Albania

3. Legal Regime

Albania’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems have improved in recent years, but there are still many serious challenges. Endemic corruption, uneven enforcement of legislation, cumbersome bureaucracy, distortion of competition, and a lack of transparency all hinder the business community.

Albanian legislation includes rules on disclosure requirements, formation, maintenance, and alteration of firms’ capitalization structures, mergers and divisions, takeover bids, shareholders’ rights, and corporate governance principles. The Competition Authority (  http://caa.gov.al   ) is an independent agency tasked with ensuring fair and efficient competition in the market. However, business groups have raised concerns about unfair competition and monopolies, rating the issue as one of the most concerning items damaging the business climate.

The Law on Accounting and Financial Statements includes reporting provisions related to international financial reporting standards (IFRS) for large companies, and national financial reporting standards for small and medium enterprises. Albania meets minimum standards on fiscal transparency, and debt obligations are published by the Ministry of Finance and Economy. Albania’s budgets are publicly available, substantially complete, and reliable.

In August 2020, Albania approved the law for the establishment of the register of the Ultimate Beneficiary Owners. The law aims to ensure transparency on the ultimate beneficiary owners, who directly and indirectly own more than 25 percent of shares, voting rights, or ownership interests in all entities registered to do business in Albania, and was adopted following the recommendations of MONEYVAL.

The rulemaking process in Albania meets the minimum requirements of transparency. Ministries and regulatory agencies develop forward regulatory plans that include changes or proposals intended to be adopted within a set timeframe. The law on notification and public consultation requires the GoA to publish draft laws and regulations for public consultation or notification and sets clear timeframes for these processes. Such draft laws and regulations are published at the following page:   http://www.konsultimipublik.gov.al/ . The business community frequently complains that final versions of laws and regulations fail to address their comments and concerns and that comment periods are frequently not respected.

The Albania Assembly ( www.parlament.al ) publishes a list of both proposed and adopted legislation. All laws, by-laws, regulations, decisions by the Council of Ministers (the government), decrees, and any other regulatory acts are published at the National Publication Center at the following site:  https://qbz.gov.al/

Independent agencies and bodies, including but not limited to, the Energy Regulatory Entity (ERE), Agency for Electronic and Postal Communication (AKEP), Financial Supervising Authority (FSA), Bank of Albania, Competition Authority (CA), National Agency of Natural Resources (NARN), and Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), oversee transparency and competition in specific sectors.

Albania acceded to the WTO in 2000 and the country notifies the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade of all draft technical regulations.

Albania signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU in 2006. The EU agreed to open accession talks on March 25, 2020, and the country is awaiting to hold the first Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC), which would mark the official opening of accession talks. Albania has long been involved in the gradual process of legislation approximation with the EU acquis. This process is expected to accelerate with the opening of accession negotiations.

The Albanian legal system is a civil law system. The Albanian constitution provides for the separation of legislative, executive, and judicial branches, thereby supporting the independence of the judiciary. The Civil Procedure Code, enacted in 1996, governs civil procedures in Albania. The civil court system consists of district courts, appellate courts, and the High Court (the supreme court). The district courts are organized in specialized sections according to the subject of the claim, including civil, family, and commercial disputes.

The administrative courts of first instance, the Administrative Court of Appeal, and the Administrative College of the High Court adjudicate administrative disputes. The Constitutional Court, reviews cases related to the constitutionality of legislation and, in limited instances, protects and enforces the constitutional rights of citizens and legal entities.

Parties may appeal the judgment of the first-instance courts within 15 days of a decision, while appellate court judgments must be appealed to the High Court within 30 days. A lawsuit against an administrative action is submitted to the administrative court within 45 days from notification and the law stipulates short procedural timeframes, enabling faster adjudication of administrative disputes.

Investors in Albania are entitled to judicial protection of legal rights related to their investments. Foreign investors have the right to submit disputes to an Albanian court. In addition, parties to a dispute may agree to arbitration. Many foreign investors complain that endemic judicial corruption and inefficient court procedures undermine judicial protection in Albania and seek international arbitration to resolve disputes. It is beneficial to U.S. investors to include binding international arbitration clauses in any agreements with Albanian counterparts. Albania is a signatory to the New York Arbitration Convention and foreign arbitration awards are typically recognized by Albania. However, the government initially refused to recognize an injunction from a foreign arbitration court in one high-profile case in 2016. The Albanian Civil Procedure Code outlines provisions regarding domestic and international commercial arbitration.

Albania does not have a specific commercial code but has a series of relevant commercial laws, including the Entrepreneurs and Commercial Companies Law, Bankruptcy Law, Public Private Partnership and Concession Law, Competition Law, Foreign Investment Law, Environmental Law, Law on Corporate and Municipal Bonds, Transport Law, Maritime Code, Secured Transactions Law, Employment Law, Taxation Procedures Law, Banking Law, Insurance and Reinsurance Law, Concessions Law, Mining Law, Energy Law, Water Resources Law, Waste Management Law, Excise Law, Oil and Gas Law, Gambling Law, Telecommunications Law, and Value-Added Law.

There is no one-stop-shop that lists all legislation, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors. However, foreign investors should visit the Albania Investment Development Agency webpage (  www.aida.gov.al   ), which offers broad information for foreign investors.

Major laws pertaining to foreign investments include:

Law on Foreign Investments

Law on Strategic Investments: Defines procedures and rules to be observed by government authorities when reviewing, approving, and supporting strategic domestic and foreign investments in Albania

Law on Foreigners

Law on Concessions and Public Private Partnerships: Establishes the framework for promoting and facilitating the implementation of privately financed concessionary projects

Law on Entrepreneurs and Commercial Companies: Outlines general guidelines on the activities of companies and the legal structure under which they may operate

Law on Cross-Border Mergers: Determines rules on mergers when one of the companies involved in the process is a foreign company

Law on Protection of Competition: Stipulates provisions for the protection of competition, and the concentration of commercial companies; and

Law on Collective Investment Undertakings: Regulates conditions and criteria for the establishment, constitution, and operation of collective investment undertakings and of management companies.

The Law on Foreign Investments seeks to create a hospitable legal climate for foreign investors and stipulates the following:

No prior government authorization is needed for an initial investment.

Foreign investments may not be expropriated or nationalized directly or indirectly, except for designated special cases, in the interest of public use and as defined by law.

Foreign investors enjoy the right to expatriate all funds and contributions in kind from their investments.

Foreign investors receive most favored nation treatment according to international agreements and Albanian law.

There are limited exceptions to this liberal investment regime, most of which apply to the purchase of real estate. Agricultural land cannot be purchased by foreigners and foreign entities but may be leased for up to 99 years. Investors can buy agricultural land if registered as a commercial entity in Albania. Commercial property may be purchased, but only if the proposed investment is worth three times the price of the land. There are no restrictions on the purchase of private residential property.

To boost investments in strategic sectors, the government approved a new law on strategic investments in May 2015. Under the new law, a “strategic investment” may benefit from either “assisted procedure” or “special procedure” assistance from the government to help navigate the permitting and regulatory process. Despite supporting legislation, very few foreign investors have benefited from the “Strategic Investor” status, and almost all projects have been granted to domestic companies operating in the tourism sector.

Authorities responsible for mergers, change of control, and transfer of shares include the Albanian Competition Authority ACA:   http://www.caa.gov.al/laws/list/category/1/page/1   , which monitors the implementation of the competition law and approves mergers and acquisitions when required by the law; and the Albanian Financial Supervisory Authority FSA: http://www.amf.gov.al/ligje.asp   , which regulates and supervises the securities market and approves the transfer of shares and change of control of companies operating in this sector.

Albania’s tax system does not distinguish between foreign and domestic investors. Informality in the economy, which may be as large as 40 percent of the total economy, presents challenges for tax administration.

Visa requirements to obtain residence or work permits are straightforward and do not pose an undue burden on potential investors. Generally, U.S. passport holders are entitled to a one year stay in Albania without a residence permit, a special provision the GoA reaffirmed in March 2022. The government approved a new Law on Foreigners in July 2021, which partially aligns the domestic legislation, including that on migration, with the EU Directives. The new law introduces a single application procedure for permits in general. For investors there is a special permit called “Unique Investor Permit.” Foreign investors are issued a 2-year unique investor permit if they invest in Albania and meet certain criteria, including a quota ratio of one to five, of foreign and Albanian workers. In addition, same ratio should be preserved in the Board of Directors and other leading and supervisory structures of the company. Salaries of the Albanian workers should match the average of last year for equivalent positions. The permit can be renewed for an additional three years and after that the investor is eligible to receive a permanent permit provided that they fulfil the criteria outlined above and prove that the company is properly registers, has paid taxes and is not incurring losses. The Council of Ministers approves the annual quota of foreign workers following a needs assessment by sector and profession. However, work permits for staff that occupy key positions, among other categories, can be issued outside the annual quota.

Foreign investors can obtain the single permit by the immigration authorities following the initial approval for employment from the National Agency for Employment and Skills https://www.akpa.gov.al/ . U.S. citizens along with EU, Western Balkans, and Schengen-country citizens are exempt from this requirement. In addition, U.S., EU, and Kosovo citizens when applying for residency permit for the first time, have a term of 5 years. The new law also introduced the National Electronic Register for Foreigners (NERF), which is a state database on foreigners, who enter or intend to enter Albania, with purpose of staying, transiting, working, or studying in Albania. NERF will register data on foreign nationals, who have an entry visa, stay, or transit in the Republic of Albania, have a temporary or permanent residence permit, and have a have a unique permit (residence and employment) in Albania.

The Law on Entrepreneurs and Commercial Companies sets guidelines on the activities of companies and the legal structure under which they may operate. The government adopted the law in 2008 to conform Albanian legislation to the EU’s Acquis Communitaire. The most common type of organization for foreign investors is a limited liability company.

The Law on Public Private Partnerships and Concessions establishes the framework for promoting and facilitating the implementation of privately financed concessionary projects. According to the law, concession projects may be identified by central or local governments or through third party unsolicited proposals. To limit opportunities for corruption, the 2019 amendments prohibited unsolicited bids, beginning in July 2019, on all sectors except for works or services in ports, airports, generation and distribution of electricity, energy for heating, and production and distribution of natural gas. In addition, the 2019 amendments removed the zero to 10 percent bonus points for unsolicited proposals, which gave companies submitting unsolicited bids a competitive advantage over other contenders. Instead, if the party submitting the unsolicited proposal does not win the bid, it will be compensated by the winning company for the cost of the feasibility study, which in no case shall exceed 1 percent of the total cost of the project.

The Albanian Competition Authority http://www.caa.gov.al/?lng=en    is the agency that reviews transactions for competition-related concerns. The Law on Protection of Competition governs incoming foreign investment whether through mergers, acquisitions, takeovers, or green-field investments, irrespective of industry or sector. In the case of share transfers in insurance, banking and non-banking financial industries, the Financial Supervisory Authority (  http://amf.gov.al/   ) and the Bank of Albania https://www.bankofalbania.org/    may require additional regulatory approvals. Transactions between parties outside Albania, including foreign-to-foreign transactions, are covered by the competition law, which states that its provisions apply to all activities, domestic or foreign, that directly or indirectly affect the Albanian market. Parties can appeal the decision of the CA to the Tirana First Instance Court within 30 days of receiving the notification. The appeal does not suspend the enforcement of the decision that authorize concentrations and the temporary measures.

The Albanian constitution guarantees the right of private property. According to Article 41, expropriation or limitation on the exercise of a property right can occur only if it serves the public interest and with fair compensation. During the post-communist period, expropriation has been limited to land for public interest, mainly infrastructure projects such as roads, energy infrastructure, water works, airports, and other facilities. Compensation has generally been reported as being below market value and owners have complained that the compensation process is slow, and unfair. Civil courts are responsible for resolving such complaints.

Changes in government can also affect foreign investments. Following the 2013 elections and peaceful transition of power, the new government revoked, or renegotiated numerous concession agreements, licenses, and contracts signed by the previous government with both domestic and international investors. This practice has occurred in other years as well.

There are many ongoing disputes regarding property confiscated during the communist regime. Identifying ownership is a longstanding problem in Albania that makes restitution for expropriated properties difficult. The restitution and compensation process started in 1993 but has been slow and marred by corruption. Many U.S. citizens of Albanian origin have been in engaged in long-running restitution disputes. Court cases go on for years without a final decision, causing many to refer their case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France. A significant number of applications are pending for consideration before the ECHR. Even after settlement in Strasbourg, enforcement remains slow.

To address the situation, the GOA approved new property compensation legislation in 2018 that aims to resolve pending claims for restitution and compensation. The 2018 law reduces the burden on the state budget by changing the cash compensation formula. The legislation presents three methods of compensation for confiscation claims: restitution; compensation of property with similarly valued land in a different location; or financial compensation. It also set a ten-year timeframe for completion of the process. In February 2020, the Albanian parliament approved a law “On the Finalization of the Transitory Process of Property Deeds in the Republic of Albania,” which aims to finalize land allocation and privatization processes contained in 14 various laws issued between 1991 and 2018.

The GOA has generally not engaged in expropriation actions against U.S. investments, companies, or representatives. There have been limited cases in which the government has revoked licenses, specifically in the mining and energy sectors, based on contract violation claims.

The Law on Strategic Investments, approved in 2015, empowers the government to expropriate private property for the development of private projects deemed special strategic projects. Despite the provision that the government would act when parties fail to reach an agreement, the clause is a source of controversy because it entitles the government to expropriate private property in the interest of another private party. The expropriation procedures are consistent with the law on the expropriation, and the cost for expropriation would be incurred by the strategic investor. The provision has yet to be exercised.

Albania maintains adequate bankruptcy legislation, though corrupt and inefficient bankruptcy court proceedings make it difficult for companies to reorganize or discharge debts through bankruptcy.

A 2016 law on bankruptcy aimed to close loopholes in the insolvency regime, decrease unnecessary market exit procedures, reduce fraud, and ease collateral recovery procedures. The Bankruptcy Law governs the reorganization or liquidation of insolvent businesses. It sets out non-discriminatory and mandatory rules for the repayment of the obligations by a debtor in a bankruptcy procedure. The law establishes statutory time limits for insolvency procedures, professional qualifications for insolvency administrators, and an Agency of Insolvency Supervision to regulate the profession of insolvency administrators.

Debtors and creditors can initiate a bankruptcy procedure and can file for either liquidation or reorganization. Bankruptcy proceedings may be invoked when the debtor is unable to pay the obligations at the maturity date or the value of its liabilities exceeds the value of the assets.

According to the provisions of the Bankruptcy Law, the initiation of bankruptcy proceedings suspends the enforcement of claims by all creditors against the debtor subject to bankruptcy. Creditors of all categories must submit their claims to the bankruptcy administrator. The Bankruptcy Law provides specific treatment for different categories, including secured creditors, preferred creditors, unsecured creditors, and final creditors whose claims would be paid after all other creditors were satisfied. The claims of the secured creditors are to be satisfied by the assets of the debtor, which secure such claims under security agreements. The claims of the unsecured creditors are to be paid out of the bankruptcy estate, excluding the assets used for payment of the secured creditors, following the priority ranking as outlined in the Albanian Civil Code.

Pursuant to the provisions of the Bankruptcy Law, creditors have the right to establish a creditors committee. The creditors committee is appointed by the Commercial Section Courts before the first meeting of the creditor assembly. The creditors committee represents the secured creditors, preferred creditors, and the unsecured creditors. The committee has the right (a) to support and supervise the activities of the insolvency administrator; (b) to request and receive information about the insolvency proceedings; (c) to inspect the books and records; and (d) to order an examination of the revenues and cash balances.

If the creditors and administrator agree that reorganization is the company’s best option, the bankruptcy administrator prepares a reorganization plan and submits it to the court for authorizing implementation.

According to the insolvency procedures, only creditors whose rights are affected by the proposed reorganization plan enjoy the right to vote, and the dissenting creditors in reorganization receive at least as much as what they would have obtained in a liquidation. Creditors are divided into classes for the purposes of voting on the reorganization plan and each class votes separately. Creditors of the same class are treated equally. The insolvency framework allows for the continuation of contracts supplying essential goods and services to the debtor, the rejection by the debtor of overly burdensome contracts, the avoidance of preferential or undervalued transactions, and the possibility of the debtor obtaining credit after commencement of insolvency proceedings. No priority is assigned to post-commencement over secured creditors. Post-commencement credit is assigned over ordinary unsecured creditors.

The creditor has the right to object to decisions accepting or rejecting creditors’ claims and to request information from the insolvency representative. The selection and appointment of insolvency representative does not require the approval of the creditor. In addition, the sale of substantial assets of the debtor does not require the approval of the creditor. According to the law on bankruptcy, foreign creditors have the same rights as domestic creditors with respect to the commencement of, and participation in, a bankruptcy proceeding. The claim is valued as of the date the insolvency proceeding is opened. Claims expressed in foreign currency are converted into Albanian currency according to the official exchange rate applicable to the place of payment at the time of the opening of the proceeding.

The Albanian Criminal Code contains several criminal offenses in bankruptcy, including (i) whether the bankruptcy was provoked intentionally; (ii) concealment of bankruptcy status; (iii) concealment of assets after bankruptcy; and (iv) failure to comply with the obligations arising under bankruptcy proceeding.

According to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report, Albania ranked 39th out of 190 countries in the insolvency index. A referenced analysis of resolving insolvency can be found at the following link:

 http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/255991574747242507/Doing-Business-2020-Comparing-Business-Regulation-in-190-Economies-Economy-Profile-of-Albania

6. Financial Sector

The government has adopted policies to promote the free flow of financial resources and foreign investment in Albania. The Law on “Strategic Investments” is based on the principles of equal treatment, non-discrimination, and protection of foreign investments. Foreign investors have the right to expatriate all funds and contributions of their investment.  In accordance with IMF Article VIII, the government and Central Bank do not impose any restrictions on payments and transfers for international transactions. Despite Albania’s shallow foreign exchange market, banks enjoy enough liquidity to support sizeable positions.  Portfolio investments continue to be a challenge because they remain limited mostly to company shares, government bonds, and real estate as the Tirana stock market remains non-operational

In recent years, the constant reduction of non-performing loans has allowed commercial banks to loosen lending standards and increase overall lending especially as the economy has recovering from the severe COVID-19 economic disruption in 2020. Non-performing loans (NPL) at the end of 2021 dropped to 5.65 percent compared to 8.1 percent one year ago. Overall lending has steadily increased since 2019 and at the end of 2021 reached about USD 6 billion marking a 10 percent increase compared to 2020. The credit market is competitive, but interest rates in domestic currency can be high. Most mortgage and commercial loans are denominated in euros because rate differentials between local and foreign currency average 1.5 percent. Commercial banks operating in Albania have improved the quality and quantity of services they provide, including a large variety of credit instruments, traditional lines of credit, and bank drafts, etc.

In the absence of an effective stock market, the country’s banking sector is the main channel for business financing.  The sector is sound, profitable, and well capitalized. The Bank of Albania, the country’s Central Bank, is responsible for the licensing and supervision of the banking sector in Albania. The banking sector is 100 percent privately owned and its total assets have steadily increased over the years reaching USD 17 billion at the end of 2021 mostly based on customers deposits.  The banking sector has continued the consolidation process as the number of banks decreased from 16 in 2018 to 11 at the end of 2021 when the Greek Alpha Bank was purchased by OTP Bank. As of December 2021, the Turkish National Commercial Bank (BKT) was the largest bank in the market with 26 percent market share, followed by Albanian Credins Bank with 15.8 percent, and Austrian Raiffeisen Bank third with 15.3 percent.  The American Investment Bank is the only bank with U.S. shareholders and ranks sixth with 5.5 percent percent of the banking sector’s total assets.

The number of bank outlets has also decreased over the recent years also due to the consolidation. In December 2021, Albania had 417 bank outlets, down from 446 from 2019 and the peak of 552 in 2016. Capital adequacy, at 18 percent in December 2021, remains above Basel requirements and indicates sufficient assets.  At the end of 2021, the return on assets increased to 1.42 percent compared to 1.2 percent one year ago. As part of its strategy to stimulate business activity, the Bank of Albania has adopted a plan to ease monetary policy by continuing to persistently keep low interest rates. However, due to the recent inflationary pressure in March 2021, Bank of Albania increased the base interest rate to 1 percent, up from a historical low rate of 0.5 percent which was in place since June 2018.

Many of the banks operating in Albania are subsidiaries of foreign banks. Only three banks have an ownership structure whose majority shareholders are Albanian. However, the share of total assets of the banks with majority Albanian shareholders has increased because of the sector’s ongoing consolidation. There are no restrictions for foreigners who wish to establish a bank account. They are not required to prove residency status. However, U.S. citizens must complete a form allowing for the disclosure of their banking data to the IRS as required under the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.

Parliament approved a law in October 2019 to establish the Albanian Investment Corporation (AIC). The law entered in force in January 2020. The AIC would develop, manage, and administer state-owned property and assets, invest across all sectors by mobilizing state owned and private domestic and foreign capital, and promote economic and social development by investing in line with government-approved development policies.

The GoA plans to transfer state-owned assets, including state-owned land, to the AIC and provide initial capital to launch the corporation. In December 2021, the GoA transferred to the AIC close to USD 20 million. There is no publicly available information about the activities of the AIC for 2020 or 2021.

The IMF https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2019/11/26/mcs11262019-albania-staff-concluding-statement-of-the-2019-article-iv-mission Staff Concluding Statement  of November 26, 2019, warned that the law would allow the government to direct individual investment decisions, which could make the AIC an off-budget spending tool that risks eroding fiscal discipline and circumventing public investment management processes.

Algeria

3. Legal Regime

The national government manages all regulatory processes. Legal and regulatory procedures, as written, are considered consistent with international norms, although the decision-making process is at times opaque.

Algeria implemented the Financial Accounting System (FAS) in 2010. Though legislation does not make explicit references, FAS appears to be based on International Accounting Standards Board and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). Operators generally find accounting standards follow international norms, though they note that some particularly complex processes in IFRS have detailed explanations and instructions but are explained relatively briefly in FAS.

There is no mechanism for public comment on draft laws, regulations, or regulatory procedures. Copies of draft laws are generally not made publicly accessible before enactment, although the Ministry of Finance published drafts of the 2021 and 2022 Finance Laws in advance of consideration by Parliament. Government officials often give testimony to Parliament on draft legislation, and that testimony typically receives press coverage. Occasionally, copies of bills are leaked to the media. All laws and some regulations are published in the Official Gazette (www.joradp.dz ) in Arabic and French, but the database has only limited online search features and no summaries are published. Secondary legislation and/or administrative acts (known as “circulaires” or “directives”) often provide important details on how to implement laws and procedures. Administrative acts are generally written at the ministry level and not made public, though may be available if requested in person at a particular agency or ministry. Public tenders are often accompanied by a book of specifications only provided upon payment. The government does not specifically promote or require companies’ environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosure.

In some cases, authority over a matter may rest among multiple ministries, which may impose additional bureaucratic steps and the likelihood of either inaction or the issuance of conflicting regulations. The development of regulations occurs largely away from public view; internal discussions at or between ministries are not usually made public. In some instances, the only public interaction on regulations development is a press release from the official state press service at the conclusion of the process; in other cases, a press release is issued earlier. Regulatory enforcement mechanisms and agencies exist at some ministries, but they are usually understaffed, and enforcement remains weak.

The National Economic, Social, and Environmental Council (CNESE) studies the effects of Algerian government policies and regulations in economic, social, and environmental spheres. CNESE provides feedback on proposed legislation, but neither the feedback nor legislation are necessarily made public.

Information on external debt obligations up to fiscal year 2019 is publicly available online via the Central Bank’s quarterly statistical bulletin. The statistical bulletin describes external debt and not public debt, but the Ministry of Finance’s budget execution summaries reflect amalgamated debt totals. The Ministry of Finance is planning to create an electronic, consolidated database of internal and external debt information, and in 2019 published additional public debt information on its website. A 2017 amendment to the 2003 law on currency and credit covering non-conventional financing authorizes the Central Bank to purchase bonds directly from the Treasury for a period of up to five years. The Ministry of Finance indicated this would include purchasing debt from state enterprises, allowing the Central Bank to transfer money to the treasury, which would then provide the cash to, for example, state owned enterprises in exchange for their debt. In September 2019, the Prime Minister announced Algeria would no longer use non-conventional financing, although the Ministry of Finance stressed the program remains available until 2022. In 2021, the non-profit Cercle d’Action et de Réflexion pour l’Entreprise (CARE) launched an online dashboard compiling key economic figures published by various ministries within the Algerian government.

Algeria is not a member of any regional economic bloc or of the WTO. The structure of Algerian regulations largely follows European – specifically French – standards.

Algeria’s legal system is based on the French civil law tradition. The commercial law was established in 1975 and most recently updated in 2007 ( www.joradp.dz/TRV/FCom.pdf). The judiciary is nominally independent from the executive branch, but U.S. companies have reported allegations of political pressure exerted on the courts by the executive. Organizations representing lawyers and judges have protested during the past year against alleged executive branch interference in judicial independence. Regulation enforcement actions are adjudicated in the national courts system and are appealable. Algeria has a system of administrative tribunals for adjudicating disputes with the government, distinct from the courts that handle civil disputes and criminal cases. Decisions made under treaties or conventions to which Algeria is a signatory are binding and enforceable under Algerian law.

The 51/49 investment rule requires a majority Algerian ownership in “strategic sectors” as prescribed in the 2020 Complementary Finance Law (see section 2), as well as for importers of goods available for resale domestically as prescribed in the 2021 Finance Law. There are few other laws restricting foreign investment. In practice, the many regulatory and bureaucratic requirements for business operations provide officials avenues to informally advance political or protectionist policies. The investment law enacted in 2016 charged ANDI with creating four new branches to assist with business establishment and the management of investment incentives. ANDI’s website (www.andi.dz/index.php/en/investir-en-algerie ) lists the relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors. Much of the information lacks detail – particularly for the new incentives elaborated in the 2016 investments law – and refers prospective investors to ANDI’s physical “one-stop shops” located throughout the country.

There is an ongoing effort by the customs service, under the Ministry of Finance, to establish a new digital platform featuring one-stop shops for importers and exporters to streamline bureaucratic processes. The Ministry announced the service would begin in 2021, but the Ministry of Industry clarified in February 2022 that the one-stop shop would be set up with the approval of the new investment law.

The National Competition Council (www.conseil-concurrence.dz/) is responsible for reviewing both domestic and foreign competition-related concerns. Established in late 2013, it is housed under the Ministry of Commerce. Once the economic concentration of an enterprise exceeds 40 percent of a market’s sales or purchases, the Competition Council is authorized to investigate, though a 2008 directive from the Ministry of Commerce exempted economic operators working for “national economic progress” from this review.

The Algerian state can expropriate property under limited circumstances, with the state required to pay “just and equitable” compensation to the property owners. Expropriation of property is extremely rare, with no reported cases within the last 10 years. In late 2018, however, a government measure required farmers to comply with a new regulation altering the concession contracts of their land in a way that would cede more control to the government. Those who refused to switch contract type by December 31, 2018, lost the right to their land.

Algeria’s bankruptcy system is underdeveloped. While bankruptcy per se is not criminalized, management decisions (such as company spending, investment decisions, and even procedural mistakes) can be subject to criminal penalties including fines and incarceration, so decisions that lead to bankruptcy could be punishable under Algerian criminal law. However, bankruptcy cases rarely proceed to a full dissolution of assets. The Algerian government generally props up public companies on the verge of bankruptcy via cash infusions from the public banking system. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business report, debtors and creditors may file for both liquidation and reorganization.

Since the resignation of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in early 2019, the courts have given the government authority to put several companies in receivership and have appointed temporary heads to direct them following the arrests of their CEOs as part of a broad anti-corruption drive. The government has since nationalized some of the companies following the conviction of the owners.

6. Financial Sector

The Algiers Stock Exchange has five stocks listed – each at no more than 35 percent equity. There is a small and medium enterprise exchange with one listed company. The exchange has a total market capitalization representing less than 0.1 percent of Algeria’s GDP. Daily trading volume on the exchange averages around USD 2,000. Despite the lack of tangible activity, the market is regulated by an independent oversight commission that enforces compliance requirements on listed companies and traders.

Government officials have previously expressed their desire to reach a capitalization of USD 7.8 billion and enlist up to 50 new companies. Attempts to list additional companies have been stymied by a lack both of public awareness and appetite for portfolio investment, as well as by private and public companies’ unpreparedness to satisfy due diligence requirements that would attract investors. Proposed privatizations of state-owned companies have also been opposed by the public. Algerian society generally prefers material investment vehicles for savings, namely cash. Public banks, which dominate the banking sector (see below), are required to purchase government securities when offered, meaning they have little leftover liquidity to make other investments. Foreign portfolio investment is prohibited – the purchase of any investment product in Algeria, whether a government or corporate bond or equity stock, is limited to Algerian residents only.

The banking sector is roughly 85 percent public and 15 percent private as measured by value of assets held and is regulated by an independent central bank. Publicly available data from private institutions and U.S. Federal Reserve Economic Data show estimated total assets in the commercial banking sector in 2017 were roughly 13.9 trillion dinars (USD 116.7 billion) against 9.2 trillion dinars (USD 77.2 billion) in liabilities. In response to liquidity concerns caused by the oil price decline and COVID-19 crisis, the bank progressively decreased the reserve requirement from 12 percent to 3 percent between March and September 2020.

The IMF and Bank of Algeria have noted moderate growth in non-performing assets since 2015, currently estimated between 12 and 13 percent of total assets. The quality of service in public banks is generally considered low as generations of public banking executives and workers trained to operate in a statist economy lack familiarity with modern banking practices. Most transactions are materialized (non-electronic). Many areas of the country suffer from a dearth of branches, leaving large amounts of the population without access to banking services. ATMs are not widespread, especially outside the major cities, and few accept foreign bankcards. Outside of major hotels with international clientele, hardly any retail establishments accept credit cards. Algerian banks do issue debit cards, but the system is distinct from any international payment system. The Minister of Commerce has announced multiple plans to require businesses to use electronic payments for all commercial and service transactions, though the most recent government deadline for all stores to deploy electronic payment terminals by the end of 2021 was indefinitely delayed. In addition, analysts estimate that between one-third and one-half  of the money supply circulates in the informal economy.

Foreigners can open foreign currency accounts without restriction, but proof of a work permit or residency is required to open an account in Algerian dinars. Foreign banks are permitted to establish operations in the country, but they must be legally distinct entities from their overseas home offices.

In 2015, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) removed Algeria from its Public Statement, and in 2016 it removed Algeria from the “gray list.” The FATF recognized Algeria’s significant progress and the improvement in its anti-money laundering/counter terrorist financing (AML/CFT) regime. The FATF also indicated Algeria has substantially addressed its action plan since strategic deficiencies were identified in 2011.

Algeria’s sovereign wealth fund (SWF) is the “Fonds de Regulation des Recettes (FRR).” The Finance Ministry’s website shows the fund decreased from 4408.2 billion dinars (USD 37.36 billion) in 2014 to 784.5 billion dinars (USD 6.65 billion) in 2016. The data has not been updated since 2016. Algerian media reported the FRR was spent down to zero as of February 2017. Algeria is not known to have participated in the IMF-hosted International Working Group on SWFs.

Andorra

3. Legal Regime

Andorra set out transparent policies and laws, which have significantly liberalized all economic sectors in Andorra. New foreign-owned businesses must be approved by the government and the process can take up to a month. Andorra is committed to a transparent process. Andorra has begun to relax labor and immigration standards; previously, foreign professionals had to establish 20 years of residency before being eligible to own 100 percent of their business in Andorra. This restriction has been lifted for nationals coming from countries that have reciprocal standards for Andorran citizens.

Following approval of the new Accounting Law in 2007, individuals carrying out business or professional activities, trading companies, and legal persons or entities with a profit purpose must file financial statements with the administration.

Although not a member of the European Union (EU), Andorra is a member of the European Customs Union and is subject to all EU free trade regulations and arrangements regarding industrial products. Concerning agriculture, the EU allows duty free importation of products originating in Andorra.

Andorra is negotiating a new association agreement with the European Union alongside Monaco and San Marino that will allow Andorrans to establish themselves in Europe and Andorran companies will be able to trade in the EU market.

Andorra holds observer status at the WTO, although it took steps in the past for full membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Andorra became the 190th member of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in October 2020.

Andorra has a mixed legal system of civil and customary law with the influence of canon law. The judiciary is independent from the executive branch. The Supreme Court consists of a court president and eight judges, organized into civil, criminal, and administrative chambers. Four magistrates make up the Constitutional Court. The Tribunal of Judges and the Tribunal of the Courts are lower courts. Regulations and enforcement actions can be appealed in the national court system.

The Law on Foreign Investment (10/2012) entered into force in 2012, opening the country’s economy by removing the sectorial restrictions stipulated in the prior legislation. In this way, Andorra has positioned itself on equal terms with neighboring economies, enabling it to become more competitive for new sectors and enterprises. On March 2022, Andorra approved a sanctions package in line with EU sanctions against designated Russian and Belarusian individuals and entities.

Andorra Business is responsible for economic promotion and provides information on relevant laws, rules, procedures to set up a business in Andorra, as well as reporting requirements to investors. The organization also provides other services to facilitate foreign and local investments in strategic sectors.

The Law on Effective Competence and Consumer Protection (13/2013) protects investors against unfair practices. The Ministry of Economy is responsible for administering anti-trust laws and reviews transactions for both domestic and international competition-related concerns.

The Law of Expropriation (1993) allows the Government to expropriate private property for public purposes in accordance with international norms, including appropriate compensation. We know of no incidents of expropriation involving the U.S. entities in Andorra.

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Andorra became a party to the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards in September 2015, requiring Andorran courts to enforce financial awards. Andorra is not a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Andorran legislation establishes mechanisms to resolve disputes if they arise and its judicial system is transparent. The constitution guarantees an independent judiciary branch, overseen by a High Council of Justice. The prosecution system allows for successive appeals to higher courts. The European Court of Justice is the ultimate arbiter of unsettled appeals.

Contractual disputes between U.S. individuals or companies and Andorran entities are rare, but when they arise are handled appropriately. There have been no reported cases of U.S. investment disputes.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Parties to a dispute can also resolve disputes contractually through arbitration. The Arbitration Court of the Principality of Andorra (TAPA) was established in July 2020 by the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Services and the Andorran Bar Association in accordance with Law 16/2018. The main goal of this institution is to mediate both national and international business disputes to reach a fair settlement for both parties without having to go to court.

Andorra’s bankruptcy decree dates to 1969. Other laws from 2008 and 2014 complement the initial text and further protect workers’ rights to fair salaries and sets up mechanisms to monitor the implementation of judicial resolutions. Additionally, Law 8/2015 outlines urgent measures allowing Government intervention of the banking sector in a crisis.

6. Financial Sector

The Andorran financial sector is efficient and is one of the main pillars of the Andorran economy, representing 20 percent of the country’s GDP and over 5 percent of the workforce.

Created in 1989, and redefined with more responsibilities in 2003, the Andorran Financial Authority (AFA; www.afa.ad ) is the supervisory and regulatory body of the Andorran

financial system and the insurance sector. The AFA is a public entity with its own legal status, functionally independent from the Government. AFA has the power to carry out all necessary actions to ensure the correct development of its supervision and control functions, disciplinary and punitive powers, treasury and public debt management services, financial agency, international relations, advice, and studies.

The Andorran Financial Intelligence Unit (UIFAND) was created in 2000 as an independent organ to deal with the tasks of promoting and coordinating measures to combat money laundering, terror financing, and the proliferation of weapons ( www.uifand.ad ).

The State Agency for the Resolution of Banking Institutions (AREB) is a public-legal institution created by Law 8/2015 to take urgent measures to introduce mechanisms for the recovery and resolution of banking institutions ( www.areb.ad ).

Andorra adopted the use of the Euro in 2002 and in 2011 signed a Monetary Agreement with the EU making the Euro the official currency. Since July 1, 2013, Andorra has had the right to mint Euro coins.

The Andorra banking system is sound and considered the most important part of the financial sector. It represents 20 percent of the country’s GDP. The Andorran banks offer a variety of services at market rates. The main lines of business in the banking sector are retail banking, private banking, and asset management and insurance. The country also has a sizeable and growing market for portfolio investments. The country does not have a central bank. The sector is regulated and supervised by the Andorran Financial Authority (AFA).

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service has certified all the Andorran banks as qualified intermediaries.

Founded in 1960, the Association of Andorran Banks (ABA; https://www.andorranba nking.ad/) represents Andorran banks. Among its tasks are representing and defending interests of its members, watching over the development and competitiveness of Andorran banking at national and international levels, improving sector technical standards, cooperation with public administrations, and promoting professional training, particularly dealing with money laundering prevention. At present, all five Andorran banking groups are ABA members, totaling an estimated 51.7 billion Euros in combined assets for 2021.

Foreign Exchange

Andorra adopted the Euro in 2002 and in 2011 signed a Monetary Agreement with the EU making the Euro the official currency. Since 2013, Andorra has the authority to mint Euro coins.

Remittance Policies

There are no limits or restrictions on remittances provided that they correspond to a company’s official earning records.

Andorra has no Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF).

Angola

3. Legal Regime

Angola’s regulatory system is complex, vague, and inconsistently enforced. In many sectors, no effective regulatory system exists due to a lack of institutional and human capacity. The banking system is slowly beginning to adhere to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). SOEs are still far from practicing IFRS. The public does not participate in draft bills or regulations formulation, nor does a public online location exist where the public can access this information for comment or hold government representatives accountable for their actions. The Angolan Communications Institute (INACOM) is the regulatory authority for the telecommunications sector and regulates prices for telecommunications services such as mobile telephone, internet, and TV services, particularly in sectors without much competition. Revised energy-sector licensing regulations have permitted some purchase power agreements (PPA) participation.

Overall, Angola’s regulatory system does not conform to other international regulatory systems.

Angola became a member of the WTO in 1996. However, it is not party to the Plurilateral Agreements on Government Procurement, or the Trade in Civil Aircraft Agreement and it has not yet notified the WTO of its state-trading enterprises under Article XVII of the GATT. A government procurement management framework introduced in late 2010 stipulates a preference for goods produced in Angola and/or services provided by Angolan or Angola-based suppliers. Technical Barriers to Trade regimes are not coordinated. Angola conducts distinct bilateral negotiations with seven of the nine full members of the Community of Portuguese Language countries (CPLP), Cuba, and Russia and extends trade preferences to China due to previously negotiated credit facilitation terms, while attempting to encourage and protect local content.

Regulatory reviews are based on scientific, or data driven assessments or baseline surveys. Evaluations are based on data, but not made available for public comment.

The state reserves the right to have the final say in all regulatory matters and relies on sectorial regulatory bodies for supervision of institutional regulatory matters concerning investment. The Economic Commission of the Council of Ministers oversees investment regulations that affect the country’s economy including the ministries in charge. Other major regulatory bodies responsible for getting deals through include:

  • The National Petroleum, Gas and Biofuels Agency (ANPG) is the government regulatory and oversight body responsible for regulating oil exploration and production activities. On February 6, 2019, the parastatal oil company Sonangol launched ANPG through Presidential decree 49/19. The ANPG is the national concessionaire of hydrocarbons in Angola, authorized to conduct, execute, and ensure oil, gas, and biofuel operations run smoothly, a role previously held by state owned Sonangol. The ANPG must also ensure adherence to international standards and establish relationships with other international agencies and sector relevant organizations.
  • The Regulatory Institute of Electricity and Water Services (IRSEA) is the regulatory authority for renewable energies and enforcing powers of the electricity regulatory authority. Revised energy-sector licensing regulations have improved legal protection for investors to attract more private investment in electrical infrastructure, such as dams and hydro distribution stations.
  • The Angolan Communications Institute (INACOM) is the regulatory authority for the telecommunications sector including for prices for telecommunications services.
  • As of October 1, 2019, a 14 percent VAT regime came into force, replacing the existing 10 percent Consumption Tax. For The General Tax Administration (AGT) oversees tax operations and ensures taxpayer compliance. The new VAT tax regime aimed to boost domestic production and consumption and reduce the incidence of compound tax for businesses unable to recover the consumption tax. The government introduced a temporary reduction of the VAT in October 2021 for key items in the basic basket of goods to 7 percent. The temporary measure should run at least through 2022. Corporate taxpayers can be reimbursed for the VAT on the purchase of good and services, including imports.

There are no informal regulatory processes managed by nongovernmental organizations or private sector associations, and the government does not allow the public to engage in the formulation of legislation or to comment on draft bills. Procurement laws and regulations are unclear, little publicized, and not consistently enforced. Oversight mechanisms are weak, and no audits are required or performed to ensure internal controls are in place or administrative procedures are followed. Inefficient bureaucracy and possible corruption frequently lead to payment delays for goods delivered, resulting in an increase in the price the government must pay.

No regulatory reform enforcement mechanisms have been implemented since the last ICS report. The Diário da República (the Federal Register equivalent) publishes official regulatory action.

The Ministry of Finance’s Debt Management Unit has a portal with quarterly public debt reports, debt strategy, annual debt plan, bond reports, and other publications in Portuguese and in English for the quarterly reports and the debt plan, though it does not have regular reporting on contingent liabilities.

Regionally, Angola is a member of SADC and ECCAS, though it is not a member of SADC’s Free Trade Area or of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC) the customs union associated with ECCAS. New regulations are generally developed in line with regulatory provisions set by AfCTA, SADC, and ECCAS. Standards for each organization can be found at their respective websites: AfCTA: https://au.int/en/cfta ; SADC: SADC Standards and Quality Infrastructure ; ECCAS: https://ceeac-eccas.org/en/#presentation 

Angola is a WTO member but does not notify all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) regimes are not coordinated and often trade regulations are passed and implemented without the due oversight of the WTO.

Angola’s legal system follows civil law tradition and is heavily influenced by Portuguese law, though customary law often prevailed in rural areas. Legislation is the primary source of law. Precedent is accepted but not binding as it is in common-law countries. The Angolan Constitution is at the top of the hierarchy of legislation and establishes the general principle of separation of powers between the judicial, executive, and legislative power. Primary judicial authority in Angola is vested in its courts, which have institutional weaknesses that include lack of independence from political influence in the decision-making process at times.

The Angolan justice system is slow, arduous, and often partial. Legal fees are high, and most businesses avoid taking commercial disputes to court in the country. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 survey ranked Angola 186 out of 190 countries on contract enforcement, and estimated that commercial contract enforcement, measured by time elapsed between filing a complaint and receiving restitution, takes an average of 1,296 days, at an average cost of 44.4 percent of the claim.

Angola has commercial legislation that governs all contracts and commercial activities but no specialized court. On August 5, 2020, the Economic Council of Ministers approved the opening of the Court for Litigation on Commercial, Intellectual, and Industrial Property Matters, at the Luanda First Instance Court. With the introduction of this commercial court, the GRA hopes the business environment and trust in public institutions will improve. Prior to this arrangement, trade disputes were resolved by judges in the Courts of Common Pleas. The commercial legislation provides that before going to court, investors can challenge the decision under the terms of the administrative procedural rules, either through a complaint (to the entity responsible for the decision) or through an appeal (to the next level above the entity responsible for the decision). In the new system, investors will be able, in general, to appeal to civil and administrative courts. Investors exercising their right to appeal, however, should expect decisions to take months, or even years, in the case of court decisions.

Angola enacted a new Criminal Code and a new Criminal Procedure Code which entered into force on February 9, 2021, to better align the legal framework with internationally accepted principles and standards, with an emphasis on white-collar crimes and corruption. The legal reforms extend criminal liability for corruption offenses and other crimes to legal entities; provide for private sector corruption offenses to face similar fines and imprisonment to the punishments applicable to the public sector, and modernize and broaden the list of criminal offenses against the financial system. The legal system lacks resources and independence, limiting the effectiveness of the reforms.

There is a general right of appeal to the Court of First Instance against decisions from the primary courts. To enforce judgments/orders, a party must commence executive proceedings with the civil court. The main methods of enforcing judgments are:

  • Execution orders (to pay a sum of money by selling the debtor’s assets).
  • Seizure of assets from the party and
  • Provision of information on the whereabouts of assets.

The Civil Procedure Code also provides for ordinary and extraordinary appeals. Ordinary appeals consist of first appeals, review appeals, interlocutory appeals, and full court appeals, while extraordinary appeals consist of further appeals and third-party interventions. Generally, an appeal does not operate as a stay of the decision of the lower court unless expressly provided for as much in the Civil Procedure Code.

Angola’s legal system is becoming more favorable to FDI and has generally not allowed FDI in specific sectors such as military and security, activities of the Central Bank, and key infrastructure port and airport infrastructure. Under PROPRIV the government has encouraged FDI in ports and airports through management and operation tenders. Investment values exceeding $10 million require an investment contract that needs to be authorized by the Council of Ministers and signed by the President.

AIPEX, Angola’s investment and export promotion agency, maintains the Janela Única do Investimento  (Single Investment Window), which serves as Angola’s one-stop-shop for investment.

Mergers and acquisitions, including those which take place through the sale of state-owned assets, are reviewed by the Institute of Asset Management and State Holdings (IGAPE) and competition related concerns receive oversight by the Competition Regulatory Authority (the “CRA”) which is also responsible for prosecuting offenses. Competition is also regulated by the Competition Act of 2018, which prohibits cartels and monopolistic behavior. A leniency regime was added in September 2020 to reduce fines for the first party to come forward under specific conditions.

CRA decisions are subject to appeal, though Angola does not have special courts of jurisdiction to deal with competition matters.

Angola’s Competition Act creates a formal merger control regime. Mergers are subject to prior notification to the CRA, and they must meet certain specified requirements. The thresholds requiring prior notification are the following:

  • the creation, acquisition, or reinforcement of a market share which is equal to or higher than 50 percent in the domestic market or a substantial part of it; or
  • the parties involved in the concentration exceeded a combined turnover in Angola of 3.5 billion Kwanzas in the preceding financial year; or
  • the creation, acquisition, or reinforcement of a market share which is equal to or higher than 30 percent, but less than 50 percent in the relevant domestic market or a substantial part of it, if two or more of the undertakings achieved more than 450 million Kwanzas individual turnover in the preceding financial year.

Mergers must not hamper competition and must be consistent with public interest considerations such as:

  • a particular economic sector or region.
  • the relevant employment levels.
  • the ability of small or historically disadvantaged enterprises to become competitive; or

the capability of the industry in Angola to compete internationally.

Under the revised Law of Expropriations by Public Utility (LEUP), which came into force in October 2021, real property and any associated rights can be expropriated for specific public purposes listed in the LEUP in exchange for fair and prompt compensation to be calculated pursuant to the act. Only property strictly indispensable to achieve the relevant public purpose can be expropriated. The LEUP does not apply to compulsory eviction, nationalization, confiscation, easements, re-homing, civil requisition, expropriation for private purpose, temporary occupation of buildings, destruction for public purpose and revocation of concessions. Save for the urgent expropriation instances specifically set forth in the act, the LEUP enshrines the primacy of acquisition through private-law mechanisms, providing for a negotiation process between the expropriating entity – national or local government – and the relevant citizen or private-law entity.

Despite the reforms, expropriation without compensation remains a common practice with idle or underdeveloped areas frequently reverting to the state with little or no compensation to the claimants who paid for the land, who in most cases allege unfair treatment and at times lack of due process.

Angola’s Law on Corporate Restructuring and Insolvency went into force on May 10, 2021, representing the first amendment to bankruptcy legislation since 1961. The law regulates the legal regime of extrajudicial and judicial recovery of the assets of natural and legal persons in economic distress or imminent insolvency, provided recovery is viable and the legal regime of insolvency proceedings of natural and legal persons. The law permits the conservation of national and foreign investment since investors know they have a legal remedy that has as its purpose the preservation of the company.

6. Financial Sector

Foreign portfolio investment is still new in Angola, but the government is seeking to increase it. The National Bank of Angola (BNA) abolished the licensing previously required to import capital from foreign investors allocated to the private sector and export income associated with such investments. This measure compliments the need to improve the capture of FDI and portfolio investment and it is in line with the privatization program for public companies (PROPRIV) announced through Presidential Decree No. 250/19 of August 5, 2019, which encourages foreign companies to purchase state-owned assets the government is liquidating. BNA has also stopped requiring a license to export capital resulting from the sale of investments in securities traded on a regulated market and the sale of any investment, in which the buyer is also not – foreign exchange resident, pursuant to Notice No. 15/2019. The BNA is increasingly removing restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.

Angola’s Debt and Securities Stock Exchange (BODIVA), planned to be privatized by 2022, trades an equivalent in local currency (kwanzas) of USD 2 billion a year. In view of policies adopted by the institution, BODIVA predicts an increase in the volume of trades. The stock exchange has 23 commercial banks and two brokerages as members, which operate mainly in government denominated Treasury Bonds. BODIVA allows the trading of different types of financial instruments through an electronic auction platform to investors with rules (self-regulation), systems (platforms), and procedures that assure market fairness and integrity to facilitate portfolio investment. The Capital Markets Commission, the regulator, is updating its own supervisory framework while looking to provide new services and attract more individual investors to the capital markets. Presently, only local commercial banks can list on the nascent stock exchange. According to the Capital Markets Commissioner, portfolio investment by individuals only represents 16 percent of BODIVA’s equity.

Through the ongoing privatization program, the government announced in February its intent to sell 30 percent of the stocks it has invested in BODIVA by the end of 2022, with plans to sell the rest in phases in 2023 and 2024.

Credit is partially allocated on market terms. Since the revision of the PIL in 2021, domestic credit is accessible to foreign investors and companies that are majority foreign held (this was previously only possible after implementation of the investment project). For Angolan investors, credit access remains limited. In 2020, however the BNA directed commercial banks to increase the minimum amount of subsidized credit that they must make available to borrowers 2 percent of their assets to 2.5 percent by the end of 2020 to accelerate the diversification of domestic production. The private sector has access to a variety of conventional credit instruments provided by commercial banks.

Forty-seven percent of Angola’s income-earners utilize banking services, with 80 percent being from the urban areas. Angola is over-banked for the size of its economy. Although four banks have been closed since 2018, 26 banks still operate in Angola. The banking market remains marked by concentration and limited financial inclusion. The top six banks control nearly 80 percent of sector assets, loans and deposits, but the rest of the sector includes many banks with minimal scale and weak franchises. The total number of customers in the six largest banks is 9.9 million. Angola’s largest bank Banco Angolano de Investimentos has an asset value of approximately USD 5.5 billion.

Angola has a central banking system. The banking sector largely depends on monetary policies established by Angola’s central bank, the National Bank of Angola (BNA). Thanks to the ongoing IMF economic and financial reform agenda, the BNA is adopting international best practices and slowly becoming more autonomous. On February 13, 2021, President Joao Lourenco issued a decree granting autonomy to the BNA in line with IMF recommendations. Since that time, the bank has made decision on monetary, financial, credit, and foreign exchange policies without political influence, while also maintaining its oversight, regulatory, and supervisory role of the institutions in the financial system. The reforms taken under the Lourenco administration have lessened the political influence over the BNA and allowed it to more freely adopt strategies to build resilience from external shocks on the economy. As Angola’s economy depends heavily on oil to fuel its economy, so does the banking sector. The BNA periodically monitors minimum capital requirements for all banks and orders the closure of non-compliant banks.

Credit availability is limited and often supports government-supported programs. The GRA obliges banks to grant credit more liberally in the economy, notably by implementing a Credit Support Program (PAC). For instance, the BNA first issued a notice obliging Angolan commercial banks to grant credit to national production equivalent at a minimum to 2.5 percent of their net assets in 2020 and extended the notice through the end of 2022. Although the RECREDIT Agency purchased non-performing loans (NPLs) of the state’s parastatal BPC bank, NPLs remain high at 23 percent, a decrease of 9 percent since 2017.

The country has not lost any additional correspondent banking relationships since 2015. At the time of issuing this report no correspondent banking relationships were in jeopardy. The Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group is evaluating Angola’s anti-money laundering regime. A positive result could lead private foreign banking institutions to reestablish correspondent banking relationships. Most transactions go via third party correspondent banking services in Portugal banks, a costly option for all commercial banks.

Foreign banking institutions are allowed to operate in Angola and are subject to BNA oversight.

The Angolan Sovereign Wealth Fund (FSDEA) was established in 2012 with $5 billion USD in support from the petroleum sector. The fund was established in accordance with international governance standards and best practices as outlined in the Santiago Principles. As of March 2021, the FSDEA reported $2.97 billion USD. Angola is a full member  of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds

Antigua and Barbuda

3. Legal Regime

The government of Antigua and Barbuda publishes laws, regulations, administrative practices, and procedures of general application and judicial decisions that affect or pertain to investments or investors in the country. Where the government establishes policies that affect or pertain to investments or investors that are not expressed in laws and regulation or by other means, the national government has committed to make them publicly available.

Rulemaking and regulatory authority lie with the bicameral parliament of the government of Antigua and Barbuda. The House of Representatives has 19 members, 17 of whom are elected for a five-year term in single-seat constituencies, one of whom is an ex-officio member, and one of whom is Speaker. The Senate has 17 appointed members.

Respective line ministries develop relevant national laws and regulations, which are then drafted by the Ministry of Legal Affairs. Laws relating to the ABIA and the Citizenship by Investment program are the main laws relevant to foreign direct investment. This website contains the full text of laws already in force, as well as those Parliament is currently considering.

While some draft bills are not subject to public consideration, input from stakeholder groups may be considered. The government encourages stakeholder organizations to support and contribute to the legal development process by participating in technical committees and providing comments on drafts.

Accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are generally transparent and consistent with international norms. The International Financial Accounting Standards, which stem from the General Accepted Accounting Principles, govern the accounting profession.

The constitution provides for the independent Office of the Ombudsman to guard against abuses of power by government officials. The Ombudsman is responsible for investigating complaints about acts or omissions by government officials that violate the rights of members of the public.

The ABIA has primary responsibility for investment supervision, and the Ministry of Finance, Corporate Governance and Public-Private Partnerships monitors investments to collect information for national statistics and reporting purposes. The ABIA can revoke an issued Investment Certificate if the holder fails to comply with certain stipulations detailed in the Investment Authority Act and its regulations.

Antigua and Barbuda’s membership in regional organizations, particularly the OECS and its Economic Union, commits the state to implement all appropriate measures to fulfill its various treaty obligations. The eight member states and territories of the ECCU tend to enact laws uniformly, though minor differences in implementation may exist. The enforcement mechanisms of these regulations include penalties and other sanctions.

The February 2022 Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) Mutual Evaluation assessment found Antigua and Barbuda to be largely compliant.

The ECCB is the supervisory authority over financial institutions in Antigua and Barbuda registered under the Banking Act of 2015.

As a member of the OECS and the ECCU, Antigua and Barbuda subscribes to principles and policies outlined in the Revised Treaty of Basseterre. The relationship between national and regional systems is such that each participating member state is expected to coordinate and adopt, where possible, common national policies aimed at the progressive harmonization of relevant policies and systems across the region. Thus, Antigua and Barbuda is obligated to implement regionally developed regulations such as legislation passed under the authority of the OECS, unless it seeks specific concessions to do otherwise.

As a member of the WTO, Antigua and Barbuda is a signatory to the WTO Agreement on the Technical Barriers to Trade and is obligated to notify the Committee of any draft new and updated technical regulations. The Antigua and Barbuda Bureau of Standards is a statutory body that prepares and promulgates standards in relation to goods, services, processes, and practices. Antigua and Barbuda ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in 2017. The TFA is intended to improve the speed and efficiency of border procedures, facilitate trade costs reduction, and enhance participation in the global value chain. Antigua and Barbuda has implemented a number of TFA requirements, but it has also missed two implementation deadlines.

Antigua and Barbuda bases its legal system on the British common law system. The Attorney General, the Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, junior judges, and magistrates administer justice. The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court Act establishes the Supreme Court of Judicature, which consists of the High Court and the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal. The High Court hears criminal and civil matters and rules on constitutional law issues. Parties may appeal first to the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, an itinerant court that hears appeals from all OECS members. The final appellate authority is the Judicial Committee of the UK Privy Council.

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has original jurisdiction to interpret and apply the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. Antigua and Barbuda is only subject to the original jurisdiction of the CCJ.

As a member of the WTO, Antigua and Barbuda is a party to the WTO Dispute Settlement Panel and Appellate Body which resolves disputes over WTO agreements. Courts of appropriate jurisdiction in both countries resolve private disputes. Antigua and Barbuda brought a case before the WTO against the United States concerning the cross-border supply of online gambling and betting services. The WTO ruled in favor of Antigua and Barbuda, but agreement on settlement terms remains outstanding.

The ABIA provides guidance on the relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors. These are available at  http://www.theiguides.org/public-docs/guides/antiguabarbuda  .

The ABIA may grant concessions as specified in the Investment Authority Act Amended 2019. These concessions are listed on Antigua and Barbuda’s iGuide website. Investors must apply to ABIA to take advantage of these incentives.

Under the Citizenship by Investment program, foreign individuals can obtain citizenship in accordance with the Citizenship by Investment Act of 2013, which grants citizenship (without voting rights) to qualified investors. Applicants are required to undergo a due diligence process before citizenship can be granted. The minimum contribution for investors under the program is $100,000 (270,225 Eastern Caribbean dollars) to the National Development Fund for a family of up to four people and $125,000 (337,818 Eastern Caribbean dollars) for a family of five, with additional contributions of $15,000 (40,538 Eastern Caribbean dollars) per person for up to four additional family members. Individual applicants can also qualify for the program by buying real estate valued at $400,000 (1,081,020 Eastern Caribbean dollars) or more or making a business investment of $1.5 million (4,053,825 Eastern Caribbean dollars). Alternatively, at least two applicants can propose to make a joint investment in an approved business with a total investment of at least $5 million (13.5 million Eastern Caribbean dollars). Each investor must contribute at least $400,000 (1,081,020 Eastern Caribbean dollars) to the joint investment. Citizenship by investment investors must own real estate for a minimum of five years before selling it. A fourth option involves a contribution of $150,000 (405,383 Eastern Caribbean dollars) to the University of the West Indies (UWI) Fund for a family of six people, which entitles one member of the family to a one-year tuition-only scholarship at UWI’s Five Islands campus. All applicants must also pay relevant government and due diligence fees, and provide a full medical certificate, police certificate, and evidence of the source of funds.

Chapter 8 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas outlines the competition policy applicable to CARICOM states. Member states are required to establish and maintain a national competition authority for implementing the rules of competition. CARICOM established a Caribbean Competition Commission (CCC) to rule on complaints of anti-competitive cross-border business conduct. CARICOM competition policy addresses anti-competitive business conduct such as collusion between enterprises, decisions by associations of enterprises, and concerted practices by enterprises that have as their object or effect the prevention, restriction, or distortion of competition within the Community, and actions by which an enterprise abuses its dominant position within the Community. Antigua and Barbuda does not have any legislation regulating competition. The OECS agreed to establish a regional competition body to handle competition matters within its single market. The draft OECS bill has been submitted to the Ministry of Legal Affairs for review.

According to the Investment Authority Act of 2006, investments in Antigua and Barbuda will not be nationalized, expropriated, or subject to indirect measures having an equivalent effect, except as necessary for the public good, in accordance with the due process of law, on a non-discriminatory basis, and accompanied by prompt, adequate, and effective compensation. Compensation in such cases is the fair market value of the expropriated investment immediately before the expropriation or the impending expropriation became public knowledge, whichever is earlier. Compensation includes interest from the date of dispossession of the expropriated property until the date of payment and is required to be paid without delay.

There is an unresolved dispute regarding the 2007 expropriation of an American-owned property. Following the expropriation, the owners initiated legal action to enforce their rights under Antigua and Barbuda’s Land Acquisition Act. A 2014 Privy Council court decision ordered the Government of Antigua and Barbuda to pay the former property owners $39.8 million in compensation. The government has only paid approximately $20 million as of June 2021, and the property owners have continued to pursue multiple legal remedies to compel the government to pay the outstanding balance. Antigua and Barbuda appealed a 2018 court decision in favor of the claimants; legal proceedings are ongoing. The government has not made any additional payments to the claimants since 2015. The claimants continue to pursue recourse in other jurisdictions and in Antigua and Barbuda, with the latest legal filings in 2020. The outstanding debt is currently $19.1 million with daily accruing interest. Because of Antigua and Barbuda’s failure to fully compensate the owners as required by its own laws, the U.S. government recommends continued caution when investing in real estate or any other venture in Antigua and Barbuda.

Under the Bankruptcy Act (1975), Antigua and Barbuda has a bankruptcy framework that grants certain rights to debtors and creditors. The full text of the legislation can be found on the government’s website .

6. Financial Sector

As a member of the ECCU, Antigua and Barbuda is also a member of the Eastern Caribbean Stock Exchange (ECSE) and the Regional Government Securities Market. The ECSE is a regional securities market established by the ECCB and licensed under the Securities Act of 2001, a uniform regional body of legislation governing securities market activities. As of March 2021, there were 164 securities listed on the ECSE, comprising 140 sovereign debt instruments, 13 equities, and 11 corporate debt securities. Market capitalization stood at $703 million (1.9 billion Eastern Caribbean dollars), representing a 6.9 percent increase from 2020. Antigua and Barbuda is open to portfolio investment.

Antigua and Barbuda accepted the obligations of Article VIII of the International Monetary Fund Agreement Sections 2, 3, and 4, and maintains an exchange system free of restrictions on making international payments and transfers. The government normally does not grant foreign tax credits except in cases where taxes are paid in a Commonwealth country that grants similar relief for Antigua and Barbuda taxes, or where an applicable tax treaty provides a credit. The private sector has access to credit on the local market through loans, purchases of non-equity services, and trade credits, as well as other accounts receivable that establish a claim for repayment.

Antigua and Barbuda is a signatory to the 1983 agreement establishing the ECCB. The ECCB controls Antigua and Barbuda’s currency and regulates its domestic banks.

The Banking Act (2015) is a harmonized piece of legislation across the ECCU member states. The ECCB and the Ministers of Finance of member states jointly carry out banking supervision under the act. The Minsters of Finance usually act in consultation with the ECCB with respect to those areas of responsibility within the Minister of Finance’s portfolio.

Domestic and foreign banks can establish operations in Antigua and Barbuda. The Banking Act requires all commercial banks and other institutions to be licensed. The ECCB regulates financial institutions. As part of supervision, licensed financial institutions are required to submit monthly, quarterly, and annual performance reports to the ECCB. In its latest annual report, the ECCB listed the commercial banking sector as stable. Assessments including effects of the pandemic are not yet available. Assets of commercial banks totaled $2.07 billion (5.6 billion Eastern Caribbean dollars) at the end of December 2019 and remained relatively consistent during the previous year. The reserve requirement for commercial banks was 6 percent of deposit liabilities.

Antigua and Barbuda is well-served by bank and non-bank financial institutions. There are minimal alternative financial services offered. Some people still participate in informal community group lending, but the practice is declining.

The Caribbean region has witnessed a withdrawal of correspondent banking services by U.S., Canadian, and European banks due to risk management concerns. CARICOM remains committed to engaging with key stakeholders on the issue and appointed a Committee of Ministers of Finance on Correspondent Banking to continue to monitor the issue.

Antigua and Barbuda’s Digital Assets Business Bill 2020 created a comprehensive regulatory framework for digital asset businesses, clients, and customers. The bill states that all digital asset businesses in the country must obtain a license for issuing, selling, or redeeming virtual coins, operating as a payment service or electronic exchange, providing custodial wallet services, among other activities. The government aspires to develop Antigua and Barbuda into a regional center for blockchain and cryptocurrency. At the end of 2020, over 40 major businesses accepted bitcoin cash.

Bitt, a Barbadian company, developed digital currency DCash in partnership with the ECCB. The first successful DCash retail central bank digital currency (CDBC) consumer-to-merchant transaction took place in Grenada in February 2021 following a multi-year development process. The CBB and the FSC established a regulatory sandbox in 2018 where financial technology entities can do live testing of their products and services. This allowed regulators to gain a better understanding of the product or service and to determine what, if any, regulation is necessary to protect consumers. Bitt completed its participation and formally exited the sandbox in 2019. Bitt launched DCash in Antigua and Barbuda in March 2021. In January 2022, the platform experienced a system interruption, and its operation was suspended. The platform regained full functionality at the end of March 2022 following system upgrades.

Neither the government of Antigua and Barbuda nor the ECCB, of which Antigua and Barbuda is a member, maintains a sovereign wealth fund.

Argentina

3. Legal Regime

The Secretary of Strategic Affairs under the Cabinet is in charge of transparency policies and the digitalization of bureaucratic processes as of December 2019.

Argentine government authorities and a number of quasi-independent regulatory entities can issue regulations and norms within their mandates. There are no informal regulatory processes managed by non-governmental organizations or private sector associations. Rulemaking has traditionally been a top-down process in Argentina, unlike in the United States where industry organizations often lead in the development of standards and technical regulations.  The Constitution establishes a procedure that allows for citizens to draft or propose legislation, which is subject to Congressional and Executive approval before being passed into law.

Ministries, regulatory agencies, and Congress are not obligated to provide a list of anticipated regulatory changes or proposals, share draft regulations with the public, or establish a timeline for public comment. They are also not required to conduct impact assessments of the proposed legislation and regulations.

All final texts of laws, regulations, resolutions, dispositions, and administrative decisions must be published in the Official Gazette (https://www.boletinoficial.gob.ar ), as well as in the newspapers and the websites of the Ministries and agencies. These texts can also be accessed through the official website Infoleg (http://www.infoleg.gob.ar/ ), overseen by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. Interested stakeholders can pursue judicial review of regulatory decisions.

In September 2016, Argentina enacted a Right to Access Public Information Law (27,275) that mandates all three governmental branches (legislative, judicial, and executive), political parties, universities, and unions that receive public funding are to provide non-classified information at the request of any citizen. The law also created the Agency for the Right to Access Public Information to oversee compliance.

During 2017, the government introduced new procurement standards including electronic procurement, formalization of procedures for costing-out projects, and transparent processes to renegotiate debts to suppliers. The government also introduced OECD recommendations on corporate governance for state-owned enterprises to promote transparency and accountability during the procurement process. The regulation may be viewed at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/verNorma.do?id=306769 .

In April 2018, Argentina passed the Business Criminal Responsibility Law (27,041) through Decree 277. The decree establishes an Anti-Corruption Office in charge of outlining and monitoring the transparency policies with which companies must comply to be eligible for public procurement.

The Argentine government has sought to increase public consultation in the rulemaking process; however, public consultation is non-binding and has been done in an ad-hoc fashion. In 2017, the Government of Argentina issued a series of legal instruments that seek to promote the use of tools to improve the quality of the regulatory framework. Amongst them, Decree 891/2017 for Good Practices in Simplification establishes a series of tools to improve the rulemaking process. The decree introduces tools on ex-ante and ex-post evaluation of regulation, stakeholder engagement, and administrative simplification, amongst others. Nevertheless, no formal oversight mechanism has been established to supervise the use of these tools across the line of ministries and government agencies, which make implementation difficult and severely limit the potential to adopt a whole-of-government approach to regulatory policy, according to a 2019 OECD publication on Regulatory Policy in Argentina.

Some ministries and agencies developed their own processes for public consultation by publishing drafts on their websites, directly distributing the draft to interested stakeholders for feedback, or holding public hearings.

In November 2017, the Government of Argentina launched a new website to communicate how the government spends public funds in a user-friendly format (https://www.argentina.gob.ar/economia/transparencia/presupuesto ).

The Argentine government also made an effort to improve citizens’ understanding of the budget, through the citizen’s budget “Presupuesto Ciudadano” website: https://www.economia.gob.ar/onp/presupuesto_ciudadano/seccion6.php . The initiative aligns with the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT) and UN Resolution 67/218 on promoting transparency, participation, and accountability in fiscal policy.

Argentina requires public companies to adhere to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). Argentina is a member of UNCTAD’s international network of transparent investment procedures.

The government of Argentina does not promote or require environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosures to facilitate transparency and/or help investors and consumers distinguish between high and low-quality investments.

Argentina is a founding member of MERCOSUR and has been a member of the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI for Asociación Latinoamericana de Integración) since 1980.  Once any of the decision-making bodies within MERCOSUR agrees to apply a certain regulation, each of the member countries must incorporate it into its legislation according to its own legislative procedures. Once a regulation is incorporated in a MERCOSUR member’s legislation, the country must notify MERCOSUR headquarters.

Argentina has been a member of the WTO since 1995, and it ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement in January 2018. Argentina notifies technical regulations, but not proposed drafts, to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade.  Argentina submitted itself to an OECD regulatory policy review in March 2018, which was released in March 2019.  The Fernandez administration has not actively pursued OECD accession.  Argentina participates in all 23 OECD committees.

Additionally, the Argentine Institute for Standards and Certifications (IRAM) is a member of international and regional standards bodies including the International Standardization Organization (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the Pan-American Commission on Technical Standards (COPAM), the MERCOSUR Association of Standardization (AMN), the International Certification Network (i-Qnet), the System of Conformity Assessment for Electrotechnical Equipment and Components (IECEE), and the Global Good Agricultural Practice network (GLOBALG.A.P.).

Argentina follows a Civil Law system. In 2014, the Argentine government passed a new Civil and Commercial Code that has been in effect since August 2015. The Civil and Commercial Code provides regulations for civil and commercial liability, including ownership of real and intangible property claims. The current judicial process is lengthy and suffers from significant backlogs. In the Argentine legal system, appeals may be brought from many rulings of the lower courts, including evidentiary decisions, not just final orders, which significantly slows all aspects of the system. The Justice Ministry reported in December 2018 that the expanded use of oral processes had reduced the duration of 68 percent of all civil matters to less than two years.

According to the Argentine constitution, the judiciary is a separate and equal branch of government. In practice, there are continuous instances of political interference in the judicial process. Companies have complained that courts lack transparency and reliability, and that the Argentine government has used the judicial system to pressure the private sector. Media revelations of judicial impropriety and corruption feed public perception and undermine confidence in the judiciary.

Many foreign investors prefer to rely on private or international arbitration when those options are available. Claims regarding labor practices are processed through a labor court, regulated by Law 18,345 and its subsequent amendments, and implementing regulations by Decree 106/98. Contracts often include clauses designating specific judicial or arbitral recourse for dispute settlement.

According to the Foreign Direct Investment Law 21,382 and Decree 1853/93, foreign investors may invest in Argentina without prior governmental approval, under the same conditions as investors domiciled within the country. Foreign investors are free to enter into mergers, acquisitions, greenfield investments, or joint ventures. Foreign firms may also participate in publicly financed research and development programs on a national treatment basis. Incoming foreign currency must be identified by the participating bank to the Central Bank of Argentina (www.bcra.gob.ar ).

All foreign and domestic commercial entities in Argentina are regulated by the Commercial Partnerships Law (Law No. 19,550) and the rules issued by the commercial regulatory agencies. Decree 27/2018 amended Law 19,550 to eliminate regulatory barriers and reduce bureaucratic burdens, expedite and simplify processes in the public domain, and deploy existing technological tools to better focus on transparency. Full text of the decree can be found at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/305000-309999/305736/norma.htm.  All other laws and norms concerning commercial entities are established in the Argentina Civil and Commercial Code, which can be found at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/235000-239999/235975/norma.htm 

Further information about Argentina’s investment policies can be found at the following websites:

Ministry of Productive Development (https://www.argentina.gob.ar/produccion )

Ministry of Economy (https://www.argentina.gob.ar/economia )

The Central Bank of the Argentine Republic (http://www.bcra.gob.ar/ )

The National Securities Exchange Commission (https://www.argentina.gob.ar/cnv )

The National Investment and Trade Promotion Agency (https://www.inversionycomercio.org.ar/ )

Investors can download Argentina’s investor guide through this link: https://www.investargentina.org.ar/ 

The National Commission for the Defense of Competition and the Secretariat of Domestic Trade, both within the Ministry of Productive Development, have enforcement authority of the Competition Law (Law 25,156). The law aims to promote a culture of competition in all sectors of the national economy. In May 2018, the Argentine Congress approved a new Defense of Competition Law (Law 27,442), which would have, among other things, established an independent competition agency and tribunal. The new law incorporates anti-competitive conduct regulations and a leniency program to facilitate cartel investigation. The full text of the law can be viewed at: http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/verNorma.do?id=310241 . The Government of Argentina, however, has thus far not taken steps to establish the independent agency or tribunal. In February 2021, a bill introducing amendments to the Defense of Competition Law was passed by the Senate and is currently under study in the Lower House. The main changes are related to the removal of the “Clemency Program,” which encourages public reports of collusive and cartel activities, and the elimination of public hearings to appoint members of the Competition Office. The private sector has expressed concern over this bill, stating these changes are contrary to transparency standards embodied in the Law.

In September 2014, Argentina amended the 1974 National Supply Law to expand the ability of the government to regulate private enterprises by setting minimum and maximum prices and profit margins for goods and services at any stage of economic activity. Private companies may be subject to fines and temporary closure if the government determines they are not complying with the law. Although the law is still in effect, the U.S. Government has not received any reports of it being applied since December 2015.  However, the Fernandez administration has expressed its potential use when resisted compliance with price control programs, even if the program was supposed to be voluntary.

In March 2020, the Government of Argentina enacted the Supermarket Shelves Law (Law 27,545) that states that any single manufacturer and its associated brands cannot occupy more than 30 percent of a retailer’s shelf space devoted to any one product category.  The law’s proponents claim it will allow more space for domestic SME-produced products, encourage competition, and reduce shortages. U.S. companies have expressed concern over the pending regulations, seeking clarification about issues such as whether display space percentages would be considered per brand or per production company, as it could potentially affect a company’s production, distribution, and marketing business model.

Section 17 of the Argentine Constitution affirms the right of private property and states that any expropriation must be authorized by law and compensation must be provided. The United States-Argentina BIT states that investments shall not be expropriated or nationalized except for public purposes upon prompt payment of the fair market value in compensation.

Argentina has a history of expropriations under previous administrations. The most recent expropriation occurred in March 2015 when the Argentine Congress approved the nationalization of the train and railway system. A number of companies that were privatized during the 1990s under the Menem administration were renationalized under the Kirchner administrations. Additionally, in October 2008, Argentina nationalized its private pension funds, which amounted to approximately one-third of total GDP and transferred the funds to the government social security agency.

In May 2012, the Fernandez de Kirchner administration nationalized oil and gas company Repsol-YPF. Most of the litigation between the Government of Argentina and Repsol was settled in 2016.  An American hedge fund still holds a claim against YPF and is in litigation in U.S. courts.

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Argentina is signatory to the 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitration Awards, which the country ratified in 1989. Argentina is also a party to the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) Convention since 1994.

There is neither specific domestic legislation providing for enforcement under the 1958 New York Convention nor legislation for the enforcement of awards under the ICSID Convention. Companies that seek recourse through Argentine courts may not simultaneously pursue recourse through international arbitration.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The Argentine government officially accepts the principle of international arbitration. The United States-Argentina BIT includes a chapter on Investor-State Dispute Settlement for U.S. investors.

In the past ten years, Argentina has been brought before the ICSID in 7 cases involving U.S. or other foreign investors. Argentina currently has seven pending arbitration cases, three of them filed against it by U.S. investors. For more information on the cases brought by U.S. claimants against Argentina, go to: https://icsid.worldbank.org/en/Pages/cases/AdvancedSearch.aspx #.

Local courts cannot enforce arbitral awards issued against the government based on the public policy clause. There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

Argentina is a member of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) and the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).

Argentina is also a party to several bilateral and multilateral treaties and conventions for the enforcement and recognition of foreign judgments, which provide requirements for the enforcement of foreign judgments in Argentina, including:

Treaty of International Procedural Law, approved in the South American Congress of Private International Law held in Montevideo in 1898, ratified by Argentina by law No. 3,192.

Treaty of International Procedural Law, approved in the South American Congress of Private International Law held in Montevideo in 1939-1940, ratified by Dec. Ley 7771/56 (1956).

Panama Convention of 1975, CIDIP I: Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration, adopted within the Private International Law Conferences – Organization of American States, ratified by law No. 24,322 (1995).

Montevideo Convention of 1979, CIDIP II: Inter-American Convention on Extraterritorial Validity of Foreign Judgments and Arbitral Awards, adopted within the Private International Law Conferences – Organization of American States, ratified by law No. 22,921 (1983).

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms can be stipulated in contracts. Argentina also has ADR mechanisms available such as the Center for Mediation and Arbitrage (CEMARC) of the Argentine Chamber of Trade. More information can be found at: http://www.intracen.org. 

Argentina does not have a specific law governing arbitration, but it has adopted a mediation law (Law 24.573/1995), which makes mediation mandatory prior to litigation. Some arbitration provisions are scattered throughout the Civil Code, the National Code of Civil and Commercial Procedure, the Commercial Code, and three other laws. The following methods of concluding an arbitration agreement are non-binding under Argentine law: electronic communication, fax, oral agreement, and conduct on the part of one party. Generally, all commercial matters are subject to arbitration. There are no legal restrictions on the identity and professional qualifications of arbitrators. Parties must be represented in arbitration proceedings in Argentina by attorneys who are licensed to practice locally. The grounds for annulment of arbitration awards are limited to substantial procedural violations, an ultra petita award (award outside the scope of the arbitration agreement), an award rendered after the agreed-upon time limit, and a public order violation that is not yet settled by jurisprudence when related to the merits of the award. On average, it takes around 21 weeks to enforce an arbitration award rendered in Argentina, from filing an application to a writ of execution attaching assets (assuming there is no appeal). It takes roughly 18 weeks to enforce a foreign award. The requirements for the enforcement of foreign judgments are set out in section 517 of the National Procedural Code.

No information is available as to whether the domestic courts frequently rule in cases in favor of state-owned enterprises (SOE) when SOEs are party to a dispute.

Argentina’s bankruptcy law was codified in 1995 in Law 24,522. The full text can be found at: http://www.infoleg.gov.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/25000-29999/25379/texact.htm .

Under the law, debtors are generally able to begin insolvency proceedings when they are no longer able to pay their debts as they mature. Debtors may file for both liquidation and reorganization. Creditors may file for insolvency of the debtor for liquidation only. The insolvency framework does not require approval by the creditors for the selection or appointment of the insolvency representative or for the sale of substantial assets of the debtor. The insolvency framework does not provide rights to the creditor to request information from the insolvency representative, but the creditor has the right to object to decisions by the debtor to accept or reject creditors’ claims. Bankruptcy is not criminalized; however, convictions for fraudulent bankruptcy can carry two to six years of prison time.

Financial institutions regulated by the Central Bank of Argentina (BCRA) publish monthly outstanding credit balances of their debtors; the BCRA National Center of Debtors (Central de Deudores) compiles and publishes this information. The database is available for use of financial institutions that comply with legal requirements concerning protection of personal data. The credit monitoring system only includes negative information, and the information remains on file through the person’s life. At least one local NGO that makes microcredit loans is working to make the payment history of these loans publicly accessible for the purpose of demonstrating credit history, including positive information, for those without access to bank accounts and who are outside of the Central Bank’s system. Equifax, which operates under the local name “Veraz” (or “truthfully”), also provides credit information to financial institutions and other clients, such as telecommunications service providers and other retailers that operate monthly billing or credit/layaway programs.

6. Financial Sector

The Argentine Constitution sets as a general principle that foreign investors have the same status and the same rights as local investors. Foreign investors have free access to domestic and international financing.

After a three-year recession (2018-2020), the economy rebounded with 10.3 percent growth in 2021. However, the government did not ease the capital controls introduced in September 2019 to slow the outflow of dollars. Central Bank capital controls prohibiting transfers and payments are likely in conflict with IMF Article VIII. The government has maintained trade restrictions, price controls, distortive taxes, and high spending. Unable to access international capital markets (despite restructuring private debt in 2020) and with a shallow domestic market, the government relied on Central Bank money printing to finance the deficit. The excessive liquidity resulted in high inflation (50.9 percent in 2021) and deteriorating social conditions, with the poverty rate exceeding 40 percent.

In August 2020, the government of Argentina formally notified the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of its intent to renegotiate $45 billion due to the Fund from the 2018 Stand-By Arrangement. On March 3, 2022, IMF Staff and Argentine authorities reached a staff-level agreement on the economic and financial policies required for an Extended Fund Facility (EFF) Arrangement. In broad terms, the key objectives of the new EFF include a reduction in the fiscal deficit and monetary financing, tackling inflation, and the accumulation of foreign reserves. The IMF Executive Board approved the EFF on March 25, after the Argentine National Congress approved the measure.

The Argentine Securities and Exchange Commission (CNV or Comisión Nacional de Valores) is the federal agency that regulates securities markets offerings. Securities and accounting standards are transparent and consistent with international norms. Foreign investors have access to a variety of options on the local market to obtain credit. Nevertheless, the domestic credit market is small – credit is 11 percent of GDP. Private sector credit gained some momentum in 2021, driven by the reopening of the economy after the pandemic and government support measures such as subsidized credit lines for businesses. Nevertheless, the stock of credit shrank in real terms as the nominal credit growth increased by 41 percent in 2021, below the inflation rate of 50.7 percent. The Buenos Aires Stock Exchange is the organization responsible for the operation of Argentina’s primary stock exchange, located in Buenos Aires city. The most important index of the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange is the MERVAL (Mercado de Valores).

U.S. banks, securities firms, and investment funds are well-represented in Argentina and are dynamic players in local capital markets. In 2003, the government began requiring foreign banks to disclose to the public the nature and extent to which their foreign parent banks guarantee their branches or subsidiaries in Argentina.

Argentina has a relatively sound banking sector based on diversified revenues, well-contained operating costs, and a high liquidity level. Argentina’s banking sector has been resilient in the face of a multi-year economic recession (2018-2020). Limited financial intermediation combined with high inflation and interventionist interest rate regulations (mainly for small businesses) dented bank profitability in 2021. Banks compensated for this by controlling expenses and increasing digitalization of the sector. Non-performing private sector loans constitute 4.4 percent of banks’ portfolios. During 2021, financial entities maintained adequate solvency indicators. The banking sector is well positioned due to macro and micro-prudential policies introduced since 2002 that have helped to reduce asset-liability mismatches. The sector is highly liquid and its exposure to the public sector is modest, while its provisions for bad debts are adequate.

Private banks have total assets of approximately ARS 8.4 trillion (USD $83.3 billion). Total financial system assets are approximately ARS 13.7 trillion (USD $135.7 billion). The Central Bank of Argentina acts as the country’s financial agent and is the main regulatory body for the banking system.

Foreign banks and branches can establish operations in Argentina. They are subject to the same regulation as local banks. Argentina’s Central Bank has many correspondent banking relationships, none of which are known to have been lost in the past three years.

In November 2020, the Central Bank launched a new payment system, “Transfers 3.0,” seeking to reduce the use of cash. This system will boost digital payments and further financial inclusion in Argentina, expanding the reach of instant transfers to build an open and universal digital payment ecosystem. The government has expressed support for the process of digitization of payments to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and safeguard financial stability.

The Central Bank has enacted a resolution recognizing cryptocurrencies and requiring that they comply with local banking and tax laws. No implementing regulations have been adopted. Block chain developers report that several companies in the financial services sector are exploring or considering using block chain-based programs externally and are using some such programs internally.

Foreign Exchange

Beginning in September 2019, the Argentine government and Central Bank issued a series of decrees and norms to extend or amend the government’s ability to regulate and restrict access to foreign exchange markets.

As of October 2019, the Central Bank (Notice A6815) limits cash withdrawals made abroad with local debit cards to foreign currency bank accounts owned by the client in Argentina. Pursuant to Notice A6823, cash advances made abroad using local credit cards are limited to a maximum of USD $50 per transaction.

As of September 2020, and pursuant to Notice A7106, Argentine individuals must limit purchases of foreign currency (or of goods and services denominated in foreign currency) to no more than USD $200 per month on a rolling monthly basis. Individuals must receive Central Bank approval to purchase foreign currency in excess of the $200 quota. Purchases of goods and services abroad with credit and debit cards issued by Argentine banks count against the USD $200 per month quota. Although no limit on credit or debit card purchases is imposed, if monthly expenditures surpass the USD $200 limit, the card owner will be prevented from purchasing foreign currency in Argentina for the number of months needed to cover the amount of excess spending. Also, the regulation prohibits individuals who receive government assistance and high-ranking federal government officials from purchasing foreign exchange.

Pursuant to Public Emergency Law 27,541, issued December 23, 2019, all dollar purchases and individual expenses incurred abroad, in person or online, including international online purchases from Argentina, paid with credit or with debit cards will be subject to a 30 percent tax. Pursuant to AFIP Resolution 4815 a 35 percent withholding tax in advance of the payment of income and/or wealth tax is also applied.

Non-Argentine residents are required to obtain prior Central Bank approval to purchase more than USD $100 per month, except for certain bilateral or international organizations, institutions and agencies, diplomatic representation, and foreign tribunals.

Companies and individuals need to obtain prior clearance from the Central Bank before transferring funds abroad. In the case of individuals, if transfers are made from their own foreign currency accounts in Argentina to their own accounts abroad, they do not need to obtain Central Bank approval.

Per Notice A6869 issued by the Central Bank in January 2020, companies will be able to repatriate dividends without Central Bank authorization equivalent to a maximum of 30 percent of new foreign direct investment made by the company in the country. To promote foreign direct investment the Central Bank announced in October 2020 (Notice A7123) that it will allow free access to the official foreign exchange market to repatriate investments as long as the capital contribution was transferred and sold in Argentine Pesos through the foreign exchange market as of October 2, 2020, and the repatriation takes place at least two years after the transfer and settlement of those funds.

Exporters of goods are required to transfer the proceeds from exports to Argentina and settle in pesos in the foreign currency market. Exporters must settle according to the following terms: exporters with affiliates (irrespective of the type of good exported) and exporters of certain goods (including cereals, seeds, minerals, and precious metals, among others) must convert their foreign currency proceeds to pesos within 15 days (or 30 days for some products) after the issuance of the permit for shipment; other exporters have 180 days to settle in pesos. Despite these deadlines, exporters must transfer the funds to Argentina and settle in pesos within five business days from the actual collection of funds. Argentine residents are required to transfer to Argentina and settle in pesos the proceeds from services exports rendered to non-Argentine residents that are paid in foreign currency either in Argentina or abroad, within five business days from collection of funds.

Payment of imports of goods and services from third parties and affiliates require Central Bank approval if the company needs to purchase foreign currency. Since May 2020, the Central Bank requires importers to submit an affidavit stating that the total amount of payments associated with the import of goods made during the year (including the payment that is being requested). The total amount of payments for importation of goods should also include the payments for amortizations of lines of credit and/or commercial guarantees.

In September 2020, the Central Bank limited companies’ ability to purchase foreign currency to cancel any external financial debt (including other intercompany debt) and dollar denominated local securities offerings. Companies were granted access to foreign currency for up to 40 percent of the principal amount coming due from October 15, 2020, to December 31, 2020. For the remaining 60 percent of the debt, companies had to file a refinancing plan with the Central Bank. In February 2021, the Central Bank extended the regulation through 2021, and in March 2022 extended it again to include maturities through December 31, 2022. Indebtedness with international organizations or their associated agencies or guaranteed by them and indebtedness granted by official credit agencies or guaranteed by them are exempted from this restriction.

The Central Bank (Notice A7001) prohibited access to the foreign exchange market to pay for external indebtedness, imports of goods and services, and saving purposes for individuals and companies that have made sales of securities with settlement in foreign currency or transfers of these to foreign depositary entities within the last 90 days. They also should not make any of these transactions for the following 90 days.

Pre-cancellation of debt coming due abroad in more than three business days requires Central Bank approval to purchase dollars.

Per Resolution 36,162 of October 2011, locally registered insurance companies are mandated to maintain all investments and cash equivalents in the country. The Central Bank limits banks’ dollar-denominated asset holdings to 5 percent of their net worth.

In December 2021, the Central Bank presented its monetary, financial, lending, and foreign exchange program. On monetary policy, the Central Bank committed to I) manage liquidity to prevent any imbalances that may directly or indirectly affect the disinflation process; II) set the path of the policy interest rate to obtain positive real returns on investments in domestic currency and preserve monetary and foreign exchange stability; and III) contribute to the development of the capital market and adjust minimum reserve requirements to strengthen the channel of monetary policy transmission. On foreign exchange, the Central Bank will maintain the gradual crawling peg of the exchange rate consistent with the pace of inflation. With the goal of strengthening international reserves, the Central Bank will manage capital control regulations to ensure monetary and foreign exchange stability. The credit policy objectives include encouraging financial intermediation and promoting the growth of the peso credit market to boost lending to micro, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and to the sectors most affected by the pandemic.

Remittance Policies

In response to the economic crisis in Argentina, the government introduced capital controls in September 2019 and tightened them in 2020.  Under these restrictions, companies in Argentina (including local affiliates of foreign parent companies) must obtain prior approval from the Central Bank to access the foreign exchange market to purchase foreign currency and to transfer funds abroad for the payment of dividends and profits.  In January 2020, the Central Bank amended the regime for the payment of dividends abroad to non-residents. The new regime allows companies to access the foreign exchange market to transfer profits and dividends abroad without prior authorization of the Central Bank, provided the following conditions are met:

(1) Profits and dividends are to be declared in closed and audited financial statements.

(2) The dividends in foreign currency should not exceed the dividends determined by the shareholders’ meeting in local currency.

(3) The total amount of dividends to be transferred cannot exceed 30 percent of the amount of new capital contributions made by non-residents into local companies since January 2020.

(4) The resident entity must be in compliance with filing the Central Bank Survey of External Assets and Liabilities.

The Argentine government does not maintain a Sovereign Wealth Fund.

Armenia

3. Legal Regime

The Armenian government increasingly makes efforts to uses transparent policies and laws to foster competition. Some contacts have reported that over the last few years the Armenian government has pursued a more consistent execution of these laws and policies in an effort to improve market competition and remove informal barriers to market entry, especially for small- and medium-sized enterprises. Armenia’s legislation on the protection of competition has been improved with clarifications regarding key concepts. There have been some procedural improvements for delivering conclusions and notifications of potential anti-competitive behavior via electronic means. However, companies regard the efforts of the State Commission for the Protection of Economic Competition (SCPEC) alone as insufficient to ensure a level playing field. They indicate that improvements in other state institutions and authorities that support competition, like the courts, tax and customs, public procurement, and law enforcement, are necessary. Numerous studies observe a continuing lack of contestability in local markets, many of which are dominated by a few incumbents. Banking supervision is relatively well developed and largely consistent with the Basel Core Principles. The Central Bank of Armenia (CBA) is the primary regulator of the financial sector and exercises oversight over banking, securities, insurance, and pensions. Armenia has adopted IFRS as the accounting standard for enterprises. Data on Armenia’s public finances and debt obligations are broadly transparent, and the Ministry of Finance publishes periodic reports that are available online.

Safety and health requirements, many of them holdovers from the Soviet period, generally do not impede investment activities. Nevertheless, investors consider bureaucratic procedures to be sometimes burdensome, and discretionary decisions by individual officials may present opportunities for petty corruption. A unified online platform for publishing draft legislation was launched in March 2017.  Proposed legislation is available for the public to view. Registered users can submit feedback and see a summary of comments on draft legislation. However, the time period devoted to public comments is often regarded as insufficient to solicit substantive feedback. The results of consultations have not been reported by the government in the past. The government maintains other portals, including http://www.e-gov.am and http://www.arlis.am, that make legislation and regulations available to the public. The governmental https://www.aipa.am/en/ portal is a comprehensive platform for a range of services including registering intellectual property, opening a company, or applying for a construction permit. It also provides links to key regulatory institutions and laws and regulations. The government does not require environmental and social disclosures to help investors and consumers distinguish between high- and low-quality investments. Some regulations that affect Armenia are developed within the Eurasian Economic Commission, the executive body for the EAEU.

Armenia is a member of the EAEU and adheres to relevant technical regulations. Armenia’s entry into CEPA will lead it to pursue harmonization efforts with the EU on a range of laws, regulations, and policies relevant to economic affairs. Armenia is also a member of the WTO, and the Armenian government notifies draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade. Armenia is a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement and has already sent category “A”, “B,” and “C” notifications to the WTO.

Armenia has a hybrid legal system that includes elements of both civil and common law. Although Armenia is developing an international commercial code, the laws regarding commercial and contractual matters are currently set forth in the civil code. Thus, because Armenia lacks a commercial court, all disputes involving contracts, ownership of property, or other commercial matters are resolved by litigants in courts of general jurisdiction, which handle both civil and criminal cases. Judges that handle civil matters may be overwhelmed by the volume of cases before them and are frequently seen by the public as corrupt. Despite the ability of courts to use the precedential authority of the Court of Cassation and the European Court of Human Rights, many judges who specialize in civil cases do not do so, increasing the unpredictability of court decisions in the eyes of investors.

Businesses tend to perceive that many Armenian courts suffer from low levels of efficiency, independence, and professionalism, which drives a need to strengthen the judiciary. Very often in proceedings when additional forensic expertise is requested, the court may suspend a case until the forensic opinion is received, a process that can take several months. Businesses have noted that many judges at courts of general jurisdiction may be reluctant to make decisions without getting advice from higher court judges. Thus, the public opinion is that decisions may be influenced by factors other than the law and merits of individual cases. In general, the government honors judgments from both arbitration proceedings and Armenian national courts.

Due to the nature and complexity of commercial and contractual issues and the caseload of judges who specialize in civil cases, many matters involving investment or commercial disputes take months or years to work their way through the courts. In addition, businesses have complained of the inefficiencies and institutional corruption of the courts. Even though the Armenian constitution provides investors the tools to enforce awards and their property rights, investors claim that there is little predictability in what a court may do.

Basic legal provisions covering foreign investment are specified in the 1994 Law on Foreign Investment. Foreign companies are entitled by law to the same treatment as Armenian companies. A Law on Public-Private Partnership (PPP), adopted in 2019, establishes a framework for the government to attract investment for projects focused on infrastructure. In 2021, the Law on PPP has been amended to introduce clear criteria for PPP project selection by the Government, as well as enabled investors to apply to the government with PPP project proposals. 

The Investment Support Center (Enterprise Armenia) is Armenia’s national authority for investment and export promotion. It provides information to foreign investors on Armenia’s business climate, investment opportunities, and legislation; supports investor visits; and serves as a liaison for government institutions. More information is available via the Investment Support Center’s website.

SCPEC reviews transactions for competition-related concerns. Relevant laws, regulations, commission decisions, and more information can be found on SCPEC’s website. Concentrations, including mergers, acquisitions of shares or assets, amalgamations, and incorporations, are subject to ex ante control by SCPEC in accordance with the law. Whenever a concentration gives rise to concerns about harm to competition, including the creation or strengthening of a dominant position, SCPEC can prohibit such a transaction or impose certain remedies. Armenia’s Law on Protection of Economic Competition has been amended several times in recent years to bring Armenia’s competition framework into alignment with EAEU and CEPA requirements. The law was changed in 2020 to improve SCPEC’s capabilities to investigate anti-competitive behavior, in collaboration with Armenia’s investigative bodies, whereas before SCPEC had to rely primarily on document studies and request information from other state bodies. 

Amendments to the competition law made in 2021 strengthened SCPEC’s preventive measures by allowing private sector representatives to obtain SCPEC’s advisory opinion on market concentration risks prior to a planned transaction or activity (formerly available only to state bodies). The most recent changes to competition law also defined the order to conduct sectoral market studies to identify potential competition violations and enlarged the scope of market transactions that can be assessed as market concentrations.

Under Armenian law, foreign investment cannot be confiscated or expropriated except in extreme cases of natural or state emergency upon obtaining an order from a domestic court. According to the Armenian constitution, equivalent compensation is owed prior to expropriation.

According to the Law on Bankruptcy adopted in 2006, creditors and equity and contract holders (including foreign entities) have the right to participate and defend their interests in bankruptcy cases. Armenia decided with the passage of a new Judicial Code in 2018 to adopt a new, specialized bankruptcy court, which began operations in 2019. Creditors have the right to access all materials relevant to cases, submit claims to court, participate in meetings of creditors, and nominate candidates to administer cases. Monetary judgments are usually made in local currency. The Armenian Criminal Code defines penalties for false and deliberate bankruptcy, concealment of property or other assets of the bankrupt party, or other illegal activities during the bankruptcy process. UNCTAD observes that Armenia’s framework for bankruptcy procedures needs improvement, adding that insolvency cases are expensive and almost always result in liquidation. Armenia amended its bankruptcy law in December 2019 to reduce the cost of bankruptcy proceedings. In addition, premiums have been set for bankruptcy managers for submitting financial recovery plans, as well as for the recovery of a bankrupt person, with the aim of raising rates of financial recovery. In 2020, the debt threshold to launch bankruptcy proceedings was raised to grant companies a greater ability to pay off debts rather than having their assets frozen.

6. Financial Sector

The banking system in Armenia is sound and well-regulated, but the financial sector is not highly developed, according to investors. Banking sector assets account for over 80 percent of total financial sector assets. Financial intermediation tends to be poor. Nearly all banks require collateral located in Armenia, and large collateral requirements often prevent potential borrowers from entering the market. U.S. businesses have noted that this creates a significant barrier for small- and medium-sized enterprises and start-up companies.

The Armenian government welcomes foreign portfolio investment and there is a supporting system and legal framework in place. Armenia’s securities market is not well developed and has only minimal trading activity through the Armenia Securities Exchange, though efforts to grow capital markets are underway. Liquidity sufficient for the entry and exit of sizeable positions is often difficult to achieve due to the small size of the Armenian market. The Armenian government hopes that as a result of pension reforms in 2014, which brought two international asset managers to Armenia, capital markets will play a more prominent role in the country’s financial sector. Armenia adheres to its IMF Article VIII commitments by refraining from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions. Credit is allocated on market terms and foreign investors are able to access credit locally.

Since 2020, the banking sector has withstood the twin shocks created by COVID-19 and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Indicators of financial soundness, including capital adequacy and non-performing loan ratios, have remained broadly strong. The sector is well capitalized and liquid. Non-performing loans have ticked upward slightly from rates of around five percent of all loans. Dollarization, historically high for deposits and lending, has been falling in recent years. Seventeen commercial banks operate in Armenia.  In 2021, all commercial banks in Armenia generated net profits and all had a positive return on average equity (the financial ratio that measures the performance of a bank based on its average shareholders’ equity outstanding).  Total bank assets in Armenia at the end of 2021 were $14 billion; Armenia’s 2021 GDP was approximately $13.6 billion.  As such, the ratio of banks’ total assets to GDP – approximately one-to-one – is average compared to peer countries.  Concentration of banks’ assets is considered to be very low, with the three largest banks holding less than fifty percent of total banking sector assets.  Market share of the largest five banks was 56 percent in 2021.  Overall, Armenia’s banking sector is viewed by international financial institutions (IFIs) as relatively healthy. 

The minimum capital requirement for banks is 30 billion AMD (around $59 million). There are no restrictions on foreigners to open bank accounts. Residents and foreign nationals can hold foreign currency accounts and import, export, and exchange foreign currency relatively freely in accordance with the Law on Currency Regulation and Currency Control. Foreign banks may establish a subsidiary, branch, or representative office, and subsidiaries of foreign banks are allowed to provide the same types of services as domestically owned banks.

The CBA is responsible for the regulation and supervision of the financial sector. The authority and responsibilities of the CBA are established under the Law on the Central Bank of Armenia. Numerous other articles of legislation and supporting regulations provide for financial sector oversight and supervision.

Armenia does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

Australia

3. Legal Regime

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.” The taskforce’s work is ongoing.

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.

Environmental Social Governance (ESG) reporting is not currently mandated for companies in Australia. However, companies are required to disclose any information that shareholders may deem relevant in assessing the performance of value of the company and this may include ESG components. Companies are also increasingly disclosing ESG aspects of their operations in response to shareholder demands and in order to secure an advantage over competitors. Further, financial services companies are required to disclose their exposure to climate risk as part of their standard risk disclosures (see further detail here: https://asic.gov.au/about-asic/news-centre/speeches/corporate-governance-update-climate-change-risk-and-disclosure/ )

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 

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.

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 January 2021 new legislation, the Foreign Investment Reform (Protecting Australia’s National Security) Act 2020, took effect. This legislation tightened Australia’s investment screening rules by introducing the concept of a “national security business” and “national security land,” the acquisition of which trigger a FIRB review. Further details on national security considerations, including the definitions of national security businesses, are available on the FIRB website: https://firb.gov.au/guidance-resources/guidance-notes/gn8.

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.

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.

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.

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.

6. Financial Sector

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).

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 USD4.2 trillion and the sector has delivered an annual average return on equity of around 10 percent (only falling to six percent in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, before rebounding to 11 percent in 2021).

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 2021, 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.

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 2021, the Fund’s portfolio consists of: 23 percent global equities, 8 percent Australian equities, 25 percent private equity (including 8 percent in infrastructure and 7 percent in property), and the remaining 37 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 50 billion (USD 37 billion), while the main Future Fund has assets of AUD 204 billion (USD 150 billion) as of December 31, 2021.

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

Austria

3. Legal Regime

Austria’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms. The government does not provide assistance in distinguishing between high- and low-quality investments, leaving this up to the market.

Federal ministries generally publish draft laws and regulations, including investment laws, for public comment prior to their adoption by Austria’s cabinet and/or Parliament. Relevant stakeholders such as the “Social Partners” (Economic Chamber, Agricultural Chamber, Labor Chamber, and Trade Union Association), the Federation of Industries, and research institutions are invited to provide comments and suggestions on draft laws and regulations, directly online, which may be taken into account before adoption of laws. These comments are publicly available. Austria’s nine provinces can also adopt laws relevant to investments; their review processes are generally less extensive, but local laws are less important for investments than federal laws. The judicial system is independent from the executive branch, helping ensure the government follows administrative processes. The government is required to follow administrative processes and its compliance is monitored by the courts, primarily the Court of Auditors. Individuals can file proceedings against the government in Austria’s courts, if the government did not act in accordance with the law. Similarly, the public prosecution service can file cases against the government.

Draft legislation by ministries (“Ministerialentwürfe”) and resulting government draft laws and parliamentary initiatives (“Regierungsvorlagen und Gesetzesinitiativen”) can be accessed through the website of the Austrian Parliament: https://www.parlament.gv.at/PAKT/ (all in German). The parliament also publishes a history of all law-making processes. All final Austrian laws can be accessed through a government database, partly in English: https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/defaultEn.aspx.

The effectiveness of regulations is not reviewed as a regular process, only on an as-needed basis. Austrian regulations governing accounting provide U.S. investors with internationally standardized financial information. In line with EU regulations, listed companies must prepare their consolidated financial statements according to the International Financial Reporting Standards (IAS/IFRS) system.

Public finances are transparent and easily accessible, through the Finance Ministry’s website, Austria’s Central Bank, and various economic research institutes. Overall, Austria has no legal restrictions, formally or informally, that discriminate against foreign investors.

Austria is a member of the EU. As such, its laws must comply with EU legislation and the country is therefore subject to European Court of Justice (ECJ) jurisdiction. Austria is a member of the WTO and largely follows WTO requirements. Austria has ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) but has not taken specific actions to implement it.

The Austrian legal system is based on Roman law. The constitution establishes a hierarchy, according to which each legislative act (law, regulation, decision, and fines) must have its legal basis in a higher legislative instrument. The full text of each legislative act is available online for reference. All final Austrian laws can be accessed through a government database, partly in English: https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/defaultEn.aspx.

Commercial matters fall within the competence of ordinary regional courts except in Vienna, which has a specialized Commercial Court. The Commercial Court also has nationwide competence for trademark, design, model, and patent matters. There is no special treatment of foreign investors, and the executive branch does not interfere in judicial matters.

The legal system provides an effective means for protecting property and contractual rights of nationals and foreigners. Sensitive cases must be reported to the Ministry of Justice, which can issue instructions for addressing them. Austria’s civil courts enforce property and contractual rights and do not discriminate against foreign investors. Austria allows for court decisions to be appealed, first to a Regional Court and in the last instance, to the Supreme Court.

Austria has restrictions on investments in industries designated as critical infrastructure, technology, resources, and industries with access to sensitive information and involved in freedom and plurality of the media. The government must approve any foreign acquisition of a 25 percent or higher stake in any companies that generally fall within these areas. The threshold is 10 percent for sensitive sectors, defined as military goods and technology, operators of critical energy or digital infrastructure and water, system operators charged with guarding Austria’s data sovereignty and R&D in medicine and pharmaceutical products. Additional screenings are required when an investor in the above categories plans to increase the stake above the thresholds of 25 percent or 50 percent. The investment screening review period generally takes 2 months. The number of filed applications has increased significantly since the law was implemented, from three per year to 50 completed screenings in the first 12 months after the updated investment screening law went into effect (from July 2020 to July 2021). None of the completed screenings were rejected, and two were approved with amendments to safeguard domestic supply of the product/service in question.

There is no discrimination against foreign investors, but businesses are required to follow numerous local regulations. Although there is no requirement for participation by Austrian citizens in ownership or management of a foreign firm, at least one manager must meet Austrian residency and other legal requirements. Expatriates may deduct certain expenses (costs associated with moving, maintaining a double residence, education of children) from Austrian-earned income.

The “Law to Support Investments in Municipalities” (published in the Federal Law Gazette, 74/2017, available online in German only on the federal legal information system www.ris.bka.gv.at), allows federal funding of up to 25 percent of the total investment amount of a project to “modernize” a municipality. The Austrian Business Agency serves as a central contact point for companies looking to invest in Austria. It does not serve as a one-stop-shop but can help answer any questions potential investors may have (https://investinaustria.at/en/).

Austria’s Antitrust Act (ATA) is in line with European Union antitrust regulations, which take precedence over national regulations in cases concerning Austria and other EU member states. The Austrian Antitrust Act prohibits cartels, anticompetitive practices, and the abuse of a dominant market position. The independent Federal Competition Authority (FCA) and the Federal Antitrust Prosecutor (FAP) are responsible for administering antitrust laws. The FCA can conduct investigations and request information from firms. The FAP is subject to instructions issued by the Justice Ministry and can bring actions before Austria’s Cartel Court. Additionally, the Commission on Competition may issue expert opinions on competition policy and give recommendations on notified mergers. The most recent amendment to the ATA was in 2017. This amendment facilitated enforcing private damage claims, strengthened merger control, and enabled appeals against verdicts from the Cartel Court.

Companies must inform the FCA of mergers and acquisitions (M&A). Special M&A regulations apply to media enterprises, such as a lower threshold above which the ATA applies, and the requirement that media diversity must be maintained. A cartel court is competent to rule on referrals from the FCA or the FCP. For violations of antitrust regulations, the cartel court can impose fines of up to the equivalent of 10 percent of a company’s annual worldwide sales. The independent energy regulator E-Control separately examines antitrust concerns in the energy sector but must also submit cases to the cartel court.

Austria’s Takeover Law applies to friendly and hostile takeovers of corporations headquartered in Austria and listed on the Vienna Stock Exchange. The law protects investors against unfair practices, since any shareholder obtaining a controlling stake in a corporation (30 percent or more in direct or indirect control of a company’s voting shares) must offer to buy out smaller shareholders at a defined fair market price. The law also includes provisions for shareholders who passively obtain a controlling stake in a company. The law prohibits defensive action to frustrate bids. The Shareholder Exclusion Act allows a primary shareholder with at least 90 percent of capital stock to force out minority shareholders. An independent takeover commission at the Vienna Stock Exchange oversees compliance with these laws. Austrian courts have also held that shareholders owe a duty of loyalty to each other and must consider the interests of fellow shareholders in good faith.

According to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Austrian Civil Code, property ownership is guaranteed in Austria. Expropriation of private property in Austria is rare and may be undertaken by federal or provincial government authorities only based on special legal authorization “in the public interest” in such instances as land use planning, and infrastructure project preparations. The government can initiate such a procedure only in the absence of any other alternatives for satisfying the public interest; when the action is exclusively in the public interest; and when the owner receives just compensation. For example, in 2017-18, the government expropriated Hitler’s birth house in order to prevent it from becoming a place of pilgrimage for neo-Nazis, paying the former owner EUR 1.5 million (USD 1.8 million) in compensation. The expropriation process is non-discriminatory toward foreigners, including U.S. firms. There is no indication that further expropriations will take place in the foreseeable future.

The Austrian Insolvency Act contains provisions for business reorganization and bankruptcy proceedings. Reorganization requires a restructuring plan and the debtor to be able to cover costs or advance some of the costs up to a maximum of EUR 4,000 (USD 4,720). The plan must offer creditors at least 20 percent of what is owed, payable within two years of the date the debtor’s obligation is determined. The plan must be approved by a majority of all creditors and a majority of creditors holding at least 50 percent of all claims.

If the restructuring plan is not accepted, a bankruptcy proceeding is begun. Bankruptcy proceedings take place in court upon application of the debtor or a creditor; the court appoints a receiver for winding down the business and distributing proceeds to the creditors. Bankruptcy is not criminalized, provided the affected person performed all his documentation and reporting obligations on time and in accordance with the law.

Austria’s major commercial association for the protection of creditors in cases of bankruptcy is the “KSV 1870 Group”, www.ksv.at, which also carries out credit assessments of all companies located in Austria. Other European-wide credit bureaus, particularly “CRIF” and “Bisnode”, also monitor the Austrian market.

6. Financial Sector

Austria has sophisticated financial markets that allow foreign investors access without restrictions. The government welcomes foreign portfolio investment. The Austrian National Bank (OeNB) regulates portfolio investments effectively.

Austria has a national stock exchange that currently includes 64 companies on its regulated market and several others on its multilateral trading facility (MTF). The Austrian Traded Index (ATX) is a price index consisting of the 20 largest stocks on the market and forms the most important index of Austria’s stock market. The size of the companies listed on the ATX is roughly equivalent to those listed on the MDAX in Germany. The market capitalization of Austrian listed companies is small compared to the country’s western European counterparts, accounting for 31 percent of Austria’s GDP, compared to 59 percent in Germany or 194 percent in the United States.

Unlike the other market segments in the stock exchange, the Direct Market and Direct Market Plus segments, targeted at SMEs and young, developing companies, are subject only to the Vienna Stock Exchange’s general terms of business, not more stringent EU regulations. These segments have lower reporting requirements but also greater risk for investors, as prices are more likely to fluctuate, due to the respective companies’ low level of market capitalization and lower trading volumes.

Austria has robust financing for product markets, but the free flow of resources into factor markets (capital, raw materials) could be improved. Overall, financing is primarily available through banks and government-sponsored funding organizations with very little private venture capital available. The Austrian government is aware of this issue but has taken few tangible steps to improve the availability of private venture capital.

Austria is fully compliant with IMF Article VIII, all financial instruments are available, and there are no restrictions on payments. Credit is available to foreign investors at market-determined rates.

Austria has one of the most fragmented banking networks in Europe with more than 3,800 branch offices registered in 2021. The banking system is highly developed, with worldwide correspondent banks and representative offices and branches in the United States and other major financial centers. Large Austrian banks also have extensive networks in Central and Southeast European (CESEE) countries and the countries of the former Soviet Union. Total assets of the banking sector amounted to EUR 1.0 trillion (USD 1.2 trillion) in 2020 (approximately 2.5 times the country’s GDP). Approximately EUR 460 billion (USD 543 billion) of banking sector assets are held by Austria’s two largest banks, Erste Group and Raiffeisen Bank International (RBI). The Austrian banking sector is considered one of the most stable in the world. Austria’s banking sector is managed and overseen by the Austrian National Bank (OeNB) and the Financial Market Authority (FMA). Four Austrian banks with assets in excess of EUR 30 billion (USD 34 billion) are subject to the Eurozone’s Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM), as is Sberbank Europe AG, a Russian bank subsidiary headquartered in Austria (which was declared insolvent in March 2022, and its operations are now being wound down in a bankruptcy proceeding), and Addiko Bank AG due to their significant cross-border assets, as well as Volksbank Wien AG, due to its importance for the economy. All other Austrian banks continue to be subject to the country’s dual-oversight banking supervisory system with roles for the OeNB and the FMA, both of which are also responsible for policing irregularities on the stock exchange and for supervising insurance companies, securities markets, and pension funds. Foreign banks are allowed to establish operations in the country with no legal restrictions that place them at a disadvantage compared to local banks.

Due to U.S. government financial reporting requirements, Austrian banks are very cautious in committing the time and expense required to accept U.S. clients and U.S. investors without established U.S. corporate headquarters.

Austria has no sovereign wealth funds.

Azerbaijan

3. Legal Regime

Azerbaijan’s central government is the primary source of regulations relevant to foreign businesses.  Azerbaijan’s regulatory system has improved in recent years, although enforcement is inconsistent, and decision-making remains opaque.  Private sector associations do not play a significant role in regulatory processes.  The draft legislation process typically does not include public consultations and draft legislation text is rarely made available for public comment.  The government has in some cases engaged business organizations, such as AmCham, and consulting firms on various draft laws.  The website of Azerbaijan’s National Parliament, http://meclis.gov.az/ lists all the country’s laws, but only in the Azerbaijani language.

Legal entities in Azerbaijan must adhere to the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).  These are only obligatory for large companies.  Medium-sized companies can choose between reporting based on IFRS or IFRS-SME standards, which are specially designed for large and medium enterprises.  Small and micro enterprises can choose between reporting based on IFRS, IFRS-SME, or simplified accounting procedures established by the Finance Ministry.

Several U.S. companies with operations and investments in Azerbaijan previously reported they had been subjected to repeated tax audits, requests for prepayment of taxes, and court-imposed fines for violations of the tax code.  These allegations have markedly decreased since 2017.

On October 19, 2015, Azerbaijan suspended inspections of entrepreneurs for two years, but inspections still may occur if a complaint is lodged.  This suspension was subsequently extended through January 1, 2023. Medicine quality and safety, taxes, customs, financial markets, food safety, fire safety, construction and safe usage of hazardous facilities, radioactive substances, and mining fields are not subject to this suspension order and are inspected for quality and safety.

The government has also simplified its licensing regime.  All licenses are now issued with indefinite validity through ASAN service centers and must be issued within 10 days of application.  The Economy Ministry also reduced the number of activities requiring a license from 60 to 32.  

Azerbaijan has held observer status at the World Trade Organization (WTO) since 1997 but has not made significant progress toward joining the WTO for the past several years.  A working party on Azerbaijan’s succession to the WTO was established on July 16, 1997 and Azerbaijan began negotiations with WTO members in 2004.  The WTO Secretariat reports Azerbaijan is less than a quarter of the way to full membership.  In 2016, Azerbaijan imposed higher tariffs on a number of imported goods, including agricultural products, to promote domestic production and reduce imports.  In February 2020, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev made public remarks outlining Azerbaijan’s “cautious” approach to the WTO, saying that “the time [had] not come” for Azerbaijan’s membership.  Currently, Azerbaijan is negotiating bilateral market access with 19 economies.

Azerbaijan’s legal system is based on civil law.  Disputes or disagreements arising between foreign investors and enterprises with foreign investment, Azerbaijani state bodies and/or enterprises, and other Azerbaijani legal entities, are to be settled in the Azerbaijani court system or, upon agreement between the parties, in a court of arbitration, including international arbitration bodies.  The judiciary consists of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the appellate courts of the Republic of Azerbaijan, trial courts, and other specialized courts.  Trial court judgments may be appealed in appellate courts and the judgments of appellate courts can be appealed in the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country.  Under the Civil Procedure Code of Azerbaijan, appellate court judgments are published within three days of issuance or within ten days in exceptional circumstances.  The Constitutional Court has the authority to review laws and court judgments for compliance with the constitution.  

Businesses report problems with the reliability and independence of judicial processes in Azerbaijan.  While the government promotes foreign investment and the law guarantees national treatment, in practice investment disputes can arise when a foreign investor or trader’s success threatens well-connected or favored local interests.

Foreign investment in Azerbaijan is regulated by a number of international treaties and agreements, as well as domestic legislation.  These include the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) between the United States and Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijan-European Commission Cooperation Agreement, the Law on Protection of Foreign Investment, the Law on Investment Activity, the Law on Investment Funds, the Law on Privatization of State Property, the Second Program for Privatization of State Property, and sector-specific legislation.  Azerbaijani law permits foreign direct investment in any activity in which a national investor may also invest, unless otherwise prohibited (see “Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment” for further information).

A January 2018 Presidential decree called for drafting a new law on investment activities to conform to international standards.  The decree also established mechanisms to protect investor rights and regulate damages, including lost profit caused to investors.  The details of the proposed new law have not been publicized as of April 2022.

The State Service for Antimonopoly Policy and Consumer Protection under the Economy Ministry is responsible for implementing competition-related policy.  The law on Antimonopoly Activity was amended in April 2016 to introduce regulations on price fixing and other anti-competitive behavior.  Parliament began revising a new version of the Competition Code in late 2014, but it has not yet been adopted.  Azerbaijan’s antimonopoly legislation does not constrain the size or scope of the handful of large holding companies that dominate the non-oil economy.

The Law on the Protection of Foreign Investments forbids nationalization and requisition of foreign investment, except under certain circumstances.  Nationalization of property can occur when authorized by parliamentary resolution, although there have been no known cases of official nationalization or requisition against foreign firms in Azerbaijan.  By a decision of the Cabinet of Ministers, requisition is possible in the event of natural disaster, an epidemic, or other extraordinary situation.  In the event of nationalization or requisition, foreign investors are legally entitled to prompt, effective, and adequate compensation.  Amendments made to Azerbaijan’s Constitution in September 2016 enabled authorities to expropriate private property when necessary for social justice and effective use of land.  In one recent case U.S. citizen property owners were pressured by local authorities to relinquish property rights at rates perceived to be well below fair market value.  The case has not yet been tested in the courts and the owners maintained their property, resisting government communications regarding an imminent takeover and indicating that the attempted expropriation was not being lawfully carried out under the terms of the Bilateral Investment Treaty or Azerbaijani law.  The Azerbaijani government has not shown any pattern of discriminating against U.S. persons by way of direct expropriations. 

Azerbaijan’s Bankruptcy Law applies only to legal entities and entrepreneurs, not to private individuals.  Either a debtor facing insolvency or any creditor may initiate bankruptcy proceedings.  In general, the legislation focuses on liquidation procedures.  The bankruptcy law in Azerbaijan is underdeveloped, which restricts private sector economic development by deterring entrepreneurship.  Amendments to Azerbaijan’s bankruptcy law adopted in 2017 extended the obligations of bankruptcy administrators and defined new rights for creditors.

6. Financial Sector

Access to capital is a critical impediment to business development in Azerbaijan.  An effective regulatory system that encourages and facilitates portfolio investment, foreign or domestic, is not fully in place.  Though the Baku Stock Exchange opened in 2000, there is insufficient liquidity in the market to enter or exit sizeable positions.  The Central Bank assumed control over all financial regulation in January 2020, following disbandment of a formerly independent regulator.  Non-bank financial sector staples such as capital markets, insurance, and private equity are in the early stages of development.  The Capital Market Modernization Project is an attempt by the government to build the foundation for a modern financial capital market, including developing market infrastructure and automation systems, and strengthening the legal and market frameworks for capital transactions.  One major hindrance to the stock market’s growth is the difficulty in encouraging established Azerbaijani businesses to adapt to standard investor-friendly disclosure practices, which are generally required for publicly listed companies.

Azerbaijan’s government and Central Bank do not restrict payments and transfers for international transactions.  Foreign investors are permitted to obtain credit on the local market, but smaller companies and firms without an established credit history often struggle to obtain loans on reasonable commercial terms.  Limited access to capital remains a barrier to development, particularly for small and medium enterprises.

The country’s financial services sector – of which banking comprises more than 90 percent – is underdeveloped, which constrains economic growth and diversification.  The drop in world oil prices in 2014-2015 and the resulting strain on Azerbaijan’s foreign currency earnings and the state budget exacerbated existing problems in the country’s banking sector and led to rising non-performing loans (NPLs) and high dollarization.  Subsequent reforms have improved overall sector stability.  President Aliyev signed a decree in February 2019 to provide partial relief to retail borrowers on foreign-currency denominated loans that meet certain criteria.

As of January 1, 2022, 26 banks were registered in Azerbaijan, including 12 banks with foreign capital and two state-owned banks.  These banks employ 20,601 people and have a combined 480 branches and 2,920 ATMs nationwide.  Total banking sector assets stood at approximately USD 22.3 billion as of January 2022, with the top five banks holding almost 60 percent of this amount.

In December 2019, Azerbaijan carried out a banking management reform that gave the Central Bank of Azerbaijan control over banks and credit institutions, closing the Chamber for Control over Financial Markets, which had held regulatory powers following Azerbaijan’s 2014/2015 economic crisis and resulting currency devaluations.  Concurrently, the Central Bank announced “recovery of the banking sector” would be one of the main challenges it would tackle in 2020.  The Central Bank closed four insolvent banks (Atabank, AGBank, NBCBank, and Amrah Bank) in April/May 2020, bringing the number of banks in the country down from 30 to 26.  Only six banks are able to conduct correspondent banking transactions with the United States.

Foreign banks are permitted in Azerbaijan and may take the form of representative offices, branches, joint ventures, and wholly owned subsidiaries.  These banks are subject to the same regulations as domestic banks, with certain additional restrictions.  Foreign individuals and entities are also permitted to open accounts with domestic or foreign banks in Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan’s sovereign wealth fund is the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan (SOFAZ).  Its mission is to transform hydrocarbon reserves into financial assets generating perpetual income for current and future generations and to finance strategically important infrastructure and social projects of national scale.  While its main statutory focus is investing in assets outside of the country, since it was established in 1999 SOFAZ has financed several socially beneficial projects in Azerbaijan related to infrastructure, housing, energy, and education.  The government’s newly adopted fiscal rule places limits on pro-cyclical spending, with the aim of increasing hydrocarbon revenue savings.  SOFAZ publishes an annual report which it submits for independent audit.  The fund’s assets totaled USD 45 billion as of January 1, 2022

Bahrain

3. Legal Regime

In 2018, the GOB issued a competition law, a personal data protection law, a bankruptcy law, and a health insurance law to enhance the country’s investment eco-system. The Law of Commerce (Legislative Decree No. 7, passed in 1987) addresses the concept of unfair competition and prohibits acts that would have a damaging effect on competition. Companies also are forbidden from undertaking practices detrimental to their competitors or from attracting the customers of their competitors through anti-competitive means. There is no official competition authority in Bahrain and the country has yet to institute comprehensive anti-monopoly laws or an independent anti-corruption agency.

Bahrain’s industrial sector is dominated by state-controlled companies such as Aluminum Bahrain (ALBA), Bahrain Petroleum Company (BAPCO), and Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company (GPIC). De facto monopolies also exist in some industries led by individuals or family-run businesses.

The GOB uses International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) as part of its implementation of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). IFRS are used by domestic listed and unlisted companies in their consolidated financial statements for external financial reporting.

Bahrain adopted International Accounting Standard 1 (IAS 1) in 1994 in the absence of other local standards. Non-listed banks and other business enterprises use IASs in the preparation of financial statements.

The 2001 Bahrain Commercial Companies Law requires each registered entity to produce a balance sheet, a profit-and-loss account and the director’s report for each financial year. All branches of foreign companies, limited liability companies and corporations, must submit annual audited financial statements to the Directorate of Commerce and Company Affairs at the MoICT, along with the company’s articles and /or articles of association.

Depending on the company’s business, financial statements may be subject to other regulatory agencies such as the Bahrain Monetary Agency (BMA) and the Bahrain Stock Exchange (banks and listed companies).

Bahrain encourages firms to adhere to both the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and Bahrain’s Code of Corporate Governance. Bahrain-based companies by and large remain in compliance with IAS-1 disclosure requirements.

There are no informal regulatory processes managed by non-governmental organizations or private sector associations.

According to the World Bank, the GOB does not have the legal obligation to publish the text of proposed regulations before their enactment but bills that are discussed by Parliament may be reported in the local news. The text of the proposed regulations is publicly available one day, two weeks or thirty days after it is published in the Official Gazette. Bahrain, therefore, ranks among the countries with low rule-making transparency.

Bahrain’s laws can be drafted or proposed by the Cabinet or originate in the bicameral National Assembly, comprised of an elected, lower house Council of Representatives (COR) and an appointed, upper house Consultative Council (“Shura”). The independent Legislation and Legal Opinion Commission drafts legislation based on the proposals. The King’s signature is required to ratify any laws following parliamentary approval; laws are in force once published in the Official Gazette. The King may issue royal orders and royal decrees that are immediately effective once issued. For matters deemed urgent, the King can also decree-laws when COR is in recess. These decree-laws must be approved by both chambers with no changes within a month of the COR resuming session, or they are considered null. GOB ministers and heads of agencies are authorized to issue regulations that pertain to the administration of their respective bodies.

Bahrain is a member of the GCC, which created a Unified Economic Agreement to expedite trade and the movement of people and goods within GCC borders.  The GCC has also adopted several unified model laws, such as the GCC Trademark Law.  Bahrain is a signatory to the Apostille Convention and is a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.  It is a dualist state, therefore, international treaties are not directly incorporated into its law and must be approved by the National Assembly and ratified by the King.

Commercial regulations can be proposed by the EDB, MoICT, Cabinet, or COR. Draft regulations are debated within the COR and Shura Council. The Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry board of directors may raise concerns over draft legislation at committee meetings or send written comments for review by Members of Parliament; bills are otherwise not available for public comment. The Cabinet issues final approval of regulations.

The e-Government portal and the Legislation and Legal Opinion Commission website list laws by category and date of issuance. Some laws are translated into English. The National Audit Office publishes results of its annual audits of government ministries and parastatals.

As a GCC member, Bahrain has agreed to enforce GCC standards and regulations where they exist, and not to create any domestic rules that contradict established GCC-wide standards and regulations.  In certain cases, the GOB applies international standards where domestic or GCC standards have not been developed.  Bahrain is a member of the WTO and notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade. Bahrain ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in September 2016 through Law No. 17 of 2016.

Bahrain’s Constitution defines the Kingdom as a sovereign, independent, Arab Muslim State. Article 2 of the Constitution states that Islamic Sharia (Islamic law) is the main source of legislation; however, general matters and private transactions are governed mainly by laws derived from international law. Three types of courts are present in Bahrain: civil, criminal, and family (Sharia) courts. The civil court system consists of lower courts, courts of appeal, and the Court of Cassation – the highest appellate court in the Kingdom, hearing a variety of civil, criminal, and family cases. Civil courts deal with all administrative, commercial, and civil cases, as well as disputes related to the personal status  of non-Muslims. Family courts deal primarily with personal status matters, such as marriage, divorce, custody, and inheritance.

High-ranking judges in Bahrain are often from prominent families but may be non-Bahraini citizens. On January 19, 2022, the king appointed nine English-speaking foreign judges and legal experts to the Court of Cassation, all of whom are commercial arbitration specialists. Bahraini law borrows elements from European or other Arab states’ legal codes.

Bahrain has a long-established framework of commercial law. English is widely used, and several well-known international (including U.S.) law firms, working in association with local partners, are authorized to practice law in Bahrain and provide expert legal services nationally and regionally. Fees are charged according to internationally accepted practices. Non-Bahraini lawyers can represent clients in Bahraini courts. In April 2007, the government permitted international law firms to be established in Bahrain. These firms provide services such as commercial and financial consultancy in legal matters.

Investors report general satisfaction with government cooperation and support. Foreign competitors have occasionally perceived that legal interpretation and application varied between Ministries and was influenced by prominent local business interests or the stature and connections of an investor’s local partner. Such departures from the consistent, transparent application of regulations and the law are uncommon.

The GOB is eager to develop its legal framework. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Commercial Law Development Program (CLDP) has conducted training and capacity-building programs in Bahrain for years, in cooperation with the National Assembly; Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments; Supreme Judicial Council; Bahrain Chamber for Dispute Resolution; Judicial and Legal Studies Institute; and MoICT.

Judgments of foreign courts are recognized and enforceable under local courts. Article nine of the U.S.-Bahrain BIT outlines the disposition of U.S. investment cases within the Bahraini legal system. The most common investment-related concern in Bahrain has been the slow or incomplete application of the law. Although some international law and human rights monitoring organizations have collected anecdotal evidence pointing to a lack of transparency, the judicial process in civil courts is generally considered fair, and cases can be appealed.

The U.S.-Bahrain BIT provides benefits and protection to U.S. investors in Bahrain, such as most-favored nation and national treatment, the right to make financial transfers freely and immediately, the application of international legal standards for expropriation and compensation cases, and access to international arbitration. The BIT guarantees national treatment for U.S. investments across most sectors, with exceptions of a limited list of activities, including ownership of television, radio or other media, fisheries, real estate brokerages, and land transportation. Bahrain provides most-favored nation or national treatment status to U.S. investments in air transportation, the purchase or ownership of land, and the purchase or ownership of shares traded on the Bahrain Bourse.

The national treatment clause in the BIT ensures American firms interested in selling products exclusively in Bahrain are no longer required to appoint a commercial agent, though they may opt to do so. A commercial agent is any Bahraini party appointed by a foreign party to represent the foreign party’s product or service in Bahrain.

Bahrain generally permits 100 percent foreign ownership of new industrial entities and the establishment of representative offices or branches of foreign companies without local sponsors or business partners. Wholly foreign-owned companies may be set up for regional distribution services and may operate within the domestic market provided they do not exclusively pursue domestic commercial sales. Private investment (foreign or Bahraini) in petroleum extraction is permitted.

Expatriates may own land in designated areas in Bahrain. Non-GCC nationals, including Americans, may own high-rise commercial and residential properties, as well as properties used for tourism, banking, financial and health projects, and training centers.

Bahrain issued Bankruptcy Law No. 22 in May 2018 governing corporate reorganization and insolvency. The law is based on U.S. Chapter 11 insolvency legislation and provides companies in financial difficulty with an opportunity to restructure under court supervision.

Below is a link to a site designed to assist foreign investors to navigate the laws, rules, and procedures related to investing in Bahrain: http://cbb.complinet.com/cbb/microsite/laws.html 

The GOB issued Competition Law No. 31 in July 2018 to prevent the formation of monopolies or the practice of anti-competitive behavior. This law makes it easier for new businesses to enter existing markets and compete with significant players.

MoICT’s Consumer Protection Directorate is responsible for ensuring that the law determining price controls is implemented and that violators are punished.

There have been no expropriations in recent years, and there are no cases in contention. The U.S.-Bahrain BIT protects U.S. investments by banning all expropriations (including “creeping” and “measures tantamount to”) except those for a public purpose. Such transactions must be carried out in a non-discriminatory manner, with due process, and prompt, adequate, effective compensation.

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Bahrain uses multiple international and regional conventions to enhance its commercial arbitration legal framework. Bahrain is a party to the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration, the New York Convention, the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), and the GCC Convention for Execution of Judgments, among others. These conventions and international agreements established the foundation for the GCC Arbitration Centre, and the Bahrain Chamber for Disputes & Resolution (BCDR). Bahrain’s Constitution stipulates international conventions and treaties have the power of law.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Article 9 of The U.S.-Bahrain BIT provides for three dispute settlement options:

  1. Submitting the dispute to a local court or administrative tribunals of the host country.
  2. Invoking dispute-resolution procedures previously agreed upon by the foreign investor or company and the host country government; or,
  3. Submitting the dispute for binding arbitration to the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) or, the Additional Facility of ICSID, or ad hoc arbitration using the Arbitration Rules of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), or any other arbitral institution or rules agreed upon by both parties.

Bahrain Chamber for Dispute Resolution Court

The Bahrain Chamber for Dispute Resolution (BCDR) Court was established by Legislative Decree No. 30 of 2009. It operates in partnership with the American Arbitration Association (AAA). BCDR’s casework emanates from disputes brought before the BCDR Court and BCDR’s international arbitration wing, BCDR-AAA.

The BCDR Court administers disputes in excess of 500,000 Bahraini Dinars (approximately $1.3 million) in which at least one party is a financial institution licensed by the Central Bank of Bahrain, or the dispute is of an international commercial nature.

Since its establishment in 2010, BCDR has administered more than 350 cases under its jurisdiction as a court with monetary claims totaling over $6.2 billion.

In February 2022, the Minister of Justice clarified the use of travel bans against insolvent debtors (individuals and companies). The new Enforcement Law  in Civil and Commercial Matters 22/2021 stated that the insolvent debtor must disclose any owned assets, within seven days from the beginning of the judicial proceedings. Companies can settle their debts within 21 days. The justice ministry said it would coordinate with debt collectors from the private sector to expedite the enforcement process.

BCDR-AAA International Arbitration Center

BCDR-AAA is an international arbitration center with jurisdiction over disputes with respect to which the parties have agreed in writing that the BCDR-AAA Arbitration Rules shall apply.

As of December 2020, BCDR-AAA registered 17 cases under its jurisdiction as an international arbitration center, one in 2013, one in 2015, three in 2016, five in 2017, two in 2019, and five in 2020. Of these cases, only seven are ongoing: one that was filed in 2017 and one filed in 2019, five that were filed in 2020. The remainder were awarded or settled.

Bahrain Chamber for Dispute Resolution
Suite 301, Park Plaza
Bldg. 247, Road 1704
P.O. Box 20006
Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain
Tel: + (973) 17-511-311
Website: www.bcdr-aaa.org 

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reported that Bahrain faced its first known Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) claim in 2017. The case involved investor claims over the CBB’s 2016 move to close the Manama branch of Future Bank, a commercial bank whose shareholders included Iranian banks. Bahrain and Iran are party to a BIT. UNCTAD reported another investor-state dispute case involving Qatar Airways in 2020.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Arbitration procedures are largely a contractual matter in Bahrain. Disputes historically have been referred to an arbitration body as specified in the contract, or to the local courts. In dealings with both local and foreign firms, Bahraini companies have increasingly included arbitration procedures in their contracts. Most commercial disputes are resolved privately without recourse to the courts or formal arbitration. Resolution under Bahraini law is generally specified in all contracts for the settlement of disputes that reach the stage of formal resolution but is optional in those designating the BCDR. Bahrain’s court system has adequately handled occasional lawsuits against individuals or companies for nonpayment of debts.

Bahrain Law No. 9 of 2015 promulgating the Arbitration Law (the “New Arbitration Law”) came into effect on August 9, 2015. The law provides that the UNCITRAL 1985 Model Law with its 2006 amendments on international commercial arbitration (the “UNCITRAL Law”) will apply to any arbitration, taking place in Bahrain or abroad, if the parties to the dispute agreed to be subject to the UNCITRAL Law.

The GCC Commercial Arbitration Center, established in 1995, serves as a regional specialized body providing arbitration services. It assists in resolving disputes among GCC countries or between other parties and GCC countries. The Center implements rules and regulations in line with accepted international practice. Thus far, few cases have been brought to arbitration. The Center conducts seminars, symposia, and workshops to help educate and update its members on any new arbitration-related matters.

GCC Commercial Arbitration Center
P.O. Box 2338
Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain
Arbitration Boards’ Secretariat
Tel: + (973) 17278000
Email: case@gcccac.org 
Website: http://www.gcccac.org/en/ 

The GOB enacted its original bankruptcy and insolvency law through Decree by Law No. 11 in 1987.  In May 2018, the GOB issued and ratified Law No. 22, updating the original legislation. Modeled on U.S. Chapter 11 legislation, the law introduces reorganization whereby a company’s management may continue business operations during the administration of a case. The Bankruptcy Law also includes provisions for cross-border insolvency, and special insolvency provisions for small and medium-sized enterprises that were further amended in July 2020 and enhanced creditors rights and expediting liquidation proceedings. The Bahrain credit reference bureau, known as “BENEFIT,” is licensed by the CBB and operates as the credit monitoring authority in Bahrain.

As part of a wider effort to promote sustainability and transparency in Bahrain’s capital market, Bahrain’s national stock market, the Bahrain Bourse (BHB), announced in 2020 new Environmental Social & Governance (ESG) reporting guidelines for listed companies . The voluntary reporting guidance aims to assist listed companies to integrate ESG issues in their reporting cycle and better meet the demands of institutional investors for material ESG information. The ESG reporting guidance encourages listed companies to disclose a set of 32 ESG metrics and indicators in alignment with the recommendations of the Sustainable Stock Exchanges (SSE) initiative and the World Federation of Exchanges, Global Reporting Initiatives (GRI) standards, and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The guidance explains the key regional and international drivers for adoption of ESG reporting, the importance of ESG reporting, the ways to report on ESG, and emphasizes Bahrain Bourse’s efforts in promoting sustainability.

6. Financial Sector

Consistent with the GOB’s liberal approach to foreign investment, government policies facilitate the free flow of financial transactions and portfolio investments. Expatriates and Bahraini nationals have ready access to credit on market terms. Generally, credit terms are variable, but often are limited to 10 years for loans under $50 million. For major infrastructure investments, banks often offer to assume a part of the risk, and Bahrain’s wholesale and retail banks have shown extensive cooperation in syndicating loans for larger risks. Commercial credit is available to private organizations in Bahrain but has been increasingly crowded out by the government’s local bond issuances.

In 2016, the GOB launched a new fund designed to inject greater liquidity in the Bahrain Bourse, worth $100 million. The Bahrain Liquidity Fund is supported by several market participants and acts as a market maker, providing two-way quotes on most of the listed stocks with a reasonable spread to allow investors to actively trade their stocks. Despite these efforts, the market remains small in comparison to others in the region.

In October 2019, the GOB established a BD 130 million ($344 million) Liquidity Fund to assist distressed companies in restructuring financial obligations, which was expanded in March 2020 to BD 200 million ($530 million) in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The GOB and the CBB are members of the IMF and fully compliant with Article VIII.

The CBB is the single regulator of the entire financial sector, with an integrated regulatory framework covering all financial services provided by conventional and Islamic financial institutions. Bahrain’s banking sector remained healthy despite sustained lower global oil prices. Bahrain’s banks are well capitalized, and there is sufficient liquidity to ensure a healthy rate of investment. Bahrain remains a financial center for the GCC region, though many financial firms moved their regional headquarters to Dubai over the last decade. The GOB continues to drive innovation and expansion in the Islamic finance sector. In 2021, Bahrain ranked as the second in the MENA Islamic finance market and placed fourth globally, according to the ICD-Thomson Reuters Islamic Finance Development Indicator (IFDI).

Bahrain has an effective regulatory system that encourages portfolio investment. The CBB has fully implemented Basel II standards and is attempting to bring Bahraini banks into compliance with Basel III standards. Bahrain’s banking sector includes 89 banks, of which 30 are retail banks, 59 are wholesale banks, 17 are branches of foreign banks, and 13 are locally incorporated. Of these, nine are representative offices, and 16 are Islamic banks.

There are no restrictions on foreigners opening bank accounts or corporate accounts. Bahrain is home to many prominent financial institutions, among them Citibank, American Express, and JP Morgan Chase. Ahli United Bank is Bahrain’s largest bank with total assets estimated at $41.9 billion as of December 2021.

Bahrain implemented the Real-Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) System and the Scripless Securities Settlement (SSS) System in 2007 to enable banks to carry out their payment and securities-related transactions securely on a real time basis.

In 2017, Bahrain became the first in the GCC to introduce fintech “sandbox” regulations that enabled the launch of cryptocurrency and blockchain startups. The same year, the CBB released additional regulations for conventional and Sharia-compliant financing-based crowdfunding businesses.  Any firm operating electronic financing/lending platforms must be licensed in Bahrain under the CBB Rulebook Volume 5 – Financing Based Crowdfunding Platform Operator.  In February 2019, the CBB issued cryptocurrency regulations.

Foreign Exchange

Bahrain has no restrictions on the repatriation of profits or capital and no exchange controls. Bahrain’s currency, the Bahraini Dinar (BD), is fully and freely convertible at the fixed rate of USD 1.00 = BD 0.377 (1 BD = USD 2.659). There is no black market or parallel exchange rate. There are no restrictions on converting or transferring funds, regardless of whether they are associated with an investment.

Remittance Policies

The CBB is responsible for regulating remittances, and its regulations are based on the Central Bank Law ratified in 2006. Foreign workers comprise most of the labor force in Bahrain and many remit significant quantities of funds to their countries of origin. Commercial banks and currency exchange houses are licensed to provide remittances services.

Commercial banks and currency exchange houses require two forms of identification before processing a routine remittance request, and any transaction exceeding $10,000 must include a documented source of the income. Bahrain enables foreign investors to remit funds through a legal parallel market, with no limitations on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances of profits or revenue. The GOB does not engage in currency manipulation tactics.

The GCC is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Bahrain is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF) which is headquartered in Bahrain. Participating countries commit to combat the financing of terrorist groups and activities in all its forms and to implement FATF recommendations.

Bahrain established a sovereign wealth fund, Mumtalakat, in 2006. Mumtalakat, which maintains an investment portfolio valued at roughly BD 6.6 billion ($17.6 billion) as of 2020, issues an annual report online. The annual report follows international financial reporting standards and is audited by external auditing firms. By law, subsidiaries of Mumtalakat are audited and monitored by the National Audit Office. In 2020, Mumtalakat received the highest-possible ranking in the Linaburg-Maduell Transparency Index for the seventh consecutive year, which specializes in ranking the transparency of sovereign wealth funds. However, Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund does not follow the Santiago Principles.

Mumtalakat holds majority stakes in several firms. Mumtalakat invests 62 percent of its funds in the Middle East, 30 percent in Europe, and eight percent in the United States. The fund is diversified across a variety of business sectors including real estate and tourism, financial services, food and agriculture, and industrial manufacturing.

Mumtalakat acts more like an active asset management company than a sovereign wealth fund, including by taking an active role in managing SOEs. Most notably, Mumtalakat has been instrumental in helping Gulf Air, Bahrain’s state-owned airline, restructure and contain losses. A significant portion of Mumtalakat’s portfolio is invested in 29 Bahrain-based SOEs.

Mumtalakat did not directly contribute to the State Budget through 2016. However, beginning in September 2017, Mumtalakat annually contributed $53 million to the State Budget, which was increased to $106 million in the 2021-2022 State Budget.

Bangladesh

3. Legal Regime

Since 1989, the government has gradually moved to decrease regulatory obstruction of private business. Various chambers of commerce have called for privatization and for a greater voice for the private sector in government decisions, but at the same time many chambers support protectionism and subsidies for their own industries. The result is policy and regulations which are often unclear, inconsistent, or little publicized. Registration and regulatory processes are frequently alleged by businesses to be used as rent-seeking opportunities. The major rule-making and regulatory authority exists at the national level under each Ministry with many final decisions being made at the top-most levels, including the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The PMO is actively engaged in directing policies, as well as foreign investment in government-controlled projects.

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

The Environment Conservation Act 1995 (ECA ’95) as amended in 2010 and the Biodiversity Act of 2018 are the main acts governing environmental protection in Bangladesh. The ECA ’95 replaced the earlier environment pollution control ordinance of 1992 and provides the legal basis for Environment Conservation Rules, 1997 (ECR’97). The objective of the Biodiversity Act is equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the use of biological resources. The main objectives of ECA’95 are conservation of the natural environment, improvement of environmental standards, and control and mitigation of environmental pollution. According to the act, all industrial projects require before being undertaken an Environmental Clearance Certificate from the Director General. In issuing the certificate, the projects are classified into the following four categories – Green, Orange-A, Orange-B, and Red.

Environmental Clearance for the Green category is through a comparatively simple procedure. In the case of Orange-A, Orange-B and Red Categories, site clearance is mandatory at the beginning, then Environmental Impact Assessment approval and finally Environmental Clearance is issued. The Environment Clearance is to be renewed after three years for the Green category and one year for Orange-A, Orange-B and Red categories. Red Category projects require an Environmental Impact Statement prior to approval.

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

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

Bangladesh passed the Financial Reporting Act of 2015 which created the Financial Reporting Council in 2016 aimed at establishing transparency and accountability in the accounting and auditing system. The country follows Bangladesh Accounting Standards and Bangladesh Financial Reporting Standards, which are largely derived from International Accounting Standards and International Financial Reporting Standards. However, the quality of reporting varies widely. Internationally known firms have begun establishing local offices in Bangladesh and their presence is positively influencing the accounting norms in the country. Some firms can provide financial reports audited to international standards while others maintain unreliable (or multiple) sets of accounting records. Regulatory agencies do not conduct impact assessments for proposed regulations; consequently, regulations are often not reviewed based on data-driven assessments. Not all national budget documents are prepared according to internationally accepted standards.

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

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

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

General Contact for WTO-TBT National Enquiry Point:
Email: bsti_std@bangla.net;  bsti_ad@bangla.net 
Website:  http://www.bsti.gov.bd/  

Focal Point for TBT:
Mr. Md. Golam Baki,Deputy Director (Certification Marks), BSTI
Email: bakibsti@gmail.comTel: +88-02-48116665Cell: +8801799828826, +8801712240702

Focal Point for other WTO related matters, except sanitary and phytosanitary systems:
Mr. Md. Hafizur Rahman,Director General, WTO Cell, Ministry of Commerce
Email: dg.wto@mincom.gov.bdTel: +880-2-9545383Cell: +88 0171 1861056

Mr. Mohammad Ileas Mia,Director-1, WTO Cell, Ministry of Commerce
Email: director1.wto@mincom.gov.bdTel: +880-2-9540580Cell: +88 01786698321

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

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

Some notable commercial laws include:

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

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

Major laws affecting foreign investment include: the Foreign Private Investment (Promotion and Protection) Act of 1980, the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority Act of 1980, the Companies Act of 1994, the Telecommunications Act of 2001, and the Bangladesh Economic Zones Act of 2010.

Bangladesh industrial policy offers incentives for “green” (environmental) high-tech or “transformative” industries. It allows foreigners who invest $1 million or transfer $2 million to a recognized financial institution to apply for Bangladeshi citizenship. The GOB will provide financial and policy support for high-priority industries (those creating large-scale employment and earning substantial export revenue) and creative industries – architecture, arts and antiques, fashion design, film and video, interactive laser software, software, and computer and media programming. Specific importance is given to agriculture and food processing, RMG, ICT and software, pharmaceuticals, leather and leather products, and jute and jute goods.

In addition, Petrobangla, the state-owned oil and gas company, has modified its production sharing agreement contract for offshore gas exploration to include an option to export gas. In 2019, Parliament approved the Bangladesh Flag Vessels (Protection) Act 2019 with a provision to ensure Bangladeshi flagged vessels carry at least 50 percent of foreign cargo, up from 40 percent. In 2020, the Ministry of Commerce amended the digital commerce policy to allow fully foreign-owned e-commerce companies in Bangladesh and remove a previous joint venture requirement.

The One Stop Service (OSS) Act of 2018 mandated the four IPAs to provide OSS to local and foreign investors in their respective jurisdictions. The move aims to facilitate business services on behalf of multiple government agencies to improve ease of doing business. In 2020, BIDA issued time-bound rules to implement the Act of 2018. Although the IPAs have started to offer a few services under the OSS, corruption and excessive bureaucracy have held back the complete and effective roll out of the OSS. BIDA has a “one-stop” website that provides information on relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors at:  http://www.bida.gov.bd/ .

Aside from information on relevant business laws and licenses, the website includes information on Bangladesh’s investment climate, opportunities for businesses, potential sectors, and how to do business in Bangladesh. The website also has an eService Portal for Investors which provides services such as visa recommendations for foreign investors, approval/extension of work permits for expatriates, approval of foreign borrowing, and approval/renewal of branch/liaison and representative offices.

Bangladesh formed an independent agency in 2011 called the “Bangladesh Competition Commission (BCC)” under the Ministry of Commerce. Parliament then passed the Competition Act in 2012. However, the BCC has not received sufficient resources to operate effectively.

In 2018, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) finalized Significant Market Power (SMP) regulations to promote competition in the industry. In 2019, BTRC declared the country’s largest telecom operator, Grameenphone (GP), the first SMP based on its revenue share of more than 50 percent and customer shares of about 47 percent. Since the declaration, the BTRC has attempted to impose restrictions on GP’s operations, which GP has challenged in the judicial system.

Since the Foreign Investment Act of 1980 banned nationalization or expropriation without adequate compensation, Bangladesh has not nationalized or expropriated property from foreign investors. In the years immediately following independence in 1971, widespread nationalization resulted in government ownership of more than 90 percent of fixed assets in the modern manufacturing sector, including the textile, jute and sugar industries and all banking and insurance interests, except those in foreign (but non-Pakistani) hands. However, the government has taken steps to privatize many of these industries since the late 1970s and the private sector has developed into a main driver of the country’s sustained economic growth.

Many laws affecting investment in Bangladesh are outdated. Bankruptcy laws, which apply mainly to individual insolvency, are sometimes disregarded in business cases because of the numerous falsified assets and uncollectible cross-indebtedness supporting insolvent banks and companies. A Bankruptcy Act was passed by Parliament in 1997 but has been ineffective in addressing these issues. Some bankruptcy cases fall under the Money Loan Court Act-2003 which has more stringent and timely procedures.

6. Financial Sector

Capital markets in Bangladesh are still developing, and the financial sector remains highly dependent on bank lending. Current regulatory infrastructure inhibits the development of a tradeable bond market.

Bangladesh is home to the Dhaka Stock Exchange (DSE) and the Chittagong Stock Exchange (CSE), both of which are regulated by the Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission (BSEC), a statutory body formed in 1993 and attached to the Ministry of Finance. The DSE market capitalization stood at $64.8 billion at the end of January 2022, rising 16.3 percent year-over-year as stock prices rose amid speculative behavior and increased liquidity due to relaxed monetary policy.

Although the Bangladeshi government has a positive attitude toward foreign portfolio investors, participation in the exchanges remains low due to what is still limited liquidity for shares and the lack of publicly available and reliable company information. The DSE has attracted some foreign portfolio investors to the country’s capital market. However, the volume of foreign investment in Bangladesh remains a small fraction of total market capitalization. As a result, foreign portfolio investment has had limited influence on market trends and Bangladesh’s capital markets have been largely insulated from the volatility of international financial markets. Bangladeshi markets continue to rely primarily on domestic investors.

In 2019, BSEC undertook a number of initiatives to launch derivatives products, allow short selling, and invigorate the bond market. To this end, BSEC introduced three rules: Exchange Traded Derivatives Rules 2019, Short-Sale Rules 2019, and Investment Sukuk Rules 2019. Other recent, notable BSEC initiatives include forming a central clearing and settlement company – the Central Counterparty Bangladesh Limited (CCBL) – and promoting private equity and venture capital firms under the 2015 Alternative Investment Rules. In 2013, BSEC became a full signatory of the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) Memorandum of Understanding.

BSEC has taken steps to improve regulatory oversight, including installing a modern surveillance system, the “Instant Market Watch,” providing real time connectivity with exchanges and depository institutions. As a result, the market abuse detection capabilities of BSEC have improved significantly. A mandatory Corporate Governance Code for listed companies was introduced in 2012 but the overall quality of corporate governance remains substandard. Demutualization of both the DSE and CSE was completed in 2013 to separate ownership of the exchanges from trading rights. A majority of the members of the Demutualization Board, including the Chairman, are independent directors. Apart from this, a separate tribunal has been established to resolve capital market-related criminal cases expeditiously. However, both domestic and foreign investor confidence on the stock exchanges’ governance standards remains low.

The Demutualization Act 2013 also directed DSE to pursue a strategic investor who would acquire a 25 percent stake in the bourse. Through a bidding process DSE selected a consortium of the Shenzhen and Shanghai stock exchanges in China as its strategic partner, with the consortium buying the 25 percent share of DSE for taka 9.47 billion ($112.7 million).

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

The Bangladesh Bank (BB) acts as the central bank of Bangladesh. It was established through the enactment of the Bangladesh Bank Order of 1972. General supervision and strategic direction of the BB has been entrusted to a nine-member Board of Directors, which is headed by the BB Governor. A list of the bank’s departments and branches is on its website: https://www.bb.org.bd/aboutus/dept/depts.php .

According to the BB, four types of banks operate in the formal financial system: State Owned Commercial Banks (SOCBs), Specialized Banks, Private Commercial Banks (PCBs), and Foreign Commercial Banks (FCBs). Some 61 “scheduled” banks in Bangladesh operate under the control and supervision of the central bank as per the Bangladesh Bank Order of 1972. The scheduled banks, include six SOCBs, three specialized government banks established for specific objectives such as agricultural or industrial development or expatriates’ welfare, 43 PCBs, and nine FCBs as of February 2021. The scheduled banks are licensed to operate under the Bank Company Act of 1991 (Amended 2013). There are also five non-scheduled banks in Bangladesh, including Nobel Prize recipient Grameen Bank, established for special and definite objectives and operating under legislation enacted to meet those objectives.

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

Unlike banks, FIs are prohibited from:

  • Issuing checks, pay-orders, or demand drafts.
  • Receiving demand deposits.
  • Involvement in foreign exchange financing.

Microfinance institutions (MFIs) remain the dominant players in rural financial markets. The Microcredit Regulatory Authority (MRA), the primary regulator of this sector, oversees 746 licensed microfinance institutions as of October 2021, excluding Grameen Bank which is governed under a separate law. In 2020, the MRA-listed microfinance institutions had 33.3 million members while Grameen Bank had an additional 9.3 million members.

The banking sector has had a mixed record of performance over the past several years. Industry experts have reported a rise in risky assets because of poor governance as well as the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Total domestic credit stood at 50.4 percent of gross domestic product at end of November 2021. The state-owned Sonali Bank is the largest bank in the country while Islami Bank Bangladesh and Standard Chartered Bangladesh are the largest local private and foreign banks respectively. The gross non-performing loan (NPL) ratio was 8.1 percent at the end of September 2021, down from 8.9 percent in September 2020. However, the decline in the NPLs was primarily caused by regulatory forbearance rather than actual reduction of stressed loans. At 20.1 percent SCBs had the highest NPL ratio, followed by 11.4 percent of Specialized Banks, 5.5 percent of PCBs, and4.1 percent of FCBs as of September 2021.

In 2017, the BB issued a circular warning citizens and financial institutions about the risks associated with cryptocurrencies. The circular noted that using cryptocurrencies may violate existing money laundering and terrorist financing regulations and cautioned users may incur financial losses. The BB issued similar warnings against cryptocurrencies in 2014.

Foreign investors may open temporary bank accounts called Non-Resident Taka Accounts (NRTA) in the proposed company name without prior approval from the BB to receive incoming capital remittances and encashment certificates. Once the proposed company is registered, it can open a new account to transfer capital from the NRTA account. Branch, representative, or liaison offices of foreign companies can open bank accounts to receive initial suspense payments from headquarters without opening NRTA accounts. In 2019, the BB relaxed regulations on the types of bank branches foreigners could use to open NRTAs, removing a previous requirement limiting use of NRTA’s solely to Authorized Dealers (ADs).

In 2015, the Bangladesh Finance Ministry announced it was exploring establishing a sovereign wealth fund in which to invest a portion of Bangladesh’s foreign currency reserves. In 2017, the Cabinet initially approved a $10 billion “Bangladesh Sovereign Wealth Fund,” (BSWF) to be created with funds from excess foreign exchange reserves but the plan was subsequently scrapped by the Finance Ministry.

Barbados

3. Legal Regime

Barbados’ legal framework establishes clear rules for foreign and domestic investors regarding tax, labor, environmental, health, and safety concerns. These regulations are in accord with international standards. The Ministry of Finance, Economic Affairs, and Investment and Invest Barbados provide oversight aimed at ensuring the transparency of investment.

Rulemaking and regulatory authority rest with the bicameral parliament of the Government of Barbados. The House of Assembly consists of 30 members who are elected in single-seat constituencies. The Senate consists of 21 members who are appointed by the President. Responsibility for Senate appointments shifted in 2021 when Barbados removed the UK’s Queen Elizabeth as head of state and became a republic.

Foreign investment into Barbados is governed by a series of laws and implementing regulations. These laws and regulations are developed with the participation of relevant ministries, drafted by the Office of the Attorney General, and enforced by the relevant ministry or ministries.

Additional compliance supervision is delegated to specific agencies, by sector, as follows:

  • Banking and financial services – Central Bank of Barbados (CBB)
  • Insurance and non-banking financial services – Financial Services Commission (FSC)
  • International business – International Business Unit, Ministry of International Business and Industry
  • Business incorporation and intellectual property – CAIPO

The Ministry of Finance, Economic Affairs and Investment monitors investments to collect information for national statistics and reporting purposes.

All foreign businesses must be registered or incorporated through CAIPO and will be regulated by one of the other agencies depending on the nature of the business.

Although Barbados does not have formal legislation that guarantees access to information or freedom of expression, access to information is generally available. The government maintains a website and an information service to facilitate the dissemination of information such as government office directories and press releases. The government also maintains a parliamentary website at http://www.barbadosparliament.com  where it posts legislation prior to parliamentary debate and live streams House sittings. The government budget is also available on this website.

Although some bills are not subject to public consultation, input from various stakeholder groups and agencies is enlisted during the initial drafting of legislation. Public awareness campaigns, through print and electronic media, are used to inform the public. Copies of regulations are circulated to stakeholders and are published in the Official Gazette after passage in parliament. The Official Gazette is available at  https://gisbarbados.gov.bb/the-official-gazette .

Accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are transparent. Publicly listed companies publish annual financial statements and changes in portfolio shareholdings, including share value. Service providers are required to adhere to international best practice standards including International Financial Reporting Standards, International Standards on Auditing, and International Public Sector Accounting Standards for government and public sector bodies.

They must also comply with the provisions of the Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism Prevention and Control Act. Accounting professionals must engage in continuous professional development. The Corporate and Trust Service Providers Act regulates Barbados financial service providers. Failure to adhere to these laws and regulations may result in the revocation of

a company’s business license and/or cancellation of work permit(s). The most recent Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) Mutual Evaluation assessment found Barbados to be largely compliant. The government does not promote or require companies’ environmental, social, and governance disclosures.

The Office of the Ombudsman is established by the constitution to guard against abuses of power by government officers in the performance of their duties. The Office of the Ombudsman aims to provide quality service in an impartial and expeditious manner when investigating complaints by Barbadian nationals or residents who consider the conduct of a government body or official unreasonable, improper, inadequate, or unjust.

The Office of the Auditor General is also established by the constitution and is regulated by the Financial Administration and Audit Act. The Auditor General is responsible for the audit and inspection of all public accounts of the Supreme Court, the Senate, the House of Assembly, all government ministries, government departments, government-controlled entities, and statutory bodies. The Office of the Auditor General’s annual reports can be found on the Barbados Parliament website.

The OECD recognized Barbados as largely compliant with international regulatory standards. Barbados is a signatory to the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters, the Multilateral Competent Authority Agreement, and the Multilateral Convention to Implement Tax Treaty Related Matters to Prevent Base Erosion and Profit Sharing.

The Barbados National Standards Institution (BNSI) oversees a laboratory complex housing metrology, textile, engineering, and chemistry/microbiology laboratories. The primary functions of the BSNI include the preparation, promotion, and implementation of standards in all sectors of the economy, including the promotion of quality systems, quality control, and certification.

The Standards Act (2006) and the Weights and Measures Act (1977) and Regulations (1985) govern the work of the BNSI. As a signatory to the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement to Technical Barriers to Trade, Barbados is obligated to harmonize all national standards through the BNSI to international norms to avoid creating technical barriers to trade.

Barbados ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement in 2018. The Agreement improves the speed and efficiency of border procedures, facilitates trade costs reduction, and enhances participation in the global value chain. In 2019 Barbados implemented the Automated System for Customs Data, which streamlined document compliance and inspections by port authorities. The government also increased issuance fees for certificates of origin, making trade more expensive.

Barbados’ legal system is based on the British common law. Modern corporate law is modeled on the Canadian Business Corporations Act. The Attorney General, the Chief Justice, junior judges, and magistrates administer justice in Barbados. The Supreme Court consists of the Court of Appeal and the High Court. The High Court hears criminal and civil (commercial) matters and makes determinations based on interpretation of the constitution.

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is the regional judicial tribunal. The CCJ has original jurisdiction to interpret and apply the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC). In 2005, Barbados became a full member of the CCJ, making the body its final court of appeal and original jurisdiction of the RTC.

The United States and Barbados are both parties to the WTO. The WTO Dispute Settlement Panel and Appellate Body resolve disputes over WTO agreements, while courts of appropriate jurisdiction in both countries resolve private disputes.

Invest Barbados’ foreign direct investment policy is to promote Barbados as a desirable investment location, to provide advice, and to assist prospective investors. The main laws concerning investment in Barbados are the Barbados International Business Promotion Act (2005), the Tourism Development Act (2005), and the Companies Act. There is also a framework of legislation that supports the jurisdiction as a global hub for business including insurance, shipping registration, and wealth management.

All proposals for investment concessions are reviewed by Invest Barbados to ensure proposed projects are consistent with the national interest and provide economic benefits to the country.

Invest Barbados provides complimentary “one-stop shop” facilitation services for investors to guide them through the investment process. It offers a website useful for navigating the laws, rules, procedures, and registration requirements for foreign investors:  http://www.investbarbados.org .

Chapter 8 of the RTC outlines the competition policy applicable to CARICOM states. Member states are required to establish and maintain a national competition authority for facilitating the implementation of the rules of competition. At the CARICOM level, a regional Caribbean Competition Commission (CCC) applies the rules of competition. The CARICOM competition policy addresses anticompetitive business conduct such as agreements between enterprises, decisions by associations of enterprises, and concerted practices by enterprises that have as their object or effect the prevention, restriction, or distortion of competition within the Community and actions by which an enterprise abuses its dominant position within the Community. The Fair Competition Act codified the establishment of the Barbados Fair Trading Commission (FTC) in 2001. The FTC is responsible for the promotion and maintenance of fair competition participates in the CCC. The FTC regulates the principles, rates, and standards of service for public utilities and other regulated service providers. The Telecommunications Act regulates competition in the telecommunications sector.

The Barbados constitution and the Companies Act (Chap. 308) contain provisions permitting the government to acquire property for public use upon prompt payment of compensation at fair market value. U.S. Embassy Bridgetown is not aware of any outstanding expropriation claims or nationalization of foreign enterprises in Barbados.

Under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (2002), Barbados has a bankruptcy framework that recognizes certain debtor and creditor rights. The act gives a potentially bankrupt company three options: bankruptcy (voluntary or involuntary), receivership, or reorganization of the company. The Companies Act provides for the insolvency and/or liquidation of a company incorporated under this act. In 2019, the Supreme Court of Judicature Act was amended to include the establishment of a commercial division in the High Court which will oversee proceedings connected to bankruptcy and insolvency.

6. Financial Sector

Barbados has a small stock exchange, an active banking sector, and opportunities for portfolio investment. Local policies seek to facilitate the free flow of financial resources, although some restrictions may be imposed during exceptional periods of low liquidity. The CBB independently raises or lowers interest rates without government intervention. There are a variety of credit instruments in the commercial and public sectors that local and foreign investors may access.

Barbados continues to review legislation in the financial sector to strengthen and improve the regulatory regime and attract and facilitate retention of foreign portfolio investments. The government continues to improve its legal, regulatory, and supervisory frameworks to strengthen the banking system. The Anti-Money Laundering Authority and its operating arm, the government’s Financial Intelligence Unit, review anti-money laundering policy documents and analyze prudential returns.

The Securities Exchange Act of 1982 established the Securities Exchange of Barbados, which was reincorporated as the Barbados Stock Exchange (BSE) in 2001. The BSE operates a two-tier electronic trading system comprised of a regular market and an innovation and growth market (formerly the junior market). Companies applying for listing on the regular market must observe and comply with certain requirements. Specifically, they must have assets of at least $500,000 (1 million Barbados dollars) and adequate working capital based on the last three years of their financial performance, as well as three-year performance projections. Companies must also demonstrate competent management and be incorporated under the laws of Barbados or another regulated jurisdiction approved by the Financial Services Commission. Applications for listing on the innovation and growth market are less onerous, requiring minimum equity of one million shares at a stated minimum value of $100,000 (200,000 Barbados dollars). Reporting and disclosure requirements for all listed companies include interim financial statements and an annual report and questionnaire. Non-nationals must obtain exchange control approval from the CBB to trade securities on the BSE.

The BSE has computerized clearance and settlement of share certificates through the Barbados Central Securities Depository Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of the BSE. Under the Property Transfer Tax Act, the FSC can accommodate investors requiring a traditional certificate for a small fee. The FSC also regulates mutual funds in accordance with the Mutual Funds Act.

The BSE adheres to rules in accordance with International Organization of Securities Commissions guidelines designed to protect investors; ensure a fair, efficient, and transparent market; and reduce systemic risk. Public companies must file audited financial statements with the BSE no later than 90 days after the close of their financial year. The authorities may impose a fine not exceeding $5,000 (10,000 Barbados dollars) for any person under the jurisdiction of the BSE who contravenes or is not in compliance with any regulatory requirements.

The BSE launched the International Securities Market (ISM) in 2016. It is designed to operate as a separate market, allowing issuers from Barbados and other international markets. To date, the ISM has four listing sponsors.

The BSE collaborates with its regional partners, the Jamaica Stock Exchange and the Trinidad and Tobago Stock Exchange, through shared trading software. The capacity for this inter-exchange connectivity provides a wealth of potential investment opportunities for local and regional investors. The BSE obtained designated recognized stock exchange status from the UK in 2019. It is also a member of the World Federation of Exchanges.

Barbados has accepted the obligations of Article VIII, Sections 2, 3, and 4 of the IMF Articles of Agreement and maintains an exchange system free of restrictions on current account transactions.

The government established the CBB in 1972. The CBB manages Barbados’ currency and regulates its domestic banks.

The Barbados Deposit Insurance Corporation (BDIC) provides protection for depositors. Oversight of the entire financial system is conducted by the Financial Oversight Management Committee, which consists of the CBB, the BDIC, and the FSC. The private sector has access to financing on the local market through short-term borrowing and credit, asset financing, project financing, and mortgage financing.

Commercial banks and other deposit-taking institutions set their own interest rates. The CBB requires banks to hold 17.5 percent of their domestic deposits in stipulated securities.

Bitt, a Barbadian company, developed digital currency DCash in partnership with the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank. The first successful DCash retail central bank digital currency consumer-to-merchant transaction took place in Grenada in 2021 following a multi-year development process. The CBB and the FSC established a regulatory sandbox in 2018 where financial technology entities could do live testing of their products and services. This allowed regulators to gain a better understanding of the product or service and to determine what, if any, regulation is necessary to protect consumers. Bitt completed its participation and formally exited the sandbox in 2019. According to Bitt, it has no immediate plans to launch DCash in Barbados and focused first on Barbados’ Eastern Caribbean neighbors. Bitt also offers a digital access exchange, remittance channel, and merchant-processing gateway available via mMoney, a mobile application. In early 2022, the DCash platform crashed for almost two months, raising questions about the initiative’s long-term prospects.

The Caribbean region has witnessed a withdrawal of correspondent banking services by U.S., Canadian, and European banks in recent years due to concerns that the region is high-risk.

Currently, the CBB does not maintain a sovereign wealth fund. In the past, the government announced plans to create a sovereign wealth fund to ensure national wealth is available for present and future generations of Barbados. Barbadians 18 years and older are expected to gain a stake in the fund after it is established. It is envisioned that the fund will hold governmental assets, including on- and offshore real property, revenues from oil and gas products, and non-tangible assets such as trademarks, patents, and intellectual property.

Belarus

3. Legal Regime

According to Belarusian law, drafts of laws and regulations pertaining to investment and doing business are subject to public discussion, though authorities rarely pay heed to public views. The government alleges its policies are transparent, and the implementation of laws is consistent with international norms to foster competition and establish clear rules of the road. However, independent economic experts note that private sector businesses are often discriminated against in favor of public sector businesses. In particular, SOEs often receive government subsidies, benefits, and exemptions like cheaper loans and debt forgiveness that are generally unavailable to private sector companies unless such companies have close connections with Belarus’ ruling circles.

International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) have been a part of Belarus’ legislative framework since 2016. Public-interest entities, which include banks, insurance companies, and public corporations with subsidiary companies, are required to publish their financial statements, which comply with the IFRS. Such statements are subject to statutory audit. The IFRS in Belarus can be accessed at  http://www.minfin.gov.by/ru/accounting/inter_standards/docs/  

Belarus’ Ministry of Finance posts regular updates and information on budgetary policy, public finances, and debt obligations on its website: http://www.minfin.gov.by/en/budgetary_policy/  and http://www.minfin.gov.by/en/public_debt/ .

On March 24, 2022, the WTO announced it had suspended Belarus’ application to join the organization because of the GOB’s support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Belarus had been working to join the WTO since 1993.

Belarus is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU); EAEU regulations and decisions supersede the national regulatory system.

Belarus has a civil law system with a legal separation of branches and institutions and with the main source of law being legal acts, not precedent. For example, Article 44 of Belarus’ Constitution guarantees the inviolability of property. Article 11 of the Civil Code officially safeguards property rights, but presidential edicts and decrees, controlled exclusively by Lukashenka, typically carry more force than legal acts adopted by the legislature. This weakens investor protections and incentives previously passed into law. There is sometimes a public comment process during drafting of legislation or presidential decrees, but the process is not transparent or sufficiently inclusive of investors’ concerns. Belarus has broadly codified commercial laws, but the laws contain inconsistencies and are not considered business friendly.

According to the 2021 Human Rights Report, “The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but authorities did not respect judicial independence and impartiality. Observers believed corruption, inefficiency, and political interference with judicial decisions were widespread.” Businesses complain the authorities selectively enforce regulations and criminal laws and that cases are often politically motivated. At the February 2021 All Belarusian People’s Assembly, for example, Lukashenka announced he had ordered the closure of over 200 private businesses because of their “illegal support” for the political opposition.

Each of Belarus’ six regions and the capital city of Minsk have economic courts to address commercial and economic issues.  In addition, the Supreme Court has a judicial panel on economic issues.  In 2000, Belarus established a judicial panel to enforce intellectual property rights.  Under the Labor Code, any claims of unfair labor practices are heard by regular civil courts or commissions on labor issues.  However, the judiciary’s lack of independence from the executive branch prevents it from acting as a reliable and impartial mechanism for resolving disputes, whether labor, economic, political, commercial, or otherwise.  According to Freedom House’s 2021 Nations in Transit report, for example, thousands of people were brutally repressed by Belarusian authorities following the fraudulent August 2020 presidential elections. No security officials were ever investigated for wrongdoing and none of the protestors who were prosecuted by the state received a fair trial.

Local economic court proceedings normally do not exceed two months.  Court cases involving foreign persons are typically resolved within seven months unless an international agreement signed by Belarus dictates the resolution must take place sooner.

Foreign investment in Belarus is governed by the 2013 laws “On Investments” and “On Concessions,” the 2009 Presidential Decree No. 10 “On the Creation of Additional Conditions for Investment Activity in Belarus,” and other legislation as well as international and investment agreements signed and ratified by Belarus.

Issued in 2016, Presidential decree number 188 authorizes the Ministry of Antimonopoly Regulation and Trade to counteract monopolistic activities and promote market competition.

According to Article 12 of the Investment Code, neither party may expropriate or nationalize investments both directly and indirectly by means of measures similar to expropriation or nationalization, for other purposes than for the public benefit and on a nondiscriminatory basis; according to the appropriate legal procedure; and on conditions of compensation payment. However, Belarus has no law provisions that establish clear procedures for fair and timely compensation of an investor’s nationalized property. Belarus has signed 70 bilateral agreements on the mutual protection and encouragement of investments which include obligations regarding expropriation.

In 2021, there were no nationally-reported cases of nationalization, and there have been no instances of confiscation of business property as a penalty for violations of law. It should be noted, however, an official decree signed by Lukashenka on March 14 provides for special fees and penalties for businesses from “unfriendly” countries, including the United States, looking to leave the Belarusian market.

Belarus’ recent actions in response to Western sanctions indicate the government is prepared to violate its commitments under international agreements and domestic law. However, Belarus is party to the following dispute resolution mechanisms:

Belarus and the United States signed a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT), but entry into force is pending exchange of instruments of ratification. This is unlikely to take place in the near future given the breakdown of relations between the two countries over Belarus’ continued human rights abuses and support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Most of the BITs concluded by Belarus include a provision on international investment arbitration as a mechanism for settling investor-State disputes and recognize the binding force of the awards issued by tribunals. Under Belarusian law, if an international treaty signed by Belarus establishes rules other than those established by local law, the rules of the international treaty prevail.

Since 2017, Belarus has faced three investment arbitration claims involving investors from the Netherlands and Russia. There were no known investment disputes between Belarusian government authorities and U.S. investors in 2021.

Judgments of foreign courts are accepted and enforced if there is a relevant international agreement signed by Belarus. Courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards. The Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has an International Arbitration Court. The 2013 “Law on Mediation,” as well as codes of civil and economic procedures, established various alternative ways of addressing investment disputes.

Belarus’ 2012 bankruptcy law, related presidential edicts, and government resolutions are not always consistently applied. Additional legal acts, such as the Civil Code and Code of Economic Procedures, also include certain regulations on bankruptcy-related issues. Under the bankruptcy law, foreign creditors have the same rights as Belarusian creditors. Belarusian law criminalizes false and intentional insolvency as well as concealing insolvency. According to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Index, Belarus was ranked 74 in Resolving Insolvency.

6. Financial Sector

The Belarusian government officially claims to welcome portfolio investment. There have been no reports in 2021 on any impediments to such investment. In 2019 and 2020, Belarus received $500 million and $1.34 billion worth of portfolio investments, respectively. The Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange is open to foreign investors, but it is still largely undeveloped because the government only allows companies to trade stocks if they meet certain and often burdensome criteria. Private companies must be profitable and have net assets of at least EUR 1 million. In addition, any income from resulting operations is taxed at 24 percent. Finally, the state owns more than 70 percent of all stocks in the country, and the government appears hesitant and unwilling to trade in them freely. Bonds are the predominant financial instrument on Belarus’ corporate securities market.

In 2001, Belarus joined Article VIII of the IMF’s Articles of Agreement, undertaking to refrain from restrictions on payments and transfers under current international transactions. Loans are allocated on market terms and are available to foreign investors. However, the discount rate of 12 percent established in March, 2022 makes credit too expensive for many private businesses, which, unlike many SOEs, do not receive subsidized or reduced-interest loans. Belarus’ National Bank had predicted a rate of 9-10 percent in 2022 but the war in Ukraine, which prompted the fall of the Belarusian ruble against major foreign currencies, combined with a year-on-year inflation rate of 10 percent in January-February forced the National Bank to revise its outlook.

Businesses buy and sell foreign exchange at the Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange through their banks. Belarus used to require businesses to sell 10-20 percent of foreign currency revenues through the Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange; however, in late 2018 the National Bank abolished the mandatory sale rule.

The Belarus Affairs Unit at U.S. Embassy Vilnius
Economic Section
telephone: +370 (5) 266-5500;
e-mail:   usembassyminsk@state.gov  

Sanctions imposed by the United States have prohibited any commercial activity with some Belarusian banks, including Dabrabyt Bank and Belinvestbank. Belarusian subsidiaries of sanctioned Russian banks are also under sanctions and include Bel/VEB, VTB Bank Belarus, and Sberbank Belarus. Potential investors should review the Department of Treasury website at https://home.treasury.gov/  for updates as trade restrictions on Belarusian banks continue to develop.

Sanctions introduced by the EU prohibit contact with the National Bank of Belarus and have blocked access to the SWIFT secure messaging system for a number of banks, including Dabrabyt Bank, the Development Bank of Belarus, and Belagroprombank. Potential investors should review the website of the European Commission for updates and further details at https://ec.europa.eu/info/index_en .

Belarus has a central banking system led by the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus, which represents the interest of the state and is the main regulator of the country’s banking system. The president of Belarus appoints the chair and members of the Board of the National Bank, designates auditing organizations to examine its activities, and approves its annual report. Although the National Bank officially operates independently from the government, there is a history of government interference in monetary and exchange rate policies.

In February 2021, the banking system of Belarus included 23 commercial banks and three non-banking credit and finance organizations. According to the National Bank, the share of non-performing loans in the banking sector was 5.3 percent as of January 1, 2022. At the beginning of 2022, the country’s six largest commercial banks of systemic importance, all of which have some government share, accounted for 85 percent of the approximately 92.3 billion Belarusian rubles in total assets across the country’s banking sector. There are five representative offices of foreign banks in Belarus, with China’s Development Bank opening most recently in 2018. Regular banking services are widely available to customers regardless of national origin.

Belarusian law does not allow foreign banks to establish branches in Belarus. Subsidiaries of foreign banks are allowed to operate in Belarus and are subject to prudential measures and other regulations like any Belarusian bank. The U.S. Embassy is not aware of Belarus losing any correspondent banking relationships in the past three years. Foreign nationals are allowed to establish a bank account in Belarus without establishing residency status.

According to the IMF, Belarus’ state-dominated financial sector faces deep domestic structural problems and external sector challenges. Domestic structural problems include heavy state involvement in the banking and corporate sector, the lack of hard budget constraints for SOEs given state support, and high dollarization. Externally, Belarus’ economy remains exposed to spillovers from the Russian economy and Belarus’ foreign currency reserves offer a limited buffer to potential external shocks. The banking sector remains vulnerable to external shocks, given the high level of dollarization and the exposure to government and SOE debt. In March 2022, S&P, Fitch, and Moody’s ratings services all downgraded Belarus’ debt rating to CCC or Ca “highly vulnerable to defaults.”

Belarus does not have a Sovereign Wealth Fund. The GOB manages the State Budget Fund of National Development, which supports major economic and social projects in the country.

Belgium

3. Legal Regime

The Belgian government has adopted a generally transparent competition policy.  The government has implemented tax, labor, health, safety, and other laws and policies to avoid distortions or impediments to the efficient mobilization and allocation of investment, comparable to those in other EU member states. While U.S. companies continue to play key and long-standing roles in the development of the Belgian economy, a major U.S.-based multinational firm operating in the chemical cluster near the Port of Antwerp has raised concerns that Flemish government officials have unfairly regulated the company and subjected it to strict limitations not applied to other companies operating in the same sector and space.  The firm and the Flemish government remain in regular contact to seek a fair and equitable solution; however, the perceived lack of regulatory certainty could lead to a reduction of industry investment and operations in Belgium if unresolved.

Political competences in Belgium are shared between the federal government, the three regions – Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels-Capital – and the French and German linguistic communities. (Note. Flanders merged the Flemish linguistic community into its regional government. End Note.) Notwithstanding the fact that the regions in Belgium are responsible for attracting foreign investors, most regulations impacting the business environment (taxes, labor market, energy) are controlled at the federal level. In contrast, environmental regulations are developed mostly at the regional level. A regulatory impact assessment (RIA) is mandatory for all primary and some subordinate legislation submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers at the federal level and is usually shared with social partners as a basis for consultation. Belgium publishes all its relevant legislation and administrative guidelines in an official Gazette, called Het Staatsblad/Le Moniteur Belge (https://www.ejustice.just.fgov.be/cgi/welcome.pl ).

Recognizing the need to streamline administrative procedures in many areas, in 2015 the federal government set up a special task force to simplify official procedures.  Traditionally, scientific studies or quantitative analysis conducted on the impact of regulations are made publicly available for comment. However, not all stakeholder comments received by regulators are made public.

Accounting standards are regulated by the Belgian law of January 30, 2001, and balance sheet and profit and loss statements are in line with international accounting norms. Cash flow positions and reporting changes in non-borrowed capital formation are not required.  However, contrary to IAS/IFRS standards, Belgian accounting rules do require an extensive annual policy report.

Regarding Environmental, Social and Governance Impacts reporting (ESG), the EU’s Non-Financial Reporting Directive (NFRD) was transposed into Belgian law in 2017. The NFRD requires very large public interest entities (PIEs) to report environmental, social and employee, human rights, anti-bribery, and corruption information on an annual basis. On April 21, 2021, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), which will update the NFRD. The CSRD aims to be applicable as of fiscal year 2023 and will significantly extend the scope of reporting requirements to all large companies and all companies listed on regulated markets (except listed micro-enterprises).

Regarding oversight or enforcement mechanisms to ensure governments follow administrative processes, local courts are expected to enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government.  Recourse to the courts is available if necessary.

Public finances and debt obligations are generally transparent. Details on government budgets are available online, and the debt agency (https://www.debtagency.be/en ) publishes all relevant data concerning government debt.

Belgium is a founding member of the EU, whose directives and regulations are enforced.  On May 25, 2018, Belgium implemented the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (EU) 2016/679, an EU regulation on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union.

Through the European Union, Belgium is a member of the WTO, and notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).  Belgium does not maintain any measures that are inconsistent with the Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMs) obligations.

Belgium’s (civil) legal system is independent of the government and is a means for resolving commercial disputes or protecting property rights.  Belgium has a wide-ranging codified law system since 1830.  There are specialized commercial courts which apply the existing commercial and contractual laws. As in many countries, the Belgian courts labor under a growing caseload and ongoing budget cuts causing backlogs and delays. There are several levels of appeal.

Payments and transfers within Belgium and with foreign countries require no prior authorization. Transactions may be executed in euros as well as in other currencies.

Belgium has no debt-to-equity requirements.  Dividends may be remitted freely except in cases in which distribution would reduce net assets to less than paid-up capital.  No further withholding tax or other tax is due on repatriation of the original investment or on the profits of a branch, either during active operations or upon the closing of the branch.

Belgian authorities are currently developing a national security-based investment screening law that will likely establish certain restrictions based on national security concerns.  The law likely will not be finalized and delivered to Parliament for a vote before the end of 2022.

There are three different regional Investment Authorities:

The contact address for competition-related concerns:

Federal Competition Authority
City Atrium, 6th floor
Vooruitgangsstraat 50
1210 Brussels
tel: +32 2 277 5272
fax: +32 2 277 5323
email: info@bma-abc.be

EU member states are responsible for competition and anti-trust regulations if there are cross-border dimensions. If cross-border effects are present, EU law applies, and European institutions are competent.

There are no outstanding expropriation or nationalization cases in Belgium with U.S. investors. There is no pattern of discrimination against foreign investment in Belgium.

When the Belgian government uses its eminent domain powers to acquire property compulsorily for a public purpose, current market value is paid to the property owners. Recourse to the courts is available if necessary.  The only expropriations that occurred during the last decade were related to infrastructure projects such as port expansions, roads, and railroads.

Belgian bankruptcy law falls is under the jurisdiction of the commercial courts.  The commercial court appoints a judge-auditor to preside over the bankruptcy proceeding and whose primary task is to supervise the management and liquidation of the bankrupt estate, in particular with respect to the claims of the employees.  Belgian bankruptcy law recognizes several classes of preferred or secured creditors.  A person who has been declared bankrupt may subsequently start a new business unless the person is found guilty of certain criminal offences that are directly related to the bankruptcy.  The Business Continuity Act of 2009 provides the possibility for companies in financial difficulty to enter into a judicial reorganization.  These proceedings are to some extent similar to Chapter 11 as the aim is to facilitate business recovery.  In the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Index, Belgium ranks number 9 (out of 190) for the ease of resolving insolvency.

6. Financial Sector

Belgium has policies in place to facilitate the free flow of financial resources. Credit is allocated at market rates and is available to foreign and domestic investors without discrimination. Belgium is fully served by the international banking community and is implementing all relevant EU financial directives.

Bruges established the world’s first stock market almost 600 years ago, and the Belgian stock exchange is well-established today. On Euronext, a company may increase its capital either by capitalizing reserves or by issuing new shares. An increase in capital requires a legal registration procedure, and new shares may be offered either to the public or to existing shareholders. A public notice is not required if the offer is to existing shareholders, who may subscribe to the new shares directly. An issue of bonds to the public is subject to the same requirements as a public issue of shares: the company’s capital must be entirely paid up, and existing shareholders must be given preferential subscription rights.

In 2016, the Belgian government passed legislation to improve entrepreneurial financing through crowdfunding and more flexible capital venture rules.

Because the Belgian economy is directed toward international trade, more than half of its banking activities involve foreign countries. Belgium’s major banks are represented in the financial and commercial centers of dozens of countries by subsidiaries, branch offices, and representative offices. The country does have a central bank, the National Bank of Belgium (NBB), whose governor is also a member of the Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB).  Being a Eurozone member state, the NBB is part of the Euro system, meaning that it has transferred the sovereignty over monetary policy to the ECB.

Since 2017, the supervision of systemically important Belgian banks lies with the ECB. The country has not lost any correspondent banking relationships in the past three years, nor are there any correspondent banking relationships currently in jeopardy. The Belgian non-performing Loan Ratio stood at 0.7% in 2021. Total bank assets amount to about 90% of GDP.

Opening a bank account in the country is linked to residency status.  The U.S. FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) requires Belgian banks to report information on U.S. account holders directly to the Belgian tax authorities, who then release the information to the IRS.  Belgium implemented a basic banking service law in 2021 which aims to give entrepreneurs otherwise unable to open a bank account the right to do so. For example, companies that have been refused the ability to open a bank account by three credit institutions are entitled to a basic banking service. According to the law, a basic banking service room – administered by the government – will confirm evidence of three refusals, and designate a credit institution in Belgium that must offer the basic banking service to the company.  Even though the law is still not fully implemented, authorities anticipate nationwide implementation in 2022.

Belgium has a sovereign wealth fund (SWF) in the form of the Federal Holding and Investment Company (FPIM-SFPI), a quasi-independent entity created in 2006 and now mainly used as a vehicle to manage the banking assets which were taken on board during the 2008 banking crisis. The SWF has a board whose members reflect the composition of the governing coalition and are regularly audited by the “Cour des Comptes” or national auditor. At the end of 2020, its total assets amounted to €1.96 billion. Most of the funds are invested domestically. Its role is to allow public entities to recoup their investments and support Belgian banks. The SWF is required by law to publish an annual report and is subject to the same domestic and international accounting standards and rules. The SWF routinely fulfills all legal obligations. However, it is not a member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds.

Belize

3. Legal Regime

There are no reports of government policies, processes, or laws significantly distort or discriminate against foreign investors.  Nonetheless, some investors have complained of systematic shortfalls such as unreliable land titles and bureaucratic delays or corruption, which hinder doing business in Belize. U.S. firms have also identified challenges in participating and competing in areas related to the bidding, procurement, and dispute settlement processes, particular to State Owned Enterprises (SOEs). There are no nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) or private sector associations that manage regulatory processes.  NGOs and private sector associations do lobby on behalf of their members but have no statutory authority.

Regulatory authority exists both at the local and national levels with national laws and regulations being most relevant to foreign businesses.  The cabinet dictates government policies that are enacted by the legislature and implemented by the various government authorities.  Some quasi-governmental organizations are also mandated by law to manage specific regulatory processes, e.g., the Belize Tourism Board, BELTRAIDE, and the Belize Agricultural Health Authority.  Regulations exist at the local level, primarily relating to property taxes and registering for trade licenses to operate businesses in the municipality.

Some supra-national organizations and regulatory structures exist.  For example, some elements of international trade affecting U.S. businesses are affected by CARICOM treaties, as in the case of the export of sugar within CARICOM.

Accounting, legal, and regulatory systems are consistent with international norms.  Publicly owned companies generally receive audits annually, and the reports are in accordance with International Financial Reporting Standards and International Standards on Auditing.

The government does not promote or require companies’ environmental, social and governance disclosure to facilitate transparency or help investors and consumers distinguish between high- and low-quality investments.

Draft bills or regulations are generally made available for public comment through a public consultation process.  Once introduced in the House of Representatives, draft bills are sent to the relevant standing committee, which then meet and invite the public and interested persons to review, recommend changes, or object to draft laws prior to further debate.  The mechanism for drafting bills, and enacting regulations and legislation generally applies across the board and includes investment laws and regulations.  Public comments on draft legislation are not generally posted online nor made publicly available.  In a few instances, laws are passed quickly without meaningful publication, public review, or public debate. The government does not generally disclose the basis on which it reviews regulations.  Some government agencies make scientific studies publicly available.

Printed copies of the Belize Government Gazette contain proposed as well as enacted laws and regulations and are publicly available for a subscription fee.  Additionally, enacted laws are published free of cost on the website of the National Assembly or Parliament, but there is a delay in updating the website.

Regulations and enforcement actions are appealable with regulatory decisions subject to judicial review.  The Office of the Ombudsman also may investigate allegations of official wrongdoing but has no legal authority to bring judicial charges.  Reports of wrongdoing are submitted to the affected ministry. Additionally, the Annual Report of the Ombudsman is presented to the National Assembly and is a publicly available document.

The offices for business and personal income tax amalgamated into the Belize Tax Service, which launched an online tax payment system in August 2021. The Companies Registries, along with the court system, are being digitized to facilitate e-filing of documents and online payment of fees. In March 2022, the government lowered business tax on the net interest income charged to banks and financial institutions with a view to incentivizing lending in strategic foreign exchange earning sectors and at the same time increased the tax on specific sectors to disincentivize personal and distribution loans. The amendments to the tax system will improve tax collection and a stem leakage. Other anticipated reforms are expected to improve the ease of doing business, provide greater transparency and stimulate economic growth with lending to foreign exchange earning sectors.

Information on public finance, both the government’s budget and its debt obligations (including explicit and contingent liabilities) are widely accessible to the public, with most documents available online.  The budget documents do not include information on contingent or state-owned enterprise (SOE) debt unless the GoB guarantees or is paying these debts. Nonetheless, the audited annual reports of all major SOEs were publicly available on their websites.  The Auditor General’s report on government spending, however, is often significantly delayed.

As a full member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Belize’s foreign, economic and trade policies vis-a-vis non-member states are coordinated regionally.  The country’s import tariffs are largely defined by CARICOM’s Common External Tariff.

Besides CARICOM, Belize is a member of the Central American Integration System (SICA) at a political level, but is not a part of the Secretariat of Central American Economic Integration (SIECA) that supports economic integration with Central America.  Belize is also a member of the WTO and adheres to the Organization’s agreements and reporting system.

The Belize Bureau of Standards (BBS) is the national standards body responsible for preparing, promoting, and implementing standards for goods, services, and processes.  The BBS operates in accordance with the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade and the CARICOM Regional Organization for Standards and Quality.  The BBS is also a member of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and Codex Alimentarius.

As a former British colony, Belize follows the English Common Law legal system. The Belize Constitution is the supreme law and founded on the principle of a separation of powers with independence of the judiciary from the executive and legislative branches of government. Belize has a written Contract Act, but no specialized courts to deal with commercial disputes or cases.

The judicial system remains generally independent of the executive branch.  Case law exists where the judiciary has ruled against the government, and its judgements are respected and authoritative.  The highest appellate court exists outside of Belize at the Caribbean Court of Justice, providing a level of independence for the judiciary.  The judiciary remains underfunded and understaffed resulting in frequent adjournments, delays, poor case-flow management and a backlog of cases.  General information relating to Belize’s judicial and legal system, including links to Belize’s Constitution, Laws and judicial decisions are available at the Judiciary of Belize website www.belizejudiciary.org .

Businesses and citizens may appeal regulations and enforcement actions.  Regulatory decisions are also subject to judicial review.  Judgments by the Belize Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal are available at http://www.belizejudiciary.org .

The Caribbean Court of Justice has two jurisdictions, appellate and original, in relation to CARICOM Members States. In its appellate jurisdiction, the CCJ is the final court of appeal for both civil and criminal matters emanating from CARICOM Member States. In its original jurisdiction, this Court is responsible for interpreting and applying the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, the treaty establishing the Caribbean Community and CARICOM Single Market and Economy.

The country has an English Common Law legal system supplemented by local legislation and regulations.  The legal system does not generally discriminate against foreign investment and there are no restrictions to foreign ownership.  The Exchange Control Act and its subsidiary laws and regulations, however, provide the legal framework that applies to foreign ownership and control. Other laws stipulate that foreign investment can qualify for incentives; citizens have the right to private property; contracts are legally binding and enforceable, and regulations are subject to judicial review among other provisions favorable to foreign investment.

Major laws enacted or amended are generally available in the National Assembly’s website at www.nationalassembly.gov.bz .  For the previous year, these include the Blue Bond Loan Act, 2021; Companies (Amendment) Act, 2021; Data Protection Act, 2021; Electronic Evidence Bill, 2021; Electronic Transactions Act, 2021; Electronic Transfer of Funds Crime Act, 2021; Immigration (Amendment) Act,, 2021; Patents (Amendment) Act, 2021; Public Sector Data Sharing Act, 2021; Securities Industry Act, 2021; Stamp Duties (Amendment) Act, 2021; Sugar Industry (Amendment) Act, 2021; Trademarks (Amendment) Act, 2021; Tax Administration and Procedures (Amendment) Act, 2021; Central Bank of Belize (Amendment) Act, 2022; and Income and Business Tax (Amendment) Act, 2022.

There is no “one-stop-shop” website for investment, and the laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements related to investors differ depending on the nature of the investment.  BELTRAIDE provides advisory services for foreign investors relating to procedures for doing business in Belize and what incentives might be available to qualifying investors.  Further information is available at the BELTRAIDE website:  http://www.belizeinvest.org.bz 

Belize does not have any laws governing competition, but there are attempts to limit outside competition in certain industries (such as food and agriculture) by levying high import duties and import licensing requirements.

The government used the right of eminent domain in several cases to expropriate private property, including land belonging to foreign investors.  There were no new expropriation cases in 2021. However, claimants in previous cases of expropriation assert the GoB failed to honor agreements entered into by a previous administration.  Belizean law requires that the government assess and compensate according to fair market value.  Expropriation cases can take several years to settle and there are a few cases where compensation is still pending.  Belize nationalized two companies in public-private partnership: Belize Electricity Limited and Belize Telemedia Limited.  These actions were challenged in the courts and resolved in 2015 and 2017, respectively.

The Caribbean Court of Justice delivered a judgment relating to the Belmopan Land Development Corporation Limited (BLDCL) in January 2022, wherein it upheld the decision of the trial judge in favor of BLDCL. The case pertained to compensation owed by the government for 1,394 acres of land expropriated in 2013. After negotiations for market value failed, the matter was taken before local courts. The CCJ upheld the trial judge’s quantum of damages to BLDCL for just over US $8 million.

The Bankruptcy Act of Belize provides for bankruptcy filings.  The Act provides for the establishment of receivership, trustees, adjudication, and seizures of the property of the bankrupt.  The court may order the arrest of the debtor as well as the seizure of assets and documents in the event the debtor may flee or avoid payment to creditors.  The Director of Public Prosecutions may institute proceedings for offenses related to the bankruptcy proceedings.   The bankruptcy law generally outlines actions a creditor may take to recoup losses.  Bankruptcy protections are not as comprehensive as U.S. bankruptcy law.

6. Financial Sector

Belize’s financial system is small with little to no foreign portfolio investment transactions.  It does not have a stock exchange and capital market operations are rudimentary.  In 2021, Belize passed the Securities Industry Act for the modernization of the laws on securities and capital markets. The Central Bank of Belize must approve capital transactions, such as the purchase and sale of land, company shares, financial assets, and other investments that the transfer of assets between foreign and local entities. The Central Bank advised that, effective April 2022, it would only accept electronic applications for the approval of portfolio and capital investments and land transfers.

Belize accepted the obligations of Article VIII, and the exchange regime is free of restrictions or multiple currency practices.

Credit is made available on market terms with interest rates largely set by prevailing local market conditions within the commercial banks.  The credit instruments accessible to the private sector include loans, overdrafts, lines of credit, credit cards, and bank guarantees.  Foreign investors can access credit on the local market.  Under the International Banking Act, foreign investors/nonresidents may access credit from international banks registered and licensed in Belize. However, permission to access credit from the domestic banks requires Central Bank approval. The Belize Development Finance Corporation (DFC), a state-owned development bank, offers loan financing services in various sectors.  To qualify for a loan from DFC, an individual must be a Belizean resident or citizen, while a company must be majority 51 percent Belizean owned.  The National Bank of Belize is a state-owned bank that provides concessionary credit primarily to public officers, teachers, and low-income Belizeans.

A financial inclusion survey undertaken by the Central Bank of Belize in 2019 showed that approximately 65.5 percent of adult Belizeans had access to a financial account. In response, the banking sector has begun introducing digital wallet solutions to reach “unbanked” segments of the population.

Belize’s financial system remains underdeveloped with a banking sector that may be characterized as stable but fragile. International reserves increased from US $348 million (3.8 months of imports) in 2020 to US $420 million (3.9 months of imports) in 2021, partly due to the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (SDR) 25.6 million allocation, which Belizean authorities are keeping as reserve.

Regulatory capital is still well above minimum requirements, while the gross non-performing loan (NPL) ratio at the end of February 2022 stood at 5.58 percent of loans. However, the Central Bank is reviewing domestic banks and credit unions self-assessments as the expired forbearance measures from 2020 could represent a risk as a fraction of their loan portfolio could turn into NPLs.

The Central Bank of Belize (CBB) ( https://www.centralbank.org.bz ) is responsible for formulating and implementing monetary policy focusing on the stability of the exchange rate and economic growth.

Generally, there are no restrictions on foreigners opening bank accounts in Belize. Regulations differ based on residency status and whether the individual is seeking to establish a local bank account or a foreign currency account.   Foreign banks and branches are allowed to operate in the country with all banks subject to Central Bank measures and regulations.

Since January 2020 to present, a domestic bank and an international bank each lost a correspondent bank. Belize’s financial system comprises five domestic banks, three international banks, and ten credit unions. Correspondent banks discontinued offered correspondent banking relationships (CBR) to Scotiabank (Belize) Limited following the acquisition of the Scotiabank (Belize) Limited by the Caribbean International Holdings Limited. As of February 2022, the estimated total assets of the country’s largest bank were US $1.09 billion.

In the last few years, Belize continues reforms to strengthen the anti-money laundering and counterterrorism-financing regime, including conducting an interagency national money laundering and terrorist financing (ML/TF) risk assessment.

Belize does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

Benin

3. Legal Regime

Benin is a member of UNCTAD’s international network of transparent investment procedures. Foreign and domestic investors can find detailed information on administrative procedures applicable to investment and income generating operations at https://unctad.org/news/how-un-helped-benin-become-worlds-fastest-place-start-business-mobile-phone , including the number of steps, name and contact details of the entities and persons in charge of procedures, required documents and conditions, costs, processing time, and legal bases justifying the procedures. There is no rule to prevent a monopoly over a particular business sector. The Benin Private Investment Council ( http://www.cipb.bj/ ) is the only business-related think-tank or body that advocates for investors. Generally, draft bills are not available for public comment though promulgated laws are available at https://sgg.gouv.bj/documentheque/lois/ . Individuals, including non-citizens, have the option to file appeals about or challenge enacted laws with the Constitutional Court.

Benin is a member of WAEMU and the Organization for the Harmonization of African Business Law (OHADA) and has adopted OHADA’s Universal Commercial Code (codified law) to manage commercial disputes and bankruptcies within member countries. Benin is also a member of OHADA’s Common Court of Justice and Arbitration and the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). OHADA provisions govern bankruptcy. Debtors may file for reorganization only, and the creditors may file for liquidation only. Benin is a member of the WTO and notifies all draft technical regulations to the organization’s Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).

Benin has a civil law system. The legal framework includes various legislative and regulatory texts covering family law, land law, labor law, criminal law, criminal procedure, and civil, commercial, social, and administrative proceedings. The Cotonou commercial court, created in 2017, enforces commercial laws and regulations. In 2018, Benin created an anti-terrorism, drugs, and economic crimes court (CRIET), which until recently lacked a mechanism for substantive appeal. The CRIET has convicted and sentenced numerous government detractors and political opponents, raising concerns about its independence. In February 2020, Benin created an appeals chamber within the CRIET. In general, judicial processes are slow, and challenges to the enforcement of court decisions are common. Magistrates and judges are appointed by the President of the Republic. Benin’s courts enforce rulings of foreign courts and international arbitration.

The Investment Code provides the legal framework for foreign direct investment. The Code establishes conditions, advantages, and rules applicable to domestic and foreign direct investment. The GOB websites https://benindoingbusiness.bj/  and https://gdiz-benin.com/  make available online information on foreign direct investment regulations and procedures, though at times these websites may be out of date. Benin is a member of OHADA’s Common Court of Justice and Arbitration (CCJA) and the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). Investors may include arbitration provisions in their contracts in order to avoid prolonged entanglements in the Beninese courts. The United Nations investment guide for Benin ( https://www.theiguides.org/public-docs/guides/benin/ ) provides a general guide for foreign direct investment steps and procedures.

Benin’s legal framework does not address anti-trust or competition issues. The government does not have an agency or office that reviews transactions for competition-related concerns.

Local laws forbid the government from nationalizing private enterprises operating in Benin. In July 2020 West African hotel developer Teyliom International filed a request for arbitration with the World Bank International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in relation to the Beninese government’s expropriation of a hotel the company had been constructing in Cotonou. This arbitration case is currently pending at ICSID.

OHADA provisions govern bankruptcy. Debtors may file for reorganization only, and creditors may file for liquidation only.

6. Financial Sector

Government policy supports free financial markets, subject to oversight by the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO). Foreign investors may seek credit from Benin’s private financial institutions and the WAEMU Regional Stock Exchange (Bureau Regional des Valeurs Mobilieres – BRVM) headquartered in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, with local branches in each WAEMU member country. There are no restrictions for foreign investors to establish a bank account in Benin and obtain loans on the local market. However, proof of residency or evidence of company registration is required to open a bank account.

The banking sector is generally reliable. Twelve private commercial banks operate in Benin in addition to the BCEAO; planning is under way to open a subsidiary of the African Development Bank. Taking into account microfinance institutions, roughly 31.2 percent of the population had access to banking services in 2020, the latest year for which data is available. In recent years, non-performing loans have been growing; 15 percent of total banking sector assets are estimated to be non-performing. The BCEAO regulates Beninese banks. Foreign banks are required to obtain a banking license before operating branches in Benin. They are subject to the same prudential regulations as local or regional banks. Benin has lost no correspondent banking relationships during the last three years. There is no known current correspondent banking relationship in jeopardy. Foreigners are required to present proof of residency to open bank accounts.

Benin does not maintain a sovereign wealth fund.

Bolivia

3. Legal Regime

Bolivia has no laws or policies that directly foster competition on a non-discriminatory basis.  However, Article 66 of the Commercial Code (Law 14379, 1977) states that unfair competition, such as maintaining an import, production, or distribution monopoly, should be penalized according to criminal law.  There are no informal regulatory processes managed by nongovernmental organizations or private sector associations. Regulatory authority regarding investment exists solely at the national level in Bolivia.  There are no subnational regulatory procedures.

The Commercial Code requires that all companies keep adequate accounting records and legal records for transparency.  However, there is a large informal sector that does not follow these practices.  Most accounting regulations follow international principles, but the regulations do not always conform to international standards.  Large private companies and some government institutions, such as the Central Bank and the Banking Supervision Authority, have transparent and consistent accounting systems.

Formal bureaucratic procedures have been reported to be lengthy, difficult to manage and navigate, and sometimes debilitating.  Many firms complain that a lack of administrative infrastructure, corruption, and political motives impede their ability to perform. The one exception has been when registering a new company in Bolivia.

There is no established public comment process allowing social, political, and economic interests to provide advice and comment on new laws and decrees.  However, the government generally — but not always — discusses proposed laws with the relevant sector.  The lack of laws to implement the 2009 Constitution creates legal discrepancies between constitutional guarantees and the dated policies currently enforced, and thus an uncertain investment climate.

Online regulatory disclosures by the Bolivian government can be found in the Official Gazette (  http://www.gacetaoficialdebolivia.gob.bo/ ).

Supreme Decree 71 in 2009 created a Business Auditing Authority (AEMP), which is tasked with regulating the business activities of public, private, mixed, or cooperative entities across all business sectors.  AEMP’s decisions are legally reviewable through appeal.  However, should an entity wish to file a second appeal, the ultimate decision-making responsibility rests with the Bolivian government ministry with jurisdiction over the economic sector in question.  This has led to a perception that enforcement mechanisms are neither transparent nor independent.

Environmental regulations can slow projects due to the constitutional requirement of “prior consultation” for any projects that could affect local and indigenous communities.  This has affected projects related to the exploitation of natural resources, both renewable and nonrenewable, as well as public works projects.  Issuance of environmental licenses has been slow and subject to political influence and corruption.

In 2010, the new pension fund was enacted increasing companies’ contributions from 1.71 percent of payroll to 4.71 percent.

Bolivia is a full member of the Andean Community of Nations (CAN), which includes Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.  Bolivia is also in the process of joining the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) as a full (rather than associate) member.  The CAN’s norms are considered supranational in character and have automatic application in the regional economic block’s member countries.  The government does notify the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade regarding draft technical regulations.

Property and contractual rights are enforced in Bolivian courts under a civil law system, but some have complained that the legal process is time consuming and has been subject to political influence and corruption.  Although many of its provisions have been modified and supplanted by more specific legislation, Bolivia’s Commercial Code continues to provide general guidance for commercial activities.  The constitution has precedence over international law and treaties (Article 410) and stipulates that the state will be directly involved in resolving conflicts between employers and employees (Article 50).  Corruption within the judiciary is pervasive.  Regulatory and enforcement actions are appealable.

No major laws, regulations, or judicial decisions impacting foreign investment came out in the past year.  There is no primary, central point-of-contact for investment that provides all the relevant information to investors.

Bolivia does not have a competition law, but cases related to unfair competition can be presented to AEMP.  Article 314 of the 2009 Constitution prohibits private monopolies.  Based on this article, in 2009 the Bolivian government created an office to supervise and control private companies ( http://www.autoridadempresas.gob.bo/ ). Among its most important goals are:

  • regulating, promoting, and protecting free competition.
  • trade relations between traders; implementing control mechanisms, social projects, and voluntary corporate responsibility.
  • corporate restructuring, supervising, verifying, and monitoring companies with economic activities in the country in the field of commercial registration and seeking compliance with legal and financial development of its activities.
  • qualifying institutional management efficiency, timeliness, transparency, and social commitment to contribute to the achievement of corporate goals.

The Bolivian Constitution allows the central government or local governments to expropriate property for the public good or when the property does not fulfill a “social purpose” (Article 57).  In the case of land, “Economic Social Purpose” (known as FES in Spanish) is understood as “sustainable land use to develop productive activities, according to its best use capacity, for the benefit of society, the collective interest and its owner.”  The Bolivian government has no official definition of “collective interest” and makes decisions on a case-by-case basis.  Noncompliance with the social function of land, tax evasion, or the holding of large acreage is cause for reversion, at which point the land passes to “the Bolivian people” (Article 401).  In cases where the expropriation of land is deemed a necessity of the state or for the public good, just indemnification is required by law. However, in cases where there is non-compliance in fulfilling this “Economic Social Purpose,” the Bolivian government is not required to pay for the land and the land title reverts to the state.

The Constitution also gives workers the right to reactivate and reorganize companies that are in the process of bankruptcy, insolvency, or liquidation, or those closed in an unjust manner, into employee-owned cooperatives (Article 54).  The mining code of 1997 (last updated in 2007) and hydrocarbons law of 2005 both outline procedures for expropriating land to develop underlying concessions.

The Bolivian government between 2006 and 2014, nationalized companies in the hydrocarbons sector, most of the electricity sector, some mining companies (including mines and a tin smelting plant), and a cement plant.  To do so, the government forced private entities to sell shares to the government, often at below market prices.  Some of the affected companies have cases pending with international arbitration bodies.  All outsourcing, private contracts were canceled and assigned to public companies (such as airport administration and water provision).

Countries affected included the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Argentina, and Chile.  Bolivian governments have previously nationalized private interests to appease social groups protesting.

The average time to complete bankruptcy procedures to close a business in Bolivia is 20 months.  The Bolivian Commercial Code includes (Article 1654) three different categories of bankruptcy:

  1. No Fault Bankruptcy – when the owner of the company is not directly responsible for its inability to pay its obligations.
  2. At-Fault Bankruptcy – when the owner is guilty or liable due to the lack of due diligence to avoid harm to the company.
  3. Bankruptcy due to Fraud – when the owner intentionally tries to cause harm to the company.

In general, the application of laws related to commercial disputes and bankruptcy has been perceived as inconsistent, and corruption charges are common.  Foreign creditors often have little redress beyond Bolivian courts, and judgments are generally more favorable to local claimants than international ones.  If a company declares bankruptcy, the company must pay employee benefits before other obligations.  Workers have broad-ranging rights to recover pay and benefits from foreign firms in bankruptcy, and criminal actions can be taken against individuals the Bolivian government deems responsible for failure to pay in these matters.

No credit bureaus or credit monitoring authorities serve the Bolivian market.

In 2018, the Bolivian government enacted a new law (No. 1055) called the Creation of Social Enterprises.  The law allows for employees of a company to assert ownership rights over companies under financial distress heading into bankruptcy.  Passage of the law was controversial, with numerous business chambers asserting that the law could incentivize employees and labor unions to undermine the performance of companies in order to force bankruptcy and gain control of company assets.

6. Financial Sector

The government’s general attitude toward foreign portfolio investment is neutral.  Established Bolivian firms may issue short or medium-term debt in local capital markets, which act primarily as secondary markets for fixed-return securities.  Bolivian capital markets have sought to expand their handling of local corporate bond issues and equity instruments.  Over the last few years, several Bolivian companies and some foreign firms have been able to raise funds through local capital markets.  However, the stock exchange is small and is highly concentrated in bonds and debt instruments (more than 95 percent of transactions).  The number of total transactions in 2021 was around 28 percent of GDP.

From 2008-2019, the financial markets experienced high liquidity, which led to historically low interest rates.  However, liquidity has been more limited in recent years, and there are some pressures to increase interest rates.  The Bolivian financial system is not well integrated with the international system and there is only one foreign bank among the top ten banks of Bolivia.

In October 2012, Bolivia returned to global credit markets for the first time in nearly a century.  In 2017, Bolivia sold USD 1 billion at 4.5 percent for ten years, with U.S. financial institutions managing the deal.  The resources gained from the sales were largely used to finance infrastructure projects. A sovereign bond issuance of up to $2 billion was approved by the National Assembly for 2022 but had not yet occurred as of April 2022. The Bolivian government’s attempt to refinance $2 billion in sovereign debt in February 2022 fell short, with only $850 million sold. The government had also hoped the new issuance would be for a 10-year term but had to settle for eight years (a 2030 maturity) for all the resold bonds. The interest rate for the new bonds is 7.5%, compared to interest rates of approximately 5% for the original bonds.

The government and central bank respect their obligations under IMF Article VIII, as the exchange system is free of restrictions on payments and transfers for international transactions.

Foreign investors legally established in Bolivia can get credits on the local market.  However, due to the size of the market, large credits are rare and may require operations involving several banks.  Credit access through other financial instruments is limited to bond issuances in the capital market.  The 2013 Financial Services Law directs credit towards the productive sectors and caps interest rates.

The Bolivian banking system is small, composed of 16 consumer banks, six banks specialized in mortgage lending, three private financial funds, 30 savings and credit cooperatives, and eight institutions specialized in microcredit.  Of the total number of personal deposits made in Bolivia through December 2021 (USD 30 billion), the banking sector accounted for 80 percent of the total financial system.  Similarly, of the total loans and credits made to private individuals (USD 29 billion) through December 2021, 80 percent were made by the banking sector, while private financial funds and the savings and credit cooperatives accounted for the other 20 percent.

Bolivian banks have developed the capacity to adjudicate credit risk and evaluate expected rates of return in line with international norms.  The banking sector was stable and healthy with delinquency rates at 1.6 percent in 2021. In 2021, delinquency rates rose after the government permitted clients to defer bank loan payments until June 2021 and to reprogram their debt through 2022 without penalty as a mitigating measure for the COVID-19 pandemic. While delinquency rates remain relatively low, there are concerns this measure could potentially harm the banking sector’s stability.

In 2013, a new Financial Services Law entered into force.  This new law enacted major changes to the banking sector, including deposit rate floors and lending rate ceilings, mandatory lending allocations to certain sectors of the economy and an upgrade of banks’ solvency requirements in line with the international Basel standards.  The law also requires banks to spend more on improving consumer protection, as well as providing increased access to financing in rural parts of the country.

Credit is now allocated on government-established rates for productive activities, but foreign investors may find it difficult to qualify for loans from local banks due to the requirement that domestic loans be issued exclusively against domestic collateral.  Since commercial credit is generally extended on a short-term basis, most foreign investors prefer to obtain credit abroad.  Most Bolivian borrowers are small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

In 2007, the government created a Productive Development Bank to boost the production of small, medium-sized, and family-run businesses.  The bank was created to provide loans to credit institutions which meet specific development conditions and goals, for example by giving out loans to farmers, small businesses, and other development focused investors.  The loans are long term and have lower interest rates than private banks can offer to allow for growth of investments and poverty reduction.

In September 2010, the Bolivian government bought the local private bank Banco Union as part of a plan to gain partial control of the financial sector.  Banco Union is one of the largest banks, with a share of 10.8 percent of total national credits and 12.7 percent of the total deposits; one of its principal activities is managing public sector accounts.  Bolivian government ownership of Banco Union was illegal until December 2012, when the government enacted the State Bank Law, allowing for state participation in the banking sector.

There is no strong evidence of “cross-shareholding” and “stable-shareholding” arrangements used by private firms to restrict foreign investment, and the 2009 Constitution forbids monopolies and supports antitrust measures.  In addition, there is no evidence of hostile takeovers (other than government nationalizations that took place from 2006-14).

The financial sector is regulated by ASFI (Supervising Authority of Financial Institutions), a decentralized institution that is under the Ministry of Economy.  The Central Bank of Bolivia (BCB) oversees all financial institutions, provides liquidity when necessary, and acts as lender of last resort.  The BCB is the only monetary authority and oversees managing the payment system, international reserves, and the exchange rate.

Foreigners can establish bank accounts only with residency status in Bolivia.

Blockchain technologies in Bolivia are still in the early stages.  Currently, the banking sector is analyzing blockchain technologies and the sector intends to propose a regulatory framework in coordination with ASFI in the future.

Three different settlement mechanisms are available in Bolivia: (1) the high-value payment system administered by the Central Bank for inter-bank operations; (2) a system of low value payments utilizing checks and credit and debit cards administered by the local association of private banks (ASOBAN); and (3) the deferred settlement payment system designed for small financial institutions such as credit cooperatives.  This mechanism is also administered by the Central Bank.

Neither the Bolivian government nor any government-affiliated entity maintains a sovereign wealth fund.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

3. Legal Regime

The government has adequate laws to foster competition; however, due to corruption, laws are often not implemented transparently or efficiently. Additionally, political dysfunction results in lengthy delays in adapting and/or updating regulations necessary to implement legislation. The multitude of state, entity, cantonal (in the Federation only), and municipal administrations – each with the power to establish laws and/or regulations affecting business – creates a heavily bureaucratic, non-transparent system. Ministries and/or regulatory agencies are not typically obligated to publish the text of proposed regulations before they are enacted. Some local and international companies have expressed frustration with generally limited opportunities to provide input and influence/improve draft legislation that impacts the business community.

Foreign investors have criticized government and public procurement tenders for a lack of openness and transparency. Dispute resolution is also challenging as the judicial system moves slowly, often does not adhere to existing deadlines, and provides no recourse if the company in question re-registers under a different name.

In an effort to promote the growth of business in its entity, the Republika Srpska government created a RS one-stop-shop for business registration in 2013. This institution centralizes the process of registering a business, ostensibly making it easier, faster, and cheaper for new business owners to register their companies in the RS. The Federation’s announced plans to establish a one-stop-shop have long been delayed.

Businesses are subject to inspections from a number of entity and cantonal/municipal agencies, including the financial police, labor inspectorate, market inspectorate, sanitary inspectorate, health inspectorate, fire-fighting inspectorate, environmental inspectorate, institution for the protection of cultural monuments, tourism and food inspectorate, construction inspectorate, communal inspectorate, and veterinary inspectorate. Some investors have complained about non-transparent fees levied during inspections, changing rules and regulations, and an ineffective appeals process to protest these fines.

BiH is not a part of the EU, the WTO, nor a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).

BiH has an overloaded court system and it often takes many years for a case to be brought to trial. Moreover, commercial cases with subject matter that judges do not have experience adjudicating, such as intellectual property rights, are often left unresolved for lengthy periods of time. Most judges have little to no in-depth knowledge of adjudicating international commercial disputes and require training on applicable international treaties and laws. Regulations or enforcement actions can be appealed, and appeals are adjudicated in the national court system.

The U.S. government has provided training to judges, trustees, attorneys, and other stakeholders at the state and entity levels to assist in the development of bankruptcy and intellectual property laws. Those laws are now in effect at both the entity and state levels, but have not been fully implemented.

The state-level Law on the Policy of Foreign Direct Investment accords foreign investors the same rights as domestic investors and guarantees foreign investors national treatment, protection against nationalization/expropriation, and the right to dispose of profits and transfer funds. In practice, most business sectors in Bosnia and Herzegovina are fully open to foreign equity ownership. Notable exceptions to this general rule are select strategic sectors, such as defense; electric power transmission, which is closed to foreign investment; and some areas of publishing and media, where foreign ownership is restricted to 49 percent (see below). However, the sub-national governments — Federation of BiH, Republika Srpska — may decide to exempt companies from these restrictions.

According to legal amendments adopted in March 2015, foreign investors can own more than 49 percent of capital business entities dealing with media activities, such as publishing newspapers, magazines and other journals, publishing of periodical publications, production and distribution of television programs, privately owned broadcasting of radio and TV programs, and other forms of daily or periodic publications. The 2015 law maintains the restriction that foreign investors cannot own more than 49 percent of public television and radio services. It also sets conditions to enhance legal security and clarity for foreign direct investment flows. The Foreign Investment Promotion Agency maintains a list of laws relevant to investors on its website:

http://www.fipa.gov.ba/publikacije_materijali/zakoni/default.aspx?id=317&langTag=en-US 

The complex legal environment in BiH underscores the utility of local legal representation for foreign investors. Attorneys in BiH have limited experience with respect to legal questions and the issues that arise in a market-oriented economy. However, local lawyers are quickly gaining experience in working with international organizations and companies operating in BiH. Companies’ in-house legal counsel should be prepared to oversee their in-country counsel, with explicit explanations and directions regarding objectives. The U.S. Embassy maintains a list of local lawyers willing to represent U.S. citizens and companies in BiH. The list can be accessed at https://ba.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/attorneys/

BiH has a Competition Council, designed to be an independent public institution to enforce anti-trust laws, prevent monopolies, and enhance private sector competition. The Council reviews and approves foreign investments in cases of mergers and acquisitions of local companies by foreign companies. The Competition Council consists of six members appointed for six-year terms of office with the possibility of one reappointment. The BiH Council of Ministers appoints three Competition Council members, the Federation Government appoints two members, and the RS Government appoints one member. From the six-member Competition Council, the BiH Council of Ministers affirms a president of the Council for a one-year term without the possibility of reappointment.

BiH investment law forbids expropriation of investments, except in the public interest. According to Article 16, “Foreign investment shall not be subject to any act of nationalization, expropriation, requisition, or measures that have similar effects, except where the public interest may require otherwise.” In such cases of public interest, expropriation of investments would be executed in accordance with applicable laws and regulations, be free from discrimination, and include payment of appropriate compensation. Neither the entity governments nor the state government have expropriated any foreign investments to date.

Both the Federation and Republika Srpska entities have Laws on Bankruptcy. However, bankruptcy proceedings are not resolved in a timely manner, and there is insufficient emphasis placed on companies’ rehabilitation and/or reorganization. The entities’ laws define the rights of creditors, equity shareholders, and holders of other financial contracts. Foreign contract holders enjoy the same rights as local contract holders. Bankruptcy is not criminalized. The U.S. government provided recent training to judges on international bankruptcy principles.

6. Financial Sector

Capital markets remain underdeveloped in BiH. Both entities have created their own modern stock market infrastructure with separate stock exchanges in Sarajevo (SASE) and Banja Luka (BLSE), both of which started trading in 2002. The small size of the markets, lack of privatization, weak shareholder protection, and public mistrust of previous privatization programs has impeded the development of the capital market.

Both the RS and Federation issued government securities for the first time during 2011, as part of their plans to raise capital in support of their budget deficits during this period of economic stress. Both entity governments continue to issue government securities in order to fill budget gaps. These securities are also available for secondary market trading on the stock exchanges.

In February 2022, the international rating agency Standard and Poor’s (S&P) affirmed the credit rating of Bosnia and Herzegovina as “B” with a stable outlook. The agency stated that “the stable outlook balances the risks stemming from BiH’s complex and confrontational political dynamics over the next 12 months against some comparatively strong economic fundamentals, such as contained net general government debt, an improving external position, and a resilient banking sector. The outlook is based on the expectation that the ongoing political crisis between RS on one side and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) and the central government on the other will ultimately deescalate, with RS remaining in BiH on largely the same terms as previously. The ratings on BiH are supported by the modest level and favorable structure of public debt.”

The banking and financial system has been stable with the most significant investments coming from Austria.  As of March 2022, there are 20 commercial banks operating in BiH: 13 with headquarters in the Federation and 7 in the Republika Srpska.  Twenty-one commercial banks are members of a deposit insurance program, which provides for deposit insurance of KM 50,000 (USD 28,000). The banking sector is divided between the two entities, with entity banking agencies responsible for banking supervision. The BiH Central Bank maintains monetary stability through its currency board arrangement and supports and maintains payment and settlement systems. It also coordinates the activities of the entity Banking Agencies, which are in charge of bank licensing and supervision. Reforms of the banking sector, mandated by the IMF and performed in conjunction with the IMF and World Bank, are in progress.

BiH passed a state-level framework law in 2010 mandating the use of international accounting standards, and both entities passed legislation that eliminated differences in standards between the entities and Brčko District.  All governments have implemented accounting practices that are fully in line with international norms.

BiH does not have a government-affiliated Sovereign Wealth Fund.

Botswana

3. Legal Regime 

Bureaucratic procedures necessary to start and maintain a business tend to be transparent, though slow, and regulatory procedures can be cumbersome to navigate.  In 2018, Botswana launched a Regulatory Impact Assessment Strategy to improve the regulatory environment, ensure legislation is necessary and cost effective, reduce administrative burdens imposed by the regulatory environment to businesses, and to improve transparency, consultation, and government accountability.  Most complaints by foreign investors are about the inefficiency and/or unresponsiveness of mid- and low-level government bureaucrats.  The GoB has introduced a Performance Management System to improve the service and accountability of its employees.  Additionally, President Masisi presented a Reset Agenda in May 2021 and one of its priorities is to align government’s machinery to the presidential agenda.  This will ensure transformation and improved service delivery in the public service by bringing significant reforms in all public institutions.  Unfair business practices or conduct can be reported to the Competition Authority, which seeks to level the playing field for all business operators and foster a conducive environment for business.  The GoB does not require companies’ environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosure to facilitate transparency and/or help investors and consumers to distinguish between high- and low-quality investments.  However, Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) are a requirement and taken very seriously when undertaking infrastructural developments projects.  Bills in Botswana, including investment laws, go through a public consultation process and are available for public comment.  Bills are also debated in Parliament sessions that are open to the public.

The Companies Act of 2004 requires all companies registered in Botswana to prepare annual financial statements on the basis of generally accepted accounting principles.  It further requires every public company, including non-exempt private companies, to prepare their Financial Statement in accordance with the International Financial Reporting Standards.

The GoB’s procuring entity, Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB) has since April 1, 2022, transitioned to a regulatory authority, Public Procurement and Regulatory Authority (PPRA), under a new procurement act.  The new act dictates for all government procurements to be adjudicated and awarded from the relevant procuring ministries/government entities. PPRA will play an oversight role, ensuring that all procurement processes are followed according to the new act.  Further, PPRA will provide necessary and relevant training and capacity building to align the local procurement processes with international best practices.  Prospective government contractors are still required to register with the PPRA.  An independent body from the PPRA known as the Public Procurement Tribunal will be established to adjudicate on any disputes.  The PPRA will use a national eProcurement system which will serve as an electronic end-to-end One Stop information and transaction portal for any public procurement.  Since 2014, PPADB has partnered with the United States Trade and Development Agency’s (USTDA) Global Procurement Initiative in a shared commitment to utilize best-value determination procurement practices and to professionalize procurement.  Through training, USTDA also assisted PPADB’s transition to PPRA.

Online services are available at https://ipms.ppadb.co.bw/login 

The PPRA Act shall from time-to-time call for preferential procurement of citizen-owned contractors for works, service, and supplies.  To be eligible for a specific reservation or preference the contractor is required to attach to the bidding package proof of eligibility from the issuing authority.  Parliament enacted an Economic Inclusion Act to provide for the establishment of the office of the Coordinator of the Economic Empowerment office that will promote the effective participation of targeted citizens in the growth and development of the economy and facilitate enforcement of the economic empowerment initiatives.  Targeted citizen according to this act means a citizen whose access to economic resources has been constrained by various factors as may be prescribed by the minister from time to time.

Health and safety laws, embodied in the Factories Act of 1973, provide basic protection for workers from unsafe working conditions.  Minimum working conditions required on work premises include cleanliness of the premises, adequate ventilation and sanitation, sufficient lighting, and the provision of safety precautions.  Health inspectors and the Botswana Bureau of Standards carry out periodic checks at both new and operating factories.

Botswana is a member of SACU and SADC.  Neither has authority over member state national regulatory systems.  Botswana is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO’s Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Committee.

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary system.  Botswana’s legal system is based on Roman-Dutch law as influenced by English common law.  This type of system exists with legislation, judicial decisions, and local customary law.  The courts enforce commercial contracts, and the judicial system is widely regarded as being fair.  Both foreign and domestic investors have equal access to the judicial system.  Botswana does not have a dedicated commercial court.  The Industrial Court, set up by the Trade Dispute Act of 2004, primarily addresses labor matters.

The GoB is planning to create a corps of commercially specialized judges within the civil court system.  Under the new system, commercial cases will be overseen by these commercial judges to expedite handling and ensure relevant expertise.  Botswana already has a specialized anti-corruption court that handles all corruption cases.

Some U.S. litigants have reported that the time to obtain and enforce a judgment in a commercial dispute is unreasonably long.  The turnaround time for civil cases is approximately two years.  To improve adjudications efficiency, the GoB has established a land tribunal, and industrial, small claims, and corruption courts.  In the past several years, some dockets have improved, but progress has been uneven.

Local laws are accessible through the Botswana Attorney General’s Office website ( www.elaws.gov.bw ).  It can take up to 24 months for a law, once passed, to appear on the website.

Under Botswana’s Company Act, foreigners who wish to operate a business are required to register, as well as obtain, the relevant licenses and permits as prescribed by the Trade Act of 2008.

Licenses are required for a wide spectrum of businesses, including banking, non-bank financial services, transportation, medical services, mining, energy provision, and alcohol sales.  Although amendments to the Trade Act have eliminated the catchall miscellaneous business license category, investors have reported on local authorities insisting a business apply for a license even when it does not fall within the established categories.  In addition, some businesses have observed the enforcement of licenses, as well as the time taken for inspections to comply with licensing requirements, varies widely across local government authorities.

Botswana has anti-trust legislation and policies to ensure appropriate and fair competition in business.  Under the Competition Act, the Competition Authority (CA) monitors mergers and acquisitions.  In 2019, the CA expanded its mandate by taking over the operations of the Consumer Protection Act from MITI and rebranded itself as the Competition and Consumer Authority (CCA).  The CCA’s mandate is to prevent and rectify anti-competitive practices and protect the interests of consumers through the control of unfair business practices.  During the year 2020/2021, the CCA engaged in the Financial Inclusion Program with other stakeholders.  While the aim of the program is to reach out to populations that are excluded from financial services, the CCA’s participation ensures that consumers’ interests are taken into consideration, especially the interests of people in remote areas or with limited education.

On the competition side, the authority ramped up its public outreach using digital platforms and increased its engagement on public platforms, resulting in an increase in the number of complaints lodged online.  The authority handled 41 mergers in 2020/21 financial year, a 26 percent decrease from 56 mergers handled in 2019/20.  The decrease could be attributable to the 18-month COVID-19 related State of Emergency that started in March 2020, under which the authority temporarily suspended receipt of new mergers.  The CCA investigated a total of 25 competition related cases with 15 of them being carried over from the previous financial year, while 10 were new cases and successfully closed off four cases; the remaining 21 cases are under investigation and have been carried over to the 2021/22 financial year.  The CCA is empowered to reject mergers deemed not in the public interest.  CCA interprets this power to mean that it can prohibit mergers that concentrate most shares in the hands of foreign investors.  For consumer complaints, a total of 1,158 cases were lodged in the year under review with most complaints related to motor vehicles, motor parts and services (mostly involving grey imports) at 23.7 percent, followed by cellphones and accessories at 18.7 percent, electronic category at 16.2 percent, furniture complaints at 11.2 percent, and e-commerce transactions at 0.45 percent.  A total of 1,267 of these complaints or 90.3 percent were resolved while 136 of these were still pending at the end of the financial year.  During the 2020/21 financial year, the CCA also carried out a research study on cement as a policy advisory instrument to the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry (MITI) and will use the policy paper to shape the development of a cement sector in Botswana.

Section 8 of Botswana’s Constitution prohibits the nationalization of private property.  The Constitution is currently under review and a committee has been set up to do consultations and gather public opinion across the country.  The GoB has never pursued a forced nationalization policy and is highly unlikely to adopt one.  The Acquisition of Property Act provides a process for any expropriation, including parameters to determine market value and receive compensation.  The 2007 Amendment to the Electricity Supply Act allows the GoB to revoke an Independent Power Producer’s license and confiscate the operations, with compensation, for public interest purposes.

Botswana’s commercial and bankruptcy laws are comprehensive.  Secured and unsecured creditors enjoy similar rights under bankruptcy proceedings as those they would enjoy in the United States.

6. Financial Sector 

The government encourages foreign portfolio investment, although there are limits on foreign ownership in certain sectors.  It also embraces the establishment of new and diverse financial institutions to support increased foreign and domestic investment and to fill existing gaps where finance is not commercially available.  There are nine commercial banks, one merchant bank, one offshore bank, three statutory deposit-taking institutions, and one credit union operating in Botswana.  All have corresponding relationships with U.S. banks.  Additional financial institutions include various pension funds, insurance companies, microfinance institutions, stock brokerage companies, asset management companies, statutory finance institutions, collective investment undertakings, and statutory funds.  Historically, commercial banks have accounted for 93.7 percent of total deposits and 93.5 percent of total loans in Botswana.  Access to banking services measured by the number of depositors on adult population improved from 72 percent in 2019 to 76.6 percent in 2020.  Additionally, banks introduced new products and services that included enhancement of transactional accounts, introduction of cross border payment services, collaborative arrangements with money-transfer service providers to widen the financial inclusion efforts for the unbanked population.

The central bank, the Bank of Botswana, acts as banker and financial advisor to the GoB and is responsible for the management of the country’s foreign exchange reserves, the administration of monetary and exchange rate policies, and the regulation and supervision of financial institutions in the country.  Monetary policy in Botswana is widely regarded as prudent, and the GoB has historically managed to maintain a sensible exchange rate and a stable inflation rate, generally within the target of three to six percent.  But the COVID-19 pandemic pushed inflation to new heights, reaching 10.6 percent in January and February 2022, the highest level on record in over a decade.

Banks may lend to non-resident-controlled companies without seeking approval from the Bank of Botswana.  Foreign investors usually enjoy better access to credit than local firms do.  In July 2014, USAID’s Development Credit Authority (now DFC – U.S. International Development Finance Corporation), in collaboration with ABSA (formerly Barclays Bank of Botswana), implemented a seven-year program to allow small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) to access up to US$ 15 million in loans in an effort to diversify the economy.  So far, the program that was initially scheduled to come to an end in June 2021 is at 83 percent utilization and has been extended to July 2024. To date ABSA has disbursed US$ 12.5 million and has up to June 2023 to disburse the remaining US$ 2.5 million.

At the end of 2020, there were 24 companies on the Domestic Board and eight companies on the Foreign Equities Board of the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE).  In addition, there were 46 listed bonds and three exchange traded funds listed on the Exchange.  The Domestic Company Index (DCI) declined by 8.2 percent in 2020, while it declined by 4.6 percent in 2019, reflecting how the pandemic affected the economy.  According to the BSE 2020 Annual Report, all sectors in the domestic equity board experienced a decline which contributed a negative 8.4 percent points to the DCI’s depreciation of 8.2 percent except for one sector, Retail & Wholesale.  The total market capitalization for listed companies at year-end 2020 was US$ 33.5 billion, with domestic companies’ capitalization standing at US$ 3 billion while foreign companies’ capitalization stood at US$ 30.5 billion.  The Mining and Minerals sector continued to dominate the foreign equity board as it contributed 94.7 percent of the foreign companies’ market capitalization in 2020 and contributed 0.97 percentage points to the Foreign Company Index (FCI) depreciation of 1 percent.  The BSE is still highly illiquid compared to larger African markets and is dominated by mining companies which adds to index volatility.  Laws prohibiting insider trading and securities fraud are clearly stipulated under Section 35 – 37 of the Securities Act, 2014 and charges for contravening these laws are listed under Section 54 of the same Act.

The government has legitimized offshore capital investments and allows foreign investors, individuals and corporate bodies, and companies incorporated in Botswana, to open foreign currency accounts in specified currencies.  The designated currencies are U.S. Dollar, British Pound sterling, Euro, and the South African Rand.  There are no known practices by private firms to restrict foreign investment participation or control in domestic enterprises.  Private firms are not permitted to adopt articles of incorporation or association which limit or prohibit foreign investment, participation, or control.

In general, Botswana exercises careful control over credit expansion, the pula exchange rate, interest rates, and foreign and domestic borrowing.  Banking legislation is largely in line with industry norms for regulation, supervision, and payments.  However, Botswana failed to meet the compliance requirements of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), resulting in a grey listing in October 2018.  Botswana worked to implement the necessary regulatory legislations to address the identified technical compliance deficiencies and was subsequently removed from the FATF grey list in October 2021, and then in February 2022, removed from the EU blacklist of high risk third countries with regard to AML/CFT.  The government continues to work on its regulatory environment to avoid falling back into the grey list.   The Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority (NBFIRA) was established in 2008 and provides regulatory oversight for the non-banking sector.  It extends know-your-customer practices to non-banking financial institutions to help deter money laundering and terrorist financing. NBFIRA is also responsible for regulating the International Financial Services Centre, a hub charged with promoting the financial services industry in Botswana.

The Bank of Botswana maintains a long-term sovereign wealth fund, known as the Pula Fund, in addition to a regular foreign reserve account providing basic import cover.  The Pula Fund was established under the Bank of Botswana Act and forms part of the country’s foreign exchange reserves, which are primarily funded by diamond revenues.  The Pula Fund is wholly invested in foreign currency-denominated assets and is managed by the Bank of Botswana Board with input from recognized international financial management and investment firms.  All realized market and currency gains, or losses are reported in the Bank of Botswana’s income statement.  The Fund has been affected severely by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the GoB making withdrawals to address significant COVID-19-related revenue shortfalls.  As a result, the Pula Fund, which provides long fiscal cushion against economic shocks, is significantly depleted from 20 percent of GDP in 2011 to seven percent of GDP as of mid-2020 – from $1.69 billion to $510 million – a decline of more than 70 percent.  Botswana is a founding member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Fund and was one of the architects of the Santiago Principles in 2008.  More information is available at: https://www.bankofbotswana.bw/sites/default/files/BOTSWANA-PULA-FUND-SANTIAGO-PRINCIPLES.pdf

Brazil

3. Legal Regime

According to the World Bank, it takes approximately 17 days to start a business in Brazil. Brazil is seeking to streamline the process and decrease the amount of time it takes to open a small- or medium-sized enterprise (SME) to only five days through its RedeSimples Program. Similarly, the government has reduced regulatory compliance burdens for SMEs through the continued use of the SIMPLES program, which simplifies the collection of up to eight federal, state, and municipal-level taxes into one single payment. The Doing Business law (14.195/2021) included provisions to streamline the process, such as unifying federal, state and municipal registrations and eliminating requirements such as address analysis and pre-checking business names.

In 2020, the World Bank noted that Brazil’s lowest-ranked component in its Ease of Doing Business score was the annual administrative burden for a medium-sized business to comply with Brazilian tax codes with an average of 1,501 hours per year, a significant improvement from 2019’s 1,958 hour average but still much higher than the 160.7 hour average of OECD high-income countries. The total tax rate for a medium-sized business in Brazil is 65.1 percent of profits, compared to the average of 40.1 percent in OECD high-income countries. Business managers often complain of not being able to understand complex and sometimes contradictory tax regulations, despite having large local tax and accounting departments in their companies.

Tax regulations, while burdensome and numerous, do not generally differentiate between foreign and domestic firms. However, some investors complain that in certain instances the processing of rebates for exported goods of the value-added tax collected by individual states (ICMS) favors local companies. Exporters in many states report difficulty receiving their ICMS rebates when their goods are exported. Taxes on commercial and financial transactions are particularly burdensome, and businesses complain that these taxes hinder the international competitiveness of Brazilian-made products.

Of Brazil’s ten federal regulatory agencies, the most prominent include:

  1. ANVISA, the Brazilian counterpart to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has regulatory authority over the production and marketing of food, drugs, and medical devices
  2. ANATEL, the country’s telecommunications regulatory agency, which handles telecommunications as well as the licensing and assigning of radio spectrum bandwidth (the Brazilian FCC counterpart)
  3. ANP, the National Petroleum Agency, which regulates oil and gas contracts and oversees auctions for oil and natural gas exploration and production
  4. ANAC, Brazil’s civil aviation agency
  5. IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental licensing and enforcement agency
  6. ANEEL, Brazil’s electricity regulator that regulates Brazil’s power sector and oversees auctions for electricity transmission, generation, and distribution contracts

In addition to these federal regulatory agencies, Brazil has dozens of state- and municipal-level regulatory agencies.

The United States and Brazil conduct regular discussions on customs and trade facilitation, good regulatory practices, standards and conformity assessment, digital issues, and intellectual property protection. Discussions in all these areas occurred during the 19th plenary of the Commercial Dialogue which took place virtually in October 2021, and continue through ongoing regular exchanges at the working level between the U.S. Department of Commerce, Brazil’s Ministry of Economy, and other agencies and regulators throughout the year.

Regulatory agencies complete Regulatory Impact Analyses (RIAs) on a voluntary basis. The Brazilian congress passed Law 13.848 in June 2019 on Governance and Accountability (PLS 52/2013 in the Senate, and PL 6621/2016 in the Chamber). Among other provisions, the law makes RIAs mandatory for regulations that affect “the general interest.”

The Chamber of Deputies, the Federal Senate, and the Office of the Presidency maintain websites providing public access to both approved and proposed federal legislation. Brazil is seeking to improve its public comment and stakeholder input process. In 2004, the GoB opened an online “Transparency Portal” with data on funds transferred to and from federal, state, and city governments, as well as to and from foreign countries. It also includes information on civil servant salaries.

In December 2021, Brazil’s Securities and Exchange Commision (CMV) issued Resolution 59/2021, establishing the first transparency mechanism for environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) practices in the country. The goal of the change was to provide more comprehensive information to potential investors, therefore allowing the market environment to drive changes in business behavior. According to the resolution, starting in January 2023, listed companies will be required to inform the CVM whether they disclose information on ESG indicators and provide details on their reports, such as existence of independent audits, which indicators were used, and if UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been considered. The new requirement will also include questions regarding the companies’ consideration of the Task Force on Climate Change-Related Financial Disclosures or other recognized entities’ recommendations, the existence of a gas emission inventory, and the role of management bodies in assessing climate-related risks. Regarding diversity issues, companies will be required to disclose information showing the diversity of the body of administrators and employees as well as salary disparities between executives and staff.

In 2022, the Department of State concluded in its annual 2021 Fiscal Transparency Report that Brazil had met minimum fiscal transparency requirements. The International Budget Partnership’s Open Budget Index ranked Brazil slightly ahead of the United States in terms of budget transparency in its most recent (2019) index. The Brazilian government demonstrates adequate fiscal transparency in managing its federal accounts, although there is room for improvement in terms of completeness of federal budget documentation. Brazil’s budget documents are publicly available, widely accessible, and sufficiently detailed. They provide a relatively full picture of the GoB’s planned expenditures and revenue streams. The information in publicly available budget documents is considered credible and reasonably accurate.

Brazil is a member of Mercosul – a South American trade bloc whose full members include Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Brazil routinely implements Mercosul common regulations.

Brazil is a member of the WTO and the government regularly notifies draft technical regulations, such as potential agricultural trade barriers, to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).

Brazil has a civil legal system with state and federal courts. Investors can seek to enforce contracts through the court system or via mediation, although both processes can be lengthy. The Brazilian Superior Court of Justice (STJ) must accept foreign contract enforcement rulings for the rulings to be considered valid in Brazil. Among other considerations, the foreign judgment must not contradict any prior decisions by a Brazilian court in the same dispute. The Brazilian Civil Code regulates commercial disputes, although commercial cases involving maritime law follow an older Commercial Code which has been otherwise largely superseded. Federal judges hear most disputes in which one of the parties is the Brazilian State, and also, rule on lawsuits between a foreign state or international organization and a municipality or a person residing in Brazil.

The judicial system is generally independent. The Supreme Federal Court (STF), charged with constitutional cases, frequently rules on politically sensitive issues. State court judges and federal level judges below the STF are career officials selected through a meritocratic examination process. The judicial system is backlogged, and disputes or trials frequently take several years to arrive at a final resolution, including all available appeals. Regulations and enforcement actions can be litigated in the court system, which contains mechanisms for appeal depending upon the level at which the case is filed. The STF is the ultimate court of appeal on constitutional grounds; the STJ is the ultimate court of appeal for cases not involving constitutional issues.

In 2019, Brazil established a “one-stop shop” for international investors. The one-stop shop, the Direct Investments Ombudsman (DIO), is a ‘single window’ for investors provided by the Executive Secretariat of CAMEX. It is responsible for receiving requests and inquiries about investments, to be answered jointly with the public agency responsible for the matter (at the federal, state and municipal levels) involved in each case (the Network of Focal Points). This new structure allows for supporting the investor via a single governmental body in charge of responding to investor requests within a short time. Private investors have noted the single window is better than the previous system, but does not yet provide all the services of a true “one-stop shop” to facilitate international investment. The DIO’s website in English is: http://oid.economia.gov.br/en/menus/8  

The Administrative Council for Economic Defense (CADE), which falls under the purview of the Ministry of Justice, is responsible for enforcing competition laws, consumer protection, and carrying out regulatory reviews of proposed mergers and acquisitions. CADE was reorganized in 2011 through Law 12529, combining the antitrust functions of the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Finance. The law brought Brazil in line with U.S. and European merger review practices and allows CADE to perform pre-merger reviews, in contrast to the prior legal framework that directed the government to review mergers after they had already been completed. In October 2012, CADE performed Brazil’s first pre-merger review.

In 2021, CADE conducted 611 total formal investigations. It approved 165 merger and/or acquisition requests and did not reject any requests.

Article 5 of the Brazilian Constitution assures property rights of both Brazilians and foreigners that own property in Brazil. The Constitution does not address nationalization or expropriation. Decree-Law 3365 allows the government to exercise eminent domain under certain criteria that include, but are not limited to, national security, public transportation, safety, health, and urbanization projects. In cases of eminent domain, the government compensates owners at fair market value.

There are no signs that the current federal government is contemplating expropriation actions in Brazil against foreign interests. Brazilian courts have previously ruled in U.S. citizens’ favor for some claims regarding state-level land expropriations. However, as states have filed appeals of these decisions, the compensation process for foreign entities can be lengthy and have uncertain final outcomes.

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

In 2002, Brazil ratified the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitration Awards. Brazil is not a member of the World Bank’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). Brazil joined the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) in 2010, and its membership will expire in 2022.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Article 34 of the 1996 Brazilian Arbitration Act (Law 9307) defines a foreign arbitration judgment as any judgment rendered outside of the national territory. The law established that the Superior Court of Justice (STJ) must ratify foreign arbitration awards. Law 9307, updated by Law 13129/2015, also stipulates that a foreign arbitration award will be recognized or executed in Brazil in conformity with the international agreements ratified by the country and, in their absence, with domestic law. A 2001 Brazilian Supreme Federal Court (STF) ruling established that the 1996 Brazilian Arbitration Act, permitting international arbitration subject to STJ ratification of arbitration decisions, does not violate the federal constitution’s provision that “the law shall not exclude any injury or threat to a right from the consideration of the Judicial Power.”

Contract disputes in Brazil can be lengthy and complex. Brazil has both a federal and a state court system, and jurisprudence is based on civil code and contract law. Federal judges hear most disputes in which one of the parties is the State and rule on lawsuits between a foreign State or international organization and a municipality or a person residing in Brazil. Five regional federal courts hear appeals of federal judges’ decisions.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Brazil ratified the 1975 Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (Panama Convention) and the 1979 Inter-American Convention on Extraterritorial Validity of Foreign Judgments and Arbitration Awards (Montevideo Convention). Law 9307/1996 amplifies Brazilian law on arbitration and provides guidance on governing principles and rights of participating parties. Brazil developed a new Cooperation and Facilitation Investment Agreement (CFIA) model in 2015 (https://concordia.itamaraty.gov.br/  ), but it does not include ISDS mechanisms. (See sections on bilateral investment agreements and responsible business conduct.)

Brazil’s commercial code governs most aspects of commercial association, while the civil code governs professional services corporations. In December 2020, Brazil approved a new bankruptcy law (Law 14.112) which largely models the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration and addresses criticisms that its previous bankruptcy legislation favored holders of equity over holders of debt. The new law facilitates the judicial and extrajudicial resolution process between debtors and creditors and accelerates reorganization and liquidation processes. Both debtors and creditors are allowed to provide reorganization plans that would eliminate non-performing activities and sell-off assets, thus avoiding bankruptcy. The new law also establishes a framework for cross-border insolvencies that recognizes legal proceedings outside of Brazil.

6. Financial Sector

The Brazil Central Bank (BCB) in October 2016 implemented a sustained monetary easing cycle, lowering the Special Settlement and Custody System (Selic) baseline reference rate from a high of 14 percent in October 2016 to a record-low 2 percent by the end of 2020. The downward trend was reversed by an increase to 2.75 percent in March 2021 and reached 10.75 percent in February 2022. Brazil’s banking sector projects that the Selic will reach 12.25 percent by the end of 2022. Inflation for 2021 ended at an annualized 10.06 percent, above the target of 4 percent plus/minus 1.5 percent. The BCB’s Monetary Policy Committee (COPOM) set the BCB’s inflation target at 3.5 percent for 2022 and .25 percent in 2023 (plus/minus 1.5 percent), but as of February 2022 the BCB estimates that inflation will reach 5.4 percent in 2022, above the target again. As of mid-March 2022, Brazil’s annual inflation rate is at 10.75 percent. Brazil’s muddled fiscal policy and heavy public debt burden factor into most analysts’ forecasts that the “neutral” policy rate will remain higher than target rates among Brazil’s emerging-market peers (around five percent) over the reporting period.

According to the BCB, in 2021 the ratio of public debt to GDP reached 81.1 percent, compared to a record 89.4 percent in 2020. Analysts project that the debt/GDP ratio may rise to around 85 percent by the end of 2023.

The role of the state in credit markets grew steadily beginning in 2008, but showed a reduction in 2020 due to the pandemic. As of January 2022, public banks accounted for about 50 percent of total loans to the private sector (compared to 48.9 percent in 2018). Directed lending (that is, to meet mandated sectoral targets) also rose, and accounts for almost half of total lending. Brazil is paring back public bank lending and trying to expand a market for long-term private capital.

While local private sector banks are beginning to offer longer credit terms, state-owned development bank BNDES is a traditional source of long-term credit in Brazil. BNDES also offers export financing. Approvals of new financing by BNDES decreased 4 percent in 2021 from 2020, with the infrastructure sector receiving the majority of new capital.

The sole stock market in Brazil is B3 (Brasil, Bolsa, Balcão), created through the 2008 merger of the São Paulo Stock Exchange (Bovespa) with the Brazilian Mercantile & Futures Exchange (BM&F), forming the fourth-largest exchange in the Western hemisphere, after the NYSE, NASDAQ, and Canadian TSX Group exchanges. In 2020, there were 463 companies traded on the B3 exchange. The B3’s broadest index, the Ibovespa, decreased 11.93 percent in valuation during 2021, due to economic uncertainties related to rising and persistent inflation, particularly in the second half of the year. Foreign investors, both institutional and individuals, can directly invest in equities, securities, and derivatives; however, they are limited to trading those investments only on established markets.

Wholly-owned subsidiaries of multinational accounting firms, including the major U.S. firms, are present in Brazil. Auditors are personally liable for the accuracy of accounting statements prepared for banks.

The Brazilian financial sector is large and sophisticated. Banks lend at market rates that remain relatively high compared to other emerging economies. Reasons cited by industry observers include high taxation, repayment risk, concern over inconsistent judicial enforcement of contracts, high mandatory reserve requirements, and administrative overhead, as well as persistently high real (net of inflation) interest rates. According to BCB data collected for 2020, the average rate offered by Brazilian banks to non-financial corporations was 11.7 percent.

The banking sector in Brazil is highly concentrated, with BCB data indicating that the five largest commercial banks (excluding brokerages) account for approximately 82 percent of the commercial banking credit market totaling $800 billion by the end of 2020. Three of the five largest banks by assets in the country, Banco do Brasil, Caixa Econômica Federal, and BNDES, are partially or completely federally-owned. Large private banking institutions focus their lending on Brazil’s largest firms, while small- and medium-sized banks primarily serve small- and medium-sized companies. Citibank sold its consumer business to Itaú Bank in 2016, but maintains its commercial banking interests in Brazil. It is currently the only U.S. bank operating in the country. Increasing competitiveness in the financial sector, including in the emerging fintech space, is a vital part of the Brazilian government’s strategy to improve access to and the affordability of financial services in Brazil.

On November 16, 2020, the BCB launched its instant payment system called “PIX”. PIX is a 24/7 system that offers transfers of any value for people-people (P2P), people-business (P2B), business-people (B2P), business-business (B2B), and government-government (G2G). Brazilian customers in 2021 overwhelmingly embraced PIX, particularly for P2P transfers (which are free), replacing both cash payments and legacy bank electronic transfers which charged relatively high fees and could only take place during business hours.

In February 2021, the BCB implemented the first two of four phases of its Open Banking Initiative in an effort to open Brazil’s insulated banking system dominated by relatively few players. The first phase required Brazilian financial institutions to facilitate digitized access to their customer service channels, products, and services related to demand deposit or savings accounts, payment accounts, and credit operations. The second phase of the initiative expanded sharing customer data across a widening scope of bank products including loans. The other two phases, which are scheduled to go into effect in 2022, seek to include sharing customer data on foreign exchange, investments, and pension funds. The BCB expects that increased access to customer information will allow other financial institutions, including competitor banks and fintechs, to offer better and cheaper banking services to incumbent banks’ clients, thereby breaking up the dominance of the six large, incumbent banking institutions.

In recent years, the BCB has strengthened bank audits, implemented more stringent internal control requirements, and tightened capital adequacy rules to reflect risk more accurately. It also established loan classification and provisioning requirements. These measures apply to private and publicly owned banks alike. In December 2020, Moody’s upgraded a collection of 28 Brazilian banks and their affiliates to stable from negative after the agency had lowered the outlook on the Brazilian system in April 2020 due to economic difficulties. As of March 2021, the rating remained as stable. The Brazilian Securities Commission (CVM) independently regulates the stock exchanges, brokers, distributors, pension funds, mutual funds, and leasing companies, assessing penalties in instances of insider trading.

To open an account with a Brazilian bank, foreign account holders must present a permanent or temporary resident visa, a national tax identification number (CPF) issued by the Brazilian government, either a valid passport or identity card for foreigners (CIE), proof of domicile, and proof of income. On average, this process from application to account opening can take more than three months.

Foreign Exchange

Brazil’s foreign exchange market remains small. The latest Triennial Survey by the Bank for International Settlements conducted in December 2019 showed that the net daily turnover on Brazil’s market for OTC foreign exchange transactions (spot transactions, outright forwards, foreign-exchange swaps, currency swaps, and currency options) was $18.8 billion, down from $19.7 billion in 2016. This was equivalent to around 0.22 percent of the global market in 2019, down from 0.3 percent in 2016.

On December 29, 2021, Brazil approved a new Foreign Exchange Regulatory framework, to go into effect in December 2022, which replaces more than 40 separate regulations with a single law and eases foreign investments in the Brazilian market incentivizing increased foreign investment and assisting Brazilian businesses in integrating into global value chains. The new law aims to streamline currency exchange operations and authorizes more enterprises, including fintechs and small businesses, to conduct operations in foreign currencies bypassing retail banks and increasing their competitiveness. In addition, the law expands the list of qualifying activities transacted in foreign-currency denominated accounts (previously restricted only to import/export firms and for loans in which the debtor or creditor was based outside Brazil).

Brazil’s banking system has adequate capitalization and has traditionally been highly profitable, reflecting high interest rate spreads and fees. According to an October 2021 Central Bank Financial Stability Report, the banking system remains solid, with growing capitalization indices, and continues to rebuild its capital base. All institutions are able to meet the minimum prudential requirements, and solvency does not pose a risk to financial stability. Stress testing demonstrated that the banking system has adequate loss-absorption capacity in all simulated scenarios.

There are few restrictions on converting or transferring funds associated with a foreign investment in Brazil. Foreign investors may freely convert Brazilian currency in the unified foreign exchange market, where buy-sell rates are determined by market forces. All foreign exchange transactions, including identifying data, must be reported to the BCB. Foreign exchange transactions on the current account are fully liberalized.

The BCB must approve all incoming foreign loans. In most cases, loans are automatically approved unless loan costs are determined to be “incompatible with normal market conditions and practices.” In such cases, the BCB may request additional information regarding the transaction. Loans obtained abroad do not require advance approval by the BCB, provided the Brazilian recipient is not a government entity. Loans to government entities require prior approval from the Brazilian senate as well as from the Economic Ministry’s Treasury Secretariat, and must be registered with the BCB.

Interest and amortization payments specified in a loan contract can be made without additional approval from the BCB. Early payments can also be made without additional approvals if the contract includes a provision for them. Otherwise, early payment requires notification to the BCB to ensure accurate records of Brazil’s stock of debt.

Remittance Policies

Brazilian Federal Revenue Service regulates withholding taxes (IRRF) applicable to earnings and capital gains realized by individuals and legal entities residing or domiciled outside Brazil. Upon registering investments with the BCB, foreign investors are able to remit dividends, capital (including capital gains), and, if applicable, royalties. Investors must register remittances with the BCB. Dividends cannot exceed corporate profits. Investors may carry out remittance transactions at any bank by documenting the source of the transaction (evidence of profit or sale of assets) and showing payment of applicable taxes.

Under Law 13.259/2016 passed in March 2016, capital gain remittances are subject to a 15 to 22.5 percent income withholding tax, with the exception of capital gains and interest payments on tax-exempt domestically issued Brazilian bonds. The capital gains marginal tax rates are 15 percent for up to $1,000,000 in gains; 17.5 percent for $1,000,000 to $10,000,000 in gains; 20 percent for $10,000,000 to $60,000,000 in gains; and 22.5 percent for more than $60,000,000 in gains.

Repatriation of a foreign investor’s initial investment is also exempt from income tax under Law 4131/1962. Lease payments are assessed a 15 percent withholding tax. Remittances related to technology transfers are not subject to the tax on credit, foreign exchange, and insurance, although they are subject to a 15 percent withholding tax and an extra 10 percent Contribution for Intervening in Economic Domain (CIDE) tax.

Brazil had a sovereign fund from 2008 – 2018, when it was abolished, and the money was used to repay foreign debt.

Brunei

3. Legal Regime

Brunei’s regulatory system has limited transparency, particularly in lawmaking processesand impact assessments. Each ministry is responsible for coordinating with the Attorney General’s Chambers to draft proposed legislation. Legislation does not receive broad review and little input is provided from outside of the originating ministry. The sultan has final authority to approve proposed legislation. Laws and regulations are readily accessible on the Attorney General’s Chambers website .

Brunei encourages environment, social, and governance (ESG) disclosure but does not mandate it.

Brunei is an active member of ASEAN, through which it has concluded FTAs with Australia & New Zealand, China, India, Japan and South Korea. Brunei became a WTO member in 1995 and a signatory to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1993.

Brunei’s constitution does not specifically provide for judicial independence, but in practice the court system operates without government interference. Brunei’s legal system includes two parallel systems: one based on common law and the other based on Islamic law. The common law judicial system is presided over by the Supreme Court, which comprises the Court of Appeal and the High Court.

Recognizing the importance of protecting investors’ rights and contract enforcement, Brunei established a Commercial Court in 2016.

In 2014, Brunei implemented the first phase of its Sharia Penal Code (SPC), which expanded existing restrictions on minor offenses—such as eating during Ramadan—that are punishable by fines or imprisonment. On April 3, 2019 Brunei commenced full implementation of the SPC, introducing the possibility of harsher punishments such as stoning to death for rape, adultery, or sodomy, and execution for apostasy, contempt of the Prophet Muhammad, or insult of the Quran. However, these forms of punishment require higher standards of proof than the common-law-based penal code (for example, four pious men must personally witness an act of fornication to support a sharia-based harsh sentence), placing them under a de facto moratorium. The sultan confirmed the moratorium in a 2019 public statement.

The basic legislation on investment includes the Investment Incentive Order 2001 and the Income Tax (As Amended) Order 2001. Investment Order 2001 supports economic development in strategically important industrial and economic enterprises and, through the Ministry of Finance and Economy, offers investment incentives through a favorable tax regime. Although Brunei does not have a stock exchange, the government is reportedly planning to establish a securities market.

Foreign ownership of companies is not restricted, although under the Companies Act, at least one of two directors of a locally incorporated company must be a resident of Brunei, unless granted an exemption from the appropriate authorities.

Brunei’s Competition Order, published in 2015 to promote and maintain fair and healthy competition to enhance market efficiency and consumer welfare, entered into force on January 1, 2020. The sultan also announced the establishment of the Competition Commission in 2017 to oversee and act on competition issues that include adjudicating anti-competitive cases and imposing penalties on companies that violate the Competition Order.

Brunei is a signatory to the 1987 ASEAN Agreement for the Promotion and Protection of Investments. There is no history of expropriation of foreign owned property in Brunei, but there have been cases of domestically owned private property being expropriated for infrastructure development. The government provided compensation in such cases and claimants were afforded due process.

In 2012, amendments to Brunei’s Bankruptcy Act increased the minimum threshold for a creditor to present a bankruptcy petition against a debtor from BND 500 to BND 10,000 (USD350 to USD7,060) and enabled an appointed bankruptcy trustee to direct the Controller of Immigration to impound and retain the debtor’s passport, certificate of identity, or travel document to prevent the debtor from leaving the country. The amendment also requires the debtor to deliver all property under the debtor’s possession to the trustee. Information about Brunei’s bankruptcy laws is available on the judiciary’s website .

6. Financial Sector

In March 2021, the Minister of Finance and Economy II renewed its annual budget of USD292 million to fund infrastructure, technology, and socio-economic studies related to the implementation of Brunei’s own stock exchange, which is expected to launch in the next few years.

In 2013, Brunei signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Securities

Commission Malaysia (SCM) designed to strengthen collaboration in the development of fair and efficient capital markets in the two countries. It also provided a framework to facilitate greater cross-border capital market activities and cooperation in the areas of regulation as well as capacity building and human capital development, particularly in Islamic capital markets.

The capital market industry in Brunei is primarily governed by the Securities Markets Order, 2013 and the Securities Markets Regulations, 2015 which are both administered by Brunei Darussalam Central Bank. In addition, securities with any Shariah or Islamic component would be additionally governed by the Syariah Financial Supervisory Board Order, 2006.

Brunei has accepted the obligations under IMF Article VIII, Sections 2(a), 3 and 4, and maintains an exchange system that is free of restrictions on the making of payments and transfers for current international transactions and multiple currency practices.

Brunei has a small banking sector which includes both conventional and Islamic banking. The Brunei Darussalam Central Bank (BDCB) is the sole central authority for the banking sector, in addition to its role as the country’s central bank. Banks have high levels of liquidity, good capital adequacy ratios, and well-managed levels of non-performing loans. Several foreign banks such as Standard Chartered Bank and Bank of China (Hong Kong) have established operations in Brunei. In March 2018, HSBC officially ended its operations in Brunei after announcing its planned departure from Brunei in late 2016. All banks fall under the supervision of BDCB, which has also established a credit bureau that centralizes information on applicants’ credit worthiness.

The Brunei dollar (BND) is pegged to the Singapore dollar, and each currency is accepted in both countries.

The Brunei Investment Agency (BIA) manages Brunei’s General Reserve Fund and their external assets. Established in 1983, BIA’s assets are estimated to be USD60-75 billion. BIA’s activities are not publicly disclosed and are ranked the lowest in transparency ratings by the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute.

Bulgaria

3. Legal Regime 

In general, the regulatory environment in Bulgaria is characterized by complexity, lack of transparency, and arbitrary or weak enforcement. These factors create incentives for public corruption. Public procurement rules are at times tailored to match certain local business interests. Bulgarian law lists 38 operations subject to licensing. The law requires all regulations to be justified by defined need (in terms of national security, environmental protection, or personal and material rights of citizens), and prohibits restrictions merely incidental to the stated purposes of the regulation. The law also requires the regulating authority, or the member of Parliament sponsoring the draft law containing the regulation, to perform a cost-benefit analysis of any proposed regulation. This requirement, however, is often ignored when Parliament reviews draft bills. With few exceptions, all draft bills are made available for public comment, both on the central government website and the respective agency’s website, and interested parties are given 30 days to submit their opinions.

The government maintains a web platform, www.strategy.bg , on which it posts draft legislation. Тhe government posts all its decisions on: pris.government.bg .

In addition, the law eliminates bureaucratic discretion in granting requests for routine economic activities and provides for silent consent (default judgement in favor of the requestor) when the government does not respond to a request in the allotted time. Local companies in which foreign partners have controlling interests may be requested to provide additional information or to meet additional mandatory requirements in order to engage in certain licensed activities, including production and export of arms and ammunition, banking and insurance, and the exploration, development, and exploitation of natural resources. The Bulgarian government licenses the export of dual-use goods and bans the export of all goods under international trade sanctions lists. The Bulgarian government’s budget is assessed as transparent and in accordance with international standards and principles. Central government debt and debt guarantees are published monthly, and debt obligations by individual state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are published every three months on the website of the Agency for Public Enterprises and Control.

The first and only Bulgarian think tank for sustainable finance and energy, the Green Finance & Energy Centre , was launched in March 2021 by the Bulgarian Stock Exchange (BSE) and the Independent Bulgarian Energy Exchange (IBEX), in partnership with the Ministries of Finance and Energy, the Financial Supervision Commission, and the Fund of Funds. The mission of the Green Centre includes raising business awareness and upgrading corporate governance codes with environmental and social responsibility provisions. Major banks and investors increasingly recognize the importance of sustainable finance and investment in supporting economic growth while reducing environmental degradation.

Bulgaria became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in December 1996. Under the provisions of Article 207 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (Lisbon Treaty), common EU trade policies are exclusively the responsibility of the EU and the European Commission (EC), which coordinates them with the 27 member states. The EC negotiates in the WTO on behalf of the Member States and coordinates issues with them within the Trade Policy Committee of the Council of the EU. The United States supports EU measures to increase digital market competition through the EU’s future Digital Market Act.

Following systemic government-controlled prosecutions during Bulgaria’s communist era, the 1991 Constitution created an independent judicial branch comprised of judges, prosecutors, and magistrate-investigators.  The system is governed by a 25-member Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), which is responsible for the selection and disciplining of magistrates; however, according to local and international observers its decisions have been opaque and politically influenced.  Eleven of the SJC members are appointed by a supermajority in Parliament, a process often leading to behind-the-scenes distribution of seats to politically convenient candidates.  All 1,500 prosecutors are administratively subordinate through their chiefs to the Prosecutor General, who is also a voting member of the SJC and as such has significant decision-making power over judicial selections.  Numerous well documented media and civil society investigations in recent years have alleged nepotism, corruption, and undue political and business influence over prosecutions, including with the purpose to take over lucrative businesses.  Prosecutors’ decisions to dismiss cases are not subject to review by a judge, and trials, especially in criminal cases, often take years to complete because of the inefficient procedures laid out in the criminal procedure code.  Polls show a consistent lack of public confidence in the Prosecutor General and the courts.

There are three levels of courts. Bulgaria’s 113 regional courts exercise jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases. Above them, 28 district courts, including the Sofia City Court, serve as courts of appellate review for regional court decisions and have trial-level (first-instance) jurisdiction in serious criminal cases and in civil cases where claims exceed BGN 25,000 (USD 14,320), excluding alimony, labor disputes, and financial audit discrepancies, or in property cases where the property’s value exceeds BGN 50,000 (USD 28,640). Five appellate courts review the first-instance decisions of the district courts. The Supreme Court of Cassation is the court of last resort for criminal and civil appeals. There is a separate system of 28 specialized administrative courts which rule on the legality of local and national government decisions, with the Supreme Administrative Court serving as the court of final instance. The Constitutional Court, which is separate from the rest of the judiciary, issues final rulings on the compliance of laws with the Constitution.

Bulgaria’s legislation has been largely aligned with EU directives to provide adequate means of enforcing property and contractual rights. In practice, however, investors regularly complain about regulatory impediments, prosecutorial intervention in administrative cases, and inconsistent jurisprudence. Overall, the government’s handling of investment disputes has been slow, interagency coordination is poor, and intervention at the highest political level is often required.

The 2004 Investment Promotion Act stipulates equal treatment of foreign and domestic investors. The law encourages investment in manufacturing and high technology, knowledge intensive services, education, and human resource development. It creates investment incentives by helping investors purchase land, providing state financing for basic infrastructure, training new staff, and facilitating tax incentives and opportunities for public-private partnerships (PPPs) with the central and local governments. The most common form of PPPs are concessions, which include the lease of government property for private use for up to 35 years for a construction and service concession. The term of the concession may be extended by a maximum of one-third of the original term. In 2021, defense and security were excluded from concession-eligible sectors.

Foreign investors must comply with the 1991 Commercial Law, which regulates commercial and company enterprise law, and the 1951 Law on Obligations and Contracts, which regulates civil transactions.

The Invest Bulgaria Agency (IBA) is the government’s investment attraction body and serves as a one-stop-shop for foreign investors. It provides information, administrative services, and incentive assessments to prospective foreign investors.

The Commission for Protection of Competition (the “Commission”) oversees market competition and enforces the Law on the Protection of Competition (the “Competition Law”). The Competition Law, enacted in 2008, is intended to implement EU rules that promote competition. The law forbids monopolies, restrictive trade practices, abuse of market power, and certain forms of unfair competition. Monopolies can only be legally established in enumerated categories of strategic industries. In practice, the Competition Law has been applied inconsistently, and some of the Commission’s decisions are questionable and appear subject to political influence.

Private real property rights are legally protected by the Bulgarian Constitution. Only in the case where a public need cannot be met by other means may the Council of Ministers or a regional governor expropriate land, in which case the owner is compensated at fair market value. Expropriation actions by the Council of Ministers, by regional authorities, or by municipal mayor can be appealed at a local administrative court. In its Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with the United States, Bulgaria committed to international arbitration to judge expropriation claims and other investment disputes.

The 1994 Commercial Law Chapter on Bankruptcy provides for reorganization or rehabilitation of a legal entity, maximizes asset recovery, and provides for fair and equal distribution among all creditors. The law applies to all commercial entities, except public monopolies or state-owned enterprises (SOEs). The 2015 Insurance Code regulates insurance company failures, while bank failures are regulated under the 2002 Bank Insolvency Act and the 2006 Credit Institutions Act. The 2014 bankruptcy of the country’s fourth-largest bank, Corporate Commercial Bank, was a test case that showed serious deficiencies in the process of recovery and preservation of bank assets during bankruptcy proceedings.

Non-performance of a financial obligation must be adjudicated before the bankruptcy court can determine whether the debtor is insolvent. There is a presumption of insolvency when the debtor is unable to perform an executable obligation under a commercial transaction or public debt or related commercial activities, has suspended all payments, or is able to pay only the claims of certain creditors. The debtor is deemed over-indebted if its assets are insufficient to cover its short-term monetary obligations.

Bankruptcy proceedings may be initiated on two grounds: the debtor’s insolvency, or the debtor’s excessive indebtedness. Under Part IV of the Commercial Law, debtors or creditors, including state authorities such as the National Revenue Agency, can initiate bankruptcy proceedings. The debtor must declare bankruptcy within 30 days of becoming insolvent or over-indebted. Bankruptcy proceedings supersede other court proceedings initiated against the debtor except for labor cases, enforcement proceedings, and cases related to receivables securitized by third parties’ property. Such cases may be initiated even after bankruptcy proceedings begin.

Creditors must declare to the trustee all debts owed to them within one month of the start of bankruptcy proceedings. The trustee then has seven days to compile a list of debts. A rehabilitation plan must be proposed within one month after publication of the list of debts in the Commercial Register. After creditors’ approval, the court endorses the rehabilitation plan, terminates the bankruptcy proceeding, and appoints a supervisory body for overseeing the implementation of the rehabilitation plan. The court must endorse the plan within seven days and put it forward to the creditors for approval. The creditors must convene to discuss the plan within a period of 45 days. The court may renew the bankruptcy proceedings if the debtor does not fulfill its obligations under the rehabilitation plan.

The Bulgarian National Bank may revoke the operating license of an insolvent bank when the bank’s own capital is negative, and the bank has not been restructured according to the procedure defined in Article 51 in the Law on the Recovery and Resolution of Credit Institutions and Investment Firms. The license of a bank may be withdrawn under the conditions set out in Article 36 of the Law on Credit Institutions.

6. Financial Sector 

The Bulgarian Stock Exchange (BSE), the only securities-trading venue in Bulgaria, operates under license from the Financial Supervision Commission and is majority owned by the Ministry of Finance. The 1999 Law on Public Offering of Securities regulates the issuance of securities, securities transactions, stock exchanges, and investment intermediaries.  The law is aimed at providing investor protection and at developing a transparent local capital market. In 2004 BSE performed its first IPO transaction. In 2018 BSE acquired 100 percent of the Independent Bulgarian Energy Exchange (IBEX), Bulgaria’s first independent electricity platform trader.

Since its 2007 entry into the EU, Bulgaria has aligned its regulation of securities markets with EU standards under the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID).  The BSE is a full member of the Federation of European Stock Exchanges (FESE) and operates under the Deutsche Boerse’s trading platform Xetra.  The BSE’s total market capitalization comprised 23 percent of Bulgaria’s GDP in 2021, down slightly from 2020.

Bulgarian companies strongly prefer to obtain financing from local banks instead of drawing from the local financial markets. At the end of 2018, the Financial Supervision Commission approved the ‘SME beam market,’ a special market that provides small and medium-sized businesses the opportunity to raise new capital more easily.

Bulgaria’s first “unicorn” company Payhawk, a technological start-up, raised USD 1 billion of capital in 2022.

Foreign investors can access credit on the local market.

The Bulgarian bank system is well capitalized and liquid. As of the end of September 2021, the total capital adequacy ratio was 22.4 percent, above the EU average and adequately shielding domestic banks against potential macroeconomic risks. In 2020 the Bulgarian National Bank imposed a temporary payment deferral of existing loans as an anti-COVID-19 measure. As of September 2021, there were 25 banks (including 7 branches), with total assets of BGN 132.7 billion (USD 76 billion), equivalent to 100 percent of GDP. The market share of the five significant banks (directly supervised by the ECB) was 66.1 percent, the share of less significant banks was 30.6 percent, and the share of foreign bank branches was 3.3 percent.  Non-performing loans were equal to 5.01 percent of the total loan portfolio of the banking system.

The Bulgarian government has raised funds by issuing both Euro-denominated and Leva- denominated bonds.  Commercial banks and private pension funds and insurance companies are the primary purchasers of these instruments. EU-based banks are eligible to be primary dealers of Bulgarian government bonds.

Bulgaria does not have a sovereign wealth fund. The government maintains a multiannual fiscal savings reserve, a farmer subsidy fund, and an electricity price premium fund. Their annual budgeting is compliant with the government’s budget plans.

Burkina Faso

3. Legal Regime

The government of Burkina Faso aims for transparency in law and policy to foster competition. By law, prices of goods and services must be established according to fair and sound competition. The Burkinabe government does not promote or require environmental, social, and governance disclosure to help investors and consumers distinguish between high and low quality investments. However, the government believes that cartels, the abuse of dominant position, restrictive practices, refusal to sell to consumers, discriminatory practices, unauthorized sales, and selling at a loss are practices that distort free competition. At the same time, the price of some staple goods and services are still regulated by the government, including fuel, essential generic drugs, tobacco, cotton, school supplies, water, electricity, and telecommunications, and bread (e.g. baguettes). There are regulatory authorities for government procurement, for electronic communication and posts, for electricity, and for quality standards. Provinces and municipalities have the power to regulate in their jurisdiction, but that regulation has a minimal effect on business entities. There are several regulatory bodies at the national level, and they usually internalize regulations enacted by international organizations. Regulations exist at the supra-national level mostly through WAEMU and ECOWAS.

Burkina Faso’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms. Since January 2018, Burkina Faso, as a member state of the Organization for the Harmonization of Corporate Law in Africa (OHCLA), adopted the revised version of the OHCLA accounting system. It is composed of the Uniform Act on Accounting and Financial Law (AUDCIF); the OHADA General Accounting Plan (PCGO); the OHADA Accounting System (SYSCOHADA) application guide, and the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) application guide. The OHCLA accounting system complies with the IFRS norms.

There is no online Regulatory Disclosure. However, the regulations of the National Assembly allow the various commissions to hear civil society organizations wishing to share information to inform parliamentarians when they are examining bills.

Burkina Faso is a member of the West African Economic Monetary Union (WAEMU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). There is a supranational relationship between these organizations and their state members. Burkina Faso is also a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of Corporate Law in Africa (OHCLA). As such, Uniform Laws adopted by the OHCLA are automatically part of the national legal system.

The Government of Burkina Faso regularly notifies all the draft technical barriers to the relevant WTO Committee. In the October 2017 Trade Policy Review, the WTO congratulated WAEMU countries for their continued efforts to improve their international trading environment, especially through the implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). Burkina Faso has begun the ratification process of the TFA, but it has not yet completed it. However, WAEMU and ECOWAS members already implement many of the TFA provisions.

The legal system of Burkina Faso is the civil law. Contracts must always be performed in good faith. Burkina Faso has commercial courts and commercial law is constituted by the uniform acts of the OHADA. The Commercial Code governs all matters that are not covered by the OHADA law. The Burkinabe judiciary is independent although there are press reports of cases of corruption of judges. The Disciplinary Commission of the Judiciary has sanctioned corrupt judges. There are three degrees of jurisdiction in Burkina Faso allowing the loser to appeal a decision rendered in first instance. In the event of a dispute over the execution of a contract, the plaintiff must first obtain a judgment from a court and if the loser does not execute, the winner can retain a bailiff.

The investment code adopted by law 038-2018 demonstrates the government’s interest in attracting FDI to create industries that produce export goods and provide training and jobs for its domestic workforce. The code provides standardized guarantees to all legally established firms operating in Burkina Faso, whether foreign or domestic. It contains four investment and operations preference schemes, which are equally applicable to all investments, mergers, and acquisitions. Burkina Faso’s regulations governing the establishment of businesses include most forms of companies admissible under French business law, including public corporations, limited liability companies, limited share partnerships, sole proprietorships, subsidiaries, and affiliates of foreign enterprises. With each scheme, there is a corresponding set of related preferences, duty exceptions, corporate tax exemptions, and operation-related taxes.

Under the investment code, all personal and legal entities lawfully established in Burkina Faso, both local and foreign, are entitled to the following rights: fixed property, forest and industrial rights, concessions, administrative authorizations, access to permits, and participation in state contracts.

The National Commission for Competition and Consumption (Commission Nationale pour la Concurrence et la Consommation) reviews competition matters. Some competition matters are under the aegis of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU). Law No. 016-2017/AN of 27 April 2017 on organizing competition in Burkina Faso governs market competitiveness. This law is intended to create a free and transparent market, a guarantee of the development of a market economy driven by competitive and wealth-creating businesses.

The Burkinabe constitution guarantees basic property rights. These rights cannot be infringed upon except in the case of public necessity, as defined by the government. This has rarely occurred. Until 2007, all land belonged to the government but could be leased to interested parties. The government reserves the right to expropriate land at any time for public use. In instances where property is expropriated, the government must compensate the property holder in advance, except in the event of an emergency.

In 2007, Burkina Faso drafted a national land reform policy that recognizes and protects the rights of all rural and urban stakeholders to land and natural resources. It also clarifies the institutional framework for conflict resolution at a local level, establishes a viable institutional framework for land management, and strengthens the general capacities of the government, local communities, and civil society on land issues. A 2009 rural land management law provides for equitable access to rural lands to promote agricultural productivity, manage natural resources, encourage investment, and reduce poverty. It enables legal recognition of rights legitimated by traditional rules and practices. In rural areas, traditional land tenure rules have long governed land transactions and allocations. The 2009 law reinforces the decentralization and devolution of authority over land matters and provides for formalization of individual and collective use rights and the possibility of transforming these rights into private titles.

In 2012, the government revised the 2009 law, marking the end of exclusive authority of the state over all land. The new law includes provisions to recognize local land use practices. The new law provides conciliation committees to resolve conflicts between parties prior to any legal action. There are several property rights recognition and protection acts, such as land charters, individual or collective land ownership certificates, and loan agreements that govern the nature, duration, and counterparties for transfer rights between a landowner and a third party.

The first Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact (2010-2014) supported the establishment of local authorities and the issuance of titles as part of the land tenure reform process.

Since Burkina Faso is a member of the OHADA, the Uniform Act on Bankruptcy is applicable.

There are no bankruptcy courts in Burkina Faso. The World Bank’s 2019 “Doing Business” report ranked Burkina Faso 107 out of 190 countries for Resolving Insolvency.

6. Financial Sector

The government of Burkina Faso is more focused on attracting FDI and concessionary lending for development than it is on developing its capital markets. Net portfolio inflows were estimated at US$ 148.6 million ( 0.83 percent of GDP) in 2020, per the World Bank. While the government does issue some sovereign bonds to raise capital in the WAEMU regional bond market, in general the availability of different kinds of investment instruments is extremely limited. As part of its mechanism to fund its fiscal budget, the Burkina Faso government regularly issues 182-day maturity treasury bills (BAT) on the regional financial market of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU, or UEMOA in French).

The banking system is sound, relatively profitable, and well capitalized, but credit is highly concentrated to a small number of clients and a few sectors of the economy, according to the IMF. Only an estimated 15 percent of the population are believed to have checking accounts. Like all member states of WAEMU, Burkina Faso is a member of the Central Bank of West African States. Many foreign banks have branches in the country. The traditional banking sector is composed of twelve commercial banks and five specialized credit institutions called “établissements financiers.” In Burkina, the national strategy for inclusive finance was adopted on April 23, 2019. The use of mobile money is becoming more prevalent. In addition to two of the three main mobile carriers offering mobile money services, in 2021 other companies, both foreign and local have launched mobile money service operations and are conquering an important client base. This trend has forced traditional banks to install own mobile transfer planforms.

Burkina Faso does not have a sovereign wealth fund. However, in 2017, the government created the Deposit and Consignment Fund (CDC-BF), an autonomous legal and financial entity whose mandate is to receive and manage assets of various funds and entities, in particular funds from dormant accounts transferred to the Public Treasury (National Social Security Fund, Autonomous Retirement Fund for Civil Servants, National Post Office). Its mandate is to invest the funds locally. The CDC-BF is not yet fully rolled out.

Burma

3. Legal Regime

The military regime has not demonstrated an interest in providing, or an ability to provide, clear rules. Regulatory and legal transparency are significant challenges for foreign investors in Burma. The military established the SAC, which is vested with authority to make and issue laws, regulations, and notifications with no oversight or transparency. Previously, government ministries drafted most laws and regulations relevant to foreign investors, which were reviewed by the Attorney General and then voted on and discussed by Parliament. The current law-making process is opaque and amendments to laws have been made without public consultation.

Burma is not legally obligated to share regulatory development plans with the public or conduct public consultations.

There is not a centralized online location where key regulatory actions are published similar to the Federal Register in the United States. The Burmese government previously published new regulations and laws in government-run newspapers and “The State Gazette,” and also sometimes posted new regulations on government ministries’ official Facebook pages. Presently, the military regime announces some regulatory changes via state media or in the Commander-in-Chief’s public addresses, but copies of the changes are not easily accessibly or routinely posted anywhere.

There are no oversight or enforcement mechanisms to ensure the government follows administrative processes.

Foreign investors previously could appeal adverse regulatory decisions. For instance, under the Myanmar Investment Law, the MIC serves as the regulatory body and has the authority to impose penalties on any investor who violates or fails to comply with the law. Investors have the right to appeal any decision made by the MIC to the government within 60 days from the date of decision.

Under the military regime, there is no demonstrated action or espoused commitment to transparent public finance and debt obligations. There are allegations that the military is incurring off-budget debt and using government funds beyond which was allocated in the government budget. Prior to the coup, public finance, and debt obligations, exclusive of contingent liabilities, were public and transparent. Budget reports were published on the Ministry of Planning, and Finance website ( https://myanmar.gov.mm/ministry-of-planning-finance ). Prior to 2021, the budget was published on the Ministry of Planning, Finance, and Industry website (https://www.mopfi.gov.mm/en/content/budget-news). Burma has issued the annual Citizen Budget in the Burmese language since FY 2015-16. The Ministry of Planning, Finance, and Industry has published quarterly budget execution reports, six-month-overview-of-budget-execution reports, and annual budget execution reports on its website since FY 2015-16. However, details regarding the budget allocations for defense expenditures were not transparent, a problem that has been exacerbated since the military coup. The Burmese government also previously published its debt obligation report on the Treasury Department’s Facebook page. (See:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/biz/Treasury-Department-of-Myanmar-777018172438019/  ). The Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability (PEFA) program reviewed Burma’s public finance system in 2020 ( https://www.pefa.org/about ).

The government does not promote or require environmental, social, and governance disclosure to help investors and consumers distinguish between high- and low-quality investments. Businesses seeking to legally extract mineral resources, however, are required to prepare an environmental management plan to receive a license to mine from the regime.

Burma has been a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) since July 1997. However, there is not a consistent relationship between ASEAN and Burma regulatory standards. As an ASEAN member state, Burma’s regulatory systems are expected to conform to harmonization principles established in the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA) to support regional economic integration.

Burma’s regulatory system does not consistently use international norms or standards. It contains a mix of unique Burma-developed standards and some British-colonial era standards. Prior to the coup, the government had been making progress on legal reforms to ensure the country’s regulations and standards reflected international norms or standards, including ASEAN-developed standards. In an example of ASEAN regulatory harmonization, Burma officially joined the ASEAN Single Window in March 2020 with the launch of the National Single Window Routing Platform, which streamlined the import process by adopting the ASEAN Certificate of Origin Form D.

Burma is a WTO member, but it does not regularly notify draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade.

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

Immediately following the 2021 coup, the military regime replaced several members of the Supreme Court with judges seen as more reliable to its interests. After several weeks of largely peaceful protest and increasingly violent responses by security forces including arbitrary detentions, the military regimes placed several Yangon townships under martial law, where court proceedings are conducted by military judges who have meted out harsh punishments with limited to no due process rights for those accused.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, led by an active-duty military minister appointed by the Commander-in-Chief, controls the Myanmar Police Force, which files cases directly with the courts. The Attorney General prosecutes criminal cases in civilian court and reviews pending legislation. The current Attorney General, Dr Thida Oo, was appointed the day after the coup by Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing . The Attorney General’s Office was reorganized as a ministry  on August 30, 2021. On January 31, 2022, the U.S. Department of the Treasury  added Attorney General, Dr Thida Oo to its Specially Designated Nationals list. While foreign companies have the right to bring cases to and defend themselves in local courts, there are deep concerns about the impartiality and lack of independence of the courts.

Burma does not have specialized civil or commercial courts.

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

Certain regulatory actions are appealable and are adjudicated with the respective ministry. For instance, according to the Myanmar Investment Law, investment disputes that cannot be settled amicably are “settled in the competent court or the arbitral tribunal in accord with the applicable laws.” An investor dissatisfied with any enforcement action made by the regulatory body has the right to appeal to the government within 60 days from the date of administrative decision. The government may amend, revoke, or approve any decision made by the regulatory body. This decision is considered final and conclusive.

The Myanmar Investment Law outlines the procedures the MIC must take when considering foreign investments. The MIC evaluates foreign investment proposals and stipulates the terms and conditions of investment permits. The MIC does not record foreign investments that do not require MIC approval. Many smaller investments may go unrecorded. Foreign companies may register locally without an MIC license, in which case they are not entitled to receive the benefits and incentives provided for in the Myanmar Investment Law.

There is no “one-stop-shop” for investors except in Special Economic Zones. Burma has three Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in Thilawa, Dawei, and Kyauk Phyu with preferential policies for businesses that locate there, including “one-stop-shop” service. Of the three SEZs, Thilawa is the only SEZ currently in operation.

A Competition Law went into effect in 2017. The objective of the law is to protect public interest from monopolistic acts, limit unfair competition, and prevent abuse of dominant market position and economic concentration that weakens competition. The Myanmar Competition Commission serves as the regulatory body to enforce the Competition Law and its rules. The Commission is chaired by the Minister of Commerce, with the Director General of the Department of Trade serving as Secretary. Members also include a mixture of representatives from relevant line ministries and professional bodies, such as lawyers and economists.

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

However, under previous military regimes, private companies have been nationalized. The current military regime has threatened private banks with nationalization if they fail to reopen, including threatening to transfer certain deposits in private banks to state-owned or military-affiliated banks. In addition, security forces have physical cut private company’s fiber wires and the military regimes onerous restrictions and suspension of mobile internet service have deprived private telecommunication operators and internet service providers of their property without any compensation offered. The military regime has also banned a number of private media print outlets from publication and restricted citizen’s access to other private company’s internet platforms.

There is a significant risk of nationalization and expropriation by the military regime, particularly in the financial and telecommunications sectors. There is no expectation of due process should the military regime pursue nationalization of private companies despite the provisions in the Myanmar Investment Law prohibiting nationalization and expropriation.

In February 2020, the government of Burma passed the new Insolvency Law. The law adopted the UNCITRAL Model Law on cross-border insolvency, providing greater legal certainty on transnational insolvency issues.

The legislation established an insolvency regime that addresses both corporate and personal insolvency, with a focus on protecting micro, small and medium-sized enterprises. With regards to personal insolvency, the new law encourages debtors to enter into a voluntary legally binding arrangement with their creditors. This agreement allows part or all of the debt to be written off over a fixed period of time. The law also provides equitable treatment for creditors by enabling an efficient liquidation process to ensure creditors receive maximum financial recovery from the property value of a non-viable business.

The law also established the Myanmar Insolvency Practitioners’ Regulatory Council to act as an independent regulatory body and assigned DICA the role of Registrar with the authority to fine individuals contravening the law. In addition, the court with legal jurisdiction can order an individual to make good on the default within a specified time.

6. Financial Sector

The military regime’s attitude towards foreign portfolio investment is unknown. Previously, the Burmese government had gradually opened to foreign portfolio investment, but both the stock and bond markets are small and lack sufficient liquidity to enter and exit sizeable positions.

Burma has a small stock market with infrequent trading. In July 2019, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that foreign individuals and entities are permitted to hold up to 35 percent of the equity in Burmese companies listed on the Yangon Stock Exchange.

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

The CBM sets commercial loan interest rates and saving deposit rates that banks can offer, so banks cannot conduct risk-based pricing for credit. Consequently, credit is not strictly allocated on market terms. Foreign investors generally seek financing outside of Burma because of the lack of sophisticated credit instruments offered by Burmese financial institutions and lack of risk-based pricing.

There is limited penetration of banking services in the country, but the usage of mobile payments had grown rapidly prior to the coup. A government 2020 census found 14 percent of the population has access to a savings account through a traditional bank. The banking system is fragile with a high volume of non-performing loans (NPLs). Financial analysts estimate that NPLs at some local banks account for 40 to 50 percent of outstanding credit but accurate calculations are hard because of accounting inconsistencies about what constitutes a non-performing loan.

According to Central Bank of Myanmar’s report for FY 2020-2021, total assets in Burma’s banking system were 75 trillion kyat (USD 40.5 billion).

The CBM is responsible for the country’s monetary and exchange rate policies as well as regulating and supervising the banking sector.

Prior to the coup, the government had gradually opened the banking sector to foreign investors. The government began awarding limited banking licenses to foreign banks in October 2014. In November 2018, the CBM published guidelines that permit foreign banks with local licenses to offer “any financing services and other banking services” to local corporations. Previously, foreign banks were only allowed to offer export financing and related banking services to foreign corporations.

No U.S. banks have a correspondent relationship with Burmese banks. Following the military coup and the imposition of U.S. sanctions on Burma, including on two large military holding companies, some non-U.S. international banks are considering whether to terminate their correspondent banking relationship with Burmese banks.

Foreigners are allowed to open a bank account in Burma in either U.S. dollars or Burmese kyat. In April 2022, the CBM issued rules requiring most accounts with foreign currency holdings to be converted into Myanmar kyat at a fixed rate within one business day excluding foreign investment businesses, diplomatic missions, UN missions and international development partners. To open a bank account, foreigners must provide proof of a valid visa along with proof of income or a letter from their employer.

The Germany development agency GIZ published the fifth edition the GIZ Banking Report in January 2021.

According to Chapter 15 of the Myanmar Investment Law, foreign investors can convert, transfer, and repatriate profits, dividends, royalties, patent fees, license fees, technical assistance and management fees, shares and other current income resulting from any investment made under this law. Nevertheless, in practice, the transfer of money in or out of Burma has been difficult, as many international banks have internal prohibitions on conducting business in Burma given the long history of sanctions and significant money-laundering risks. The intermittent closure of banks following the coup, shortage of U.S. dollars, and low cash withdrawal limits, and CBM restrictions on holding foreign currency have further limited investors’ ability to conduct foreign exchange transactions and other necessary business operations.

Under the Foreign Exchange Management Law, transfer of funds can be made only through licensed foreign exchange dealers, using freely usable currencies. The CBM grants final approval on any new loans or loan transfers by foreign investors. According to a new regulation in the Foreign Exchange Management Law, foreign investors applying for an offshore loan must get approval from the CBM. Applications are submitted through the MIC by providing a company profile, audited financial statements, draft loan agreement, and a recent bank credit statement.

In April 2022, the Central Bank fixed the exchange rate at 1850 kyat/1 USD. In April 2022, the black-market exchange rate was roughly 2010 kyat/1 USD.

According to the Myanmar Investment Law, foreign investors can remit foreign currency through authorized banks. Nevertheless, in practice, the transfer of money in or out of Burma has been difficult, as many international banks have internal prohibitions on conducting business in Burma given the long history of sanctions and significant money-laundering risks. The military coup and the regime’s economic policies, including restrictions placed on holding and transferring foreign currencies, has further exacerbated these investment remittance challenges.

The challenge of repatriating remittances through the formal banking system are also reflected in the continued use of informal remittance services (such as the “hundi system”) by both the public and businesses. On November 15, 2019, the CBM adopted the Remittance Business Regulation in order to bring these informal networks into the official financial system. The regulations require remittance business licenses to conduct inward and outward remittance businesses from the Central Bank. It is unclear how the military regime will proceed with this regulation and the training of businesses to grant them a license to conduct remittances.

Burma does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

Burundi

3. Legal Regime

Although parts of the government are working to create more transparent policies for fostering competition, Burundi lacks much of the necessary regulatory framework.  Many policies for foreign investment are not transparent, and laws or regulations on the books are often ineffective or unenforced.  Burundi’s regulatory and accounting systems are generally transparent and consistent with international norms on paper, but a lack of capacity or training for staff and political constraints sometimes limit the regularity and transparency of their implementation.

Rule-making and regulatory authority is exercised exclusively at the national level.  Relevant ministries and the Council of Ministers exercise regulatory and rule-making authority, based on laws passed by the Senate and National Assembly.  In practice, government officials sometimes exercise influence over the application and interpretation of rules and regulations outside of formal structures.  The government sometimes discusses proposed legislation and rule-making with private sector interlocutors and civil society but does not have a formal public comment process.  There are no informal regulatory processes managed by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or private sector associations.

Draft bills or regulations are not subject to a public consultation process.  There are no conferences that involve citizens in a consultative process to give them an opportunity to make comments or contributions, especially at the time of project development, and, even if this were the case, the public does not have access to the detailed information needed to participate in this process.

Burundi does not have a centralized online location where key regulatory actions are published; however, regulatory actions are sometimes posted on the websites of GoB institutions (typically that of the Office of the President or respective ministries).

Burundi has sectoral regulatory agencies covering taxes and revenues, mining and energy, water, and agriculture.  Regulatory actions are reviewable by courts.  There have been no recent reforms to the regulatory enforcement system.

The government generally issues terms of reference and recruits private consultants who prepare a study on the draft legislation for review and comment by the private sector.  The government analyzes these comments and takes them into consideration when drafting new regulations.  New regulations can be issued by a presidential decree or Parliament can make them into a law.  This mechanism applies to laws and regulations on investment.

Information on public finances and debt obligations (including explicit and contingent liabilities) is published in the Burundi Central Bank’s Reports and on its website: https://www.brb.bi/ . However, some publications on the website are not up to date.

Burundi is a member of the East African Community (EAC), a regional economic bloc composed of seven member states, the republics of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and the recently admitted Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The EAC integration process is anchored on four pillars: a customs union, a common market, a monetary union, and political federation. Each member state must harmonize its national regulatory system with that of the EAC.

Burundian law and regulations reference several standards, including the East African Standards, Codex Alimentarius Standards, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and Burundi’s own standards.  ISO remains the main standard of reference.

The country joined the WTO on July 23, 1995.  According to the Ministry of Trade, Transport, Industry and Tourism, Burundi has not notified the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade of all its draft technical regulations.

The country’s legal system is civil (Roman), based on German and French civil codes.  For local civil matters, customary law also applies.  Burundi’s legal system contains standard provisions guaranteeing the right to private property and the enforcement of contracts.  The country has a written commercial law and a commercial court.  The investment code offers plaintiffs recourse in the national court system and to international arbitration.

The judicial system is not effectively independent of the executive branch.  A lack of capacity hinders judicial effectiveness, and judicial procedures are not rigorously observed.

In June 2021, the GoB adopted a revised investment code and the first national industrialization policy and its accompanying implementation strategy.  Along with the new investment code, the Burundi Development Agency (ADB) officially replaced the Investment Promotion Agency (API) (See Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment above).

There is no agency in charge of reviewing transactions for competition-related concerns.

Burundian law allows the GoB to expropriate property for exceptional and state-approved reasons, but the GoB is then committed to provide compensation based on the fair market value prior to expropriation.

There are no recent cases involving expropriation of foreign investments nor do any foreign firms have active pending complaints regarding compensation in Burundian courts.

Burundi has two laws governing or pertaining to bankruptcy:  Law N°1/07 of March 15, 2006, on bankruptcy and Law N°1/08 of March 15, 2006, on legal settlement of insolvent companies.  Under Burundian law, creditors have the right to file for liquidation and the right to request personal or financial information about the debtors from the legal bankruptcy agent.  The bankruptcy framework does not require that creditors approve the selection of the bankruptcy agent and does not provide creditors the right to object to decisions accepting or rejecting creditors’ claims.

6. Financial Sector

Although there are no regulatory restrictions on foreign portfolio investment, Burundi does not have capital markets that would enable it.  Capital allocation within Burundi is entirely dependent on commercial banks.

The country does not have its own stock market.  There is no regulatory system to encourage and facilitate portfolio investment.  Existing policies do not actively facilitate nor impede the free flow of financial resources into product and factor markets.

There is no regulation restricting international transactions.  In practice, however, the government restricts payments and transfers for international transactions due to a shortage of foreign currency, which impedes doing business in a number of ways.

In theory, foreign investors have access to all existing credit instruments and on market terms.  In practice, available credit is extremely limited.

The financial sector includes 15 credit institutions, 40 microfinance institutions, 16 insurance companies, three social security institutions and three payment institutions.  All these institutions aim at reducing unemployment by creating job opportunities, particularly small and medium-scale entrepreneurship.  The banking market is dominated by the three largest and systemically important banks: Credit Bank of Bujumbura (BCB), Burundi Commercial Bank (BANCOBU), and Interbank Burundi (IBB).

Burundi’s population has very limited access to banking services, according to the most recent national survey on financial inclusion conducted by the central bank.  In this 2016 survey, the Bank of the Republic of Burundi (BRB) found a penetration level of approximately 22 percent, although the government opened two banks, one for youth entrepreneurs and one for women, over the last 1.5 years in an effort to address this challenge.

The government is a minority shareholder in six banks, including the country’s three largest banks and is the main shareholders in the two new banks BIJE (Banque d’Investissement des Jeunes/Youth Investment Bank) and BIDF (Banque d’Investissement et de Développement pour les Femmes/Investment and Development Bank for Women).  Several local commercial banks have branches in urban centers and micro-finance institutions mostly serve rural areas.

Foreign banks can establish operations in the country.  Foreign banks operating in the country include ECOBANK (Pan African Bank-West Africa), CRDB (Tanzanian Bank), DTB and KCB (both Kenyan Banks).  The central bank directs banking regulatory policy, including prudential measures for the banking system.  Foreigners and locals are subject to the same conditions when opening a bank account; the only requirement is the presentation of identification.

Burundi does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

Cabo Verde

3. Legal Regime

Cabo Verde is a regional model of transparency and good governance. The government is committed to improving conditions for foreign investment and encouraging a more transparent and competitive economic environment. Laws to promote exports and free-zone enterprises stress the government’s commitment to encouraging investment in export-oriented industries. The tax regime encourages entrepreneurial activity, and government policies support free trade and open markets.

Environmental issues are a priority in Cabo Verde’s sustainable development strategic planning. Legislation requires promotion of an ecologically balanced environment by private companies. Local companies and foreign investment projects must complete environmental-impact studies for assessment of potential impacts by relevant government authorities.

The government promotes the disclosure from companies on the social and corporate governance aspects of their businesses. Many companies, including those operating in sectors such as telecommunications, banking, pharmaceuticals, and laboratories, disclose the information in reports, normally available online.

There is free online access to all laws through the government’s official register website, https://kiosk.incv.cv/ .

Regulations on economic activity can also be viewed on the Cabo Verde TradeInvest website, http://cvtradeinvest.com/ .

Cabo Verde’s regulatory agencies do not solicit comments on proposed regulations from the general public, according to the World Bank .

Public finance and debt obligations are in line with international norms and standards on budget credibility, thoroughness, and fiscal transparency. Cabo Verde continues to improve its processes for the planning, execution, and control of its budgets. The Ministry of Finance uses a digital platform to publish public accounts. With this web portal, any institution or citizen can observe the execution of the budget in real time. A Public Finance Council independently assesses the sustainability of the budget and policies. Cabo Verde has an independent Supreme Audit Institution (SAI), which operates in accordance with International Standards of Supreme Audit Institutions and the Mexico Declaration and is responsible for verifying and publishing the government’s annual financial statements.

In February 2022, Cabo Verde submitted the instrument of ratification of the Agreement Establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Regionally, Cabo Verde is committed to integration into ECOWAS but has announced postponement of implementation of the ECOWAS Common External Tariffs to later in 2022 and does not foresee adoption of an ECOWAS single currency.

Cabo Verde formally acceded to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2008. Cabo Verde has not notified the WTO of any measures that are inconsistent with its Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIM)s obligations.

Cabo Verde’s legal system is based on the civil law system of Portugal. The 1992 constitution provides for a judiciary independent from the executive branch. The judicial system is composed of the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, and regional courts. Judges cannot be affiliated with political parties.

The Ministry of Justice appoints local judges. The judiciary generally provides due process rights; however, an overburdened and understaffed judicial system constrains the right to an expeditious trial. Cabo Verde has modern commercial and contractual laws. The judicial system in Cabo Verde is transparent and independent. There is no government interference in the court system, but judicial decisions are often delayed, sometimes for years.

The right to private ownership is guaranteed under the constitution. Property rights are also recognized and guaranteed by several laws. There is a legal entity that records secured interests in property, both chattel and real estate. The legal system also protects and facilitates acquisition and disposition of all property rights.

Cabo Verdean laws concerning FDI include the Investment Law of 2012, which applies to both foreign and domestic investors and preserves the principle of freedom of investment. The Industrial Development Statute regulates incentives and the investment approval process. Law 41/2016 defines the mandate of Cabo Verde TradeInvest ( https://cvtradeinvest.com/ ) as a one-stop shop for external investors.

Cabo Verde does not have an agency charged with regulating competition, though the government has explored the creation of one. The law protects competition in all economic activities.

The Investment Law protects against direct and indirect expropriation. Private property is protected against requisition and nationalization, except for public interest reasons (Investment Law, article 6.1). Under the law, in the event of expropriation, the government is to compensate the owner on the basis of prevailing market prices or the actual market value of the property. To date there have been no cases of unlawful expropriation or claims of discriminatory behavior by the government against foreigners.

In case of noncompliance of investment projects, the law states that land can be recovered by the state and made available to new investment projects.

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

In 2011, Cabo Verde became a contracting state to the ICSID convention. In 2018 Cabo Verde became a state party to the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the New York Convention).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Disputes between the government and investors concerning the interpretation and application of the law that cannot be resolved amicably or via negotiation are submitted for resolution by judicial authorities in accordance with Cabo Verdean law. Disputes between the government and foreign investors on investments authorized and made in the country are settled by arbitration if no other process has been agreed upon.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The law favors arbitration as a mechanism for settling investment disputes between the Government of Cabo Verde and foreign investors, under national and international dispute resolution rules. Courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards. Generally, arbitration is conducted in Cabo Verde and in Portuguese unless the parties agree on another location and language. The decision of the single referee or the arbitration committee is final and not subject to appeal. In 2018, the Tax Arbitration Center was created to resolve disputes regarding tax matters.

Cabo Verdean law provides for a reorganization procedure and a framework that allows creditors involvement in insolvency proceedings.

6. Financial Sector

Limited capital market and portfolio investment opportunities exist in Cabo Verde. The Cabo Verdean stock market, Bolsa de Valores de Cabo Verde (BVC), is fully operational. It has been most active in the issuance of bonds. Foreign investors must open an account with a bank in Cabo Verde before buying stocks or bonds from BVC.

Foreign interests may access credit under the same market conditions as Cabo Verdeans.

The IMF’s April 2021 country report on Cabo Verde noted that “the government did not impose or intensify restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions nor introduce multiple currency practices. Similarly, it did not conclude bilateral payment agreements inconsistent with Article VIII nor impose or intensify import restrictions for balance of payments purposes.”

Cabo Verde has a small financial sector supervised and regulated by the Central Bank of Cabo Verde (BCV). According to 2020 data from BCV, 82.8 percent of Cabo Verde’s adult population has a bank account. Internet-based tools and services in the banking sector continue to grow in Cabo Verde, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic, changing the model of the client-bank relationship. New information and communications technology products allow customers online alternatives to in-person support.

Banking represents more than 80 percent of the assets of the entire Cabo Verdean financial system. Two banks – Banco Comercial do Atlantico (BCA) and Caixa Economica de Cabo Verde (CECV) – together held 57.7 percent of market share in 2020, according to BCV data.

Legislation approved in January 2020 terminated the issuance of restricted licenses for offshore banking operations, calling for generic licenses and operations with resident clients. BCV subsequently announced that banks with a restricted license (offshore) serving non-residents would have to adjust to the new requirements or face revocation of their license and enforced administrative liquidation. Offshore banks operating in Cabo Verde had until December 2021 to complete the transition. One did, two opted for liquidation, and BCV revoked the license of a fourth. Currently there are no offshore banks operating in Cabo Verde.

To establish a bank account, clients must provide proper identification and obtain a taxpayer number from the Commercial Registry Department (Casa do Cidadao), a process that takes approximately 10 minutes. Bank credit is available to foreign investors under the same conditions as for domestic investors. The private sector has access to credit instruments such as loans, letters of credit, and lines of credit.

Cambodia

3. Legal Regime

Cambodia’s regulatory system, while improving, still lacks transparency. This is the result of a lack of legislation and the limited capacity of key institutions, which is further exacerbated by a weak court system. Investors often complain that the decisions of Cambodian regulatory agencies are inconsistent, arbitrary, and influenced by corruption. For example, in May 2016, in what was perceived as a populist move, the government set caps on retail fuel prices, with little consultation with petroleum companies.  In April 2017, the National Bank of Cambodia introduced an interest rate cap on loans provided by the microfinance industry with no consultation with relevant stakeholders. More recently, investors have regularly expressed concern overdraft legislation that has not been subject to stakeholder consultations.

Cambodian ministries and regulatory agencies are not legally obligated to publish the text of proposed regulations before their enactment. Draft regulations are only selectively and inconsistently available for public consultation with relevant non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private sector, or other parties before their enactment. Approved or passed laws are available on websites of some ministries but are not always up to date. The Council of Jurists,

the government body that reviews laws and regulations, publishes a list of updated laws and regulations on its website.

Businesses are not required to have audited financial statements or publish their financial reports unless they are financial institutions (banks/microfinance institutions) or publicly listed companies.

The RGC does not mandate companies to make environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosures with respect to investments.

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

As a member of the WTO since 2004, Cambodia has both drafted and modified laws and regulations to comply with WTO rules. Relevant laws and regulations are notified to the WTO legal committee only after their adoption. A list of Cambodian legal updates in compliance with the WTO is described in the above section regarding Other Investment Policy Reviews.

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

Although the Cambodian Constitution calls for an independent judiciary, both local and foreign businesses report problems with inconsistent judicial rulings, corruption, and difficulty enforcing judgments. For these reasons, many commercial disputes are resolved through negotiations facilitated by the Ministry of Commerce, the Council for the Development of Cambodia, the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, and other institutions. Foreign investors often build into their contracts clauses that dictate that investment disputes must be resolved in a third country, such as Singapore.

Cambodia’s new Law on Investment, passed in October 2021, regulates the approval process for FDI and provides incentives to potential investors, both domestic and foreign. Sub-decree No. 111 (2005) lays out detailed procedures for registering a QIP with the CDC and provincial/municipal investment subcommittees.

The new Law on Investment introduces an online registration process for QIP applications and shortens the timeline for the CDC’s issuance of a Registration Certificate to 20 working days. The portal for QIP registration with CDC can be found at this link .

Information about investment procedures and incentives in Cambodia may be found on the CDC’s website .

Cambodia’s Competition Law was signed in October 2021, following the enactment of a Law on Consumer Protection in 2019. Cambodia’s Consumer Protection Competition and Fraud Repression Directorate-General ( CCF ), is mandated to enforce these laws and investigate complaints. When disputes arise, individuals or businesses can file complaints with the CCF, with courts acting as the final arbitrator.

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

In late 2009, the National Assembly approved the Law on Expropriation, which sets broad guidelines on land-taking procedures for public interest purposes. It defines public interest activities to include construction, rehabilitation, preservation, or expansion of infrastructure

projects, and development of buildings for national defense and civil security. These provisions include construction of border crossing posts, facilities for research and exploitation of natural resources, and oil pipeline and gas networks. Property can also be expropriated for natural disasters and emergencies, as determined by the government. Legal procedures regarding compensation and appeals are expected to be established in a forthcoming sub-decree, which is under internal discussion at the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

The government has shown willingness to use tax issues for political purposes. For instance, in 2017, a U.S.-owned independent newspaper had its bank account frozen purportedly for failure to pay taxes. It is believed that, while the company may have had some tax liability, the General Department of Taxation inflated the assessment to pressure the newspaper to halt operations. The action took place in the context of a widespread government crackdown on independent media in the country.

Cambodia’s 2007 Law on Insolvency is intended to provide collective, orderly, and fair satisfaction of creditor claims from debtor properties and, where appropriate, the rehabilitation of the debtor’s business. The law applies to the assets of all businesspeople and legal entities in Cambodia.

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

6. Financial Sector

To address the need for capital markets in Cambodia, the Cambodia Securities Exchange (CSX) was founded in 2011 and started trading in 2012. Though the CSX is one of the world’s smallest securities markets, with nine listed companies, it has taken steps to increase the number of listed companies, including attracting SMEs. In 2021, market capitalization stood at $2.4 billion, and the daily trading value averaged $246,000.

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

Cambodia’s bond market is at the beginning stages of development. The regulatory framework for corporate bonds was bolstered in 2017 through the publication of several regulations covering public offering of debt securities, the accreditation of bondholders’ representatives, and the accreditation of credit rating agencies. The country’s first corporate bond was issued in 2018, and there are currently eight corporate bonds listed on the CSX.  There is currently no sovereign bond market, but the government has stated its intention of making government securities available to investors in 2022.

The NBC regulates the operations of Cambodia’s banks. Foreign banks and branches are freely allowed to register and operate in the country. There are 54 commercial banks, 10 specialized banks (set up to finance specific turn-key projects such as real estate development), 79 licensed microfinance institutions (MFIs), and five licensed microfinance deposit taking institutions in Cambodia. The NBC has also granted licenses to 17 financial leasing companies and one credit bureau company to improve transparency and credit risk management and encourage lending to small- and medium-sized enterprise customers.

The banking sector’s assets, including those of MFIs, rose 16 percent year-over-year in 2020 to KHR 241 trillion ($59.4 billion) and customer loans increased 15 percent to KHR 151 trillion ($37.3 billion). In 2020, the number of deposit accounts reached 8.9 million (out of a population of roughly 17 million), while credit accounts reached 3.2 million.

The government does not use the regulation of capital markets to restrict foreign investment. Banks have been free to set their own interest rates since 1995, and increased competition

between local institutions has led to a gradual lowering of interest rates from year to year.  However, in April 2017, at the direction of Prime Minister Hun Sen, the NBC capped interest rates on loans offered by MFIs at 18 percent per annum. The move was designed to protect borrowers, many of whom are poor and uneducated, from excessive interest rates.

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

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NBC adopted measures to maintain financial stability and ensure liquidity in the banking system. These measures included allowing banks to maintain their capital conservation buffer at 50 percent, reducing the reserve requirement rate, and allowing banks to restructure loans for clients impacted by COVID.

Financial technology (Fintech) in Cambodia is developing rapidly. Available technologies include mobile payments, QR codes, and e-wallet accounts for domestic and cross-border payments and transfers. In 2012, the NBC launched retail payments for checks and credit remittances. A “Fast and Secure Transfer” (FAST) payment system was introduced in 2016 to facilitate instant fund transfers. The Cambodian Shared Switch (CSS) system was launched in October 2017 to facilitate the access to network automated teller machines (ATMs) and point of sale (POS) machines.

In February 2019, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) cited Cambodia for being “deficient” with regard to its anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) controls and policies and included Cambodia on its “grey list.”  The RGC committed to working with FATF to address these deficiencies through a joint action plan, although Cambodia remains on the grey list as of 2022. Should Cambodia not take appropriate action, FATF could move it to the “black list,” which could negatively impact the cost of capital as well as the banking sector’s ability to access international capital markets.

In addition to Cambodia’s weak AML/CFT regime, vulnerabilities include a largely cash-based, dollarized economy and porous borders. Both legal and illicit transactions, regardless of size, are frequently conducted outside of regulated financial institutions. Cash proceeds from crime are readily channeled into land, housing, luxury goods and vehicles, and other forms of property, without passing through the banking sector. Moreover, a lack of judicial independence and transparency constrains effective enforcement of laws against financial crimes. The judicial branch lacks efficiency and cannot assure impartiality, and judicial officials, up to and including the chief of the Supreme Court, have simultaneously held positions in the political ruling party. Refer to Section II: “Illicit Finance and Corrupt Activities in Cambodia” of the U.S. government’s Cambodia Business Advisory on High-Risk Investments and Interactions released on November 10, 2021, for more information.

Cambodia does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

Cameroon

3. Legal Regime

Cameroon’s laws are consistent with international business and legal norms. Cameroon’s legal architecture is made up of national, regional CEMAC, and supra-national regulations, most of which are applicable to domestic and foreign businesses. Weak implementation and investigative capacity, a lack of understanding of international business practices, and corruption in the judiciary limit the effectiveness of the rule of law. In many circumstances, judicial loopholes persist, leading to arbitrary interpretations of the texts.

Some government ministries, though not all, consult with public and private sector organizations through targeted outreach with stakeholders, such as business associations or other groups. There is no formal process for such consultations. Ministries do not report the results of consultations, but there is no evidence that such processes disadvantage U.S. or other foreign investors.

Cameroon’s National Assembly and Senate pass laws. The Executive proposes bills and then executes laws. Though there is technically a separation of powers, the Presidency is the supreme rule-making and regulatory authority. Decentralized institutions in the regions and municipalities have little additional regulatory authority. Draft bills and regulations are not made available for public comment. The website for the Office of the Prime Minister (www.spm.gov.cm) contains PDF versions of most new regulatory actions published in the Cameroon Tribune, the country’s newspaper of record.

Ministries and regulatory agencies do not have a list of anticipated regulatory changes or proposals intended to be adopted/implemented within a specified period. Ministries do not have a legal obligation to publish the text of proposed regulations before their enactment. There is no period set by law for the text of the proposed regulations to be publicly available. There is no specialized government body tasked with reviewing and monitoring regulatory impact assessments conducted by other individual agencies or government bodies.

Cameroon has administrative courts that specialize in the application and enforcement of public laws. From a strictly legal perspective, the Supreme Court has oversight on enforcement mechanisms, but a lack of separation of powers prevents the judiciary from carrying out its responsibilities. There have been no new regulatory or enforcement reforms announced since the 2021 Investment Climate Statement.

Cameroon does not meet the minimum standards of fiscal transparency. This is partly because many of the state-owned enterprises do not have public accounts. Companies that are listed or aspire to be listed on the Central African Stock Exchange (CASE) have more stringent transparency requirements. There are only four publicly listed companies on the CASE. All four use the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA) accounting system, which does not align completely with International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) or Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Cameroon is a member of CEMAC and is thus subject to its regulations, though implementation remains weak. CEMAC’s central bank, the Bank of Central African States (BEAC), controls monetary policy and is the de facto finance sector regulator, in coordination with the Ministry of Finance.

The National Institute of Statistics (INS) conducts surveys and produces statistics, which are meant to inform policy decisions. Some of these statistics are cited in government documents when ministries are drafting legislative proposals or during parliamentary debates. Quantitative analysis conducted by the INS has often been used by multilateral lenders such as the IMF, the World Bank, and the African Development Bank. However, empirical evaluation and data-driven assessments of the impact of new and existing regulations are limited.

Similarly, public comments are not the main drivers of regulations. However, some consultations take place for the national budget, which is produced each year, but there is little oversight to ensure adherence to the document.

The government does not require companies to have environmental, social, or governance disclosures.

Cameroon is a CEMAC member state. CEMAC regulations supersede those of individual members, though areas such as the free movement of people, goods, and services are not respected by some states. Recent reforms by CEMAC’s central bank, BEAC, have met stiff resistance and delays in their application by individual member states, including Cameroon.

The government requires use of OHADA accounting standards, which are used by 14 African nations. No other norms or standards are referenced in the country’s regulatory system.

Cameroon joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) on December 13, 1995 and was previously a member of the General Agreement on Taxes and Tariffs. Cameroon did not notify all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) in 2020 and submitted eight notifications between 1995 and 2020.

The Cameroonian legal system is a legacy of French (Civil Law), German (Codified Laws), English (Common Law), and domestic national customs, which vary for each ethnic group. The government wants to harmonize these different legal traditions to equip Cameroon with laws that are applicable across the country and to reduce the need to navigate different legal opinions. This project, however, is being met with stiff resistance from English-speaking lawyers, who believe that the initiative will undermine the English system to which they are accustomed.

In terms of standards, Cameroon’s commercial legal system follows the OHADA rules, which are supposed to be aligned with International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).  Enforcement is weak, partly because of lack of capacity. There are not enough specialized judges in the commercial and economic fields. Consequently, poor enforcement of laws and accounting standards tend to create confusion for foreign investors. Despite efforts to align OHADA standards to international norms, government accounting regulations remain obsolete in the context of rapid developments in international finance and capital markets. To circumvent the problem, U.S. enterprises and investors often maintain two sets of accounting records, one in accordance with U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) or suitable international standards, and another set to address the OHADA standards and government reporting requirements.

Arbitration is becoming the solution of choice to solve business disputes in Cameroon.  Arbitration is in the OHADA corporate law and business associations can choose to use OHADA law to run arbitration councils. Since OHADA is a supra-national law, Cameroon is bound by its decisions. In OHADA, regulations and enforcement actions are appealable, and they can also be adjudicated in the national court system. In Cameroon, businesses mostly use the GICAM and Abidjan Arbitration Councils.

Foreign direct investments are governed by Law No. 2013/004 of April 18, 2013, which defines incentives for private investment in Cameroon, while proposing generic and special incentives and affirming the government’s responsibilities towards private investors.  The law applies to both domestic and foreign investors.  Additional laws and regulations that refer to specific economic sectors are available on the website of the Ministry of Finance ( http://www.minfi.gov.cm/index.php/en/documents ).

The 2022 finance law is the newest legal instrument to have been published in the past year.  The 2021 finance law created new taxes, while maintaining some existing exonerations, notably on value-added taxes and life insurance savings. The 2022 law created new taxes as well, including a tax on electronic payments. CIPA maintains a list of relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors ( https://www.investincameroon.net/language/en/ ).

The National Competition Commission handles anti-competition and anti-trust disputes.  In some cases, the regulator of a specific economic sector can play the anti-trust role. State-owned enterprises tend to have quasi-monopoly or monopsony status in their markets.

Decree No.85-9 of July 4, 1985 and the subsequent implementation of Decree N°.87-1872 of December 16, 1987, outline the procedures governing expropriation for public purposes and conditions for compensation. Some of the provisions of these legal texts were repealed by Instruction No. 005/I/Y.25/MINDAF/D220 of December 29, 2005. Essentially, for the public interest, the state may expropriate privately-owned land. The laws also explain the formalities to be observed within the context of the procedure, both at the central and local levels.

In recent years, the government of Cameroon has expropriated large infrastructure road and hydroelectric dam projects. The government has a compensation process in place to meet the losses of those affected by such decisions.

Despite weakness in the actual implementation and execution of laws on the ground, compensation after expropriation generally follows a due process. There are no cases of indirect expropriation, confiscatory tax regimes, or regulatory actions that deprive investors of substantial economic benefits from their investments. However, serious allegations of corruption have plagued compensation procedures over the last decade. These incidents, often carried out by civil servants, have undermined trust in the process.

6. Financial Sector

The Cameroonian government is open to portfolio investment. With the encouragement of the IMF and BEAC, Cameroon and other members of the CEMAC region have designed policies that facilitate the free flow of financial resources into the product and factor markets.

The Financial Markets Commission of Cameroon merged operations with the Libreville-based Central African Financial Market Supervisory Board in February 2019.  The merger has led to the establishment of a unique regional stock exchange called the Central African Stock Exchange (CASE). Cameroon’s financial sector is underdeveloped, and government policies have limited bearing on the free flow of financial resources into the product and factor markets. Foreign investors can get credit on the local market and the private sector has access to a variety of credit instruments. In 2016, Cameroon sought to encourage the development of capital markets through Law No 2016/010 of July 12, 2016, governing undertakings for collective investment in transferable securities in Cameroon.

Cameroon is connected to the international banking payment system. The country is a CEMAC member, which maintains a central bank, BEAC.  CEMAC’s central bank works with the IMF on monetary policies and public finance reform.  BEAC respects IMF Article VIII by refraining from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.  Despite generally respecting Article VIII, BEAC has instituted several restrictions on payments to boost foreign exchange reserves. Financial institutions and importers complain of a backlog of requests for foreign exchange. BEAC is currently negotiating with several international oil companies on repatriation of revenues before external payments. Investors should be aware that timely repatriation of profits may be a stumbling block.

In 2020, with the support of the IMF, BEAC took steps to address the economic impact of COVID-19 in the region. The central bank eased monetary policy and introduced accommodative measures to ensure adequate liquidity in the banking system to supporting internal and external stability. Concomitantly, the regional banking sector controller (Commission Bancaire de l’Afrique Centrale or COBAC) eased prudential regulations to help banks delay pandemic-related losses.

Less than 20 percent of Cameroonians have access to formal banking services. The Cameroonian government has often spoken of increasing access, but no coherent policy or action has been taken to alleviate the problem. Mobile money, introduced by local and international telecom providers, is the closest tool to banking services that most Cameroonians can access. In its 2022 finance law, the government introduced a tax on electronic payment transfers, including the ubiquitously used “Mobile Money.”

The banking sector is generally healthy.  Large, international commercial banks do most of the lending.  One local bank, Afriland, operates in Cameroon and multiple other countries. Most smaller banks deal in small loans of short duration. Retail banking is not common. According to the World Bank, non-performing loans were 10.31 percent of total bank loans in 2016. The Cameroonian government does not keep statistics on non-performing assets. According to Cameroon’s National Credit Council, Afriland First Bank, Societe General Cameroun (SGC), Banque Internationale du Cameroun pour l’Epargne et le Credit (BICEC), and Societe Commerciale de Banque Cameroun (SCB) are the most important banks in the national banking system, accounting for 52 percent of the banking system’s total consolidated balance sheet, 54 percent of total loans, and 54 percent of customer deposits in 2020.

Foreign banks can establish operations in Cameroon.  Most notably, Citibank and Standard Chartered Bank have operated in Cameroon for more than 20 years. They are subject to the same regulations as local banks. U.S. Embassy Yaoundé officials are unaware of any lost correspondent banking relationships within the past three years. There are no restrictions on foreigners establishing bank accounts, credit instruments, business financing, or other such transactions.

The country has 412 registered microfinance institutions, 19 insurance companies, four electronic money institutions, and one Post Office bank. Two major money transfer operators are also present, essentially offering over-the-counter services. The Cameroon market is at the startup stage for its digital financial system. This emerging market segment is currently provided by banks in partnership with telecom operators. According to a 2021 BEAC report on the state of electronic payments in the CEMAC zone, electronic money payments in the CEMAC region increased 21.8 percent from 2019 to 2020, totaling approximately $51 million in 2020 compared to $42 million in 2019.  Cameroon represented the largest amount of electronic payment transfers, accounting for 73 percent of all CEMAC transactions and totaling over $20 million in 2020.

Financial inclusion is low despite some progress brought about by mobile telephony. The World Bank estimates there were 25 million mobile cellular subscriptions in Cameroon in 2020. Putting aside the multi-SIM effect, the penetration rate in terms of unique subscribers was about 50 percent at the end of 2019, which puts Cameroon in the lower end in the Central African region.

Cameroon does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

Canada

3. Legal Regime

Canada’s regulatory transparency is similar to the United States. Regulatory and accounting systems, including those related to debt obligations, are transparent and consistent with international norms. Proposed legislation is subject to parliamentary debate and public hearings, and regulations are issued in draft form for public comment prior to implementation in the Canada Gazette, the government’s official journal of record. While federal and/or provincial licenses or permits may be needed to engage in economic activities, regulation of these activities is generally for statistical or tax compliance reasons. Under the USMCA, parties agreed to make publicly available any written comments they receive, except to the extent necessary to protect confidential information or withhold personal identifying information or inappropriate content.

Canada published regulatory roadmaps for clean technology, digitalization and technology neutrality, and international standards in June 2021. These roadmaps, part of the federal government’s multi-year Targeted Regulatory Review program, lay out plans to advance regulatory modernization to support economic growth and innovation. Canadian securities legislation does not currently mandate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosure for public or private companies. The Canadian Securities Administrators, an umbrella organization of all provincial and territorial securities regulators, released two proposed ESG disclosure policies for public comment between October 2021 and February 2022. The policies would require climate-related governance disclosures and climate-related strategy, risk management and metrics and targets disclosures if adopted.

Canada publishes an annual budget and debt management report. According to the Ministry of Finance, the design and implementation of the domestic debt program are guided by the key principles of transparency, regularity, prudence, and liquidity.

Canada addresses international regulatory norms through its FTAs and actively engages in bilateral and multilateral regulatory discussions. U.S.-Canada regulatory cooperation is guided by Chapter 28 of the USMCA “Good Regulatory Practices” and the bilateral Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC). The USMCA aims to promote regulatory quality through greater transparency, objective analysis, accountability, and predictability. The RCC is a bilateral forum focused on harmonizing health, safety, and environmental regulatory differences. Canada-EU regulatory cooperation is guided by Chapter 21 “Regulatory Cooperation” of the CETA and the Regulatory Cooperation Forum (RCF). CETA encourages regulators to exchange experiences and information and identify areas of mutual cooperation. The RCF seeks to reconstitute regulatory cooperation under the previous Canada-EU Framework on Regulatory Cooperation and Transparency. The RCF is mandated to seek regulatory convergence where feasible to facilitate trade. CPTPP Chapter 25 “Regulatory Coherence” seeks to encourage the use of good regulatory practices to promote international trade and investment, economic growth, and employment. The CPTPP also established a Committee on Regulatory Coherence charged with considering developments to regulatory best practices in order to make recommendations to the CPTPP Commission for improving the chapter provisions and enhancing benefits to the trade agreement.

Canada is a member of the WTO and notifies draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade. Canada is a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement, which it ratified in December 2016.

Canada’s legal system is based on English common law, except for Quebec, which follows civil law. Law-making responsibility is split between the Parliament of Canada (federal law) and provincial/territorial legislatures (provincial/territorial law). Canada has both written commercial law and contractual law, and specialized commercial and civil courts. Canada’s Commercial Law Directorate provides advisory and litigation services to federal departments and agencies whose mandate includes a commercial component and has legal counsel in Montréal and Ottawa.

The judicial branch of government is independent of the executive branch and the current judicial process is considered procedurally competent, fair, and reliable. The provinces administer justice in their jurisdictions, including management of civil and criminal provincial courts.

Foreign investment in Canada is regulated under the provisions of the ICA. U.S. FDI in Canada is also subject to the provisions of the WTO, the USMCA, and the NAFTA. The purpose of the ICA is to review significant foreign investments to ensure they provide an economic net benefit and do not harm national security.

Canada relies on its Invest In Canada promotion agency to provide relevant information to foreign investors: https://www.investcanada.ca/ 

Competition Bureau Canada is an independent law enforcement agency charged with ensuring Canadian businesses and consumers prosper in a competitive and innovative marketplace as stipulated under the Competition Act, the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act, the Textile Labelling Act, and the Precious Metals Marking Act. The Bureau is housed under the Department of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development (ISED) and is headed by a Commissioner of Competition. Competition cases, excluding criminal cases, are brought before the Competition Tribunal, an adjudicative body independent from the government. The Competition Bureau and Tribunal adhere to transparent norms and procedures. Appeals to Tribunal decisions may be filed with the Federal Court of Appeal as per section 13 of the Competition Tribunal Act. Criminal violations of competition law are investigated by the Competition Bureau and are referred to Canada’s Public Prosecution Service for prosecution in federal court.

The federal government announced in February 2022 an intention to review competition law and policy including specific evaluation of loopholes that allow for harmful conduct, drip pricing, wage fixing agreements, access to justice for those injured by harmful conduct, adaptions to the digital economy, and penalty regime modernization. The announcement cited competition as a key tool to strengthen Canadian post-pandemic economic recovery.

In September 2020, the Bureau signed the Multilateral Mutual Assistance and Cooperation Framework for Competition Authorities (MMAC) with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the New Zealand Commerce Commission, the United Kingdom Competition & Markets Authority, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U. S. Federal Trade Commission. The MMAC aims to improve international cooperation through information sharing and inter-organizational training.

Canadian federal and provincial laws recognize both the right of the government to expropriate private property for a public purpose and the obligation to pay compensation. The federal government has not nationalized a foreign firm since the nationalization of Axis property during World War II. Both the federal and provincial governments have assumed control of private firms, usually financially distressed companies, after reaching agreement with the former owners.

The USMCA, like the NAFTA, requires expropriation only be used for a public purpose and done in a nondiscriminatory manner, with prompt, adequate, and effective compensation, and in accordance with due process of law.

Bankruptcy in Canada is governed at the federal level in accordance with the provisions of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (BIA) and the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act. Each province also has specific laws for dealing with bankruptcy. Canada’s bankruptcy laws stipulate that unsecured creditors may apply for court-imposed bankruptcy orders. Debtors and unsecured creditors normally work through appointed trustees to resolve claims. Trustees will generally make payments to creditors after selling the debtors assets. Equity claimants are subordinate to all other creditor claims and are paid only after other creditors have been paid in full per Canada’s insolvency ladder. In all claims, provisions are made for cross-border insolvencies and the recognition of foreign proceedings. Secured creditors generally have the right to take independent actions and fall outside the scope of the BIA.

6. Financial Sector

Canada’s capital markets are open, accessible, and regulated. Credit is allocated on market terms, the private sector has access to a variety of credit instruments, and foreign investors can get credit on the local market. Canada has several securities markets, the largest of which is the Toronto Stock Exchange, and there is sufficient liquidity in the markets to enter and exit sizeable positions. The Canadian government and Bank of Canada do not place restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.

The Canadian banking system is composed of 35 domestic banks and 16 foreign bank subsidiaries. Six major domestic banks are dominant players in the market and manage close to USD 5.4 trillion in assets. Many large international banks have a presence in Canada through a subsidiary, representative office, or branch. Ninety-nine percent of Canadians have an account with a financial institution. The Canadian banking system is viewed as very stable due to high capitalization rates that are well above the norms set by the Bank for International Settlements. The OSFI, Canada’s primary banking regulator, announced in January 2022 revised capital, leverage, liquidity, and disclosure rules that incorporate the final Basel III banking reforms with additional adjustments to make them suitable for federally regulated deposit-taking institutions. Most of the revised rules will take effect in the second fiscal quarter of 2023, with those related to market risk and credit valuation adjustment risk taking effect in early 2024.

Foreign financial firms interested in investing submit their applications to the OSFI for approval by the Minister of Finance. U.S. and other foreign banks can establish banking subsidiaries in Canada. Several U.S. financial institutions maintain commercially focused operations, principally in the areas of lending, investment banking, and credit card issuance. Foreigners can open bank accounts in Canada with proper identification and residency information.

The Bank of Canada is the nation’s central bank. Its principal role is “to promote the economic and financial welfare of Canada,” as defined in the Bank of Canada Act. The Bank’s four main areas of responsibility are: monetary policy; promoting a safe, sound, and efficient financial system; issuing and distributing currency; and being the fiscal agent for Canada.

Canada does not have a federal sovereign wealth fund. The province of Alberta maintains the Heritage Savings Trust Fund to manage the province’s share of non-renewable resource revenue. The fund’s net financial assets were valued at USD 14 billion as of December 31, 2021. The Fund invests in a globally diversified portfolio of public and private equity, fixed income, and real assets. The Fund follows the voluntary code of good practices known as the “Santiago Principles” and participates in the IMF-hosted International Working Group of SWFs. The Heritage Fund holds approximately 50 percent of its value in equity investments, seventeen percent of which are domestic.

Chad

3. Legal Regime

Chad implements laws to foster competition and establish clear rules based on Uniform Acts produced by the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA, Organisation pour l’Harmonisation en Afrique du Droit des Affaires, www.ohada.com ). However, certain Chadian and foreign companies may encounter difficulties from well-established companies with a corner on the market, discouraging competition.

Regulations and financial policies generally do not impede competition in the financial sector. Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems pertaining to banking are transparent and consistent with international norms. Chad began using OHADA’s accounting system in 2002, bringing its national standards into harmony with accounting systems throughout the region. Several international accounting firms have offices in Chad. However, while accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are consistent with international norms, some local firms do not use generally accepted standards and procedures in their business practices.

Chad develops forward regulatory plans to encourage foreign investment and budget support. Government ministries draft regulations, subject to approval by the Secretary General of the Government, Council of Ministers, National Assembly, and President. National regulations are most relevant to foreign investors. There are no informal regulatory processes managed by nongovernmental organizations or private sector associations. The GOC occasionally provides opportunities for local associations, such as the National Council of Employers (CNPT, Conseil National du Patronat Tchadien) or the CCIAMA to comment on proposed laws and regulations pertaining to investment. All contracts and practices are subject to legal review, which can be weak.

The government publishes all budget information, including on the Ministry of Finance and Budget website. Other proposed laws and regulations are not published in draft form for public comment. The Observatory on Public Finance is an online framework for the dissemination of public finance data and the operationalization of the Code of Transparency and Good Governance. This code is an implementation of one of the six CEMAC directives on the December 2011 harmonized framework for public financial management that set 2020 as its goal for complete implementation.

The Presidential Council to Improve the Business Climate was announced in 2018, met once in late 2019, and formally launched in January 2021 due to the negative impact of COVID-19 in 2020. This effort to reform Chad’s investment climate and improve Chad’s performance in World Bank assessments is still in its embryonic stage.

The government has not registered Chad on UNCTAD’s website for helping governments simplify, digitize, and automate administrative procedures, www.businessfacilitation.org , despite the website’s ability to be customized for any procedure or level of government without changing any of its laws. To date, the government has not promoted or required companies environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosure to facilitate transparency and/or help investors and consumers distinguish between the quality of potential investments.

While the government publishes both its general budget and a simplified “citizen” budget to the website of the Ministry of Finance and Budget and to the Observatory on Public Finance website, it does not allow transparency into its debt obligations, including explicit and contingent liabilities.

Chad has been a member of the WTO since October 19, 1996, and a member of GATT since July 12, 1963. Chad is a member of OHADA and the CEMAC ( www.cemac.int ). Since 2017, Chad is gradually implementing business and economic laws and regulations based on CEMAC standards and OHADA Uniform Acts. Chad’s banking sector is regulated by COBAC (Commission Bancaire de l’Afrique Centrale), a regional agency.

Chad’s legal system and commercial law are based on the French Civil Code which gives rise to the proliferation of frivolous lawsuits and judicial abuse by corrupt authorities. The constitution recognizes customary and traditional law if it does not interfere with public order or constitutional rights. Chad’s judicial system, which often lacks access to printed versions of Chad’s own laws, rules on commercial disputes in a limited technical capacity. Courts normally award monetary judgments in local currency, although it may designate awards in foreign currencies based on the circumstances of the disputed transaction. Historically, the Chadian President appointed judges without National Assembly confirmation, and thus the judiciary may have been subject to executive influence. Following the April 2021 establishment of the Transitional Military Council, its members appointed 93 members to an interim legislative body known as the Transitional National Council (CNT). Many Chadian civil society groups criticized the CNT’s appointment, rather than popular election, as well as its makeup as disproportionately reflecting individuals aligned with former President Deby, and for resulting perceptions of a lack of neutrality.

Chad’s commercial laws are based on standards promulgated by CEMAC, OHADA, and the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC, Communaute Economique des Etats de l’Afrique Centrale, http://www.ceeac-eccas.org ). The government is in the process of adopting legislation to comply fully with all these provisions.

Specialized commercial tribunal courts were authorized in 1998 and operationalized in 2004. These tribunals exist in five major cities but lack adequate technical capacity to perform their duties. Firms not satisfied with judgments in these tribunals may appeal to OHADA’s regional court in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, that ensures uniformity and consistent legal interpretations across its member countries. Several Chadian companies have done so. OHADA also allows foreign companies to utilize tribunals outside of Chad, generally in Paris, France, to adjudicate business disputes. Finally, CEMAC established a regional court in N’Djamena in 2001 to hear business disputes, but this body is not widely used.

Contracts and investment agreements can stipulate arbitration procedures and jurisdictions for settlement of disputes. If both parties agree, and settlements do not violate Chadian law, Chadian courts uphold the decision of the court in the nation where an agreement was signed, such as the United States. This principle also applies to disputes between foreign companies and the Chadian Government. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) can arbitrate such disputes and foreign companies frequently choose to include clauses in their contract to mandate ICC arbitration.

Bilateral judicial cooperation is in effect between Chad and certain nations. Chad signed the Antananarivo Convention in 1970, covering the discharge of judicial decisions and serving of legal documents, with eleven other former French colonies (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, CAR, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Cote d’Ivoire, Madagascar, Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal). Chad has similar arrangements in place with France, Nigeria, and Sudan.

The National Investment Charter encourages foreign direct investment. Chad is a member of CEMAC and OHADA. Since 2017, Chad has gradually implemented business and economic laws and regulations based on CEMAC standards and OHADA Uniform Acts.

Foreign investors using the court system are not generally subject to executive interference. In addition, the OHADA Treaty allows foreign companies to utilize tribunals outside of Chad, e.g., the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in Paris, France, to adjudicate any disputes. Companies may also access the OHADA’s court located in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

Foreign businesses interested in investing in or establishing an office in Chad should contact ANIE, which offers a one-stop shop for filing the legal forms needed to start a business. The process officially takes 72 hours and is the most important legal requirement for investment. ANIE’s website ( www.anie-tchad.com ) provides additional information.

Regulation of competition is covered by the OHADA Uniform Acts that form the basis for Chadian business and economic laws and regulations. The Office of Competition in Chad’s Ministry of Industrial and Commercial Development & Private Sector Promotion reviews transactions for competition-related concerns.

Chadian law protects businesses from nationalization and expropriation, except in cases where expropriation is in the public interest. There were no direct government expropriations of foreign-owned property in 2021, though the government maintains indirect expropriation measures, such as a confiscatory tax regime that boasts the third-highest corporate tax rate in the world. There are no indications that the GOC intends to directly expropriate foreign property in the near term, though foreign businesses have reported difficulty repatriating profits from Chadian bank accounts and the open-source reporting indicates that the Chadian government has demanded an extralegal multi-million dollar exit payment from a large multinational.

Historically, a 1967 Land Law has prohibited since its passage the deprivation of ownership without due process, stipulating that the state may not take possession of expropriated properties until 15 days after the payment of compensation. While the government continues to work on reform of the 1967 Land Law, the May 2018 constitution (amended in December 2020), prohibited in its Article 45 the seizure of private property, except in cases of urgent public need — of which there are no known cases. The transitional government’s constitutional charter, which came into place in April 2021 upon the dissolution of Chad’s constitution by the Transitional Military Council, likewise prohibits expropriation outside the framework of the law in its Article 26, though without inclusion of “public utility” or “fair and prior compensation” that were present in the 2018 document.

Chad’s bankruptcy laws are based on OHADA Uniform Acts. According to Section 3, Articles 234 – 239 of OHADA’s Uniform Insolvency Act, creditors and equity shareholders may designate trustees to lodge complaints or claims to the commercial court collectively or individually. The OHADA provisions grant Chad the discretion to apply its own sentences.

6. Financial Sector

Chad’s financial system is underdeveloped. There are no capital markets or money markets in Chad. A limited number of financial instruments are available to the private sector, including letters of credit, short- and medium-term loans, foreign exchange services, and long-term savings instruments. Chad maintains an exchange system that is free from restrictions and multiple currency practices on payments and transfers for current international transactions. This includes due to any actions delegated to BEAC.

Commercial banks offer credit on market terms, often at rates of 12 to 25 percent for short-term loans. Access to credit is available but is prohibitively expensive for most Chadians in the private sector. Medium-term loans are difficult to obtain, as lending criteria are rigid. Most large businesses maintain accounts with foreign banks and borrow money outside of Chad. There are ATMs in some major hotels, most neighborhoods of N’Djamena, the N’Djamena airport, and in major cities.

Chad does not have a stock market and has no effective regulatory system to encourage or facilitate portfolio investments. A small regional stock exchange, known as the Central African Stock Exchange, in Libreville, Gabon, was established by CEMAC countries in 2006. Cameroon, a CEMAC member, launched its own market in 2005. Both exchanges are poorly capitalized.

Chad’s banking sector is small and continues to streamline lending practices and reduce the volume of bad debt accumulated before and during the 2016-2017 economic crisis. While Chad’s banking rate remains low due to low aggregate savings and limited trust in and exposure to banks, according to the World Bank it increased from nine to 22 percent between 2009 and 2017.

Chad’s four largest banks have been privatized. The former Banque Internationale pour l’Afrique au Tchad (BIAT) became a part of Togo-based Ecobank; the former Banque Tchadienne de Credit et de Depôt was re-organized as the Societe Generale Tchad; the former Financial Bank became part of Togo-based Orabank; and the former Banque de Developpement du Tchad (BDT) was reorganized as Commercial Bank Tchad (CBT), in partnership with Cameroon-based Commercial Bank of Cameroon. There are two Libyan banks in Chad, BCC (formerly Banque Libyenne) and BSCIC (Banque Sahelo-Saharienne pour l’Investissement et le Commerce), along with one Nigerian bank — United Bank for Africa (UBA). In 2018, the GOC funded a new bank Banque de l’Habitat du Tchad (BHT) with the GOC as majority shareholder with 50 percent of the shares and two public companies, the National Social Insurance Fund (Caisse Nationale de Prevoyance Sociale, CNPS) and the Chadian Petroleum Company (Societe des Hydrocarbures du Tchad, SHT), each holding 25 percent.

Chad, as a CEMAC member, shares a central bank with Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon — the Central African Economic Bank (BEAC, Banque des Etats de l’Afrique Centrale), headquartered in Yaounde, Cameroon.

Foreigners must establish legal residency in order to establish a bank account.

The GOC does not maintain a Sovereign Wealth Fund.

Chile

3. Legal Regime

Chile’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and provide clear rules for competition and a level playing field for foreigners. They are consistent with international norms; however, environmental regulations – which include mandatory indigenous consultation required by the International Labor Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (ILO 169) – and other permitting processes have become lengthy and unpredictable, especially in politically sensitive cases.

Chile does not have a regulatory oversight body. Four institutions play key roles in the rule-making process: The General-Secretariat of the Presidency (SEGPRES), the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Economy, and the General Comptroller of the Republic. Most regulations come from the national government; however, some, in particular those related to land use, are decided at the local level. Both national and local governments are involved in the issuance of environmental permits. Regulatory processes are managed by governmental entities. NGOs and private sector associations may participate in public hearings or comment periods.

In Chile, non-listed companies follow norms issued by the Accountants Professional Association, while publicly listed companies use the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). Since January 2018, IFRS 9 entered into force for companies in all sectors except for banking, in which IFRS 15 will be applied. IFRS 16 entered into force in January 2019. On January 1, 2022, Chile’s Financial Market Commission (CMF) began implementation of the IFRS 17 accounting standards in the Chilean insurance market.

The legislation process in Chile allows for public hearings during discussion of draft bills in both chambers of Congress. Draft bills submitted by the Executive Branch to the Congress are readily available for public comment. Ministries and regulatory agencies are required by law to give notice of proposed regulations, but there is no formal requirement in Chile for consultation with the general public, conducting regulatory impact assessments of proposed regulations, requesting comments, or reporting results of consultations. For lower-level regulations or norms that do not need congressional approval, there are no formal provisions for public hearing or comment. As a result, Chilean regulators and rulemaking bodies normally consult with stakeholders, but in a less formal manner.

All decrees and laws are published in the Diario Oficial (roughly similar to the Federal Register in the United States), but other types of regulations will not necessarily be found there. There are no other centralized online locations where regulations in Chile are published.

According to the OECD, compliance rates in Chile are generally high. The approach to enforcement remains punitive rather than preventive, and regulators still prefer to inspect rather than collaborate with regulated entities on fostering compliance. Each institution with regulation enforcement responsibilities has its own sanction procedures. Law 19.880 from 2003 establishes the principles for reversal and hierarchical recourse against decisions by the administration. An administrative act can be challenged by lodging an action in the ordinary courts of justice, or by administrative means with a petition to the Comptroller General of the Republic. Affected parties may also make a formal appeal to the Constitutional Court against a specific regulation.

Chile still lacks a comprehensive, “whole of government” regulatory reform program. The OECD’s April 2016 “Regulatory Policy in Chile” report asserts that Chile took steps to improve its rule-making process, but still lags behind the OECD average in assessing the impact of regulations, consulting with outside parties on their design and evaluating them over time. The World Bank´s Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance project finds that Chile is not part of the countries that have improved their regulatory governance framework since 2017.

Chile’s level of fiscal transparency is excellent. Information on the budget and debt obligations, including explicit and contingent liabilities, is easily accessible online.

Chile does not share regulatory sovereignty with any regional economic bloc. However, several international norms or standards from multilateral organizations (UN, WIPO, ILO, among others) are referenced or incorporated into the country’s regulatory system. As a member of the WTO, the Chile notifies draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).

Chile’s legal system is based on civil law. Chile’s legal and regulatory framework provides for effective means for enforcing property and contractual rights.

Laws governing issues of interest to foreign investors are found in several statutes, including the Commercial Code of 1868, the Civil Code, the Labor Code and the General Banking Act. Chile has specialized courts for dealing with tax and labor issues.

The judicial system in Chile is generally transparent and independent. The likelihood of government intervention in court cases is low. If a state-owned firm is involved in the dispute, the Government of Chile may become directly involved through the State Defense Council, which represents the government interests in litigation cases related to expropriations.

Regulations can be challenged before the court system, the National Comptroller, or the Constitutional Court, depending on the nature of the claim.

Law 20,848 of 2015, established a new framework for foreign investment in Chile and created the Agency for the Promotion of Foreign Investment (APIE), successor to the former Foreign Investment Committee and which also acts under the name of “InvestChile.” The InvestChile website provides relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors. For more on FDI regulations and services for foreign investors, see the section on Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment.

Chile’s anti-trust law prohibits mergers or acquisitions that would prevent free competition in the industry at issue. An investor may voluntarily seek a ruling by an Anti-trust Court that a planned investment would not have competition implications. The national economic prosecutor (FNE) is an active institution in conducting investigations for competition-related cases and filing complaints before the Free Competition Tribunal (TDLC), which rules on those cases.

In January and March 2021, the TDLC approved two extra-judicial settlements between the FNE and Nestle, after the company faced two cases of anti-competitive clauses in the contracts with fresh milk producers. The settlement included a US$ 1.8 million payment from Nestle. On the other hand, in April 2021, the FNE cleared Nestle´s acquisition of Chilean premium chocolate maker La Fete, after finding that the two companies serve different market segments.

In March 2021, the FNE cleared Chinese state-owned enterprise State Grid International Development Limited’s (SGIDL) acquisition of Chilean energy company Compañia General de Electricidad (CGE).

In September 2020, the FNE imposed fines amounting to US$ 4.1 million on the Walt Disney Company and its subsidiary TWDC Enterprises 18 Corp. for failing to provide accurate information to adopt adequate mitigation measures during the approval process for its acquisition of Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc. In June 2021, the TDLC approved the payment of a US$ 220,000 fine for the second charge, while the investigation for the main charge remains ongoing.

In October 2021, the TDLC approved remedies agreed upon by Delta and LATAM airlines with the FNE to mitigate the risks to competition arising from Delta’s acquisition of a 20% minority stake in LATAM’s share capital, along with a joint venture and code share agreements for direct routes between the United States and Canada and between certain South American countries with the United States.

In October 2021, the FNE presented a collusion case against the three main securities transport companies that operate in Chile -Brink’s Chile S.A., Prosegur and Loomis-, for having entered into an agreement to fix the prices of its services between 2017 and 2018. The FNE asked the TDLC to apply fines amounting to US$ 63.4 million against the firms (US$30.5 million for Brink’s Chile S.A., US$25.8 million for Prosegur and US$6.4 million for Loomis), as well as fines between US$ 88,000 and US$ 135,000 against the general managers and the regional heads who were in charge of the Chile offices.

Chilean law grants the government authority to expropriate property, including property of foreign investors, only on public interest or national interest grounds, on a non-discriminatory basis and in accordance with due process. The government has not nationalized a private firm since 1973. Expropriations of private land take place in a transparent manner, and typically only when the purpose is to build roads or other types of infrastructure. The law requires the payment of immediate compensation at fair market value, in addition to any applicable interest.

Chile’s Insolvency Law from 1982 was updated in October 2014. The current law aims to clarify and simplify liquidation and reorganization procedures for businesses to prevent criminalizing bankruptcy. It also established the new Superintendence of Insolvency and created specialized insolvency courts. The new insolvency law requires creditors’ approval to select the insolvency representative and to sell debtors’ substantial assets. The creditor also has the right to object to decisions accepting or rejecting creditors’ claims. However, the creditor cannot request information from the insolvency representative. The creditor may file for insolvency of the debtor, but for liquidation purposes only. The creditors are divided into classes for the purposes of voting on the reorganization plan; each class votes separately, and creditors in the same class are treated equally.

6. Financial Sector

Chile’s authorities are committed to developing capital markets and keeping them open to foreign portfolio investors. Foreign firms offer services in Chile in areas such as financial information, data processing, financial advisory services, portfolio management, voluntary saving plans and pension funds. Under the U.S.-Chile FTA, Chile opened up significantly its insurance sector, with very limited exceptions. The Santiago Stock Exchange is Chile’s dominant stock exchange, and the third largest in Latin America. However, when compared to other OECD countries, it has lower market liquidity.

Existing policies facilitate the free flow of financial resources into Chile’s product and factor markets and adjustment to external shocks in a commodity export-dependent economy. Chile accepted the obligations of Article VIII (sections 2, 3 and 4) and maintains a free-floating exchange rate system, free of restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions. Credit is allocated on market terms and its various instruments are available to foreigners. The Central Bank reserves the right to restrict foreign investors’ access to internal credit if a credit shortage exists. To date, this authority has not been exercised.

Nearly one fourth of Chileans have a credit card from a bank and nearly one third have a non-bank credit card, but less than 20 percent have a checking account. However, financial inclusion is higher than banking penetration: a large number of lower-income Chilean residents have a CuentaRut, which is a commission-free card with an electronic account available for all, launched by the state-owned Banco Estado, also the largest provider of microcredit in Chile.

The Chilean banking system is healthy and competitive, and many Chilean banks already meet Basel III standards. The new General Banking Act (LGB), published in January 2019, defined general guidelines for establishing a capital adequacy system in line with Basel standards, and gave the CMF the authority to establish the capital framework. All Basel III regulations were published in December 2020, and the CMF started the implementation process of Basel III requirements to last to December 1, 2025. The system’s liquidity position (Liquidity Coverage Ratio) remains above regulatory limits (70%). Capital adequacy ratio of the system equaled 14.9 percent as of December 2021 and remains robust even when including discounts due to market and/or operational risks. Non-performing loans decreased after August 2020 due to government relief measures for households, including legislation authorizing two rounds of withdrawals from pension accounts. As of January 2022, non-performing loans equaled 1.26 percent compared to 1.54 percent as of January 2021) when measured by the standard 90 days past due criterion.

As of November 2021, the total assets of the Chilean banking system amounted to US$ 428.6 billion, according to the Superintendence of Banks and Financial Institutions. The largest six banks (Banco de Crédito e Inversiones, Banco Santander-Chile, Banco Estado, Banco de Chile, Scotiabank Chile and Itaú-Corpbanca) accounted for 88 percent of the system’s assets. Chile’s Central Bank conducts the country’s monetary policy, is constitutionally autonomous from the government, and is not subject to regulation by the Superintendence of Banks.

Foreign banks have an important presence in Chile, comprising three out of the six largest banks of the system. Out of 17 banks currently in Chile, five are foreign-owned but legally established banks in Chile and four are branches of foreign banks. Both categories are subject to the requirements set out under the Chilean banking law. There are also 21 representative offices of foreign banks in Chile. There are no reports of correspondent banking relationships withdrawal in Chile.

In order to open a bank account in Chile, a foreigner must present his/her Chilean ID Card or passport, Chilean tax ID number, proof of address, proof of income/solvency, photo, and fingerprints.

The Government of Chile maintains two sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) built with savings from years with fiscal surpluses. The Economic and Social Stabilization Fund (FEES) was established in 2007 and was valued at US$ 6.4 billion as of January 2022. The purpose of the FEES is to fund public debt payments and temporary deficit spending, in order to keep a countercyclical fiscal policy. The Pensions Reserve Fund (FRP) was built up in 2006 and amounted to US$ 7.2 billion as of January 2022. The purpose of the FRP is to anticipate future needs of payments to those eligible to receive pensions, but whose contributions to the private pension system fall below a minimum threshold.

Chile is a member of the International Working Group of Sovereign Wealth Funds (IWG) and adheres to the Santiago Principles.

Chile’s government policy is to invest SWFs entirely abroad into instruments denominated in foreign currencies, including sovereign bonds and related instruments, corporate and high-yield bonds, mortgage-backed securities from U.S. agencies, and stocks.

China

3. Legal Regime

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 IPR (TRIPS), and the control of foreign exchange. Despite mandatory 30-day public comment periods, PRC 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 between the CCP, the PRC government, PRC business (state- and private-owned), and other PRC stakeholders are blurred. 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, PRC 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.

While the government of China made many policy announcements in 2021 that will provide impetus to ESG reporting, stock exchanges on mainland China (not including Hong Kong) have not made ESG reporting mandatory. For instance, currently eighteen  PRC companies are signatories to the UN Principles for Responsible Investment. While the PRC government did announce its green finance taxonomy known as China’s “Catalogue of Green Bond Supported Projects”, experts cited the taxonomy lacks mandatory reporting and verification. On November 4, the People’s Bank of China and the European Commission also jointly launched a sustainable finance taxonomy to create comparable standards on green finance products. Mainland ESG efforts were also primarily focused on environmental and social impact-related, and less so on governance-related reporting. China’s goal to peak carbon emissions before 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2060 will drive reporting on decarbonization plans and targets and could increase alignment with international standards such as those outlined in the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) recommendations. The PRC government also incorporated non-mandatory ESG-like principles into overseas development initiatives such as its signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) via its Guiding Opinions on Promoting Green Belt and Road Construction. For instance, the PRC adopted the Green Investment Principles (GIP) for greening investment for BRI projects; under this initiative members – including major PRC policy banks funding BRI projects – are expected to provide their first TCFD disclosure by 2023. Obstacles contacts cited include a shortage of quality data and ESG professionals, such as third-party auditors which are required to support evidence based ESG reporting.

In December, MEE issued new disclosure rules  requiring five types of domestic entities to disclose environmental information on an annual basis, effective February 8, 2022. The rules will apply only to listed companies and bond issuers that were subject to environmental penalties the previous year and other MEE-identified entities, including those that discharged high levels of pollutants. Entities must disclose information on environmental management, pollution generation, carbon emissions, and contingency planning for environmental emergencies. These same companies and bond issuers must also disclose climate change and environmental protection information related to investment and financing transactions.

On June 28, the CSRC issued final amendments requiring listed companies disclose environmental penalties and encouraging carbon emissions disclosures. It also issued guidelines on the format and content of annual reports and half-year reports of listed companies, requiring them to set up a separate “Section 5 Environmental and Social Responsibility” to encourage carbon emission reduction related disclosure. In May, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) issued a plan  for strengthening environmental disclosure requirements by 2025. Most contacts assessed investors are the key drivers of increased ESG disclosures.

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.

The PRC is also a member of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which entered into force on January 1, 2022. Although RCEP has some elements of a regional economic bloc, many of its regulatory provisions (for example on data flow) are weakened by national security exemptions.

On September 16, China submitted a written application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) to New Zealand (the depositary of the agreement). The PRC would face challenges in addressing obligations related to SOEs, labor rights, digital trade, and increased transparency.

China’s legal system borrows heavily from continental European legal systems, but with “Chinese characteristics.” The rules governing commercial activities are found in various laws, regulations, departmental 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.  The PRC’s constitution and laws are clear that PRC courts cannot exercise power independent of the Party. Further, in practice, influential businesses, local governments, and regulators routinely influence courts. Outside of the IP space, U.S. companies often hesitate in challenging administrative decisions or bringing commercial disputes before local courts due to perceptions of futility or fear of government retaliation.

The PRC’s new foreign investment law, the FIL, came into force on January 1, 2020, replacing the 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 PRC 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 PRC ministries and local officials significant regulatory discretion, including the ability to retaliate against foreign companies.

The December 2020 revised investment screening mechanism under the Measures on Security Reviews on Foreign Investments (briefly discussed above) came into effect January 18 without any period for public comment or prior consultation with the business community. Foreign investors complained 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. While not comprehensive, a list of official PRC laws and regulations is here .

On June 10, the Standing Committee of the NPC adopted the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Countering Foreign Sanctions (“Anti-Foreign Sanctions Law” or AFSL). The AFSL gives the government explicit authority to impose countermeasures related to visas, deportation, and asset freezing against individuals or organizations that broadly endanger China’s “sovereignty, security, or development interests.” The law also calls for Chinese citizens and organizations harmed by foreign “sanctions” to pursue damages via PRC civil courts.

On October 13, MOF issued a circular prohibiting discrimination against foreign-invested enterprises (FIEs) in government procurement for products “produced in China.” The circular required that suppliers not be restricted based on ownership, organization, equity structure, investor country, or product brand, to ensure fair competition between domestic and foreign companies. The circular also required the abolition of regulations and practices violating the circular by the end of November, including the establishment of alternative databases and qualification databases. This circular may have been intended to address the issuance of Document No. 551 in May by MOF and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) (without publishing on official websites), titled “Auditing guidelines for government procurement of imported products,” outlining local content requirements for hundreds of items, many of which are medical devices, including X-ray machines and magnetic resonance imaging equipment. It is unclear whether Document 551 will be rescinded or revised based on this circular. Additionally, the circular applies only to FIEs and does not provide fair treatment for imported products from companies overseas. While the circular does state FIEs should be afforded equal treatment, the circular does not address concerns about localization pressures created by Document 551. Further, the circular provides no guidance on what constitutes a “domestic product” and does not address treatment of products manufactured in China that incorporate content from other jurisdictions, key concerns for a wide range of U.S. firms.

In November 2021, the PRC government announced transformation of the Anti-Monopoly Bureau of the SAMR, renaming it the National Anti-Monopoly Bureau, adding three new departments, and doubled staffing. The National Anti-Monopoly Bureau enforces China’s Anti-Monopoly Law (AML) and oversees competition issues at the central and provincial levels.  The bureau reviews mergers and acquisitions, and investigates cartel and other anticompetitive agreements, abuse of a dominant market positions, including those related to IP, and abuse of administrative powers by government agencies. The bureau also oversees the Fair Competition Review System (FCRS), which requires government agencies to conduct a review prior to issuing new and revising administrative regulations, rules, and guidelines to ensure such measures do not inhibit competition. SAMR issues implementation guidelines to fill in gaps in the AML, address new trends in China’s market, and help foster transparency in enforcement. Generally, SAMR has sought public comment on proposed measures, although comment periods are sometimes less than 30 days.

In October 2021, SAMR issued draft amendments to the AML for public comment. Revisions to the AML are expected to be finalized in 2022 and likely will include changes such as stepped-up fines for AML violations and specification of the factors to consider in determining whether an undertaking in the internet sector has abused a dominant market position. In February 2021, SAMR published (after public comment) the “Antitrust Guidelines for the Platform Economy.” The Guidelines address monopolistic behaviors of online platforms operating in China.

Foreign companies have long expressed concern that the government uses AML enforcement in support of China’s industrial policies, such as promoting national champions, particularly for companies operating in strategic sectors. The AML explicitly protects the lawful operations of government authorized monopolies in industries that affect the national economy or national security. U.S. companies expressed concerns that in SAMR’s consultations with other PRC agencies when reviewing M&A transactions, those agencies raise concerns not related to competition concerns to block, delay, or force transacting parties to comply with preconditions – including technology transfer – to receive approval.

China’s law prohibits nationalization of FIEs, except under vaguely specified “special circumstances” where there is a national security or public interest need. PRC law requires fair compensation for an expropriated foreign investment but does not detail the method used to assess the value of the investment.  The Department of State is not aware of any cases since 1979 in which China has expropriated a U.S. investment, although the Department has notified Congress through the annual 527 Investment Dispute Report of several cases of concern.

The PRC introduced bankruptcy laws in 2007, under the Enterprise Bankruptcy Law (EBL), which applies to all companies incorporated under PRC laws and subject to PRC regulations. In May 2020, the PRC released the Civil Code, contract and property rights rules. Despite the NPC listing amendments to the EBL as a top work priority for 2021, the NPC has not released the amendments to the public. Court-appointed administrators – law firms and accounting firms that help verify claims, organize creditors’ meetings, list, and sell assets online – look to handle more cases and process them faster.  As of 2021 official statements cited 5,060 institutional administrators and 703 individual administrators.

On August 18, the Law Enforcement Inspection Team of the Standing Committee of the NPC was submitted its report on the enforcement of enterprise bankruptcy to the 30th meeting of the Standing Committee of the Thirteenth NPC for deliberation. While the report is unavailable publicly, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) website issued a press release  noting the report found that from 2007 to 2020, courts at all levels nationwide accepted 59,604 bankruptcy cases, and concluded 48,045 bankruptcy cases (in 2020 there were 24,438 liquidation and bankruptcy cases). Of the total liquidation and bankruptcy cases recorded in that same period, 90 percent involved private enterprises. The announcement also cited the allocation of additional resources, including future establishment of at least 14 bankruptcy tribunals and 100 Liquidation & Bankruptcy Divisions and specialized collegial panels to handle bankruptcy cases. As of August 2021, bankruptcy cases are handled by 417 bankruptcy judges, 28 high people’s courts, and 284 intermediate people’s courts.

In 2021 the government added a new court in Haikou. National data is unavailable for 2021, but local courts have released some information that suggest a nearly 10 percent increase in liquidation and bankruptcy cases in Jiangxi province and about a 66 percent increase in Guangzhou, the capital city of Guangdong province. While PRC authorities are taking steps to address corporate debt and are gradually allowing some companies to fail, companies generally avoid pursing bankruptcy because of the potential for local government interference and fear of losing control over the outcome. According to the SPC, 2.899 million enterprises closed business in 2020, of which only 0.1 percent or 3,908 closed because of bankruptcy.

In August 2020, Shenzhen released the Personal Bankruptcy Regulations of Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, to take effect on March 1, 2021. This is the PRC’s first regulation on personal bankruptcy. On July 19, the Shenzhen Intermediate People’s Court of Guangdong Province, China served a ruling on Liang Wenjin approving his personal bankruptcy reorganization plan. This was the first personal bankruptcy case closed by Shenzhen Court since the implementation of the Personal Bankruptcy Regulations of Shenzhen Special Economic Zone and is the first personal bankruptcy reorganization case in China.

The Personal Bankruptcy Regulations is China’s first set of rules on personal bankruptcy, which formally establishes the personal bankruptcy system in China for the first time. At present, the Personal Bankruptcy Regulations is only applicable in Shenzhen. Numerous other localities have also begun experimenting with legal remedies for personal insolvency, in part to deter debtors from taking extreme measures to address debt.

6. Financial Sector

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 USD 12.2 trillion in assets. China’s bond market has similarly expanded significantly to become the second largest worldwide, totaling approximately USD 18.6 trillion. In 2021, China took steps to open certain financial sectors such as mutual funds, securities, and asset management, but multinational companies still report barriers to entering the PRC insurance markets. As an example, in September, Black Rock was the first firm given approval to sell mutual funds to PRC nationals as the first wholly foreign owned mutual fund. Direct investment by private equity and venture capital firms increased but also faced setbacks due to China’s capital controls, which obfuscate the repatriation of returns. Though the PRC is taking steps to liberalize its capital markets, PRC companies that seek overseas investment have historically tended to list in the United States or Hong Kong; PRC and U.S. regulations on exchanges and geopolitics may begin to impact this trend. As of 2021, 24 sovereign entities and private sector firms, including the Asian Development Bank, Hungary, and BMW, have since issued RMB 106.5 billion yuan, roughly USD 16.7 billion, in 72 “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 products. However, most bank credit flows 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 and industrial policy.

The PRC’s monetary policy is run by the PBOC, the PRC’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, the PRC’s financial regulators still influence the volume and destination of PRC 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. In 2021, PBOC and CBIRC issued circulars emphasizing the need to emphasize and encourage financial stability among real estate developers.

The CBIRC oversees the PRC’s 4,607 lending institutions, about USD 54 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 has experienced regional banking stress, especially among smaller lenders. Reflecting the level of weakness among these banks, in September 2021, the PBOC announced in “China Financial Stability Report 2020” that 422 or 9.6 percent of the 4,400 banking financial institutions received a “fail” rating (high risk) following an industry-wide review in in the second quarter of 2021. The assessment deemed 393 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: 1.7 percent as of the end of 2021. However, analysts believed the actual figure may be significantly higher. Bank loans continue to provide most credit options (reportedly around 63.6 percent in 2021) 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. PBOC estimated in January 2021 that the outstanding balance of China’s shadow banking was around RMB 32 trillion yuan at the end of 2020. Alternatively, Moody’s estimated that China’s shadow banking by broad measurement dropped to RMB 57.8 trillion yuan in the first half of 2021 and shadow banking to GDP ratio dropped to 52.9 percent from 58.3 percent at the end of 2020. 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.

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. Overall, information and updates on CIC and other funds that function like SWFs was difficult to procure. CIC is ranked the second largest SWF by total assets by Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute (SWFI). With USD 200 billion in initial registered capital, CIC manages over USD 1.2 trillion in assets as of 2021 and invests on a 10-year time horizon. In 2021, CIC reported that during the 2020 period it increased its information technology-related holdings while cutting holdings of overseas equities and bonds. CIC has two overseas branches, CIC International (Hong Kong) Co., Ltd. and CIC Representative Office in New York. 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 China’s 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 USD 450 billion in assets in 2021; the China-Africa Development Fund (solely funded by the China Development Bank), with an estimated USD 10 billion in assets (2020); the SAFE Investment Company, with an estimated USD 417.8 billion in assets; and China’s state-owned Silk Road Fund, established in December 2014 with USD 40 billion in assets to foster investment in BRI countries. China’s state-run funds do not report the percentage of assets invested domestically. However, China’s 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 they do not have formal government guidance to invest funds consistent with industrial policies or designated projects, CIC is expected to pursue government objectives.

Colombia

3. Legal Regime

The Colombian legal, accounting, and regulatory systems are generally transparent and consistent with international norms. The written commercial code and other laws cover broad areas, including banking and credit, bankruptcy/reorganization, business establishment/conduct, commercial contracts, credit, corporate organization, fiduciary obligations, insurance, industrial property, and real property law. The civil code contains provisions relating to contracts, mortgages, liens, notary functions, and registries. There are no identified private-sector associations or non-governmental organizations leading informal regulatory processes. The ministries generally consult with relevant actors, both foreign and national, when drafting regulations. Proposed laws are typically published as drafts for public comment, although sometimes with limited notice. Information on Colombia’s public finances and debt obligations is readily available and is published in a timely manner.

Enforcement mechanisms exist, but historically the judicial system has not taken an active role in adjudicating commercial cases. The Constitution establishes the principle of free competition as a national right for all citizens and provides the judiciary with administrative and financial independence from the executive branch. Colombia has transitioned to an oral accusatory system to make criminal investigations and trials more efficient. The new system separates the investigative functions assigned to the Office of the Attorney General from trial functions. Lack of coordination among government entities, clear lines of responsibility, as well as insufficient resources complicate timely resolution of cases.

Colombia is a member of UNCTAD’s international network of transparent investment procedures (see http://www.businessfacilitation.org  and Colombia’s websites http://colombia.eregulations.org  and https://www.colombiacompra.gov.co ). Foreign and national investors can find detailed information on administrative procedures for investment and income generating operations, including the number of steps, name, and contact details of the entities and people in charge of procedures, required documents and conditions, costs, processing time, and legal bases justifying the procedures. In general, Colombia does not promote or require environmental, social, and governance disclosure to help investors and consumers distinguish between high- and low-quality investments.

Colombia became the 37th member of the OECD in April 2020. Colombia is part of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The government generally notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade. In August 2020, Colombia fully joined the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). Regionally, Colombia is a member of organizations such as the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), the Pacific Alliance, and the Andean Community of Nations (CAN).

Colombia has a comprehensive, civil law-based legal system. Colombia’s judicial system defines the legal rights of commercial entities, reviews regulatory enforcement procedures, and adjudicates contract disputes in the business community. The judicial framework includes the Council of State, the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court of Justice, and various departmental and district courts, which collectively are overseen administratively by the Superior Judicial Council. The 1991 Constitution provided the judiciary with greater administrative and financial independence from the executive branch. Regulations and enforcement actions are appealable through the different stages of legal court processes in Colombia. The judicial system in general remains hampered by time-consuming bureaucratic requirements.

Colombia has a comprehensive legal framework for business and FDI that incorporates binding norms resulting from its membership in the Andean Community of Nations and the WTO, as well as other free trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties.

Colombia’s official investment portal explains procedures and relevant laws for those wishing to invest (see https://investincolombia.com.co/en/how-to-invest ).

The Superintendence of Industry and Commerce (SIC), Colombia’s independent national competition authority, monitors and protects free economic competition, consumer rights, compliance with legal requirements and regulations, and protection of personal data. It also manages the national chambers of commerce. The SIC has been strengthened in recent years with the addition of personnel, including economists and lawyers. The SIC has recently investigated companies, including U.S.-based technology firms and Colombian banks, for failing to protect customer data. Other investigations include those related to pharmaceutical pricing, “business cartelization” among companies supplying public entities, and misleading advertising by a major brewing company. One U.S. gig-economy platform was temporarily barred from operating in Colombia in early 2020, although other similarly-situated companies remained; a court overturned the prohibition on appeal. U.S. companies have expressed concern about limited ability to appeal SIC orders and the SIC’s increasing reliance on orders to remedy perceived problems. Other U.S. companies have noted that SIC investigations can be drawn-out and opaque, similar to the judicial system. In general Stakeholders continue to express concern that some regulatory rulings in Colombia target specific companies, resulting in an uneven playing field and regulatory inconsistency. Investors also note concern that the SIC has ruled differently on similar issues for different companies, leading to different results.

Article 58 of the Constitution governs indemnifications and expropriations and guarantees owners’ rights for legally-acquired property. For assets taken by eminent domain, Colombian law provides a right of appeal both on the basis of the decision itself and on the level of compensation. The Constitution does not specify how to proceed in compensation cases, which remains a concern for foreign investors. The Colombian government has sought to resolve such concerns through the negotiation of bilateral investment treaties and strong investment chapters in free trade agreements, such as the CTPA.

Colombia’s 1991 Constitution grants the government the authority to intervene directly in financial or economic affairs, and this authority provides solutions similar to U.S. Chapter 11 filings for companies facing liquidation or bankruptcy. Colombia’s bankruptcy regulations have two major objectives: to regulate proceedings to ensure creditors’ protection, and to monitor the efficient recovery and preservation of still-viable companies. This was revised in 2006 to allow creditors to request judicial liquidation, which replaces the previous forced auctioning option. Now, inventories are valued, creditors’ rights are considered, and either a direct sale takes place within two months or all assets are assigned to creditors based on their share of the company’s liabilities. The insolvency regime for companies was further revised in 2010 to make proceedings more flexible and allow debtors to enter into a long-term payment agreement with creditors, giving the company a chance to recover and continue operating. Bankruptcy is not criminalized in Colombia. In 2013, a bankruptcy law for individuals whose debts surpass 50 percent of their assets value entered into force.

Restructuring proceedings aim to protect the debtors from bankruptcy. Once reorganization has begun, creditors cannot use collection proceedings to collect on debts owed prior to the beginning of the reorganization proceedings. All existing creditors at the moment of the reorganization are recognized during the proceedings if they present their credit. Foreign creditors, equity shareholders (including foreign equity shareholders), and holders of other financial contracts (including foreign contract holders) are recognized during the proceeding. Established creditors are guaranteed a vote in the final decision. According to the Doing Business 2020 report Colombia ranked 32nd for resolving insolvency and it takes an average of 1.7 years – the same as OECD high-income countries – to resolve insolvency; the average time in Latin America is 2.9 years.

6. Financial Sector

The Colombian Securities Exchange (BVC after its acronym in Spanish) is the main forum for trading and securities transactions in Colombia. The BVC is a private company listed on the stock market. The BVC, as a multi-product and multi-market exchange, offers trading platforms for the stock market, along with fixed income and standard derivatives. The BVC also provides listing services for issuers.

Foreign investors can participate in capital markets by negotiating and acquiring shares, bonds, and other securities listed by the Foreign Investment Statute. These activities must be conducted by a local administrator, such as trust companies or Financial Superintendence-authorized stock brokerage firms. Direct and portfolio foreign investments must be registered with the Central Bank. Foreigners can establish a bank account in Colombia as long as they have a valid visa and Colombian government identification.

The market has sufficient liquidity for investors to enter and exit sizeable positions. The central bank respects IMF Article VIII and does not restrict payments and transfers for current international transactions. The financial sector in Colombia offers credit to nationals and foreigners that comply with the requisite legal requirements.

In 2005, Colombia consolidated supervision of all aspects of the banking, financial, securities, and insurance sectors under the Financial Superintendence. Colombia has an effective regulatory system that encourages portfolio investment, and the country’s financial system is strong by regional standards. Commercial banks are the principal source of long-term corporate and project finance in Colombia. Loans rarely have a maturity in excess of five years. Unofficial private lenders play a major role in meeting the working capital needs of small and medium-sized companies. Only the largest of Colombia’s companies participate in the local stock or bond markets, with the majority meeting their financing needs either through the banking system, by reinvesting their profits, or through credit from suppliers.

Colombia’s central bank is charged with managing inflation and unemployment through monetary policy. Foreign banks are allowed to establish operations in the country and must set up a Colombian subsidiary in order to do so. The Colombian central bank has a variety of correspondent banks abroad.

In 2012, Colombia began operating a sovereign wealth fund called the Savings and Stabilization Fund (FAE), which is administered by the central bank with the objective of promoting savings and economic stability in the country. Colombia is not a member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds. The fund can administer up to 30 percent of annual royalties from the extractives industry. Its primary investments are in fixed securities, sovereign and quasi-sovereign debt (both domestic and international), and corporate securities, with just eight percent invested in stocks. The government transfers royalties not dedicated to the fund to other internal funds to boost national economic productivity through strategic projects, technological investments, and innovation. In 2020, the government authorized up to 80 percent of the FAE’s USD 3.9 billion in assets to be lent to the Fund for the Mitigation of Emergencies (FOME) created in response to the pandemic.

Costa Rica

3. Legal Regime

Costa Rican laws, regulations, and practices are generally transparent and meant to foster competition in a manner consistent with international norms, except in the sectors controlled by a state monopoly, where competition is explicitly excluded. Rule-making and regulatory authority is housed in any number of agencies specialized by function (telecom, financial, personal data, health, environmental) or location (municipalities, port authorities). Tax, labor, health, and safety laws, though highly bureaucratic, are not seen as unfairly interfering with foreign investment. It is common to have Professional Associations that play a role in policing or guiding their members.

Costa Rica is a member of UNCTAD’s international network of transparent investment procedures ( http://www.businessfacilitation.org ). Within that context, the Ministry of Economy compiled the various procedures needed to do business in Costa Rica: https://tramitescr.meic.go.cr/ . Accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are transparent and consistent with international norms. The stock and bond market regulator SUGEVAL requires International Accounting Standards Board for public companies, while the Costa Rican College of Public Accountants (Colegio de Contadores Publicos de Costa Rica -CCPA) has adopted full International Financial Reporting Standards for non-regulated companies in Costa Rica; for more, see the international federation of accountants IFAC: https://www.ifac.org/about-ifac/membership/country/costa-rica .

While the government does not require companies’ environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosure, to facilitate transparency and better inform investors, government entities do regularly encourage commitments to environmental and social standards (e.g., within the coffee and tourism industries) beyond or complementary to purely legal requirements.  Certifications with Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) components used by the Costa Rican private sector include an array of agricultural certifications, the B Corporation Certificate, the Environmental Design Certification from the Green Building Council, and the ISO 26000 Social Responsibility standard.  In the banking sector, entities under the supervision of the Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras (Financial Regulator) must comply with corporate governance regulations such as transparency and accountability to shareholders.

Regulations must go through a public hearing process when being drafted. Draft bills and regulations are made available for public comment through public consultation processes that will vary in their details according to the public entity and procedure in question, generally giving interested parties sufficient time to respond. The standard period for public comment on technical regulations is 10 days. As appropriate, this process is underpinned by scientific or data-driven assessments. A similarly transparent process applies to proposed laws. The Legislative Assembly generally provides sufficient opportunity for supporters and opponents of a law to understand and comment on proposals. To become law, a proposal must be approved by the Assembly by two plenary votes. The signature of 10 legislators (out of 57) is sufficient after the first vote to send the bill to the Supreme Court for constitutional review within one month, although the court may take longer.

Regulations and laws, both proposed and final, for all branches of government are published digitally in the government registry “La Gaceta”: https://www.imprentanacional.go.cr/gaceta/ . The Costa Rican American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham – http://amcham.co.cr  ) and other business chambers closely monitor these processes and often coordinate responses as needed.

The government has mechanisms to ensure laws and regulations are followed. The Comptroller General’s Office conducts operational as well as financial audits and as such provides the primary oversight and enforcement mechanism within the Costa Rican government to ensure that government bodies follow administrative processes. Each government body’s internal audit office and, in many cases, the customer-service comptroller (Contraloria de Servicios) provide additional support.

There are several independent avenues for appealing regulatory decisions, and these are frequently pursued by persons or organizations opposed to a public sector contract or regulatory decision. The avenues include the Comptroller General (Contraloria General de la Republica), the Ombudsman (Defensor de los Habitantes), the public services regulatory agency (ARESEP), and the constitutional review chamber of the Supreme Court. The State Litigator’s office (Procuraduria General) is frequently a participant in its role as the government’s attorney.

Costa Rica is transparent in reporting its public finances and debt obligations, including explicit and contingent liabilities. Debt obligations are transparent; the Ministry of Finance provides updates on public debt through the year, with the debt categorized as Central Government, Central Government and Non-Financial Sector, and Central Bank of Costa Rica.

https://www.hacienda.go.cr/contenido/12519-informacion-de-la-deuda-publica .

The following chart covers contingent debt as of January 31, 2022:

https://www.hacienda.go.cr/docs/6213fa8ea594c_01-2022%20DEUDA%20CONTINGENTE%20PUBLICAR.pdf

The review and enforcement mechanisms described above have kept Costa Rica’s regulatory system relatively transparent and free of abuse, but have also rendered the system for public sector contract approval exceptionally slow and litigious. There have been several cases in which these review bodies have overturned already-executed contracts, thereby interjecting uncertainty into the process. Bureaucratic procedures are frequently long, involved and can be discouraging to new investors.

Furthermore, Costa Rica’s product market regulations are more stringent than in any other OECD country, according to the OECD’s 2020 Product Market Regulations Indicator, leading to market inefficiencies. Find this explanation as well as a detailed review of the regulatory challenges Costa Rica faces in the September 2020 OECD report on regulatory reform:

https://www.oecd.org/countries/costarica/enhancing-business-dynamism-and-consumer-welfare-in-costa-rica-with-regulatory-reform-53250d35-en.htm 

While Costa Rica does consult with its neighbors on some regulations through participation in the Central American Integration System (SICA) ( http://www.sica.int/sica/sica_breve.aspx ), Costa Rica’s lawmakers and regulatory bodies habitually refer to sample regulations or legislation from OECD members and others. Costa Rica’s commitment to OECD standards as an OECD member has accentuated this traditional use of best-practices and model legislation. Costa Rica regularly notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers in Trade (TBT).

Costa Rica uses the civil law system. The fundamental law is the country’s political constitution of 1949, which grants the unicameral legislature a particularly strong role. Jurisprudence or case law does not constitute legal precedent but can be persuasive if used in legal proceedings. For example, the Chambers of the Supreme Court regularly cite their own precedents. The civil and commercial codes govern commercial transactions. The courts are independent, and their authority is respected. The roles of public prosecutor and government attorney are distinct: the Chief Prosecuting Attorney or Attorney General (Fiscal General) operates a semi-autonomous department within the judicial branch while the government attorney or State Litigator (Procuraduria General) works within the Ministry of Justice and Peace in the Executive branch. The primary criminal investigative body “Organismo de Investigacion Judicial” OIJ, is a semi-autonomous department within the Judicial Branch. Judgments and awards of foreign courts and arbitration panels may be accepted and enforced in Costa Rica through the exequatur process. The Constitution specifically prohibits discriminatory treatment of foreign nationals. The Costa Rican Judicial System addresses the full range of civil, administrative, and criminal cases with a number of specialized courts.  The judicial system generally upholds contracts, but caution should be exercised when making investments in sectors reserved or protected by the Constitution or by laws for public operation. Regulations and enforcement actions may be, and often are, appealed to the courts.

Costa Rica’s commercial code details all business requirements necessary to operate in Costa Rica. The laws of public administration and public finance contain most requirements for contracting with the state.

The legal process to resolve cases involving squatting on land can be especially cumbersome. Land registries are at times incomplete or even contradictory. Buyers should retain experienced legal counsel to help them determine the necessary due diligence regarding the purchase of property.

Costa Rican websites are useful to help navigate laws, rules and procedures including that of the investment promotion agency CINDE, http://www.cinde.org/en , the export promotion authority PROCOMER, http://www.procomer.com/ (“inversionista”), and the Health Ministry, https://www.ministeriodesalud.go.cr/  (product registration and import/export). In addition, the State Litigator’s office ( www.pgr.go.cr,  the “SCIJ” tab) compiles relevant laws.

Two public institutions are responsible for consumer protection as it relates to monopolistic and anti-competitive practices. The “Commission for the Promotion of Competition” (COPROCOM), an autonomous agency housed in the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Commerce, is charged with investigating and correcting anti-competitive behavior across the economy. The Telecommunications Superintendence (SUTEL) shares that responsibility with COPROCOM in the Telecommunications sector. Both agencies are charged with defense of competition, deregulation of economic activity, and consumer protection. Their decisions may be appealed judicially. For the OECD assessment of competition law and policy in Costa Rica, see this July 2020 report: https://www.oecd.org/countries/costarica/costarica-competition.htm. 

The three principal expropriating government agencies in recent years have been the Ministry of Public Works – MOPT (highway rights-of-way), the state-owned Costa Rican Electrical Institute – ICE (energy infrastructure), and the Ministry of Environment and Energy – MINAE (National Parks and protected areas). Expropriations generally conform to Costa Rica’s laws and treaty obligations.

Article 45 of Costa Rica’s Constitution stipulates that private property can be expropriated without proof that it is done for public interest. The 1995 Law 7495 on expropriations further stipulates that expropriations require full and prior payment, and upon full deposit of the calculated amount the government may take possession of land despite the former owner’s dispute of the price. The law makes no distinction between foreigners and nationals. The expropriations law was amended in 1998, 2006, and 2015 to clarify and expedite some procedures, including those necessary to expropriate land for the construction of new roads. (For full detail go to https://PGRweb.go.cr/SCIJ  . When reviewing the articles of the law go to the most recent version of each article.)

There is no discernible bias against U.S. investments, companies, or representatives during the expropriations process. Costa Rican public institutions follow the law as outlined above and generally act in a way acceptable to the affected landowners. However, when landowners and government differ significantly in their appraisal of the expropriated lands’ value, the resultant judicial processes generally take years to resolve. In addition, landowners have, on occasion, been prevented from developing land which has not yet been formally expropriated for parks or protected areas; the courts will eventually order the government to proceed with the expropriations but the process can be long.

The Costa Rican bankruptcy law, addressed in both the commercial code and the civil procedures code, has long been similar to corresponding U.S. law. In February 2021, Costa Rica’s National Assembly approved a comprehensive bankruptcy law #9957 “Ley Concursal”, in effect since December 1, 2021. The new law eases bankruptcy processes and help companies in financial distress to move through the “administrative intervention” intended to save the companies. The previous law too often ended with otherwise viable companies ceasing operations, rather than allowing them to recover, due to a bias towards dissolution of companies in distress. As in the United States, penal law will also apply to criminal malfeasance in some bankruptcy cases.

6. Financial Sector

The Costa Rican government’s general attitude towards foreign portfolio investment is prudently welcoming, seeking to facilitate the free flow of financial resources into the economy while minimizing the instability that might be caused by the sudden entry or exit of funds. The securities exchange (Bolsa Nacional de Valores) is small and is dominated by trading in bonds. Stock trading is of limited significance and involves less than 10 of the country’s larger companies, resulting in an illiquid secondary market. There is a small secondary market in commercial paper and repurchase agreements. The Costa Rican government has in recent years explicitly welcomed foreign institutional investors purchasing significant volumes of Costa Rican dollar-denominated government debt in the local market. The securities exchange regulator (SUGEVAL) is generally perceived to be effective.

Costa Rica accepted the obligations of IMF Article VIII, agreeing not to impose restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions or engage in discriminatory currency arrangements, except with IMF approval. There are no controls on capital flows in or out of Costa Rica or on portfolio investment in publicly traded companies. Some capital flows are subject to a withholding tax (see section on Foreign Exchange and Remittances). Within Costa Rica, credit is largely allocated on market terms, although long-term capital is scarce. Favorable lending terms for USD-denominated loans compared to colon-denominated loans have made USD-denominated mortgage financing popular and common. Foreign investors are able to borrow in the local market; they are also free to borrow from abroad, although a 15% withholding tax on interest paid will apply when the creditor is a non-tax resident in the country, under the reasoning that the interest payment constitutes income from a Costa Rican source. Potential overseas borrowers must also consider Costa Rica’s limitation on the deductibility of financial expenses by the debtor when the creditor is not an entity regulated in its country of origin by a body like the Costa Rican financial supervisory authority (SUGEF). In such cases, deductible interest for the current fiscal year is around 30% of EBITDA -Earnings Before Interest Taxes Depreciation and Amortization.

Costa Rica’s financial system boasts a relatively high financial inclusion rate, estimated by the Central Bank through August 2020 at 81.5 percent (the percentage of adults over the age of 15 holding a bank account). Non-resident foreigners may open what are termed “simplified accounts” in Costa Rican financial institutions, while resident foreigners have full access to all banking services.

The banking sector is healthy and well-regulated, although the 2020 non-performing loan ratio of 2.4 percent of active loans as of December 2021 (2.8 percent in state-owned banks) would be significantly higher if not for Covid-19 temporary regulatory measures allowing banks to readjust loans. The country hosts a large number of smaller private banks, credit unions, and factoring houses, although the four state-owned banks (two commercial, one mortgage and one workers’) are still dominant, accounting for 46 percent of the country’s financial system assets. Consolidated total assets of those state-owned banks were USD 29.6 billion, while combined assets of the regulated financial sector (public banks, private banks, savings-and-loans and others) were almost USD 64 billion as of December 2021.

Costa Rica’s Central Bank performs the functions of a central bank while also providing support to the four autonomous financial superintendencies (Banking, Securities, Pensions and Insurance) under the supervision of the national council for the supervision of the financial system (CONASSIF). The Central Bank developed and operates the financial system’s transaction settlement and direct transfer mechanism “SINPE” through which clients transfer money to and from accounts with any other account in the financial system. The Central Bank’s governance structure is strong, with a significant degree of autonomy from the Executive Branch.

Foreign banks may establish both full operations and branch operations in the country under the supervision of the banking regulator SUGEF. The Central Bank has a good reputation and has had no problem maintaining sufficient correspondent relationships. Costa Rica is steadily improving its ability to ensure the efficacy of anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism finance. The Costa Rican financial sector in broad terms appears to be satisfied to date with the available correspondent banking services.

The OECD 2020 report “review of the financial system” for Costa Rica is an excellent resource for those seeking more detail on the current state of Costa Rica’s financial system: https://www.oecd.org/countries/costarica/Costa-Rica-Review-of-Financial-System-2020.pdf .

Costa Rica does not have a Sovereign Wealth Fund.

Côte d’Ivoire

3. Legal Regime

The government aims for transparency in law and policy to foster competition and provide clear rules of the game and a level playing field for domestic and foreign investors.  However, at the operational level, lack of regulatory transparency is a concern.  Publication of draft legislation and regulations is not required.  Foreign and Ivoirian companies complain that new regulations are issued with little warning and without a period for public comment.  For instance, new duties and taxes on products are generally reported in the fiscal annexes towards the end of the year and take immediate effect at the beginning of the next year.  The Ministry of Commerce supports introducing a period for public comment on new regulations and changes in regulation before they are implemented, and government often holds ad hoc public seminars and workshops to discuss proposed plans with trade and industry associations.  Further work in this area would boost investor confidence.

Regulatory actions, once adopted, are published on the government website at enforcement stage.  They are also published in the Official Journal of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire  (Journal Officiel de la République de Côte d’Ivoire) , which is available for purchase at newsstands and by subscription on the Journal’s website http://www.sgg.gouv.ci/jo.php and at https://abidjan.net/.

The National Regulatory Authority for Public Procurement (ANRMP – Autorité Nationale de Régulation des Marchés Publics) polices transparency in public procurement and private sector compliance with public procurement rules.  Consumers, trade associations, private companies, and individuals have the right to file complaints with ANRMP to hold the government to its own administrative processes.   Since 2019, public tenders’ audits have not been published on the ANRMP official website.

Regulatory bodies regularly publish and promote access to their data for the business community and development partners, allowing for scientific and data-driven reviews and assessments.  Quantitative analysis and public comments are made available.

Regulatory authority and decision-making exist only at the national level. Sub-national jurisdictions do not regulate business. For most industries or sectors, regulations are developed through the ministry responsible for that sector.  In the telecommunications, electricity, cocoa, coffee, cotton, and cashew sectors, the government has established control boards or independent agencies to regulate the sector and pricing.  Companies have complained that rules for buying prices determined by the agriculture commodity regulatory agencies tend to be opaque and local prices are set arbitrarily without reference to world prices.

Côte d’Ivoire’s agency regulating cocoa and coffee (CCC – Conseil Café et Cacao) has identified the need for a single mechanism to control traceability to prevent child labor and deforestation. The private sector and non-governmental stakeholders agree on the need for increased accountability and traceability, but generally prefer a multi-prong approach which incorporates the work already being done in this area outside of government.  Growing international awareness of child labor and environmental challenges in CDI, and the possibility that this could impact exports, are catalysts for action.

The government publishes tender notices in the local press and sometimes in international magazines and newspapers.  On occasion, there is a charge for the bidding documents.  Côte d’Ivoire has a generally decentralized government procurement system, with most ministries undertaking their own procurements.  The National Bureau of Technical and Development Studies, the government’s technical and investment planning agency and think tank, occasionally serves as an executing agency in major projects to be financed by international institutions.

The Public Procurement Department is a centralized office of public tenders in the Ministry of Finance tasked with ensuring compliance with international bidding practices. Côte d’Ivoire’s update to its public procurement code in 2019 introduced electronic procurement bidding, provisions for sustainable public procurement, and promotion of socially responsible vendors as a bidding qualification.  While the public procurement process is open by law, in practice it is often opaque and government contracts are occasionally awarded outside of public tenders.  During negotiations on a tender, the Ivorian Government at times imposes local content requirements on foreign companies.   There are specific regulations governing the government’s use of sole source procurements and the government has awarded sole source bids without tenders, citing the high technical capacity of a firm or a declared emergency.  Many firms continue to cite corruption as an obstacle to a transparent understanding of procurement decisions.

The National Authority for Regulation of Public Procurement (ANRMP) regulates public procurement with a view to improving governance and transparency.  It has the authority to audit and sanction private-sector entities that do not comply with public-procurement regulations, and to provide recommendations to ministries to address irregularities.

Côte d’Ivoire’s accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are consistent with international norms, though both foreign and Ivoirian businesses often complain about the government’s poor communication.  Côte d’Ivoire is a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of African Business Law (OHADA), which is common to 16 countries and adheres to the WAEMU accounting system.   In accounting, companies use the WAEMU system, which complies with international norms and is a source of economic and financial data.

Banking regulation follows the Central Bank (BCEAO) monetary policy covering the eight countries of WAEMU.  Ivoirian authorities have limited power to conduct monetary policy.  The Central Bank regulates interest rates to control the money supply. IMF assessments confirm CDI’s creditworthiness, with strong financial oversight.  The Ivoirian government promotes transparency of public finances and debt obligations (including explicit and contingent liabilities) with the publication of this information through the following websites:

http://budget.gouv.ci

https://www.tresor.gouv.ci/tres/fr_FR/rapport-de-la-dette-publique/

The Ivoirian government incorporates WAEMU directives into its public procurement bidding policy, processes, and auditing.  This includes separating auditing and regulatory functions and increasing advance payment for the initial procurement of goods and services from 25 to 30 percent.

Côte d’Ivoire is part of the Intergovernmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA), whose mandate is to protect economies, reinforce cooperation among member states, harmonize measures, and evaluate current strategies against money laundering and terrorism financing.  The government hopes to adopt the draft national strategy to combat money laundering and terrorism financing in 2022.   Once adopted, this strategy will put in place regulations and institutions that protect the Ivoirian financial system against money laundering and the financing of terrorism .  CDI’s National Financial Information Processing Unit (CENTIF – Cellule nationale de Traitement des Informations financières) analyzes, processes, exploits, and circulates information from atypical financial transactions transmitted by professions subject to the law, in the form of “suspicious transaction reports.”

Ivoirian laws, codes, professional-association standards, and regional-body membership obligations are incorporated in the country’s regulatory system.  The private sector often follows European norms to take advantage of the Ivoirian trade agreement with the EU – CDI’slargest market.

Côte d’Ivoire has been a WTO member since 1995 but has not notified all the draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade.  Côte d’Ivoire signed the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in December 2013 and ratified it in December 2015.  The National TFA Committee (NTFC) coordinates TFA implementation.  Consistent with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Côte d’Ivoire applies a Common External Tariff (CET) on goods importations.

The Ivoirian legal system is based on the French civil-law model.  The law guarantees to all the right to own and transfer private property.  Rural land, however, is governed by a separate set of laws, which makes ownership and transfer very difficult.  The court system enforces contracts.

The Commercial Court of Abidjan adjudicates corporate law cases and contract disputes.  Mediation is also available through the Ivoirian legal framework in addition to the Commercial Court and the Arbitration Tribunal. The Commercial Court of Abidjan retains jurisdiction for the entire country.

The Ivoirian judicial system is ostensibly independent, but magistrates are sometimes subject to political or financial influence.  Judges sometimes fail to prove that their decisions are based on the legal or contractual merits of a case and often rule against foreign investors in favor of entrenched interests.  A frequent complaint from investors is the slow dispute-resolution process.  Cases are often postponed or appealed without a reasonable explanation, moving from court to court for years or even decades.  Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable and adjudicated through the national court system.

The 2018 Investment Code is the primary governing authority for investment conduct.  The Code does not restrict foreign investment or the repatriation of funds.  The Code offers a mixture of fiscal incentives, combining tax exoneration, patents and licenses contribution and tax credits to encourage investment.  The government also offers incentives to promote small businesses and entrepreneurs, low-cost housing construction, factories, and infrastructure development, which the government considers key to the country’s economic development. Concessionary agreements that exempt investors from tax payments require the additional approval of the Ministry of Finance and Economy and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.  The clearance procedure for planned investments, if the investor seeks tax breaks, is time consuming and confusing.  Even when companies have complied fully with the requirements, the Tax Office sometimes denies tax exemptions with little explanation, giving rise to accusations of favoritism.

Some sectors have additional laws that govern investment activity in those sectors. In mining, for example, the Mining Code allows for a ten-year holding period for permits with an option to extend for an two additional years on a limited permit area of 400 square kilometers.  The government drafted not yet passed in the National Assembly that would impose local-content requirements in the oil and gas sector such as the requirement that companies hire locals, finance personnel training, and support local SMEs.

The government is actively seeking to increase the share of local processing of raw agricultural commodities for export from 10 percent to 50 percent by 2025 and is looking for private investments to help reach this goal.

Côte d’Ivoire was once a net energy exporter and it is making investments to retake that position as the sub-region’s energy hub.  According to 2020 data, the country produces 38,000 barrels-per-day (bpd) of oil from four blocks and 213 million cubic-feet-per-day of gas.  The country has divided its offshore Exclusive Economic Zone into 51 hydrocarbons blocks, of which 18 blocks remain available for bid.  Currently, the production of gas is entirely used for electricity production.  The government seeks to attract more foreign companies to invest in the oil and gas sector.  In 2021, the large Italian oil company ENI discovered oil and gas at an offshore well site called “Baleine.”

The CEPICI provides a one-stop shop website to assist investors.  More information on Côte d’Ivoire’s laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements can be found at:

www.apex-ci.org/

www.cepici.gouv.ci/

The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Small Business Promotion, through the Commission on Anti-Competition Practices, is responsible for reviewing competition–related concerns under the 1991 competition law, which was updated in 2013.  ANRMP is responsible for reviewing the awarding of contracts.

No significant competition cases were reported over the past year.

The Ivoirian constitution guarantees the right to own property and freedom from expropriation without compensation.  The government may expropriate property with due compensation (fair market value) at the time of expropriation in the case of “public interest.”  Perceived corruption and weak judicial and security capacity, however, have resulted in poor enforcement of private property rights, particularly when the entity in question is foreign and the plaintiff is Ivoirian or a long-established foreign resident.

Côte d’Ivoire is ranked 85 out of 190 countries for ease of resolving insolvency, according to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report.  As a member of OHADA, CDI has both commercial and bankruptcy laws that address the liquidation of business liabilities. OHADA is a regional system of uniform laws on bankruptcy, debt collection, and rules governing business transactions.  OHADA permits three different types of bankruptcy liquidation:  an ordered suspension of payment to permit a negotiated settlement; an ordered suspension of payment to permit restructuring of the company, like Chapter 11; and the complete liquidation of assets, similar to Chapter 7.   Creditors’ rights, irrespective of nationality, are protected equally by the Act.  Bankruptcy is not criminalized.  Court-ordered monetary settlements resulting from declarations of bankruptcy are usually paid out in local currency.

The joint venture Credit Info – Volo West Africa manages regional credit bureaus in WAEMU.

6. Financial Sector

Government policies generally encourage foreign portfolio investment.

The Regional Stock Exchange (BRVM) is in Abidjan and the BRVM lists companies from the eight countries of the WAEMU.  The existing regulatory system effectively facilitates portfolio investment through the West African Central Bank (BCEAO).  The Regional Council for Savings Investments (CREPMF) sets the rules and regulations regarding the market participants and market structure.  There is sufficient liquidity in the markets to enter and exit sizeable positions. However, the market follows a limit-order mechanism.  Besides traditional foreign trade risk management tools offered by commercial banks (i.e., export credits, trade bills), the stock exchange does not provide markets for forwards, futures, or options derivative instruments.  Market volatility is low.  The market benchmark BRVM Composite rose to 6.63 percent in 2021.

Government policies allow the free flow of financial resources into investing in financial assets.

The BCEAO respects IMF Article VIII on payment and transfers for current international transactions.

Credit allocation is based on market terms and has increased to support the private sector and economic growth, specifically for large businesses.  The Central Bank monitors inflation, money supply, and business cycles to ensure efficient monetary policy.  The average interbank interest rate was 2.61 percent compared to 3.01 percent in 2021, demonstrating the will of WAEMU nations to boost commercial banks’ liquidity and support private sector investment.  Foreign investors can acquire credit on the local market. This year the government facilitated access to capital, lowering borrowing interest rates for real estate companies.

As of December 2021, there were 29 commercial banks and two credit institutions in Côte d’Ivoire.  Banks are expanding their national networks, especially in the secondary cities outside Abidjan, as domestic investment has increased up-country.  The total number of bank branches has more than doubled from 324 in 2010 to 725 branches in 2019 (latest data available).  According to the World Bank, in 2017 (latest data available) 41 percent of the population over the age of 15 have a bank account.  Alternative financial services available include mobile money and microfinance for bill payments and transfers.  Many Ivoirians prefer mobile money over banking, but mobile money does not yet offer the same breadth of financial services as banks.

Most Ivoirian banks are compliant with the BCEAO’s minimum capital requirements. The government facilitated mortgages for foreign investors in housing in Côte d’Ivoire.

Foreign banks are allowed to operate in Côte d’Ivoire; at least one has been in Côte d’Ivoire for decades.  They are subject to the WAEMU Banking Commission’s prudential measures and regulations.  There have been no reports of Côte d’Ivoire losing any correspondent banking relationships in the past three years.  No correspondent banking relationships are known to be in jeopardy.

Côte d’Ivoire does not have a sovereign wealth fund.  Rothschild Bank was reported in the press to have been awarded the contract to create one.

Croatia

3. Legal Regime

Croatian legislation, which is harmonized with European Union legislation (acquis communautaire), affords transparent policies and fosters a climate in which all investors are treated equally. Nevertheless, bureaucracy and regulations can be complex and time-consuming, although the government is working to remove unnecessary regulations.  There are no informal regulatory processes, and investors should rely solely on government-issued legislation to conduct business.

The Croatian Parliament promulgates national legislation, which is implemented at every level of government, although local regulations vary from county to county.  Members of Government and Members of Parliament, through working groups or caucuses, are responsible for presenting legislation.  Responsible ministries draft and present new legislation to the government for approval. When the Government approves a draft text, it is sent to Parliament for approval.  The approved act becomes official on the date defined by Parliament and when it is published in the National Gazette. Citizens maintain the right to initiate a law through their district Member of Parliament.  New legislation and changes to existing legislation which have a significant impact on citizens are made available for public commentary at   https://esavjetovanja.gov.hr/ECon/Dashboard .  The Law on the Review of the Impact of Regulations defines the procedure for impact assessment, planning of legislative activities, and communication with the public, as well as the entities responsible for implementing the impact assessment procedure. The complete text of all legislation is published both online and in the National Gazette, available at:  www.nn.hr .

Croatia adheres to international accounting standards and abides by international practices through the Accounting Act, which is applied to all accounting businesses.  Publicly listed companies must adhere to these accounting standards by law.

The Croatian government does not promote or require companies to disclose ESG standards, but the Croatian Financial Services Supervisory Agency (HANFA) oversees implementation of the EU directive on sustainability-related disclosures in the financial sector. HANFA also publishes information regarding sustainable financing, and in March 2021 published guidelines to encourage companies listed on the Zagreb Stock Exchange to start regularly publishing their best practices for sustainability, in order to attract investors interested in sustainable investments.

Croatian courts are responsible for ensuring that laws are enforced correctly.  If an investor believes that the law or an administrative procedure is not implemented correctly, the investor may initiate a case against the government at the appropriate court.  However, judicial remedies are frequently ineffective due to delays or political influence.

The Enforcement Act defines the procedure for enforcing claims and seizures carried out by the Financial Agency (FINA), the state-owned company responsible for offering various financial services to include securing payment to claimants following a court enforced order.  FINA also has the authority to seize assets or directly settle the claim from the bank account of the person or legal entity that owes the claim. Enforcement proceedings are regulated by the Enforcement Act, last amended in 2017, and by laws regulating its execution, such as the Act on Implementation of the Enforcement over Monetary Assets, amended in 2020.  The legislation incorporates European Parliament and European Commission provisions for easily enforcing cross-border financial claims in both business and private instances.  Enforcement proceedings are conducted on the basis of enforcement title documents which specify the creditor and debtor, the subject, type, scope, and payment deadline. More information can be found at www.fina.hr  .

Public finances and debt obligations are transparent and available on the Ministry of Finance website, in Croatian only, at https://mfin.gov.hr/ .

Croatia, as an EU member, transposes all EU directives.  Domestic legislation is applied nationally and – while local regulations vary from county to county — there is no locally-based legislation that overrides national legislation.  Local governments determine zoning for construction and therefore have considerable power in commercial or residential building projects.  International accounting, arbitration, financial, and labor norms are incorporated into Croatia’s regulatory system.

Croatia has been a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since 2000. Croatia submits all draft technical regulations to the WTO, in coordination with the European Commission.

The legal system in Croatia is civil and provides for ownership of property and enforcement of legal contracts.  The Commercial Company Act defines the forms of legal organization for domestic and foreign investors. It covers general commercial partnerships, limited partnerships, joint stock companies, limited liability companies and economic interest groupings.  The Obligatory Relations Act serves to enforce commercial contracts and includes the provision of goods and services in commercial agency contracts.

The Croatian constitution provides for an independent judiciary.  The judicial system consists of courts of general and specialized jurisdictions.  Core structures are the Supreme Court, County Courts, Municipal Courts, and Magistrate/Petty Crimes Courts.  Specialized courts include the Administrative Court and High and Lower Commercial Courts.  The Constitutional Court determines the constitutionality of laws and government actions and protects and enforces constitutional rights. Municipal courts are courts of first instance for civil and juvenile/criminal cases.  The High Commercial Court is located in Zagreb and has appellate review of lower commercial court decisions.  The Administrative Court has jurisdiction over the decisions of administrative bodies of all levels of government. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country and, as such, enjoys jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases.  It hears appeals from the County Courts, High Commercial Court, and Administrative Court. Regulations and enforcement actions are appealable and adjudicated in the national court system.

On January 1, 2021 the government established a High Criminal Court, headquartered in Zagreb, with responsibility for adjudication of second instance appeals against decisions made by County Courts in cases that involve criminal acts.

The Ministry of Justice and Public Administration continues to pursue a court reorganization plan intended to increase efficiency and reduce the backlog of judicial cases.  The World Bank approved a $110 million loan to Croatia for the Justice for Business Project in March 2020, to support ICT infrastructure upgrades, court process improvements, and other reforms to judicial services to improve the business climate.  This initiative will last until 2024.  The government is undertaking additional reforms, but significant challenges remain in relation to land registration, training court officers, providing adequate resources to meet the court case load, and reducing the length of bankruptcy procedures.  Investors often face problems with unusually protracted court procedures, lack of clarity in legal proceedings, contract enforcement, and judicial efficiency.  Croatian courts have decreased the number of civil, criminal, and commercial cases and decreased the disposition time for resolution of those cases, however there is still a significant case backlog.  The last available European Commission Country Report for Croatia from 2020 assessed that the length of court proceedings continues to be a burden for business.

There are no specific laws aimed at foreign investment; both foreign and domestic market participants in Croatia are protected under the same legislation. The Company Act defines the forms of legal organization for domestic and foreign investors. The following entity types are permitted for foreigners: general partnerships; limited partnerships; branch offices; limited liability companies; and joint stock companies. The Obligatory Relations Act regulates commercial contracts.

The Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development Internationalization Directorate           (https://investcroatia.gov.hr/en/ ) facilitates both foreign and domestic investment. The directorate’s website offers relevant information on business and investment legislation and includes an investment guide.

According to Croatian commercial law, significant or “strategic” business decisions must be approved by 75 percent of the company’s shareholders.  Minority investors with at least 25 percent ownership plus one share have what is colloquially called a “golden share,” meaning they can block or veto “strategic” decisions requiring a 75 percent vote. The law calls for minimum 75 percent shareholder approval to remove a supervisory board member, authorize a supervisory board member to make a business decision, revoke preferential shares, change company agreements, authorize mergers or liquidations, and to purchase or invest in something on behalf of the company that is worth more than 20 percent of the company’s initial capita (Note: This list is not exhaustive).

The Competition Act defines the rules and methods for promoting and protecting competition.  In theory, competitive equality is the standard applied with respect to market access, credit and other business operations, such as licenses and supplies.  In practice, however, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and government-designated “strategic” firms may still receive preferential treatment. The Croatian Competition Agency is the country’s competition watchdog, determining whether anti-competitive practices exist and punishing infringements. The Agency adheres to international norms and standards.  It has determined in the past that some subsidies to SOEs constituted unlawful state aid, however state aid issues are now handled by the Ministry of Finance.  Information on authorities of the Agency and past rulings can be found at www.aztn.hr .  The website includes a “call to the public” inviting citizens to provide information on competition-related concerns.

Croatia’s Law on Expropriation and Compensation gives the government broad authority to expropriate real property in economic and security-related circumstances, including eminent domain. The Law on Strategic Investments also provides for expropriation for projects that meet the criteria for “strategic” projects.  However, it includes provisions that guarantee adequate compensation, in either the form of monetary compensation or real estate of equal value to the expropriated property, in the same town or city.  The law includes an appeals mechanism to challenge expropriation decisions by means of a complaint to the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration within 15 days of the expropriation order.  The law does not describe the Ministry’s adjudication process.  Parties not pleased with the outcome of a Ministry decision can pursue administrative action against the decision, but no appeal to the decision is allowed. There is not a history of alleged expropriations since Croatia declared independence in 1991. The government has not taken measures alleged to be indirect expropriation.

Article III of the U.S.-Croatia Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) covers both direct and indirect expropriations.  The BIT bars all expropriations or nationalizations except those that are for a public purpose, carried out in a non-discriminatory manner, in accordance with due process of law, and subject to prompt, adequate, and effective compensation.

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

In 1998 Croatia ratified the Washington Convention that established the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).  Croatia is a signatory to the 1958 New York Convention on the Acceptance and Execution of Foreign Arbitration Decisions.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The Croatian Law on Arbitration addresses both national and international proceedings in Croatia. Parties to arbitration cases are free to appoint arbitrators of any nationality or professional qualifications and Article 12 of the Law on Arbitration requires impartiality and independence of arbitrators.  Croatia recognizes binding international arbitration, which may be defined in investment agreements as a means of dispute resolution. Croatia is a signatory to the following international conventions regulating the mutual acceptance and enforcement of foreign arbitration: the 1923 Geneva Protocol on Arbitration Clauses, the 1927 Geneva Convention on the Execution of Foreign Arbitration Decisions, and the 1961 European Convention on International Business Arbitration.

The Arbitration Act covers domestic arbitration, recognition and enforcement of arbitration rulings, and jurisdictional matters.  Once an arbitration decision has been reached, the judgment is executed by court order.  If no payment is made by the established deadline, the party benefiting from the decision notifies the Commercial Court, which becomes responsible for enforcing compliance. Arbitration rulings have the force of a final judgment, but can be appealed within three months.

In regard to implementation of foreign arbitral awards, Article 19 of the Act on Enforcement states that judgments of foreign courts may be executed only if they “fulfill the conditions for recognition and execution as prescribed by an international agreement or the law.”  More detailed requirements for executing foreign arbitral awards are set out in Article 40 of the Arbitration Act. The two main requirements that must be met are: 1) Croatian law must allow for the subject matter to be resolved by arbitration, and 2) recognizing and enforcing the foreign decision would not be contrary to Croatian public order. Moreover, an arbitral award will be recognized in Croatia only if it was not contested by one of the parties on any of the legally prescribed grounds and subsequently annulled by a court. If the arbitral award has not yet become binding for the parties, or if it has been annulled by a court of the country in which it was rendered or if its legal effects were delayed, then the Croatian courts will not recognise such an arbitral award.

The Act on Enforcement provides for the collection of financial claims and seizures by the Financial Agency (FINA), which is authorised to implement court decisions ordering enforcement.  FINA has the authority to instruct a bank to seize assets or directly settle the claim from the bank account of the debtor. FINA also has the authority to seize assets or directly settle the claim from the bank account of the person or legal entity that owes the claim. More information can be found at www.fina.hr.

Article Ten of the U.S.-Croatia BIT sets forth mechanisms for the resolution of investment disputes, defined as any dispute arising out of or relating to an investment authorization, an investment agreement, or an alleged breach of rights conferred, created, or recognized by the BIT with respect to a covered investment.

Croatia has no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors. There is currently one known case filed by a U.S. investor in Croatian courts in 2016, following an investment dispute with a municipality that began in the early 2000s. The investor has announced plans to file a claim at international arbitration courts, citing the U.S.-Croatia BIT as the basis for the action, if an agreement with the government cannot be reached. The Croatian government settled a second longstanding investment dispute with a U.S. investor in December 2021.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

To reduce the backlog of court cases in the Croatian judiciary, non-disputed cases are passed to public notaries, but before those decisions are final and enforceable, they can be contested, in which case procedures will be continued before the competent court.

Both mediation and arbitration services are available through the Croatian Chamber of Economy. The Chamber’s permanent arbitration court has been in operation since 1965.  Arbitration is voluntary and conforms to UNCITRAL procedures.  The Chamber of Economy’s Mediation Center has been operating since 2002 – see https://www.hok-cba.hr/centar-za-mirenje/.

There are no major investment disputes currently underway involving state-owned enterprises, other than a dispute between the Croatian government and a Hungarian energy company over implementation of a purchase agreement with a Croatian oil and gas company. There is no evidence that domestic courts rule in favor of state-owned enterprises.

Croatia’s Bankruptcy Act corresponds to the EU regulation on insolvency proceedings and United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency.  All stakeholders in the bankruptcy proceeding, foreign and domestic, are treated equally in terms of the Bankruptcy Act.  Bankruptcy is not considered a criminal act.

The Financial Operations and Pre-Bankruptcy Settlement Act helps expedite proceedings and establish timeframes for the initiation of bankruptcy proceedings.  One of the most important provisions of pre-bankruptcy is that it allows a firm that has been unable to pay all its bills to remain open during the proceedings, thereby allowing it to continue operations and generate cash under financial supervision in hopes that it can recover financial health and avoid closure.

The Commercial Court of the county in which a bankrupt company is headquartered has exclusive jurisdiction over bankruptcy matters. A bankruptcy tribunal decides on initiating formal bankruptcy proceedings, appoints a trustee, reviews creditor complaints, approves the settlement for creditors, and decides on the closing of proceedings.  A bankruptcy judge supervises the trustee (who represents the debtor) and the operations of the creditors’ committee, which is convened to protect the interests of all creditors, oversee the trustee’s work and report back to creditors.  The Act establishes the priority of creditor claims, assigning higher priority to those related to taxes and revenues of state, local and administration budgets.  It also allows for a debtor or the trustee to petition to reorganize the firm, an alternative aimed at maximizing asset recovery and providing fair and equitable distribution among all creditors.

6. Financial Sector

Croatia’s securities and financial markets are open equally to domestic and foreign investment. Foreign residents may open non-resident accounts and may do business both domestically and abroad.  Specifically, Article 24 of the Foreign Currency Act states that non-residents may subscribe, pay in, purchase, or sell securities in Croatia in accordance with regulations governing securities transactions.  Non-residents and residents are afforded the same treatment in spending and borrowing.  These and other non-resident financial activities regarding securities are covered by the Foreign Currency Act, available on the central bank website (www.hnb.hr).

Securities are traded on the Zagreb Stock Exchange (ZSE).  Regulations that govern activity and participation in the ZSE can be found (in English) at: https://zse.hr/en/legal-regulations/234 .  There are three tiers of securities traded on the ZSE.  The Capital Markets Act regulates all aspects of securities and investment services and defines the responsibilities of the Croatian Financial Services Supervisory Agency (HANFA). More information can be found (in English) at:  http://www.hanfa.hr/regulations/capital-market/ .

There is sufficient liquidity in the markets to enter and exit sizeable positions.  There are no policies that hinder the free flow of financial resources.  There are no restrictions on international payments or transfers, in accordance with IMF Article VIII.  The private sector, both domestic and foreign-owned, enjoys open access to credit and a variety of credit instruments on the local market, available on market terms.

The banking sector is mostly privatized and is highly developed, competitive, resilient, and increasingly offering a diversity of products to businesses (foreign and domestic) and consumers.  According to conclusions from an IMF Virtual Visit with Croatia in November 2020, the banking sector is one of the strongest sectors of the Croatian economy.  French, German, Italian, and Austrian companies own over 90 percent of Croatia’s banks. As of December 31, 2021, there were 20 commercial banks and three savings banks, with assets totaling $78.75 billion.  The largest bank in Croatia is Italian-owned Zagrebacka Banka, with assets of $20.82 billion and a market share of 26.5 percent. The second largest bank is Italian-owned Privredna Banka Zagreb, with assets totaling $16.46 billion and 20.9 percent market share.  The third largest is Austrian Erste Bank, with assets totaling $13.01 billion and a 16.52 percent market share.  According to Croatian National Bank statistics, the non-performing loans (NPL) rate for Croatia was 4.3 in 2021, down from 5.4 percent in 2020. The country has a central bank system and all information regarding the Croatian National Bank can be found at  https://www.hnb.hr/en/ .

In an extraordinary move facilitated by the Croatian National Bank, state-owned Croatian Postal Bank (HPB) bought Sberbank Croatia, a subsidiary of Sberbank Europe, on March 1, reportedly paying $11 million for Sberbank’s assets. The sale saved Sberbank Croatia from bankruptcy following the collapse of Sberbank Europe after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Prior to the sale, Sberbank Croatia had roughly 60,000 clients and represented 2.21 percent of total bank assets in Croatia.

Non-residents are able to open bank accounts without restrictions or delays.  The Croatian government has not introduced or announced any intention to introduce block chain technologies in banking transactions.

The Croatian Constitution guarantees the free transfer, conversion, and repatriation of profits and invested capital for foreign investments. Article VI of the U.S.-Croatia Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) establishes protection for American investors from government exchange controls. The BIT obliges both countries to permit all transfers relating to a covered investment to be made freely and without delay into and out of each other’s territory.  Transfers of currency are additionally protected by Article VII of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Articles of Agreement (http://www.imf.org/External/Pubs/FT/AA/index.htm#art7 ).

The Croatian Foreign Exchange Act permits foreigners to maintain foreign currency accounts and to make external payments.  The Foreign Exchange Act also defines foreign direct investment (FDI) in a manner that includes use of retained earnings for new investments/acquisitions, but excludes financial investments made by institutional investors such as insurance, pension, and investment funds.  The law also allows Croatian entities and individuals to invest abroad.  Funds associated with any form of investment can be freely converted into any world currency.

On July 10, 2020 the European Central Bank and European Commission announced that Croatia had fulfilled its commitments and the Croatian kuna (HRK) was admitted into the Banking Union and European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM II), with the exchange rate between the kuna and the euro (EUR) pegged at EUR 1 to 7.5345 HRK. Any risk of currency devaluation or significant depreciation is generally low. The Croatian government intends to adopt the euro on January 1, 2023.

Remittance Policies

No limitations exist, either temporal or by volume, on remittances.  The U.S. Embassy in Zagreb has not received any complaints from American companies regarding transfers and remittances.

Croatia does not own any sovereign wealth funds.

Cyprus

3. Legal Regime

REPUBLIC OF CYPRUS

The ROC achieved a score of 4 out of 6 in the World Bank’s composite Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance score (based on data collected December 2015 to April 2016) designed to explore good regulatory practices in three core areas: publication of proposed regulations, consultation around their content, and the use of regulatory impact assessments. For more information, please see: http://rulemaking.worldbank.org/en/data/explorecountries/cyprus .

U.S. companies competing for ROC government tenders have noted concerns about opaque rules and possible bias by technical committees responsible for preparing specifications and reviewing tender submissions. Overall, however, procedures and regulations are transparent and applied in practice by the government without bias towards foreign investors. The ROC actively promotes good governance and transparency as part of its administrative reform action plan.

In line with the above plan and EU requirements, the ROC launched the National Open Data Portal ( https://www.data.gov.cy/ ) in 2016 to increase transparency in government services. Government agencies are now required to post publicly available information, data, and records, on the entire spectrum of their activities. The number of data sets available through this portal has been growing rapidly, although much of it is in Greek only.

Several agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) share competency on fostering competition and transparency, including the ROC Commission for the Protection of Competition ( http://www.competition.gov.cy/competition/competition.nsf/index_en/index_en?OpenDocument ), the Competition and Consumer Protection Service, under MECI ( https://meci.gov.cy/en/departments-services/consumer-protection-service ), the Cyprus Consumers Association ( https://www.katanalotis.org.cy/ ), and the Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission ( https://www.cysec.gov.cy/en-GB/home/ ).

Government and independent oversight agencies such as the Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission actively promote companies’ environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosure to facilitate transparency. In 2017, the European Commission published guidelines to help companies disclose environmental and social information, which it supplemented in 2019 with guidelines on reporting climate-related information. These guidelines are not mandatory, but many progressive local companies are adopting them to secure their sustainability and long-term gains.

Most laws and regulations are published only in Greek and obtaining official English translations can be difficult, but expert analysis in English is generally available from local law and accounting firms when the regulation affects international investment or business activity. When passing new legislation or regulations, Cypriot authorities follow the EU acquis communautaire – the body of common rights and obligations that is binding on all EU members. A formal procedure of public notice and comment is not required in Cyprus, except for specific types of laws. In general, the ROC will seek stakeholder feedback directly. Draft legislation must be published in the Official Gazette before it is debated in the House to allow stakeholders an opportunity to submit comments. The ROC House of Representatives typically invites specific stakeholders to offer their feedback when debating bills. Draft regulations, on the other hand, need not be published in the Official Gazette prior to being approved.

In an effort to contribute to global tax transparency, the ROC has adopted the Standard of Automatic Exchange of Information developed by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) known as Common Reporting Standard (CRS). Since 2016, the ROC Tax Department requires all financial institutions to confirm their clients’ jurisdiction(s) of Tax Residence and Respective Tax Identification Number, if applicable. Additionally, the ROC has signed the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), allowing Cypriot tax authorities to share information with U.S. counterparts.

Public finances and debt obligations are published as part of the annual budget process.

AREA ADMINISTERED BY TURKISH CYPRIOTS

The level of transparency for “lawmaking” and adoption of “regulations” in the “TRNC” lags behind U.S. and EU standards. There are no informal regulatory processes managed by nongovernmental organizations or private sector associations. Draft legislation or regulations are made available for public comment for 21 days after the legislation is sent to “parliament.” Almost all legislation and regulations are published only in Turkish.

REPUBLIC OF CYPRUS

As an EU member state since May 1, 2004, the Republic of Cyprus must ensure compliance with the acquis communautaire. The acquis is constantly evolving and comprises of Treaties, international agreements, legislation, declarations, resolutions, and other legal instruments. EU legislation, for its part, is subdivided into:

  • Regulations, which are directly applicable to member states and require no further action to have legal effect;
  • Directives, which are addressed to and are binding on member states, but the member state may choose the method by which to implement the directive. Generally, a member state must enact national legislation to comply with a directive;
  • Decisions, which are binding on those parties to whom they are addressed; and
  • Recommendations and opinions, which have no binding force.

When there is conflict between European law and the law of any member state, European law prevails; the norms of national law have to be set aside, under the principle of EU law primacy or supremacy. The ROC is often slow to transpose EU directives into local law, but transposition is generally consistent with EU intent when it happens.

AREA ADMINISTERED BY TURKISH CYPRIOTS

The entire island of Cyprus is considered EU territory, but the acquis communautaire is suspended in the areas administered by Turkish Cypriots and the north is not considered to be within the EU customs area.

REPUBLIC OF CYPRUS

Cyprus is a common law jurisdiction and its legal system is based on English Common Law for both substantive and procedural matters. Cyprus inherited many elements of its legal system from the United Kingdom, including the presumption of innocence, the right to due process, the right to appeal, and the right to a fair public trial. Courts in Cyprus possess the necessary powers to enforce compliance by parties who fail to obey judgments and orders made against them. Public confidence in the integrity of the Cypriot legal system remains strong, although long delays in courts, and the perceived failure of the system collectively to punish those responsible for the island’s financial troubles in 2013 have tended to undermine this trust in recent years.

International disputes are resolved through litigation in Cypriot courts or by alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation or arbitration. Businesses often complain of court gridlock and judgments on cases generally taking years to be issued, particularly for claims involving property foreclosure.

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Investors should note the EU’s acquis communautaire is suspended in the area administered by the Turkish Cypriots.

The “TRNC” is a common law jurisdiction. Judicial power other than the “Supreme Court” is exercised by the “Heavy Penalty Courts,” “District Courts,” and “Family Courts.” Turkish Cypriots inherited many elements of their legal system from British colonial rule before 1960, including the right to appeal and the right to a fair public trial. There is a high level of public confidence in the judicial system in the area administrated by Turkish Cypriots. The judicial process is procedurally competent, fair, and reliable.

Foreign investors can make use of all the rights guaranteed to Turkish Cypriots. Commercial courts and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms are not available in the “TRNC.” The resolution of commercial or investment disputes through the “judicial system” can take several years. The Turkish Cypriot administration has trade and industry “law” and contractual “law.” The Turkish Cypriot administration has several trade and economic cooperation agreements with Turkey. For more information about “legislation,” visit https://investnorthcyprus.gov.ct.tr/ . Because the “TRNC” is not recognized internationally, “TRNC court” decisions and orders may be difficult to enforce outside of the area administered by Turkish Cypriots or Turkey.

REPUBLIC OF CYPRUS

For more information on laws affecting incoming foreign investment see https://www.investcyprus.org.cy/ 

AREA ADMINISTERED BY TURKISH CYPRIOTS

Visit the “YAGA” website, for more information about laws and regulations on FDI: https://investnorthcyprus.gov.ct.tr/ 

REPUBLIC OF CYPRUS

The oversight agency for competition is the Commission for the Protection of Competition: http://www.competition.gov.cy/competition/competition.nsf/index_en/index_en?OpenDocument 

AREA ADMINISTERED BY TURKISH CYPRIOTS

The oversight “agency” for competition is the “Competition Board:” http://www.rekabet.gov.ct.tr/ 

REPUBLIC OF CYPRUS

Private property may, in exceptional instance