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Belgium

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Belgium has traditionally maintained an open economy that is highly dependent on international trade.  Since WWII, foreign investment has played a vital role in the Belgian economy, providing technology and employment.  It is a key economic policy of the government to make Belgium a more attractive destination to foreign investment. Though the federal government regulates important elements of foreign direct investment such as salaries and labor conditions, it is primarily the responsibility of the regions to attract FDI.  Flanders Investment and Trade (FIT), Wallonia Foreign Trade and Investment Agency (AWEX), and Brussels Invest and Export are the three investment promotion agencies who seek to attract FDI to Flanders, Wallonia and the Brussels Capital Region, respectively.

The regional investment promotion agencies have focused their industrial strategy on key sectors including aerospace and defense; agribusiness, automotive and ground transportation; architecture and engineering; chemicals, petrochemicals, plastics and composites; environmental technologies; food processing and packaging; health technologies; information and communication; and services.

Foreign corporations account for about one-third of the top 3,000 corporations in Belgium.  According to Graydon, a Belgian company specializing in commercial and marketing information, there are currently more than one million companies registered in Belgium. The federal government and the regions do not have specific policies that prioritize investment retention or maintain an ongoing dialogue with investors.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

There are currently no limits on foreign ownership or control in Belgium.  There are no distinctions between Belgian and foreign companies when establishing or owning a business or setting up a remunerative activity.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Over the past 3 years, the country has not been the subject of third-party investment policy reviews (IPRs) through a multilateral organization such as the OECD, WTO, or UNCTAD.

Business Facilitation

In order to set up a business in Belgium, one must:

  1. Deposit at least 20 percent of the initial capital with a Belgian credit institution and obtain a standard certification confirming that the amount is held in a blocked capital account;
  2. Deposit a financial plan with a notary, sign the deed of incorporation and the by-laws in the presence of a notary, who authenticates the documents and registers the deed of incorporation.  The authentication act must be drawn up in either French, Dutch or German (Belgium’s three official languages);
  3. Register with one of the Registers of legal entities, VAT and social security at a centralized company docket and obtain a company number.

In most cases, the business registration process can be completed within one week.

https://www.business.belgium.be/en/managing_your_business/setting_up_your_business  

http://procedures.business.belgium.be/en/procedures-iframe/?_ga=2.174982369.210217559.1555582522-1537979373.1536327711  

Based on the number of employees, the projected annual turnover and the shareholder class, a company will qualify as a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) according to the meaning of the Promotion of Independent Enterprise Act of February 10, 1998.  For a small or medium-sized enterprise, registration will only be possible once a certificate of competence has been obtained. The person in charge of the daily management of the company must prove his or her knowledge of business management, with diplomas and/or practical experience. In the Global Enterprise Register, Belgium currently scores 7 out of 10 for ease of setting up a limited liability company.

Business facilitation agencies provide for equitable treatment of women and underrepresented minorities in the economy.

The three Belgian regions each have their own investment promotion agency, whose services are available to all foreign investors.

Outward Investment

The Belgian governments do not promote outward investment as such.  There are also no restrictions to certain countries or sectors, other than those where Belgium applies UN resolutions.

France and Monaco

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

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

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

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

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

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

Other Investment Policy Reviews

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

Business Facilitation

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

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

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

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

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

Outward Investment

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

Japan

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment

Direct inward investment into Japan by foreign investors has been open and free since the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act (the Forex Act) was amended in 1998.  In general, the only requirement for foreign investors making investments in Japan is to submit an ex post facto report to the relevant ministries.

The Japanese Government explicitly promotes inward FDI and has established formal programs to attract it.  In 2013, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced its intention to double Japan’s inward FDI stock to JPY 35 trillion (USD 318 billion) by 2020 and reiterated that commitment in its revised Japan Revitalization Strategy issued in August 2016.  At the end of June 2018, Japan’s inward FDI stock was JPY 29.9 trillion (USD 270 billion), a small increase over the previous year. The Abe Administration’s interest in attracting FDI is one component of the government’s strategy to reform and revitalize the Japanese economy, which continues to face the long-term challenges of low growth, an aging population, and a shrinking workforce.

In April 2014, the government established an “FDI Promotion Council” comprised of government ministers and private sector advisors.  The Council remains active and continues to release recommendations on improving Japan’s FDI environment. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) are the lead agencies responsible for assisting foreign firms wishing to invest in Japan.  METI and JETRO have together created a “one-stop shop” for foreign investors, providing a single Tokyo location—with language assistance—where those seeking to establish a company in Japan can process the necessary paperwork (details are available at http://www.jetro.go.jp/en/invest/ibsc/  ).  Prefectural and city governments also have active programs to attract foreign investors, but they lack many of the financial tools U.S. states and municipalities use to attract investment.

Foreign investors seeking a presence in the Japanese market or seeking to acquire a Japanese firm through corporate takeovers may face additional challenges, many of which relate more to prevailing business practices rather than to government regulations, though it depends on the sector.  These include an insular and consensual business culture that has traditionally been resistant to unsolicited mergers and acquisitions (M&A), especially when initiated by non-Japanese entities; exclusive supplier networks and alliances between business groups that can restrict competition from foreign firms and domestic newcomers; cultural and linguistic challenges; and labor practices that tend to inhibit labor mobility.  Business leaders have communicated to the Embassy that regulatory and governmental barriers are more likely to exist in mature, heavily regulated sectors than in new industries.

The Japanese Government established an “Investment Advisor Assignment System” in April 2016 in which a State Minister acts as an advisor to select foreign companies with “important” investments in Japan.  The system aims to facilitate consultation between the Japanese Government and foreign firms. Of the nine companies selected to participate in this initiative to date, seven are from the United States.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private enterprises have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity.  Japan has gradually eliminated most formal restrictions governing FDI. One remaining restriction limits foreign ownership in Japan’s former land-line monopoly telephone operator, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT), to 33 percent.  Japan’s Radio Law and separate Broadcasting Law also limit foreign investment in broadcasters to 20 percent, or 33 percent for broadcasters categorized as “facility-supplying.” Foreign ownership of Japanese companies invested in terrestrial broadcasters will be counted against these limits.  These limits do not apply to communication satellite facility owners, program suppliers or cable television operators.

The Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act governs investment in sectors deemed to have national security or economic stability implications.  If a foreign investor wants to acquire over 10 percent of the shares of a listed company in certain designated sectors, it must provide prior notification and obtain approval from the Ministry of Finance and the ministry that regulates the specific industry.  Designated sectors include agriculture, aerospace, forestry, petroleum, electric/gas/water utilities, telecommunications, and leather manufacturing.

U.S. investors, relative to other foreign investors, are not disadvantaged or singled out by any ownership or control mechanisms, sector restrictions, or investment screening mechanisms.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization (WTO) conducted its most recent review of Japan’s trade policies in March 2017 (available at https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp451_e.htm  ).

The OECD released its biennial Japan economic survey results on April 15, 2019 (available at http://www.oecd.org/economy/surveys/japan-economic-snapshot/  ).

Business Facilitation

The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) is Japan’s investment promotion and facilitation agency.  JETRO operates six Invest Japan Business Support Centers (IBSCs) across Japan that provide consultation services on Japanese incorporation types, business registration, human resources, office establishment, and visa/residency issues.  Through its website (https://www.jetro.go.jp/en/invest/setting_up  /), the organization provides English-language information on Japanese business registration, visas, taxes, recruiting, labor regulations, and trademark/design systems and procedures in Japan.  While registration of corporate names and addresses can be completed through the internet, most business registration procedures must be completed in person. In addition, corporate seals and articles of incorporation of newly established companies must be verified by a notary.

According to the 2018 World Bank “Doing Business” Report, it takes 12 days to establish a local limited liability company in Japan.  JETRO reports that establishing a branch office of a foreign company requires one month, while setting up a subsidiary company takes two months.  While requirements vary according to the type of incorporation, a typical business must register with the Legal Affairs Bureau (Ministry of Justice), the Labor Standards Inspection Office (Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare), the Japan Pension Service, the district Public Employment Security Office, and the district tax bureau.  In April 2015, JETRO opened a one-stop business support center in Tokyo so that foreign companies can complete all necessary legal and administrative procedures in one location; however, this arrangement is not common throughout Japan. JETRO has announced its intent to develop a full online business registration system, but it was not operational as of March 2019.

No laws exist to explicitly prevent discrimination against women and minorities regarding registering and establishing a business. Neither special assistance nor mechanisms exist to aid women or underrepresented minorities.

Outward Investment

The Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) provides a variety of support to Japanese foreign direct investment.  Most support comes in the form of “overseas investment loans,” which can be provided to Japanese companies (investors), overseas Japanese affiliates (including joint ventures), and foreign governments in support of projects with Japanese content, typically infrastructure projects.  JBIC often seeks to support outward FDI projects that aim to develop or secure overseas resources that are of strategic importance to Japan, for example, construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals to facilitate sales to Japan. More information is available at https://www.jbic.go.jp/en/index.html  .

There are no restrictions on outbound investment; however, not all countries have a treaty with Japan regarding foreign direct investment (e.g., Iran).

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.

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