1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
The Algerian economy is both challenging and potentially highly rewarding. While the Algerian government publicly welcomes FDI, a difficult business climate, an inconsistent regulatory environment, and sometimes contradictory government policies complicate foreign investment. There are business opportunities in nearly every sector, including energy, power, water, healthcare, telecommunications, transportation, recycling, agribusiness, and consumer goods.
Algeria’s urgency to diversify its economy away from reliance on hydrocarbons has increased amid low and fluctuating oil prices since mid-2014. The government has sought to reduce the country’s trade deficit through import substitution policies and import tariffs. Despite higher oil prices in 2018 that reduced the trade deficit, Algeria’s decreasing hydrocarbons exports have kept government rhetoric focused diversification. On January 29, 2019, the government implemented tariffs between 30-200 percent on over one-thousand goods it assessed were destined for direct sale to consumers. Companies that set up local manufacturing operations can receive permission to import materials the government would not otherwise approve for import if the importer can show materials will be used in local production. Certain regulations explicitly favor local firms at the expense of foreign competitors, most prominently in the pharmaceutical sector, where an import ban the government implemented in 2009 remains in place on more than 360 medicines and medical devices. Frequent, unpredictable changes to business regulations have added to the uncertainty in the market.
Algeria eliminated state enterprises’ “right of first refusal” on most transfers of foreign holdings to foreign shareholders, with the exception of identified “strategic” sectors..
There are two main agencies responsible for attracting foreign investment, the National Agency of Investment Development (ANDI) and the National Agency for the Valorization of Hydrocarbons (ALNAFT).
ANDI is the primary Algerian government agency tasked with recruiting and retaining foreign investment. ANDI runs branches in each of Algeria’s 48 governorates (“wilayas”) which are tasked with facilitating business registration, tax payments, and other administrative procedures for both domestic and foreign investors. U.S. companies report that the agency is understaffed and ineffective. Its “one-stop shops” only operate out of physical offices and do not maintain dialogue with investors after they have initiated an investment. The agency’s effectiveness is undercut by its lack of decision-making authority, particularly for industrial projects, which is exercised by the Ministry of Industry and Mines, the Minister of Industry and Mines himself, and in many cases the Prime Minister.
ALNAFT is charged with attracting foreign investment to Algeria’s upstream oil and gas sector. In addition to organizing events marketing upstream opportunities to potential investors, the agency maintains a paid-access digital database with extensive technical information about Algeria’s hydrocarbons resources.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Establishing a presence in Algeria can take any of three basic forms: 1) a liaison office with no local partner requirement and no authority to perform commercial operations, 2) a branch office to execute a specific contract, with no obligation to have a local partner, allowing the parent company to conduct commercial activity (considered a resident Algerian entity without full legal authority), or 3) a local company with 51 percent of capital held by a local company or shareholders. A business can be incorporated as a joint stock company (JSC), a limited liability company (LLC), a limited partnership (LP), a limited partnership with shares (LPS), or an undeclared partnership. Groups and consortia are also used by foreign companies when partnering with other foreign companies or with local firms.
Foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity. However, the 51/49 rule requires majority Algerian ownership in all projects involving foreign investments. The rule was removed from the 2016 investment law, but remains in force by virtue of its inclusion in the 2016 annual finance law, which requires foreign investment activities be subject to the incorporation of an Algerian company in which at least 51 percent of capital stock is held by resident national shareholders.
On December 30, 2019, the Algerian government’s Official Journal published its 2020 finance law, which limited the 51/49 rule to “strategic sectors,” identified as hydrocarbons, mining, defense, and pharmaceuticals.
The 51/49 investment rule poses challenges for various types of investors. For example, the requirement hampers market access for foreign small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as they often do not have the human resources or financial capital to navigate complex legal and regulatory requirements. Large companies can find creative ways to work within the law, sometimes with the cooperation of local authorities who are more flexible with large investments that promise of significant job creation and technology and equipment transfers. SMEs usually do not receive this same consideration. There are also allegations that Algerian partners sometimes refuse to invest the required funds in the company’s business, require non-contract funds to win contracts, and send unqualified workers to job sites. Manufacturers are also concerned about intellectual property rights (IPR), as foreign companies do not want to surrender control of their designs and patents. Several U.S. companies have reported they have policies that preclude them from investing overseas without maintaining a majority share, out of concerns for both IPR and financial control of the local venture, which thus prevent them from establishing businesses in Algeria.
Algerian government officials defended the 51/49 requirement as necessary to prevent capital flight, protect Algerian businesses, and provide foreign businesses with local expertise. For sectors where the requirement will remain, officials contend a range of tailored measures can mitigate the effect of the 51/49 rule and allow the minority foreign shareholder to exercise other means of control. Some foreign investors use multiple local partners in the same venture, effectively reducing ownership of each individual local partner to enable the foreign partner to own the largest share.
The Algerian government does not officially screen FDI, though Algerian state enterprises have a “right of first refusal” on transfers of foreign holdings to foreign shareholders in identified strategic industries. Companies must notify the Council for State Participation (CPE) of these transfers. In addition, initial foreign investments remain subject to approvals from a host of ministries that cover the proposed project, most often the Ministries of Commerce, Health, Energy, Telecommunications and Post, and Industry and Mines. U.S. companies have reported that certain high-profile industrial proposals, such as for automotive assembly, are subject to informal approval by the Prime Minister. In 2017, the government instituted an Investments Review Council chaired by the Prime Minister for the purpose of “following up” on investments; in practice, the establishment of the council means FDI proposals are subject to additional government scrutiny. According to the 2016 Investment Law, projects registered through the ANDI deemed to have special interest for the national economy or high employment generating potential may be eligible for extensive investment advantages. For any project over 5 billion dinars (approximately USD 44 million) to benefit from these advantages, it must be approved by the Prime Minister-chaired National Investments Council (CNI). The CNI meets regularly, though it is not clear how the agenda of projects considered at each meeting is determined. Critics allege the CNI is non-transparent mechanism which could be subject to capture by vested interests.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
Algeria has not conducted an investment policy review through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or the World Trade Organization (WTO). The last investment policy review by a third party was conducted by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in 2003 and published in 2004.
Algeria’s online information portal dedicated to business creation www.jecreemonentreprise.dz and the business registration website www.cnrc.org.dz are under maintenance and have been so for more than a year. The websites provide information about several business registration steps applicable for registering certain kinds of businesses. Entrepreneurs report that additional information about requirements or regulation updates for business registration are available only in person at the various offices involved in the creation and registration process.
In the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business report, Algeria’s ranking for starting a business was unchanged at 157 out of 190 countries (http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/data/exploreeconomies/algeria). This year’s improvements were modest and concerned only a third of the ten indicator categories. The World Bank report lists 12 procedures that cumulatively take an average of 18 days to complete to register a new business. New business owners seeking to establish their enterprises have sometimes reported the process takes longer, noting that the most updated version of regulations and required forms are only available in person at multiple offices, therefore requiring multiple visits.
Algeria does not restrict domestic investors from investing overseas, provided they can access foreign currency for such investments. The exchange of Algerian dinars outside of Algerian territory is illegal, as is the carrying abroad of more than 3,000 dinars in cash at a time (approximately USD 26; see section 7 for more details on currency exchange restrictions).
Algeria’s National Agency to Promote External Trade (ALGEX), housed in the Ministry of Commerce, is the agency responsible for supporting Algerian businesses outside the hydrocarbons sector that want to export abroad. ALGEX controls a special promotion fund to promote exports but the funds can only be accessed for limited purposes. For example, funds might be provided to pay for construction of a booth at a trade fair, but travel costs associated with getting to the fair – which can be expensive for overseas shows – would not be covered. The Algerian Company of Insurance and Guarantees to Exporters (CAGEX), also housed under the Ministry of Commerce, provides insurance to exporters. In 2003, Algeria established a National Consultative Council for Promotion of Exports (CCNCPE) that is supposed to meet annually. Algerian exporters claim difficulties working with ALGEX including long delays in obtaining support funds, and the lack of ALGEX offices overseas despite a 2003 law for their creation. The Bank of Algeria’s 2002 Money and Credit law allows Algerians to request the conversion of dinars to foreign currency in order to finance their export activities, but exporters must repatriate an equivalent amount to any funds spent abroad, for example money spent on marketing or other business costs incurred.