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Australia

Executive Summary

Australia is generally welcoming to foreign investment, which is widely considered to be an essential contributor to Australia’s economic growth and productivity. The United States is by far the largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI) for Australia. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the stock of U.S. FDI totaled USD 162 billion in January 2020. The Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement, which entered into force in 2005, establishes higher thresholds for screening U.S. investment for most classes of direct investment.

While welcoming toward FDI, Australia does apply a “national interest” test to qualifying investment through its Foreign Investment Review Board screening process. Various changes to Australia’s foreign investment rules, primarily aimed at strengthening national security, have been made in recent years. This continued in 2020 with the passage of the Foreign Investment Reform (Protecting Australia’s National Security) Act 2020, which broadens the classes of foreign investments that require screening, with a particular focus on defense and national security supply chains. All foreign investments in these industries will now require screening, regardless of their value or national origin. The legislation also provides the Treasurer with new powers to require certain investments to be scrutinized even if they do not fall within existing guidelines. Additionally, in March 2020 the Australian government announced all foreign direct investment would be reviewed over the course of the COVID-19 crisis, a period which ceased when the Foreign Investment Reform legislation commenced in January 2021. Despite the increased focus on foreign investment screening, the rejection rate for proposed investments has remained low and there have been no cases of investment from the United States having been rejected in recent years.

In response to a perceived lack of fairness, the Australian government has tightened anti-tax avoidance legislation targeting multi-national corporations with operations in multiple tax jurisdictions. While some laws have been complementary to international efforts to address tax avoidance schemes and the use of low-tax countries or tax havens, Australia has also gone further than the international community in some areas.

Australia has a strong legal system grounded in procedural fairness, judicial precedent, and the independence of the judiciary. Property rights are well established and enforceable. The establishment of government regulations typically requires consultation with impacted stakeholders and requires approval by a central regulatory oversight body before progressing to the legislative phase. Anti-bribery and anti-corruption laws exist, and Australia performs well in measures of transparency. Australia’s business environment is generally conducive to foreign companies operating in the country, and the country ranks fourteenth overall in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index.

The Australian government is strongly focused on economic recovery from the COVID-driven recession Australia experienced in 2020, the country’s first in three decades. In addition to direct stimulus and business investment incentives, it has announced investment attraction incentives across a range of priority industries, including food and beverage manufacturing, medical products, clean energy, defense, space, and critical minerals processing. U.S. involvement and investment in these fields is welcomed.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 11 of 179 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 14 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 23 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 162 billion http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 55,100 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Australia is generally welcoming to foreign direct investment (FDI), with foreign investment widely considered to be an essential contributor to Australia’s economic growth. Other than certain required review and approval procedures for designated types of foreign investment described below, there are no laws that discriminate against foreign investors.

A number of investment promotion agencies operate in Australia. The Australian Trade Commission (often referred to as Austrade) is the Commonwealth Government’s national “gateway” agency to support investment into Australia. Austrade provides coordinated government assistance to promote, attract, and facilitate FDI, supports Australian companies to grow their business in international markets, and delivers advice to the Australian Government on its trade, tourism, international education and training, and investment policy agendas. Austrade operates through a number of international offices, with U.S. offices primarily focused on attracting foreign direct investment into Australia and promoting the Australian education sector in the United States. Austrade in the United States operates from offices in Boston, Chicago, Houston, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. In addition, state and territory investment promotion agencies also support international investment at the state level and in key sectors.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Within Australia, foreign and domestic private entities may establish and own business enterprises and may engage in all forms of remunerative activity in accordance with national legislative and regulatory practices. See Section 4: Legal Regime – Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment below for information on Australia’s investment screening mechanism for inbound foreign investment.

Other than the screening process described in Section 4, there are few limits or restrictions on foreign investment in Australia. Foreign purchases of agricultural land greater than AUD 15 million (USD 11 million) are subject to screening. This threshold applies to the cumulative value of agricultural land owned by the foreign investor, including the proposed purchase. However, the agricultural land screening threshold does not affect investments made under the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA). The current threshold remains AUD 1.216 billion (USD 940 million) for U.S. non-government investors. Investments made by U.S. non-government investors are subject to inclusion on the foreign ownership register of agricultural land and to Australian Tax Office (ATO) information gathering activities on new foreign investment.

The Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB), which advises Australia’s Treasurer, may impose conditions when approving foreign investments. These conditions can be diverse and may include: retention of a minimum proportion of Australian directors; certain requirements on business activities, such as the requirement not to divest certain assets; and certain taxation requirements. Such conditions are in keeping with Australia’s policy of ensuring foreign investments are in the national interest.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Australia has not conducted an investment policy review in the last three years through either the OECD or UNCTAD system. The WTO reviewed Australia’s trade policies and practices in 2019, and the final report can be found at: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp496_e.htm .

The Australian Trade Commission compiles an annual “Why Australia Benchmark Report” that presents comparative data on investing in Australia in the areas of Growth, Innovation, Talent, Location, and Business. The report also compares Australia’s investment credentials with other countries and provides a general snapshot on Australia’s investment climate. See: http://www.austrade.gov.au/International/Invest/Resources/Benchmark-Report .

Business Facilitation

Business registration in Australia is relatively straightforward and is facilitated through a number of government websites. The government’s business.gov.au website provides an online resource and is intended as a “whole-of-government” service providing essential information on planning, starting, and growing a business. Foreign entities intending to conduct business in Australia as a foreign company must be registered with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). As Australia’s corporate, markets, and financial services regulator, ASIC’s website provides information and guides on starting and managing a business or company in the country.

In registering a business, individuals and entities are required to register as a company with ASIC, which then gives the company an Australian Company Number, registers the company, and issues a Certificate of Registration. According to the World Bank “Starting a Business” indicator, registering a business in Australia takes two days, and Australia ranks 7th globally on this indicator.

Outward Investment

Australia generally looks positively towards outward investment as a way to grow its economy. There are no restrictions on investing abroad. Austrade, Export Finance Australia (EFA), and various other government agencies offer assistance to Australian businesses looking to invest abroad, and some sector-specific export and investment programs exist. The United States is the top destination, by far, for Australian investment overseas.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Australian Government utilizes transparent policies and effective laws to foster national competition and is consultative in its policy making process. The government generally allows for public comment of draft legislation and publishes legislation once it enters into force. Details of the Australian government’s approach to regulation and regulatory impact analysis can be found on the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s website: https://www.pmc.gov.au/regulation 

Regulations drafted by Australian Government agencies must be accompanied by a Regulation Impact Statement when submitted to the final decision maker (which may be the Cabinet, a Minister, or another decision maker appointed by legislation.) All Regulation Impact Statements must first be approved by the Office of Best Practice Regulation (OBPR) which sits within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, prior to being provided to the relevant decision maker. They are required to demonstrate the need for regulation, the alternative options available (including non-regulatory options), feedback from stakeholders, and a full cost-benefit analysis. Regulations are subsequently required to be reviewed periodically. All Regulation Impact Statements, second reading speeches, explanatory memoranda, and associated legislation are made publicly available on Government websites. Australia’s state and territory governments have similar processes when making new regulations.

The Australian Government has tended to prefer self-regulatory options where industry can demonstrate that the size of the risks are manageable and that there are mechanisms for industry to agree on, and comply with, self-regulatory options that will resolve the identified problem. This manifests in various ways across industries, including voluntary codes of conduct and similar agreements between industry players.

The Australian Government has recognized the impost of regulations and has undertaken a range of initiatives to reduce red tape. This has included specific red tape reduction targets for government agencies and various deregulatory groups within government agencies. In 2019, the Australian Government established a Deregulation Taskforce within its Treasury Department, stating its goal was to “drive improvements to the design, administration and effectiveness of the stock of government regulation to ensure it is fit for purpose.”

Australian accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are transparent and consistent with international standards. Accounting standards are formulated by the Australian Accounting Standards Board (AASB), an Australian Government agency under the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act 2001. Under that Act, the statutory functions of the AASB are to develop a conceptual framework for the purpose of evaluating proposed standards; make accounting standards under section 334 of the Corporations Act 2001, and advance and promote the main objects of Part 12 of the ASIC Act, which include reducing the cost of capital, enabling Australian entities to compete effectively overseas and maintaining investor confidence in the Australian economy. The Australian Government conducts regular reviews of proposed measures and legislative changes and holds public hearings into such matters.

Australian government financing arrangements are transparent and well governed. Legislation governing the type of financial arrangements the government and its agencies may enter into is publicly available and adhered to. Updates on the Government’s financial position are regularly posted on the Department of Finance and Treasury websites. Issuance of government debt is managed by the Australian Office of Financial Management, which holds regular tenders for the sale of government debt and the outcomes of these tenders are publicly available. The Australian Government also publishes and adheres to strict procurement guidelines. Australia formally joined the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement in 2019.

International Regulatory Considerations

Australia is a member of the WTO, G20, OECD, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and became the first Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) Dialogue Partner in 1974. While not a regional economic block, Australia’s free trade agreement with New Zealand provides for a high level of integration between the two economies with the ultimate goal of a single economic market. Details of Australia’s involvement in these international organizations can be found on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s website: https://www.dfat.gov.au/trade/organisations/Pages/wto-g20-oecd-apec 

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Australian legal system is firmly grounded on the principles of equal treatment before the law, procedural fairness, judicial precedent, and the independence of the judiciary. Strong safeguards exist to ensure that people are not treated arbitrarily or unfairly by governments or officials. Property and contractual rights are enforced through the Australian court system, which is based on English Common Law. Australia’s judicial system is fully independent and separate from the executive branch of government.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Information regarding investing in Australia can be found in Austrade’s “Guide to Investing” at http://www.austrade.gov.au/International/Invest/Investor-guide . The guide is designed to help international investors and businesses navigate investing and operating in Australia.

Foreign investment in Australia is regulated by the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975 and Australia’s Foreign Investment Policy. The Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) is a non-statutory body, comprising independent board members advised by a division within the Treasury Department, established to advise the Treasurer on Australia’s foreign investment policy and its administration. The FIRB screens potential foreign investments in Australia above threshold values, and based on advice from the FIRB, the Treasurer may deny or place conditions on the approval of particular investments above that threshold on national interest grounds. In March 2020 the Treasurer announced thresholds would be reduced to zero for the period covering the COVID-19 crisis. In effect, this meant that all foreign investment would be screening over this period. This lower threshold ended with the introduction in January 2021 of new legislation, the Foreign Investment Reform (Protecting Australia’s National Security) Act 2020, which tightened Australia’s investment screening rules with respect to investments in sensitive national security businesses.

The Australian Government applies a “national interest” consideration in reviewing foreign investment applications. “National interest” covers a broader set of considerations than national security alone, and may include tax or competition implications of an investment. Further information on foreign investment screening, including screening thresholds for certain sectors and countries, can be found at FIRB’s website: https://firb.gov.au/ . Under the AUSFTA agreement, all U.S. greenfield investments are exempt from FIRB screening.

Australia has recently taken steps to increase the analysis of national security implications of foreign investment in certain sectors, particularly critical infrastructure and investments in defense or other national security supply chains. The new Foreign Investment Reform (Protecting Australia’s National Security) Act 2020 introduced the concept of a “national security business” and “national security land,” the acquisition of either triggering a FIRB review. The legislation also allows the Treasurer to “call in” any investment for FIRB review, meaning any investment can be screened regardless of whether it meets the criteria for a mandatory review.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) enforces the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 and a range of additional legislation, promotes competition, and fair trading, and regulates national infrastructure for the benefit of all Australians. The ACCC plays a key role in assessing mergers to determine whether they will lead to a substantial lessening of competition in any market. The ACCC also engages in consumer protection enforcement and has, in recent years, been given expanded responsibilities to monitor energy assets, the national gas market, and digital industries.

Expropriation and Compensation

Private property can be expropriated for public purposes in accordance with Australia’s constitution and established principles of international law. Property owners are entitled to compensation based on “just terms” for expropriated property. There is little history of expropriation in Australia.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Australia is a member of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) and the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. The International Arbitration Act 1974 governs international arbitration and the enforcement of awards.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) is included in 11 of Australia’s 13 FTAs and 18 of its 21 BITs. AUSFTA establishes a dispute settlement mechanism for investment disputes arising under the Agreement. However, AUSFTA does not contain an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism that would allow individual investors to bring a case against the Australian government. Regardless of the presence or absence of ISDS mechanisms, there is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors in Australia.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Australia has an established legal and court system for the conduct or supervision of litigation and arbitration, as well as alternate dispute resolutions. Australia is a leader in the development and provision of non-court dispute resolution mechanisms. It is a signatory to all the major international dispute resolution conventions and has organizations that provide international dispute resolution processes.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Bankruptcy is a legal status conferred under the Bankruptcy Act 1966 and operates in all of Australia’s states and territories. Only individuals can be made bankrupt, not businesses or companies. Where there is a partnership or person trading under a business name, it is the individual or individuals who make up that firm that are made bankrupt. Companies cannot become bankrupt under the Bankruptcy Act though similar provisions (called “administration and winding up”) exist under the Corporations Act 2001. Bankruptcy is not a criminal offense in Australia.

Creditor rights are established under the Bankruptcy Act 1966, the Corporations Act 2001, and the more recent Insolvency Law Reform Act 2016. The latter legislation commenced in two tranches over 2017 and aims to increase the efficiency of insolvency administrations, improve communications between parties, increase the corporate regulator’s oversight of the insolvency market, and “improve overall consumer confidence in the professionalism and competence of insolvency practitioners.” Under the combined legislation, creditors have the right to: request information during the administration process; give direction to a liquidator or trustee; appoint a liquidator to review the current appointee’s remuneration; and remove a liquidator and appoint a replacement.

The Australian parliament passed the Corporations Amendment (Corporation Insolvency Reforms) Act 2020 in December 2020. The legislation is a response to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and is designed to both assist viable businesses remain solvent and simplify the liquidation process for insolvent businesses. The new insolvency process under this legislation came into effect in January 2021.

Australia ranks 20th globally on the World Bank’s Doing Business Report “resolving insolvency” measure.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Commonwealth Government and state and territory governments provide a range of measures to assist investors with setting up and running a business and undertaking investment. Types of assistance available vary by location, industry, and the nature of the business activity. Austrade provides coordinated government assistance to attracting FDI and is intended to serve as the national point-of-contact for investment inquiries. State and territory governments similarly offer a suite of financial and non-financial incentives.

The Commonwealth Government also provides incentives for companies engaging in research and development (R&D) and delivers a tax offset for expenditure on eligible R&D activities undertaken during the year. R&D activities conducted overseas are also eligible under certain circumstances, and the program is jointly administered by government’s AusIndustry program and the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). The Australian Government typically does not offer guarantees on, or jointly finance projects with, foreign investors.

The Australian government announced a new USD 1.1 billion Modern Manufacturing Strategy in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Strategy is primarily grants-based and provides funding to businesses to commercialize ideas and scale-up production in six target industries: resources technology and critical minerals processing; food and beverage; medical products; clean energy; defense; and space industry. Further details of the Strategy can be found on the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources’ website: https://www.industry.gov.au/data-and-publications/make-it-happen-the-australian-governments-modern-manufacturing-strategy/our-modern-manufacturing-strategy 

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Australia does not have any free trade zones or free ports.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

As a general rule, foreign firms establishing themselves in Australia are not subject to local employment or forced localization requirements, performance requirements and incentives, including to senior management and board of directors. Proprietary companies must have at least one director resident in Australia, while public companies are required to have a minimum of two resident directors. See Section 12 below for further information on rules pertaining to the hiring of foreign labor.

Under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2015, telecommunications service providers are required to: retain and secure, for two years, telecommunications data (not including content); protect retained data through encryption; and prevent unauthorized interference and access. The Bill limits the range of agencies allowed to access telecommunications data and stored communications, and establishes a “journalist information warrants regime.” Australia’s Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Act prohibits the transfer of health data out of Australia in some situations.

The Australian parliament passed legislation in December 2018 that would require encrypted messaging services to provide decrypted communications to the government for selected national security purposes (the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018). Companies relying on or manufacturing secure encryption technologies have expressed concern about the impacts of this legislation on the security of the products and the lack of sufficient judicial oversight in reviewing government requests for access to encrypted data.

Australia has a strong framework for the protection of intellectual property (IP), including software source code. Foreign providers are not required to provide source code to the government in exchange for operating in Australia. In February 2021, the Australian parliament passed the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021, which among other things requires designated digital platforms to notify media companies of significant changes to their algorithms with at least 14-days’ notice of such changes. However, technology companies are not required to provide source code for algorithms, or any other such IP, to the government for any purpose.

Companies are generally not restricted in terms of how they store or transmit data within their operations. The exception to this is the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Act (2012) which does require that certain personal health information is stored in Australia. The Privacy Act (1988) and associated legislation place restrictions on the communication of personal information between and within entities. The requirements placed on international companies, and the transmission of data outside of Australia, are not treated differently under this legislation. The Australian Attorney-General’s Department is the responsible agency for most legislation relating to data and storage requirements.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Strong legal frameworks protect property rights in Australia and operate to police corruption. Mortgages are commercially available, and foreigners are allowed to buy real property subject to certain registration and approval requirements. Property lending may be securitized, and Australia has one of the most highly developed securitization sectors in the world. Beyond the private sector property market, securitization products are being developed to assist local and state government financing. Australia has no legislation specifically relating to securitization, although issuers are governed by a range of other financial sector legislation and disclosure requirements.

Intellectual Property Rights

Australia generally provides strong intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and enforcement through legislation that, among other things, criminalizes copyright piracy and trademark counterfeiting. Australia is not listed in USTR’s Special 301 report or on USTR’s Notorious Markets report.

Enforcement of counterfeit goods is overseen by the Australian Department of Home Affairs through the Notice of Objection Scheme, which allows the Australian Border Force to seize goods suspected of being counterfeit. Penalties for sale or importation of counterfeit goods include fines and up to five years imprisonment. The Australia Border Force reported seizing 190,000 individual items of counterfeit and pirated goods, worth approximately AUD 16.9 million (USD 11.8 million), during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, which is the last available year for which this data is provided.

IP Australia is the responsible agency for administering Australia’s responsibilities and treaties under the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Australia is a member of a range of international treaties developed through WIPO. Australia does not have specific legislation relating to trade secrets, however common law governs information protected through such means as confidentiality agreements or other means of illegally obtaining confidential or proprietary information.

Australia was an active participant in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) negotiations and signed ACTA in October 2011. It has not yet ratified the agreement. ACTA would establish an international framework to assist Parties in their efforts to effectively combat the infringement of intellectual property rights, in particular the proliferation of counterfeiting and piracy.

Under the AUSFTA, Australia must notify the holder of a pharmaceutical patent of a request for marketing approval by a third party for a product claimed by that patent. U.S. and Australian pharmaceutical companies have raised concerns that unnecessary delays in this notification process restrict their options for action against third parties that would infringe their patents if granted marketing approval by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). In March 2020 the government recommended changes to the notification process whereby generic product owners must notify the patent holder of an intent to market a new product at the point they lodge an application for evaluation with the TGA. These changes have not been legislated at the time of writing, however.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Australian Government takes a favorable stance towards foreign portfolio investment with no restrictions on inward flows of debt or equity. Indeed, access to foreign capital markets is crucial to the Australian economy given its relatively small domestic savings. Australian capital markets are generally efficient and able to provide financing options to businesses. While the Australian equity market is one of the largest and most liquid in the world, non-financial firms face a number of barriers in accessing the corporate bond market. Large firms are more likely to use public equity, and smaller firms are more likely to use retained earnings and debt from banks and intermediaries. Australia’s corporate bond market is relatively small, driving many Australian companies to issue debt instruments in the U.S. market. Foreign investors are able to obtain credit from domestic institutions on market terms. Australia’s stock market is the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX).

Money and Banking System

Australia’s banking system is robust, highly evolved, and international in focus. Bank profitability is strong and has been supported by further improvements in asset performance. Total assets of Australian banks at the end of 2020 was USD4.1 trillion and the sector has delivered an annual average return on equity of around 10 percent.

According to Australia’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), the ratio of non-performing assets to total loans was approximately one percent at the end of 2020, having remained at around that level for the last five years after falling from highs of nearly two percent following the Global Financial Crisis. The RBA is responsible for monitoring and reporting on the stability of the financial sector, while the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) monitors individual institutions. The RBA is also responsible for monitoring and regulating payments systems in Australia.

Further details on the size and performance of Australia’s banking sector are available on the websites of the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) and the RBA:  https://www.apra.gov.au/statistics  https://www.rba.gov.au/chart-pack/banking-indicators.html 

Foreign banks are allowed to operate as a branch or a subsidiary in Australia. Australia has generally taken an open approach to allowing foreign companies to operate in the financial sector, largely to ensure sufficient competition in an otherwise small domestic market.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Commonwealth Government formulates exchange control policies with the advice of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) and the Treasury. The RBA, charged with protecting the national currency, has the authority to implement exchange controls, although there are currently none in place.

The Australian dollar is a fully convertible and floating currency. The Commonwealth Government does not maintain currency controls or limit remittances. Such payments are processed through standard commercial channels, without governmental interference or delay.

Remittance Policies

Australia does not limit investment remittances.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Australia’s main sovereign wealth fund, the Future Fund, is a financial asset investment fund owned by the Australian Government. The Fund’s objective is to enhance the ability of future Australian Governments to discharge unfunded superannuation (pension) liabilities. As a founding member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds (IFSWF), the Future Fund’s structure, governance, and investment approach is in full alignment with the Generally Accepted Principles and Practices for Sovereign Wealth Funds (the “Santiago principles”).

The Future Fund’s investment mandate is to achieve a long-term return of at least inflation plus 4-5 percent per annum. As of December 2020, the Fund’s portfolio consists of: 29 percent global equities, 7 percent Australian equities, 28 percent private equity (including 7 percent in infrastructure), and the remaining 36 percent in debt, cash, and alternative investments.

In addition to the Future Fund, the Australian Government manages five other specific-purpose funds: the DisabilityCare Australia Fund; the Medical Research Future Fund; the Emergency Response Fund; the Future Drought Fund; and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land and Sea Future Fund. In total, these five funds have assets of AUD 47 billion (USD 37 billion), while the main Future Fund has assets of AUD 171 billion (USD 132 billion) as of December 31, 2020.

Further details of these funds are available at: https://www.futurefund.gov.au/ 

7. State-Owned Enterprises

In Australia, the term used for a Commonwealth Government State-Owned Enterprise (SOE) is “government business enterprise” (GBE). According to the Department of Finance, there are nine GBEs: two corporate Commonwealth entities and seven Commonwealth companies. (See: https://www.finance.gov.au/resource-management/governance/gbe/ ) Private enterprises are generally allowed to compete with public enterprises under the same terms and conditions with respect to markets, credit, and other business operations, such as licenses and supplies. Public enterprises are not generally accorded material advantages in Australia. Remaining GBEs do not exercise power in a manner that discriminates against or unfairly burdens foreign investors or foreign-owned enterprises.

Privatization Program

Australia does not have a formal and explicit national privatization program. Individual state and territory governments may have their own privatization programs. Foreign investors are welcome to participate in any privatization programs subject to the rules and approvals governing foreign investment.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is general business awareness and promotion of responsible business conduct (RBC) in Australia. The Commonwealth Government states that companies operating in Australia and Australian companies operating overseas are expected to act in accordance with the principles set out in the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and to perform to the standards they suggest. In seeking to promote the OECD Guidelines, the Commonwealth Government maintains a National Contact Point (NCP), the current NCP being currently the General Manager of the Foreign Investment and Trade Policy Division at the Commonwealth Treasury, who is able to draw on expertise from other government agencies through an informal inter-governmental network. An NCP Web site links to the “OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas” noting that the objective is to help companies respect human rights and avoid contributing to conflict through their mineral sourcing practices. The Commonwealth Government’s export credit agency, EFA, also promotes the OECD Guidelines as the key set of recommendations on responsible business conduct addressed by governments to multinational enterprises operating in or from adhering countries.

Australian companies have very few instances of human rights or labor rights abuses and domestic law prohibits such actions. In 2018 the Australian parliament passed the Modern Slavery Act, new legislation requiring large companies to assess risks of modern slavery in their supply chains and take action to limit these risks.

Australia began implementing the principles of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in 2016.

Australia has ratified the Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies, and was a founding member of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers Association.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Australia maintains a comprehensive system of laws and regulations designed to counter corruption. In addition, the government procurement system is generally transparent and well regulated. Corruption has not been a factor cited by U.S. businesses as a disincentive to investing in Australia, nor to exporting goods and services to Australia. Non-governmental organizations interested in monitoring the global development or anti-corruption measures, including Transparency International, operate freely in Australia, and Australia is perceived internationally as having low corruption levels.

Australia is an active participant in international efforts to end the bribery of foreign officials. Legislation exists to give effect to the anti-bribery convention stemming from the OECD 1996 Ministerial Commitment to Criminalize Transnational Bribery. Legislation explicitly disallows tax deductions for bribes of foreign officials. At the Commonwealth level, enforcement of anti-corruption laws and regulations is the responsibility of the Attorney General’s Department.

The Attorney-General’s Department plays an active role in combating corruption through developing domestic policy on anti-corruption and engagement in a range of international anti-corruption forums. These include the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group, APEC Anti-Corruption and Transparency Working Group, and the United Nations Convention against Corruption Working Groups. Australia is a member of the OECD Working Group on Bribery and a party to the key international conventions concerned with combating foreign bribery, including the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions (Anti-Bribery Convention).

The legislation covering bribery of foreign officials is the Criminal Code Act 1995. Under Australian law, it is an offense to bribe a foreign public official, even if a bribe may be seen to be customary, necessary, or required. The maximum penalty for an individual is 10 years imprisonment and/or a fine of AUD 1.8 million (approximately USD 1.4 million). For a corporate entity, the maximum penalty is the greatest of: 1) AUD 18 million (approximately USD 14.0 million); 2) three times the value of the benefits obtained; or 3) 10 percent of the previous 12-month turnover of the company concerned.

A number of national and state-level agencies exist to combat corruption of public officials and ensure transparency and probity in government systems. The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) has the mandate to prevent, detect, and investigate serious and systemic corruption issues in the Australian Crime Commission, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Center, the CrimTrac Agency, and prescribed aspects of the Department of Agriculture.

Various independent commissions exist at the state level to investigate instances of corruption. Details of these bodies are provided below.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

Australia has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption and is a signatory to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

Resources to Report Corruption

Western Australia – Corruption and Crime Commission
86 St Georges Terrace
Perth, Western Australia
Tel. +61 8 9215 4888
https://www.ccc.wa.gov.au/ 

Queensland – Corruption and Crime Commission
Level 2, North Tower Green Square
515 St Pauls Terrace
Fortitude Valley, Queensland
Tel. +61 7 3360 6060
https://www.ccc.qld.gov.au/ 

Victoria – Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission
Level 1, North Tower, 459 Collins Street
Melbourne, Victoria
Tel. +61 1300 735 135
https://ibac.vic.gov.au 

New South Wales – Independent Commission against Corruption
Level 7, 255 Elizabeth Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Tel. +61 2 8281 5999
https://www.icac.nsw.gov.au/ 

South Australia – Independent Commission against Corruption
Level 1, 55 Currie Street
Adelaide, South Australia
Tel. +61 8 8463 5173
https://icac.sa.gov.au 

10. Political and Security Environment

Political protests (including rallies, demonstrations, marches, public conflicts between competing interests) form an integral, though generally minor, part of Australian cultural life. Such protests rarely degenerate into violence.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Australia’s unemployment rate peaked at 7.5 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic and had fallen below 6 percent by early 2021. Average weekly earnings for full-time workers in Australia were AUD 1,767 (approximately USD 1,360) as of November 2020. The minimum wage is set annually and is significantly higher than that of the United States, currently sitting at AUD 19.50 (USD 15.20). Overall wage growth has been low in recent years, growing only slightly above the rate of inflation.

The Australian Government and its state and territory counterparts are active in assessing and forecasting labor skills gaps across industries. Tertiary education is subsidized by both levels of governments, and these subsidies are based in part on an assessment of the skills needed by industry. These assessments also inform immigration policy through the various working visas and associated skilled occupation lists. Occupations on these lists are updated annually based on assessment of the skills most needed by industry.

Immigration has always been an important source for skilled labor in Australia. The Department of Home Affairs publishes an annual list of occupations with skill shortages to be used by potential applicants seeking to work in Australia. The visas available to applicants, and length of stay allowed for, differ by occupation. The main working visa is the Temporary Skills Shortage visa (subclass 482). Applicants must have a nominated occupation when they apply which is applicable to their circumstances, and applications are subject to local labor market testing rules. These rules preference the hiring of Australian labor over foreign workers so long as local workers can be found to fill the advertised job. Immigration to Australia is currently not possible under COVID-19 border closures.

Most Australian workplaces are governed by a system created by the Fair Work Act 2009. Enterprise bargaining takes place through collective agreements made at an enterprise level covering terms and conditions of employment. Such agreements are widely used in Australia. A Fair Work Ombudsman assists employees, employers, contractors, and the community to understand and comply with the system. The Fair Work Act 2009 establishes a set of clear rules and obligations about how this process is to occur, including rules about bargaining, the content of enterprise agreements, and how an agreement is made and approved. Unfair dismissal laws also exist to protect workers who have been unfairly fired from a job. Australia is a founding member of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and has ratified 58 of the ILO’s conventions.

Chapter 18 of the AUSFTA agreement deals with labor market issues. The chapter sets out the responsibilities of each party, including the commitment of each country to uphold its obligations as a member of the ILO and the associated ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up (1998).

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2020 $1.50 trillion 2019 $1.39 trillion www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $158 billion 2019 $162 billion BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $112 billion 2019 $81 billion BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 53% 2019 51% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html  
 

* Source for Host Country Data: Australian Bureau of Statistics

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 714,250 100% Total Outward 579,259 100%
USA 143,737 20% USA 102,160 18%
UK 89,061 12% UK 100,509 17%
Japan 81,341 11% New Zealand 58,576 10%
Netherlands 38,384 5% Canada 24,588 4%
Canada 33,007 5% Singapore 19,695 3%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 912,160 100% All Countries 621,379 100% All Countries 299,781 100%
United States 387,323 42% United States 298,353 48% United States 88,971 30%
United Kingdom 80,348 9% United Kingdom 44,312 7% United Kingdom 36,037 12%
Japan 50,190 5% Cayman Islands 32,567 5% Germany 20,219 7%
Cayman Islands 43,167 5% Japan 30,395 5% Japan 19,795 7%
Germany 31,475 3% France 18,586 3% Netherlands 15,307 5%

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Counselor Doug Sonnek
U.S. Embassy Canberra
21 Moonah Place, Yarralumla, ACT
+61 2 6214 5759
SonnekDE@state.gov 

China

Executive Summary

In 2020, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) became the top global Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) destination. As the world’s second-largest economy, with a large consumer base and integrated supply chains, China’s economic recovery following COVID-19 reassured investors and contributed to higher FDI and portfolio investments. In 2020, China took significant steps toward implementing commitments made to the United States on a wide range of IP issues and made some modest openings in its financial sector. China also concluded key trade agreements and implemented important legislation, including the Foreign Investment Law (FIL).

China remains, however, a relatively restrictive investment environment for foreign investors due to restrictions in key economic sectors. Obstacles to investment include ownership caps and requirements to form joint venture partnerships with local Chinese firms, industrial policies such as Made in China 2025 (MIC 2025) that target development of indigenous capacity, as well as pressure on U.S. firms to transfer technology as a prerequisite to gaining market access. PRC COVID-19 visa and travel restrictions significantly affected foreign businesses operations increasing their labor and input costs. Moreover, an increasingly assertive Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and emphasis on national companies and self-reliance has heightened foreign investors’ concerns about the pace of economic reforms.

Key investment announcements and new developments in 2020 included:

On January 1, the FIL went into effect and effectively replaced previous laws governing foreign investment.

On January 15, the U.S. and China concluded the Economic and Trade Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the People’s Republic of China (the Phase One agreement). Under the agreement, China committed to reforms in its intellectual property regime, prohibit forced transfer technology as a condition for market access, and made some openings in the financial and energy sector. China also concluded the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement on November 15 and reached a political agreement with the EU on the China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) on December 30.

In mid-May, PRC leader Xi Jinping announced China’s “dual circulation” strategy, intended to make China less export-oriented and more focused on the domestic market.

On June 23, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) announced new investment “negative lists” to guide foreign FDI.

Market openings were coupled, however, with restrictions on investment, such as the Rules on Security Reviews on Foreign InvestmentsChina’s revised investment screening mechanism.

While Chinese pronouncements of greater market access and fair treatment of foreign investment are welcome, details and effective implementation are still needed to ensure foreign investors truly experience equitable treatment.

 

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

 

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 78 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 31 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 14 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 USD 116.2 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 USD 10,410 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

One of China’s WTO accession commitments was to establish an official journal dedicated to the publication of laws, regulations, and other measures pertaining to or affecting trade in goods, services, trade related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS), and the control of foreign exchange.  Despite mandatory 30-day public comment periods, Chinese ministries continue to post only some draft administrative regulations and departmental rules online, often with a public comment period of less than 30 days. As part of the Phase One Agreement, China committed to providing at least 45 days for public comment on all proposed laws, regulations, and other measures implementing the Phase One Agreement. While China has made some progress, U.S. businesses operating in China consistently cite arbitrary legal enforcement and the lack of regulatory transparency among the top challenges of doing business in China.

In China’s state-dominated economic system, the relationships are often blurred between the CCP, the Chinese government, Chinese business (state- and private-owned), and other Chinese stakeholders.  Foreign-invested enterprises (FIEs) perceive that China prioritizes political goals, industrial policies, and a desire to protect social stability at the expense of foreign investors, fairness, and the rule of law.  The World Bank   Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance gave China a composite score of 1.75 out 5 points, attributing China’s relatively low score to stakeholders not having easily accessible and updated laws and regulations; the lack of impact assessments conducted prior to issuing new laws; and other concerns about transparency.

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

International Regulatory Considerations

As part of its WTO accession agreement, China agreed to notify the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) of all draft technical regulations.  However, China continues to issue draft technical regulations without proper notification to the TBT Committee.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Chinese legal system borrows heavily from continental European legal systems, but with “Chinese characteristics.”  The rules governing commercial activities are found in various laws, regulations, administrative rules, and Supreme People’s Court (SPC) judicial interpretations, among other sources. While China does not have specialized commercial courts, it has created specialized courts and tribunals for the hearing of intellectual property disputes (IP), including in Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Hainan.  In 2020, the original IP Courts continued to be popular destinations for both Chinese and foreign-related IP civil and administrative litigation, with the IP court in Shanghai experiencing a year-on-year increase of above 100 percent. China’s constitution and laws, however, are clear that Chinese courts cannot exercise power independent of the Party.  Further, in practice, influential businesses, local governments, and regulators routinely influence courts.  U.S. companies may hesitate in challenging administrative decisions or bringing commercial disputes before local courts due to perceptions of futility or fear of government retaliation.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

China’s new investment law, the FIL, came into force on January 1, 2020, replacing China’s previous foreign investment framework. The FIL provides a five-year transition period for foreign enterprises established under previous foreign investment laws, after which all foreign enterprises will be subject to the same domestic laws as Chinese companies, such as the Company Law. The FIL standardized the regulatory regimes for foreign investment by including the negative list management system, a foreign investment information reporting system, and a foreign investment security review system all under one document. The FIL also seeks to address foreign investors complaints by explicitly banning forced technology transfers, promising better IPR, and the establishment of a complaint mechanism for investors to report administrative abuses. However, foreign investors remain concerned that the FIL and its implementing regulations provide Chinese ministries and local officials significant regulatory discretion, including the ability to retaliate against foreign companies.

In December 2020, China also issued a revised investment screening mechanism under the Rules on Security Reviews on Foreign Investments without any period for public comment or prior consultation with the business community. Foreign investors complained that China’s new rules on investment screening were expansive in scope, lacked an investment threshold to trigger a review, and included green field investments – unlike most other countries. Moreover, new guidance on Neutralizing Extra-Territorial Application of Unjustified Foreign Legislation Measures, a measure often compared to “blocking statutes” from other markets, added to foreign investors’ concerns over the legal challenges they would face in trying to abide by both their host-country’s regulations and China’s. Foreign investors complained that market access in China was increasingly undermined by national security-related legislation. In 2020, the State Council and various central and local government agencies issued over 1000 substantive administrative regulations and departmental/local rules on foreign investment. While not comprehensive, a list of published and official Chinese laws and regulations is available here .

FDI Requirements for Investment Approvals

Foreign investments in industries and economic sectors that are not explicitly restricted on China’s negative lists do not require MOFCOM pre-approval.  However, investors have complained that in practice, investing in an industry not on the negative list does not guarantee a foreign investor “national treatment,” or treatment no less favorable than treatment accorded to a similarly situated domestic investor.  Foreign investors must still comply with other steps and approvals such as receiving land rights, business licenses, and other necessary permits.  When a foreign investment needs ratification from the NDRC or a local development and reform commission, that administrative body is in charge of assessing the project’s compliance with a panoply of Chinese laws and regulations.  In some cases, NDRC also solicits the opinions of relevant Chinese industrial regulators and consulting agencies acting on behalf of Chinese domestic firms, creating potential conflicts of interest disadvantageous to foreign firms.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

To attract foreign investment, different provinces and municipalities offer preferential packages like a temporary reduction in taxes, import/export duties, land use, research and development subsidies, and funding for initial startups.  Often, these packages stipulate that foreign investors must meet certain benchmarks for exports, local content, technology transfer, and other requirements.  However, many economic sectors that China deems sensitive due to broadly defined national or economic security concerns remain closed to foreign investment.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

In 2013, the State Council announced the Shanghai pilot FTZ to provide open and high-standard trade and investment services to foreign companies. China gradually scaled up its FTZ pilot program to a total of 20 FTZs and one Free Trade Port.  China’s FTZs are in: Shanghai, Tianjin, Guangdong, Fujian, Chongqing, Hainan, Henan, Hubei, Liaoning, Shaanxi, Sichuan, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Shandong, Hebei, Heilongjiang, Guangxi, Yunnan provinces, Beijing, Shanghai FTZ Lingang Special Area and Hainan Free Trade Port.  The goal of China’s FTZs/FTP is to provide a trial ground for trade and investment liberalization measures and to introduce service sector reforms, especially in financial services, that China expects to eventually introduce in other parts of the domestic economy. The FTZs promise foreign investors “national treatment” investment in industries and sectors not listed on China’s negative lists.  However, the 2020 FTZ negative list lacked substantive changes, and many foreign firms report that in practice, the degree of liberalization in FTZs is comparable to opportunities in other parts of China.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Chinese state owns all urban land, and only the state can issue long-term land leases to individuals and companies, including foreigners, subject to many restrictions.  Chinese property law stipulates that residential property rights renew automatically, while commercial and industrial grants renew if it does not conflict with other public interest claims. Several foreign investors have reported revocation of land use rights so that Chinese developers could pursue government-designated building projects.  Investors often complain about insufficient compensation in these cases.  In rural China, the registration system suffers from unclear ownership lines and disputed border claims, often at the expense of local farmers whom village leaders exclude in favor of “handshake deals” with commercial interests.  China’s Securities Law defines debtor and guarantor rights, including rights to mortgage certain types of property and other tangible assets, including long-term leases.  Chinese law does not prohibit foreigners from buying non-performing debt, but it must be acquired through state-owned asset management firms, and it is difficult to liquidate.

Intellectual Property Rights

China remained on the USTR Special 301 Report Priority Watch List in 2020 and was subject to continued Section 306 monitoring. Multiple Chinese physical and online markets were included in the 2020 USTR Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy. Of note, in 2020, China did take significant steps toward addressing long-standing U.S. concerns on a wide range of IP issues, from patents, to trademarks, to copyrights and trade secrets. The reforms addressed the granting and protection of IP rights as well as their enforcement, and included changes made in support of the Phase One Trade Agreement. In April 2020, China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA) issued the 2020-2021 Plan for Implementing the Opinions on Strengthening IP Protection which contained 133 specific “steps” that CNIPA and other Chinese government entities intended to take in 2020 and 2021 – to strengthen IP protection and implement China’s IP-related commitments under Phase One. The 2020-2021 Implementing Plan, together with the work plans of the SPC’s and IP-related administrative organs, portended a year of aggressive IP reforms in China. The Chinese legislative, administrative, and judicial organs issued over 60 new and amended measures related to IP protection and enforcement, in both draft and final form, including amendments to core IP laws, such as the Copyright Law, the Patent Law, and the Criminal Law. Updates also included administrative measures addressing trademark and patent protection and enforcement, as well as enforcement of copyright and trade secrets.

Despite these reforms, IP rights remain subject to Chinese government policy objectives, which appear to have intensified in 2020. For U.S. companies in China, infringement remained both rampant and a low-risk “business strategy” for bad-faith actors. Further enforcement and regulatory authorities continue to signal to U.S. rights holders that application of China’s IP system remains subject to the discretion of the PRC government and its policy goals. High-level remarks by PRC leader Xi Jinping and senior leaders signaled China’s commitment to cracking down on IP infringement in the years ahead. However, they also reflected China’s vision of the IP system as an important tool for eliminating foreign ownership of critical technology and ensuring national security. While on paper China’s IP protection and enforcement mechanisms have inched closer to near parity with other foreign markets, in practice, fair, transparent, and non-discriminatory treatment will very likely continue to be denied to U.S. rights holders whose IP ownership and exploitation impede PRC industrial policy goals.

For detailed information on China’s environment for IPR protection and enforcement, please see the following reports:

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

China’s leadership has stated that it seeks to build a modern, highly developed, and multi-tiered capital market.  Since their founding over three decades ago, the Shanghai and Shenzhen Exchanges, combined, are ranked the third largest stock market in the world with over USD11 trillion in assets, according to statistics from World Federation of Exchanges.  China’s bond market has similarly expanded significantly to become the second largest worldwide, totaling approximately USD17 trillion.  In 2020, China fulfilled its promises to open certain financial sectors such as securities, asset management, and life insurance. Direct investment by private equity and venture capital firms has increased but has also faced setbacks due to China’s capital controls, which obfuscate the repatriation of returns. As of 2020, 54 sovereign entities and private sector firms, including BMW and Xiaomi Corporation, have since issued roughly USD41 billion in “Panda Bonds,” Chinese renminbi (RMB)-denominated debt issued by foreign entities in China.  China’s private sector can also access credit via bank loans, bond issuance, trust products, and wealth management. However, the vast majority of bank credit is disbursed to state-owned firms, largely due to distortions in China’s banking sector that have incentivized lending to state-affiliated entities over their private sector counterparts.  China has been an IMF Article VIII member since 1996 and generally refrains from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.  However, the government has used administrative and preferential policies to encourage credit allocation towards national priorities, such as infrastructure investments.

Money and Banking System

China’s monetary policy is run by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), China’s central bank.  The PBOC has traditionally deployed various policy tools, such as open market operations, reserve requirement ratios, benchmark rates and medium-term lending facilities, to control credit growth.  The PBOC had previously also set quotas on how much banks could lend but ended the practice in 1998.  As part of its efforts to shift towards a more market-based system, the PBOC announced in 2019 that it will reform its one-year loan prime rate (LPR), which would serve as an anchor reference for other loans.  The one-year LPR is based on the interest rate that 18 banks offer to their best customers and serves as the benchmark for rates provided for other loans.  In 2020, the PBOC requested financial institutions to shift towards use of the one-year LPR for their outstanding floating-rate loan contracts from March to August. Despite these measures to move towards more market-based lending, China’s financial regulators still influence the volume and destination of Chinese bank loans through “window guidance” – unofficial directives delivered verbally – as well as through mandated lending targets for key economic groups, such as small and medium sized enterprises. In 2020, the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) also began issuing laws to regulate online lending by banks including internet companies such as Ant Financial and Tencent, which had previously not been subject to banking regulations.

The CBIRC oversees China’s 4,607 lending institutions, about USD49 trillion in total assets.  China’s “Big Five” – Agricultural Bank of China, Bank of China, Bank of Communications, China Construction Bank, and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China – dominate the sector and are largely stable, but over the past year, China has experienced regional pockets of banking stress, especially among smaller lenders.  Reflecting the level of weakness among these banks, in November 2020, the PBOC announced in “China Financial Stability Report 2020” that 12.4 percent of the 4400 banking financial institutions received a “fail” rating (high risk) following an industry-wide review in 2019.  The assessment deemed 378 firms, all small and medium sized rural financial institutions, “extremely risky.”  The official rate of non-performing loans among China’s banks is relatively low: 1.92 percent as of the end of 2020.  However, analysts believed the actual figure may be significantly higher.  Bank loans continue to provide the majority of credit options (reportedly around 60.2 percent in 2020) for Chinese companies, although other sources of capital, such as corporate bonds, equity financing, and private equity are quickly expanding in scope, reach, and sophistication in China.

As part of a broad campaign to reduce debt and financial risk, Chinese regulators have implemented measures to rein in the rapid growth of China’s “shadow banking” sector, which includes wealth management and trust products.  These measures have achieved positive results. In December 2020, CBIRC published the first “Shadow Banking Report,” and claimed that the size of China’s shadow banking had shrunk sharply since 2017 when China started tightening the sector. By the end of 2019, the size of China’s shadow banking by broad measurement dropped to 84.8 trillion yuan from the peak of 100.4 trillion yuan in early 2017. Shadow banking to GDP ratio had also dropped to 86 percent at the end of 2019, yet the report did not provide statistics beyond 2019. Foreign owned banks can now establish wholly-owned banks and branches in China, however, onerous licensing requirements and an industry dominated by local players, have limited foreign banks market penetration. Foreigners are eligible to open a bank account in China but are required to present a passport and/or Chinese government issued identification.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

While the central bank’s official position is that companies with proper documentation should be able to freely conduct business, in practice, companies have reported challenges and delays in obtaining approvals for foreign currency transactions by sub-national regulatory branches. Chinese authorities instituted strict capital control measures in 2016, when China recorded a surge in capital flight.  China has since announced that it would gradually reduce those controls, but market analysts expect they would be re-imposed if capital outflows accelerate again. Chinese foreign exchange rules cap the maximum amount of RMB individuals are allowed to convert into other currencies at approximately USD50,000 each year and restrict them from directly transferring RMB abroad without prior approval from the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE).  SAFE has not reduced the USD50,000 quota, but during periods of higher-than-normal capital outflows, banks are reportedly instructed by SAFE to increase scrutiny over individuals’ requests for foreign currency and to require additional paperwork clarifying the intended use of the funds, with the intent of slowing capital outflows. China’s exchange rate regime is managed within a band that allows the currency to rise or fall by 2 percent per day from the “reference rate” set each morning.

Remittance Policies

According to China’s FIL, as of January 1, 2020, funds associated with any forms of investment, including profits, capital gains, returns from asset disposal, IPR loyalties, compensation, and liquidation proceeds, may be freely converted into any world currency for remittance. Based on the “2020 Guidance for Foreign Exchange Business under the Current Account” released by SAFE in August, firms do not need any supportive documents or proof that it is under USD50,000. For remittances over USD50,000, firms need to submit supportive documents and taxation records.  Under Chinese law, FIEs do not need pre-approval to open foreign exchange accounts and are allowed to retain income as foreign exchange or convert it into RMB without quota requirements. The remittance of profits and dividends by FIEs is not subject to time limitations, but FIEs need to submit a series of documents to designated banks for review and approval.  The review period is not fixed and is frequently completed within one or two working days of the submission of complete documents.  For remittance of interest and principal on private foreign debt, firms must submit an application, a foreign debt agreement, and the notice on repayment of the principal and interest.  Banks will then check if the repayment volume is within the repayable principal.  There are no specific rules on the remittance of royalties and management fees. Based on guidance for remittance of royalties and management fees, firms shall submit relevant contracts and invoice.  In October 2020, SAFE cut the reserve requirement for foreign currency transactions from 20 percent to zero, reducing the cost of foreign currency transactions as well as easing Renminbi appreciation pressure.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

China officially has only one sovereign wealth fund (SWF), the China Investment Corporation (CIC), which was launched in 2007 to help diversify China’s foreign exchange reserves. CIC is ranked the second largest SWF by total assets by Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute (SWFI). With USD200 billion in initial registered capital, CIC manages over USD1.04 trillion in assets as of 2020 and invests on a 10-year time horizon.  CIC has since evolved into three subsidiaries:

  • CIC International was established in September 2011 with a mandate to invest in and manage overseas assets.  It conducts public market equity and bond investments, hedge fund, real estate, private equity, and minority investments as a financial investor.
  • CIC Capital was incorporated in January 2015 with a mandate to specialize in making direct investments to enhance CIC’s investments in long-term assets.
  • Central Huijin makes equity investments in Chinese state-owned financial institutions.

China also operates other funds that function in part like sovereign wealth funds, including: China’s National Social Security Fund, with an estimated USD372 billion in assets; the China-Africa Development Fund (solely funded by the China Development Bank), with an estimated USD10 billion in assets; the SAFE Investment Company, with an estimated USD417.8 billion in assets; and China’s state-owned Silk Road Fund, established in December 2014 with USD40 billion in assets to foster investment in BRI partner countries.  Chinese state-run funds do not report the percentage of their assets that are invested domestically.  However, Chinese state-run funds follow the voluntary code of good practices known as the Santiago Principles and participate in the IMF-hosted International Working Group on SWFs. While CIC affirms that they do not have any formal government guidance to invest funds consistent with industrial policies or designated projects, CIC is still expected to pursue government objectives.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

China has approximately 150,000 wholly-owned SOEs, of which 50,000 are owned by the central government, and the remainder by local or provincial governments.  SOEs, both central and local, account for 30 to 40 percent of total gross domestic product (GDP) and about 20 percent of China’s total employment.  Non-financial SOE assets totaled roughly USD30 trillion.  SOEs can be found in all sectors of the economy, from tourism to heavy industries.  State funds are spread throughout the economy and the state may also be the majority or controlling shareholder in an ostensibly private enterprise.  China’s leading SOEs benefit from preferential government policies aimed at developing bigger and stronger “national champions.” SOEs enjoy favored access to essential economic inputs (land, hydrocarbons, finance, telecoms, and electricity) and exercise considerable power in markets like steel and minerals.  SOEs have long enjoyed preferential access to credit and the ability to issue publicly traded equity and debt.  A comprehensive, published list of all Chinese SOEs does not exist.

PRC officials have indicated China intends to utilize OECD guidelines to improve the SOEs independence and professionalism, including relying on Boards of Directors that are free from political influence.  Other recent reforms have included salary caps, limits on employee benefits, and attempts to create stock incentive programs for managers who have produced mixed results.  However, analysts believe minor reforms will be ineffective if SOE administration and government policy remain intertwined, and Chinese officials make minimal progress in primarily changing the regulation and business conduct of SOEs.  SOEs continue to hold dominant shares in their respective industries, regardless of whether they are strategic, which may further restrain private investment in the economy.  Among central SOEs managed by the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), senior management positions are mainly filled by senior party members who report directly to the CCP, and double as the company’s party secretary.  SOE executives often outrank regulators in the CCP rank structure, which minimizes the effectiveness of regulators in implementing reforms.  The lack of management independence and the controlling ownership interest of the state make SOEs de facto arms of the government, subject to government direction and interference.  SOEs are rarely the defendant in legal disputes, and when they are, they almost always prevail.  U.S. companies often complain about the lack of transparency and objectivity in commercial disputes with SOEs.

Privatization Program

Since 2013, the PRC government has periodically announced reforms to SOEs that included selling SOE shares to outside investors or a mixed ownership model, in which private companies invest in SOEs and outside managers are hired.  The government has tried these approaches to improve SOE management structures, emphasize the use of financial benchmarks, and gradually infuse private capital into some sectors traditionally monopolized by SOEs like energy, finance, and telecommunications.  In practice, however, reforms have been gradual, as the PRC government has struggled to implement its SOE reform vision and often preferred to utilize a SOE consolidation approach.  Recently, Xi and other senior leaders have increasingly focused reform efforts on strengthening the role of the state as an investor or owner of capital, instead of the old SOE model in which the state was more directly involved in managing operations.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Additional Resources

 

Department of State

Department of Labor

Since 2016, China established an RBC platform but general awareness of RBC standards (including environmental, social, and governance issues) is a relatively new concept, especially for companies that exclusively operate in China’s domestic market.  Chinese laws that regulate business conduct use voluntary compliance, are often limited in scope, and are frequently cast aside when other economic priorities supersede RBC priorities.  In addition, China lacks mature and independent non-governmental organizations (NGOs), investment funds, independent worker unions, and other business associations that promote RBC, further contributing to the general lack of awareness.  The Foreign NGO Law remains a concern for U.S. organizations, including those looking to promote RBC and corporate social responsibility (CSR) best practices, due to restrictions the Law places on their operations in China.  For U.S. investors looking to partner with a Chinese firm or expand operations, finding partners that meet internationally recognized standards in areas like labor rights, environmental protection, and manufacturing best practices can be a significant challenge.  However, the Chinese government has placed greater emphasis on protecting the environment and elevating sustainability as a key priority, resulting in more Chinese companies adding environmental concerns to their CSR initiatives.  As part of these efforts, Chinese ministries have signed several memoranda of understanding with international organizations such as the OECD to cooperate on RBC initiatives.

9. Corruption

Since 2012, China has undergone a large-scale anti-corruption campaign, with investigations reaching into all sectors of the government, military, and economy.  CCP General Secretary Xi labeled endemic corruption an “existential threat” to the very survival of the Party.  In 2018, the CCP restructured its Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) to become a state organ, calling the new body the National Supervisory Commission-Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (NSC-CCDI). The NSC-CCDI wields the power to investigate any public official.  From 2012 to 2020, the NSC-CCDI claimed it investigated 3.4 million cases. In 2020, the NSC-CCDI investigated 618,000 cases and disciplined 522,000 individuals, of whom 41 were at or above the provincial or ministerial level. Since 2014, the PRC’s overseas fugitive-hunting campaign, called “Operation Skynet,” has led to the capture of more than 8,350 fugitives suspected of corruption who were living in other countries, including over 2,200 CCP members and government employees. In most cases, the PRC did not notify host countries of these operations.  In 2020, the government reported apprehending 1,421 alleged fugitives and recovering approximately USD457 million through this program.

In June 2020 the CCP passed a law on Administrative Discipline for Public Officials, continuing their effort to strengthen supervision over individuals working in the public sector. The law further enumerates targeted illicit activities such as bribery and misuse of public funds or assets for personal gain. The CCP also issued Amendment 11 to the Criminal Law, which increased the maximum punishment for acts of corruption committed by private entities to life imprisonment, from the previous maximum of 15-year imprisonment. Anecdotal information suggests the PRC’s anti-corruption crackdown is inconsistently and discretionarily applied, raising concerns among foreign companies in China.  For example, to fight rampant commercial corruption in the medical/pharmaceutical sector, the PRC’s health authority issued “blacklists” of firms and agents involved in commercial bribery, including several foreign companies. While central government leadership has welcomed increased public participation in reporting suspected corruption at lower levels, direct criticism of central government leadership or policies remains off-limits and is seen as an existential threat to China’s political and social stability.  China ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2005 and participates in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and OECD anti-corruption initiatives. China has not signed the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery, although Chinese officials have expressed interest in participating in the OECD Working Group on Bribery meetings as an observer.

 

Resources to Report Corruption

The following government organization receives public reports of corruption:   Anti-Corruption Reporting Center of the CCP Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and the Ministry of Supervision, Telephone Number:  +86 10 12388.   10. Political and Security Environment

10. Political and Security Environment

Foreign companies operating in China face a low risk of political violence.  However, the ongoing PRC crackdown on virtually all opposition voices in Hong Kong and continued attempts by PRC organs to intimidate Hong Kong’s judges threatens the judicial independence of Hong Kong’s courts – a fundamental pillar for Hong Kong’s status as an international hub for investment into and out of China.  The CCP also punished companies that expressed support for Hong Kong protesters – most notably, a Chinese boycott of the U.S. National Basketball Association after one team’s general manager expressed his personal view supporting Hong Kong protesters. Apart from Hong Kong, the PRC government has also previously encouraged protests or boycotts of products from countries like the United States, South Korea, Japan, Norway, Canada, and the Philippines, in retaliation for unrelated policy decisions such as the boycott campaigns against Korean retailer Lotte in 2016 and 2017 in response to the South Korean government’s decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD); and the PRC’s retaliation against Canadian companies and citizens for Canada’s arrest of Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou. PRC authorities also have broad authority to prohibit travelers from leaving China and have imposed “exit bans” to compel U.S. citizens to resolve business disputes, force settlement of court orders, or facilitate PRC investigations. U.S. citizens, including children, not directly involved in legal proceedings or wrongdoing have also been subject to lengthy exit bans in order to compel family members or colleagues to cooperate with Chinese courts or investigations. Exit bans are often issued without notification to the foreign citizen or without clear legal recourse to appeal the exit ban decision.     11. Labor Policies and Practices

11. Labor Policies and Practices

For U.S. companies operating in China, finding, developing, and retaining domestic talent at the management and skilled technical staff levels remain challenging for foreign firms, especially as labor costs, including salaries and inputs continue to rise. Foreign companies also complain of difficulty navigating China’s labor and social insurance laws, including local implementation guidelines. Compounding the complexity, due to ineffective enforcement of labor laws, Chinese domestic employers often hire local employees without contracts, putting foreign firms at a disadvantage.  Without written contracts, workers struggle to prove employment, thus losing basic protections such as severance if terminated.  The All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) is the only union recognized under PRC law.  Establishing independent trade unions is illegal.  The law allows for “collective bargaining,” but in practice, focuses solely on collective wage negotiations.  The Trade Union Law gives the ACFTU, a CCP organ chaired by a member of the Politburo, control over all union organizations and activities, including enterprise-level unions.  ACFTU enterprise unions require employers to pay mandatory fees, often through the local tax bureau, equaling a negotiated minimum of 0.5 percent to a standard two percent of total payroll.  While labor laws do not protect the right to strike, “spontaneous” worker protests and work stoppages occur.  Official forums for mediation, arbitration, and other similar mechanisms of alternative dispute resolution often are ineffective in resolving labor disputes.  Even when an arbitration award or legal judgment is obtained, getting local authorities to enforce judgments is problematic.

The PRC has not ratified the International Labor Organization conventions on freedom of association, collective bargaining, or forced labor, but it has ratified conventions prohibiting child labor and employment discrimination. Uyghurs and members of other minority groups are subjected to forced labor in Xinjiang and throughout China via PRC government-facilitated labor transfer programs. In 2020, the U.S. government took additional actions to prevent the importation of products produced by forced labor into the United States, including by issuing a Xinjiang supply chain business advisory that outlined the legal, economic, and reputational risks of forced labor exposure in China-based supply chains. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection bureau issued multiple Withhold Release Orders  barring importation into the United States of products produced in Xinjiang, which were determined to be produced with prison or forced labor in violation of U.S. import laws.  The Commerce Department added Chinese commercial and government entities to its Entity List for their complicity in human rights abuses and the Department of Treasury sanctioned the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps to hold human rights abusers accountable in Xinjiang. Some PRC firms continued to employ North Korean workers in violation of UN Security Council sanctions.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

 

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

Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2020 $14,724,435 2019 $14,343,000 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $87,880 2019 $116,200 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $7,721,700 2019 $37,700 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020 $16.5% 2019 12.4% UNCTAD data available at https://unctadstat.unctad.org/wds/TableViewer/tableView.aspx  https://unctadstat.unctad.org/CountryProfile/GeneralProfile/en-GB/156/index.html 

* Source for Host Country Data:

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $2,938,482 100% Total Outward $2,198,881 100%
China, P.R., Hong Kong $1,430,303 48.7% China, P.C., Hong Kong $1,132,549 51.5%
British Virgin Islands $316,836 10.8% Cayman Islands $259,614 11.8%
Japan $147,881 5.0% British Virgin Islands $127,297 5.8%
Singapore $102,458 3.5% United States $67,855 3.1%
Germany $67,879 2.3% Singapore $38,105 1.7%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Destinations (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $645,981 100% All Countries $373,780 100% All Countries $272,201 100%
China, P. R.: Hong Kong $226,426 35% China, P. R.: Hong Kong $166,070 44% United States $68,875 25%
United States $162,830 25% United States $93,955 25% China, P. R.: Hong Kong $60,356 22%
Cayman Islands $55,086 9% Cayman Islands $36,192 10% British Virgin Islands $43,486 16%
British Virgin Islands $45,883 7% United Kingdom $11,226 3% Cayman Islands $18,894 7%
United Kingdom $21,805 3% Luxembourg $9,092 2% United Kingdom $10,579 4%

14. Contact for More Information

U.S.  Embassy Beijing Economic Section

55 Anjialou Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, P.R.  China  +86 10 8531 3000

+86 10 8531 3000

Hong Kong

Executive Summary

Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on July 1, 1997, with its status defined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law.  Under the concept of “one country, two systems,” the PRC government promised that Hong Kong will retain its political, economic, and judicial systems for 50 years after reversion.  The PRC’s imposition of the National Security Law (NSL) on June 30, 2020 undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy and introduced heightened uncertainty for foreign and local firms operating in Hong Kong.  As a result, the U.S. Government has taken measures to eliminate or suspend Hong Kong’s preferential treatment and special trade status, including suspension of most export control waivers, revocation of reciprocal shipping income tax exemption treatments, establishment of a new marking rule requiring goods made in Hong Kong to be labeled “Made in China,”  and imposition of sanctions against former and current Hong Kong government officials.

On July 16, 2021, the Department of State, along with the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Homeland Security, issued an advisory to U.S. businesses regarding potential risks to their operations and activities in Hong Kong.

 

Since the enactment of the NSL in Hong Kong, U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Hong Kong may be subject to increased levels of surveillance, as well as arbitrary enforcement of laws and detention for purposes other than maintaining law and order.

On economic issues, Hong Kong generally pursues a free market philosophy with minimal government intervention.  The Hong Kong government (HKG) generally welcomes foreign investment, neither offering special incentives nor imposing disincentives for foreign investors.

Hong Kong provides for no distinction in law or practice between investments by foreign-controlled companies and those controlled by local interests.  Foreign firms and individuals are able to incorporate their operations in Hong Kong, register branches of foreign operations, and set up representative offices without encountering discrimination or undue regulation.  There is no restriction on the ownership of such operations.  Company directors are not required to be citizens of, or resident in, Hong Kong.  Reporting requirements are straightforward and are not onerous.

Despite the imposition of the NSL by Beijing, significant curtailments in individual freedoms, and the end of Hong Kong’s ability to exercise the degree of autonomy it enjoyed in the past, Hong Kong remains a popular destination for U.S. investment and trade.  Even with a population of less than eight million, Hong Kong is the United States’ twelfth-largest export market, thirteenth largest for total agricultural products, and sixth-largest for high-value consumer food and beverage products.  Hong Kong’s economy, with world-class institutions and regulatory systems, is bolstered by its competitive financial and professional services, trading, logistics, and tourism sectors, although tourism suffered steep drops in 2020 due to COVID-19.  The service sector accounted for more than 90 percent of Hong Kong’s nearly USD 348 billion gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020.  Hong Kong hosts a large number of regional headquarters and regional offices.  Approximately 1,300 U.S. companies are based in Hong Kong, according to Hong Kong’s 2020 census data, with more than half regional in scope.  Finance and related services companies, such as banks, law firms, and accountancies, dominate the pack.  Seventy of the world’s 100 largest banks have operations in Hong Kong.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 11 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 3 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 11 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 81,883 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 50,800 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Hong Kong is the world’s second-largest recipient of foreign direct investment (FDI), according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) World Investment Report 2020, with a significant amount bound for mainland China.  The HKG’s InvestHK encourages inward investment, offering free advice and services to support companies from the planning stage through to the launch and expansion of their business.  U.S. and other foreign firms can participate in government financed and subsidized research and development programs on a national treatment basis.  Hong Kong does not discriminate against foreign investors by prohibiting, limiting, or conditioning foreign investment in a sector of the economy.

Capital gains are not taxed, nor are there withholding taxes on dividends and royalties.  Profits can be freely converted and remitted.  Foreign-owned and Hong Kong-owned company profits are taxed at the same rate – 16.5 percent.  The tax rate on the first USD 255,000 profit for all companies is currently 8.25 percent.  No preferential or discriminatory export and import policies affect foreign investors.  Domestic industries receive no direct subsidies.  Foreign investments face no disincentives, such as quotas, bonds, deposits, or other similar regulations.

According to HKG statistics, 3,983 overseas companies had regional operations registered in Hong Kong in 2020.  The United States has the largest number with 690.  Hong Kong is working to attract more start-ups as it works to develop its technology sector, and about 26 percent of start-ups in Hong Kong come from overseas.

Hong Kong’s Business Facilitation Advisory Committee is a platform for the HKG to consult the private sector on regulatory proposals and implementation of new or proposed regulations.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign investors can invest in any business and own up to 100 percent of equity.  Like domestic private entities, foreign investors have the right to engage in all forms of remunerative activity.

The HKG owns virtually all land in Hong Kong, which the HKG administers by granting long-term leases without transferring title.  Foreign residents claim that a 15 percent Buyer’s Stamp Duty on all non-permanent-resident and corporate buyers discriminates against them.

The main exceptions to the HKG’s open foreign investment policy are:

Broadcasting – Voting control of free-to-air television stations by non-residents is limited to 49 percent.  There are also residency requirements for the directors of broadcasting companies.

Legal Services – Foreign lawyers at foreign law firms may only practice the law of their jurisdiction.  Foreign law firms may become “local” firms after satisfying certain residency and other requirements.  Localized firms may thereafter hire local attorneys but must do so on a 1:1 basis with foreign lawyers.  Foreign law firms can also form associations with local law firms.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Hong Kong last conducted the Trade Policy Review in 2018 through the World Trade Organization (WTO).  https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/g380_e.pdf

Business Facilitation

The Efficiency Office under the Innovation and Technology Bureau is responsible for business facilitation initiatives aimed at improving the business regulatory environment of Hong Kong.

The e-Registry (https://www.eregistry.gov.hk/icris-ext/apps/por01a/index) is a convenient and integrated online platform provided by the Companies Registry and the Inland Revenue Department for applying for company incorporation and business registration.  Applicants, for incorporation of local companies or for registration of non-Hong Kong companies, must first register for a free user account, presenting an original identification document or a certified true copy of the identification document.  The Companies Registry normally issues the Business Registration Certificate and the Certificate of Incorporation on the same day for applications for company incorporation.  For applications for registration of a non-Hong Kong company, it issues the Business Registration Certificate and the Certificate of Registration two weeks after submission.

Outward Investment

As a free market economy, Hong Kong does not promote or incentivize outward investment, nor restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.  Mainland China and British Virgin Islands were the top two destinations for Hong Kong’s outward investments in 2019 (based on most recent data available).

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Hong Kong has bilateral investment agreements with Australia, Austria, the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  It has concluded but not yet signed agreements with Bahrain, Myanmar, and Maldives.  Hong Kong has also signed an investment agreement with Mexico, but it is not yet in force.  The HKG is currently negotiating agreements with Iran, Turkey, and Russia.  All such agreements are based on a model text approved by mainland China through the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group.  U.S. firms are generally not at a competitive or legal disadvantage.

Hong Kong has a free trade agreement (FTA) with mainland China, the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA), which provides tariff-free export to mainland China of Hong Kong-origin goods and preferential access for specific services.  CEPA has gradually expanded since its signing in 2003.  Under the CEPA framework, Hong Kong enjoys liberalized trade in services using a “negative list” covering 134 service sectors for Hong Kong and grants national treatment to Hong Kong’s 62 service industries.  Hong Kong also enjoys most-favored nation treatment, with liberalization measures included in FTAs signed by mainland China and other countries automatically extended to Hong Kong.  Hong Kong and mainland China have also signed an investment agreement and an economic and technical cooperation agreement.  The investment agreement includes provision of national treatment and non-services investment using a negative list approach.

Hong Kong also has FTAs with New Zealand, member states of the European Free Trade Association, Chile, Macau, ASEAN, Georgia, the Maldives, and Australia.  These agreements are consistent with the provisions of the WTO.  Hong Kong is exploring FTAs with the Pacific Alliance (Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru) and the United Kingdom.  Hong Kong is keenly interested in joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

The United States does not have a bilateral treaty on the avoidance of double taxation with Hong Kong, but has a Tax Information Exchange Agreement and an Inter-Government Agreement on the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act with Hong Kong.  As of April 2020, the HKG had Comprehensive Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreements (CDTAs) with 43 tax jurisdictions, and negotiations with 14 tax jurisdictions are underway.  The HKG targets to bring the total number of CDTAs to 50 by the end of 2022.  In September 2018, the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters signed by mainland China entered into force for Hong Kong.  Effective January 2021, the number of reportable jurisdictions increased from 75 to 126.

Under the President’s Executive Order on Hong Kong Normalization, which directs the suspension or elimination of special and preferential treatment for Hong Kong, the United States notified the Hong Kong authorities in August 2020 of its suspension of the Reciprocal Tax Exemptions on Income Derived from the International Operation of Ships Agreement.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Hong Kong’s regulations and policies typically strive to avoid distortions or impediments to the efficient mobilization and allocation of capital and to encourage competition.  Bureaucratic procedures and “red tape” are usually transparent and held to a minimum.

In amending or making any legislation, including investment laws, the HKG conducts a three-month public consultation on the issue concerned which then informs the drafting of the bill.  Lawmakers then discuss draft bills and vote.  Hong Kong’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms.

Gazette is the official publication of the HKG.  This website https://www.gld.gov.hk/egazette/english/whatsnew/whatsnew.html is the centralized online location where laws, regulations, draft bills, notices, and tenders are published.  All public comments received by the HKG are published at the websites of relevant policy bureaus.

The Office of the Ombudsman, established in 1989 by the Ombudsman Ordinance, is Hong Kong’s independent watchdog of public governance.

Public finances are regulated by clear laws and regulations.  The Basic Law prescribes that authorities strive to achieve a fiscal balance and avoid deficits.  There is a clear commitment by the HKG to publish fiscal information under the Audit Ordinance and the Public Finance Ordinance, which prescribe deadlines for the publication of annual accounts and require the submission of annual spending estimates to the Legislative Council (LegCo).  There are few contingent liabilities of the HKG, with details of these items published about seven months after the release of the fiscal budget.  In addition, LegCo members have a responsibility to enhance budgetary transparency by urging government officials to explain the government’s rationale for the allocation of resources.  All LegCo meetings are open to the public so that the government’s responses are available to the general public.

On March 29, 2021, the Hong Kong Financial Services and Treasury Bureau submitted to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council plans to restrict the public from accessing certain information about executives in the Company Registry.  If passed, companies will be allowed immediately to withhold information on the residential addresses and identification numbers of directors and secretaries.  Corporate governance and financial experts warned that the proposal could enable fraud and further hurt the city’s status as a transparent financial hub.   Media organizations criticized the plan for undermining transparency and freedom of information.

International Regulatory Considerations

Hong Kong is an independent member of the WTO and Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC), adopting international norms.  It notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade and was the first WTO member to ratify the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).  Hong Kong has achieved a 100 percent rate of implementation commitments.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Hong Kong’s common law system is based on the United Kingdom’s, and judges are appointed by the Chief Executive on the recommendation of the Judicial Officers Recommendation Commission.  Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable, and they are adjudicated in the court system.

Hong Kong’s commercial law covers a wide range of issues related to doing business.  Most of Hong Kong’s contract law is found in the reported decisions of the courts in Hong Kong and other common law jurisdictions.

The imposition of the NSL and pressure from the PRC authorities raised serious concerns about the longevity of Hong Kong’s judicial independence.  The NSL authorizes the mainland China judicial system, which lacks judicial independence and has a 99 percent conviction rate, to take over any national security-related case at the request of the Hong Kong government or the Office of Safeguarding National Security.  Under the NSL, the Hong Kong Chief Executive is required to establish a list of judges to handle all cases concerning national security-related offenses.  Although Hong Kong’s judiciary selects the specific judge(s) who will hear any individual case, some commentators argued that this unprecedented involvement of the Chief Executive weakens Hong Kong’s judicial independence.

Media outlets controlled by the PRC central government in both Hong Kong and mainland China repeatedly accused Hong Kong judges of bias following the acquittals of protesters accused of rioting and other crimes.  Some Hong Kong and PRC central government officials questioned the existence of the “separation of powers” in Hong Kong, including some statements that judicial independence is not enshrined in Hong Kong law and that judges should follow “guidance” from the government.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Hong Kong’s extensive body of commercial and company law generally follows that of the United Kingdom, including the common law and rules of equity.  Most statutory law is made locally.  The local court system, which is independent of the government, provides for effective enforcement of contracts, dispute settlement, and protection of rights.  Foreign and domestic companies register under the same rules and are subject to the same set of business regulations.

The Hong Kong Code on Takeovers and Mergers (1981) sets out general principles for acceptable standards of commercial behavior.

The Companies Ordinance (Chapter 622) applies to Hong Kong-incorporated companies and contains the statutory provisions governing compulsory acquisitions.  For companies incorporated in jurisdictions other than Hong Kong, relevant local company laws apply.  The Companies Ordinance requires companies to retain accurate and up to date information about significant controllers.

The Securities and Futures Ordinance (Chapter 571) contains provisions requiring shareholders to disclose interests in securities in listed companies and provides listed companies with the power to investigate ownership of interests in its shares.  It regulates the disclosure of inside information by listed companies and restricts insider dealing and other market misconduct.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The independent Competition Commission (CC) investigates anti-competitive conduct that prevents, restricts, or distorts competition in Hong Kong.  In December 2020, the CC filed Hong Kong’s first abuse of substantial market power case in the Competition Tribunal against Linde HKO and its Germany-based parent company Linde GmbH for leveraging substantial market power in the production and supply of medical oxygen, medical nitrous oxide, Entonox, and medical air to maintain a stranglehold over the downstream maintenance market.

Expropriation and Compensation

The U.S. Consulate General is not aware of any expropriations in the recent past.  Expropriation of private property in Hong Kong may occur if it is clearly in the public interest and only for well-defined purposes such as implementation of public works projects.  Expropriations are to be conducted through negotiations, and in a non-discriminatory manner in accordance with established principles of international law.  Investors in and lenders to expropriated entities are to receive prompt, adequate, and effective compensation.  If agreement cannot be reached on the amount payable, either party can refer the claim to the Land Tribunal.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

The Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention) and the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention) apply to Hong Kong.  Hong Kong’s Arbitration Ordinance provides for enforcement of awards under the 1958 New York Convention.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The U.S. Consulate General is not aware of any investor-state disputes in recent years involving U.S. or other foreign investors or contractors and the HKG.  Private investment disputes are normally handled in the courts or via private mediation.  Alternatively, disputes may be referred to the Hong Kong International Arbitration Center.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The HKG accepts international arbitration of investment disputes between itself and investors and has adopted the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law model law for domestic and international commercial arbitration.  It has a Memorandum of Understanding with mainland China modelled on the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention) for reciprocal enforcement of arbitral awards.

Under Hong Kong’s Arbitration Ordinance emergency relief granted by an emergency arbitrator before the establishment of an arbitral tribunal, whether inside or outside Hong Kong, is enforceable.  The Arbitration Ordinance stipulates that all disputes over intellectual property rights may be resolved by arbitration.

The Mediation Ordinance details the rights and obligations of participants in mediation, especially related to confidentiality and admissibility of mediation communications in evidence.

Third party funding for arbitration and mediation came into force on February 1, 2019.

Foreign judgments in civil and commercial matters may be enforced in Hong Kong by common law or under the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Ordinance, which facilitates reciprocal recognition and enforcement of judgments based on reciprocity.  A judgment originating from a jurisdiction that does not recognize a Hong Kong judgment may still be recognized and enforced by the Hong Kong courts, provided that all the relevant requirements of common law are met.  However, a judgment will not be enforced in Hong Kong if it can be shown that either the judgment or its enforcement is contrary to Hong Kong’s public policy.

In January 2019, Hong Kong and mainland China signed a new Arrangement on Reciprocal Recognition and Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters by the Courts of the mainland and of Hong Kong to facilitate enforcement of judgments in the two jurisdictions.  The arrangement, which as of February 2021 is still pending implementing legislation, will cover the following key features: contractual and tortious disputes in general; commercial contracts, joint venture disputes, and outsourcing contracts; intellectual property rights, matrimonial or family matters; and judgments related to civil damages awarded in criminal cases.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Hong Kong’s Bankruptcy Ordinance provides the legal framework to enable i) a creditor to file a bankruptcy petition with the court against an individual, firm, or partner of a firm who owes him/her money; and ii) a debtor who is unable to repay his/her debts to file a bankruptcy petition against himself/herself with the court.  Bankruptcy offenses are subject to criminal liability.

The Companies (Winding Up and Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance aims to improve and modernize the corporate winding-up regime by increasing creditor protection and further enhancing the integrity of the winding-up process.

The Commercial Credit Reference Agency collates information about the indebtedness and credit history of SMEs and makes such information available to members of the Hong Kong Association of Banks and the Hong Kong Association of Deposit Taking Companies.

Hong Kong’s average duration of bankruptcy proceedings is just under ten months, ranking 45th in the world for resolving insolvency, according to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 rankings.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Hong Kong imposes no export performance or local content requirements as a condition for establishing, maintaining, or expanding a foreign investment.  There are no requirements that Hong Kong residents own shares, that foreign equity is reduced over time, or that technology is transferred on certain terms.  The HKG does not have a practice of issuing guarantees or jointly financing foreign direct investment projects.

The HKG allows a deduction on interest paid to overseas-associated corporations and provides an 8.25 percent concessionary tax rate derived by a qualifying corporate treasury center.

The HKG offers an effective tax rate of around three to four percent to attract aircraft leasing companies to develop business in Hong Kong.

The HKG has set up multiple programs to assist enterprises in securing trade finance and business capital, expanding markets, and enhancing overall competitiveness.  These support measures are available to any enterprise in Hong Kong, irrespective of origin.

Hong Kong-registered companies with a significant proportion of their research, design, development, production, management, or general business activities located in Hong Kong are eligible to apply to the Innovation and Technology Fund (ITF), which provides financial support for research and development (R&D) activities in Hong Kong.  Hong Kong Science & Technology Parks (Science Park) and Cyberport are HKG-owned enterprises providing subsidized rent and financial support through incubation programs to early-stage startups.

The HKG offers additional tax deductions for domestic expenditure on R&D incurred by firms.  Firms enjoy a 300 percent tax deduction for the first HKD 2 million (USD 255,000) qualifying R&D expenditure and a 200 percent deduction for the remainder.  Since 2017, the Financial Secretary has announced over HKD 120 billion (USD 15.3 billion) in funding to support innovation and technology development in Hong Kong.  These funds are largely directed at supporting and adding programs through the ITF, Science Park, and Cyberport.

In February 2009, HKD 20 billion (USD 2.6 billion) was  earmarked for the Research Endowment Fund, which provides research grants to academics and universities.  In February 2018, another HKD 10 billion (USD 1.3 billion) was set aside to provide financial incentives to foreign universities to partner with Hong Kong universities and establish joint research projects housed in two research clusters in Science Park, one specializing in artificial intelligence and robotics and the other specializing in biotechnology.  In February 2018, another HKD 20 billion (USD 2.6 billion) was appropriated to begin construction on a second, larger Science Park, located on the border with Shenzhen, which is intended to provide a much larger number of subsidized-rent facilities for R&D which are also expected to have special rules allowing mainland residents to work onsite without satisfying normal immigration procedures.

The Technology Talent Admission Scheme provides a fast-track arrangement for eligible technology companies/institutes to admit overseas and mainland technology talent to undertake R&D for them in the areas of biotechnology, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, robotics, data analytics, financial technologies, and material science are eligible for application.  The Postdoctoral Hub Program provides funding support to recipients of the ITF, as well as incubatees and tenants of Science Park and Cyberport, to recruit up to two postdoctoral talents for R&D. Applicants must have a doctoral degree in a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics-related discipline from either a local university or a well-recognized non-local institution.

In July 2020, the HKG launched a USD 256.4 million Re-industrialization Funding Scheme to subsidize manufacturers, on a matching basis, setting up smart production lines in Hong Kong.

The Pilot Bond Grant Scheme launched by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) in May 2018 is aimed at improving Hong Kong’s competitiveness in the international bond market by enhanced tax concessions for qualifying debt instruments.  The HKG supports first-time issues with a grant of up to 50 percent of the eligible issuance expenses, with a cap of HKD 2.5 million (USD 320,500) for issues with a credit rating from a credit rating agency recognized by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), or a cap of HKD 1.25 million (USD 160,200) for issues that do not have a credit rating and where neither the issuer nor the issue’s guarantor have a credit rating.

In October 2020, the HKG launched a USD 38 million pilot subsidy scheme to encourage the logistics industry to enhance productivity through the application of technology.

Starting from December 2020, a USD 25.6 million Green Tech Fund (GTF) is open for applications.  The GTF provides funding supports to R&D projects which can help Hong Kong decarbonize and enhance environmental protection.  The amount of funding for each project ranges from USD 320,500 to USD 3.9 million, and each project may last up to five years.

In February 2021, the HKG announced a proposal to strengthen Hong Kong’s position as an asset management center.  The HKG planned to introduce in the second quarter of 2021 new legislation to facilitate the re-domicile of foreign investment funds to Hong Kong for registration as Open-ended Fund Companies (OFCs).  The HKG would provide subsidies to cover 70 percent of the expenses (capped at HKD 1 million or USD 125,000) paid to local professional service providers for OFCs set up in or re-domiciled to Hong Kong in the coming three years.

In February 2021, the HKG announced it would consolidate the Pilot Bond Grant Scheme and the Green Bond Grant Scheme into a Green and Sustainable Finance Grant Scheme to subsidize eligible bond issuers and loan borrowers to cover their expenses on bond issuance and external review services.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Hong Kong, a free port without foreign trade zones, has modern and efficient infrastructure making it a regional trade, finance, and services center.  Rapid growth has placed severe demands on that infrastructure, necessitating plans for major new investments in transportation and shipping facilities, including a planned expansion of container terminal facilities, additional roadway and railway networks, major residential/commercial developments, community facilities, and environmental protection projects.  Construction on a third runway at Hong Kong International Airport is scheduled for completion by 2023.

Hong Kong and mainland China have a Free Trade Agreement Transshipment Facilitation Scheme that enables mainland-bound consignments passing through Hong Kong to enjoy tariff reductions in the mainland.  The arrangement covers goods traded between mainland China and its trading partners, including ASEAN members, Australia, Bangladesh, Chile, Costa Rica, Iceland, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Peru, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, and Taiwan.

The HKG launched in December 2018 phase one of the Trade Single Window (TSW) to provide a one-stop electronic platform for submitting ten types of trade documents, promoting cross-border customs cooperation, and expediting trade declaration and customs clearance.  Phase two is expected to be implemented in 2023.

The latest version of CEPA has established principles of trade facilitation, including simplifying customs procedures, enhancing transparency, and strengthening cooperation.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The HKG does not mandate local employment or performance requirements.  It does not follow a forced localization policy making foreign investors use domestic content in goods or technology.

Foreign nationals normally need a visa to live or work in Hong Kong.  Short-term visitors are permitted to conduct business negotiations and sign contracts while on a visitor’s visa or entry permit.  Companies employing people from overseas must show that a prospective employee has special skills, knowledge, or experience not readily available in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong allows free and uncensored flow of information, though the imposition of the NSL created certain limits on freedom of expression and content, especially those that may be viewed as politically-sensitive such as advocating for Hong Kong’s independence from mainland China.  The freedom and privacy of communication is enshrined in Basic Law Article 30.  The HKG has no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and does not interfere with data center operations.  However, the NSL introduced a heightened risk of PRC and Hong Kong authorities using expanded legal authorities to collect data from businesses and individuals in Hong Kong for actions that may violate “national security.” For more information, please refer to the Hong Kong business advisory released jointly by the Department of State, along with the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Homeland Security on July 16, 2021.

The NSL grants Hong Kong police broad authorities to conduct wiretaps or electronic surveillance without warrants in national security-related cases.  The NSL also empowers police to conduct searches, including of electronic devices, for evidence in national security cases.  Police can also require Internet service providers to provide or delete information relevant to these cases.  In January 2021, the organizer of an online platform alleged that local Internet providers have made the site inaccessible for users in Hong Kong following requests from the Hong Kong government.  One ISP subsequently confirmed that they it blocked a website “in compliance with the requirement issued under the National Security Law.”

Hong Kong does not currently restrict transfer of personal data outside the SAR, but the dormant Section 33 the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance would prohibit such transfers unless the personal data owner consents or other specified conditions are met.  The Privacy Commissioner is authorized to bring Section 33 into effect at any time, but it has been dormant since 1995.

In January 2020, the HKG introduced a discussion paper to the LegCo and proposed certain changes to the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance with the aim of strengthening data protection in Hong Kong.  One of the amendments proposed was to require data users to formulate a clear data retention policy which specified a retention period for the personal data collected.  Feedback from the LegCo on this discussion paper formed the basis of further consultations with stakeholders and more concrete legislative amendment proposals.  There is no indication on the timeline of any legislative amendments to the Ordinance.

In December 2020, Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) required licensed corporations in Hong Kong to seek the SFC’s approval before using the following for storing regulatory records: 1) premises controlled exclusively by an external data storage provider(s) located inside or outside Hong Kong, such as cloud service providers like Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure or Amazon AWS; or 2) server(s) for data storage at data centers located inside or outside Hong Kong.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Basic Law ensures protection of leaseholders’ rights in long-term leases that are the basis of the SAR’s real property system.  The Basic Law also protects the lawful traditional rights and interests of the indigenous inhabitants of the New Territories.  The real estate sector, one of Hong Kong’s pillar industries, is equipped with a sound banking mortgage system.  HK ranked 51st for ease of registering property, according to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 rankings.

Land transactions in Hong Kong operate on a deeds registration system governed by the Land Registration Ordinance.  The Land Titles Ordinance provides greater certainty on land title and simplifies the conveyancing process.

Intellectual Property Rights

Hong Kong generally provides strong intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and enforcement and for the most part has instituted an IP regime consistent with international standards.  Hong Kong has effective IPR enforcement capacity, and a judicial system that supports enforcement efforts with an effective public outreach program that discourages IPR-infringing activities.   Despite the robustness of Hong Kong’s IP system, challenges remain, particularly in copyright infringement and effective enforcement against the heavy, bi-directional flow of counterfeit goods.

Hong Kong’s commercial and company laws provide for effective enforcement of contracts and protection of corporate rights.  Hong Kong has filed its notice of compliance with the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) requirements of the WTO.  The Intellectual Property Department, which includes the Trademarks and Patents Registries, is the focal point for the development of Hong Kong’s IP regime.  The Customs and Excise Department (CED) is the sole enforcement agency for intellectual property rights (IPR).  Hong Kong has acceded to the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Bern Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, and the Geneva and Paris Universal Copyright Conventions.  Hong Kong also continues to participate in the World Intellectual Property Organization as part of mainland China’s delegation; the HKG has seconded an officer from CED to INTERPOL in Lyon, France to further collaborate on IPR enforcement.

The HKG devotes significant resources to IPR enforcement.  Hong Kong courts have imposed longer jail terms than in the past for violations of Hong Kong’s Copyright Ordinance.  CED works closely with foreign customs agencies and the World Customs Organization to share best practices and to identify, disrupt, and dismantle criminal organizations engaging in IP theft that operate in multiple countries.  The government has conducted public education efforts to encourage respect for IPR.  Pirated and counterfeit products remain available on a small scale at the retail level throughout Hong Kong.

Other IPR challenges include end-use piracy of software and textbooks, internet peer-to-peer downloading, and the illicit importation and transshipment of pirated and counterfeit goods from mainland China and other places in Asia.  Hong Kong authorities have taken steps to address these challenges by strengthening collaboration with mainland Chinese authorities, prosecuting end-use software piracy, and monitoring suspect shipments at points of entry.  It has also established a task force to monitor and crack down on internet-based peer-to-peer piracy.

The Drug Office of Hong Kong imposes a drug registration requirement that requires applicants for new drug registrations to make a non-infringement patent declaration.  The Copyright Ordinance protects any original copyrighted work created or published anywhere in the world and criminalizes copying and distribution of protected works .  The Ordinance also provides rental rights for sound recordings, computer programs, films, and comic books and includes enhanced penalty provisions and other legal tools to facilitate enforcement.  The law defines possession of an infringing copy of computer programs, movies, TV dramas, and musical recordings (including visual and sound recordings) for use in business as an offense but provides no criminal liability for other categories of works.  In June 2020, an amendment bill to implement the Marrakesh Treaty came into effect.

The HKG has consulted unsuccessfully with internet service providers and content user representatives on a voluntary framework for IPR protection in the digital environment.  It has also failed to pass amendments to the Copyright Ordinance that would enhance copyright protection against online piracy.  As of February 2021, the Infringing Website List Scheme (IWLS) established by the Hong Kong Creative Industries Association to clamp down on websites that display pirated content reportedly included 137 infringing websites in the portal.  In addition, 27 HKG agencies have been assigned with an individual password for checking with the IWLS before placing digital advertisements and tenders.

The Patent Ordinance allows for granting an independent patent in Hong Kong based on patents granted by the United Kingdom and mainland China.  Patents granted in Hong Kong are independent and capable of being tested for validity, rectified, amended, revoked, and enforced in Hong Kong courts.  Hong Kong’s Original Grant Patent system, which came into operation in December 2019, takes into account the patent systems generally established in regional and international patent treaties, while maintaining the re-registration system for the granting of standard patents.

The Registered Design Ordinance is modeled on the EU design registration system.  To be registered, a design must be new, and the system requires no substantive examination.  The initial period of five years protection is extendable for four periods of five years each, up to 25 years.

Hong Kong’s trademark law is TRIPS-compatible and allows for registration of trademarks relating to services.  All trademark registrations originally filed in Hong Kong are valid for seven years and renewable for 14-year periods.  Proprietors of trademarks registered elsewhere must apply anew and satisfy all requirements of Hong Kong law.  When evidence of use is required, such use must have occurred in Hong Kong.  In June 2020, Hong Kong implemented the Madrid Protocol.  The HKG will liaise with mainland China to seek application of the Madrid Protocol to Hong Kong beginning in 2022.

Hong Kong has no specific ordinance to cover trade secrets; however, the government has a duty under the Trade Descriptions Ordinance to protect information from being disclosed to other parties.  The Trade Descriptions Ordinance prohibits false trade descriptions, forged trademarks, and misstatements regarding goods and services supplied during trade.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

There are no impediments to the free flow of financial resources.  Non-interventionist economic policies, complete freedom of capital movement, and a well-understood regulatory and legal environment make Hong Kong a regional and international financial center.  It has one of the most active foreign exchange markets in Asia.

Assets and wealth managed in Hong Kong posted a record high of USD 3.7 trillion in 2019 (the latest figure available), with two-thirds of that coming from overseas investors.  To enhance the competitiveness of Hong Kong’s fund industry, OFCs as well as onshore and offshore funds are offered a profits tax exemption.

The HKMA’s Infrastructure Financing Facilitation Office (IFFO) provides a platform for pooling the efforts of investors, banks, and the financial sector to offer comprehensive financial services for infrastructure projects in emerging markets.  IFFO is an advisory partner of the World Bank Group’s Global Infrastructure Facility.

Under the Insurance Companies Ordinance, insurance companies are authorized by the Insurance Authority to transact business in Hong Kong.  As of February 2021, there were 165 authorized insurance companies in Hong Kong, 70 of them foreign or mainland Chinese companies.

The Hong Kong Stock Exchange’s total market capitalization surged by 24.0 percent to USD 6.1 trillion in 2020, with 2,538 listed firms at year-end.  Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited, a listed company, operates the stock and futures exchanges.  The Securities and Futures Commission (SFC), an independent statutory body outside the civil service, has licensing and supervisory powers to ensure the integrity of markets and protection of investors.

No discriminatory legal constraints exist for foreign securities firms establishing operations in Hong Kong via branching, acquisition, or subsidiaries.  Rules governing operations are the same for all firms.  No laws or regulations specifically authorize private firms to adopt articles of incorporation or association that limit or prohibit foreign investment, participation, or control.

In 2020, a total of 291 Chinese enterprises had “H” share listings on the stock exchange, with combined market capitalization of USD 906 billion.  The Shanghai-Hong Kong and Shenzhen-Hong Kong Stock Connects allow individual investors to cross trade Hong Kong and mainland stocks.  In December 2018, the ETF Connect, which was planned to allow international and mainland investors to trade in exchange-traded fund products listed in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, was put on hold indefinitely due to “technical issues.” However, China approved two cross-listings of ETFs between Shanghai Stock exchange and the Tokyo Stock Exchange in June 2019, and between Shenzhen Stock Exchange and Hong Kong Stock Exchange in October 2020.

By the end of 2020, 50 mainland mutual funds and 29 Hong Kong mutual funds were allowed to be distributed in each other’s markets through the mainland-Hong Kong Mutual Recognition of Funds scheme. Hong Kong also has mutual recognition of funds programs with Switzerland, Thailand, Ireland, France, the United Kingdom, and Luxembourg.

Hong Kong has developed its debt market with the Exchange Fund bills and notes program.  Hong Kong Dollar debt stood at USD 292 billion by the end of 2020.  As of November 2020, RMB 1,203.5 billion (USD 180.5 billion) of offshore RMB bonds were issued in Hong Kong.  Multinational enterprises, including McDonald’s and Caterpillar, have also issued debt.  The Bond Connect, a mutual market access scheme, allows investors from mainland China and overseas to trade in each other’s respective bond markets through a financial infrastructure linkage in Hong Kong.  In the first eight months of 2020, the Northbound trading of Bond Connect accounted for 52 percent of foreign investors’ total turnover in the China Interbank Bond Market.  In December 2020, the HKMA and the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) set up a working group to drive the initiative of Southbound trading, with the target of launching it within 2021.

In June 2020, the PBoC, the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, the China Securities Regulatory Commission, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, the HKMA and the Monetary Authority of Macau announced that they decided to implement a cross-boundary Wealth Management Connect pilot scheme in the Greater Bay Area (GBA), an initiative to economically integrate Hong Kong and Macau with nine cities in Guangdong Province.  Under the scheme, residents in the GBA can carry out cross-boundary investment in wealth management products distributed by banks in the GBA.  These authorities are still working on the implementation details for the scheme.

In December 2020, the SFC concluded its consultation on proposed customer due diligence requirements for OFCs.  The new requirements will enhance the anti-money laundering and counter-financing of terrorism measures with respect to OFCs and better align the requirements for different investment vehicles for funds in Hong Kong.  Upon the completion of the legislative process, the new requirements will come into effect after a six-month transition period.

In February 2021, the HKG announced it would issue green bonds regularly and expand the scale of the Government Green Bond Program to USD 22.5 billion within the next five years.

The HKG requires workers and employers to contribute to retirement funds under the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) scheme.  Contributions are expected to channel roughly USD five billion annually into various investment vehicles.  By September of 2020, the net asset values of MPF funds amounted to USD 131 billion.

Money and Banking System

Hong Kong has a three-tier system of deposit-taking institutions: licensed banks (161), restricted license banks (17), and deposit-taking companies (12).  HSBC is Hong Kong’s largest banking group.  With its majority-owned subsidiary Hang Seng Bank, HSBC controls more than 50.9 percent of Hong Kong Dollar (HKD) deposits.  The Bank of China (Hong Kong) is the second-largest banking group, with 15.4 percent of HKD deposits throughout 200 branches.  In total, the five largest banks in Hong Kong had more than USD 2 trillion in total assets at the end of 2019.  Thirty-five U.S. “authorized financial institutions” operate in Hong Kong, and most banks in Hong Kong maintain U.S. correspondent relationships.  Full implementation of the Basel III capital, liquidity, and disclosure requirements completed in 2019.

Credit in Hong Kong is allocated on market terms and is available to foreign investors on a non-discriminatory basis.  The private sector has access to the full spectrum of credit instruments as provided by Hong Kong’s banking and financial system.  Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms.  The HKMA, the de facto central bank, is responsible for maintaining the stability of the banking system and managing the Exchange Fund that backs Hong Kong’s currency.  Real Time Gross Settlement helps minimize risks in the payment system and brings Hong Kong in line with international standards.

Banks in Hong Kong have in recent years strengthened anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing controls, including the adoption of more stringent customer due diligence (CDD) process for existing and new customers.  The HKMA stressed that “CDD measures adopted by banks must be proportionate to the risk level and banks are not required to implement overly stringent CDD processes.”

In November 2020, the HKG launched a three-month public consultation on its proposed amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing Ordinance.  Among other proposed changes, the HKG suggested introducing a licensing regime for virtual asset services providers and a two-tier registration regime for precious assets dealers.  The HKG will analyze feedback from the public before introducing a draft bill to the LegCo.

The NSL granted police authority to freeze assets related to national security-related crimes.  In October 2020, the HKMA advised banks in Hong Kong to report any transactions suspected of violating the NSL, following the same procedures as for money laundering.  Hong Kong authorities reportedly asked financial institutions to freeze bank accounts of former lawmakers, civil society groups, and other political targets who appear to be under investigation for their pro-democracy activities.

The HKMA welcomes the establishment of virtual banks, which are subject to the same set of supervisory principles and requirements applicable to conventional banks.  The HKMA has granted eight virtual banking licenses by the end of January 2021.

The HKMA’s Fintech Facilitation Office (FFO) aims to promote Hong Kong as a fintech hub in Asia.  FFO has launched the faster payment system to enable bank customers to make cross-bank/e-wallet payments easily and created a blockchain-based trade finance platform to reduce errors and risks of fraud.  The HKMA has signed nine fintech co-operation agreements with the regulatory authorities of Brazil, Dubai, France, Poland, Singapore, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Conversion and inward/outward transfers of funds are not restricted.  The HKD is a freely convertible currency linked via de facto currency board to the U.S. dollar.  The exchange rate is allowed to fluctuate in a narrow band between HKD 7.75 – HKD 7.85 = USD 1.

Remittance Policies

There are no recent changes to or plans to change investment remittance policies.  Hong Kong has no restrictions on the remittance of profits and dividends derived from investment, nor reporting requirements on cross-border remittances.  Foreign investors bring capital into Hong Kong and remit it through the open exchange market.

Hong Kong has anti-money laundering (AML) legislation allowing the tracing and confiscation of proceeds derived from drug-trafficking and organized crime.  Hong Kong has an anti-terrorism law that allows authorities to freeze funds and financial assets belonging to terrorists.  Travelers arriving in Hong Kong with currency or bearer negotiable instruments (CBNIs) exceeding HKD 120,000 (USD 15,385) must make a written declaration to the CED.  For a large quantity of CBNIs imported or exported in a cargo consignment, an advanced electronic declaration must be made to the CED.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Future Fund, Hong Kong’s wealth fund, was established in 2016 with an endowment of USD 28.2 billion.  The fund seeks higher returns through long-term investments and adopts a “passive” role as a portfolio investor.  About half of the Future Fund has been deployed in alternative assets, mainly global private equity and overseas real estate, over a three-year period.  The rest is placed with the Exchange Fund’s Investment Portfolio, which follows the Santiago Principles, for an initial ten-year period.  In February 2020, the HKG announced that it will deploy 10 percent of the Future Fund to establish a new portfolio, which is called the Hong Kong Growth Portfolio (HKGP), focusing on domestic investments to lift the city’s competitiveness in financial services, commerce, aviation, logistics and innovation.  Between December 2020 and January 2021, the HKMA conducted a market survey to better understand the profiles of private equity firms with interest to become a general partner for the HKGP.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Hong Kong has several major HKG-owned enterprises classified as “statutory bodies.” Hong Kong is party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) within the framework of WTO.  Annex 3 of the GPA lists as statutory bodies the Housing Authority, the Hospital Authority, the Airport Authority, the Mass Transit Railway Corporation Limited, and the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation, which procure in accordance with the agreement.

The HKG provides more than half the population with subsidized housing, along with most hospital and education services from childhood through the university level.  The government also owns major business enterprises, including the stock exchange, railway, and airport.

Conflicts occasionally arise between the government’s roles as owner and policymaker.  Industry observers have recommended that the government establish a separate entity to coordinate its ownership of government-held enterprises and initiate a transparent process of nomination to the boards of government-affiliated entities.  Other recommendations from the private sector include establishing a clear separation between industrial policy and the government’s ownership function and minimizing exemptions of government-affiliated enterprises from general laws.

The Competition Law exempts all but six of the statutory bodies from the law’s purview.  While the government’s private sector ownership interests do not materially impede competition in Hong Kong’s most important economic sectors, industry representatives have encouraged the government to adhere more closely to the Guidelines on Corporate Governance of State-owned Enterprises of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Privatization Program

All major utilities in Hong Kong, except water, are owned and operated by private enterprises, usually under an agreement framework by which the HKG regulates each utility’s management.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The Hong Kong Stock Exchange adopts a higher standard of disclosure – ‘comply or explain’ – about its environmental key performance indicators for listed companies.  Results of a consultation process to review its environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting guidelines indicate strong support for enhancing the ESG reporting framework.  It has implemented proposals from the consultation process since July 2020.  Because Hong Kong is not a member of the OECD, OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises are not applicable to Hong Kong companies.  The HKG, however, commends enterprises for fulfilling their social responsibility.  Hong Kong is not a signatory of the Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies.  Under the Security Bureau, the Security and Guarding Services Industry Authority is responsible for formulating issuing criteria and conditions for security company licenses and security personnel permits and determining applications for security company licenses.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Mainland China ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in January 2006, and it was extended to Hong Kong in February 2006.  The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is responsible for combating corruption and has helped Hong Kong develop a track record for combating corruption.  U.S. firms have not identified corruption as an obstacle to FDI.  A bribe to a foreign official is a criminal act, as is the giving or accepting of bribes, for both private individuals and government employees.  Offenses are punishable by imprisonment and large fines.

The Hong Kong Ethics Development Center (HKEDC), established by the ICAC, promotes business and professional ethics to sustain a level-playing field in Hong Kong.  The International Good Practice Guidance – Defining and Developing an Effective Code of Conduct for Organizations of the Professional Accountants in Business Committee published by the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) and is in use with the permission of IFAC.

Resources to Report Corruption

Simon Peh, Commissioner
Independent Commission Against Corruption
303 Java Road, North Point, Hong Kong
+852-2826-3111
Email: com-office@icac.org.hk

10. Political and Security Environment

Beijing’s imposition of the National Security Law (NSL) on June 30, 2020 has introduced heightened uncertainties for companies operating in Hong Kong.  As a result, U.S. citizens traveling through or residing in Hong Kong may be subject to increased levels of surveillance, as well as arbitrary enforcement of laws and detention for purposes other than maintaining law and order.

As of March 2021, police have carried out at least 100 arrests of opposition politicians and activists under the NSL, including one U.S. citizen, in an effort to suppress all pro-democracy views and political activity in the city.  Police have also reportedly issued arrest warrants under the NSL for approximately thirty individuals residing abroad, including U.S. citizens.  Since June 2019, police have arrested over 10,000 people on various charges in connection with largely peaceful protests against government policies.

Please see the July 16, 2021 business advisory issued by the Department of State, along with the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Homeland Security.

The Department of State assesses that Hong Kong does not maintain a sufficient degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework to justify continued special treatment by the United States for bilateral agreements and programs per the Hong Kong Policy Act.  As a result of Hong Kong’s lack of autonomy from China, the Department of Commerce ended Hong Kong’s treatment as a separate trade entity from China, including the removal of many of Department of Commerce’s License Exceptions.  U.S. Customs and Borders Protection (CBP) requires goods produced in Hong Kong to be marked to show China, rather than Hong Kong, as their country of origin.  This requirement took effect November 9, 2020.  It does not affect country of origin determinations for purposes of assessing ordinary duties or temporary or additional duties.  Hong Kong has requested World Trade Organization dispute consultations to examine the issue.  As of March 2021, the Department of Treasury has sanctioned 35 former and current Hong Kong and mainland Chinese government officials and 44 Chinese-military companies identified by the Department of Defense.

The PRC government does not recognize dual nationality.  In January 2021, the Hong Kong government moved to enforce existing provisions of the Nationality Law of the People’s Republic of China in place since 1997, effectively ending its longstanding recognition of dual citizenship in Hong Kong.  The action ended consular access to two detained U.S. citizens as of March 2021 and potentially removed consular protection from about half of the estimated 85,000 U.S. citizens in Hong Kong.  U.S.-PRC, U.S.-Hong Kong and U.S. citizens of Chinese heritage may be subject to additional scrutiny and harassment, and the PRC government may prevent the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate from providing consular services.

Hong Kong financial regulators have conducted outreach to stress the importance of robust anti-money laundering (AML) controls and highlight potential criminal sanctions implications for failure to fulfill legal obligations under local AML laws.  However, Hong Kong has a low number of prosecutions and convictions compared to the number of cases investigated.

Under the President’s Executive Order on Hong Kong Normalization, which directs the suspension or elimination of special and preferential treatment for Hong Kong, the United States notified the Hong Kong authorities in August 2020 of its suspension of the Surrender of Fugitive Offenders Agreement and the Transfer of Sentenced Persons Agreement.  The Reciprocal Tax Exemptions on Income Derived from the International Operation of Ships Agreement was also suspended.  In response, the Hong Kong government suspended the Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Hong Kong on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Affairs, which entered into force in 2000.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Hong Kong’s unemployment rate stood at 6.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020, with the unemployment rate of youth aged 15-19 rising to 17.6 percent.  In 2020, skilled personnel working as administrators, managers, professionals, and associate professionals accounted for 40.6 percent of the total working population.  At the end of 2019, there were about 399,320 foreign domestic helpers working in Hong Kong.  In 2020, about 8,842 foreign professionals came to work in the city, more than 10,089 fewer than the previous year.  The Employees Retraining Board provides skills re-training for local employees.  To address a shortage of highly skilled technical and financial professionals, the HKG seeks to attract qualified foreign and mainland Chinese workers.

The Employment Ordinance (EO) and the Employees’ Compensation Ordinance prohibit the termination of employment in certain circumstances: 1) Any pregnant employee who has at least four weeks’ service and who has served notice of her pregnancy; 2) Any employee who is on paid statutory sick leave and; 3) Any employee who gives evidence or information in connection with the enforcement of the EO or relating to any accident at work, cooperates in any investigation of his employer, is involved in trade union activity, or serves jury duty may not be dismissed because of those circumstances. Breach of these prohibitions is a criminal offense.

According to the EO, someone employed under a continuous contract for not less than 24 months is eligible for severance payment if: 1) dismissed by reason of redundancy; 2) under a fixed term employment contract that expires without being renewed due to redundancy; or 3) laid off.

Unemployment benefits are income- and asset-tested on an individual basis if living alone; if living with other family members, the total income and assets of all family members are taken into consideration for eligibility.  Recipients must be between the ages of 15-59, capable of work, and actively seeking full-time employment.

Parties in a labor dispute can consult the free and voluntary conciliation service offered by the Labor Department (LD).  A conciliation officer appointed by the LD will help parties reach a contractually binding settlement.  If there is no settlement, parties can start proceedings with the Labor Tribunal (LT), which can then be raised to the Court of First Instance and finally the Court of Appeal for leave to appeal.  The Court of Appeal can grant leave only if the case concerns a question of law of general public importance.

Local law provides for the rights of association and of workers to establish and join organizations of their own choosing.  The government does not discourage or impede the formation of unions.  As of 2019, Hong Kong’s 866 registered unions had 923,239 members, a participation rate of about 25.7 percent.  In 2020, 491 new worker unions formed to improve chances of winning seats in the legislature.  Hong Kong’s labor legislation is in line with international laws.  Hong Kong has implemented 41 conventions of the International Labor Organization in full and 18 others with modifications.  Workers who allege discrimination against unions have the right to a hearing by the Labor Relations Tribunal.  Legislation protects the right to strike.  Collective bargaining is not protected by Hong Kong law; there is no obligation to engage in it; and it is not widely used.  For more information on labor regulations in Hong Kong, please visit the following website: http://www.labour.gov.hk/eng/legislat/contentA.htm (Chapter 57 “Employment Ordinance”).

The LT has the power to make an order for reinstatement or re-engagement without securing the employer’s approval if it deems an employee has been unreasonably and unlawfully dismissed.  If the employer does not reinstate or re-engage the employee as required by the order, the employer must pay to the employee a sum amounting to three times the employee’s average monthly wages up to USD 9,300.  The employer commits an offense if he/she willfully and without reasonable excuse fails to pay the additional sum.

Starting from January 2019, male employees are entitled to five days’ paternity leave (increased from three days).

Starting from December 2020,  the statutory maternity leave increases to 14 weeks from ten weeks.

Effective May 1, 2019, the statutory minimum hourly wage rate increases from USD 4.4 to USD 4.8.

In February 2020, about 2,500 medical workers of the Hospital Authority took part in an industrial action, demanding the HKG close its border to mainland China to prevent the spread of  COVID-19.  They ended the strike a few days later without getting their demands realized.

12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance and Development Finance Programs

As a developed economy, there is little potential for the DFC to operate in Hong Kong.  However, there is scope for cooperation between companies based in Hong Kong with regional operations to work with the DFC.  Hong Kong is a member of the World Bank Group’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2020 $347,529 2019 $365,712 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $44,974 2019 $81,883 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $14,679 2019 $14,110 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 507.5% 2019 506.5% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/
handbook/EconomicTrends/Fdi.html

* Source for Host Country Data: Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department 

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 1,732,495 100% Total Outward 1,763,164 100%
British Virgin Islands 606,804 35% China, P.R.: Mainland 800,640 45%
China, P.R.: Mainland 475,641 27% British Virgin Islands 579,860 33%
Cayman Islands 152,048 9% Cayman Islands 70,492 4%
United Kingdom 139,120 8% Bermuda 55,091 3%
Bermuda 99,514 6% United Kingdom 53,858 3%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 1,830,229 100% All Countries 1,167,955 100% All Countries 662,274 100%
Cayman Islands 635,236 35% Cayman Islands 608,914 52% United States 156,543 24%
China, P.R.: Mainland 352,531 19% China, P.R.: Mainland 206,829 18% China, P.R.: Mainland 145,702 22%
United States 204,360 11% Bermuda 109,838 9% Japan 51,682 8%
Bermuda 112,021 6% United Kingdom 60,483 5% Luxembourg 42,742 6%
United Kingdom 85,496 5% United States 47,817 4% Australia 37,143 6%

14. Contact for More Information

Eveline Tseng, Consul, Economic Affairs
U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong and Macau
26 Garden Road, Central

Malaysia

Executive Summary

Malaysia continues to focus on economic recovery following its deepest recession in 20 years, brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on domestic travel and business operations intended to curb the spread of the virus. Under Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the government has spent an estimated USD 82 billion in stimulus measures since the start of the pandemic. Despite these setbacks, Malaysia’s economy is expected to rebound in 2021, buoyed by manufacturing export sector growth and public initiatives to increase digital investments and construction activity. Malaysia’s finance ministry and central bank have noted the pace of the recovery will also be impacted by the government’s vaccine rollout, which has experienced delays.

On April 21, the government announced the National Investment Aspirations, a framework intended to reform Malaysia’s investment policies. Among the goals of the new investment framework are to expand and integrate Malaysia’s linkages with regional and global supply chains and further develop economic clusters tied to key sectors, including advanced manufacturing and technology (broadly referred to in Malaysia as the electrical and electronics, or E&E, sector). On February 19, the government announced the MyDigital initiative, intended to add 500,000 jobs and grow Malaysia’s digital economy to nearly one-quarter of GDP by 2030.

On January 12, Prime Minister Muhyiddin announced a six-month state of emergency intended to strengthen the government’s ability to respond to the pandemic. However, the resulting suspension of parliament has also contributed to political uncertainty in Malaysia since a change in government in March 2020, the second in a two-year period.

The Malaysian government has traditionally encouraged foreign direct investment (FDI), and the Prime Minister and other cabinet ministers have signaled their openness to foreign investment since taking office. In its 2021 budget, the government proposed tax incentives which include extensions of existing relocation incentives for the manufacturing sector (including a zero-percent tax rate for new companies or a 100-percent investment tax allowance for five years) and extensions of existing tax incentives for certain industrial sectors.

The business climate in Malaysia is generally conducive to U.S. investment. Increased transparency and structural reforms that will prevent future corrupt practices could make Malaysia a more attractive destination for FDI in the long run. The largest U.S. investments are in the oil and gas sector, manufacturing, technology, and financial services. Firms with significant investment in Malaysia’s oil and gas and petrochemical sectors include ExxonMobil, Caltex, ConocoPhillips, Hess Oil, Halliburton, Dow Chemical, and Eastman Chemicals. Major semiconductor manufacturers, including ON Semiconductor, Texas Instruments, Intel, and others have substantial operations in Malaysia, as do electronics manufacturers Western Digital, Honeywell, and Motorola.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 57 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 12 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 33 of 130 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S.  FDI in partner country (historical stock positions) 2019 USD 10.8 billion https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 11,230 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Historically, the Malaysian government has welcomed FDI as an integral component of its economic development. Over the last decade, the gradual liberalization of the economy and influx of FDI has led to the creation of new jobs and businesses and fueled Malaysia’s export-oriented growth strategy. The Malaysian economy is highly dependent on trade. According to World Bank data, the value of Malaysia’s imports and exports of goods and services as a share of GDP held steady at roughly 130 percent in 2018, more than double the global average.

In October 2019, the government introduced measures in its 2020 budget designed to streamline and further incentivize foreign investment, with special emphasis on investments being redirected from China as a result of shifting global supply chains. The Malaysian government established the China Special Channel for the purpose of attracting these investments, an initiative being managed by InvestKL, an investment promotion agency under the Ministry of International Trade and Industry. The government also established the National Committee on Investment, an investment approval body jointly chaired by the Minister of Finance and the Minister of International Trade and Industry, to expedite the regulatory process with respect to approving new investments.

In its 2021 budget, the government proposed a slew of tax incentives which include extensions of existing relocation incentives for the manufacturing sector (including a 0 percent tax rate for new companies or a 100 percent investment tax allowance for five years) and extensions of existing tax incentives for certain industrial sectors. In light of the pandemic, manufacturers of pharmaceutical products, particularly those involved with COVID-19 vaccine supply chains, investing in Malaysia will be given income tax rates of zero percent to 10 percent for the first 10 years; with 10 percent rates for the subsequent 10 years.

Malaysia has various national, regional, and municipal investment promotion agencies, including the Malaysian Investment Development Authority (MIDA) and InvestKL. These agencies can assist with business strategy consultations, area familiarization, talent management programs, networking, and other post-investment services.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity, with some exceptions. Although Malaysia has taken steps to liberalize policies concerning foreign investment, there continue to exist requirements for local equity participation within specific sectors. In 2009, Malaysia repealed Foreign Investment Committee (FIC) guidelines that limited transactions for acquisitions of interests, mergers, and takeovers of local companies by foreign parties. However, certain business sectors, including logistics, industrial training, and distributive trade, are required to limit foreign equity participation when applying for operating licenses, permits and approvals. Due to residual economic policies, this limitation most commonly manifests as a 70-30 equity split between foreign investors (maximum 70 percent) and Bumiputera (i.e., ethnic Malays and indigenous peoples) entities (minimum 30 percent).

Foreign investment in services, whether in sectors with no foreign equity caps or controlled sub-sectors, remain subject to review and approval by ministries and agencies with jurisdiction over the relevant sectors. A key function of this review and approval process is to determine whether proposed investments meet the government’s qualifications for the various incentives in place to promote economic development goals. The Ministerial Functions Act grants relevant ministries broad discretionary powers over the approval of investment projects. Investors in industries targeted by the Malaysian government can often negotiate favorable terms with the ministries or agencies responsible for regulating that industry. This can include assistance in navigating a complex web of regulations and policies, some of which can be waived on a case-by-case basis. Foreign investors in non-targeted industries tend to receive less government assistance in obtaining the necessary approvals from various regulatory bodies and therefore can face greater bureaucratic obstacles.

Finance

Malaysia’s 2011-2020 Financial Sector Blueprint has produced partial liberalization within the financial services sector; however, it does not contain specific market-opening commitments or timelines. For example, the services liberalization program that started in 2009 raised the limit of foreign ownership in insurance companies to 70 percent. However, Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), Malaysia’s central bank, would allow a greater foreign ownership stake if the investment is determined to facilitate the consolidation of the industry. The latest Blueprint helped to codify this case-by-case approach. Under the Financial Services Act passed in late 2012, issuance of new licenses will be guided by prudential criteria and the “best interests of Malaysia,” which may include consideration of the financial strength, business record, experience, character and integrity of the prospective foreign investor, soundness and feasibility of the business plan for the institution in Malaysia, transparency and complexity of the group structure, and the extent of supervision of the foreign investor in its home country. In determining the “best interests of Malaysia,” BNM may consider the contribution of the investment in promoting new high value-added economic activities, addressing demand for financial services where there are gaps, enhancing trade and investment linkages, and providing high-skilled employment opportunities. BNM, however, has never defined criteria for the “best interests of Malaysia” test, and no firms have qualified.

While there has been no policy change in terms of the 70 percent foreign ownership cap for insurance companies, the government did agree to let one foreign owned insurer maintain a 100 percent equity stake after that firm made a contribution to a health insurance scheme aimed at providing health coverage to lower-income Malaysians.

BNM currently allows foreign banks to open four additional branches throughout Malaysia, subject to restrictions, which include designating where the branches can be set up (i.e., in market centers, semi-urban areas and non-urban areas). The policies do not allow foreign banks to set up new branches within 1.5 km of an existing local bank. BNM also has conditioned foreign banks’ ability to offer certain services on commitments to undertake certain back-office activities in Malaysia.

Information & Communication

In 2012, Malaysia authorized up to 100 percent foreign equity participation among application service providers, network service providers, and network facilities providers. An exception to this is national telecommunications firm Telekom Malaysia, which has an aggregate foreign share cap of 30 percent, or five percent for individual investors.

Manufacturing Industries

Malaysia permits up to 100 percent foreign equity participation for new manufacturing investments by licensed manufacturers. However, foreign companies can face difficulties obtaining a manufacturing license and often resort to incorporating a local subsidiary for this purpose.

Oil and Gas

Under the terms of the Petroleum Development Act of 1974, the upstream oil and gas industry is controlled by Petroleum Nasional Berhad (PETRONAS), a wholly state-owned company and the sole entity with legal title to Malaysian crude oil and gas deposits. Foreign participation tends to take the form of production sharing contracts (PSCs). PETRONAS regularly requires its PSC partners to work with Malaysian firms for many tenders. Non-Malaysian firms are permitted to participate in oil services in partnership with local firms and are restricted to a 49 percent equity stake if the foreign party is the principal shareholder. PETRONAS sets the terms of upstream projects with foreign participation on a case-by-case basis.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Malaysia’s most recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) investment review occurred in 2013. Although the review underscored the generally positive direction of economic reforms and efforts at liberalization, the recommendations emphasized the need for greater service sector liberalization, stronger intellectual property protections, enhanced guidance and support from Malaysia’s Investment Development Authority (MIDA), and continued corporate governance reforms.

Malaysia also conducted a WTO Trade Policy Review in February 2018, which incorporated a general overview of the country’s investment policies. The WTO’s review noted the Malaysian government’s action to institute incentives to encourage investment as well as a number of agencies to guide prospective investors. Beyond attracting investment, Malaysia had made measurable progress on reforms to facilitate increased commercial activity. Among the new trade and investment-related laws that entered into force during the review period were: the Companies Act, which introduced provisions to simplify the procedures to start a company, to reduce the cost of doing business, as well as to reform corporate insolvency mechanisms; the introduction of the goods and services tax (GST) to replace the sales tax; the Malaysian Aviation Commission Act, pursuant to which the Malaysian Aviation Commission was established; and various amendments to the Food Regulations. Since the WTO Trade Policy Review, however, the new government has already eliminated the GST, and has revived the Sales and Services Tax, which was implemented on September 1, 2018.

Business Facilitation

The principal law governing foreign investors’ entry and practice in the Malaysian economy is the Companies Act of 2016 (CA), which entered into force on January 31, 2017 and replaced the Companies Act of 1965. Incorporation requirements under the new CA have been further simplified and are the same for domestic and foreign sole proprietorships, partnerships, as well as privately held and publicly traded corporations. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019, Malaysia streamlined the process of obtaining a building permit and made it faster to obtain construction permits; eliminated the site visit requirement for new commercial electricity connections, making getting electricity easier for businesses; implemented an online single window platform to carry out property searches and simplified the property transfer process; and introduced electronic forms and enhanced risk-based inspection system for cross-border trade and improved the infrastructure and port operation system at Port Klang, the largest port in Malaysia, thereby facilitating international trade; and made resolving insolvency easier by introducing the reorganization procedure. These changes led to a significant improvement of Malaysia’s ranking per the Doing Business Report, from 24 to 15 in one year.

In addition to registering with the Companies Commission of Malaysia, business entities must file: 1) Memorandum and Articles of Association (i.e., company charter); 2) a Declaration of Compliance (i.e., compliance with provisions of the Companies Act); and 3) a Statutory Declaration (i.e., no bankruptcies, no convictions). The registration and business establishment process takes two weeks to complete, on average. GST was repealed in May of 2018 and a new sales and services tax (SST) took effect on September 1, 2018.

Beyond these requirements, foreign investors must obtain licenses. Under the Industrial Coordination Act of 1975, an investor seeking to engage in manufacturing will need a license if the business claims capital of RM2.5 million (approximately USD 641,000) or employs at least 75 full-time staff. The Malaysian government’s guidelines for approving manufacturing investments, and by extension, manufacturing licenses, are generally based on capital-to-employee ratios. Projects below a threshold of RM55,000 (approximately USD 14,100) of capital per employee are deemed labor-intensive and will generally not qualify. Manufacturing investors seeking to expand or diversify their operations need to apply through MIDA.

Manufacturing investors whose companies have annual revenue below RM50 million (approximately USD 12.8 million) or with fewer than 200 full-time employees meet the definition of small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) and will generally be eligible for government SME incentives. Companies in the services or other sectors that have revenue below RM20 million (approximately USD 5.1 million) or fewer than 75 full-time employees also meet the SME definition.

Outward Investment

While the Malaysian government does not promote or incentivize outward investment, a number of government-linked companies, pension funds, and investment companies do have investments overseas. These companies include the sovereign wealth fund of the Government of Malaysia, Khazanah Nasional Berhad; KWAP, Malaysia’s largest public services pension fund; and the Employees’ Provident Fund of Malaysia. Government-owned oil and gas firm Petronas also has investments in several regions outside Asia.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

As a member of ASEAN, Malaysia is a party to trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand; China; India; Japan; and the Republic of Korea. During the review period, the ASEAN-India Agreement was expanded to cover trade in services. Malaysia also has bilateral FTAs with Australia; Chile; India; Japan; New Zealand; Pakistan; and Turkey.

Reference: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/s366_sum_e.pdf

Malaysia has bilateral investment treaties with 36 countries, but not yet with the United States. Malaysia does have bilateral “investment guarantee agreements” with over 70 economies, including the United States. The Malaysian government reports that 65 of Malaysia’s existing investment agreements contain Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions. Malaysia has double taxation treaties with over 70 countries, though the double taxation agreement with the U.S. currently is limited to air and sea transportation.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

In July 2013, the Malaysian government accelerated its efforts to modernize the regulatory processes in the country by releasing the National Policy on Development and Implementation of Regulations (NPDIR), a roadmap to achieving Good Regulatory Practice (GRP). Under the NPDIR, the federal government formalized a comprehensive approach to improve the efficiency and transparency of the country’s regulatory framework. The benefits to the private sector thus far have included a streamlining of project approval requirements and fees (to the point that Malaysia ranked 2nd in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business report on ease of “dealing with construction permits”), a greater role in the lawmaking process, and improved standardization and transparency in all phases of regulatory proceedings. The main components of the policy are: 1) the requirement of a Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) (a cost-benefit analysis of all newly proposed regulations) with each new piece of regulation; and 2) the formalization of a public consultation process to take the views of stakeholders into account while formulating new legislation. Under the NPDIR, the government has committed to reviewing all new regulations every five years to determine which ones need to be adjusted or eliminated.

In furtherance of the NPDIR, the Malaysian government published four circulars in 2013 and 2014 to explain the methodology and implementation of their new strategy. These four documents laid out a clear framework toward increasing accountability, standardization, and transparency, as well as explaining enforcement and compliance mechanisms to be established. Throughout its various agencies, the government of Malaysia has taken steps to actualize these circulars. Ministries and agencies use their respective websites to publish the text and or summaries of proposed regulations prior to enactment, albeit with varying levels of consistency. Further, Malaysia’s procurement principles include adherence to open and fair competition, public accountability, transparency, and value for money.

Despite these efforts to foster inclusion, fairness, and transparency, considerable room for improvement exists. The Malaysian government’s 2018 Report on Modernization (sic) of Regulations emphasized the need to “Establish an accountability mechanism for the implementation of regulatory reviews by the government.” Many foreign investors echo this lack of accountability and criticize the opacity in the government decision-making process. One major area of concern for foreign investors remains government procurement policy, as non-Malaysian companies claim to have lost bids against Bumiputera-owned (ethnic Malay) companies despite offering better products at lower costs. Such results are due to the government’s preference policy to facilitate greater Bumiputera participation in the private sector. This preference policy is manifested through set-aside contracts for Bumiputera suppliers and contractors, and through the use of preferential price margins to increase the competitiveness of Bumiputera bidders.

Malaysia has a three-tiered system of legislation: federal-level (parliament), state-level, and local-level. Federal and state-level legislation derive their authority from the Malaysian Constitution, specifically Articles 73-79. Parliament has the exclusive power to make laws over matters including trade, commerce and industry, and financial matters. Parliament can delegate its authority to administrative agencies, states, and local bodies through Acts. States have the power to make laws concerning land, local government, and Islamic courts. Local legislative bodies derive their authority from Acts promulgated by parliament, most notably the Local Government Act of 1976. Local authorities can issue by-laws concerning local taxation and land use. For foreign investors, parliament is the most relevant legislating body, as it governs issues related to trade, and in instances of conflict, Article 75 of the Constitution states that federal laws will supersede state laws.

It is also important to note the role of the administrative state in the promulgation of new laws and regulations in Malaysia. Pursuant to the Interpretation Act of 1948 and 1967, “Any proclamation, rule, regulation, order, notification, bye-law, or other instrument made under any Act, Enactment, Ordinance or other lawful authority and having legislative effect.” Thus, the various ministries and agencies can be delegated lawmaking authority by an Act of a legislature with the legal right to make laws.

The Malaysian Accounting Standards Board (MASB) introduced the Malaysian Financial Reporting Standards (MFRS) framework, which came into effect on January 1, 2012. The MFRS framework is fully compliant with the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) framework; this compliance serves to enhance the credibility and transparency of financial reporting in Malaysia.

The Malaysian Institute of Accountants’ (MIA) Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (AASB) reviews standards and technical pronouncements issued by the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (IAASB), which sets International Standards on Auditing (ISAs) that have been adopted in more than 110 jurisdictions.

In theory, pieces of legislation are to be made available for public comment through a multi-stage system of rulemaking. The Malaysia Productivity Corporation (MPC) published the Guideline on Public Consultation Procedures in 2014 (the “Guideline”), which clarifies the roles of government and stakeholders in the consultation process and provides the guiding principles for Malaysia’s public consultation approach. As in the case of foreign investment, the consultation procedures usually fall under the purview of the Malaysian Securities Commission (SC), the Bursa Malaysia (Malaysia’s stock exchange), or BNM. The SC, for example, keeps public consultation papers on its website, easily accessible by stakeholders. These papers generally contain the rationale for the proposed regulations, as well as potential impacts, and provide a list of questions for stakeholders to explain their views to regulators.

The public is also engaged in the public consultation process through the increased role of PEMUDAH (the Special Task Force to Facilitate Business), which was founded in 2007 to serve as a bridge between government, businesses, and civil society organizations. PEMUDAH promotes the understanding of regulatory requirements that impact economic activities, by addressing unfair treatment resulting from inconsistencies in enforcement and implementation. It also plays an advocacy role in various points in the regulatory implementation process; provides recommendations from the private sector to regulators before new regulations are implemented, and monitors enactment of existing pieces of regulation.

Despite the Guideline, and significant steps taken to reduce the regulatory burden on industry, obstacles remain. There are frequent inconsistencies between different ministries in their implementation of the public consultation procedures, as well as in their respective interpretations of how regulations are to be applied. Adding to the difficulty is the complicated relationship between state-level and federal-level legislation, which can overlap on a range of issues and lead to inefficiencies for investors.

The CLJ Law website publishes the full text of Malaysian bills and amendments from 2013 onward: https://www.cljlaw.com/?page=latestmybill&year=2020 . In 2019 Malaysia in association with the World Bank, created a website that contains all ongoing pieces of legislation and allows public comment thereon. The website, called the Uniform Public Consultation Portal (http://upc.mpc.gov.my/csp/sys/bi/%25cspapp.bi.index.cls?home=1 ), does not contain legislation that was completed or implemented before 2019, but is a positive move toward standardizing and emphasizing the public consultation process. The website is user-friendly and allows searching by due date, implementing agency, and phase of consultation.

Malaysia has a multi-faceted approach to ensuring governmental compliance with regulatory requirements. The most important enforcement mechanism is access to judicial review. The WEF 2019 Report lists Malaysia as the 12th ranked country in efficiency of the legal framework in challenging regulations. Through ease in accessing administrative and judicial courts, aggrieved parties in Malaysia are able to compel action by the regulator.

Besides the legal route, aggrieved parties can also seek recourse through the various agency-led enforcement mechanisms. The central bank has a dedicated “Complaints Unit,” which deals with consumer complaints against banking institutions. The Bank lists enforcement options as “a public or private reprimand; an order to comply; an administrative and civic penalty; restitution to customer; or prosecution. By contrast, the Inland Revenue Board of Malaysia (tax agency) has the Special Commissioners of Income Tax, to which taxpayers may file appeals concerning judgments and new regulations. The Malaysian Companies Commission (which regulates laws relating to companies registered in Malaysia) is also engaged in enforcement proceedings, as is the Malaysian Securities Commission. On matters of procurement, aggrieved bidders may complain to the Public Complaints Bureau, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the Malaysian Competition Commission, or the National Audit Department.

International Regulatory Considerations

Malaysia is one of 10 Member States that constitute the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). On December 31, 2015, the ASEAN Economic Community formally came into existence. ASEAN’s economic policy leaders meet regularly to discuss promoting greater economic integration within the 10-country bloc. Although already robust, Member States have prioritized steps to facilitate a greater flow of goods, services, and capital. No regional regulatory system is in place. As a member of the WTO, Malaysia provides notification of all draft technical regulations to the Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Malaysia’s legal system consists of written laws, such as the federal and state constitutions and laws passed by parliament and state legislatures, and unwritten laws derived from court cases and local customs. The Contract Law of 1950 still guides the enforcement of contracts and resolution of disputes. States generally control property laws for residences but through such programs as the Multimedia Super Corridor, Free Commercial Zones, and Free Industrial Zones, the federal government has substantial reach into a range of geographic areas as a means of encouraging foreign investment and facilitating ownership of commercial and industrial property.

Malaysia has taken measures to increase the efficacy of the courts to improve its reputation as an international business hub. Other than the usual criminal and civil branches of the legal system, there are dedicated courts for issues such as intellectual property (IP) and labor.

Certain foreign judgments are enforceable in Malaysia by virtue of the Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgments Act 1958 (REJA). However, before a foreign judgment can be enforceable, it must be registered. The registration of foreign judgments is only possible if the judgment was given by a Superior Court from a country listed in the First Schedule of the REJA: the United Kingdom, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, Singapore, New Zealand, Republic of Sri Lanka, India, and Brunei. If the judgment is not from a country listed in the First Schedule to the REJA, the only method of enforcement at common law is by securing a Malaysian judgment. This involves suing on the judgment in the local Courts as an action in debt.

To register a foreign judgment under the REJA, the judgment creditor has to apply for the same within six years after the date of the foreign judgment. Any foreign judgment coming under the REJA shall be registered unless it has been wholly satisfied, or it could not be enforced by execution in the country of the original Court.

Post is not aware of instances in which political figures or government authorities have interfered in judiciary proceedings involving commercial matters.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The e Malaysia Investment Development Authority (MIDA). Under the purview of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) has the task to attract foreign investment and serve as a focal point for legal and regulatory questions. Other regional bodies providing support to investors include: Invest Kuala Lumpur, Invest Penang, Invest Selangor, the Sabah Economic Development and Investment Authority (SEDIA), and the Sarawak Economic Development Corporation, among others.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

On April 21, 2010, the Parliament of Malaysia passed the Competition Commission Act 2010 and the Competition Act 2010 which took effect on January 1, 2012. The Competition Act prohibits cartels and abuses of a dominant market position but does not create any pre-transaction review of mergers or acquisitions. Violations are punishable by fines, as well as imprisonment for individual violations. Malaysia’s Competition Commission has responsibility for determining whether a company’s “conduct” constitutes an abuse of dominant market position or otherwise distorts or restricts competition. As a matter of law, the Competition Commission does not have separate standards for foreign and domestic companies. Commission membership consists of senior officials from the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives, and Consumerism (MDTCC), the Ministry of Finance, and, on a rotating basis, representatives from academia and the private sector.

In addition to the Competition Commission, the Acts established a Competition Appeals Tribunal (CAT) to hear all appeals of Commission decisions. In the largest case to date, the Commission imposed a fine of RM10 million on Malaysia Airlines and Air Asia in September 2013 for colluding to divide shares of the air transport services market. The airlines filed an appeal in March 2014. In February 2016, the CAT ruled in favor of the airlines in its first-ever decision and ordered the penalty to be set aside and refunded to both airlines.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Embassy is not aware of any cases of uncompensated expropriation of U.S.-held assets, or confiscatory tax collection practices, by the Malaysian government. The government’s stated policy is that all investors, both foreign and domestic, are entitled to fair compensation in the event that their private property is required for public purposes. Should the investor and the government disagree on the amount of compensation, the issue is then referred to the Malaysian judicial system.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Malaysia signed the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID) on October 22, 1965, coming into force on October 14, 1966. In addition, it is a contracting state of the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards since November 5, 1985.

Malaysia adopted the following measures to make the two conventions effective in its territory:

The Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes Act, 1966 (Act of Parliament 14 of 1966); the Notification on entry into force of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes Act, 1966 (Notification No. 96 of March 10, 1966); and the Arbitration (Amendment) Act, 1980 (Act A 478 of 1980).

Although the domestic legal system is accessible to foreign investors, filing a case generally requires any non-Malaysian citizen to make a large deposit before pursuing a case in the Malaysian courts. Post is unaware of any U.S. investors’ recent complaints of political interference in any judicial proceedings.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Malaysia’s investment agreements contain provisions allowing for international arbitration of investment disputes. Malaysia does not have a Bilateral Investment Treaty with the United States.

Post has little data concerning the Malaysian government’s general handling of investment disputes. In 2004, a U.S. investor filed a case against the directors of the firm, who constituted the majority shareholders. The case involves allegations by the U.S. investor of embezzlement by the other directors, and its resolution is unknown.

The Malaysian government has been involved in three ICSID cases — in 1994, 1999, and 2005. The first case was settled out of court. The second, filed under the Malaysia-Belgo-Luxembourg Investment Guarantee Agreement (IGA), was concluded in 2000 in Malaysia’s favor. The 2005 case, filed under the Malaysia-UK Bilateral Investment Treaty, was concluded in 2007 in favor of the investor. However, the judgment against Malaysia was ultimately dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, namely that ICSID was not the appropriate forum to settle the dispute because the transaction in question was not deemed an investment since it did not materially contribute to Malaysia’s development. Nevertheless, Malaysian courts recognize arbitral awards issued against the government. There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Malaysia’s Arbitration Act of 2005 applies to both international and domestic arbitration. Although its provisions largely reflect those of the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law, there are some notable differences, including the requirement that parties in domestic arbitration must choose Malaysian law as the applicable law. Although an arbitration agreement may be concluded by email or fax, it must be in writing: Malaysia does not recognize oral agreements or conduct as constituting binding arbitration agreements.

Many firms choose to include mandatory arbitration clauses in their contracts. The government actively promotes use of the Kuala Lumpur Regional Center for Arbitration ( http://www.rcakl.org.my ), established under the auspices of the Asian-African Legal Consultative Committee to offer international arbitration, mediation, and conciliation for trade disputes. The KLRCA is the only recognized center for arbitration in Malaysia. Arbitration held in a foreign jurisdiction under the rules of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States 1965 or under the United Nations Commission on International trade Law Arbitration Rules 1976 and the Rules of the Regional Centre for Arbitration at Kuala Lumpur can be enforceable in Malaysia.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Malaysia’s Department of Insolvency (MDI) is the lead agency implementing the Insolvency Act of 1967, previously known as the Bankruptcy Act of 1967. On October 6, 2017, the Bankruptcy Bill 2016 came into force, changing the name of the previous Act, and amending certain terms and conditions. The most significant changes in the amendment include — (1) a social guarantor can no longer be made bankrupt; (2) there is now a stricter requirement for personal service for bankruptcy notice and petition; (3) introduction of the voluntary arrangement as an alternative to bankruptcy; (4) a higher bankruptcy threshold from RM30,000 to RM50,000; (5) introduction of the automatic discharge of bankruptcy; (6) no objection to four categories of bankruptcy for applying a discharge under section 33A (discharge of bankrupt by Certificate of Director General of Insolvency); (7) introduction of single bankruptcy order as a result of the abolishment of the current two-tier order system, i.e. receiving and adjudication orders; (8) creation of the Insolvency Assistance fund.

The distribution of proceeds from the liquidation of a bankrupt company’s assets generally adheres to the “priority matters and persons” identified by the Companies Act of 2016. After the bankruptcy process legal costs are covered, recipients of proceeds are: employees, secured creditors (i.e., creditors of real assets), unsecured creditors (i.e., creditors of financial instruments), and shareholders. Bankruptcy is not criminalized in Malaysia. The country ranks 40th on the World Bank Group’s Doing Business 2020 Rankings for Ease of Resolving Insolvency.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Malaysian government has codified the incentives available for investments in qualifying projects in target sectors and regions. Tax holidays, financing, and special deductions are among the measures generally available for domestic as well as foreign investors in the following sectors and geographic areas: information and communications technologies (ICT); biotechnology; halal products (e.g., food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals); oil and gas storage and trading; Islamic finance; Kuala Lumpur; Labuan Island (off Eastern Malaysia); East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia; Sabah and Sarawak (Eastern Malaysia); Northern Corridor.

The lists of application procedures and incentives available to investors in these sectors and regions can be found at: http://www.mida.gov.my/home/invest-in-malaysia .

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The Free Zone Act of 1990 authorized the Minister of Finance to designate any suitable area as either a Free Industrial Zone (FIZ), where manufacturing and assembly takes place, or a Free Commercial Zone (FCZ), generally for warehousing commercial stock. The Minister of Finance may appoint any federal, state, or local government agency or entity as an authority to administer, maintain and operate any free trade zone. Currently there are 13 FIZs and 12 FCZs in Malaysia. In June 2006, the Port Klang Free Zone opened as the nation’s first fully integrated FIZ and FCZ, although the project has been dogged by corruption allegations related to the land acquisition for the site. The government launched a prosecution in 2009 of the former Transport Minister involved in the land purchase process, though he was later acquitted in October 2013.

The Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ) is an initiative by the Malaysian government, implemented through MDEC, launched in November 2017 with the participation of China’s Alibaba. DFTZ aims to facilitate seamless cross-border trading and eCommerce and enable Malaysian SMEs to export their goods internationally. According to the Malaysian government, the DFTZ consists of an eFulfilment Hub to help Malaysian SMEs export their goods with the help of leading fulfilment service providers; and an eServices Platform to efficiently manage cargo clearance and other processes needed for cross-border trade.

For more information, please visit https://mdec.my/digital-economy-initiatives/for-the-industry/entrepreneurs/dftz/ .

Raw materials, products and equipment may be imported duty-free into these zones with minimum customs formalities. Companies that export not less than 80 percent of their output and depend on imported goods, raw materials, and components may be located in these Free Zones. Ports, shipping, and maritime-related services play an important role in Malaysia, as 90 percent of the country’s international trade by volume is seaborne. Malaysia is also a major transshipment center.

Goods sold into the Malaysian economy by companies within the FZs must pay import duties. If a company wants to enjoy Common External Preferential Tariff (CEPT) rates within the ASEAN Free Trade Area, 40 percent of a product’s content must be ASEAN-sourced. In addition to the FZs, Malaysia permits the establishment of licensed manufacturing warehouses outside of free zones, which give companies greater freedom of location while allowing them to enjoy privileges similar to firms operating in an FZ. Companies operating in these zones require approval/license for each activity. The time needed to obtain licenses depends on the type of approval and ranges from two to eight weeks.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Fiscal incentives granted to both foreign and domestic investors historically have been subject to performance requirements, usually in the form of export targets, local content requirements and technology transfer requirements. Performance requirements are usually written into the individual manufacturing licenses of local and foreign investors.

The Malaysian government extends a full tax exemption incentive of fifteen years for firms with “Pioneer Status” (companies promoting products or activities in industries or parts of Malaysia to which the government places a high priority), and ten years for companies with “Investment Tax Allowance” status (those on which the government places a priority, but not as high as Pioneer Status). However, the government appears to have some flexibility with respect to the expiry of these periods, and some firms reportedly have had their pioneer status renewed. Government priorities generally include the levels of value-added, technology used, and industrial linkages. If a firm (foreign or domestic) fails to meet the terms of its license, it risks losing any tax benefits it may have been awarded. Potentially, a firm could lose its manufacturing license. The New Economic Model stated that in the long term, the government intends gradually to eliminate most of the fiscal incentives now offered to foreign and domestic manufacturing investors. More information on specific incentives for various sectors can be found at www.mida.gov.my .

Malaysia also seeks to attract foreign investment in the information technology industry, particularly in the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), a government scheme to foster the growth of research, development, and other high technology activities in Malaysia. However, since July 1, 2018, the Government decided to put on hold the granting of MSC Malaysia Status and its incentives, including extension of income tax exemption period, or adding new MSC Malaysia Qualifying Activities to review and amend Malaysia’s tax incentives. While the MSC Malaysia Status Services Incentive was published on December 31, 2018, the MSC Malaysia Status IP Incentive policy is still under review. For further details on incentives, see www.mdec.my. The Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) approves all applications for MSC status. For more information please visit: https://www.mdec.my/msc-malaysia .

In the services sector, the government’s stated goal is to attract foreign investment in regional distribution centers, international procurement centers, operational headquarter research and development, university and graduate education, integrated market and logistics support services, cold chain facilities, central utility facilities, industrial training, and environmental management. To date, Malaysia has had some success in attracting regional distribution centers, global shared services offices, and local campuses of foreign universities. For example, GE and Honeywell maintain regional offices for ASEAN in Malaysia. In 2016, McDermott moved its regional headquarters to Malaysia and Boston Scientific broke ground on a medical device manufacturing facility.

Malaysia seeks to attract foreign investment in biotechnology but sends a mixed message on agricultural and food biotechnology. On July 8, 2010, the Malaysian Ministry of Health posted amendments to the Food Regulations 1985 [P.U. (A) 437/1985] that require strict mandatory labeling of food and food ingredients obtained through modern biotechnology. The amendments also included a requirement that no person shall import, prepare, or advertise for sale, or sell any food or food ingredients obtained through modern biotechnology without the prior written approval of the Director. There is no ‘threshold’ level on the labeling requirement. Labeling of “GMO Free” or “Non-GMO” is not permitted. The labeling requirements only apply to foods and food ingredients obtained through modern biotechnology but not to food produced with GMO feed. The labeling regulation has yet to go into force although was slated to do so in 2014.

Malaysia has not implemented measures amounting to “forced localization” for data storage. Bank Negara Malaysia has amended its recent Outsourcing Guidelines to remove the original data localization requirement and shared that it will similarly remove the data localization elements in its upcoming Risk Management in Technology framework. The government has provided inducements to attract foreign and domestic investors to the Multimedia Super Corridor but does not mandate use of onshore providers. Companies in the information and communications technology sector are not required to hand over source code.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Land administration is shared among federal, state, and local government. State governments have their own rules about land ownership, including foreign ownership. Malaysian law affords strong protections to real property owners. Real property titles are recorded in public records and attorneys review transfer documentation to ensure efficacy of a title transfer. There is no title insurance available in Malaysia. Malaysian courts protect property ownership rights. Foreign investors are allowed to borrow using real property as collateral. Foreign and domestic lenders are able to record mortgages with competent authorities and execute foreclosure in the event of loan default. Malaysia ranks 33rd (ranked 29th in 2019) in ease of registering property according to the Doing Business 2020 report, right behind Austria and ahead of Finland, thanks to changes it made to its registration procedures.

Intellectual Property Rights

Malaysia is not currently listed in the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report. Its Petaling Street Market is listed in 2020 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy (the Notorious Markets List). The overhaul of IPR protections that began in 2019 under the previous government continued in 2020 despite political uncertainty. Following Malaysia’s 2019 Trademarks Act, which brought protections in line with the Madrid Protocol, Malaysia amended its 1987 Copyright Act as part of an ongoing review of its IPR framework. New trademark provisions came into force on July 1, 2020 to strengthen copyright protection by creating an alternative avenue for dispute resolution by tribunal. Malaysia continues to assess its Copyright Act and has indicated it is considering additional amendments to further strengthen IPR protections. There is not yet an official determination of whether Malaysia will ratify the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP); therefore, it remains unclear whether these legislative amendments will incorporate the IP-related provisions of the CPTPP.

Malaysia has a mixed but improving record of IPR enforcement, particularly for online services that stream illegal sports content. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission proactively combats illegal streaming sites that provide content in violation of copyright laws and acts against owners of non-certified Android TV boxes being used to stream illegal content. Malaysian enforcement authorities registered their first case related to infringing streaming devices under the Copyright Act, which was brought to court on February 8. Malaysia also increased its blocking of illegal streaming sites by over 900 percent over the past three years.

Despite Malaysia’s success in improving IPR enforcement, key issues remain. There is relatively widespread availability of pirated and counterfeit products in Malaysia and there are concerns that the Royal Malaysian Customs Department (RMC) is not always effectively identifying counterfeit goods in transit.

Malaysia’s 2017 compulsory license for U.S. Gilead Sciences’ sofosbuvir, a major intellectual property-related concern in recent years, expired in 2020. Malaysia has not indicated it intends to renew the compulsory license or a government manufacturing contract for the drug, both of which expired in October 2020. Malaysia has now registered Gilead’s sofosbuvir product, Sovaldi, for local use and offers fast-track registration with the Ministry of Health for new products under Gilead’s voluntary license program. Two Indian-manufactured sofosbuvir generics granted voluntary license agreements by Gilead Sciences have already made use of this registration program with Malaysia’s Drug Control Authority.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Foreigners may trade in securities and derivatives. Malaysia houses one of Asia’s largest corporate bond markets and is the largest sukuk (Islamic bond) market in East Asia. Both domestic and foreign companies regularly access capital in Malaysia’s bond market. Malaysia provides tax incentives for foreign companies issuing Islamic bonds and financial instruments in Malaysia.

Malaysia’s stock market (Bursa Malaysia) is open to foreign investment and foreign corporation issuing shares. However, foreign issuers remain subject to Bumiputera ownership requirements of 12.5 percent if the majority of their operations are in Malaysia. Listing requirements for foreign companies are similar to that of local companies, although foreign companies must also obtain approval of regulatory authorities of foreign jurisdiction where the company was incorporated and valuation of assets that are standards applied in Malaysia or International Valuation Standards and register with the Registrar of Companies under the Companies Act 1965 or 2016.

Malaysia has taken steps to promote good corporate governance by listed companies. Publicly listed companies must submit quarterly reports that include a balance sheet and income statement within two months of each financial quarter’s end and audited annual accounts for public scrutiny within four months of each year’s end. An individual may hold up to 25 corporate directorships. All public and private company directors are required to attend classes on corporate rules and regulations.

Legislation also regulates equity buybacks, mandates book entry of all securities transfers, and requires that all owners of securities accounts be identified. A Central Depository System (CDS) for stocks and bonds established in 1991 makes physical possession of certificates unnecessary. All shares traded on the Bursa Malaysia must be deposited in the CDS. Short selling of stocks is prohibited.

Money and Banking System

International investors generally regard Malaysia’s banking sector as dynamic and well regulated. Although privately owned banks are competitive with state-owned banks, the state-owned banks dominate the market. The five largest banks – Maybank, CIMB, Public Bank, RHB, and AmBank – account for an estimated 75 percent of banking sector loans. According to the World Bank, total banking sector lending for 2019 was 120.8 percent of GDP, and 1.5 percent of the Malaysian banking sector’s loans were non-performing for 2019.

Bank Negara prohibits hostile takeovers of banks, but the Securities Commission has established non-discriminatory rules and disclosure requirements for hostile takeovers of publicly traded companies.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

In December 2016, the central bank, began implementing new foreign exchange management requirements. Under the policy, exporters are required to convert 75 percent of their export earnings into Malaysian ringgit. The goal of this policy was to deepen the market for the currency, with the goal of reducing exchange rate volatility. The policy remains in place, with the Central Bank giving case-by-case exceptions. All domestic trade in goods and services must be transacted in ringgit only, with no optional settlement in foreign currency. The Central Bank has demonstrated little flexibility with respect to the ratio of earnings that exporters hold in ringgit. Post is unaware of any instances where the requirement for exporters to hold their earnings in ringgit has impeded their ability to remit profits to headquarters.

Remittance Policies

Malaysia imposes few investment remittances rules on resident companies. Incorporated and individual U.S. investors have not raised concerns about their ability to transfer dividend payments, loan payments, royalties or other fees to home offices or U.S.-based accounts. Tax advisory firms and consultancies have not flagged payments as a significant concern among U.S. or foreign investors in Malaysia. Foreign exchange administration policies place no foreign currency asset limits on firms that have no ringgit-denominated debt. Companies that fund their purchases of foreign exchange assets with either onshore or offshore foreign exchange holdings, whether or not such companies have ringgit-denominated debt, face no limits in making remittances. However, a company with ringgit-denominated debt will need approval from the Central Bank for conversions of RM50 million or more into foreign exchange assets in a calendar year.

The Treasury Department has not identified Malaysia as a currency manipulator.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Malaysian Government established government-linked investment companies (GLICs) as vehicles to harness revenue from commodity-based industries and promote growth in strategic development areas. Khazanah is the largest of the GLICs, and the company holds equity in a range of domestic firms as well as investments outside Malaysia. The other GLICs – Armed Forces Retirement Fund (LTAT), National Capital (PNB), Employees Provident Fund (EPF), Pilgrimage Fund (Tabung Haji), Public Employees Retirement Fund (KWAP) – execute similar investments but are structured as savings vehicles for Malaysians. Khazanah follows the Santiago Principles and participates in the International Forum on Sovereign Wealth Funds.

Khazanah was incorporated in 1993 under the Companies Act of 1965 as a public limited company with a charter to promote growth in strategic industries and national initiatives. As of December 31, 2020, Khazanah’s “realizable” assets stood at RM95.3 billion as compared to RM136 billion in 2019. Its profit from operations fell to RM2.9 billion in 2020 as compared to RM7.4 billion in 2019. Dividend income from investee companies rose to RM5.2 billion from RM3.8 billion According to its Annual Review 2020 presentation, Khazanah’s priorities, going forward, include further enhancing commercial returns, delivering impactful value through strategic investments, becoming a responsible organization through embedding ESG considerations across all investment activities, building a strong digital and technology foundation. https://www.khazanah.com.my/our-performance/khazanah-annual-review-2021/ 

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State-owned enterprises which in Malaysia are called government-linked companies (GLCs), play a very significant role in the Malaysian economy. Such enterprises have been used to spearhead infrastructure and industrial projects. A 2017 analysis by the University of Malaya estimated that the government owns approximately 42 percent of the value of firms listed on the Bursa Malaysia through its seven Government-Linked Investment Corporations (GLICs), including a majority stake in a number of companies. Only a minority portion of stock is available for trading for some of the largest publicly listed local companies. Khazanah, often considered the government’s sovereign wealth fund, owns stakes in companies competing in many of the country’s major industries including aerospace, construction, energy, finance, information & communication, and marine technologies. The Prime Minister chairs Khazanah’s Board of Directors. PETRONAS, the state-owned oil and gas company, is Malaysia’s only Fortune Global 500 firm.

As part of its Government Linked Companies (GLC) Transformation Program, the Malaysian Government embarked on a two-pronged strategy to reduce its shares across a range of companies and to make those companies more competitive through improved corporate governance. The Transformation Program pushes for more independent and professionalized board membership, but the OECD noted in 2018 that in practice shareholder oversight is lax and government officials exert influence over corporate boards.

Among the notable divestments of recent years, Khazanah offloaded its stake in the national car company Proton to DRB-Hicom Bhd in 2012. In 2013, Khazanah divested its holdings in telecommunications services giant Time Engineering Bhd. Khazanah’s annual report for 2017 noted only that the fund had completed 12 divestments that produced a gain of RM 2.5 billion (USD 625 million). In 2018, Khazanah partially divested its shares in IHH Healthcare Berhad, saw two successful IPOs, and issued USUSD 321 million in exchangeable sukuk. However, significant losses at domestic companies including at Axiata, Telekom Malaysia, Tenaga Nasional, IHH Healthcare Berhad, CIMB Bank, and Malaysia Airports led to the pre-tax loss of USD 1.52 billion the company experienced in 2018. In April 2019, Khazanah sold 1.5 percent of its stake in Tenaga Nasional on Bursa Malaysia, after which Khazanah still owned 27.27 percent of the national electric company. In its annual review for 2020, Khazanah posted lower divestment gains of RM2.7 billion (USD675 million) compared to RM9.9 billion (USD2.25 billion) in 2019.

Reference: https://www.khazanah.com.my/news_press_releases/khazanah-annual-review-2021/ 

GLCs with publicly traded shares must produce audited financial statements every year. These SOEs must also submit filings related to changes in the organization’s management. The SOEs that do not offer publicly traded shares are required to submit annual reports to the Companies Commission. The requirement for publicly reporting the financial standing and scope of activities of SOEs has increased their transparency. It is also consistent with the OECD’s guideline for Transparency and Disclosure. Moreover, many SOEs prioritize operations that maximize their earnings.

The close relationships SOEs have with senior government officials, however, blur the line between strictly commercial activity pursued for its own sake and activity that has been directed to advance a policy interest. For example, Petroliam Nasional Berhad (PETRONAS) is both an SOE in the oil and gas sector and the regulator of the industry. Malaysia Airlines (MAS), in which the government previously held 70 percent but now holds 100 percent, required periodic infusions of resources from the government to maintain the large numbers of company’s staff and senior executives.

The Ministry of Finance holds significant minority stakes in five companies including a 50% stake in the financial guarantee insurer Danajamin Nasional Berhad. The government also holds a golden share in 32 companies from key industries such as aerospace, marine technology, energy industries and ports. The Ministry of Finance maintains a list of 70 companies directly controlled by the Minister of Finance Incorporated, known as MOF Inc, the largest Government Linked Investment Company (GLIC). The seven GLICs in Malaysia are also listed. However, a comprehensive list of the more than 200 GLCs that are controlled by these seven investment companies is not readily available. For more information, please visit: https://www.mof.gov.my/index.php/en/profile/divisions/government-investment-companies. Links to the sources of regulation and authorities can be found here:

With formal and informal ties between board members and government, Malaysian SOEs (GLCs) may have access to capital and financial protection from bankruptcy as well as reduced pressure to deliver profits to government shareholders. The legal framework establishing GLCs under Malaysian law specifically seeks economic opportunity for Bumiputera entrepreneurs. There is some empirical evidence, published by the Asian Development Bank, that SOEs crowd out private investment in Malaysia.

Malaysia participates in OECD corporate governance engagements and continues to work on full adherence to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance for SOEs through its Government Linked Companies (GLC) Transformation Program. The National Resource Governance Institute’s Resource Governance Index rates Malaysia as weak on governance of its oil and gas sector; however, Malaysia also ranks as 27th among 89 rated countries, in the top third.

Privatization Program

In several key sectors, including transportation, agriculture, utilities, financial services, manufacturing, and construction, Government Linked Corporations (GLCs) continue to dominate the market. However, the Malaysian Government remains publicly committed to the continued, eventual privatization, though it has not set a timeline for the process and faces substantial political pressure to preserve the roles of the GLCs. The Malaysian Government established the Public-Private Partnership Unit (UKAS) in 2009 to provide guidance and administrative support to businesses interested in privatization projects as well as large-scale government procurement projects. UKAS, which used to be a part of the Office of the Prime Minister, is now under the Ministry of Finance. UKAS oversees transactions ranging from contracts and concessions to sales and transfers of ownership from the public sector to the private sector.

Foreign investors may participate in privatization programs, but foreign ownership is limited to 25 percent of the privatized entity’s equity. The National Development Policy confers preferential treatment to the Bumiputera, which are entitled to at least 30 percent of the privatized entity’s equity.

The privatization process is formally subject to public bidding. However, the lack of transparency has led to criticism that the government’s decisions tend to favor individuals and businesses with close ties to high-ranking officials.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The development of RBC programs in Malaysia has transformed from a government-led initiative into a concept embraced by the private sector. Through the efforts of the Bursa Malaysia and other governmental bodies, awareness of corporate responsibility now exists across wide swathes of the private sector in Malaysia.

The government initially viewed RBC through the lens of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and philanthropic activities. In 2006, the Malaysian Securities Commission published a CSR framework for all publicly listed companies (PLCs), which are required to disclose their CSR programs in their annual financial reports. In 2007, the Women, Family and Community Ministry launched the Prime Minister’s CSR Awards to encourage the spread of CSR programs, and to honor those companies whose commitment to CSR had made a difference in their respective communities.

Presently, the government through the Ministry of Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives has the Protégé – Ready to Work Program Rules 2021 which allow companies participating in this [program to claim a double tax deduction on certain expenditure incurred on a trainee (Malaysian citizen graduate who is unemployed or under an employment which does not commensurate with his qualification).

The Business Council for Sustainable Development Malaysia (BCSDM) (formerly known as the Board for Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility Malaysia) also supplanted the Institute for Corporate Responsibility Malaysia as the focal point for the country’s RBC programs. This was an important development on the road to meeting international norms, as BCSDM is the local affiliate of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and aims to meet the World Bank’s Sustainable Development Goals. Additionally, BCSDM has laid out its own Vision 2050 plan, which aims to facilitate an improvement in global living standards through the implementation of a series of environmentally responsible steps.

Bursa Malaysia spearheaded the drive of including Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) issues to enhance corporate accountability by launching the FTSE4Good Bursa Malaysia Index in 2014.This Index is composed of companies selected from the top 200 Malaysian stocks in the FTSE Bursa Malaysia EMAS Index. These companies are screened in accordance with transparent and defined ESG criteria, and the index provides an avenue for investors to make ESG-focused investments and increase ESG exposure in their investment portfolios, thereby putting indirect pressure on companies to behave more responsibly.

In a subsequent step in 2015, Bursa Malaysia launched a Sustainability Framework, which was comprised of amendments to the Listing Requirement (which all PLCs must meet), and the publication of a Sustainability Reporting Guide Toolkit. As part of their new responsibilities, PLCs were required to disclose sustainability statements in their annual reports, incorporating ESG issues related to their respective businesses. In 2018 Bursa Malaysia launched a 2nd edition of the Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, which include recommendations for PLCs regarding how to integrate sustainability into their businesses, and how to conduct more extensive reporting on material Economic, Environmental, and Social (EES) risks and opportunities.

In 2015, SUHAKAM, the Malaysian Human Rights Commission, published a framework for a national plan of action on business and human rights (BHR Framework). The goal of the BHR Framework was to facilitate the adoption and implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights by both state and non-state actors in Malaysia. Subsequent to the creation of the BHR Framework, Parliament passed an amended Companies Act in 2016, which included the optional disclosure of a business review, containing information about: (i) environmental matters, including the impact of the company’s business on the environment; (ii) the company’s employees; and (iii) social and community issues. In the wake of the Companies Act 2016, The Companies Commission of Malaysia similarly sought to push RBC, by developing a best practices circular that promotes adherence to international sustainability reporting standards. This circular endorses specific international standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

The push toward effectuating RBC by the government has not only involved human rights, but has also addressed environmental concerns. The Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment & Climate Change (MESTECC) has published multiple roadmaps to that end, including: Green Technology Master Plan Malaysia 2017-2030; Malaysia’s Roadmap towards Zero Single-use Plastics 2018-2030; and National Energy Efficiency Master Plan. Despite the efforts across multiple ministries to emphasize RBC, there is nothing in Malaysia’s official procurement policy that mentions it as a factor in government contracting.

In September 2019, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a Withhold Release Order (WRO), thereby suspending imports of medical gloves from WRP Asia Pacific, a Malaysian manufacturer, citing widespread reports of the company’s use of forced labor to produce the gloves. CBP later issued WRO’s against Top Glove (rubber gloves) on July 15, 2020, FGV Holdings Berhad (palm oil) on September 30, 2020, and against Sime Darby Plantation Berhad (palm oil) on December 30, 2020. On March 29, 2021, CBP announced that the WRO against Top Glove would move to an official Finding of forced labor, resulting in CBP seizing any shipments from Top Glove that enter U.S. ports. Since the Finding announcement CBP has seized two large shipments of TG products: a shipment of gloves worth USD 518,000 on May 5, and a second shipment of gloves worth USD 619,000 on May 13. Malaysia is the world’s largest exporter of medical gloves, and the United States is its largest export market. In March 2020, CBP revoked the WRO on WRP-produced rubber gloves, citing information “showing the company is no longer producing the rubber gloves under forced labor conditions.”

A 2019 chemical dumping incident paints a blurry picture regarding Malaysia’s ability to effectively and fairly enforce domestic laws on environmental protection. In the state of Johor in March 2019, a lorry dumped a mixture of toxic chemicals into the Kim Kim River, causing the hospitalization of almost 3,000 individuals. The overwhelming majority of those hospitalized did not get sick after the initial dumping, but rather days later aided by strong winds. The authorities did not immediately remove the chemicals from the river due to the costliness of the procedure, leading to a political backlash. The state government took straightforward legal steps against the responsible parties, and completed its investigation in a thorough and impartial manner. The Johor government charged the driver of the lorry under the Environmental Quality Act 1974, and charged the owners of the factory responsible for the dumping pursuant to the Environment Quality Regulations (Scheduled Wastes) 2005 and Environmental Quality Regulations (Clean Air) Regulations 2014.

The Malaysian Securities Commission leads issues regarding corporate governance and shareholder protection. In furtherance of its goal of safeguarding investors, in 2017 the SC released an updated version of the Malaysian Code of Corporate Governance (MCCG). This -document includes principles on board leadership and effectiveness, audit and risk management, integrity in corporate reporting, and meaningful relationships with stakeholders. The SC publishes an annual report called the CG Monitor to ascertain which of their suggested best practices in the MCCG are being implemented. The CG Monitor evaluates issues ranging from executive compensation standards to the quality of disclosures made by PLCs. The SC also issues policy papers on a range of related issues, including rules on takeovers, mergers, and acquisitions, with an eye on protecting shareholders.

Bursa Malaysia is similarly interested in ensuring shareholder protection, and has a dedicated chapter in its Listing Requirements to corporate governance. This chapter lays out in detail the requirements for listed companies concerning board composition, rights of directors, and auditing practices. The Listing Requirements circle back to the MCCG, and require that the board of PLCs disclose which of the best practices annunciated in the MCCG the company is following.

Promotion of RBC in Malaysia has been increasing due to pressure from institutional investors and government-linked investment funds. In 2014, the Minority Shareholders Watch Group (an independent research organization on corporate governance matters, originally funded by four state-owned investment funds) (MSWG) and the SC worked together to draft the Malaysian Code for Institutional Investors (MCII). The MCII includes six principles of effective stewardship by institutional investors, as well as guidance to facilitate implementation. Furthermore, the MCII encourages institutional investors to invest responsibly by taking stock of the RBC and corporate governance standards of the company. As a response to the MCII, the Institutional Investor Council (IIC) was formed in 2015. The IIC is an industry-led initiative that represents the common interests of institutional investors in Malaysia, and promotes good governance (including ESG considerations) to PLCs.

The interest in RBC and good governance has taken hold not only in industry, but in governmental funds as well. The government of Malaysia’s strategic investment fund (Khazanah Nasional Berhad), the government pension fund (KWAP), and the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) are signatories to the UN-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI). As signatories, they are required to carry out PRI principles, including taking ESG into consideration during the due diligence phase before making a potential investment, and ensuring that ESG best practices are met in companies in which they invest.

Post is not aware of any governmental interference in the efforts of regulators, business associations, and investors to improve responsible business practices amongst Malaysian corporations.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

The Malaysian government established the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in 2008 and the Whistleblower Protection Act in 2010 to combat corruption and considers bribery a criminal act. Malaysia’s 2009 Anti-Corruption Commission Act (ACCA) prohibits bribery of foreign public officials, permits the prosecution of Malaysians for offenses committed overseas, prohibits bribes from being deducted from taxes, and provides for the seizure of property. The government amended the ACCA in 2018 with new provisions that introduced corporate liability. It added the ability to penalize commercial organizations, including foreign companies with operations in Malaysia, that has an “associated person” involved in corruption or bribery. The definition of “associated person” is broad and can mean a director, partner, employee, or any person who performs services for or on behalf of the company. The purpose of the law is to incentivize companies to implement stringent procedures and safeguards to prevent the emergence and development of corrupt practices, though corruption watchdog Transparency International’s Malaysia Business Integrity Country Agenda highlighted that most Malaysian businesses do not have anti-corruption programs or policies.

According to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, authorities arrested 867 public officials for corruption and bribery from January 2019 to September 2020. The MACC conducts investigations, but prosecutorial discretion remains with the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC). Under the Statutory Declaration Act of 1960, public officials are required to disclose their earnings and assets within three months of appointment, and the asset declarations are accessible to the public on the MACC online portal. The Whistleblower Protection Act does not provide protection for those who disclose allegations to the media.

In July 2020, in the first criminal trial in the country’s history involving a former prime minister, the Malaysia’s High Court convicted former Prime Minister Najib Razak on all seven counts brought against him in the first of five corruption trials tied to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) investment fund scandal. Najib was charged with giving government guarantees on a loan from the country’s retirement fund to a subsidiary of the 1MDB, misappropriation of funds, and money laundering. Najib is appealing the conviction. Suits filed against Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor on 19 counts of money laundering and tax evasion are ongoing. In May 2020, a Sessions Court granted Najib’s stepson, Riza Aziz, a “discharge not amounting to acquittal” in relation to five counts of laundering nearly $250 million from the 1MDB investment fund. As part of the agreement, Riza will return $108 million in assets. Many members of the legal community condemned the Session Court’s decision.

Resources to Report Corruption

Datuk Seri Azam Baki – Chief Commissioner
Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission
Block D6, Complex D, Pusat Pentadbiran
Kerajaan Persekutuan, Peti Surat 6000
62007 Putrajaya
+6-1800-88-6000
Email: info@sprm.gov.my

Contact at a “watchdog” organization:

Cynthia Gabriel, Director
The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4)
C Four Consultancies Sdn Bhd
A-2-10, 8 Avenue
Jalan Sg Jernih 8/1, Seksyen 8, 46050 Petaling Jaya
Selangor, Malaysia
Email: info@c4center.org

10. Political and Security Environment

There have been no significant incidents of political violence since the 1969 national elections. In April 2012, the Peaceful Assembly Act took effect, which outlaws street protests and places other significant restrictions on public assemblies. The May 9, 2018, national election led to the first transition of power between coalitions since independence, and it was peaceful. The Pakatan Harapan administration that came to office in that election collapsed on February 24, 2020 and was replaced by the Perikatan Nasional coalition led by current Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. Periodically, Malaysian groups will organize modest protests against U.S. government policies, including over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, usually involving demonstrations outside the U.S. embassy. To date, these have remained peaceful and localized, with a strong police presence. Likewise, several non-governmental organizations have organized mass rallies in major cities in peninsular and East Malaysia related to domestic policies that have been peaceful. It is illegal for foreigners to participate in political demonstrations of any kind.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Malaysia’s two million documented and estimated 1.5 to four million undocumented foreign workers make up over 30 percent of the country’s workforce. However, to curb the rise of COVID-19, the Malaysian government banned in 2020 additional or replacement migrant workers from entering the country, resulting in a dearth of migrant labor available for domestic companies.

Malaysia’s shortage of skilled labor is the most frequently mentioned impediment to economic growth cited in numerous studies. Malaysia has an acute shortage of highly qualified professionals, scientists, and academics. U.S. firms operating in Malaysia have echoed this sentiment, noting that the shortage of skilled labor has resulted in more on-the-job training for new hires.

The Malaysian labor market, traditionally accustomed to operating at or near full employment, has been heavily impacted by the prolonged shutdown as part of the government’s response to the global pandemic. The unemployment rate reached five percent in April 2020, Malaysia’s highest in over 30 years, with economic observers predicting it will climb higher during the year.

Malaysia is a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO). Labor relations in Malaysia are generally non-confrontational. While a system of government controls strongly discourages strikes and restricts the formation of unions, the new government has created a National Labor Advisory Council – comprised of the Malaysian Trade Unions Congress and Malaysian Employer’s Federation – to increase labor participation in unions. The government amended its Trade Unions Act and Industrial Relations Act in July 2019 to increase freedom of association in Malaysia. Some labor disputes are settled through negotiation or arbitration by an industrial court. Malaysian authorities have pledged to move forward with amendments to the country’s labor laws as a means of boosting the economy’s overall competitiveness and combatting forced labor conditions. The previous government prohibited outsourcing companies, improved oversight of employment agencies, and brought the Employment Act, Children and Young Persons Act, and Occupational Safety and Health Act in line with ILO principles.

Although national unions are currently proscribed in Malaysia, there are a number of territorial federations of unions (the three territories being Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, and Sarawak). The government has prevented some trade unions, such as those in the electronics and textile sectors, from forming territorial federations of unions. Instead of allowing a federation of unions for all of Peninsular Malaysia, the electronics sector is limited to forming four regional federations of unions, while the textile sector is limited to state-based federations of unions, for those states which have a textile industry. Proposed changes to the Trade Unions Act address this issue and would allow unions to form.

Employers and employees share the costs of the Social Security Organization (SOSCO), which covers an estimated 12.9 million workers and has been expanded to cover foreign workers. No systematic welfare programs or government unemployment benefits exist; however, the Employee Provident Fund, which employers and employees are required to contribute to, provides retirement benefits for workers in the private sector. Civil servants receive pensions upon retirement.

The regulation of employment in Malaysia, specifically as it affects the hiring and redundancy of workers, remains a notable impediment to employing workers in Malaysia. The high cost of terminating employees, even in cases of wrongdoing, is a source of complaint for domestic and foreign employers. The former prime minister formed an Independent Committee on Foreign Workers to study foreign worker policies. The Committee submitted 40 recommendations for streamlining the hiring of foreign workers and protecting employees from debt bondage and forced labor conditions. It is unclear whether or how the new government will act on these recommendations.

Executives at U.S. companies operating in Malaysia have reported that the government monitors the ethnic balance among employees and enforces an ethnic quota system for hiring in certain areas. Race-based preferences in hiring and promotion are widespread in government, government-owned universities, and government-linked corporations.

The former government increased and standardized the minimum wage across the country to RM 1100 (USD 275), a raise from RM 1,000 (USD 250) in Peninsular Malaysia and RM 920 (USD 230) in East Malaysia.

In 2018, the Department of Labor’s Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) listing of goods produced with child labor and forced labor included Malaysian palm oil (forced and child labor), electronics (forced labor), garments (forced labor), and rubber gloves (forced labor). Senior officials within a number of Malaysian government agencies have been working with the private sector and civil society to address concerns relating to the recruitment, hiring, and management of foreign workers in all sectors of the Malaysian economy yet progress remains slow as the government’s priorities are focused on issues of public health and the economy.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S.  FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) N/A N/A 2019 $364,700 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S.  FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $10,849 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $981 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2019 46.3% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/topic/investment/world-investment-report 
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 168,981 100% Total Outward 118,604 100%
Singapore 35,086 21% Singapore 23,653 20%
China, P.R. Hong Kong 21,438 13% Indonesia 11,532 10%
Japan 18, 382 11% Cayman Islands 8,682 7%
The Netherlands 14, 227 8% United Kingdom 7,330 6%
United States 10,398 6% United States 4,750 4%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 108,626 100% All Countries 85,176 100% All Countries 23,450 100%
United States 21,594 20% United States 17,974 21% United States 3,620 15%
Singapore 11,275 10% Singapore 9,313 11% Cayman Islands 2,038 9%
China, P.R Hong Kong 6,904 6% China, P.R Hong Kong 6,181 7% Singapore 1,962 8%
United Kingdom 6,769 6% China, P.R. Mainland 5,420 6% Australia 1,646 7%
China, P.R. Mainland 6,625 6% United Kingdom 5,363 6% Indonesia 1,458 6%

14. Contact for More Information

Embassy Kuala Lumpur Economic Section
376 Jalan Tun Razak / 50400 Kuala Lumpur Malaysia +6-03-2168-5027
+6-03-2168-5027
Email: KualaLumpurEcon@state.gov

Singapore

Executive Summary

Singapore maintains an open, heavily trade-dependent economy. The economy is supported through unprecedented government spending and strong supply chains in key sectors, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The government’s predominantly open investment policies support a free market economy while actively managing and sustaining Singapore’s economic development. U.S. companies regularly cite transparency, business-friendly laws, tax structure, customs facilitation, intellectual property protection, and well-developed infrastructure as attractive investment climate features. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report ranked Singapore second overall in “ease of doing business,” while the World Economic Forum ranked Singapore as the most competitive economy globally. Singapore actively enforces its robust anti-corruption laws and typically ranks as the least corrupt country in Asia. In addition, Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index placed Singapore as the third-least corrupt nation globally. The U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA), which came into force in 2004, 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 environmental protections.

Singapore has a diversified economy that attracts substantial foreign investment in manufacturing (petrochemical, electronics, pharmaceuticals, machinery, and equipment) and services (financial, trade, and business). The government actively promotes the country as a research and development (R&D) and innovation center for businesses by offering tax incentives, research grants, and partnership opportunities with domestic research agencies. U.S. direct investment in Singapore in 2019 totaled USD 288 billion, primarily in non-bank holding companies, manufacturing, finance, and insurance. Singapore received more than double the U.S. FDI invested in any other Asian nation. The investment outlook was positive due to Singapore’s proximity to Southeast Asia’s developing economies. Singapore remains a regional hub for thousands of multinational companies and continues to maintain its reputation as a world leader in dispute resolution, financing, and project facilitation for regional infrastructure development. In 2020, U.S. companies pledged USD 6.9 billion in future investments (over half of all-investment commitments) in the country’s manufacturing and services sectors.

Singapore is poised to attract future foreign investments in digital innovation, pharmaceutical manufacturing, sustainable development, and cybersecurity. The Government of Singapore (hereafter, “the government”) is investing heavily in automation, artificial intelligence, and integrated systems under its Smart Nation banner and seeks to establish itself as a regional hub for these technologies. Singapore is also a well-established hub for medical research and device manufacturing.

Singapore relies heavily on foreign workers who make up more than 20 percent of the workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic was initially concentrated in dormitories for low-wage foreign workers in the construction and marine industries, which resulted in strict quarantine measures that brought the construction sector to a near standstill. The government tightened foreign labor policies in 2020 to encourage firms to improve productivity and employ more Singaporean workers, and lowered most companies’ quotas for mid- and low-skilled foreign workers. Cuts, which primarily target the service sector and foreign workers’ dependents, were taken despite industry concerns about skills gaps. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has introduced more programs to partially subsidize wages and the cost to firms of recruiting, hiring, and training local workers

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 3 of 178 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 2 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 8 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 287,951 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 59,590 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

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 government was committed to maintaining a free market, but also actively plans Singapore’s economic development, including through a network of state wholly-owned and majority-owned enterprises (SOEs). As of March 31, 2021, the top three Singapore-listed SOEs accounted for 12.3 percent of total capitalization of the Singapore Exchange (SGX). Some observers have criticized the dominant role of SOEs 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 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 (See also: 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.

The Economic Development Board (EDB) is the lead promotion agency that facilitates foreign investment into Singapore ( https:www.edb.gov.sg ). EDB undertakes investment promotion and industry development and works with foreign and local businesses by providing information and facilitating introductions and access to government incentives for local and international investments. 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. The EDB maintains 18 international offices, including Chicago, Houston, New York, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.

Exceptions to Singapore’s general openness to foreign investment exist in sectors considered critical to national security, including telecommunications, broadcasting, domestic news media, financial services, legal and accounting services, ports, airports, and property ownership. Under Singaporean law, articles of incorporation may include shareholding limits that restrict ownership in such entities 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) – majority owned by Temasek, a state-owned investment company with the Minister for Finance as its sole shareholder – faces competition in all market segments. However, its main competitors, M1 and StarHub, are also SOEs. In April 2019, Australian company TPG Telecom began rolling out telecommunications services.  Approximately 30 mobile virtual network operator services (MVNOs) have also entered the market. The four Singapore telecommunications companies compete primarily on MVNO partnerships and voice and data plans.

As of April 2021, Singapore has 76 facilities-based operators offering telecommunications 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 intellectual property transit, leased satellite bandwidth (including VSAT, DVB-IP, satellite TV Downlink, and Satellite IPLC), terrestrial international private leased circuit, and backhaul services. The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) granted Singtel’s exemption after assessing the market for these services had effective competition. 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.

To facilitate the 5th generation mobile network (5G) technology and service trials, IMDA waived frequency fees for companies interested in conducting 5G trials for equipment testing, research, and assessment of commercial potential. In April 2020, IMDA granted rights to build nationwide 5G networks to Singtel and a joint venture between StarHub and M1. IMDA announced a goal of full 5G coverage by the end of 2025.  These three companies, along with TPG Telecom, are also now permitted to launch smaller, specialized 5G networks to support specialized applications, such as manufacturing and port operations.  Singapore’s government did not hold a traditional spectrum auction, instead charging a moderate, flat fee to operate the networks and evaluating proposals from the MVNOs based on their ability to provide effective coverage, meet regulatory requirements, invest significant financial resources, and address cybersecurity and network resilience concerns. The announcement emphasized the importance of the winning MVNOs using multiple vendors, to ensure security and resilience.  Singapore has committed to being one of the first countries to make 5G services broadly available, and its tightly managed 5G-rollout process continues apace, despite COVID-19.  The government views this as a necessity for a country that prides itself on innovation, even as these private firms worry that the commercial potential does not yet justify the extensive upfront investment necessary to develop new networks.

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 restricts equity ownership (local or foreign) of newspaper companies to less than five percent per shareholder and requires that directors 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 through IMDA. The government controls the distribution, importation, and sale of media sources and has curtailed or banned the circulation of some foreign publications. Singapore’s leaders have also brought defamation suits against foreign publishers and local government critics, 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 IMDA predecessor, 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, which is readily accessible. The government, however, subjected all internet content to similar rules and standards as traditional media, as defined by the IMDA’s Internet Code of Practice. Internet service providers are required to ensure that content complies with the code. The IMDA licenses the internet service providers through which local users are required to route their internet connections. However, the IMDA has blocked various websites containing objectionable material, 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 adherence 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 April 2019, the government introduced legislation in Parliament to counter “deliberate online falsehoods.” The legislation, called the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) entered into force on October 2, 2019, requires online platforms to publish correction notifications or remove online information that government ministers classify as factually false or misleading, and which they deem likely to threaten national security, diminish public confidence in the government, incite feelings of ill will between people, or influence an election. Non-compliance is punishable by fines and/or imprisonment and the government can use stricter measures such as disabling access to end-users in Singapore and forcing online platforms to disallow persons in question from using its services in Singapore. Opposition politicians, bloggers, and alternative news websites have been the target of the majority of POFMA cases thus far and many of them used U.S. social media platforms. Besides those individuals, U.S. social media companies were issued most POFMA correction orders and complied with them. U.S. media and social media sites continue to operate in Singapore, but a few major players have ceased running political ads after the government announced that it 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). Mediacorp reported that its free-to-air channels are viewed weekly by 80 percent of residents. 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 publicly 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 IMDA implemented cross-carriage measures in 2011, requiring pay-TV companies designated by IMDA 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 (MPA) has expressed concern 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 personal and tablet computers, and delivering content via fiber networks.

Streaming services have entered the market, which MPA 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 April 2021, 30 foreign full-service licensees and 90 wholesale banks operated in Singapore. An additional 24 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 their 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 April 2021, there are 10 banks operating QFB licenses. China Construction Bank received the most recent QFB award in December 2020.

Following a series of public consultations conducted by MAS over a three year period, the Banking Act 2020 came into operation on February 14, 2020. The amendments include, among other things, the removal of the Domestic Banking Unit (DBU) and Asian Currency Unit (ACU) divide, consolidation of the regulatory framework of merchant banks, expansion of the grounds for revoking bank licenses and strengthening oversight of banks’ outsourcing arrangements. Newly granted digital banking licenses under foreign ownership apply only to wholesale transactions.

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 MAS 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 5, 12, 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 for 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 30 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, only one U.S.-licensed full-service banks has obtained 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 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.

Credit card holders from 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. 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. In order to reduce the risk of misuse for illicit purposes, the new law also limits the amount of funds that can be held in or transferred out of a personal payment account (e.g., mobile wallets) in a year. Regulations are tailored to the type of activity preformed and addresses issues related to terrorism financing, money laundering, and cyber risks. In December 2020, MAS granted four digital bank licenses: two to Sea Limited and a Grab/Singtel consortium for full retail banking and two to Ant Group and the Greenland consortium (a China-based conglomerate).

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 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 130 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 December 2020, 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 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 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 LSRA will consider all the relevant circumstances including the proposed structure and its overall suitability to achieve the objectives for which Joint Law Ventures 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 Singapore citizens or permanent residents, and 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, of which two are acquired in Singapore. Alternatively, students can attend two years of practical training in architectural works and pass written and/or oral examinations set by the respective board.

Accounting and Tax Services 

Many 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 accounting 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 tons per annum 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.

Beginning in November 2018 and concluding in May 2019, Singapore launched an open electricity market (OEM). Previously, Singapore Power was the only electricity retailer. As of October 2019, 40 percent of resident consumers had switched to a new electricity retailer and were saving between 20 and 30 percent on their monthly bills.  During the second half of 2020, the government significantly reduced tariffs for household consumption and encouraged consumer OEM adoption. To participate in OEM, licensed retailers must satisfy additional credit, technical, and financial requirements set by Energy Market Authority 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 2020, there were 12 retailers in the market, including foreign and local entities.

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 local 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 ( https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/CoA1967 ). 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. All companies incorporated in Singapore, foreign companies, and limited liability partnerships registered in Singapore are also required to maintain beneficial ownership in the form of a register of controllers (generally 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 in 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 a formalized 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, after which no major policy recommendations were raised. (https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/countries_e/singapore_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. The program is implemented through regional policy dialogue, country investment policy reviews, and training seminars. (http://www.oecd.org/investment/countryreviews.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. (https://www.oecd.org/tax/transfer-pricing/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. (http://www.oecd.org/corruption-integrity/reports/singapore-2018-peer-review-report-transparency-exchange-information-aci.html )

As of April 2021, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has not conducted a policy review of Singapore’s intellectual property rights regime. (http://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/Investment%20Policy%20Reviews/Investment-Policy-Reviews.aspx )

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 ACRA through Bizfile, its online registration and information retrieval portal ( https://www.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 could take between 14 to 60 days, 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 in the world.

ACRA ( www.acra.gov.sg ) provides a single window for business registration. Additional regulatory approvals (e.g., licensing or visa requirements) are obtained via individual applications to the respective ministries or statutory boards. Further 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 ) and GuideMeSingapore, a corporate services firm Hawskford ( https://www.guidemesingapore.com /).

Foreign companies may lease or buy privately or publicly held land in Singapore, though there are some restrictions on foreign property ownership. 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.

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. 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, the United States, and ASEAN.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

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.

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 ministries or in statutory boards, which are organizations that have been given autonomy to perform an operational function by legal statutes passed as acts of 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 AGC legislation division advises and helps vet or draft bills in conjunction with policymakers from relevant ministries.  Public and private consultations are often requested for proposed draft legislative amendments. Thereafter, the cabinet’s approval is required 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 for scrutiny, and thereafter presented to the President for assent. Only after the President has assented to the bill does it become law.

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 ), focusing 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.

Industry self-regulation occurs in several areas, including advertising and corporate governance.  Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) (https://asas.org.sg/), 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.

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 applying to be or are listed in the public market, Singapore Exchange, are known as Singapore Financial Reporting Standards (SFRS(I)), which are identical to those of the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB). Non-listed Singapore-incorporated companies can voluntarily apply for SFRS(I). Otherwise, they are required to comply with Singapore Financial Reporting Standards (SFRS), which are also 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 or 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(I), IFRS, or U.S. GAAP.

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.

The Parliament of Singapore website (https://www.parliament.gov.sg/parliamentary-business/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.

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, which is made up of the Court of Appeal and the High Court, 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 she, acting at her discretion, concurs with the advice of the Prime Minister.

No systemic regulatory reforms or enforcement reforms relevant to foreign investors were announced in 2020. The Monetary Authority of Singapore focuses enforcement efforts 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. In March 2019, MAS published its inaugural Enforcement Report detailing enforcement measures and publishes recent enforcement actions on its website (https://www.mas.gov.sg/regulation/enforcement/enforcement-actions ).

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.  While Singapore has expressed interest in driving intra-regional trade, the dynamics of ASEAN economies are convergent.

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 Singapore Food Agency, 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, Exchange of Information on Request, 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 2020 Rule of Law Index by World Justice Project, it is ranked overall twelfth in the world, first on order and security, third on regulatory enforcement, third in absence of corruption, sixth on civil and criminal justice, twenty-ninth on constraints on government powers, twenty-sixth on open government, and thirty-second on fundamental rights. Singapore’s legal procedures are ranked first in the world in the World Bank’s 2020 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. (https://www.mti.gov.sg/PEP/About)

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. Under the law, additional measures, such as the Cybersecurity Labelling Scheme, continue to be introduced.  Authorities stress that, “in view of the need to strike a good balance between industry development and cybersecurity needs, the licensing framework will take a light-touch approach.”

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) is a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry 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 government linked companies (GLC) 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. A 2018 addition to the act gives the CCCS additional administrative power to protect consumers against unfair trade practices.

The most recent infringement decision issued by CCCS occurred in January 2019 when three competing hotel operators, including a major British hospitality company, exchanged “commercially sensitive” information. The operators were fined a total financial penalty of $1.1 million for conduct potentially resulting in reduced competitive pressure on the market. No other cases tied to commercial behavior in 2019 or the first quarter of 2020 have received penalties from CCCS.

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 gives 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.

Singapore is also a party to the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation, further referred to as the “Convention.” This Convention provides a process for parties to enforce or invoke an international commercial mediated settlement agreement once the conditions and requirements of the Convention are met. Singapore has put in place domestic legislation, the Singapore Convention on Mediation Bill 2020, which was passed in Parliament on 4 February 2020. On 25 February 2020, Singapore and Fiji were the first two countries to deposit their respective instruments of ratification of the Convention at the United Nations Headquarters. The Convention will enter into force six months after the third State deposits its instrument of ratification, acceptance and approval or accession. Singapore’s arbitration center settled a record high number of cases in 2020 and opened a New York City office.

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 the New York 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. ( https://sso.agc.gov.sg/SL/RECJA1921-N1?DocDate=19990701 ) 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. The 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 1958 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. The government is investing in establishing Singapore as a global mediation hub.

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 dispute resolution 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.

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 ranks number 27 for resolving insolvency in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Index. While Singapore performed well in recovery rate and time of recovery following bankruptcies, the country did not score well on cost of proceedings or insolvency frameworks. 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.

The Insolvency, Restructuring and Dissolution Act passed in 2018, but the expected effective date of the bill has been delayed from the first half of 2019 into 2020. 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. Authorities continue to seek public consultations of subsidiary legislation to be drafted under the act.

Two MAS-recognized consumer credit bureaus operate in Singapore: the Credit Bureau (Singapore) Pte Ltd and Experian Credit Bureau Singapore 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/ )

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The EDB is the lead investment promotion agency facilitating foreign investment into Singapore ( https://www.edb.gov.sg ). The EDB undertakes investment promotion and industry development, and works with international businesses, both foreign and local, by providing information, connection to partners, and access to government incentives for their investments. The Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR) is Singapore’s lead public sector agency focused on economic-oriented research to advance scientific discovery and innovative technology. ( https://www.a-star.edu.sg ) The National Research Foundation (NRF) provides competitive grants for applied research through an integrated grant management system. ( https://researchgrant.gov.sg/pages/index.aspx ) Various government agencies (including Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS, NRF, and EDB) provide venture capital co-funding for startups and commercialization of intellectual property.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Singapore has nine free-trade zones (FTZs) in five geographical areas operated by three FTZ authorities. The FTZs may be used for storage and repackaging of import and export cargo, and goods transiting Singapore for subsequent re-export. Manufacturing is not carried out within the zones. Foreign and local firms have equal access to the FTZ facilities.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Performance requirements are applied uniformly and systematically to both domestic and foreign investors. Singapore has no forced localization policy requiring domestic content in goods or technology. The government does not require investors to purchase from local sources or specify a percentage of output for export. There are no rules forcing the transfer of technology. There are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption. The industry regulator is the IMDA, a statutory board under the Ministry of Communications and Information.

In May 2020, Singapore tightened requirements for hiring foreign workers, including raising minimum salary thresholds and additional enforcement of penalties for employers not giving “fair consideration” to local applicants before hiring foreign workers. Personal data matters are independently overseen by the Personal Data Protection Commission, which administers and enforces the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) of 2012. The PDPA governs the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data by the private sector and covers both electronic and non-electronic data. Singapore is currently reviewing the PDPA to ensure that it keeps pace with the evolving needs of businesses and individuals in a digital economy such as introducing an enhanced framework for the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data and a mandatory data breach notification regime.

Singapore does not have a data localization policy. Singapore participates in various regional and international frameworks that promote interoperability and harmonization of rules to facilitate cross-border data flows. The ASEAN Framework on Digital Data Governance (FDFG) is one example. Under FDFG, Singapore will focus on developing model contractual clauses and certification for cross border data flows within the ASEAN region. Another is Singapore’s participation in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Cross-Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) and Privacy Recognition for Processors systems, to facilitate data transfers for certified organizations across APEC economies.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Property rights and interests are enforced in Singapore. Residents have access to mortgages and liens, with reliable recording of properties. In the 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report, Singapore ranks first in the world in enforcing contracts and number 21st in registering property.

Foreigners are not allowed to purchase public housing in Singapore, and prior approval from the Singapore Land Authority is required to purchase landed residential property and residential land for development. Foreigners can purchase non-landed, private sector housing (e.g., condominiums or any unit within a building) without the need to obtain prior approval. However, they are not allowed to acquire all the apartments or units in a development without prior approval. These restrictions also apply to foreign companies.

There are no restrictions on foreign ownership of industrial and commercial real estate. Since July 2018, foreigners who purchase homes in Singapore are required to pay an additional effective 20 percent tax on top of standard buyer’s taxes. However, U.S. citizens are accorded national treatment under the FTA, meaning only second and subsequent purchases of residential property will be subject to 12 and 15 percent additional duties, equivalent to Singaporean citizens.

The availability of covered bond legislation under MAS Notice 648 has provided an incentive for Singapore financial institutions to issue covered bonds. Under Notice 648, only a bank incorporated in Singapore may issue covered bonds. The three main Singapore banks: DBS, OCBC, and UOB, all have in place covered bond programs, with the issues offered to private investors. The banking industry has made suggestions to allow the use of covered bonds in repossession transactions with the central bank and to increase the encumbrance limit, currently at four percent. ( http://www.mas.gov.sg/regulations/notices/notice-648 )

Intellectual Property Rights

Singapore maintains one of the strongest intellectual property rights regimes in Asia. The chief executive of Singapore’s Intellectual Property Office was elected director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in April 2020. However, some concerns remain in certain areas such as business software piracy, online piracy, and enforcement.

Effective January 1, 2020, all patent applications must be fully examined by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) to ensure that any foreign-granted patents fully satisfy Singapore’s patentability criteria. The Registered Designs (Amendment) Act broadens the scope of registered designs to include virtual designs and color as a design feature and will stipulate the default owner of designs to be the designer of a commissioned design, rather than the commissioning party.

The USSFTA ensures that government agencies will not grant regulatory approvals to patent- infringing products, but Singapore does allow parallel imports. Under the Patents Act, with regards to pharmaceutical products, the patent owner has the right to bring an action to stop an importer of “grey market goods” from importing the patent owner’s patented product, provided that the product has not previously been sold or distributed in Singapore, the importation results in a breach of contract between the proprietor of the patent and any person licensed by the proprietor of the patent to distribute the product outside Singapore and the importer has knowledge of such.

The USSFTA ensures protection of test data and trade secrets submitted to the government for regulatory approval purposes. Disclosure of such information is prohibited. Such data may not be used for approval of the same or similar products without the consent of the party who submitted the data for a period of five years from the date of approval of the pharmaceutical product and 10 years from the date of approval of an agricultural chemical. Singapore has no specific legislation concerning protection of trade secrets. Instead, it protects investors’ commercially valuable proprietary information under common law by the Law of Confidence as well as legislation such as the Penal Code (e.g., theft) and the Computer Misuse Act (e.g., unauthorized access to a computer system to download information). U.S. industry has expressed concern that this provision is inadequate.

As a WTO member, Singapore is party to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). It is a signatory to other international intellectual property rights agreements, including the Paris Convention, the Berne Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the Madrid Protocol, and the Budapest Treaty. The WIPO Secretariat opened a regional office in Singapore in 2005. ( http://www.wipo.int/about-wipo/en/offices/singapore/)  Amendments to the Trademark Act, which were passed in January 2007, fulfilled Singapore’s obligations in WIPO’s revised Singapore Treaty on the Law of Trademarks.

Singapore ranked 11th out of 53 in the world in the 2020 U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s International Intellectual Property (IP) Index. The index noted that Singapore’s key strengths include an advanced national IP framework and efforts to accelerate research, patent examination, and grants. The index also lauded Singapore as a global leader in patent protection and online copyright enforcement. Despite a decrease in estimated software piracy from 35 percent in 2009 to 27 percent in 2020, the index noted that piracy levels remain high for a developed, high-income country. Lack of transparency and data on customs seizures of IP-infringing goods is also noted as a key area of weakness.

Singapore does not publicly report the statistics on seizures of counterfeit goods and does not rate highly on enforcement of physical counterfeit goods, online sales of counterfeit goods or digital online piracy, according to the 2018 U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s International IP Index. Singapore is not listed in USTR’s 2020 Special 301 Report, but some Singapore-based online retailers are named in USTR’s 2019 Review of Notorious Markets. For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The government takes a favorable stance towards foreign portfolio investment and fixed asset investments. While it welcomes capital market investments, the government has introduced macro-prudential policies aimed at reducing foreign speculative inflows in the real estate sector since 2009. The government promotes Singapore’s position as an asset and wealth management center, and assets under management grew 5.4 percent in 2018 to USD 2.4 trillion (SD 3.4 trillion) – the latest year for which MAS conducted a survey.

The Government of Singapore facilitates the free flow of financial resources into product and factor markets, and the Singapore Exchange (SGX) is Singapore’s stock market. An effective regulatory system exists to encourage and facilitate portfolio investment. Credit is allocated on market terms and foreign investors can access credit, U.S. dollars, Singapore dollars (SGD), and other foreign currencies on the local market. The private sector has access to a variety of credit instruments through banks operating in Singapore. The government respects IMF Article VIII by refraining from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.

Money and Banking System

Singapore’s banking system is sound and well regulated by MAS, and the country serves as a financial hub for the region. Banks have a very high domestic penetration rate, and according to World Bank Financial Inclusion indicators, over 97 percent of persons held a financial account in 2017. (latest year available). Local Singapore banks saw net profits rise 27 percent in the last quarter of 2019. Banks are statutorily prohibited from engaging in non-financial business. Banks can hold 10 percent or less in non-financial companies as an “equity portfolio investment.” At the end of 2019, the non-performing loans ratio (NPL ratio) of the three local banks remained at an averaged 1.5 percent since the last quarter of 2018.

Foreign banks require licenses to operate in the country. The tiered licenses, for Merchant, Offshore, Wholesale, Full Banks and Qualifying Full Banks (QFBs) subject banks to further prudential safeguards in return for offering a greater range of services. U.S. financial institutions enjoy phased-in benefits under the USSFTA. Since 2006, U.S.-licensed full-service banks that are also QFBs 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.

Under the OECD Common Reporting Standards (CRS), which has been in effect since January 2017, Singapore-based Financial Institutions (SGFIs) – depository institutions such as banks, specified insurance companies, investment entities, and custodial institutions – are required to: 1) establish the tax residency status of all their account holders; 2) collect and retain CRS information for all non-Singapore tax residents in the case of new accounts; and 3) report to tax authorities the financial account information of account holders who are tax residents of jurisdictions with which Singapore has a Competent Authority Agreement (CAA) to exchange the information. As of December 2019, Singapore has established more than 80 exchange relationships, include with the United States, established in September 2018.

U.S. financial regulations do not restrict foreign banks’ ability to hold accounts for U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens are encouraged to alert the nearest U.S. Embassy of any practices they encounter with regard to the provision of financial services.

Fintech investments in Singapore rose from USD 365 million in 2018 to USD 861 million in 2019. To strengthen Singapore’s position as a global Fintech hub, MAS has created a dedicated Fintech Office as a one-stop virtual entity for all Fintech-related matters to enable experimentation and promote an open-API (Application Programming Interfaces) in the financial industry. Investment in payments start-ups accounted for about 40 percent of all funds. Singapore has more than 50 innovation labs established by global financial institutions and technology companies.

MAS also aims to be a regional leader in blockchain technologies and has worked to position Singapore as a financial technology center. MAS and the Association of Banks in Singapore are prototyping the use of Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) for inter-bank clearing and settlement of payments and securities. Following a five-year collaborative project to understand the technology, a test network launched to facilitate collaboration in the cross-border blockchain ecosystem. Technical specifications for the functionalities and connectivity interfaces of the prototype network are publicly available. ( https://www.mas.gov.sg/schemes-and-initiatives/Project-Ubin ).

Alternative financial services include retail and corporate non-bank lending via finance companies, cooperative societies, and pawnshops; and burgeoning financial technology-based services across a wide range of sectors including: crowdfunding, initial coin offerings, and payment services and remittance. In January 2020, the Payment Services Bill went into effect, which will require all cryptocurrency service providers to be licensed with the intent to provide more user protection. Smaller payment firms will receive a different classification from larger institutions and will be less heavily regulated. Key infrastructure supporting Singapore’s financial market include interbank (MEP), Foreign exchange (CLS, CAPS), retail (SGDCCS, USDCCS, CTS, IBG, ATM, FAST, NETS, EFTPOS), securities (MEPS+-SGS, CDP, SGX-DC) and derivatives settlements (SGX-DC, APS) ( https://www.mas.gov.sg/regulation/payments/payment-systems )

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The USSFTA commits Singapore to the free transfer of capital, unimpeded by regulatory restrictions. Singapore places no restrictions on reinvestment or repatriation of earnings and capital, and maintains no significant restrictions on remittances, foreign exchange transactions and capital movements.

Singapore’s monetary policy has been centered on the management of the exchange rate since 1981, with the stated primary objective of promoting medium term price stability as a sound basis for sustainable economic growth. As described by MAS, there are three main features of the exchange rate system in Singapore: 1) MAS operates a managed float regime for the Singapore dollar with the trade-weighted exchange rate allowed to fluctuate within a policy band; 2) the Singapore dollar is managed against a basket of currencies of its major trading partners; and 3) the exchange rate policy band is periodically reviewed to ensure that it remains consistent with the underlying fundamentals of the economy.

Remittance Policies

There are no time or amount limitations on remittances. No significant changes to investment remittance were implemented or announced over the past year. Local and foreign banks may impose their own limitations on daily remittances.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Government of Singapore has three key investment entities: GIC Private Limited (GIC) is the sovereign wealth fund in Singapore that manages the government’s substantial foreign investments, fiscal, and foreign reserves, with the stated objective to achieve long-term returns and preserve the international purchasing power of the reserves. Temasek is a holding company wholly owned by the Ministry of Finance with investments in Singapore and abroad. MAS, as the central bank of Singapore, manages the Official Foreign Reserves, and a significant proportion of its portfolio is invested in liquid financial market instruments.

GIC does not publish the size of the funds under management, but some industry observers estimate its managed assets may exceed $400 billion. GIC does not invest domestically, but manages Singapore’s international investments, which are generally passive (non-controlling) investments in publicly traded entities. The United States is its top investment destination, accounting for 34 percent of GIC’s portfolio as of March 2020, while Asia (excluding Japan) accounts for 19 percent, the Eurozone 13 percent, Japan 13 percent, and UK 6 percent. Investments in the United States are diversified and include industrial and commercial properties, student housing, power transmission companies, and financial, retail and business services. GIC is a member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds. Although not required by law, GIC has published an annual report since 2008.

Temasek began as a holding company for Singapore’s state-owned enterprises, now GLCs, but has since branched out to other asset classes and often holds significant stake in companies. As of March 2020, Temasek’s portfolio value reached $226 billion, and its asset exposure to Singapore is 24 percent; 42 percent in the rest of Asia, and 17 percent in North America. According to the Temasek Charter, Temasek delivers sustainable value over the long term for its stakeholders. Temasek has published a Temasek Review annually since 2004. The statements only provide consolidated financial statements, which aggregate all of Temasek and its subsidiaries into a single financial report. A major international audit firm audits Temasek Group’s annual statutory financial statements. GIC and Temasek uphold the Santiago Principles for sovereign investments.

Other investing entities of government funds include EDB Investments Pte Ltd, Singapore’s Housing Development Board, and other government statutory boards with funding decisions driven by goals emanating from the central government.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Singapore has an extensive network of full and partial SOEs held under the umbrella of Temasek Holdings, a holding company with the Ministry of Finance as its sole shareholder. Singapore SOEs play a substantial role in the domestic economy, especially in strategically important sectors including telecommunications, media, healthcare, public transportation, defense, port, gas, electricity grid, and airport operations. In addition, the SOEs are also present in many other sectors of the economy, including banking, subway, airline, consumer/lifestyle, commodities trading, oil and gas engineering, postal services, infrastructure, and real estate.

The Government of Singapore emphasizes that government-linked entities operate on an equal basis with both local and foreign businesses without exception. There is no published list of SOEs.

Temasek’s annual report notes that its portfolio companies are guided and managed by their respective boards and management, and Temasek does not direct their business decisions or operations. However, as a substantial shareholder, corporate governance within government linked companies typically are guided or influenced by policies developed by Temasek. There are differences in corporate governance disclosures and practices across the GLCs, and GLC boards are allowed to determine their own governance practices, with Temasek advisors occasionally meeting with the companies to make recommendations. GLC board seats are not specifically allocated to government officials, although it “leverages on its networks to suggest qualified individuals for consideration by the respective boards,” and leaders formerly from the armed forces or civil service are often represented on boards and fill senior management positions. Temasek exercises its shareholder rights to influence the strategic directions of its companies but does not get involved in the day-to-day business and commercial decisions of its firms and subsidiaries.

GLCs operate on a commercial basis and compete on an equal basis with private businesses, both local and foreign. Singapore officials highlight that the government does not interfere with the operations of GLCs or grant them special privileges, preferential treatment or hidden subsidies, asserting that GLCs are subject to the same regulatory regime and discipline of the market as private sector companies. However, observers have been critical of cases where GLCs have entered into new lines of business or where government agencies have “corporatized” certain government functions, in both circumstances entering into competition with already existing private businesses. Some private sector companies have said they encountered unfair business practices and opaque bidding processes that appeared to favor incumbent, government-linked firms. In addition, they note that the GLC’s institutional relationships with the government give them natural advantages in terms of access to cheaper funding and opportunities to shape the economic policy agenda in ways that benefit their companies.

The USSFTA contains specific conduct guarantees to ensure that 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 USSFTA. In accordance with its USSFTA commitments, Singapore enacted the Competition Act in 2004 and established the Competition Commission of Singapore in January 2005. The Competition Act contains provisions on anti-competitive agreements, decisions, and practices, abuse of dominance, enforcement and appeals process, and mergers and acquisitions.

Privatization Program

The government has privatized GLCs in multiple sectors and has not publicly announced further privatization plans, but is likely to retain controlling stakes in strategically important sectors, including telecommunications, media, public transportation, defense, port, gas, electricity grid, and airport operations. The Energy Market Authority is extending the liberalization of the retail market from commercial and industrial consumers with an average monthly electricity consumption of at least 2,000 kWh to households and smaller businesses. The Electricity Act and the Code of Conduct for Retail Electricity Licensees govern licensing and standards for electricity retail companies.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The awareness and implementation of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Singapore has been increasing since the formation of the Global Compact Network Singapore (GCNS) under the United Nations Global Compact network, with the goals of encouraging companies to adopt sustainability principles related to human and labor rights, environmental conservation, and anti-corruption. GCNS facilitates exchanges, conducts research, and provides training in Singapore to build capacity in areas including sustainability reporting, supply chain management, ISO 26000, and measuring and reporting carbon emissions.

A 2019 World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature survey showed a lack of transparency by Singapore companies in disclosing palm oil sources. However, there is growing awareness and the Southeast Asia Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil (Saspo) has received additional pledges in by companies to adhere to standards for palm oil sourcing set by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). A group of food and beverage, retail, and hospitality companies announced in January 2019 what the WWF calls “the most impactful business response to-date on plastics.” The pact, initiated by WWF and supported by the National Environment Agency, is a commitment to significantly reduce plastic production and usage by 2030.

In June 2016, the Singapore Exchange (SGX) introduced mandatory, comply-or-explain, sustainability reporting requirements for all listed companies, including material environmental, social and governance practices, from the financial year ending December 31, 2017 onwards. The Singapore Environmental Council (SEC) operates a green labeling scheme, which endorses environmentally friendly products, numbering over 3,000 from 2729 countries. The Association of Banks in Singapore has issued voluntary guidelines to banks in Singapore last updated in July 2018 encouraging them to adopt sustainable lending practices, including the integration of environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles into their lending and business practices. Singapore-based banks are listed in a 2018 Market Forces report as major lenders in regional coal financing.

Singapore has not developed a National Action Plan on business and human rights, but promotes responsible business practices, and encourages foreign and local enterprises to follow generally accepted CSR principles. The government does not explicitly factor responsible business conduct (RBC) policies into its procurement decisions.

The host government effectively and fairly enforces domestic laws with regard to human rights, labor rights, consumer protection, environmental protections, and other laws/regulations intended to protect individuals from adverse business impacts. The private sector’s impact on migrant workers and their rights, and domestic migrant workers in particular (due to the latter’s exemption from the Employment Act which stipulates the rights of workers), remains an area of advocacy by civil society groups. The government has taken incremental steps to improve the channels of redress and enforcement of migrant workers’ rights; however, key concerns about legislative protections remain unaddressed for domestic migrant workers. The government generally encourages businesses to comply with international standards. However, there are no specific mentions of the host government encouraging adherence to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance, or supply chain due diligence measures.

The Companies Act principally governs companies in Singapore. Key areas of corporate governance covered under the act include separation of ownership from management, fiduciary duties of directors, shareholder remedies, and capital maintenance rules. Limited liability partnerships are governed by the Limited Liability Partnerships Act. Certain provisions in other statutes such as the Securities and Futures Act are also relevant to listed companies. Listed companies are required under the Singapore Exchange Listing Rules to describe in their annual reports their corporate governance practices with specific reference to the principles and provisions of the Code of Corporate Governance (“Code”). Listed companies must comply with the principles of the Code and if their practices vary from any provision in the Code, they must explain the variation and demonstrate the variation is consistent with the relevant principle. The revised Code of Corporate Governance will impact Annual Reports covering financial years from January 1, 2019 onward. The revised code encourages board renewal, strengthens director independence, increases transparency of remuneration practices, enhances board diversity, and encourages communication with all stakeholders. MAS also established an independent Corporate Governance Advisory Committee (CGAC) to advocated good corporate governance practices in February 2019. The CGAC monitors companies’ implementation of the code and advises regulators on corporate governance issues.

There are independent NGOs promoting and monitoring RBC. Those monitoring or advocating around RBC are generally able to do their work freely within most areas. However, labor unions are tightly controlled and legal rights to strike are granted with restrictions under the Trade Disputes Act.

Singapore has no oil, gas, or mineral resources and is not a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). A small sector in Singapore processes rare minerals and complies with responsible supply chains and conflict mineral principles. Under the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) framework, it is a requirement for Corporate Service Providers to develop and implement internal policies, procedures and controls to comply with Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations on combating of money laundering and terrorism financing.

Additional Resources 

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Resources to Report Corruption

Singapore actively enforces its strong anti-corruption laws, and corruption is not cited as a concern for foreign investors. Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index ranks Singapore third of 178 countries globally, the highest-ranking Asian country. The Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), and the Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act provide the legal basis for government action by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), which is the only agency authorized under the PCA to investigate corruption offences and other related offences. These laws cover acts of corruption within Singapore as well as those committed by Singaporeans abroad. The anti-corruption laws extend to family members of officials, and to political parties. The CPIB is effective and non-discriminatory. Singapore is generally perceived to be one of the least corrupt countries in the world, and corruption is not identified as an obstacle to foreign direct investment in Singapore. Recent corporate fraud scandals, particularly in the commodity trading sector, have been publicly, swiftly, and firmly reprimanded by the government. Singapore is a signatory to the UN Anticorruption Convention, but not the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

Resources to Report Corruption

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

Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau
2 Lengkok Bahru, Singapore 159047
+65 6270 0141  info@cpib.gov.sg

Contact at a “watchdog” organization:

Transparency International
Alt-Moabit 96
10559 Berlin, Germany +49 30 3438 200

10. Political and Security Environment

Singapore’s political environment is stable and there is no recent history of incidents involving politically motivated damage to foreign investments in Singapore. The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has dominated Singapore’s parliamentary government since 1959 and currently controls 83 of the 89 regularly contested parliamentary seats. Singaporean opposition parties, which currently hold six regularly contested parliamentary seats and three additional seats reserved to the opposition by the constitution, do not usually espouse views that are radically different from mainstream public opinion.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

In December 2020, Singapore’s labor market totaled 3.6 million workers; this includes about 1.4 million foreigners, of whom about 85 percent are basic skilled or semi-skilled workers. The labor market continues to be tight, with overall unemployment rate averaging in the 3.04 percent in 2020. The 2020 budget, announced in February and two subsequent supplementary budgets announced in March and April, provided for substantial wage and training support for all firms during the COVID-19 outbreak. In sectors, such as travel and tourism, the government offered temporary employment or training for workers placed on unpaid leave due to COVID-19. The 2021 budget continues this support, although at lower levels and in a more focused manner, since the government expects overall GDP growth to return. Local labor laws allow for relatively free hiring and firing practices. Either party can terminate employment by giving the other party the required notice. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) must approve employment of foreigners.

Since 2011, the government has introduced policy measures to support productivity increases coupled with reduced dependence on foreign labor. In Budget 2019, MOM announced a decrease in the foreign worker quota ceiling from 40 percent to 38 percent on January 1, 2020 and to 35 percent on January 1, 2021. The quota reduction does not apply to those on Employment Passes (EPs) which are high skilled workers making above $33,100 per year. In Budget 2020, the foreign worker quota was cut further for mid-skilled (“S Pass”) workers in construction, marine shipyards, and the process sectors from 20 to 18 percent by January 1, 2021. The quota will be further reduced to 15 percent on January 1, 2023. Singapore’s labor force fell for the first time in a decade and is expected to face significant demographic headwinds from an aging population and low birth rates, alongside restrictions on foreign workers. Singapore’s local workforce growth is slowing, heading for stagnation over the next ten years.

To address concerns over an aging and shrinking workforce, MOM has expanded its training and grant programs. The government included a number of individual and company subsidies for existing and new programs in the Budget 2020 and 2021, as well as an unprecedented number of supplementary budgets during the COVID-19 outbreak. An example of an existing program is SkillsFuture, a government initiative managed by SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), a statutory board under the Ministry of Education, designed to provide all Singaporeans with enhanced opportunities and skills-capacity building. SSG also administers the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ), a national credential system that trains, develops, assesses, and certifies skills and competencies for the workforce.

All foreigners must have a valid work pass before they can start work in Singapore, with EPs (for professionals, managers and executives), S Pass (for mid-level skilled staff), and Work Permits (for semi-skilled workers), among the most widely issued. Workers need to have a job with minimum fixed monthly salary and acceptable qualifications to be eligible for the Employment Pass and S Pass. MOM has increased minimum salaries restricting the ability of some companies to hire foreign workers, including spouses of employment pass holders. The government further regulates the inflow of foreign workers through the Foreign Worker Levy (FWL) and the Dependency Ratio Ceiling (DRC). The DRC is the maximum permitted ratio of foreign workers to the total workforce that a company can hire and serves as a quota on the hiring of foreign workers. The DRC varies across sectors. Employers of S Pass and Work Permit holders are required to pay a monthly FWL to the government. The FWL varies according to the skills, qualifications and experience of their employees. The FWL is set on a sector-by-sector basis and is subject to annual revisions. FWLs have been progressively increased for most sectors since 2012.

MOM requires employers to consider Singaporeans before hiring skilled professional foreigners. The Fair Consideration Framework, implemented in August 2014, affects employers who apply for EPs, the work pass for foreign professionals working in professional, manager, and executive (PME) posts. Companies have noted inconsistent and increasingly burdensome documentation requirements and excessive qualification criteria to approve EP applications. Under the rules, firms making new EP applications must first advertise the job vacancy in a new jobs bank administered by Workforce Singapore (WSG), ( http://www.mycareersfuture.gov.sg ) for at least 28 days. The jobs bank is free for use by companies and job seekers and the job advertisement must be open to all, including Singaporeans. Employers are encouraged to keep records of their interview process as proof that they have done due diligence in trying to look for a Singaporean worker. If an EP is still needed, the employer will have to make a statutory declaration that a job advertisement on http://www.mycareersfuture.gov.sg had been made. Smaller firms with 10 or fewer employees and jobs, which pay a fixed monthly salary of $10,609 or more, are exempt from the requirements, which were newly tightened and took effect from July 2018. The minimum fixed salary will be raised to $14,145 on May 1, 2021.

Consistent with Singapore’s WTO obligations, intra-corporate transfers (ICT) are allowed for managers, executives, and specialists who had worked for at least one year in the firm before being posted to Singapore. ICT would still be required to meet all EP criteria, but the requirement for an advertisement on http://www.mycareersfuture.gov.sg would be waived. In April 2016, MOM outlined measures to refine the work pass applications process, looking not only at the qualifications of individuals, but at company-related factors. Companies found not to have a “healthy Singaporean core, lacking a demonstrated commitment to developing a Singaporean core, and not found to be “relevant” to Singapore’s economy and society, will be labeled “triple weak” and put on a watch list. Companies unable to demonstrate progress may have work pass privileges suspended after a period of scrutiny. Since 2016, MOM has placed approximately 1,200 companies on the FCF Watchlist. The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices have worked with 260 companies to be successfully removed from the watchlist.

The Employment Act covers all employees under a contract of service, and under the act, employees who have served the company for at least two years are eligible for retrenchment benefits, and the amount of compensation depends on the contract of service or what is agreed collectively. Employers have to abide by notice periods in the employment contract before termination and stipulated minimum periods in the Employment Act in the absence of a notice period previously agreed upon, or provide salary in lieu of notice. Dismissal on grounds of wrongful conduct by the employee is differentiated from retrenchments in the labor laws and is exempted from the above requirements. Employers must notify MOM of retrenchments within five working days after they notify the affected employees to enable the relevant agencies to help affected employees find alternative employment and/or identify relevant training to enhance employability. Singapore does not provide unemployment benefits, but provides training and job matching services to retrenched workers.

Labor laws are not waived in order to attract or retain investment in Singapore. There are no additional or different labor law provisions in free trade zones.

Collective bargaining is a normal part of labor-management relations in all sectors. As of 2018 about 20 percent of the workforce was unionized. Foreign workers constituted approximately 15 percent of union members. Almost all unions are affiliated with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), the sole national federation of trade unions in Singapore, which has a close relationship with the PAP ruling party and the government. The current NTUC Secretary General is also a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office. Given that nearly all unions are NTUC affiliates, the NTUC has almost exclusive authority to exercise collective bargaining power on behalf of employees. Union members may not reject collective agreements negotiated between their union representatives and an employer. Although transfers and layoffs are excluded from the scope of collective bargaining, employers consult with unions on both problems, and the Taskforce for Responsible Retrenchment and Employment Facilitation issues guidelines calling for early notification to unions of layoffs. Data on coverage of collective bargaining agreements is not publicly available. The Industrial Relations Act (IRA) regulates collective bargaining. The Industrial Arbitration Courts must certify any collective bargaining agreement before it is deemed in effect and can deny certification on public interest grounds. Additionally, the IRA restricts the scope of issues over which workers may bargain, excluding bargaining on hiring, transfer, promotion, dismissal, or reinstatement of workers.

Most labor disagreements are resolved through conciliation and mediation by MOM. Since April 2017, the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) under MOM provides advisory and mediation services, including mediation for salary and employment disputes. Where the conciliation process is not successful, the disputing parties may submit their dispute to the IAC for arbitration. Depending on the nature of the dispute, the court may be constituted either by the President of the IAC and a member of the Employer and Employee Panels, or by the President alone. The Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT) was established under the Employment Claims Act (2016). To bring a claim before the ECT, parties must first register their claims at the TADM for mediation. Mediation at TADM is compulsory. Only disputes which remain unresolved after mediation at TADM may be referred to the ECT.

The ECT hears statutory salary-related claims, contractual salary-related claims, dismissal claims from employees, and claims for salary in lieu of notice of termination by all employers. There is a limit of $21,200 on claims for cases with TADM mediation, and $14,100 for all other claims. In March 2019, MOM announced that 85 percent of salary claims had been resolved by TADM between April 2017 and December 2018. Salary-related disputes that are not resolved by mediation are covered by the Employment Claims Tribunals under the State Courts. Industrial disputes may also submit their case be referred to the tripartite Industrial Arbitration Court (IAC). The IAC composed has two panels: an employee panel and a management panel. For a majority of dispute hearings, a court is constituted comprising the President of the IAC and a member each from the employee and employer panels’ representatives and chaired by a judge. In some situations, the law provides for compulsory arbitration. The court must certify collective agreements before they go into effect. The court may refuse certification at its discretion on the ground of public interest.

The legal framework in Singapore provides for some restrictions in the registration of trade unions, labor union autonomy and administration, the right to strike, who may serve as union officers or employees, and collective bargaining. Under the Trade Union Act (TUA), every trade union must register with the Registrar of Trade Unions, which has broad discretion to grant, deny, or cancel union registration. The TUA limits the objectives for which unions can spend their funds, including for contributions to a political party or for political purposes, and allows the Registrar to inspect accounts and funds “at any reasonable time.” Legal rights to strike are granted with restrictions under TUA. The law requires the majority of affected unionized workers to vote in favor of a strike by secret ballot, as opposed to the majority of those participating in the vote. Strikes cannot be conducted for any reason apart from a dispute in the trade or industry in which the strikers are employed, and it is illegal to conduct a strike if it is “designed or calculated to coerce the government either directly or by inflicting hardship on the community.” Workers in “essential services” are required to give 14 days’ notice to an employer before conducting a strike. Although workers, other than those employed in the three essential services of water, gas and electricity, may strike, no workers did so since 1986 with the exception of a strike by bus drivers in 2012, but NTUC threatened to strike over concerns in a retrenchment process in July 2020. The law also restricts the right of uniformed personnel and government employees to organize, although the president may grant exemptions. Foreigners and those with criminal convictions generally may not hold union office or become employees of unions, but the ministry may grant exemptions.

The Employment Act, which prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act (PHTA), strengthens labor trafficking victim protection, and governs labor protections. Other acts protecting the rights of workers include the Occupational Safety and Health Act and Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. Labor laws set the standard legal workweek at 44 hours, with one rest day each week, and establish a framework for workplaces to comply with occupational safety and health standards, with regular inspections designed to enforce the standards. MOM effectively enforces laws and regulations establishing working conditions and comprehensive occupational safety and health (OSH) laws and implements enforcement procedures and promoted educational and training programs to reduce the frequency of job-related accidents. Changes to the Employment Act took effect on April 1, 2019, including for extension of core provisions to managers and executives, increasing the monthly salary cap, transferring adjudication of wrongful dismissal claims from MOM to the ECT, and increasing flexibility in compensating employees working during public holidays (for more detail see https://www.mom.gov.sg/employment-practices/employment-act  ). All workers, except for public servants, domestic workers and seafarers are covered by the Employment Act, and additional time-based provisions for more vulnerable employees.

Singapore has no across the board minimum wage law, although there are some exceptions in certain low skill industries. Generally, the government follows a policy of allowing free market forces to determine wage levels. In specific sectors where wages have stagnated and market practices such as outsourcing reduce incentive to upskill workers and limit their bargaining power, the government has implemented Progressive Wage Models to uplift wages. These are currently implementing in the cleaning, security, elevator maintenance, and landscape sectors. The National Wage Council (NWC), a tripartite body comprising representatives from the government, employers and unions, recommends non-binding wage adjustments on an annual basis. The NWC recommendations apply to all employees in both domestic and foreign firms, and across the private and public sectors. While the NWC wage guidelines are not mandatory, they are published under the Employment Act and form the basis of wage negotiations between unions and management. The NWC recommendations apply to all employees in both domestic and foreign law firms, and across the public and private sectors. The level of implementation is generally higher among unionized companies compared to non-unionized companies.

MOM is responsible for combating labor trafficking and improving working conditions for workers, and generally enforces anti-trafficking legislation, although some workers in low-wage and unskilled sectors are vulnerable to labor exploitation and abuse. PHTA sets out harsh penalties (including up to nine strokes of the cane and 15 years’ imprisonment) for those found guilty of trafficking, including forced labor, or abetting such activities. The government developed a mechanism for referral of potential trafficking-in-persons activities, to the interagency taskforce, co-chaired by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Manpower. Some observers note that the country’s employer sponsorship system made legal migrant workers vulnerable to forced labor, because they cannot change employers without the consent of the current employer. MOM effectively enforces laws and regulations pertaining to child labor. Penalties for employers that violated child labor laws were subject to fines and/or imprisonment, depending on the violation. Government officials assert that child labor is not a significant issue. The incidence of children in formal employment is low, and almost no abuses are reported.

The USSFTA includes a chapter on labor protections. The labor chapter contains a statement of shared commitment by each party that the principles and rights set forth in Article 17.7 of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its follow-up are recognized and protected by domestic law, and each party shall strive to ensure it does not derogate protections afforded in domestic labor law as an encouragement for trade or investment purposes. The chapter includes the establishment of a labor cooperation mechanism, which promotes the exchange of information on ways to improve labor law and practice, and the advancement of effective implementation.

See the U.S. State Department Human Rights Report as well as the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report. (https://www.state.gov/reports-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/)

Under the 1966 Investment Guarantee Agreement with Singapore, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) offers insurance to U.S. investors in Singapore against currency inconvertibility, expropriation, and losses arising from war. Singapore became a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) in 1998. In March 2019, Singapore and the United States signed a MOU aimed at strengthening collaboration between the infrastructure agency of Singapore, Infrastructure Asia, and OPIC. Under the agreement, both countries will work together on information sharing, deal facilitation, structuring and capacity building initiatives in sectors of mutual interest such as energy, natural resource management, water, waste, transportation, and urban development. The aim is to enhance Singapore-based and U.S. companies’ access to project opportunities, while building on Singapore’s role as an infrastructure hub in Asia.

Singapore’s domestic public infrastructure projects are funded primarily via Singapore government reserves or capital markets, reducing the scope for direct project financing subsidies by foreign governments. 12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment  Insurance and Development Finance Programs

12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment  Insurance and Development Finance Programs  

Under the 1966 Investment Guarantee Agreement with Singapore, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) offers insurance to U.S. investors in Singapore against currency inconvertibility, expropriation, and losses arising from war.  Singapore became a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) in 1998.  In March 2019, Singapore and the United States signed a MOU aimed at strengthening collaboration between the infrastructure agency of Singapore, Infrastructure Asia, and OPIC.  Under the agreement, both countries will work together on information sharing, deal facilitation, structuring and capacity building initiatives in sectors of mutual interest such as energy, natural resource management, water, waste, transportation, and urban development.  The aim is to enhance Singapore-based and U.S. companies’ access to project opportunities, while building on Singapore’s role as an infrastructure hub in Asia.

Singapore’s domestic public infrastructure projects are funded primarily via Singapore government reserves or capital markets, reducing the scope for direct project financing subsidies by foreign governments.

DFC maintains a regional office in Singapore to better coordinate with Southeast Asia’s leading financial institutions but has no projects in Singapore.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2020 $374,131 2019 $372,063 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $358,888 2019 $287,951 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $18,295 2019 $21,060 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 394.3% 2020 469.3% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/topic/investment/world-investment-report  

* Source for Host Country Data: https://www.singstat.gov.sg/ 

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 1,465,070 100% Not Available Amount 100%
United States 297,065 20% Not Available Amount X%
Cayman Islands 157,225 11% Not Available Amount X%
British Virgin Islands 107,393 7% Not Available Amount X%
Japan 96,282 7% Not Available Amount X%
Bermuda 66,395 5% Not Available Amount X%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 1,421,608 100% All Countries 681,831 100% All Countries 739,777 100%
United States 376,454 26% United States 137,354 20% United States 239,100 32%
China 174,975 12% China 111,997 16% China 62,978 9%
Republic of Korea 60,368 4% Japan 39,856 6% Korea 33,534 5%
India 53,899 4% Cayman Islands 38,030 6% United Kingdom 23,488
Caymen Islands 52,216 4% India 31,684 5% India 22,215 3%

14. Contact for More Information

Martha Tipton
Economic Specialist
U.S. Embassy
27 Napier Road
Singapore 258508  +65 9069-8592
+65 9069-8592
Tiptonm@state.gov