Belgium

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

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.  Draft bills are never made available for public comment, but have to go through an independent court for vetting and consistency. Nevertheless, foreign and domestic investors in some sectors face stringent regulations designed to protect small- and medium-sized enterprises.  Many companies in Belgium also try to limit their number of employees to 49, the threshold above which certain employee committees must be set up, such as for safety and trade union interests.

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.  It also agreed to streamline laws regarding the telecommunications sector into one comprehensive volume after new entrants in this sector had complained about a lack of transparency.  Additionally the government beefed up its Competition Policy Authority with a number of academic experts and additional resources. Traditionally, scientific studies or quantitative analysis conducted on the impact of regulations are made publicly available for comment. However, not all public 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 identical 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.

Belgium publishes all its relevant legislation and administrative guidelines in an official Gazette, called Le Moniteur Belge (www.moniteur.be  ). The American Chamber of Commerce has called attention to the adverse impact of cumbersome procedures and unnecessary red tape on foreign investors, although foreign companies do not appear to be impacted more than Belgian firms.

International Regulatory Considerations

Belgium is a founding member of the EU, whose directives 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).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

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 backlogs cause delays. There are several levels of appeal.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

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.

Since there are three different regional Investment Authorities, the links to their respective websites are given below.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

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
We
bsite: www.bma-abc.be

Expropriation and Compensation

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, adequate compensation 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 expansion, roads, and railroads.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Belgium is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and regularly includes provision for ICSID arbitration in investment agreements.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The government accepts binding international arbitration of disputes between foreign investors and the state. There have been no investment disputes involving a U.S. person within the past 10 years.  Local courts are expected to enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government. To date, there has been no evidence of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

  1. Alternative Dispute Resolution is not mandatory by law and is therefore not commonly used in disputes, except for matters where the determination by an expert is sought, whether appointed by the parties in agreement or in accordance with a contractual clause or appointed by the court in the context of dispute resolution.
  2. Belgium has no domestic arbitration bodies.
  3. Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards. Judgments of foreign courts are recognized and enforceable under the local courts.
  4. There are no reports or complaints targeting Court proceedings involving SOEs or alleged favoritism for them.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Belgian bankruptcy law is governed by the Bankruptcy Act of 1997 and 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 Doing Business Report, Belgium ranks number 8 (out of 198) for the ease of resolving insolvency.

Germany

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Germany has transparent and effective laws and policies to promote competition, including antitrust laws.  The legal, regulatory and accounting systems are complex but transparent and consistent with international norms.

Formally, the public consultation by the federal government is regulated by the Joint Rules of Procedure, which specify that ministries must consult early and extensively with a range of stakeholders on all new legislative proposals.  In practice, laws and regulations in Germany are routinely published in draft, and public comments are solicited. According to the Joint Procedural Rules, ministries should consult the concerned industries’ associations (rather than single companies), consumer organizations, environmental, and other NGOs.  The consultation period generally takes two to eight weeks.

The German Institute for Standardization (DIN) is open to foreign members.

International Regulatory Considerations

As a member of the European Union, Germany must observe and implement directives and regulations adopted by the EU.  EU regulations are binding and enter into force as immediately applicable law. Directives, on the other hand, constitute a type of framework law that is to be implemented by the Member States in their respective legislative processes, which is regularly observed in Germany.

EU Member States must implement directives within a specified period of time.  Should a deadline not be met, the Member State may suffer the initiation of an infringement procedure, which could result in high fines.  Germany has a set of rules that prescribe how to break down any payment of fines devolving on the Federal Government and the federal states (Länder).  Both bear part of the costs depending on their responsibility within legislation and the respective part they played in non-compliance.

The federal states have a say over European affairs through the Bundesrat (upper chamber of parliament).  The Federal Government is required to instruct the Bundesrat at an early stage on all EU plans that are relevant for the federal states.

The federal government notifies draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) through the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

German law is both predictable and reliable.  Companies can effectively enforce property and contractual rights.  Germany’s well-established enforcement laws and official enforcement services ensure that investors can assert their rights.  German courts are fully available to foreign investors in an investment dispute.

The judicial system is independent, and the federal government does not interfere in the court system.  The legislature sets the systemic and structural parameters, while lawyers and civil law notaries use the law to shape and organize specific situations.  Judges are highly competent. International studies and empirical data have attested that Germany offers an efficient court system committed to due process and the rule of law.

In Germany, most important legal issues and matters are governed by comprehensive legislation in the form of statutes, codes and regulations.  Primary legislation in the area of business law includes:

  • the Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, abbreviated as BGB), which contains general rules on the formation, performance and enforcement of contracts and on the basic types of contractual agreements for legal transactions between private entities;
  • the Commercial Code (Handelsgesetzbuch, abbreviated as HGB), which contains special rules concerning transactions among businesses and commercial partnerships;
  • the Private Limited Companies Act (GmbH-Gesetz) and the Public Limited Companies Act (Aktiengesetz), covering the two most common corporate structures in Germany – the ‘GmbH’ and the ‘Aktiengesellschaft’; and
  • the Act on Unfair Competition (Gesetz gegen den unlauteren Wettbewerb, abbreviated as UWG), which prohibits misleading advertising and unfair business practices.

Germany has specialized courts for administrative law, labor law, social law, and finance and tax law.  In 2019, the first German district court for civil matters (in Frankfurt) introduced the possibility to hear international trade disputes in English.  Other federal states are currently discussing plans to introduce these specialized chambers as well. The Federal Patent Court hears cases on patents, trademarks, and utility rights which are related to decisions by the German Patent and Trademarks Office.  Both the German Patent Office (Deutsches Patentamt) and the European Patent Office are headquartered in Munich.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy may review acquisitions of domestic companies by foreign buyers in cases where investors seek to acquire at least 25 percent of the voting rights to assess whether these transactions pose a risk to the public order or national security of the Federal Republic of Germany.  In the case of acquisitions of critical infrastructure and companies in sensitive sectors, the threshold for triggering an investment review by the government is 10 percent. The Foreign Trade and Payments Act and the Foreign Trade and Payments Ordinance provide the legal basis for screening investments. To our knowledge, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy had not prohibited any acquisitions as of April 2019.

There is no requirement for investors to obtain approval for any acquisition, but they must notify the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy if the target company operates critical infrastructure.  In that case, or if the company provides services related to critical infrastructure or is a media company, the threshold for initiating an investment review is the acquisition of at least 10 percent of voting rights.  The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy may launch a review within three months after obtaining knowledge of the acquisition; the review must be concluded within four months after receipt of the full set of relevant documents.  An investor may also request a binding certificate of non-objection from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in advance of the planned acquisition to obtain legal certainty at an early stage. If the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy does not open an in-depth review within two months from the receipt of the request, the certificate shall be deemed as granted.

Special rules apply for the acquisition of companies that operate in sensitive security areas, including defense and IT security.  In contrast to the cross-sectoral rules, the sensitive acquisitions must be notified in written form including basic information of the planned acquisition, the buyer, the domestic company that is subject of the acquisition and the respective fields of business.  The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy may open a formal review procedure within three months after receiving notification, or the acquisition shall be deemed as approved. If a review procedure is opened, the buyer is required to submit further documents.  The acquisition may be restricted or prohibited within three months after the full set of documents has been submitted.

The German government amended domestic investment screening provisions, effective June 2017, clarifying the scope for review and giving the government more time to conduct reviews, in reaction to an increasing number of acquisitions of German companies by foreign investors, particularly from China.  The amended provisions provide a clearer definition of sectors in which foreign investment can pose a “threat to public order and security,” including operators of critical infrastructure, developers of software to run critical infrastructure, telecommunications operators or companies involved in telecom surveillance, cloud computing network operators and service providers, and telematics companies.  All non-EU entities are now required to notify Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in writing of any acquisition of or significant investment in a German company active in the above sectors. The new rules also extend the time to assess a cross-sector foreign investment from two to four months, and for investments in sensitive sectors, from one to three months, and introduce the possibility of retroactively initiating assessments for a period of five years after the conclusion of an acquisition. Indirect acquisitions such as those through a Germany- or EU-based affiliate company are now also explicitly subject to the new rules.  In 2018, the government further lowered the threshold for the screening of investments, allowing authorities to screen acquisitions by foreign entities of at least 10 percent of voting rights of German companies that operate critical infrastructure (down from 25 percent), as well as companies providing services related to critical infrastructure. The amendment also added media companies to the list of sensitive businesses to which the lower threshold applies, to prevent foreign actors to engage in disinformation.

Any decisions resulting from review procedures are subject to judicial review by the administrative courts.  The German Economic Development Agency (GTAI) provides extensive information for investors, including about the legal framework, labor-related issues and incentive programs, on their website: http://www.gtai.de/GTAI/Navigation/EN/Invest/investment-guide.html.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

German government ensures competition on a level playing field on the basis of two main legal codes:

The Law against Limiting Competition is the legal basis for the fight against cartels, merger control, and monitoring abuse.  State and Federal cartel authorities are in charge of enforcing anti-trust law. In exceptional cases, the Minister for Economics and Energy can provide a permit under specific conditions.  The last case was a merger of two retailers (Kaisers/Tengelmann and Edeka) to which a ministerial permit was granted in March 2016. A July 2017 amendment to the Cartel Law expanded the reach of the Federal Cartel Authority (FCA) to include internet and data-based business models; as a result, the FCA investigated Facebook’s data collection practices regarding potential abuse of market power.  A February 2019 decision affirming abuse by the FCA has been challenged by Facebook at a regional court.  In November 2018, the FCA initiated an investigation of Amazon over potential abuse of market power; a decision was pending as of April 2019.

The Law against Unfair Competition (amended last in 2016) can be invoked in regional courts.

Expropriation and Compensation

German law provides that private property can be expropriated for public purposes only in a non-discriminatory manner and in accordance with established principles of constitutional and international law.  There is due process and transparency of purpose, and investors and lenders to expropriated entities receive prompt, adequate, and effective compensation.

The Berlin state government is currently reviewing a petition for a referendum submitted by a citizens’ initiative which calls for the expropriation of residential apartments owned by large corporations.  At least one party in the governing coalition officially supports the proposal, whereas the others remain undecided. Certain long-running expropriation cases date back to the Nazi and communist regimes. During the 2008-9 global financial crisis, the parliament adopted a law allowing emergency expropriation if the insolvency of a bank would endanger the financial system, but the measure expired without having been used.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Germany is a member of both the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, meaning local courts must enforce international arbitration awards under certain conditions.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Investment disputes involving U.S. or other foreign investors in Germany are extremely rare. According to the UNCTAD database of treaty-based investor dispute settlement cases, Germany has been challenged a handful of times, none of which involved U.S. investors.  

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Germany has a domestic arbitration body called the German Institution for Dispute Settlement. ”Book 10” of the German Code of Civil Procedure addresses arbitration proceedings. The International Chamber of Commerce has an office in Berlin. In addition, chambers of commerce and industry offer arbitration services.

Bankruptcy Regulations

German insolvency law, as enshrined in the Insolvency Code, supports and promotes restructuring.  If a business or the owner of a business becomes insolvent, or a business is over-indebted, insolvency proceedings can be initiated by filing for insolvency; legal persons are obliged to do so.  Insolvency itself is not a crime, but deliberately late filing for insolvency is.

Under a regular insolvency procedure, the insolvent business is generally broken up in order to release as much money as possible through the sale of individual items or rights or parts of the company.  Proceeds can then be paid out to the creditors in the insolvency proceedings. The distribution of the monies to the creditors follows the detailed instructions of the Insolvency Code.

Equal treatment of creditors is enshrined in the Insolvency Code.  Some creditors have the right to claim property back. Post-adjudication preferred creditors are served out of insolvency assets during the insolvency procedure.  Ordinary creditors are served on the basis of quotas from the remaining insolvency assets. Secondary creditors, including shareholder loans, are only served if insolvency assets remain after all others have been served.  Germany ranks fourth in the global ranking of “Resolving Insolvency” in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, with a recovery rate of 80.4 cents on the dollar.

Netherlands

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Dutch commercial laws and regulations accord with international legal practices and standards; they apply equally to foreign and Dutch companies.  The rules on acquisition, mergers, takeovers, and reinvestment are nondiscriminatory. The Social Economic Council (SER)–an official advisory body consisting of employers’ representatives, labor representatives, and government appointed independent experts–administers Dutch mergers and acquisitions rules.  The SER’s rules serve to protect the interests of stakeholders and employees. They include requirements for the timely announcement of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and for discussions with trade unions.

As an EU member and Eurozone country, the Netherlands is firmly integrated in the European regulatory system, with national and European institutions exercising authority over specific markets, industries, consumer rights, and competition behavior of individual firms.

Financial markets are regulated in an interconnected EU and national system of prudential and behavioral oversight.  The domestic regulators are the Dutch Central Bank (DNB) and the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Market (AFM).  Their EU counterparts are the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA).

Traditionally, public consultation in drafting new laws is achieved by invitation of various civil society bodies, trade associations, and organizations of stakeholders.  In addition, the SER has a formal mandate to provide the government with advice, both solicited and of its own accord. New laws and regulations are subject to legal review by the Council of State and must be approved by the Second and First Chambers of Parliament.

International Regulatory Considerations

The Netherlands is a member of the WTO and does not maintain any measures that are inconsistent with obligations under Trade Related Investment Measures (TRIMs).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Dutch contract law is based on the principle of party autonomy and full freedom of contract.  Signing parties are free to draft an agreement in any form and any language, based on the legal system of their choice.

Dutch corporate law provides for a legal and fiscal framework that is designed to be flexible.  This element of the investment climate makes the Netherlands especially attractive to foreign investors.

The Dutch civil court system has a chamber dedicated to business disputes, called the Enterprise Chamber.  The Enterprise Chamber includes judges who are experts in various commercial fields. They resolve a wide range of corporate disputes, from corporate governance disputes to high-profile shareholder conflicts over mergers or hostile take-overs.  In 2017, as part of its takeover bid of AkzoNobel, U.S. paint manufacturer PPG appealed the AkzoNobel Board’s decision to reject PPG’s takeover offer in the Commercial Court but was unsuccessful.

On January 1, 2019, the Enterprise Chamber established an English-language commercial court.  The Netherlands Commercial Court (NCC) and its appellate chamber (NCCA) offer parties the opportunity to litigate in English and will provide judgments in English.  Both the NCC and NCCA will focus primarily on major international commercial cases. See also: https://www.rechtspraak.nl/English/NCC/Pages/default.aspx  

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Dutch government has demonstrated a growing concern with the protection of its open, market-based economy against foreign state malign activity and currently the Netherlands is in the process of finalizing legislation that will allow for the establishment of formal investment screening mechanisms for certain vital sectors that could represent national security vulnerabilities.  In March 2019, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy (MOE) submitted to Parliament its long-awaited proposal for an investment screening law in the telecommunications sector. The law is expected to come into force in late 2019 or 2020. This would be the first law to establish an investor-screening mechanism in sectors of vital interest to Dutch national security.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Structural and regulatory reforms are an integral part of Dutch economic policy.  Laws are routinely developed for stimulating market forces, liberalization, deregulation, and tightening competition policy.

As an EU and Eurozone member, the Netherlands is firmly integrated in the European regulatory system with national and European institutions exercising authority over specific markets, industries, consumer rights, and competition behavior of individual firms.

The Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) provides regulatory oversight in three key areas:  consumer protection, post and telecommunications, and market competition.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Netherlands maintains strong protection on all types of property, including private and intellectual property, and the right of citizens to own and use property.  Expropriation of corporate assets or the nationalization of industry requires a special act of Parliament, as demonstrated in the nationalization of ABN AMRO during the 2008 financial crisis (the government returned it to public shareholding through a 2016 IPO).  In the event of expropriation, the Dutch government follows customary international law, providing prompt, adequate, and effective compensation, as well as ample process for legal recourse. The U.S. Mission to the Netherlands is unaware of any recent expropriation claims involving the Dutch government and a U.S. or other foreign-owned company.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

As a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the Netherlands accepts binding arbitration between foreign investors and the state.  The Netherlands is one of the initial signatories of the New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (UNCITRAL) and permits local enforcement of arbitration judgments decided in other signatory countries.

The Hague is the seat of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), an intergovernmental organization that is not a court, but like the ICSID, is a facilitator of independent arbitral tribunals to resolve conflicts between PCA member states, including the United States.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Netherlands has maintained a Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation with the United States since 1957 that provides for national treatment and free entry for foreign investors, with certain exceptions.  The Embassy is not aware of any American company raising an investment dispute with the Netherlands over the last 10 years.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Dutch bankruptcy law is governed by the Dutch Bankruptcy Code, which applies both to individuals and to companies.  The code covers three separate legal proceedings: 1) bankruptcy, which has a goal of liquidating the company’s assets; 2) receivership, aimed at reaching an agreement between the creditors and the company; and 3) debt restructuring, which is only available to individuals.

The World Bank’s 2019 Ease of Doing Business Index ranks the Netherlands as number 7 in resolving insolvency.  The Netherlands ranks better than the OECD average on bankruptcy time, cost, and recovery rate.

United Kingdom

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

U.S. exporters and investors generally find little difference between the United States and UK in the conduct of business.  The regulatory system provides clear and transparent guidelines for commercial engagement. Common law prevails in the UK as the basis for commercial transactions, and the International Commercial Terms (INCOTERMS) of the International Chambers of Commerce are accepted definitions of trading terms.  For accounting standards and audit provisions, firms in the UK currently use the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) set by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) and approved by the European Commission. The UK’s Accounting Standards Board provides guidance to firms on accounting standards and works with the IASB on international standards.

Statutory authority over prices and competition in various industries is given to independent regulators, for example Ofcom, Ofwat, Ofgem, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), the Rail Regulator, and the Prudential Regulatory Authority (PRA).  The PRA was created out of the dissolution of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) in 2013. The PRA reports to the Financial Policy Committee (FPC) in the Bank of England. The PRA is responsible for supervising the safety and soundness of individual financial firms, while the FPC takes a systemic view of the financial system and provides macro-prudential regulation and policy actions.  The Consumer and Markets Authority (CMA) acts as a single integrated regulator focused on conduct in financial markets. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is a regulatory enforcement mechanism designed to address financial and market misconduct through legally reviewable processes. These regulators work to protect the interests of consumers while ensuring that the markets they regulate are functioning efficiently.  Most laws and regulations are published in draft for public comment prior to implementation. The FCA maintains a free, publicly searchable register of their filings on regulated corporations and individuals here: https://register.fca.org.uk/ .

The UK government publishes regulatory actions, including draft text and executive summaries, on the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy webpage listed below.  The current policy requires the repeal of two regulations for any new one in order to make the business environment more competitive.

The primary difference between the regulatory environment in the UK and the United States is that so long as the UK is a member of the European Union, it is mandated to comply with and enforce EU regulations and directives.  The U.S. government has expressed concerns about the degree of transparency and accountability in the EU regulatory process. The extent to which the UK will deviate from the EU regulatory regime after the UK withdraws from the EU is unknown at this time.

International Regulatory Considerations

The UK’s withdrawal from the EU may result in an extended period of regulatory uncertainty across the economy as the UK determines the extent to which it will maintain and enforce the current EU regulatory regime or deviate towards new regulations in any particular sector .  The UK is an independent member of the WTO, and actively seeks to comply with all its WTO obligations.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The UK is a common law country.  UK business contracts are legally enforceable in the UK, but not in the United States or other foreign jurisdictions.  International disputes are resolved through litigation in the UK Courts or by arbitration, mediation, or some other alternative dispute resolution (ADR) method.  The UK has a long history of applying the rule of law to business disputes. The current judicial process remains procedurally competent, fair, and reliable, which helps position London as an international center for dispute resolution with over 10,000 cases filed per annum.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

There is no specific statute governing or restricting foreign investment in the UK.  The procedure for establishing a company in the UK is identical for British and foreign investors.  No approval mechanisms exist for foreign investment, apart from the ad hoc national security process outlined in Section 1.  Foreigners may freely establish or purchase enterprises in the UK, with a few limited exceptions, and acquire land or buildings.  The UK is currently reviewing its procedures and considering new rules for restricting foreign investment in those sectors of the economy with higher risk for adversely impacting national security.   

The practice of multinational enterprises structuring operations to minimize taxes, referred to as ‘tax avoidance’ in the UK, has been a controversial political issue and subject to investigations by the UK Parliament and EU authorities.  Both foreign and UK firms remain subject to the same tax laws. Foreign investors may have access to certain EU and UK regional grants and incentives designed to attract industry to areas of high unemployment.

In 2015, the UK flattened its structure of corporate tax rates.  The UK currently taxes corporations at a flat rate of 19 percent, with marginal tax relief granted for companies with profits falling between USD 391,000 (GBP 300,000) and 1.96 million (GBP 1.5 million).  Tax deductions are allowed for expenditure and depreciation of assets used for trade purposes. These include machinery, plant, industrial buildings, and assets used for research and development. A special rate of 20 percent is given to unit trusts and open-ended investment companies.  There are different Corporation Tax rates for companies that make profits from oil extraction or oil rights in the UK or UK continental shelf. These are known as ‘ring fence’ companies. Small ‘ring fence’ companies are taxed at a rate of 19 percent for profits up to USD 391,000 (GBP 300,000), and 30 percent for profits over USD 391,000 (GBP 300,000).

UK citizens also make mandatory payments of about 12 percent of income into the National Insurance system, which funds social security and retirement benefits.  The UK requires non-domiciled residents of the UK to either pay tax on their worldwide income or the tax on the relevant part of their remitted foreign income being brought into the UK.  If they have been resident in the UK for seven tax years of the previous nine, and they choose to pay tax only on their remitted earnings, they may be subject to an additional charge of USD 39,141 (GBP 30,000).  If they have been resident in the UK for 12 of the last 14 tax years, they may be subject to an additional charge of USD 78,282 (GBP 60,000).

The Scottish Parliament has the legal power to increase or decrease the basic income tax rate in Scotland, currently 20 percent, by a maximum of three percentage points.  The Scottish Government has been opposed to increasing tax rates, mainly because any financial advantage gained by an increase in taxes would be offset by the need to establish a new administrative body to manage the new revenue.

For guidance on laws and procedures relevant to foreign investment in the UK, follow the link below:

https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/investment-in-the-uk-guidance-for-overseas-businesses 

All USD conversions based on spot exchange rate as of April 08, 2019.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

UK competition law contains both British and European elements.  The Competition Act 1998 and the Enterprise Act 2002 are the most important statutes for cases with a purely national dimension.  However, if the impact of a business’ conduct crosses borders, EU law applies. Section 60 of the Competition Act 1998 provides that UK rules are to be applied in line with European jurisprudence.

The Companies Act of 1985, administered by the Department for Business, Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Skills (BEIS), governs ownership and operation of private companies.  The Companies Act of 2006 replaced the 1985 Act, simplifying existing rules.

BEIS uses a transparent code of practice that is fully in accord with EU merger control regulations, in evaluating bids and mergers for possible referral to the Competition Commission.  The Competition Act of 1998 strengthened competition law and enhanced the enforcement powers of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). Prohibitions under the act relate to competition-restricting agreements and abusive behavior by entities in dominant market positions.  The Enterprise Act of 2002 established the OFT as an independent statutory body with a Board, and gives it a greater role in ensuring that markets work well. Also, in accordance with EU law, if deemed in the public interest, transactions in the media or that raise national security concerns may be reviewed by the Secretary of State of BEIS.

In 2014, the Competition Commission and the OFT merged into a single Non Departmental Government Body: the Competition and Markets Authority.  This new body is responsible for investigating mergers that could restrict competition, conducting market studies and investigations where there may be competition problems, investigating breaches of EU and UK prohibitions, initiating criminal proceedings against individuals who commit cartel offenses, and enforcing consumer protection legislation.  This body is unlikely to alter UK competition policy.

UK competition law has three main tasks: 1) prohibiting agreements or practices that restrict free trading and competition between business entities (this includes in particular the repression of cartels); 2) banning abusive behavior by a firm dominating a market, or anti-competitive practices that tend to lead to such a dominant position (practices controlled in this way may include predatory pricing, tying, price gouging, refusal to deal and many others); and 3) supervising the mergers and acquisitions of large corporations, including some joint ventures.  Transactions that are considered to threaten the competitive process can be prohibited altogether, or approved subject to “remedies” such as an obligation to divest part of the merged business or to offer licenses or access to facilities to enable other businesses to continue competing.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is the primary regulatory body for competition law enforcement.  It was created through the merger of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) with the Competition Commission through the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013.  Competition law is closely connected with law on deregulation of access to markets, state aids and subsidies, the privatization of state owned assets, and the establishment of independent sector regulators.

Although the OFT and the Competition Commission have general review authority, specific “watchdog” agencies such as Ofgem (the electricity and gas markets regulation authority), Ofcom (the communications regulation authority), and Ofwat (the water services regulation authority) are also charged with seeing how the operation of those specific markets work.

Expropriation and Compensation

The OECD, of which the UK is a member, states that when a government expropriates property, compensation should be timely, adequate and effective.  In the UK, the right to fair compensation and due process is uncontested and is reflected in all international investment agreements. Expropriation of corporate assets or the nationalization of industry requires a special act of Parliament.  A number of key UK banks became subject to full or part-nationalization from early 2008 as a response to the global financial crisis and banking collapse. The first bank to become nationalized was Northern Rock in February 2008, and by March 2009 the UK Treasury had taken a 65 percent stake in Lloyds Banking Group and a 68 percent stake in the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).  In the event of nationalization, the British government follows customary international law by providing prompt, adequate, and effective compensation.

Dispute Settlement

As a member of the World Bank-based International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the UK accepts binding international arbitration between foreign investors and the State.  As a signatory to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, the UK provides local enforcement on arbitration judgments decided in other signatory countries.

London is a thriving center for the resolution of international disputes through arbitration under a variety of procedural rules such as those of the London Court of International Arbitration, the International Chamber of Commerce, the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, the American Arbitration Association International Centre for Dispute Resolution, and others.  Many of these arbitrations involve parties with no connection to the jurisdiction, but who are drawn to the jurisdiction because they perceive it to be a fair, neutral venue with an arbitration law and courts that support efficient resolution of disputes. They also choose London-based arbitration because of the general prevalence of the English language and law in international commerce.  A wide range of contractual and non-contractual claims can be referred to arbitration in this jurisdiction including disputes involving intellectual property rights, competition, and statutory claims. There are no restrictions on foreign nationals acting as arbitration counsel or arbitrators in this jurisdiction. There are few restrictions on foreign lawyers practicing in the jurisdiction as evidenced by the fact that over 200 foreign law firms have offices in London.

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

The UK is a member of the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and a signatory to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.  The latter convention has territorial application to Gibraltar (September 24, 1975), Hong Kong (January 21, 1977), Isle of Man (February 22, 1979), Bermuda (November 14, 1979), Belize and Cayman Islands (November 26, 1980), Guernsey (April 19, 1985), Bailiwick of Jersey (May 28, 2002), and British Virgin Islands (February 24, 2014).

The United Kingdom has consciously elected not to follow the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration.  Enforcement of an arbitral award in the UK is dependent upon where the award was granted. The process for enforcement in any particular case is dependent upon the seat of arbitration and the arbitration rules that apply.  Arbitral awards in the UK can be enforced under a number of different regimes, namely: The Arbitration Act 1996, The New York Convention, The Geneva Convention 1927, The Administration of Justice Act 1920 and the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act 1933, and Common Law.

The Arbitration Act 1996 governs all arbitrations seated in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, both domestic and international. The full text of the Arbitration Act can be found here: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/23/data.pdf .

The Arbitration Act is heavily influenced by the UNCITRAL Model Law, but it has some important differences.  For example, the Arbitration Act covers both domestic and international arbitration; the document containing the parties’ arbitration agreement need not be signed; an English court is only able to stay its own proceedings and cannot refer a matter to arbitration; the default provisions in the Arbitration Act require the appointment of a sole arbitrator as opposed to three arbitrators; a party retains the power to treat its party-nominated arbitrator as the sole arbitrator in the event that the other party fails to make an appointment (where the parties’ agreement provides that each party is required to appoint an arbitrator); there is no time limit on a party’s opposition to the appointment of an arbitrator; parties must expressly opt out of most of the provisions of the Arbitration Act which confer default procedural powers on the arbitrators; and there are no strict rules governing the exchange of pleadings.  Section 66 of the Arbitration Act applies to all domestic and foreign arbitral awards. Sections 100 to 103 of the Arbitration Act provide for enforcement of arbitral awards under the New York Convention 1958. Section 99 of the Arbitration Act provides for the enforcement of arbitral awards made in certain countries under the Geneva Convention 1927.

Under Section 66 of the Arbitration Act, the court’s permission is required for an international arbitral award to be enforced in the UK.  Once the court has given permission, judgment may be entered in terms of the arbitral award and enforced in the same manner as a court judgment or order.  Permission will not be granted by the court if the party against whom enforcement is sought can show that (a) the tribunal lacked substantive jurisdiction and (b) the right to raise such an objection has not been lost.

The length of arbitral proceedings can vary greatly.  If the parties have a relatively straightforward dispute, cooperate, and adopt a fast track procedure, arbitration can be concluded within months or even weeks.  In a substantial international arbitration involving complex facts, many witnesses and experts and post-hearing briefs, the arbitration could take many years. A reasonably substantial international arbitration will likely take between one and two years.

There are two alternative procedures that can be followed in order to enforce an award.  The first is to seek leave of the court for permission to enforce. The second is to begin an action on the award, seeking the same relief from the court as set out in the tribunal’s award.  Enforcement of an award made in the jurisdiction may be opposed by challenging the award. However, the court also may refuse to enforce an award that is unclear, does not specify an amount, or offends public policy.  Enforcement of a foreign award may be opposed on any of the limited grounds set out in the New York Convention. A stay may be granted for a limited time pending a challenge to the order for enforcement. The court will consider the likelihood of success and whether enforcement of the award will be made more or less difficult as a result of the stay.  Conditions that might be imposed on granting the stay include such matters as paying a sum into court. Where multiple awards are to be rendered, the court may give permission for the tribunal to continue hearing other matters, especially where there may be a long delay between awards. UK courts have a good record of enforcing arbitral awards, which they will enforce in the same way that they would enforce an order or judgment of a court.  At the time of writing, there are no examples of the English courts enforcing awards which were set aside by the courts at the place of arbitration.

Most awards are complied with voluntarily.  If the party against whom the award was made fails to comply, the party seeking enforcement can apply to the court.  The length of time it takes to enforce an award which complies with the requirements of the New York Convention will depend on whether there are complex objections to enforcement which require the court to investigate the facts of the case.  If a case raises complex issues of public importance the case could be appealed to the Court of Appeal and then to the Supreme Court. This process could take around two years. If no complex objections are raised, the party seeking enforcement can apply to the court using a summary procedure that is fast and efficient.  There are time limits relating to the enforcement of the award. Failure to comply with an award is treated as a breach of the arbitration agreement. An action on the award must be brought within six years of the failure to comply with the award or 12 years if the arbitration agreement was made under seal. If the award does not specify a time for compliance, a court will imply a term of reasonableness.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The UK has strong bankruptcy protections going back to the Bankruptcy Act of 1542, and in modern days both individual bankruptcy and corporate insolvency are regulated in the UK primarily by the Insolvency Act 1986 and the Insolvency Rules 1986, regulated through determinations in UK courts.  The World Bank’s Doing Business report Ranks the UK 14/189 for ease of resolving insolvency.

Regarding individual bankruptcy law, the court will oblige a bankrupt individual to sell assets to pay dividends to creditors.  A bankrupt person must inform future creditors about the bankrupt status and may not act as the director of a company during the period of bankruptcy.  Bankruptcy is not criminalized in the UK, and the Enterprise Act of 2002 dictates that for England and Wales, bankruptcy will not normally last longer than 12 months.  At the end of the bankrupt period, the individual is normally no longer held liable for bankruptcy debts unless the individual is determined to be culpable for his or her own insolvency, in which case the bankruptcy period can last up to fifteen years.

For corporations declaring insolvency, UK insolvency law seeks to equitably distribute losses between creditors, employees, the community, and other stakeholders in an effort to rescue the company.  Liability is limited to the amount of the investment. If a company cannot be rescued, it is liquidated and assets are sold to pay debts to creditors, including foreign investors.

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