965.  Portugal has been a party to the 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards since January 1995. Portugal’s national arbitration law No. 63-2011 of December 14, 2011 enforces awards under the 1958 New York Convention and the ICSID Convention.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Portugal ratified the 1927 Geneva Convention on the Execution of Foreign Arbitral Awards, and in 2002 ratified the 1975 Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration.

Portugal’s Voluntary Arbitration Law, enacted in 2011, is based on the UNCITRAL Model Law, and applies to all arbitration proceedings based in Portugal.  The leading commercial arbitration institution is the Arbitration Center of the Portuguese Chamber of Commerce and Industry: http://www.centrodearbitragem.pt/index.php?lang=en  .

The government promotes non-judicial dispute resolution through the Ministry of Justice’s Office for Alternative Dispute Resolution (GRAL), including conciliation, mediation, or arbitration.  More information is available in English on AICEP’s website: http://www.portugalglobal.pt/EN/InvestInPortugal/
investorsguide2/howtosetupacompany/Paginas/DisputeResolution.aspx
 
.

The GRAL website, in Portuguese, is here: http://www.dgpj.mj.pt/sections/gral  .

Portugal has no bilateral investment or free trade agreements containing investor-state dispute settlement provisions with the United States.  The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) “investment navigator” database and the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) database show no cases of investment disputes, pending or concluded, between foreign investors and Portugal.

Portuguese courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government.  There have been no recent extrajudicial actions against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Arbitration is the preferred alternative dispute resolution mechanism in Portugal.  The country has a long-standing tradition of and success in utilizing arbitration in administrative and contract disputes.  It has also become the standard mechanism for resolving tax disputes between private citizens or companies and tax authorities, as well as in pharmaceutical patent disputes.

Portugal has four domestic arbitration bodies: 1) The Arbitration Center of the Portuguese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CAC); 2) CONCORDIA (Centro de Conciliacao, Mediacao, de Conflictos de Arbritragem); 3) Arbitrare (Centro de Arbitragem para a Propriedade Industrial, Nomes de Dominio, Firmas e Denominacoes); and 4) the Instituto de Arbitragem Commercial do Porto.  Each arbitration body has its own regulations, but all of them comply with the Portuguese Arbitration Law 63/11, which came into force in March 2012. The Arbitration Council of the Centre for Commercial Arbitration also follows New York Convention, Washington Convention and Panama Convention guidelines. Arbitration Law 63/11 follows the standard established by the UNCITRAL Model Law, but is not an exact copy of that text.

Under the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic (CPR), the Civil Code of Procedure (CCP) and the New York Convention (applied in Portugal since 1995), awards rendered in a foreign country must be recognized (i.e., an exequatur is obtained) by the Portuguese courts before they can be enforced in Portugal.  There is no legal authority in Portugal on the enforceability of foreign awards set aside at the seat of the arbitration.

The CCP sets forth the legal regime applicable to all judicial procedures related to arbitration, including appointment of arbitrators, determination of arbitrators’ fees, challenge of arbitrators, appeal (where admissible), setting aside, enforcement (and opposition to enforcement) and recognition of foreign arbitral awards.

While Portugal’s judicial system has historically been considered inefficient, the country has taken several important steps to increase the efficiency and quality of judicial proceedings in recent years.  According to the World Bank 2019 Doing Business Index, enforcing a contract in Portugal takes an average of 755 days compared to the OECD average of 582 days, and costs 17.2 percent of the claim value, below the OECD average of 21.2 percent.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Portugal’s Insolvency and Corporate Recovery Code defines insolvency as a debtor’s inability to meet his commitments as they fall due.  Corporations are also considered insolvent when their liabilities clearly exceed their assets. A debtor, creditor, or any person responsible for the debtor’s liabilities can initiate insolvency proceedings in a commercial court.

The court assumes the key role of ensuring compliance with legal rules governing insolvency proceedings, with particular responsibility for ruling on the legality of insolvency and payment plans approved by creditors.

After declaration of insolvency, creditors may submit their claims to the court-appointed insolvency administrator for a specific term set for this purpose, typically up to 30 days.  Creditors must submit details regarding the amount, maturity, guarantees, and nature of their claims. Claims are ranked as follows: (i) claims over the insolvent’s estate, i.e. court fees related to insolvency proceedings; (ii) secured claims; (iii) privileged claims; (iv) common, unsecured claims; (v) subordinated claims, including those of shareholders.  Portugal ranks highly (16th of 190 countries) in the World Bank’s Doing Business Index “Resolving Insolvency” measure.

Romania

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Romania actively seeks foreign direct investment, and offers a market of around 19 million consumers, a relatively well-educated workforce at competitive wages, a strategic location, and abundant natural resources.  To date, favored areas for U.S. investment include IT and telecommunications, energy, services, manufacturing – especially in the automotive sector, consumer products, and banking. InvestRomania is the government’s lead agency for promoting and facilitating foreign investment in Romania.  InvestRomania offers assistance and advisory services free of charge to foreign investors and international companies for project implementation and opening new offices or manufacturing facilities.

Romania’s accession to the European Union (EU) on January 1, 2007 has helped solidify institutional reform.  Conversely, legislative and regulatory unpredictability, as well as weak public administration, continue to negatively impact the investment climate.  As in any foreign country, prospective U.S. investors should exercise careful due diligence, including consultation with competent legal counsel, when considering an investment in Romania.  Allegedly, in past cases, governments in Romania have allowed political interests or budgetary imperatives to supersede accepted business practices in harmful ways to investor interests.

The energy sector has suffered from recent changes.  In 2018, offshore companies benefited from a streamlined permitting process, but were hit with a windfall profit tax that previously applied only to onshore production.  Additionally, in February 2018 the reference price for natural gas royalties was changed from the Romanian market price to the Vienna Central European Gas Hub (CEGH) price, resulting in a significant increase in royalties.  Energy producers have expressed concern about additional regulatory requirements in EO114, which caps the price of wholesale natural gas, among other modifications. Business associations, including the American Chamber of Commerce in Romania (AmCham), the Foreign Investor Council (FIC), and the Coalition for Romania’s Development, have criticized EO114’s new taxes and how it reverses natural gas market liberalization.

Investments involving public authorities can be more complicated than investments or joint ventures with private Romanian companies.  Some allegations cite that large deals involving the government – particularly public-private partnerships and privatizations of key SOEs – can be stymied by vested political and economic interests, or delayed due to a lack of coordination between government ministries.

In May 2018, the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Law was revised through emergency ordinance (EO) and responsibility for PPPs of national interest was shifted to the National Strategy and Prognosis Commission.  PPPs of regional or local interest are governed by local authorities. The initiative of implementing a project through a PPP lies exclusively with the public partner. The contribution of the public partner can be in cash, provided the public contribution complies with state aid rules and with public finance legislation.  The public partner can cover costs for stages prior to project implementation, including feasibility studies, and can assume payment obligations or provide guarantees to the project company. According to the PPP law, the public partner initiates the PPP project and awards it according to public procurement rules. Implementation of the PPP legislation will be of considerable interest to investors over the next few years.  The EO is subject to parliamentary review.

In April 2018, the Foreign Investors Council (FIC) issued an open letter to the government and Parliament underscoring business climate uncertainty from the government’s failure to finalize EO 79.  In 2017, EO 79 shifted the burden of mandatory payroll deductions for pensions, healthcare, and income taxes from employers to employees. Parliament has yet to confirm or modify the law, leaving employers uncertain.  To avoid reductions in employee net pay, many companies voluntarily increased salaries to offset employee losses. Other companies, wary of further possible changes, offered monthly bonuses rather than formally amending contracts.

As an example of changes to the taxation regime and ongoing systemic tax disputes between the government and foreign investors, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced February 2018 an increase in “the clawback tax” for Q4 2017, from 19.42 percent to 23.45 percent.  Pharmaceutical companies pay the clawback tax on all sales of drugs reimbursed through the public health system. The MOH calculates the tax to recover the cost for reimbursed drug sales in the previous quarter that exceed its budget. The pharmaceutical industry, both generic and innovative, immediately decried the tax increase.  Industry sees itself as financing the growth in drug consumption in Romania while the MOH’s budget has remained flat since 2011. The International Innovative Pharmaceutical Producers Association (ARPIM) issued a press release noting that from 2013-2017, pharmaceuticals paid USD 1.75 billion in clawback taxes, exceeding one year of the MOH’s annual budget for drugs in the public health system.  Since implementation of the clawback tax in 2009, the pharmaceutical industry has suggested numerous solutions to address the lack of predictability and transparency in the National Health Insurance House’s computations, but the GOR has shown no interest in increasing government spending for medicine to reduce the tax burden on private companies.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

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

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

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Romania has not undergone any third-party investment policy reviews through multilateral organizations in over ten years.  The Heritage Foundation’s 2019 Economic Freedom Report indicates that secured interests in private property are recognized.  The Report also notes declines in judicial effectiveness and investment freedom, which outweigh improvements in property rights, the tax burden, and government spending.  The Report identifies labor shortages and political instability as the greatest economic risks.

According to the World Bank, economic growth rates have increased, but the benefits have not been felt by all Romanians.  Progress on implementing reforms and improving the business environment has been uneven. The World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Report and Doing Business in the European Union Report indicates that Romania ranks below the EU average in the ease of starting a business, dealing with construction permits and setting up utility services.  Starting a business was made more cumbersome by introducing fiscal risk assessment criteria for value-added tax applications, thereby increasing the time required to register as a value-added taxpayer. Numerous international bodies including the European Commission, the Group of States Against Corruption, the Venice Commission, and Transparency International have expressed concern about what has been seen as an attempt to roll-back anti-corruption efforts and called on the Romanian government to focus on strengthening anti-corruption efforts, including introducing stronger corporate ethics standards and implementing existing anti-corruption legislation.  No substantive progress has been made in these areas.

Business Facilitation

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

According to the World Bank, it takes 6 procedures and 35 days to establish a foreign-owned limited liability company (LLC) in Romania, compared to the regional average for Europe and Central Asia of 5 procedures and 13 days.  In addition to the procedures required of a domestic company, a foreign parent company establishing a subsidiary in Romania must authenticate and translate its documents abroad. Foreign companies do not need to seek an investment approval.  The Trade Registry judge must hold a public hearing on the company’s application for registration within 5 days of submission of the required documentation. The registration documents can be submitted, and the status of the registration request monitored, online.

Companies in Romania are free to open and maintain bank accounts in any foreign currency, although, in practice, Romanian banks offer services only in certain hard currencies including: Euros, U.S. dollars, Swiss francs and Romanian Leu.  The minimum capital requirement for domestic and foreign LLCs is RON 200 (USD 47). Areas for improvement include making all registration documents available to download online in English. Currently only some are available online, and they are only in Romanian.

Romania defines microenterprises as having less than nine employees, small enterprises as having less than 50 employees, and medium sized enterprises as having less than 250 employees.  Regardless of ownership, microenterprises and SMEs enjoy “de minimis” and other state aid schemes from EU funds or from the state budget. Business facilitation mechanisms provide for equitable treatment of women in the economy.  According to the World Bank Doing Business Report, women are able to register a LLC with the same amount of time, cost, and number of procedures as men.

Outward Investment

There are no restrictions on outward investment.  There are no incentives for outward investment.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

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

Foreign investors point to the excessive time required to secure necessary zoning permits, environmental approvals, property titles, licenses, and utility hook-ups.  In January 2018, the Public Consultation Ministry was downgraded to a directorate within the Ministry of Labor and Social Justice. Except for occasional mentions in the Single Registry of Transparency of Interests (RUTI), the Ministry has had no recorded activity.  The ruling coalition has now installed its third Prime Minister in fourteen months, which has resulted in frequent changes to government leadership, including cabinet members, mid-level officials and associated staff, and changes to some agencies’ jurisdictions. This lack of both personnel and institutional stability has raised concern among the business community.

Public comments received by regulators are not made public.  The Sunshine Law (Law 52/2003 on Transparency in Public Administration) requires public authorities to allow the public to comment on draft legislation and sets the general timeframe for stakeholders to provide input.  However, there is no penalty or sanction if the public authority does not follow the Sunshine Law’s public consultation timelines. There have been cases when the public authorities have set deadlines much shorter than the standards set forth in the law.  There were no transparency enforcement regulatory reforms announced or implemented in 2018.

International Regulatory Considerations

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

Legal System and Judicial Independence

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

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

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

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

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Romania became a member of the European Union on January 1, 2007.  The country has worked assiduously to create an EU-compatible legal framework consistent with a market economy and investment promotion.  Nevertheless, implementation of these laws and regulations is often reported to be delayed or inconsistent, and lack of legislative predictability undermines Romania’s appeal as an investment destination.

Romania’s legal framework for foreign investment is encompassed within a substantial body of law largely enacted in the late 1990s.  It is subject to frequent revision. Major changes to the Civil Code were enacted in October 2011 including replacing the Commercial Code, consolidating provisions applicable to companies and contracts into a single piece of legislation, and harmonizing Romanian legislation with international practices.  The Civil Procedure Code, which provides detailed procedural guidance for implementing the new Civil Code, came into force in February 2013.

In 2010, Romania passed a judicial reform law with the objective of improving the speed and efficiency of judicial processes, including provisions to reduce delays between hearings.  The Mediation Law, revised in October 2012, provides alternative dispute resolution options. The new Criminal Code, that includes provisions applicable to the economic felonies, came into effect in February 2014.  In 2018, Parliamentary leaders announced plans to amend both. The 2003 Fiscal Code and Fiscal Procedure Code, amended several times since their passage, was revised in January 2019. Fiscal legislation is revised frequently, according to some, oftentimes without due consideration of data-driven assessment of the economic impact.

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

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Romania has extensively revised its competition legislation, bringing it closer to the EU Acquis Communautaire and best corporate practices.  A new law on unfair competition came into effect in August 2014. Companies with a market share below 40 percent are no longer considered to have a dominant market position, thus avoiding a full investigation by the Romanian Competition Council (RCC) of new agreements, saving considerable time and money for all parties involved.  Resale price maintenance and market and client sharing are still prohibited, regardless of the size of either party’s market share. The authorization fee for mergers or takeovers ranges between EUR 10,000 (USD 11,230) and EUR 50,000 (USD 56,150). The Fiscal Procedure Code requires companies that challenge an RCC ruling to front a deposit while awaiting a court decision on the merits of the complaint.

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

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

The March 2019 EU Country Report for Romania notes that the share of negotiated public procurement procedures without prior publication was among the highest in the EU: 21 percent in 2018, up from 17 percent in 2017.  Approximately 34 percent of contracts awarded by public institutions in 2018 were single bids, down from 40 percent in 2017. This raised concerns among businesses about corruption in public procurement, which reduces competition and decreases efficiency of public spending.  The ongoing transition to a new e-procurement system, have laid the foundation for more transparency in the procurement process. EO 46 passed in May 2018 and Government Decision (GD) 502 passed in July 2018 created the legal framework for a National Centralized Procurement Office.  The European Semester report recommends that, before expanding centralized procurement to more complex products, Romania should solidify experience in the procurement of simple products subject to demand aggregation.

Expropriation and Compensation

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

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

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

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Romania is a signatory to the New York Convention, the European Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (Geneva), and the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID).  There have been 15 ICSID cases in total against Romania. Three of them involved U.S. investors. The arbitral tribunal ruled in favor of Romania in two of them. Five investor-state arbitration cases against Romania are currently pending with the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).  Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards against the government. There is no history of extrajudicial action against investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

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

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

According to the World Bank 2019 Doing Business report, it takes on average 512 days to enforce a contract, from the moment the plaintiff files the lawsuit until actual payment.  Associated costs can total around 26 percent of the claim. Arbitration awards are enforceable through Romanian courts under circumstances similar to those in other European countries, although legal proceedings can be protracted.

Bankruptcy Regulations

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

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

According to the World Bank’s Doing Business report, resolving insolvency in Romania takes 3.3 years on average, compared to 2.3 years in Europe and Central Asia, and costs 10.5 percent of the debtor’s estate, with the most likely outcome being a piecemeal sale of the company.  The average recovery rate is 35.8 cents on the dollar. Globally, Romania ranks 52nd of 190 economies on the ease of resolving insolvency.

Russia

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Ministry of Economic Development (MED) is responsible for overseeing investment policy in Russia. The Foreign Investment Advisory Council (FIAC), established in 1994, is chaired by the Prime Minister and currently includes 53 international company members and four companies as observers. The FIAC allows select foreign investors to directly present their views on improving the investment climate in Russia, and advises the government on regulatory rule-making. Russia’s basic legal framework governing investment includes 1) Law 160-FZ, July 9, 1999, “On Foreign Investment in the Russian Federation”; 2) Law No. 39-FZ,  February 25, 1999, “On Investment Activity in the Russian Federation in the Form of Capital Investment”; 3) Law No. 57-FZ, April 29, 2008, “Foreign Investments in Companies Having Strategic Importance for State Security and Defense”; and 2) the Law of the RSFSR No. 1488-1, June 26, 1991, “On Investment Activity in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR).” This framework nominally attempts to guarantee equal rights for foreign and local investors in Russia. However, exemptions are permitted when it is deemed necessary to protect the Russian constitution, morality, health, human rights, and national security or defense, and to promote the socioeconomic development of Russia. Foreign investors may freely use their revenues and profits obtained from Russia-based investments for any purpose provided they do not violate Russian law.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Russian law places two primary restrictions on land ownership by foreigners. First are restrictions on foreign ownership of land located in border areas or other “sensitive territories.” The second restricts foreign ownership of agricultural land: foreign individuals and companies, persons without citizenship, and agricultural companies more than 50-percent foreign-owned may hold agricultural land through leasehold right. As an alternative to agricultural land ownership, foreign companies typically lease land for up to 49 years, the maximum legally allowed.

President Vladimir Putin signed in October 2014 the law “On Mass Media,” which took effect on January 1, 2015, and restricts foreign ownership of any Russian media company to 20 percent (the previous law applied a 50 percent limit only to Russia’s broadcast sector). U.S. stakeholders have also raised concerns about similar limits on foreign direct investments in the mining and mineral extraction sectors; they describe the licensing regime as non-transparent and unpredictable as well.  In December 2018, the State Duma approved in its first reading a draft bill introducing new restrictions on online news aggregation services. If adopted, foreign companies, including international organizations and individuals, would be limited to a maximum of 20 percent ownership interest in Russian news aggregator websites.

Russia’s Commission on Control of Foreign Investment (Commission) was established in 2008 to monitor foreign investment in strategic sectors in accordance with the SSL. Between 2008 and 2017, the Commission received 484 applications for foreign investment, 229 of which were reviewed, according to the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS). Of those 229, the Commission granted preliminary approval for 216 (94 percent approval rate), rejected 13, and found that 193 did not require approval. (See https://fas.gov.ru/p/presentations/86). In 2018, the Commission reviewed 24 applications and granted approvals for investments worth RUB 400 billion (USD 6.4 billion).  International organizations, foreign states, and the companies they control, are treated as single entities under this law, and with their participation in a strategic business, subject to restrictions applicable to a single foreign entity.

Since January 1, 2019, foreign providers of electronic services to business customers in Russia (B2B e-services) have new Russian value-added tax (VAT) obligations. These include: (1) VAT registration with the Russian tax authorities (even for VAT exempt e-services); (2) invoice requirements; and (3) VAT reporting to the Russian tax authorities and VAT remittance rules.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The WTO conducted the first Trade Policy Review of the Russian Federation in September 2016. Reports relating to the review are available at: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp445_e.htm  .

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) issues an annual review of investment and new industrial policies: https://unctad.org/sections/dite_dir/docs/wir2018/wir18_fs_ru_en.pdf  and an investment policy monitor: https://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/IPM 

Business Facilitation

The Agency for Strategic Initiatives (ASI) was created by President Putin in 2011 to increase innovation and reduce bureaucracy. Since 2014, ASI has released an annual ranking of Russia’s regions in terms of the relative competitiveness of their investment climates, and provides potential investors with important information about regions most open to foreign investment. ASI provides a benchmark to compare regions, the “Regional Investment Standard,” and thus has stimulated competition between regions, causing an overall improved investment climate in Russia. See https://asi.ru/investclimate/rating/ (in Russian). The Federal Tax Service (FTS) operates Russia’s business registration website: www.nalog.ru.Per law (Article 13 of Law 129-FZ of 2001), a company must register with a local FTS office within 30 days of launching a new business, and he business registration process must not take more than three days, according to. Foreign companies may be required to notarize the originals of incorporation documents included in the application package. To establish a business in Russia, a company must pay a registration fee of RUB 4,000 and register with the FTS. Starting January 1, 2019, a registration fee waived for online submission of incorporation documents.  See http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/russia .

The Russian government established in 2010 an ombudsman for investor rights protection to act as partner and guarantor of investors, large and small, and as referee in pre-court mediation facilitation. The First Deputy Prime Minister was appointed as the first federal ombudsman. In 2011, ombudsmen were established at the regional level, with a deputy of the Representative of the President acting as ombudsman in each of the seven federal districts. The ombudsman’s secretariat, located in the Ministry of Economic Development, attempts to facilitate the resolution of disputes between parties. Cases are initiated with the filing of a complaint by an investor (by e-mail, phone or letter), followed by the search for a solution among the parties concerned. According to the breakdown of problems reported to the ombudsman, the majority of cases are related to administrative barriers, discrimination of companies, exceeding of authority by public officials, customs regulations, and property rights protection.

In June 2012, a new mechanism for protection of entrepreneur’s rights was established. Boris Titov, the head of the business organization “Delovaya Rossia” was appointed as the Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneur’s Rights.

In 2018, Russia implemented four reforms that increased its score in World Bank’s Doing Business ranking. First, Russia made the process of obtaining a building permit faster by reducing the time needed to obtain construction and occupancy permits.  Russia also increased quality control during construction by introducing risk-based inspections. Second, it made getting electricity faster by imposing new deadlines for connection procedures and by upgrading the utility’s single window as well as its internal processes. Getting electricity was also made cheaper by reducing the costs to obtain a connection to the electric network. Third, Russia made paying taxes less costly by allowing a higher tax depreciation rate for fixed assets. Fourth, Russia made trading across borders easier by prioritizing online customs clearance and introducing shortened time limits for its automated completion.

Outward Investment

The Russian government does not restrict Russian investors from investing abroad. In effect since 2015, Russia’s “de-offshorization law” (376-FZ) requires that Russian tax residents notify the government about their overseas assets, potentially subjecting these to Russian taxes.

While there are no restrictions on the distribution of profits to a nonresident entity, some foreign currency control restrictions apply to Russian residents (both companies and individuals), and to foreign currency transactions. As of January 1, 2018, all Russian citizens and foreign holders of Russian residence permits are considered Russian “currency control residents.” These “residents” are required to notify the tax authorities when a foreign bank account is opened, changed, or closed and when there is a movement of funds in a foreign bank account. Individuals who have spent less than 183 days in Russia during the reporting period are exempt from the reporting requirements and the restrictions on the use of foreign bank accounts.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

While the Russian government at all levels offers moderately transparent policies, actual implementation can also be inconsistent. Moreover, Russia’s import substitution program often leads to burdensome regulations that can give domestic producers a financial advantage over foreign competitors. Draft bills and regulations are made available for public comments in accordance with disclosure rules set forth in the Government Resolution 851 of 2012.

Key regulatory actions are published on a centralized web site: www.pravo.gov.ru. The web site maintains regulatory documents that are enacted or about to be enacted. Draft regulatory laws are published on the web site www.regulation.gov.ru. Draft laws that do not fall under Resolution 851 can be found on the State Duma (Russia’s parliament) legal database: http://asozd.duma.gov.ru/ .

Accounting procedures are generally transparent and consistent. Documents compliant with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), however, are usually provided only by businesses that interface with foreign markets or borrow from foreign lenders. Reports prepared in accordance with the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) are required for the consolidated financial statements of all entities who meet the following criteria: entities whose securities are listed on stock exchanges; banks and other credit institutions, insurance companies (except those with activities limited to obligatory medical insurance); non-governmental pension funds; management companies of investment and pension funds; and clearing houses. Additionally, certain state-owned companies are required to prepare consolidated IFRS financial statements by separate decrees of the Russian government. Russian Accounting Standards, which are largely based on international best practices, otherwise apply.

International Regulatory Considerations

As a member of the EAEU, Russia has delegated certain decision-making authority to the EAEU’s supranational executive body, the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC). In particular, the EEC has the lead on concluding trade agreements with third countries, customs tariffs (on imports), and technical regulations. EAEU agreements and EEC decisions establish basic principles that are implemented by the member states at the national level through domestic laws, regulations, and other measures involving goods. EAEU agreements and EEC decisions also cover trade remedy determinations, establishment and administration of special economic and industrial zones, and the development of technical regulations. The EAEU Treaty establishes the priority of WTO rules in the EAEU legal framework. Authority to set sanitary and phytosanitary standards remains at the individual country level.

U.S. companies cite technical regulations and related product-testing and certification requirements as major obstacles to U.S. exports of industrial and agricultural goods to Russia. Russian authorities require product testing and certification as a key element of the approval process for a variety of products, and, in many cases, only an entity registered and residing in Russia can apply for the necessary documentation for product approvals. Consequently, opportunities for testing and certification performed by competent bodies outside Russia are limited. Manufacturers of telecommunications equipment, oil and gas equipment, and construction materials and equipment, in particular, have reported serious difficulties in obtaining product approvals within Russia. Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) issues have also arisen with alcoholic beverages, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices.

Russia joined the WTO in 2012. Although Russia has notified the WTO of numerous technical regulations, it appears to be taking a narrow view regarding the types of measures that require notification. In 2017-2018, Russia submitted 12 notifications under the WTO TBT Agreement. However, they may not reflect the full set of technical regulations that require notification under the WTO TBT Agreement.  A full list of notifications is available at: http://www.epingalert.org/en 

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The U.S. Embassy advises any foreign company operating in Russia to have competent legal counsel and create a comprehensive plan on steps to take in case the police carry out an unexpected raid. Russian authorities have exhibited a pattern of transforming civil cases into criminal matters, resulting in significantly more severe penalties. In short, unfounded lawsuits or arbitrary enforcement actions remain an ever-present possibility for any company operating in Russia.

Critics contend that Russian courts in general lack independent authority and, in criminal cases, have a bias toward conviction. In practice, the presumption of innocence tends to be ignored by Russian courts, and less than one-half of a percent of criminal cases end in acquittal. In cases that are appealed when the lower court decision resulted in a conviction, less than one percent are overturned. In contrast, when the lower court decision is “not guilty,” 37 percent of the appeals result in a finding of guilt.

Russia has a civil law system, and the Civil Code of Russia governs contracts. Specialized commercial courts (also called arbitrage courts) handle a wide variety of commercial disputes. Russia was ranked by the World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Report as 18th in terms of contract enforcement, unchanged from 2018.

Commercial courts are required by law to decide business disputes efficiently, and many cases are decided on the basis of written evidence, with little or no live testimony by witnesses. The courts’ workload is dominated by relatively simple cases involving the collection of debts and firms’ disputes with the taxation and customs authorities, pension fund, and other state organs. Tax-paying firms often prevail in their disputes with the government in court. The volume of routine cases limits the time available for the courts to decide more complex cases. The court system has special procedures for the seizure of property before trial to prevent its disposal before the court has heard the claim, as well as procedures for the enforcement of financial awards through the banks. As with some international arbitral procedures, the weakness in the Russian arbitration system lies in the enforcement of decisions; few firms pay judgments against them voluntarily.

A specialized court for intellectual property (IP) disputes was established in 2013. The IP Court hears matters pertaining to the review of decisions made by the Russian Federal Service for Intellectual Property (Rospatent) and determines issues of IP ownership, authorship, and the cancellation of trademark registrations. It also serves as the court of second appeal for IP infringement cases decided in commercial courts and courts of appeal.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The 1991 Investment Code and 1999 Law on Foreign Investment (160-FZ) guarantee that foreign investors enjoy rights equal to those of Russian investors, although some industries have limits on foreign ownership (see separate section on “Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment”). Russia’s Special Investment Contract program, launched in 2015, aims to increase investment in Russia by offering tax incentives and simplified procedures for dealings with the government. In addition, a new law on public-private-partnerships (224-FZ) took effect January 1, 2016. The legislation allows an investor to acquire ownership rights over a property. In previous approaches to public-private-partnerships, the public authority retained ownership rights. The aforementioned SSL regulates foreign investments in “strategic” companies. Amendments to Federal Law No. 160-FZ “On Foreign Investments in the Russian Federation” and Russia’s Strategic Sectors Law (SSL), signed by the President into law in May 2018, liberalized access of foreign investments to strategic sectors of the Russian economy and made the strategic clearance process clearer and more comfortable. The new concept is more investor-friendly, since applying a stricter regime can now potentially be avoided by providing the required beneficiary and controlling person information. In addition, the amendments expressly envisage a right for the Federal Antimonopoly Service of Russia (FAS) to issue official clarifications on the nature and application of the SSL that may facilitate law enforcement.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) implements antimonopoly laws and is responsible for overseeing matters related to the protection of competition. Russia’s fourth and most recent anti-monopoly legislative package, which took effect January 2016, introduced a number of changes to this law. Changes include limiting the criteria under which an entity could be considered “dominant,” broadening the scope of transactions subject to FAS approval, and reducing government control over transactions involving natural monopolies. Over the past several years, FAS has opened a number of cases involving American companies.

In addition, FAS has claimed the authority to regulate intellectual property, arguing that monopoly rights conferred by ownership of intellectual property should not extend to the “circulation of goods,” a point supported by the Russian Supreme Court.  The fifth anti-monopoly legislative package, devoted to regulating the digital economy, has been developed by the FAS and is currently undergoing an interagency approval process.

Expropriation and Compensation

The 1991 Investment Code prohibits the nationalization of foreign investments, except following legislative action and when such action is deemed to be in the public interest. Acts of nationalization may be appealed to Russian courts, and the investor must be adequately and promptly compensated for the taking. At the sub-federal level, expropriation has occasionally been a problem, as well as local government interference and a lack of enforcement of court rulings protecting investors.

Despite legislation prohibiting the nationalization of foreign investments, investors in Russia – particularly minority-share investors in domestically-owned energy companies – are encouraged to exercise caution. Russia has a history of indirectly expropriating companies through “creeping” and informal means, often related to domestic political disputes. Some examples of recent cases include: 1) The privately owned oil company Bashneft was nationalized and then “privatized” in 2016 through its sale to the government-owned oil giant Rosneft without a public tender; 2) In the Yukos case, the Russian government used questionable tax and legal proceedings to ultimately gain control of the assets of a large Russian energy company; 3) Russian businesspeople reportedly often face criminal prosecution over commercial disputes.  In February 2018, a prominent U.S. investor was jailed over a commercial dispute. Other, more general examples include foreign companies being pressured into selling their Russia-based assets at below-market prices. Foreign investors, particularly minority investors, have little legal recourse in such instances.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Russia is party to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. While Russia does not have specific legislation providing for enforcement of the New York Convention, Article 15 of the Constitution specifies that “the universally recognized norms of international law and international treaties and agreements of the Russian Federation shall be a component part of [Russia’s] legal system. If an international treaty or agreement of the Russian Federation fixes other rules than those envisaged by law, the rules of the international agreement shall be applied.” Russia is a signatory but not a party, and never ratified the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Available information indicates that at least 14 investment disputes have involved a U.S. person and the Russian Government since 2006. Some attorneys refer international clients who have investment or trade disputes in Russia to international arbitration centers, such as Paris, Stockholm, London, or The Hague. A 1997 Russian law allows foreign arbitration awards to be enforced in Russia, even if there is no reciprocal treaty between Russia and the country where the order was issued, in accordance with the New York Convention. Russian law was amended in 2015 to give the Russian Constitutional Court authority to disregard verdicts by international bodies if it determines the ruling contradicts the Russian constitution.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

In addition to the court system, Russian law recognizes alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms, i.e. domestic arbitration, international arbitration and mediation. Civil and commercial disputes may be referred to either domestic or international commercial arbitration. Institutional arbitration is more common in Russia than ad hoc arbitration.

Arbitral awards can be enforced in Russia pursuant to international treaties, such as the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, the 1958 New York Convention, and the 1961 European Convention on International Commercial Arbitration, as well as domestic legislation.

Mediation mechanisms were established by the Law on Alternative Dispute Resolution Procedure with participation of the Intermediary in January 2011. Mediation is an informal extrajudicial dispute resolution method whereby a mediator seeks mutually acceptable resolution. However, mediation is not yet widely used in Russia.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Russia established a law providing for enterprises bankruptcy in the early 1990s. A law on personal bankruptcy came into force in 2015. Russia’s ranking in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 Report for “Resolving Insolvency” is 55 out of 190 economies. In accordance with Article 9 of the Law on Insolvency (Bankruptcy), the management of an insolvent firm must petition the court of arbitration to declare the company bankrupt within one month of failing to pay the bank’s claims. The court will institute a supervisory procedure and will appoint a temporary administrator. The administrator will convene the first creditors’ meeting, at which creditors will decide whether to petition the court for liquidation or reorganization.

In accordance with Article 51 of the Law on Insolvency (Bankruptcy), a bankruptcy case must be considered within seven months of the day the petition was received by the arbitral court.

Liquidation proceedings by law are limited to six months and can be extended by six more months (art. 124 of the Law on Insolvency (Bankruptcy). Therefore, the time dictated by law is 19 months. However, in practice, liquidation proceedings are extended several times and for longer periods.

Total cost of the insolvency proceedings can be approximately nine percent of the value of the estate, including: fees of attorneys, fees of the temporary insolvency representative for the supervisory period, fees of an insolvency representative during liquidation proceedings, payments for services of professionals hired by insolvency representatives (accountants, assessors), and other (publication of announcements, mailing fees, etc.).

In July 2017, amendments to the Law on Insolvency expanded the list of persons who may be held vicariously liable for a bankrupted entity’s debts and clarified the grounds for such liability. According to the new rules, in addition to the CEO, the following can also be held vicariously liable for a bankrupt company’s debts: top managers, including the CFO and COO, accountants, liquidators, and other persons who controlled or had significant influence over the bankrupted entity’s actions by kin or position, or could force the bankrupted entity to enter into unprofitable transactions. In addition, persons who profited from the illegal actions by management may also be subject to liability through court action. The amendments clarified that shareholders owning less than 10 percent in the bankrupt company shall not be deemed controlling, unless they are proven to have played a role in the company’s bankruptcy. The amendments also expanded the list of persons who may be subject to secondary liability and the grounds for recognizing fault for a company’s bankruptcy. This sent a warning signal to management and business owners as well as controlling persons, including financial and executive directors, accountants, auditors and even organizations responsible for maintaining the company’s records.

Saudi Arabia

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment

Attracting foreign direct investment remains a critical component of the SAG’s broader Vision 2030 program to diversify an economy overly dependent on oil and to create employment opportunities for a growing youth population.  As such, the SAG seeks foreign investment that explicitly promotes economic development, transfers foreign expertise and technology to Saudi Arabia, creates jobs for Saudi nationals, and increases Saudi’s non-oil exports. The government encourages investment in nearly all economic sectors, with priority given to transportation, health/biotechnology, information and communications technology (ICT), media/entertainment, industry (mining and manufacturing), and energy.

Saudi Arabia’s economic reform programs are opening up new areas for potential investment.  For example, in a country where most public entertainment was once forbidden, the SAG now regularly sponsors and promotes entertainment programming, including live concerts, dance exhibitions, sports competitions, and other public performances.  Significantly, the audiences for many of those events are now gender-mixed, representing a larger consumer base. In addition to the reopening of cinemas in April 2018, the SAG hosted its first Formula E race in December 2018 in Riyadh, as well as the Saudi International Golf Tournament in Jeddah in early 2019 (a leg of the PGA European Tour).

The SAG is proceeding with “economic cities” and new “giga-projects” that are at various stages of development and welcomes foreign investment in them.  These projects are large-scale and self-contained developments in different regions focusing on particular industries, e.g., technology, energy, tourism, and entertainment.  Principal among these projects are:

  • Qiddiya, a new, large-scale entertainment, sports, and cultural complex near Riyadh;
  • King Abdullah Financial District, a USD 10 billion commercial center development in Riyadh;
  • Red Sea Project, a massive tourism development on the western Saudi coast, which aims to create 70,000 jobs and attract one million tourists per year.
  • Amaala, a wellness, healthy living, and meditation resort on the Kingdom’s northwest coast, projected to include more than 2,500 luxury hotel rooms and 700 villas.  
  • NEOM, a new USD 500 billion project to build a futuristic “independent economic zone” in northwest Saudi Arabia;

The Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) governs and regulates foreign investment in the Kingdom, issues licenses to prospective investors, and works to foster and promote investment opportunities across the economy.  Established originally as a regulatory agency, SAGIA has increasingly shifted its focus to investment promotion and assistance, offering potential investors detailed guides and a catalogue of current investment opportunities on its website (www.sagia.gov.sa  ).

Despite Saudi Arabia’s overall welcoming approach to foreign investment, some structural impediments remain.  Foreign investment is currently prohibited in 11 sectors, including:

  1. Oil exploration, drilling, and production;
  2. Catering to military sectors;
  3. Security and detective services;
  4. Real estate investment in the holy cities, Makkah and Medina;
  5. Tourist orientation and guidance services for religious tourism related to Hajj and Umrah;
  6. Recruitment offices;
  7. Printing and publishing (subject to a variety of exceptions);
  8. Certain internationally classified commission agents;
  9. Services provided by midwives, nurses, physical therapy services, and quasi-doctoral services;
  10. Fisheries; and
  11. Poison centers, blood banks, and quarantine services.

(The complete “negative list” can be found at www.sagia.gov.sa  .)  

In addition to the negative list, older laws that remain in effect prohibit or otherwise restrict foreign investment in some economic subsectors not on the list, including some areas of healthcare.  In 2018, Saudi Arabia began to allow foreign ownership in businesses providing services relating to road transportation, real estate brokerage, labor recruitment, and audiovisual display. At the same time, SAGIA has demonstrated some flexibility in approving exceptions to the “negative list” exclusions.  

Foreign investors must also contend with increasingly strict localization requirements in bidding for certain government contracts, labor policy requirements to hire more Saudi nationals (usually at higher wages than expatriate workers), an increasingly restrictive visa policy for foreign workers, and gender segregation in business and social settings (though gender segregation is becoming more relaxed as the SAG introduces socio-economic reforms).  

Additionally, in a bid to bolster non-oil income, the government implemented new taxes and fees in 2017 and early 2018, including significant visa fee increases, higher fines for traffic violations, new fees for certain billboard advertisements, and related measures.  The government implemented a value-added tax (VAT) in January 2018 at a rate of five percent, in addition to excise taxes implemented in June 2017 on cigarettes (at a rate of 100 percent), carbonated drinks (at a rate of 50 percent), and energy drinks (at a rate of 100 percent).  In January 2018, the government also implemented new fees for expatriate employers ranging between USD 80 and USD 107 per employee per month, as well as increasing levies on expatriates with dependents amounting to a USD 54 monthly fee for each dependent. These expatriate fees are scheduled to increase every year through 2020.  On January 1, 2018, the SAG also reduced previous subsidies on electricity and gasoline, which resulted in a doubling of residential electricity rates and an increase in price of gasoline by more than 80 percent.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Saudi Arabia fully recognizes rights to private ownership and the establishment of private business.  As outlined above, the SAG excludes foreign investors from some economic sectors and places some limits on foreign control.  With respect to energy, Saudi Arabia’s largest economic sector, foreign firms are barred from investing in the upstream hydrocarbon sector, but the SAG permits foreign investment in the downstream energy sector, including refining and petrochemicals.  There is significant foreign investment in these sectors. ExxonMobil, Shell, China’s Sinopec, and Japan’s Sumitomo Chemical are partners with Saudi Aramco (the SAG’s state-owned oil firm) in domestic refineries. ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and other international investors have joint ventures with Aramco and/or the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) in large-scale petrochemical plants that utilize natural-gas feedstock from Aramco’s operations.  In Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, the Dow Chemical Company and Aramco are partners in a USD 20 billion joint venture to construct, own, and operate the world’s largest integrated petrochemical production complex.

With respect to other non-oil natural resources, the national mining company, Ma’aden, has a USD 12 billion joint venture with Alcoa for bauxite mining and aluminum production and a USD 7 billion joint venture with the leading American fertilizer firm Mosaic and SABIC to produce phosphate-based fertilizers.  

Joint ventures almost always take the form of limited-liability partnerships, to which there are some disadvantages.  Foreign partners in service and contracting ventures organized as limited-liability partnerships must pay, in cash or in kind, 100 percent of their contribution to authorized capital.  SAGIA’s authorization is only the first step in setting up such a partnership.

Professionals, including architects, consultants, and consulting engineers, are required to register with, and be certified by, the Ministry of Commerce and Investment (MCI), in accordance with the requirements defined in the Ministry’s Resolution 264 from 1982.  These regulations, in theory, permit the registration of Saudi-foreign joint-venture consulting firms. As part of its WTO accession commitments, Saudi Arabia generally allows consulting firms to establish a local office without a Saudi partner. The requirement that law firms and engineering consulting firms must have a Saudi partner was rescinded in 2017.  Foreign engineering consulting companies must have been incorporated for at least 10 years and have operations in at least four different countries to qualify. However, offices practicing accounting and auditing, architecture, or civil planning, or providing healthcare, dental, or veterinary services must still have a Saudi partner, and the foreign partner’s equity cannot exceed 75 percent of the total investment.  

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has opened additional service markets to foreign investment, including financial and banking services; aircraft maintenance and repair and computer reservation systems; wholesale, retail, and franchise distribution services (traditionally subject to minimum 25 percent local ownership and minimum 20 million Saudi riyal (USD 5.3 million) foreign investment); both basic and value-added telecom services; and investment in the computer and related services sectors.  In 2016, for example, Saudi Arabia formally approved full foreign ownership of retail and wholesale businesses in the Kingdom, thereby removing the former 25 percent local ownership requirement. While some companies have already received licenses under the new rules, the restrictions attached to obtaining full ownership – including a requirement to invest over USD 50 million during the first five years and ensure that 30 percent of all products sold are manufactured locally – have proven difficult to meet and precluded many investors from taking full advantage of the reform.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Saudi Arabia completed its second WTO trade policy review in late 2015, which included investment policy (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp433_e.htm  ).  

Business Facilitation

In addition to applying for a license from SAGIA as described above, foreign and local investors must register a new business via the MCI, which has begun offering online registration services for limited liability companies at:  http://www.mci.gov.sa/en  .  Though users may submit articles of association and apply for a business name within minutes on MCI’s website, final approval from the ministry often takes a week or longer.  Applicants must also complete a number of other steps in order to start a business, including obtaining a municipality (baladia) license for their office premises and registering separately with the Ministry of Labor and Social Development, Chamber of Commerce, Passport Office, Tax Department, and the General Organization for Social Insurance.  From start to finish, registering a business in Saudi Arabia takes a foreign investor on average three to five months from the time an initial SAGIA application is complete, placing the country at 141 of 190 countries in terms of ease of starting a business, according to the World Bank (2019 rankings).  With respect to foreign direct investment, the investment approval by SAGIA is a necessary, but not sufficient, step in establishing an investment in the Kingdom. There are a number of other government ministries, agencies, and departments regulating business operations and ventures.

Saudi officials have stated their intention to attract foreign small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to the Kingdom.  The SAG established the Small and Medium Enterprises General Authority in 2015 to facilitate the growth of the SME sector. In 2016, the SAG released a new Companies Law designed in part to promote the development of the SME sector.  The law allows one person, rather than the previous minimum of two, to form a corporation, though in very limited cases. It also substantially reduced the minimum capital and number of shareholders required to form a joint stock company (from five previously to two).

Outward Investment

Saudi Arabia does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.  Private Saudi citizens, Saudi companies, and SAG entities hold extensive overseas investments.  The SAG is attempting to transform its Public Investment Fund (PIF), traditionally a holding company for government shares in state-controlled enterprises, into a major international investor and sovereign wealth fund.  In 2016, the PIF made its first high-profile international investment by taking a USD 3.5 billion stake in Uber. The PIF has also announced a USD 400 million investment in Magic Leap, a Florida-based company that is developing “mixed reality” technology, and a USD 1 billion investment in Lucid Motors, a California-based electric car company.  Saudi Aramco and SABIC are also major investors in the United States. In 2017, Aramco acquired full ownership of Motiva, the largest refinery in the United States, in Port Arthur, Texas. SABIC has announced a multi-billion dollar joint venture with ExxonMobil in a petrochemical facility in Texas.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Saudi Arabia received the lowest score possible (zero out of five) in the World Bank’s 2018 Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance Report, which places the Kingdom in the bottom 13 countries among 186 countries surveyed (http://rulemaking.worldbank.org/  ).  Few aspects of the SAG’s regulatory system are entirely transparent, although Saudi investment policy is less opaque than other areas.  Bureaucratic procedures are cumbersome but can generally be overcome with persistence. Foreign portfolio investment in the Saudi stock exchange is well-regulated by the Capital Markets Authority (CMA), with clear standards for interested foreign investors to qualify to trade on the local market.  The CMA is progressively liberalizing requirements for “qualified foreign investors” to trade in Saudi securities. Insurance companies and banks whose shares are listed on the Saudi stock exchange are required to publish financial statements according to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) accounting standards.  All other companies are required to follow accounting standards issued by the Saudi Organization for Certified Public Accountants.

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

International Regulatory Considerations

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

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

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

Legal System and Judicial Independence

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

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

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

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

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

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

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

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

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

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

In recent years, the SAG has demonstrated a commitment to improving the quality of commercial legal proceedings and access to alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.  Local attorneys indicate that the quality of final judgments in the court system has improved, but that cases still take too long to litigate. In 2012, the SAG updated certain provisions in Saudi Arabia’s domestic arbitration law, paving the way for the establishment of the Saudi Center for Commercial Arbitration (SCCA) in 2016.  Developed in accordance with international arbitration rules and standards, including those set by the American Arbitration Association’s International Centre for Dispute Resolution and the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Court of Arbitration, the SCCA offers comprehensive arbitration services to firms both domestic and international.  The SCCA reports that both domestic and foreign law firms have begun to include referrals to the SCCA in the arbitration clauses of their contracts. However, it is currently too early to assess the quality and effectiveness of SCCA proceedings, as the SCCA is still in the early stages of operation. Awards rendered by the SCCA can be enforced in local courts, though judges remain empowered to reject enforcement of provisions they deem noncompliant with sharia law.  

In December 2017, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) recognized Saudi Arabia as a jurisdiction that has adopted an arbitration law based on the 2006 UNCITRAL Model Arbitration Law.  While Saudi Arabia adopted this law in 2012, UNCITRAL did not consider it as a model law jurisdiction due to the SAG’s reference to sharia’s supremacy over UNCITRAL-adopted provisions.  After discussions between UNCITRAL representatives and Saudi judges, during which the Saudi judges clarified that sharia would not affect the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards, UNCITRAL added Saudi Arabia to the list of model law jurisdictions.  The potential impact of the decision is that foreign investors and companies in Saudi Arabia have slightly more certainty that their arbitration agreements and awards will be enforced, as in other UNCITRAL countries.  Whether (and how) Saudi courts will apply this latest interpretation of the relationship between foreign arbitral awards and sharia law remains to be seen.  

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

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

Until the FTGA becomes operational (possibly later in 2019), MCI and SAGIA remain the primary Saudi government entities responsible for formulating policies regarding investment activities, proposing plans and regulations to enhance the investment climate in the country, and evaluating and licensing investment proposals.  

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

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

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

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

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

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

SAGIA and the Ministry of Commerce and Investment review transactions for competition-related concerns.  Concerns have arisen that allegations of price fixing for certain products, including infant nutrition products, may have been used on occasion as a pretext to control prices.  The Ministry of Commerce and Investment has looked to the GCC’s reference pricing approach on subsidized products to assist the SAG in determining market-price suggested norms.

Saudi competition law prohibits certain vertically-integrated business combinations.  Consequently, companies doing business in Saudi Arabia may find it difficult to register exclusivity clauses in distribution agreements, but are not necessarily precluded from enforcing such clauses in Saudi courts.

Expropriation and Compensation

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

Bankruptcy Regulations

Potential investors should note that the “Resolving Insolvency” indicator most negatively affects Saudi Arabia’s World Bank “Doing Business” ranking.  

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

Singapore

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Singapore maintains a heavily trade-dependent economy characterized by an open investment regime, with some licensing restrictions in the financial services, professional services, and media sectors. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2018 report ranked Singapore as the world’s second-easiest country in which to do business. The 2018 Global Competitiveness Report ranks Singapore as the second -most competitive economy globally. The 2004 USSFTA expanded U.S. market access in goods, services, investment, and government procurement, enhanced intellectual property protection, and provided for cooperation in promoting labor rights and the environment.

The Government of Singapore is committed to maintaining a free market, but it also actively plans Singapore’s economic development, including through a network of government-linked corporations (GLCs). As of February 2019, the top three Singapore-listed GLCs accounted for 13.1 percent of total capitalization of the Singapore Exchange (SGX). Some observers have criticized the dominant role of GLCs in the domestic economy, arguing that they have displaced or suppressed private sector entrepreneurship and investment.

Singapore’s legal framework and public policies are generally favorable toward foreign investors. Foreign investors are not required to enter into joint ventures or cede management control to local interests, and local and foreign investors are subject to the same basic laws. Apart from regulatory requirements in some sectors (reference Limits on National Treatment and Other Restrictions), eligibility for various incentive schemes depends on investment proposals meeting the criteria set by relevant government agencies. Singapore places no restrictions on reinvestment or repatriation of earnings or capital. The judicial system, which includes international arbitration and mediation centers and a commercial court, upholds the sanctity of contracts, and decisions are generally considered to be transparent and effectively enforced.

Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB) is the lead investment promotion agency that facilitates foreign investment into Singapore (https:www.edb.gov.sg). EDB undertakes investment promotion and industry development and works with international businesses, both foreign and local, by providing information and facilitating introductions and access to government incentives. The government maintains close engagement with investors through the EDB, which provides feedback to other government agencies to ensure that infrastructure and public services remain efficient and cost-competitive.

Exceptions to Singapore’s general openness to foreign investment exist in telecommunications, broadcasting, the domestic news media, financial services, legal and accounting services, and ports and airports sectors, as well as property ownership. Under Singapore law, articles of incorporation may include shareholding limits that restrict ownership in corporations by foreign persons.

Telecommunications

Since 2000, the Singapore telecommunications market has been fully liberalized. This move has allowed foreign and domestic companies seeking to provide facilities-based (e.g. fixed line or mobile networks) or services-based (e.g. local and international calls and data services over leased networks) telecommunications services to apply for licenses to operate and deploy telecommunication systems and services. Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel) – a GLC that is majority owned by Temasek, a state-owned investment company with the Singapore Minister for Finance as its sole shareholder – faces competition in all market segments. However, its main competitors, M1 and StarHub, are also GLCs. In December 2018, Australian telco TPG Telecom announced a limited, free mobile service to run through 2019. TPG offers only subscriber identity module (SIM) services in Singapore. In the past three years, four Singapore start-ups offering mobile virtual network operator services (MVNOs) have also entered the market. The three established Singapore telecommunications competitors are expected to strengthen their partnerships with the MVNOs in a defensive move against TPG’s entry.

As of November 2018, Singapore has 69 facilities-based operators and 257 services-based (individual) operators offering prepaid services. Since 2007, SingTel has been exempted from dominant licensee obligations for the residential and commercial portions of the retail international telephone services. SingTel is also exempted from dominant licensee obligations for wholesale international telephone services, international managed data, international IP transit, leased satellite bandwidth (VSAT, DVB-IP, satellite TV Downlink, and Satellite IPLC), terrestrial international private leased circuit, and backhaul services. The info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) granted Singtel’s exemption after assessing that the market for these services had effective competition.

In April 2017, Singapore held a General Spectrum Auction for mobile airwaves, the largest such auction in 16 years, allocating additional blocks of spectrum to accommodate increasing demand for mobile data services. Singtel, Starhub, M1, and TPG paid a combined total of USUSD 870 million (SUSD 1.15billion) in this heavily-bid auction for additional frequency bands.  To facilitate 5G technology and service trials, IMDA has waived frequency fees for companies interested in conducting 5G trials for equipment testing, research, and assessment of commercial potential.

Singapore’s IMDA operates as both the regulatory agency and the investment promotion agency for the country’s telecommunications sector. IMDA conducts public consultations on major policy reviews and provides decisions on policy changes to relevant companies.

Media

The local free-to-air broadcasting, cable, and newspaper sectors are effectively closed to foreign firms. Section 44 of the Broadcasting Act restricts foreign equity ownership of companies broadcasting in Singapore to 49 percent or less, although the Act does allow for exceptions. Individuals cannot hold shares that would make up more than five percent of the total votes in a broadcasting company without the government’s prior approval. The Newspaper and Printing Presses Act (NPPA) restricts equity ownership (local or foreign) of newspaper companies to less than five percent per shareholder and requires directors to be Singapore citizens. Newspaper companies must issue two classes of shares, ordinary and management, with the latter available only to Singapore citizens or corporations approved by the government. Holders of management shares have an effective veto over selected board decisions.

Singapore regulates content across all major media outlets. The government controls the distribution, importation, and sale of any newspaper and has curtailed or banned the circulation of some foreign publications. Singapore’s leaders have also brought defamation suits against foreign publishers, which have resulted in the foreign publishers issuing apologies and paying damages. Several dozen publications remain prohibited under the Undesirable Publications Act, which restricts the import, sale, and circulation of publications that the government considers contrary to public interest. Examples include pornographic magazines, publications by banned religious groups, and publications containing extremist religious views. Following a routine review in 2015, the then-Media Development Authority lifted a ban on 240 publications, ranging from decades-old anti-colonial and communist material to adult interest content.

Singaporeans generally face few restrictions on the internet. However, the IMDA has blocked various websites containing material that the government deems objectionable, such as pornography and racist and religious hatred sites. Online news websites that report regularly on Singapore and have a significant reach are individually licensed, which requires these sites to submit a bond of USD 40,000 (SGD 50,000) and to adhere to requirements to remove prohibited content within 24 hours of notification from IMDA. Some view this regulation as a way to censor online critics of the government. In December 2018 authorities charged the editor of an online news site with criminal defamation following the publication of a contributor’s allegedly defamatory letter, although the editor had removed the post when advised to do so by the authorities.

In April 2019, the government introduced legislation in Parliament to counter “deliberate online falsehoods.” The legislation, called the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill, would require websites to run corrections alongside “online falsehoods” and would impose penalties on sites or individuals that spread “misinformation,” as determined by the government.

Pay-Television

MediaCorp TV is the only free-to-air TV broadcaster and is 100 percent owned by the government via Temasek Holdings (Temasek). Local Pay-TV providers are StarHub and Singtel, which are both partially owned by Temasek or its subsidiaries. Local free-to-air radio broadcasters are MediaCorp Radio Singapore, which is also owned by Temasek Holdings, SPH Radio, owned by the publically-held Singapore Press Holdings, and So Drama! Entertainment, owned by the Singapore Ministry of Defense. BBC World Services is the only foreign free-to-air radio broadcaster in Singapore.

To rectify the high degree of content fragmentation in the Singapore pay-TV market, and shift the focus of competition from an exclusivity-centric strategy to other aspects such as service differentiation and competitive packaging, the MDA implemented cross-carriage measures in 2011 requiring pay-TV companies designated by MDA to be Receiving Qualified Licensees (RQL) – currently SingTel and StarHub – to cross-carry content subject to exclusive carriage provisions. Correspondingly, Supplying Qualified Licensees (SQLs) with an exclusive contract for a channel are required to carry that content on other RQL pay-TV companies. In February 2019, the IMDA proposed to continue the current cross-carriage measures. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has expressed concern that this measure restricts copyright exclusivity. Content providers consider the measures an unnecessary interference in a competitive market that denies content holders the ability to negotiate freely in the marketplace, and an interference with their ability to manage and protect their intellectual property. More common content is now available across the different pay-TV platforms, and the operators are beginning to differentiate themselves by originating their own content, offering subscribed content online via PCs and tablet computers, and delivering content via fiber networks.

Streaming services have entered the market, which MPAA has found leads to a significant reduction in intellectual property infringements. StarHub and Singtel have both partnered with multiple content providers, including U.S. companies, to provide streaming content in Singapore and around the region.

Banking and Finance

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) regulates all banking activities as provided for under the Banking Act. Singapore maintains legal distinctions between foreign and local banks and the type of license (i.e. full service, wholesale, and offshore banks) held by foreign commercial banks. As of March 2019, 28 foreign full-service licensees and 97 wholesale banks operated in Singapore. An additional 27 merchant banks are licensed to conduct corporate finance, investment banking, and other fee-based activities. Offshore and wholesale banks are not allowed to operate Singapore dollar retail banking activities. Only Full Banks and “Qualifying Full Banks” (QFBs) can operate Singapore dollar retail banking activities but are subject to restrictions on the number of places of business, ATMs, and ATM networks. Additional QFB licenses may be granted to a subset of full banks, which provide greater branching privileges and greater access to the retail market than other full banks. As of March 2019, there are ten banks operating QFB licenses.

Except in retail banking, Singapore laws do not distinguish operationally between foreign and domestic banks. Currently, all banks in Singapore are required to maintain a Domestic Banking Unit (DBU) and an Asian Currency Unit (ACU), separating international and domestic banking operations from each other. Transactions in Singapore dollars can be booked only in the DBU whereas transactions in foreign currency are typically booked in the ACU. The ACU is an accounting unit that the banks use to book all their foreign currency transactions conducted in the Asian Dollar Market (ADM). This enables additional prudential requirements to be imposed on banks’ domestic businesses in Singapore, while also avoiding undue restrictions on the offshore activities of banks. Following public consultations, MAS initiated a 30-month implementation timeline from February 2017 for the removal of the DBU-ACU divide, which will be aligned with the revisions made to MAS 610 (Submission of Statistics and Returns).

The government initiated a banking liberalization program in 1999 to ease restrictions on foreign banks and has supplemented this with phased-in provisions under the USSFTA, including removal of a 40 percent ceiling on foreign ownership of local banks and a 20 percent aggregate foreign shareholding limit on finance companies. The Minister in charge of the Monetary Authority of Singapore must approve the merger or takeover of a local bank or financial holding company, as well as the acquisition of voting shares in such institutions above specific thresholds of five percent, 12 percent, or 20 percent of shareholdings.

Although Singapore’s government has lifted the formal ceilings on foreign ownership of local banks and finance companies, the approval of controllers of local banks ensures that this control rests with individuals or groups whose interests are aligned with the long-term interests of the Singapore economy and Singapore’s national interests. Of the 29 full-service licenses granted to foreign banks, three have gone to U.S. banks. U.S. financial institutions enjoy phased-in benefits under the USSFTA. Since 2006, U.S.-licensed full-service banks that are also QFBs, which is only one as of March 2019, have been able to operate at an unlimited number of locations (branches or off-premises ATMs) versus 25 for non-U.S. full-service foreign banks with QFB status. U.S. and foreign full-service banks with QFB status can freely relocate existing branches and share ATMs among themselves. They can also provide electronic funds transfer and point-of-sale debit services and accept services related to Singapore’s compulsory pension fund. In 2007, Singapore lifted the quota on new licenses for U.S. wholesale banks.

Locally and non-locally incorporated subsidiaries of U.S. full-service banks with QFB status can apply for access to local ATM networks. However, no U.S. bank has come to a commercial agreement to gain such access. Despite liberalization, U.S. and other foreign banks in the domestic retail-banking sector have reported to still face barriers. Under the enhanced QFB program launched in 2012, MAS requires QFBs it deems systemically significant to incorporate locally. If those locally incorporated entities are deemed “significantly rooted” in Singapore, with a majority of Singaporean or permanent resident members, Singapore may grant approval for an additional 25 places of business, of which up to ten may be branches. Local retail banks do not face similar constraints on customer service locations or access to the local ATM network. As noted above, U.S. banks are not subject to quotas on service locations under the terms of the USSFTA.  Holders of credit cards issued locally by U.S. banks incorporated in Singapore cannot access their accounts through the local ATM networks. They are also unable to access their accounts for cash withdrawals, transfers, or bill payments at ATMs operated by banks other than those operated by their own bank or at foreign banks’ shared ATM network. Nevertheless, full-service foreign banks have made significant inroads in other retail banking areas, with substantial market share in products like credit cards and personal and housing loans.

In January 2019, MAS announced the passage of the Payment Services Bill after soliciting public feedback for design of the bill. The bill requires more payment services such as digital payment tokens, dealing in virtual currency and merchant acquisition, to be licensed and regulated by MAS. It also limits the amount of money stored in personal mobile wallets and how much can be transferred to another user’s bank accounts in a year. Regulations are tailored to the type of activity preformed and address issues related to terrorism financing, money laundering, and cyber risks.

Singapore has no trading restrictions on foreign-owned stockbrokers. There is no cap on the aggregate investment by foreigners regarding the paid-up capital of dealers that are members of the SGX. Direct registration of foreign mutual funds is allowed provided MAS approves the prospectus and the fund. The USSFTA has relaxed conditions foreign asset managers must meet in order to offer products under the government-managed compulsory pension fund (Central Provident Fund Investment Scheme).

Legal Services

The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) under the Ministry of Law oversees the regulation, licensing, and compliance of all law practice entities and the registration of foreign lawyers in Singapore. Foreign law firms with a licensed Foreign Law Practice (FLP) may offer the full range of legal services in foreign law and international law but cannot practice Singapore law except in the context of international commercial arbitration. U.S. and foreign attorneys are allowed to represent parties in arbitration without the need for a Singapore attorney to be present. To offer Singapore law, FLPs require either a Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP) license, a Joint Law Venture (JLV) with a Singapore Law Practice (SLP), or a Formal Law Alliance (FLA) with a SLP. The vast majority of Singapore’s 127 foreign law firms operate FLPs, while QFLPs and JLVs each number in the single digits.

The QFLP licenses allow foreign law firms to practice in permitted areas of Singapore law, which excludes constitutional and administrative law, conveyancing, criminal law, family law, succession law, and trust law. As of March 2019 there are nine QFLPs in Singapore, including five U.S. firms. In January 2019, the Ministry of Law announced the deferral to 2020 of the decision to renew the licenses of five QFLPs, which were set to expire in 2019 so that the government can better assess their contribution to Singapore along with the other four firms whose licenses were also extended to 2020. Decisions on the renewal considers the firms’ quantitative and qualitative performance such as the value of work that the Singapore office will generate, the extent to which the Singapore office will function as the firm’s headquarter for the region, the firm’s contributions to Singapore, and the firm’s proposal for the new license period.

A Joint Law Venture (JLV) is a collaboration between a Foreign Law Practice and Singapore Law Practice, which may be constituted as a partnership or company. The Director of Legal Services in the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) will consider all the relevant circumstances including the proposed structure and its overall suitability to achieve the objectives for which JLV are permitted to be established. There is no clear indication on the percentage of shares that each JLV partner may hold in the JLV.

Law degrees from designated U.S., British, Australian, and New Zealand universities are recognized for purposes of admission to practice law in Singapore. Under the USSFTA, Singapore recognizes law degrees from Harvard University, Columbia University, New York University, and the University of Michigan. Singapore will admit to the Singapore Bar law school graduates of those designated universities who are ranked among the top 70 percent of their graduating class or have obtained lower-second class honors (under the British system).

Engineering and Architectural Services

Engineering and architectural firms can be 100 percent foreign-owned. Engineers and architects are required to register with the Professional Engineers Board and the Board of Architects, respectively, to practice in Singapore. All applicants (both local and foreign) must have at least four years of practical experience in engineering or two years of practical training in architectural works, and pass written and oral examinations set by the respective Board.

Accounting and Tax Services

Major international accounting firms operate in Singapore. Registration as a public accountant under the Accountants Act is required to provide public accountancy services (i.e. the audit and reporting on financial statements and other acts that are required by any written law to be done by a public accountant) in Singapore, although registration as a public accountant is not required to provide other accountancy services, such as accounting, tax, and corporate advisory work. All accounting entities that provide public accountancy services must be approved under the Accountants Act and their supply of public accountancy services in Singapore must be under the control and management of partners or directors who are public accountants ordinarily resident in Singapore. In addition, if the accounting entity firm has two partners or directors, at least one of them must be a public accountant. If the business entity has more than two partners or directors, two-thirds of the partners or directors must be public accountants.

Energy

Singapore further liberalized its gas market with the amendment of the Gas Act and implementation of a Gas Network Code in 2008, which were designed to give gas retailers and importers direct access to the onshore gas pipeline infrastructure. However, key parts of the local gas market, such as town gas retailing and gas transportation through pipelines remain controlled by incumbent Singaporean firms. Singapore has sought to grow its supply of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), and BG Singapore Gas Marketing Pte Ltd (acquired by Royal Dutch Shell in February 2016) was appointed in 2008 as the first aggregator with an exclusive franchise to import LNG to be sold in its re-gasified form in Singapore. In October 2017, Shell eastern Trading Pte Ltd and Pavilion Gase Pte Ltd were awarded import licenses to market up to 1 Million Tonnes Per Annum (Mtpa) or for three years, whichever occurs first. This also marked the conclusion of the first exclusive franchise awarded to BG Singapore Gas Marketing Pte Ltd.

In November 2018, Singapore began a progressive launch of an Open Electricity Market that will be completed in May 2019. Over 1.4 million households and business accounts will have the option of buying electricity from a retailer licensed by the Energy Market Authority (EMA). To participate in the Open Electricity Market licensed retailers must satisfy additional credit, technical, and financial requirements set by EMA in order to sell electricity to households and small businesses. There are two types of electricity retailers: Market Participant Retailers (MPRs) and Non-Market Participant Retailers (NMPRs). MPRs have to be registered with the Energy Market Company (EMC) to purchase electricity from the National Electricity Market of Singapore (NEMS) to sell to contestable consumers. NMPRs need not register with EMC to participate in the NEMS since they will purchase electricity indirectly from the NEMS through the Market Support Services Licensee (MSSL). As of April 2019, there were 13 firms in the market, including foreign and local.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and local entities may readily establish, operate, and dispose of their own enterprises in Singapore subject to certain requirements. A foreigner who wants to incorporate a company in Singapore is required to appoint a locally resident director; foreigners may continue to reside outside of Singapore.  Foreigners who wish to incorporate a company and be present in Singapore to manage its operations are strongly advised to seek approval from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) before incorporation. Except for representative offices (where foreign firms maintain a local representative but do not conduct commercial transactions in Singapore) there are no restrictions on carrying out remunerative activities. As of October 2017, foreign companies may seek to transfer their place of registration and be registered as companies limited by shares in Singapore under Part XA (Transfer of Registration) of the Companies Act. Such transferred foreign companies are subject to the same requirements as locally-incorporated companies.

All businesses in Singapore must be registered with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA). Foreign investors can operate their businesses in one of the following forms: sole proprietorship, partnership, limited partnership, limited liability partnership, incorporated company, foreign company branch or representative office. Stricter disclosure requirements were passed in March 2017 requiring foreign company branches registered in Singapore to maintain public registers of their members, while locally incorporated companies. Foreign company branches registered in Singapore as well as limited liability partnerships will be required to maintain registers of controllers (generally defined as individuals or legal entities with more than 25 percent interest or control of the companies and foreign companies) aimed at preventing money laundering.

While there is currently no cross-sectional screening process for foreign investments, investors are required to seek approval from specific sector regulators for investments into certain firms. These sectors include energy, telecommunications, broadcasting, the domestic news media, financial services, legal services, public accounting services, ports and airports, and property ownership. Under Singapore law, Articles of Incorporation may include shareholding limits that restrict ownership in corporations by foreign persons.

Singapore does not maintain an investment screening mechanism for inbound foreign investment. There are no reports of U.S. investors being especially disadvantaged or singled out relative to other foreign investors.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Singapore underwent a trade policy review with the World Trade Organization (WTO) in July 2016. No major policy recommendations were raised. This was the country’s only policy review in the past three years. (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp443_e.htm)

The OECD and United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) released a joint report in February 2019 on the ASEAN-OECD Investment Program. The Program aims to foster dialogue and experience sharing between OECD countries and Southeast Asian economies on issues relating to the business and investment climate. It is implemented through regional policy dialogue, country investment policy reviews, and training seminars. (http://www.oecd.org/countries/singapore/seasia.htm  )

The OECD released a Transfer Pricing Country Profile for Singapore in June 2018. The country profiles focus on countries’ domestic legislation regarding key transfer pricing principles, including the arm’s length principle, transfer pricing methods, comparability analysis, intangible property, intra-group services, cost contribution agreements, transfer pricing documentation, administrative approaches to avoiding and resolving disputes, safe harbors and other implementation measures. (http://www.oecd.org/countries/singapore/transfer-pricing-country-profile-singapore.pdf )

The OECD released a peer review report in March 2018 on Singapore’s implementation of internationally agreed tax standards under Action Plan 14 of the base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) project. Action 14 strengthens the effectiveness and efficiency of the mutual agreement procedure, a cross-border tax dispute resolution mechanism.

The UNCTAD has not conducted an IPR of Singapore.

Business Facilitation

Singapore’s online business registration process is clear and efficient and allows foreign companies to register branches. All businesses must be registered with the Accounting & Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) through Bizfile, its online registration and information retrieval portal (http://bizfile.gov.sg  ), including any individual, firm or corporation that carries out business for a foreign company. Applications are typically processed immediately after the application fee is paid, but may take between 14 days to two months if the application is referred to another agency for approval or review. The process of establishing a foreign-owned limited liability company in Singapore is among the fastest of the countries surveyed by IAB.

ACRA provides a single window for business registration. However, additional regulatory approvals (e.g. licensing or visa requirements) are obtained via individual applications to the respective Ministries or Statutory Boards. Additional information and business support on registering a branch of a foreign company is available through the EDB (https://www.edb.gov.sg/en/how-we-help/setting-up.html  ). Furthermore, GuideMeSingapore by corporate services firm Hawskford provides details on setting up a business in Singapore (https://www.guidemesingapore.com/).

Foreign companies may lease or buy privately or publicly held land in Singapore, though there are some restrictions on foreign ownership of property. Foreign companies are free to open and maintain bank accounts in foreign currency. There is no minimum paid-in capital requirement, but at least one subscriber share must be issued for valid consideration at incorporation.

At GER (ger.co), Singapore’s online business registration process scores 7/10 in Online Single Windows (https://www.bizfile.gov.sg/).

Business facilitation processes provide for fair and equal treatment of women and minorities, and there are no mechanisms that provide special assistance to women and minorities.

Outward Investment

Singapore places no restrictions on domestic investors investing abroad. The government promotes outward investment through Enterprise Singapore, a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI). It provides market information, business contacts, and financial assistance and grants for internationalizing companies. While it has a global reach and runs overseas centers in major cities across the world, a large share of its overseas centers are located in major trading and investment partners and regional markets like China, India, and ASEAN.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Transparency Policies and Non-Discrimination:

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

Formal Regulatory Authority and Processes:

Rule-making authority is vested in the Parliament to pass laws that determine the regulatory scope, purpose, rights and powers of the regulator and the legal framework for the industry. Regulatory authority is vested in government statutory boards, which are organizations that have been given autonomy to perform an operational function by legal statutes passed as Acts in parliament, and report to a specific Ministry. Local laws give regulatory bodies wide discretion to modify regulations and impose new conditions, but in practice agencies use this positively to adapt incentives or other services on a case-by-case basis to meet the needs of foreign as well as domestic companies. Acts of Parliament also confer certain powers on a Minister or other similar persons or authorities to make rules or regulations in order to put the Act into practice; these rules are known as subsidiary legislation.

National-level regulations are the most relevant for foreign businesses. Singapore, being a city-state, has no local or state regulatory layers.

Before a ministry instructs the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to draft a new bill or make an amendment to a bill, the ministry has to seek in-principle approval from the Cabinet for the proposed bill. The Legislation Division of AGC advises and helps vet or draft bills in conjunction with policymakers from relevant ministries. Proposed draft legislative amendments are released for public or private consultation. Thereafter, approval from the Ministry of Law is required, followed by the Cabinet’s approval, before the bill can be introduced in Parliament.  All Bills passed by Parliament (with some exceptions) must be forwarded to the Presidential Council for Minority Rights (PCMR) for scrutiny, and thereafter presented to the President for assent. Only after the President has assented to the Bill does the Bill become law (i.e. an Act of Parliament).

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

Informal Regulatory Processes:

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

Accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures:

Singapore’s legal and accounting procedures are transparent and consistent with international norms and rank similar to the U.S. in international comparisons (http://worldjusticeproject.org/rule-of-law-index  ). The prescribed accounting standards for Singapore-incorporated companies listed on the Singapore Exchange or SFRS(1), Singapore Financial Reporting Standards, are identical to those of the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB). Non-listed Singapore-incorporated companies can voluntarily apply for SFRS(1). Otherwise, they are required to comply with Singapore Financial Reporting Standards (SFRS), which are aligned with those of IASB. For the use of foreign accounting standards, the companies are required to seek approval of the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA).

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

Draft Legislation:

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

Online Regulatory Disclosure:

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

Transparency Enforcement Mechanisms:

Enforcement of regulatory offences is governed by both Acts of Parliament and subsidiary legislation. Enforcement powers of government statutory bodies are typically enshrined in the Act of Parliament constituting that statutory body. There is accountability to Parliament for enforcement action through Question Time, where Members of Parliament may raise questions with the Ministers on their respective Ministries’ responsibilities.

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

No systemic regulatory reforms or enforcement reforms relevant to foreign investors have been announced. The Monetary Authority of Singapore stated focus in enforcement is on timely disclosure of corporate information, business conduct of financial advisors, compliance with anti-money laundering/combatting the financing of terrorism requirements, deterring stock market abuse, and insider trading as of March 2019. In March 2019, MAS published its inaugural Enforcement Report that details enforcement actions over previous periods.

International Regulatory Considerations

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

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

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

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

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Singapore’s legal system has its roots in English common law and practice and is enforced by courts of law. The current judicial process is procedurally competent, fair, and reliable. In the 2019 Rule of Law Index by World Justice Project, it is ranked overall 13th in the world, 1st on order and security, 3rd on regulatory enforcement, 3rd in absence of corruption, 5th on civil and criminal justice, 27th on constraints on government powers, 25th on open government, and 30th on fundamental rights. Singapore’s legal procedures are ranked 2nd in the world in the World Bank’s 2018 Ease of Doing Business sub-indicator on contract enforcement which measures speed, cost, and quality of judicial processes to resolve a commercial dispute. The judicial system remains independent of the executive branch and the executive does not interfere in judiciary matters.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

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

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

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

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

In September 2018, CCCS issued an infringement decision against Grab and Uber in relation to the sale of Uber’s Southeast Asia business to the private-hire transport company Grab, which led to a substantial lessening of competition in the provision of ride-hailing platform services in Singapore. Combined financial penalties of USD 9.5 million were imposed on Grab and Uber. A spokesperson for Uber said it believed the decision was based on an “inappropriately narrow definition of the market.” Uber will also be required to sell its car rental business to any rival that makes a reasonable offer and will not be allowed to sell those vehicles to Grab. Uber will have its appeal of the ruling heard in the second half of 2019.

In January 2018 CCCS imposed record financial penalties of USD 14.8 million (SUSD 19.6 million) against five Japanese capacitor manufacturers for price-fixing and the exchange of confidential sales, distribution and pricing information for Aluminum Electrolytic Capacitors.

Expropriation and Compensation

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

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

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

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

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

After Singapore’s accession to the New York Convention of 1958 on August 21, 1986, it re-enacted most of its provisions in Part III of the IAA. By acceding to this Convention, Singapore is bound to recognize awards made in any other country that is a signatory to the Convention. Singapore is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and, under the Reciprocal Enforcement of Commonwealth Judgments Act (RECJA), recognizes judgments made in the United Kingdom, as well as jurisdictions that are part of the Commonwealth and with which Singapore has reciprocal arrangements for the recognition and enforcement of judgments. The Act lists the countries with which such arrangements exist, and of the 53 countries that are members of the Commonwealth, nine have been listed. (http://www.lawgazette.com.sg/2001-8/Aug01-focus4.htm  ) Singapore also has reciprocal recognition of foreign judgements with Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.

Singapore is party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention). Singapore passed an Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act to implement the ICSID Convention in 1968. ICSID Convention has an enforcement mechanism for arbitration awards rendered pursuant to ICSID rules that is separate from the 1958 arbitration awards rendered pursuant to ICSID rules that is separate from the 1958 New York Convention. Investor-State dispute settlement provisions in Singapore’s trade agreements, including the USSFTA, refer to ICSIID rules as one of the possible options for resolving disputes. Investor-State arbitration under rules other than ICSID’s would result in an arbitration award that may be enforced using the 1959 New York Convention.

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

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Dispute resolution (DR) institutions include the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC), Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC), and the Singapore Chamber of Maritime Arbitration (SCMA). Singapore’s extensive dispute resolution institutions and integrated dispute resolution facilities at Maxwell Chambers have contributed to its development as a regional hub for alternative disputes mechanisms. The SIAC is the major arbitral institution and its increasing caseload reflects Singapore’s policy of encouraging the use of alternative modes of dispute resolution, including arbitration. On average, it takes approximately eight weeks to enforce an arbitration award rendered in Singapore, from filing an application to a writ of execution attaching assets (assuming there is no appeal), and seven weeks for a foreign award.

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

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

Bankruptcy Regulations

Singapore has bankruptcy laws allowing both debtors and creditors to file a bankruptcy claim. Singapore is ranked number 27 for resolving insolvency in the World Bank’s 2018 Doing Business index. While Singapore performed well in recovery rate and time and cost of proceedings, it did not score highly in the creditor participation and reorganization sub-indexes. In particular, the insolvency framework does not require approval by the creditors for sale of substantial assets of the debtor or approval by the creditors for selection or appointment of the insolvency representative.

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

In October 2018, the Insolvency, Restructuring and Dissolution Act was passed and will go into effect in the first half of 2019. It updates the insolvency legislation and introduces a significant number of new provisions, particularly with respect to corporate insolvency. It mandates licensing, qualifications, standards, and disciplinary measures for insolvency practitioners. It also includes standalone voidable transaction provisions for corporate insolvency and, a new wrongful trading provision.  The Act allows ‘out of court’ commencement of judicial management, permits judicial managers to assign the proceeds of certain insolvency related claims, restricts the operation of contractual ‘ipso facto clauses’ upon the commencement of certain restructuring and insolvency procedures, and modifies the operation of the scheme of arrangement cross class ‘cram down’ power.

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

South Africa

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The government of South Africa is generally open to foreign investment as a means to drive economic growth, improve international competitiveness, and access foreign markets.  Merger and acquisition activity is more sensitive and requires advance work to answer potential stakeholder concerns. The 2018 Competition Amendment Bill, which was signed into law on February 13, 2019, introduced a mechanism for South Africa to review foreign direct investments and mergers and acquisitions by a foreign acquiring firm on the basis of protecting national security interests (see section on Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment below).  Virtually all business sectors are open to foreign investment. Certain sectors require government approval for foreign participation, including energy, mining, banking, insurance, and defense.

The Department of Trade and Industry’s (the dti) Trade and Investment South Africa (TISA) division provides assistance to foreign investors.  In the past year, they opened provincial One-Stop Shops that provide investment support for foreign direct investment (FDI), with offices in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban, and a national One Stop Shop located at the dti in Pretoria and online at http://www.gov.za/Invest percent20SA percent3AOnestopshop  .  An additional one-stop shop has opened at Dube Trade Port, which is a special economic zone aerotropolis linked to the King Shaka International Airport in Durban.  The dti actively courts manufacturing industries in which research indicates the foreign country has a comparative advantage. It also favors manufacturing that it hopes will be labor intensive and where suppliers can be developed from local industries.  The dti has traditionally focused on manufacturing industries over services industries, despite a strong service-oriented economy in South Africa. TISA offers information on sectors and industries, consultation on the regulatory environment, facilitation for investment missions, links to joint venture partners, information on incentive packages, assistance with work permits, and logistical support for relocation.  The dti publishes the “Investor’s Handbook” on its website: www.dti.gov.za  

While the government of South Africa supports investment in principle and takes active steps to attract FDI, investors and market analysts are concerned that its commitment to assist foreign investors is insufficient in practice.  Some felt that the national-level government lacked a sense of urgency to support investment deals. Several investors reported trouble accessing senior decision makers. South Africa scrutinizes merger- and acquisition-related foreign direct investment for its impact on jobs, local industry, and retaining South African ownership of key sectors.  Private sector representatives and other interested parties were concerned about the politicization of South Africa’s posture towards this type of investment. Despite South Africa’s general openness to investment, actions by some South African Government ministries, populist statements by some politicians, and rhetoric in certain political circles show a lack of appreciation for the importance of FDI to South Africa’s growth and prosperity and a lack of concern about the negative impact domestic policies may have on the investment climate.  Ministries often do not consult adequately with stakeholders before implementing laws and regulations or fail to incorporate stakeholder concerns if consultations occur. On the positive side, the President, assisted by his appointment of four investment envoys, and his new cabinet are working to restore a positive investment climate and appear to be making progress as they engage in senior level overseas roadshows to attract investment.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Currently there is no limitation on foreign private ownership. South Africa’s transformation efforts – the re-integration of historically disadvantaged South Africans into the economy – has led to policies that could disadvantage foreign and some locally owned companies.  In 2017, the Broad-Based Black Socio-Economic Empowerment Charter proposed for the South African mining and minerals industry required an increase to 30 percent ownership by black South Africans, but was mired in the courts as industry challenged it. The Charter was retracted for revision and a new version was proposed in 2018. The Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act of 2013 (B-BBEE), and associated codes of good practice, requires levels of company ownership and participation by Black South Africans to get bidding preferences on government tenders and contracts. The dti created an alternative equity equivalence (EE) program for multinational or foreign owned companies to allow them to score on the ownership requirements under the law, but many view the terms as onerous and restrictive.  Currently eight multinationals, most in the technology sector, participate in this program, most in the technology sector.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization carried out in 2015 a Trade Policy Review for the Southern African Customs Union, in which South Africa accounts for over 90 percent of overall GDP.  Neither the OECD nor the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has conducted investment policy reviews for South Africa.

Business Facilitation

According to the World Bank’s Doing Business report, South Africa’s rank in ease of doing business in 2019 was unchanged from 2018 at 82nd of 190.  It ranks 134th for starting a business, taking an average of forty days to complete the process. South Africa ranks 143rd of 190 countries on trading across borders.

In 2017, the dti launched a national InvestSA One Stop Shop (OSS) to simplify administrative procedures and guidelines for foreign companies wishing to invest in South Africa.  The dti, in conjunction with provincial governments, opened physical OSS locations in Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg. These physical locations bring together key government entities dealing with issues including policy and regulation, permits and licensing, infrastructure, finance, and incentives, with a view to reducing lengthy bureaucratic procedures, reducing bottlenecks, and providing post-investment services.  The virtual OSS web site is: http://www.gov.za/Invest percent20SA percent3AOnestopshop  .

The Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC), a body of the dti, is responsible for business registrations and publishes a step-by-step process for registering a company.  This process can be done on its website (http://www.cipc.co.za/index.php/register-your-business/companies/  ), through a self-service terminal, or through a collaborating private bank.  New business registrants also need to register through the South African Revenue Service (SARS) to get an income tax reference number for turnover tax (small companies), corporate tax, employer contributions for PAYE (income tax), and skills development levy (applicable to most companies).  The smallest informal companies may not be required to register with CIPC, but must register with the tax authorities. Companies also need to register with the Department of Labour (DoL) – www.labour.gov.za   – to contribute to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and a compensation fund for occupational injuries.  The DoL registration takes the longest (up to 30 days), but can be done concurrently with other registrations.

Outward Investment

South Africa does not incentivize outward investments.  South Africa’s stock foreign direct investments in the United States in 2017 totaled USD 4.1 billion (latest figures available), an almost 40 percent increase from 2016.  The largest outward direct investment of a South African company is a gas liquefaction plant in the State of Louisiana by Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) and NASDAQ dual-listed petrochemical company SASOL.  There are some restrictions on outward investment, such as a R1 billion (USD 83 million) limit per year on outward flows per company. Larger investments must be approved by the South African Reserve Bank and at least 10 percent of the foreign target entities voting rights must be obtained through the investment. https://www.resbank.co.za/RegulationAndSupervision/
FinancialSurveillanceAndExchangeControl/FAQs/Pages/Corporates.aspx
 

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

South African laws and regulations are generally published in draft form for stakeholders to comment, and legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are generally transparent and consistent with international norms.

The dti is responsible for business-related regulations. It develops and reviews regulatory systems in the areas of competition, standards, consumer protection, company and intellectual property registration and protections, as well as other subjects in the public interest.  It also oversees the work of national and provincial regulatory agencies mandated to assist the dti in creating and managing competitive and socially responsible business and consumer regulations. The dti publishes a list of Bills and Acts that govern the dti’s work at http://www.dti.gov.za/business_regulation/legislation.jsp  .

The 2015 Medicines and Related Substances Amendment Act authorized the creation of the South African Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), meant in part to address the backlog of more than 7000 drugs waiting for approval to be used in South Africa.  Established in 2018, and unlike its predecessor, the Medicines Control Council (MCC), SAHPRA is a stand-alone public entity governed by a board that is appointed by and accountable to the South African Ministry of Health. SAHPRA is responsible for the monitoring, evaluation, regulation, investigation, inspection, registration, and control of medicines, scheduled substances, clinical trials and medical devices, in vitro diagnostic devices (IVDs), complementary medicines, and blood and blood-based products.  SAHPRA intends to do this through 207 full-time in-house technical evaluators, though this structure has not been fully staffed. Unlike with the MCC, SAHPRA’s funding is provided by the retention of registration fees. Despite its launch in 2018, the full staffing and implementation of SAPHRA is anticipated to take up to five years, and clearing the backlog of drug registration dossiers will also take significant time.

South Africa’s Consumer Protection Act (2008) went into effect in 2011. The legislation reinforces various consumer rights, including right of product choice, right to fair contract terms, and right of product quality. Impact of the legislation varies by industry, and businesses have adjusted their operations accordingly. A brochure summarizing the Consumer Protection Act can be found at:  http://www.dti.gov.za/business_regulation/acts/CP_Brochure.pdf . Similarly, the National Credit Act of 2005 aims to promote a fair and non-discriminatory marketplace for access to consumer credit and for that purpose to provide the general regulation of consumer credit and improves standards of consumer information. A brochure summarizing the National Credit Act can be found at: http://www.dti.gov.za/business_regulation/acts/NCA_Brochure.pdf 

International Regulatory Considerations

South Africa is a member of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), the oldest existing customs union in the world.  SACU functions mainly on the basis of the 2002 SACU Agreement which aims to: (a) facilitate the cross-border trade in goods among SACU members; (b) create effective, transparent and democratic institutions; (c) promote fair competition in the common customs area; (d) increase investment opportunities in the common customs area; (e) enhance the economic development, diversification, industrialization and competitiveness of member States; (f) promote the integration of its members into the global economy through enhanced trade and investment; (g) facilitate the equitable sharing of revenue arising from customs and duties levied by members; and (h) facilitate the development of common policies and strategies.

The 2002 SACU Agreement requires member States to develop common policies and strategies with respect to industrial development; cooperate in the development of agricultural policies; cooperate in the enforcement of competition laws and regulations; develop policies and instruments to address unfair trade practices between members; and calls for harmonization of product standards and technical regulations.

SACU member States are working to develop the regional industrial development policy to harmonize competition policy and unfair trade practices.  Progress is limited in general to customs related areas, mainly tariff and trade remedies. SACU has not harmonized non-tariff measures. Also, the 2002 SACU Agreement is limited to the liberalization of trade in goods and does not cover trade in services.  In 2008, the SACU Council of Ministers agreed that new generation issues such as services, investment, and Intellectual Property Rights should be incorporated into the SACU Agenda. Work is ongoing. South Africa is generally restricted from negotiating trade agreements by itself, since SACU is the competent authority.

In general, South Africa models its standards according to European standards or UK standards where those differ.

South Africa is a member of the WTO and attempts to notify all draft technical regulations to the Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), though often after the regulations have been implemented.

In November 2017, South Africa ratified the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement. According to the government, it has implemented over 90 percent of the commitments as of February 2018. The outstanding measures were notified under Category B, to be implemented by the indicative date of 2022 without capacity building support and include Article 3 and Article 10 commitments on Advance Rulings and Single Window.

The South African Government is not party to the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement (GPO).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

South Africa has a mixed legal system composed of civil law inherited from the Dutch, common law inherited from the British, and African customary law, of which there are many variations.  As a general rule, South Africa follows English law in criminal and civil procedure, company law, constitutional law, and the law of evidence, but follows Roman-Dutch common law in contract law, law of delict (torts), law of persons, and family law.  South African company law regulates corporations, including external companies, non-profit, and for-profit companies (including state-owned enterprises). Funded by the national Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, South Africa has district and magistrates courts across 350 districts and high courts for each of the provinces (except Limpopo and Mpumalanga, which are heard in Gauteng).  Often described as “the court of last resort,” the Supreme Court of Appeals hears appeals, and its jurisprudence may only be overruled by the apex court, the Constitutional Court. Moreover, South Africa has multiple specialized courts, including the Competition Appeal Court, Electoral Court, Land Claims Court, the Labour and Labour Appeal Courts, and Tax Courts to handle disputes between taxpayers and the South African Revenue Service.  These courts exist parallel to the court hierarchy, and their decisions are subject to the same process of appeal and review as the normal courts. Analysts routinely praise the competence and reliability of judicial processes, and the courts’ independence has been repeatedly proven with high-profile rulings against controversial legislation, as well as against former presidents and corrupt individuals in the executive and legislative branches.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The February 2019 ratification of the Competition Amendment Bill introduced, among other revisions, section 18A that mandates the President create a committee – comprised of 28 Ministers and officials chosen by the President – to evaluate and intervene in a merger or acquisition by a foreign acquiring firm on the basis of protecting national security interests.  According to the bill, any decisions taken by this committee are required to be published in the Gazette and must be presented, in appropriate detail, to the National Assembly. The new section states that the President must identify and publish in the Gazette – the South African equivalent of the U.S. Federal Register – a list of national security interests including the markets, industries, goods or services, sectors or regions in which a merger involving a foreign acquiring firm must be notified to the South African government.  The law also outlines what factors the President should take into consideration when determining what constitutes a threat to national security interest, including the merger’s impact on the use or transfer of sensitive technology or know-how; the security of critical infrastructure, including systems, facilities, and networks; the supply of critical goods or services to citizens and/or to the government; and the potential to enable foreign surveillance or espionage or hinder intelligence or law enforcement operations. It also suggests the President consider transactions that enable or facilitate terrorism, terrorist organizations, or organized crime; and to consider a merger’s impact on the economic and social stability of South Africa.  The law further recommends the committee take into consideration whether the foreign acquiring firm is a firm controlled by a foreign government.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Competition Commission is empowered to investigate, control and evaluate restrictive business practices, abuse of dominant positions, and mergers in order to achieve equity and efficiency.  Their public website is www.compcom.co.za  

The Competition Tribunal has jurisdiction throughout South Africa and adjudicates competition matters in accordance with the Competition Act.  While the Commission is the investigation and enforcement agency, the Tribunal is the adjudicative body, very much like a court.

In addition to the points made in the previous section, the amendments, presented by the Ministry for Economic Development that revise the Competition Act of 1998 and entered effect in February 2019 extend the mandate of the competition authorities and the executive to tackle high levels of economic concentration, address the limited transformation in the economy, and curb the abuse of market power by dominant firms.  The changes introduced through the Competition Amendment Act are meant to curb anti-competitive practices and break down monopolies that hinder “transformation” – the increased participation of black and HDSA in the South African economy. The amendments aim to deter the abuse of market dominance by large firms that use practices such as margin squeeze, exclusionary practices, price discrimination, and predatory pricing.  By increasing the penalties for these prohibited business practices – for repeat offences the penalties could amount to between 10 percent to 25 percent of a firm’s annual turnover – and allowing the parent or holding company to be held liable for the actions of its subsidiaries that contravene competition law, the Competition Commission hopes to break down these anticompetitive practices and open up new opportunities for SMEs.

Expropriation and Compensation

Racially discriminatory property laws and land allocations during the colonial and apartheid periods resulted in highly distorted patterns of land ownership and property distribution in South Africa.  Given the slow and mixed success of land reform to date, the National Assembly (Parliament) passed a motion in February 2018 to investigate a proposal to amend the constitution (specifically Section 25, the “property clause”) to allow for land expropriation without compensation (EWC). The constitutional Bill of Rights, where Section 25 resides, has never been amended.  Some politicians, think-tanks, and academics argue that Section 25, as written, allows for EWC in certain cases, while others insist that in order to implement EWC more broadly, amending the constitution is required. Academics foresee a few test cases for EWC over the next year, primarily targeted at abandoned buildings in urban areas, informal settlements in peri-urban areas, and involving labor tenants in rural areas.

Parliament tasked an ad hoc Constitutional Review Committee – made up of parliamentarians from various political parties – to report back on whether to amend the constitution to allow EWC, and if so, how it should be done.  In December 2018, the National Assembly adopted the committee’s report recommending a constitutional amendment, but Parliament ran out of time to draft the amendment before its final session before the May 8, 2019 elections.  The next Parliament will need to compose a new ad hoc committee to draft the constitutional amendment bill.

South African law requires that Parliament engage in a rigorous public participation process.  Parliament must publish a proposed bill to amend the Constitution in the Government Gazette at least 30 days prior to its introduction to allow for public comment.  Any change to the constitution would need a two-thirds parliamentary majority (267 votes) to pass, as well as the support of six out of the nine provinces in the National Council of Provinces.  Currently, no single political party has such a majority.

In September 2018, President Ramaphosa appointed an advisory panel on land reform, which supports the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Land Reform chaired by Deputy President David Mabuza.  Comprised of ten members from academia, social entrepreneurship, and activist organizations, the panel will submit a formal report in 2019 on issues related to land restitution, redistribution, tenure security, and agricultural support.  Analysts have praised the panel for representing the executive branch’s interest and dedication to engaging with diverse sectors to handle the sensitive, multi-faceted issues related to land reform.

Existing expropriation law, including The Expropriation Act of 1975 (Act) and the Expropriation Act Amendment of 1992, entitles the government to expropriate private property for reasons of public necessity or utility.  The decision is an administrative one. Compensation should be the fair market value of the property as agreed between the buyer and seller, or determined by the court, as per Section 25 of the Constitution. In several restitution cases in which the government initiated proceedings to expropriate white-owned farms after courts ruled the land had been seized from blacks during apartheid, the owners rejected the court-approved purchase prices.  In most of these cases, the government and owners reached agreement on compensation prior to any final expropriation actions. The government has twice exercised its expropriation power, taking possession of farms in Northern Cape and Limpopo provinces in 2007 after negotiations with owners collapsed. The government paid the owners the fair market value for the land in both cases. A new draft expropriation law, intended to replace the Expropriation Act of 1975, was passed and is awaiting Presidential signature.  Some analysts have raised concerns about aspects of the new legislation, including new clauses that would allow the government to expropriate property without first obtaining a court order.

In 2018, the government operationalized the 2014 Property Valuation Act that creates the office of Valuer-General charged with the valuation of property that has been identified for land reform or acquisition or disposal by a department.  Among other things, the Act gives the government the option to expropriate property based on a formulation in the Constitution termed “just and equitable compensation.” This considers the market value of the property and applies discounts based on the current use of the property, the history of the acquisition, and the extent of direct state investment and subsidy in the acquisition and capital improvements to the property.  Critics fear that this could lead to the government expropriating property at a price lower than fair market value. The Act also allows the government to expropriate property under a broad range of policy goals, including economic transformation and correcting historical grievances.

The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act 28 of 2002 (MPRDA), enacted in 2004, gave the state ownership of all of South Africa’s mineral and petroleum resources.  It replaced private ownership with a system of licenses controlled by the government of South Africa, and issued by the Department of Mineral Resources.  Under the MPRDA, investors who held pre-existing rights were granted the opportunity to apply for licenses, provided they met the licensing criteria, including the achievement of certain B-BBEE objectives.  Amendments to the MPRDA passed by Parliament in 2014, but were not signed by the President.  In August 2018, the Minister for the Department of Mineral Resources, Gwede Mantashe, called for the recall of the amendments so that oil and gas could be separated out into a new bill.  The Minister also announced the B-BBEE provisions in the new Mining Charter would not apply during exploration, but would start once commodities were found and mining commenced.  The Amendments are now with the Department of Mineral Resources to draft a new bill to be submitted to Parliament.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

South Africa is a member of the New York Convention of 1958 on the recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitration awards, but is not a member of the World Bank’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The 2015 Promotion of Investment Act removes the option for investor state dispute settlement through international courts typically afforded through bilateral investment treaties (BITs).  Instead, investors disputing an action taken by the South African government must request the Department of Trade and Industry to facilitate the resolution by appointing a mediator. A foreign investor may also approach any competent court, independent tribunal, or statutory body within South Africa for the resolution of the dispute.

Dispute resolution can be a time-intensive process in South Africa.  If the matter is urgent, and the presiding judge agrees, an interim decision can be taken within days while the appeal process can take months or years.  If the matter is a dispute of law and is not urgent, it may proceed by application or motion to be solved within months. Where there is a dispute of fact, the matter is referred to trial, which can take several years.  The Alternative Dispute Resolution involves negotiation, mediation or arbitration, and may resolve the matter within a couple of months.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Arbitration in South Africa follows the Arbitration Act of 1965, which does not distinguish between domestic and international arbitration and is not based on UNCITRAL model law.  South African courts retain discretion to hear a dispute over a contract entered into under U.S. law and under U.S. jurisdiction; however, the South African court will interpret the contract with the law of the country or jurisdiction provided for in the contract.

South Africa recognizes the International Chamber of Commerce, which supervises the resolution of transnational commercial disputes.  South Africa applies its commercial and bankruptcy laws with consistency and has an independent, objective court system for enforcing property and contractual rights.

Alternative Dispute Resolution is increasingly popular in South Africa for many reasons, including the confidentiality which can be imposed on the evidence, case documents, and the judgment.  South Africa’s new Companies Act also provides a mechanism for Alternative Dispute Resolution.

Bankruptcy Regulations

South Africa has a strong bankruptcy law, which grants many rights to debtors, including rejection of overly burdensome contracts, avoiding preferential transactions, and the ability to obtain credit during insolvency proceedings.  South Africa ranks 66 out of 190 countries for resolving insolvency according to the 2019 World Bank Doing Business report, an increase from its 2018 rank of 55 despite receiving the same overall score, indicating that the increase is only due to other countries falling below South Africa in 2019.

Spain

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Foreign direct investment (FDI) has played a significant role in modernizing the Spanish economy during the past 40 years. Attracted by Spain’s large domestic market, export possibilities, and growth potential, foreign companies set up operations in large numbers. Spain’s automotive industry is mostly foreign-owned. Multinationals control half of the food production companies, one-third of chemical firms, and two-thirds of the cement sector. Several foreign investment funds acquired networks from Spanish banks, and foreign firms control about one-third of the insurance market.

The Government of Spain recognizes the value of foreign investment. Spain offers investment opportunities in sectors and activities with significant added value. There have not been any major changes in Spain’s regulations for investment and foreign exchange under the current Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) administration, which took office in June 2018. Spanish law permits 100 percent foreign ownership in investments (limits apply regarding audio-visual broadcast licenses; see next section), and capital movements are completely liberalized. Due to its degree of openness and the favorable legal framework for foreign investment, Spain has received significant foreign investments in knowledge-intensive activities in the past few years. New FDI into Spain increased by 31.6 percent in 2018 according to Spain’s Industry, Trade, and Tourism Ministry data, continuing the growing path of gross FDI flow into Spain that began significantly in 2014. In 2018, 19.2 percent of total gross investments were investments in new facilities or the expansion of productive capacity, while 59 percent of gross investments were in acquisitions of existing companies. In 2018 the United States had a gross direct investment in Spain of EUR 984 million, accounting for 2.1 percent of total investment and representing a decrease of 52 percent compared to 2017. U.S. FDI stock in Spain stayed relatively steady between 2013 (USD 33.9 billion) to 2017 (USD 33.1 billion).

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Spain has a favorable legal framework for foreign investors. Spain has adapted its foreign investment rules to a system of general liberalization, without distinguishing between EU residents and non-EU residents. Law 18/1992 of July 1, which established rules on foreign investments in Spain, provides a specific regime for non-EU persons investing in certain sectors: national defense-related activities, gambling, television, radio, and air transportation. For EU residents, the only sectors with a specific regime are the manufacture and trade of weapons or national defense-related activities. For non-EU companies, the Spanish government restricts individual ownership of audio-visual broadcasting licenses to 25 percent. Specifically, Spanish law permits non-EU companies to own a maximum of 25 percent of a company holding a digital terrestrial television broadcasting license; and for two or more non-EU companies to own a maximum of 50 percent in aggregate. In addition, under Spanish law a reciprocity principle applies (art. 25.4 General Audiovisual Law). The home country of the (non-EU) foreign company must have foreign ownership laws that permit a Spanish company to make the same transaction.

Spain is one of the 14 countries of the 28 EU member states that has established mechanisms to evaluate the possible risks of direct foreign investments. The cornerstone on which the control system is structured is the probable impact “on security and public order” of the arrival of foreign capital into Spain. Critical sectors include energy, transport, communications, technology, defense, and data processing and storage, among others.

The Spanish Constitution and Spanish law establish clear rights to private ownership, and foreign firms receive the same legal treatment as Spanish companies. There is no discrimination against public or private firms with respect to local access to markets, credit, licenses, and supplies.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Spain is a signatory to the convention on the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Spain is also a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Spain has not conducted Investment Policy Reviews with these three organizations within the past three years.

Business Facilitation

For setting up a company in Spain, the two basic requirements include incorporation before a Public Notary and filing with the Mercantile Register (Registro Mercantil). The public deed of incorporation of the company must be submitted. It can be submitted electronically by the Public Notary. The Central Mercantile Register is an official institution that provides access to companies’ information supplied by the Regional Mercantile Registers after January 1, 1990. Any national or foreign company can use it but must also be registered and pay taxes and fees. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business report, the process to start a business in Spain should take about two weeks.

“Invest in Spain” is the Spanish investment promotion agency to facilitate foreign investment. Services are available to all investors.

Useful web sites:

Outward Investment

Among the financial instruments approved by the Spanish Government to provide official support for the internationalization of Spanish enterprise are the Foreign Investment Fund (FIEX), the Fund for Foreign Investment by Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (FONPYME), the Enterprise Internationalization Fund (FIEM), and the Fund for Investment in the tourism sector (FINTUR). The Spanish Government also offers financing lines for investment in the electronics, information technology and communications, energy (renewables), and infrastructure concessions sectors.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

On December 2014, the Spanish government launched a transparency website that makes over 500,000 details of public interest freely accessible to all citizens. The website offers details about the central government, public institutions such as the Royal House, the Parliament, the Constitutional Court, the Judicial Power, Ombudsman, the Audit Court, the Central Bank, and the Economic and Social Council, and other organisms such as the European Commission. http://transparencia.gob.es/transparencia/en/transparencia_Home/index.html . Regional and local authorities have developed their own transparency portals and related legislation.

International Regulatory Considerations

Spain modernized its commercial laws and regulations following its 1986 entry into the EU. Its local regulatory framework compares favorably with other major European countries. Bureaucratic procedures have been streamlined and much red tape has been eliminated, although permitting and licensing processes still result in significant delays. The efficacy of regulation at the regional level is uneven. The Market Unity Guarantee Act 20/2013 was adopted in December 2013 with the goal of rationalizing the regulatory framework for economic activities in order to facilitate the free flow of goods and services throughout Spain. It also reinforced coordination among competent authorities and introduced a mechanism to rapidly resolve operators’ problems. With a license from only one of Spain’s 17 regional governments, companies are able to operate throughout the Spanish territory, rather than needing to requests licenses from each region. The measures are designed to reduce business operating costs, improve competitiveness, and attract foreign investment.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Spanish judiciary has a well-established tradition of supporting and facilitating the enforcement of both foreign judgments and awards. In fact, the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments is so well entrenched in the judicial system, that it has not been subject to any relevant modifications (save those imposed by international conventions) since the late nineteenth century, underscoring the strength of the system. For a foreign judgment to be enforced in Spain, an order declaring it is enforceable or exequatur is necessary. Once the exequatur is granted, enforcement itself is quite fast, provided that the assets are identified. Attachment of the assets will be immediate and time for realization will depend on the type of assets. First instance courts are competent for the enforcement of foreign rulings.

Local legislation establishes mechanisms to resolve disputes if they arise. The judicial system is open and transparent, although sometimes slow-moving. Judges are in charge of prosecution and criminal investigation, which permits greater independence. The Spanish prosecution system allows for successive appeals to a higher Court of Justice. The European Court of Justice can hear the final appeal. In addition, the Government of Spain abides by rulings of the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

The number of civil claims has grown significantly over the past decade, due in part to litigation stemming from Spain’s financial crisis, resulting in an increased openness to alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. Although ordinary proceedings are relatively straightforward, due to the significant number of cases within each court, getting to trial can take years. Domestic court decisions are subject to appeal, and the average time taken for a final judgment to be issued by the Court of Appeal can be anywhere from months to years. After this, the decision may still be subject to appeal to the Supreme Court (although the grounds for this appeal are very limited) and this court generally takes between two to three years to issue a decision. Due to the uncertainty surrounding the duration of appeals, disputes involving large companies or significant amounts of money tend to be resolved through arbitration.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

In 2015, changes to the Personal Income Tax Law affected the transfer of investments outside of Spain by creating a tax on unrealized gains from investment. Spanish tax residents who have resided in Spain for at least 10 out of the previous 15 years are subject to a tax of 19-23 percent if they relocate their holdings or investments outside of Spain—if the market value of the shares held exceeds EUR 4 million or if the individual holds shares of 25 percent or more in a venture whose market value exceeds EUR 1 million.

Some U.S. and other foreign companies operating in Spain say they are disadvantaged by the Tax Administration’s (AEAT) interpretation of Spanish legislation designed to attract foreign investment. In the past several years, AEAT has investigated and disallowed deductions based on operational restructuring at the European level involving a number of U.S.-owned Spanish holding companies for foreign assets (Empresas de Tenencia de Valores Extranjeros or ETVEs), claiming the companies are committing “an abuse of law.” This situation disadvantages FDI in Spain; as a result, many U.S. companies channel their Spanish investments and operations through third countries.

In April 1999, the adoption of royal decree 664/1999 eliminated requirements for government authorization in investments except for those activities directly related to national defense, such as arms production. The decree abolished previous authorization requirements on investments in other sectors deemed to be of strategic interest, such as telecommunications and transportation. It also removed all forms of portfolio investment authorization and established free movement of capital into Spain as well as out of the country. As a result, Spanish law conforms to multi-disciplinary EU Directive 88/361, which prohibits all restrictions of capital movements between Member States as well as between Member States and other countries. The Directive also classifies investors according to residence rather than nationality.

Registration requirements are straightforward and apply equally to foreign and domestic investments. They aim to verify the purpose of the investment and do not block any investment. On September 1, 2016, a new Resolution of the Directorate General for International Trade and Investments at the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness came into force. This established new forms for declaration of foreign investments before the Investment Registry, which oblige the investor(s) to declare foreign participation in the company.

Useful websites:

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The parliament passed Act 3/2013 on June 4, 2013, by which the entities that regulated energy (CNE), telecoms (CMT), and competition (CNC) merged into a new entity—the National Securities Market and Competition Commission (CNMC). The law attributes practically all of the functions entrusted to the National Competition Commission under the Competition Act 15/2007, of July 3, 2007 (LDC), to the CNMC.

Expropriation and Compensation

Spanish legislation has set up a series of safeguards to prevent the nationalization or expropriation of foreign investments. Since its economic crisis, Spain has altered its renewables policy several times, creating a high degree of regulatory uncertainty and resulting in losses to U.S. companies’ earnings and investments. In December 2012, the government enacted a comprehensive energy sector reform plan in an effort to address a EUR 30 billion energy tariff deficit caused by user rates that were insufficient to cover system costs. In February 2014, Spain’s government announced its plan to cut subsidies for renewable-energy producers, a move that producers decried as a dramatic change to the business environment in which they made their initial investment decisions. Additional reforms in 2014 negatively affected U.S. investors in the solar power sector, with some companies arguing that the legal changes were tantamount to indirect expropriation. As a result of these energy reforms, Spain accumulated more than 30 lawsuits, totaling about EUR 7.6 billion in claims. Spain now faces an array of related international claims for solar photovoltaic and other renewable energy projects. Two international panels have ordered the Government of Spain to compensate companies for losses due to cuts in renewable energy support. In May 2017, the World Bank’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) arbitration panel ordered the Spanish government to pay 128 million euros to solar thermal investors, and in February 2018, a Swedish arbitration panel awarded a Luxembourg-based investment firm 53 million euros on a similar energy investment case.

Spain registered four new cases with ICSID in 2018, (three of them are related to renewable energy, and one to shares and bonds), and one on February 2019, bringing its total of pending cases to 32 (as of February 2019). By way of comparison, Venezuela has 19 pending cases in ICSID.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Spain is a member state to the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID) and a signatory to the 1958 Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention). Therefore, the recognition and enforcement of awards is straightforward and implies the same guarantees and practicalities sought by the New York Convention and arbitration practitioners worldwide, with the additional advantage of the existence of a court specialized only in arbitration issues.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Contractual disputes between U.S persons and Spanish entities are handled accordingly. U.S. citizens seeking to execute American court judgments within Spain must follow the Exequatur procedure established by Spanish law.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Law 11/2011 of May 2011 (amending Law 60/2003 of December 2003) on Arbitration applies to national and international arbitration conducted in Spanish territory and aims to promote alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods, particularly arbitration. The Arbitration Act says that the Civil Court and Criminal Court of Justice are competent to recognize foreign arbitral awards. The Spanish Arbitration Act is based on the UNCITRAL Model law.

There are two main arbitration institutions in Spain, the Court of Arbitration of the Official Chamber of Commerce of Madrid (CAM), and the Civil and Commercial Arbitration Court of Madrid (CIMA). Both institutions have modern and flexible rules that facilitate successful arbitration outcomes. The number of cases–both domestic and international– handled by both institutions, has been rapidly increasing over the past years. In particular, proceedings in the CAM are resolved swiftly, allowing the parties to obtain an award in as few as six months. In December 2017, the Chamber of Commerce of Spain, the Chamber of Commerce of Madrid, and the Civil and Commercial Court of Arbitration Court of Madrid signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to unify their arbitration activities and to create a unified Arbitration Court to administer international arbitrations. The MOU will create a commission that will settle the bases of this unified international court. In addition, the new institution’s primary objectives will be the resolution of conflicts related to Latin America, under the principles of autonomy, independence, and transparency. Another arbitration organization in Spain is the Barcelona Court of Arbitration (TAB), which offers services in the field of dispute resolution through arbitration or other similar mechanisms such as conciliation.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Spain has a fair and transparent bankruptcy regime. Bankruptcy proceedings are governed by the Bankruptcy Law of 2003, which entered into force on September 1, 2004, and applies to both individuals and companies. The main objective of the law was to ensure the collection of debts by creditors, to promote consensus between the parties by requiring an agreement between debtor and creditor, and for companies, to enable their survival and continuity, if possible. However, given the law’s requirement for agreement between debtor and creditor—primarily banks, many of which refused to negotiate debt reductions—relatively few companies and individuals were able to declare bankruptcy, even at the height of Spain’s economic crisis. To address the issue, in 2014, the government approved a reform of the bankruptcy law to promote Spain’s economic recovery by establishing mediation mechanisms. These reforms—nicknamed the Second Chance Law—aimed to avoid the bankruptcy of viable companies and to preserve jobs by facilitating refinancing agreements through debt write-off, capitalization, and rescheduling. However, even with the new legislation, declaring bankruptcy remains much less prevalent in Spain than in other parts of the world.

Sweden

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

There are no laws or practices that discriminate or are alleged to discriminate against foreign investors, including and especially U.S. investors, by prohibiting, limiting or conditioning foreign investment in a sector of the economy [either at the pre-establishment (market access) or post-establishment phase of investment].  Until the mid-1980s, Sweden’s approach to direct investment from abroad was quite restrictive and governed by a complex system of laws and regulations. Sweden’s entry into the European Union (EU) in 1995 largely eliminated all restrictions. National security restrictions to investment remain in the defense and other sensitive sectors, as addressed in the next section “Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment.”

The Swedish Government recognizes the need to further improve the business climate for entrepreneurs, education, and the flow of research from lab to market.  Swedish authorities have implemented a number of reforms to improve the business regulatory environment and to attract more foreign investment.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

There are very few restrictions on where and how foreign enterprises can invest, and there are no equity caps, mandatory joint-venture requirements, or other measures designed to limit foreign ownership or market access.  However, Sweden does maintain some limitations in a select number of situations:

  • Accountancy:  Investment in the accountancy sector by non-EU-residents cannot exceed 25 percent.
  • Legal services:  Investment in a corporation or partnership carrying out the activities of an “advokat,” or lawyer, cannot be done by non-EU residents.
  • Air transport:  Foreign enterprises may be restricted from access to international air routes unless bilateral intergovernmental agreements provide otherwise.
  • Air transport:  Cabotage is reserved to national airlines.
  • Maritime transport:  Cabotage is reserved to vessels flying the national flag.
  • Defense:  Restrictions apply to foreign ownership of companies involved in the defense industry and other sensitive areas.

Swedish company law provides various ways a business can be organized.  The main difference between these forms is whether the founder must own capital and to what extent the founder is personally liable for the company’s debt.  The Swedish Act (1992:160) on Foreign Branches applies to foreign companies operating through a branch and also to people residing abroad who run a business in Sweden.  A branch must have a president who resides within the European Economic Area (EEA). All business enterprises in Sweden (including branches) are required to register at the Swedish Companies Registration Office, Bolagsverket.  An invention or trademark must be registered in Sweden in order to obtain legal protection. A bank from a non-EEA country needs special permission from the Financial Supervision Authority (Finansinspektionen) to establish a branch in Sweden.

Sweden does not maintain a national security screening mechanism for inbound foreign investment.  However, the government is currently considering how to implement the EU Commission’s recently approved investment screening framework, as well as tightening national investment policies.  Suggested regulations would not likely be in place until 2021 at the earliest. U.S. investors are treated equally relative to other foreign investors in terms of ownership and scrutiny of investments.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published an economic snapshot for Sweden in March 2019:  https://www.oecd.org/economy/surveys/OECD-economic-survey-Sweden-2019-executive-summary-brochure.pdf 

Business Facilitation

Business Sweden’s Swedish Trade and Investment Council is the investment promotion agency tasked with facilitating business.  The services of the agency are available to all investors.

At http://www.verksamt.se , a collaboration of several Swedish government agencies have posted relevant guides and services pertaining to registering, starting, running, expanding and/or closing a business.  Sweden defines a micro enterprise as one with less than 10 employees, a small enterprise with less than 50 employees, and a medium enterprise with less than 250 employees.  All forms of business enterprise, except for sole traders, must register with the Swedish Companies Registration Office, Bolagsverket, before starting operations. Sole traders may apply for registration in order to be given exclusive rights to the name in the county where they will be operating. Online applications to register an enterprise can be made at http://www.bolagsverket.se/en .  The process of registering an enterprise can take a few days or up to a few weeks, depending on the complexity and form of the business enterprise.  All business enterprises, including sole traders, must also register with the Swedish Tax Agency, Skatteverket, before starting operations. Relevant information and guides can be found at http://www.skatteverket.se .  Depending on the nature of business, companies may also need to register with the Environmental Protection Agency, Naturvårdsverket, or, if real estate is involved, the county authorities.  Non EU/EEA citizens need a residence permit, obtained from the Swedish Board of Migration, Migrationsverket, in order to start up and/or run a business.

Outward Investment

The Government of Sweden has commissioned the Swedish Exports Credit Guarantee Board (EKN) to promote Swedish exports and the internationalization of Swedish companies.  EKN insures exporting companies and banks against non-payment in export transactions, thereby reducing risk and encouraging expanding operations. As part of its export strategy presented in 2015, the Swedish Government has also launched Team Sweden to promote Swedish exports and investment.  Team Sweden is tasked with making export market entry clear and simple for Swedish companies and consists of a common network for all public initiatives to support exports and internationalization.

The Government does not generally restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.  The only exceptions are related to matters of national security and national defense; the Inspectorate of Strategic Products (ISP) is tasked with control and compliance regarding the sale and exports of defense equipment and dual-use products. ISP is also the National Authority for the Chemical Weapons Convention and handles cases concerning targeted sanctions.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

As an EU member, Sweden has altered its legislation to comply with the EU’s competition rules.  The country has made extensive changes to its laws and regulations to harmonize with EU practices, all to avoid distortions in, or impediments to the efficient mobilization and allocation of investment.  EU institutions are publicly committed to transparent regulatory processes. The European Commission has the sole right of initiative for EU regulations and publishes extensive, descriptive information on many of its activities.  More information can be found at: http://ec.europa.eu/atwork/decision-making/index_en.htm ; http://ec.europa.eu/smart-regulation/index_en.htm .

There are no informal regulatory processes managed by nongovernmental organizations or private sector associations.  Nongovernmental organizations and private sector associations may submit comments to government draft bills. The submitted comments are made public in the public consultation process.

Rule-making and regulatory authority on a national level exists formally in the legislative branch, the Riksdag.  As a member of the EU, a growing proportion of legislation and regulation stem from the EU. These laws apply in some case directly as national law, or are put before the Riksdag to be enacted as national law.  The executive branch, the Government of Sweden, and its various agencies draft laws and regulations that are put before the Riksdag and are adopted on a national level when they enter into force. Municipalities may draft regulations that are within their spheres of competence.  These regulations apply at the respective municipality only and may vary between municipalities.

Draft bills and regulations, which include investment laws, are made available for public comment through a public consultation process, along the lines of U.S. federal notice and comment procedures.  Current and newly adopted legislation can be found at the Swedish Parliament’s homepage and in the various government agencies dealing with the relevant regulation:http://www.riksdagen.se/sv/dokument-lagar/ .  Key regulatory actions are published at Lagrummet: https://lagrummet.se/ .  Lagrummet serves as the official site for information on Swedish legislation and provides information on legislation in the public domain, all statutes currently in force, and information on impending legislation.  “Post och Inrikes Tidningar” serves in certain aspects a similar role as the Federal Register in the U.S., through which public notifications are published. The proclamations of “Post och Inrikes Tidningar” can be found at the Swedish Companies Registration Office (Bolagsverket): https://poit.bolagsverket.se/poit/PublikPoitIn.do .

The judicial branch and various agencies are tasked with regulation oversight and/or regulation enforcement.  The Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsmen, known as the Justitieombuds-männen (JO), are tasked to make sure that public authority complies with the law and follows administrative processes.  They also investigate complaints from the general public.

Regulations are reviewed on the basis of scientific and/or data-driven assessments.  The principle of public access to official documents, offentlighetsprincipen, governs the availability of the results of studies that are conducted by government entities and furthermore to comments made by government entities.  The principle provides the Swedish public with the right to study public documents as specified in the Freedom of the Press Act.

The status of Sweden’s public finances is available at Statistics Sweden, Sweden official statistics agency: https://www.scb.se/en/finding-statistics/statistics-by-subject-area/public-finances/ .

The status of Sweden’s national debt is available at the Swedish National Debt Office: https://www.riksgalden.se/en/aboutsndo/Central-government-debt-and-finances/Debt_facts/ .

International Regulatory Considerations

As an EU-member, Sweden complies with EU legislation in shaping its national regulations.

If a national law, norm, or standard is found to be in conflict with EU-law, then the national law is altered to be in compliance with EU-law.  Sweden adheres to the practices of WTO and coordinates its actions in regards to WTO with other EU-member countries as the EU-countries have a common trade policy.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Sweden’s legal system is based on the civil law tradition, common to Europe, and founded on classical Roman law, but has been further influenced by the German interpretation of this tradition.  Swedish legislation and Swedish agencies provide guidance on if regulations or enforcement actions are appealable and adjudicated in the national court system.  Swedish courts are independent and free of influence from other branches of government, including the executive. Sweden has a written commercial law and contractual law and there are specialized courts, such as commercial and civil courts.  The Swedish courts are divided into:

  • Courts of general jurisdiction (the District Courts, the Courts of Appeal, and the Supreme Court) which has jurisdiction with respect to civil and criminal cases;
  • Administrative courts (County Administrative Courts, Administrative Courts of Appeal, and the Supreme Administrative Court) with jurisdiction with respect to issues of public law, including taxation;
  • Specialist courts for disputes within certain legal areas such as labor law, environmental law and market regulation.

Sweden is a signatory to the New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Law; foreign awards may be enforced in Sweden regardless of which foreign country the arbitral proceedings took place.  The main source of arbitration law in Sweden is the Swedish Arbitration Act, which contains both procedural and substantive regulations. Sweden is a party to the Lugano and the Brussels Conventions and by its membership of the EU; Sweden is also bound by the Brussels Regulation on Jurisdiction and the Recognition and Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters.  An arbitral award is considered final and is not subject to substantive review by Swedish courts. However, arbitral awards may be challenged for reasons set out in the Arbitration Act. An award may, for example, be set aside after a challenge because of procedural errors, which are likely to have had an effect on the outcome.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

During the 1990s, Sweden undertook significant deregulation of its markets.  In a number of areas, including the electricity and telecommunication markets, Sweden has been on the leading edge of reform, resulting in more efficient sectors and lower prices.  Nevertheless, a number of practical impediments to direct investments remain. These include a fairly extensive, though non-discriminatory, system of permits and authorizations needed to engage in many activities and the dominance of a few very large players in certain sectors, such as construction and food wholesaling.  Foreign banks, insurance companies, brokerage firms, and cooperative mortgage institutions are permitted to establish branches in Sweden on equal terms with domestic firms, although a permit is required. Swedes and foreigners alike may acquire shares in any company listed on NASDAQ OMX.

Sweden’s taxation structure is straightforward and corporate tax levels are low.  In 2013, Sweden lowered its corporate tax from 26.3 percent to 22 percent in nominal terms.  The effective rate can be even lower as companies have the option of making deductible annual appropriations to a tax allocation reserve of up to 25 percent of their pretax profit for the year.  Companies can make pre-tax allocations to untaxed reserves, which are subject to tax only when utilized. Certain amounts of untaxed reserves may be used to cover losses. Due to tax exemptions on capital gains and dividends, as well as other competitive tax rules such as low effective corporate tax rates, deductible interest costs for tax purposes, no withholding tax on interest, no stamp duty or capital duties on share capital, and an extensive double tax treaty network, Sweden is among Europe’s most favorable jurisdictions for holding companies.  Unlisted shares are always tax-exempt, meaning there is no qualification time or minimum holding of votes or capital. Listed shares are exempt if the holding represents at least 10 percent of the voting rights (or is contingent on the holder’s business) and the shares are held for at least one year.

Personal income taxes are among the highest in the world.  Since public finances have improved due to extensive consolidation packages to reduce deficits, the government has been able to reduce the tax pressure as a percentage of GDP: currently it is below 50 percent, for the first time in decades.  One particular focus has been tax reductions to encourage employers to hire the long-term unemployed.

Dividends paid by foreign subsidiaries in Sweden to their parent company are not subject to Swedish taxation.  Dividends distributed to other foreign shareholders are subject to a 30 percent withholding tax under domestic law, unless dividends are exempt or taxed at a lower rate under a tax treaty.  Tax liability may also be eliminated under the EU Parent Subsidiary Directive. Profits of a Swedish branch of a foreign company may be remitted abroad without being subject to any other tax than the regular corporate income tax.  There is no exit taxation and no specific rules regarding taxation of stock options received before a move to Sweden. Instead, cases of double taxation are solved by applying tax treaties and cover not only moves within the EU but all countries, including the United States.

For detailed tax guidance, see the Swedish Tax Administration’s website. 

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

As an EU member, Sweden has altered its legislation to comply with the EU’s competition rules.  The competition rules are contained in the Swedish Competition Act (2008:579), which entered into force in November 2008.  The fundamental antitrust provisions have been the same since 1993. The Swedish Competition Authority (SCA) is the main enforcement authority of the Swedish Competition Act.

Expropriation and Compensation

Private property is only expropriated for public purposes, in a non-discriminatory manner, with fair compensation, and in accordance with established principles of international law.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Sweden is a member of the World Bank-based International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and includes ICSID arbitration of investment disputes in many of its bilateral investment treaties (BITs).  Sweden is a signatory to the New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Law.

The Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce (SCC) is one of the world’s leading centers for adjudicating investor-State dispute claims. https://sccinstitute.com/dispute-resolution/investment-disputes/   The SCC has administered arbitrations under the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules for many years, usually acting as the Appointing Authority.  Parties to a dispute may adopt the Procedures by agreement before or after the dispute has arisen. The SCC maintains different versions of the Procedures depending on which version of the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules applies to the arbitration agreement in question (1976 or 2010 versions).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

There have been no publicly disclosed investment disputes in Sweden in recent memory.  There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Swedish arbitration law is advanced and in line with current best practice of international arbitration.  The main source of arbitration law in Sweden is the Swedish Arbitration Act, which contains both procedural and substantive regulations.

Sweden is a party to the Lugano and the Brussels Conventions and by its membership of the EU Sweden is bound by the Brussels Regulation on Jurisdiction and the Recognition and Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters.  An arbitral award is considered final and is not subject to substantive review by Swedish courts. However, arbitral awards may be challenged for reasons set out in the Arbitration Act. An award may, for example, be set aside after challenge because of procedural errors, which are likely to have had an effect on the outcome.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Swedish legislation on bankruptcy is found in a number of laws that came into force in different periods of time and to serve different purposes.  The main laws on insolvency are the Bankruptcy Act (1987:672) and the Company Reorganization Act (1996:764), but the Preferential Rights of Creditors Act (1970:979), the Salary Guarantee Act (1992:497), and the Companies Act (1975:1385) are equally important.  In 2010, Sweden strengthened its secured transactions system through changes to the Rights of Priority Act that give secured creditors’ claims priority in cases of debtor default outside bankruptcy. According to data collected by the World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Report, resolving insolvency takes two years on average and costs nine percent of the debtor’s estate, with the most likely outcome being that the company will be sold as a going concern.  The average recovery rate is 78 cents on the dollar. Globally, Sweden ranked 17 of 190 economies on the ease of resolving insolvency in the Doing Business 2019 report.

Switzerland and Liechtenstein

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

With the exception of a heavily protected agricultural sector, foreign investment into Switzerland is generally not hampered by significant barriers, with no reported discrimination against foreign investors or foreign-owned investments.  Incidents of trade discrimination do exist, for example with regards to agricultural goods such as bovine genetics products. Some city and cantonal governments offer access to an ombudsman, who may address a wide variety of issues involving individuals and the government, but does not focus exclusively on investment issues.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic enterprises may engage in various forms of remunerative activities in Switzerland and may freely establish, acquire, and dispose of interests in business enterprises in Switzerland.  There are, however, some investment restrictions in areas under state monopolies, including certain types of public transportation, postal services, alcohol and spirits, aerospace and defense, certain types of insurance and banking services, and the trade in salt.  Restrictions (in the form of domicile requirements) also exist in air and maritime transport, hydroelectric and nuclear power, operation of oil and gas pipelines, and the transportation of explosive materials. Additionally, the following legal restrictions apply within Switzerland:

Corporate boards: The board of directors of a company registered in Switzerland must consist of a majority of Swiss citizens residing in Switzerland; at least one member of the board of directors who is authorized to represent the company (i.e., to sign legal documents) must be domiciled in Switzerland.  If the board of directors consists of a single person, this person must have Swiss citizenship and be domiciled in Switzerland. Foreign controlled companies usually meet these requirements by nominating Swiss directors who hold shares and perform functions on a fiduciary basis. Mitigating these requirements is the fact that the manager of a company need not be a Swiss citizen and, with the exception of banks, company shares can be controlled by foreigners.  The establishment of a commercial presence by persons or enterprises without legal status under Swiss law requires an establishment authorization according to cantonal law. The aforementioned requirements do not generally pose a major hardship or impediment for U.S. investors.

Hostile takeovers: Swiss corporate shares can be issued both as registered shares (in the name of the holder) or bearer shares.  Provided the shares are not listed on a stock exchange, Swiss companies may, in their articles of incorporation, impose certain restrictions on the transfer of registered shares to prevent hostile takeovers by foreign or domestic companies (article 685a of the Code of Obligations).  Hostile takeovers can also be annulled by public companies; however, legislation introduced in 1992 made this practice more difficult.  Public companies must cite in their statutes significant justification (relevant to the survival, conduct, and purpose of their business) to prevent or hinder a takeover by a foreign entity.  Furthermore, public corporations may limit the number of registered shares that can be held by any shareholder to a percentage of the issued registered stock. In practice, many corporations limit the number of shares to 2-5 percent of the relevant stock.  Under the public takeover provisions of the 2015 Federal Act on Financial Market Infrastructures and Market Conduct in Securities and Derivatives Trading and its 2019 amendments, a formal notification is required when an investor purchases more than 3 percent of a Swiss company’s shares.  An “opt-out” clause is available for firms which do not want to be taken over by a hostile bidder, but such opt-outs must be approved by a super-majority of shareholders and must take place well in advance of any takeover attempt.

Banking: Those wishing to establish banking operations in Switzerland must obtain prior approval from the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA), a largely independent agency, administered under the Swiss Federal Department of Finance.  FINMA promotes confidence in financial markets and works to protect customers, creditors, and investors. FINMA approval of bank operations is generally granted if the following conditions are met: reciprocity on the part of the foreign state; the foreign bank’s name must not give the impression that the bank is Swiss; the bank must adhere to Swiss monetary and credit policy; and a majority of the bank’s management must have their permanent residence in Switzerland.  Otherwise, foreign banks are subject to the same regulatory requirements as domestic banks.

Banks organized under Swiss law must inform FINMA before they open a branch, subsidiary, or representation abroad.  Foreign or domestic investors must inform FINMA before acquiring or disposing of a qualified majority of shares of a bank organized under Swiss law.  If exceptional temporary capital outflows threaten Swiss monetary policy, the Swiss National Bank, the country’s independent central bank, may require other institutions to seek approval before selling foreign bonds or other financial instruments.  On December 20, 2008, government deposit insurance of individual current accounts held in Swiss banks was raised from CHF 30,000 to CHF 100,000.

Insurance: A federal ordinance requires the placement of all risks physically situated in Switzerland with companies located in the country.  Therefore, it is necessary for foreign insurers wishing to provide liability coverage in Switzerland to establish a subsidiary or branch in-country.

U.S. investors have not identified any specific restrictions that create market access challenges for foreign investors.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) September 2017 Trade Policy Review of Switzerland and Liechtenstein includes investment information.  Other reports containing elements referring to the investment climate in Switzerland include the OECD Economic Survey of November 2017.

Business Facilitation

The Swiss government-affiliated non-profit organization Switzerland Global Enterprise (SGE) has a nationwide mandate to attract foreign business to Switzerland on behalf of the Swiss Confederation.  SGE promotes Switzerland as an economic hub and fosters exports, imports, and investments. Larger regional offices include the Greater Geneva-Berne Area (that covers large parts of Western Switzerland), the Greater Zurich Area, and the Basel Area.  Each canton has a business promotion office dedicated to helping facilitate real estate location, beneficial tax arrangements, and employee recruitment plans. These regional and cantonal investment promotion agencies do not require a minimum investment or job-creation threshold in order to provide assistance. However, these offices generally focus resources on attracting medium-sized entities that have the potential to create between 50 and 249 jobs in their region.

References:

Switzerland has a dual system for granting work permits and allowing foreigners to create their own companies in Switzerland.  Employees who are citizens of the EU/EFTA area can benefit from the EU Free Movement of Persons Agreement. U.S. citizens who are not citizens of an EU/EFTA country and want to become self-employed in Switzerland must meet Swiss labor market requirements.  The criteria for admittance, usually not creating a hindrance for U.S. persons, are contained in the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals (FNA), the Decree on Admittance, Residence and Employment (VZAE) and the provisions of the FNA and the VZAE.

Setting up a company in Switzerland requires registration at the relevant cantonal Commercial Registry.  The cost for registering a company is typically USD 1,300 – USD 15,200, depending on the company type. These costs mainly cover the Public Notary and entry into the Commercial Registry.

Other steps/procedures for registration include: 1) placing paid-in capital in an escrow account with a bank; 2) drafting articles of association in the presence of a notary public; 3) filing a deed certifying the articles of association with the local commercial register to obtain a legal entity registration; 4) paying the stamp tax at a post office or bank after receiving an assessment by mail; 5) registering for VAT; and 6) enrolling employees in the social insurance system (federal and cantonal authorities).

The World Bank Doing Business Report 2019 ranks Switzerland 38th in the ease of doing business among the 190 countries surveyed, and  77th in the ease of starting a business, with a  six-step registration process and 10 days required to set up a company.

Outward Investment

While Switzerland does not explicitly promote or incentivize outward investment, Switzerland’s export promotion agency Switzerland Global Enterprise facilitates overseas market entry for Swiss companies through its Swiss Business Hubs in several countries, including the United States.  Switzerland does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Swiss government uses transparent policies and effective laws to foster a competitive investment climate.  Proposed laws and regulations are open for three-month public comment from interested parties, interest groups, cantons, and cities before being discussed within the bicameral parliament.  Proposals may be subject to facultative or automatic referenda that allow Swiss voters to reject or accept the proposals. Only in rare instances such as the case of the extension of a moratorium until 2021 on planting GMO crops are regulations reviewed on the basis of political or customer preferences rather than solely on the basis of scientific analysis.

Transparency of Public Finances and Debt Obligations

The Swiss government regularly publishes financial reports that provide transparency regarding planned expenditures and/or expenditures that have been approved and carried out, as well as projected and realized receipts.  Through its annual budgeting and financial planning exercises, the Swiss government approves expenditures and receipts and forecasts spending and revenue in the three years following the budget period. A financial plan is published every four years in accordance with the legislative period plan.  In addition, supplementary funding is submitted to parliament for urgent new tasks or budget extensions that do not emerge during the budget year. The Federal Council creates extrapolations outlining the probable annual results during a budget period and submits an account of the public finances to parliament the following year together with the federal financial statements.

International Regulatory Considerations

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union.  However, Switzerland adopts many EU standards.

The WTO concluded in 2017 that Switzerland has regularly notified its draft technical regulations, ordinances, and conformity assessment procedures to the WTO TBT Committee.  Switzerland has been a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) since September 2, 2015.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Swiss civil law is codified in the Swiss Civil Code (which governs the status of individuals, family law, inheritance law, and property law) and in the Swiss Code of Obligations (which governs contracts, torts, commercial law, company law, law of checks and other payment instruments).  Switzerland’s civil legal system is divided into public and private law. Public law governs the organization of the state, as well as the relationships between the state and private individuals or other entities, such as companies. Constitutional law, administrative law, tax law, criminal law, criminal procedure, public international law, civil procedure, debt enforcement, and bankruptcy law are sub-divisions of public law.  Private law governs relationships among individuals or entities. Intellectual property law (copyright, patents, trademarks, etc.) is an area of private law. Labor is governed by both private and public law.

All cantons have a high court, which includes a specialized commercial court in four cantons (Zurich, Bern, St. Gallen and Aargau).  The organization of the judiciary differs by canton; smaller cantons have only one court, while larger cantons have multiple courts.  Cantonal high court decisions can be appealed to the Swiss Supreme Court. The court system is independent, competent, and fair.

Switzerland is party to a number of bilateral and multilateral treaties governing the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments.  The Lugano Convention, a multilateral treaty tying Switzerland to European legal conventions, entered into force in 2011 (replacing an older legal framework by the same name).  A set of bilateral treaties is also in place to handle judgments of specific foreign courts. While no such agreement is in place between the United States and Switzerland, Switzerland operates under the New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Law, meaning local courts must enforce international arbitration awards under specific circumstances.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The major laws governing foreign investment in Switzerland are the Swiss Code of Obligations, the Lex Friedrich/Koller, Switzerland’s Securities Law, the Cartel Law and the Financial Market Infrastructure Act.  There is no specific screening of foreign investment beyond a normal anti-trust review. Citing Switzerland’s existing comprehensive and effective set of rules to prevent unwanted takeovers in critical infrastructure sectors,  the Federal Council decided on February 19, 2019 against adopting an investment screening mechanism, arguing it would not bring additional benefits to Switzerland, and recommended maintaining the status quo with further monitoring and review of the situation over four years.  There are few sectoral or geographic incentives or restrictions; exceptions are described below in the section on performance requirements and incentives.

Some former public monopolies retain their historical market dominance despite partial or full privatization. Foreign investors sometimes find it difficult to enter these markets due to high entry costs and the relatively small size and linguistic divisions of the Swiss market (e.g., certain types of public transportation, postal services, alcohol and spirits, aerospace and defense, certain types of insurances and banking services, and the trade in salt).

There is no pronounced interference in the court system that should affect foreign investors.

Useful websites:

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Swiss Competition Commission   and the Swiss Takeover Board   review competition-related concerns.  In 2017, the Swiss Takeover Board concluded that Chinese conglomerate HNA had failed to list the HNA co-founders correctly as beneficial owners in its acquisition prospectus of Swiss airline caterer gategroup Holding AG and tasked the Swiss financial regulator and stock exchange with investigating potential breaches of Swiss financial regulations.  HNA was found guilty and was sentenced to pay a financial penalty of CHF 50,000 (USD 50,000).

Expropriation and Compensation

There are no known cases of expropriation within Switzerland.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Switzerland has been a member of the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) since June 14, 1968, and a member of the New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Law since June 1, 1965.  Switzerland’s Federal Act on Private International Law (Art. 190 and 194) sets a minimum standard for the implementation of international arbitration awards in Switzerland.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Based on Switzerland’s membership in the New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Law, local courts are entitled to enforce international arbitration awards.  According to Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, Switzerland has never been a party to an investment dispute involving international arbitration.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Swiss courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards in the framework of the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards  Post has no knowledge of any investor disputes in Switzerland involving U.S. persons within the last 10 years.

As business associations organized at the cantonal level, the Chambers of Commerce and Industry, of Basel, Bern, Geneva, Lausanne, Lugano, Neuchâtel, and Zurich have established the Swiss Chambers’ Arbitration Institution.  This entity offers dispute resolution based on Swiss Rules of International Arbitration and Swiss Rules of Commercial Mediation. According to the Swiss Chambers’ Arbitration Institution, 100 cases were submitted in 2015 (latest available data); 89 of these cases involved foreign parties.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Switzerland’s bankruptcy law does not criminalize bankruptcy.  Under the bankruptcy law, the same rights and obligations apply to foreign and Swiss contract holders.

Swiss authorities provide information about Swiss residents and companies regarding debts registered with the debt collection register.

The World Bank’s 2019 “Doing Business” survey ranks Switzerland 46th out of 190 countries in resolving insolvency.  The average time to close a business in Switzerland is three years (compared to 1.7 years average across the OECD), with an average of 46.7 cents on the dollar recovered by claimants from insolvent firms (compared to 71.2 cents OECD average).

The Swiss Federal Statute on Private International Law (PILS, Art. 166-175, in force since January 1, 1989) governs Swiss recognition of foreign insolvency proceedings, including bankruptcies, foreign composition, and arrangements.  Swiss law requires reciprocity for recognition of foreign insolvency.

Federal Statute on Debt Enforcement and Bankruptcy of 11 April 1889 (https://wipolex.wipo.int/en/details.jsp?id=17092   in German, French and Italian).