Bangladesh

Executive Summary

Bangladesh is the most densely populated non-city state country in the world, with the world’s eighth largest population (over 165 million) in a territory the size of Iowa.  Bangladesh is situated in the northeastern corner of the Indian subcontinent, sharing a 4,100 km border with India and a 247 km border with Burma. With sustained economic growth over the past decade, a large, young, and hard-working workforce, strategic location between the large South and Southeast Asian markets, and vibrant private sector, Bangladesh will likely attract increasing investment.

Buoyed by a growing middle class, Bangladesh has enjoyed consistent annual GDP growth of more than six percent over the past decade.  Much of this growth continues to be driven by the ready-made garments (RMG) industry, which exported USD 36.66 billion of products in FY 2017-18, second only to China, and continued remittance inflows, reaching nearly USD 15 billion in FY 2017-18.  Forecasts based on the first nine months of the 2018-19 fiscal year estimate Bangladesh is on track to reach USD 40 billion in garment exports for the fiscal year.

The Government of Bangladesh (GOB) actively seeks foreign investment, particularly in the agribusiness, garment/textiles, leather/leather goods, light manufacturing, energy, information and communications technology (ICT), and infrastructure sectors.  It offers a range of investment incentives under its industrial policy and export-oriented growth strategy with few formal distinctions between foreign and domestic private investors. Bangladesh received USD 3.0 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) in FY 2017-18, up from USD 2.45 billion the previous year.  However, the rate of FDI inflows is only around 1 percent of GDP, one of the lowest of rates in Asia.

Bangladesh has made gradual progress in reducing some constraints on investment, including taking steps to better ensure reliable electricity, but inadequate infrastructure, limited financing instruments, bureaucratic delays, and corruption continue to hinder foreign investment.  New government efforts to improve the business environment show promise but implementation has yet to be seen. Slow adoption of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms and sluggish judicial processes impede the enforcement of contracts and the resolution of business disputes.

A series of terrorist attacks in 2015-17, including the July 1, 2016 Holey Bakery attack in Dhaka’s diplomatic enclave, resulted in increased security restrictions for many expatriates, including U.S. Embassy staff.  National elections, which were held on December 30, 2018, are prone to instances of political violence. The influx of more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees since August 2017 has also raised security concerns.

International brands and the international community continue to press the GOB to meaningfully address worker rights and factory safety problems in the country.  With support from the international community and the private sector, Bangladesh has made significant progress on fire and workplace safety. Critical work remains on safeguarding workers’ rights to freely associate and bargain collectively, including in the Export Processing Zones (EPZs).  

The GOB has limited resources for intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and counterfeit goods are readily available in Bangladesh.  Government policies in the ICT sector are still under development. Current policies grant the government broad powers to intervene in that sector.

Capital markets in Bangladesh are still developing and the financial sector is still highly dependent on banks.

Table 1

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 149 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2018 176 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 116 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in Partner Country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $460 http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $1,470 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Bangladesh actively seeks foreign investment, particularly in the agribusiness, garment and textiles, leather and leather goods, light manufacturing, energy, information and communications technology (ICT), and infrastructure sectors.  It offers a range of investment incentives under its industrial policy and export-oriented growth strategy with few formal distinctions between foreign and domestic private investors.

Foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own, operate, and dispose of interests in most types of business enterprises. Four sectors, however, are reserved for government investment:

  • Arms and ammunition and other defense equipment and machinery;
  • Forest plantation and mechanized extraction within the bounds of reserved forests;
  • Production of nuclear energy;
  • Security printing.

The Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) is the principal authority tasked with promoting supervising and promoting private investment.  The BIDA Act of 2016 approved the merger of the now disbanded Board of Investment and the Privatization Committee. BIDA performs the following functions:

  • Provides pre-investment counseling services
  • Registers and approves of private industrial projects
  • Issues approval of branch/liaison/representative offices
  • Issues work permits for foreign nationals
  • Issues approval of royalty remittances, technical know-how and technical assistance fees
  • Facilitates import of capital machinery and raw materials
  • Issues approvals for foreign loans and supplier credits

BIDA’s newly designed website has aggregated information regarding Bangladesh investment policies and ease of doing business indicators: http://bida.gov.bd/  .  

The Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority (BEPZA) acts as the investment supervisory authority in export processing zones (EPZs).  BEPZA is the one-stop service provider and regulatory authority for companies operating inside EPZs. In addition, Bangladesh plans to establish over 100 Economic Zones (EZs) throughout the country over the next several years.  The EZs are designed to attract additional foreign investment to locations throughout the country. The Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority (BEZA) is responsible for supervising and promoting investments in the economic zones (EZs).  

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own, operate, and dispose of interests in most types of business enterprises. Bangladesh allows private investment in power generation and natural gas exploration, but efforts to allow full foreign participation in petroleum marketing and gas distribution have stalled.  Regulations in the area of telecommunication infrastructure currently include provisions for 60 percent foreign ownership (70 percent for tower sharing).

Four sectors are reserved for government investment and exclude both foreign and domestic private sector activity:

  • Arms and ammunition and other defense equipment and machinery;
  • Forest plantation and mechanized extraction within the bounds of reserved forests;
  • Production of nuclear energy;
  • Security printing.

In addition, there are 17 controlled sectors that require prior clearance/ permission from the respective line ministries/authorities. These are:

  1. Fishing in the deep sea
  2. Bank/financial institution in the private sector
  3. Insurance company in the private sector
  4. Generation, supply and distribution of power in the private sector
  5. Exploration, extraction and supply of natural gas/oil
  6. Exploration, extraction and supply of coal
  7. Exploration, extraction and supply of other mineral resources
  8. Large-scale infrastructure projects (e.g. flyover, elevated expressway, monorail,     economic zone, inland container depot/container freight station)
  9. Crude oil refinery (recycling/refining of lube oil used as fuel)
  10. Medium and large industry using natural gas/condescend and other minerals as raw material
  11. Telecommunication service (mobile/cellular and land phone)
  12. Satellite channels
  13. Cargo/passenger aviation
  14. Sea-bound ship transport
  15. Sea-port/deep seaport
  16. VOIP/IP telephone
  17. Industries using heavy minerals accumulated from sea beach

While discrimination against foreign investors is not widespread, the government frequently promotes local industries and some discriminatory policies and regulations exist. For example, the government closely controls approvals for imported medicines that compete with domestically-manufactured pharmaceutical products and it has required majority local ownership of new shipping and insurance companies, albeit with exemptions for existing foreign-owned firms, following a prime ministerial directive.  In practical terms, foreign investors frequently find it necessary to have a local partner even though this requirement may not be statutorily defined.

In certain strategic sectors, the GOB has placed unofficial barriers on foreign companies’ ability to divest from the country.

Business Registration

The Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA), formerly the Board of Investment, is responsible for screening, reviewing, and approving FDI in Bangladesh.  BIDA is directly supervised by the Prime Minister’s office and the Chairman of BIDA has Minister-equivalent rank. There have been instances where receiving approval was delayed.  Once the foreign investor’s application is submitted to BIDA, the authorities review the proposal to ensure the investment does not create conflicts with local business. Investors note it is frequently necessary to separately register with other entities such as the National Board of Revenue.  According to the World Bank, business registration in Bangladesh takes 19.5 days on average with nine distinct steps: http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/bangladesh/   .  

BIDA’s resources on Ease of Doing Business, Investment Opportunity, Potential Sectors, and Doing Business in Bangladesh are also available at:  

Requirements vary by sector, but all foreign investors are also required to obtain clearance certificates from relevant ministries and institutions with regulatory oversight.  BIDA establishes time-lines for the submission of all the required documents. For example, if a proposed foreign investment is in the healthcare equipment field, investors need to obtain a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Directorate General for Health Services under the Ministry of Health.  The NOC states that the specific investment will not hinder local manufacturers and is in alignment with the guidelines of the ministry. Negative outcomes can be appealed, except for applications pertaining to the four restricted sectors previously mentioned.

A foreign investor also must register its company with the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms (RJSC&F) and open a local bank account under the registered company’s name.  For BIDA screening, an investor must submit the RJSC&F Company Registration certificate, legal bank account details, a NOC from the relevant ministry, department, or institution, and a project profile (if the investment is more than USD 1.25 million) along with BIDA’s formatted application form.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In 2013 Bangladesh completed an investment policy review (IPR) with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and can be found at: http://unctad.org/en/pages/newsdetails.aspx?OriginalVersionID=444&Sitemap_x0020_Taxonomy=Investment percent20Policy percent20Reviews percent20(IPR);#20;#UNCTAD percent20Home  .

Bangladesh has not conducted an IPR through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

A Trade Policy Review was last done by the World Trade Organization in October 2012 and can be found at:  https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp370_e.htm  .

With EU assistance, Bangladesh conducted a trade policy review, the “Comprehensive Trade Policy of Bangladesh” which was published by the Ministry of Commerce in September 2014.  Current Bangladesh government export and import policies are available at: http://www.mincom.gov.bd/site/page/30991fcb-8dfc-4154-a58b-09bb86f60601/Policy  .

Business Facilitation

The Government has had limited success reducing the time required to establish a company.  BIDA and BEZA are both attempting to establish one-stop business registration shops and these agencies have proposed draft legislation for this purpose.  In February 2018, the Bangladesh Parliament passed the “One Stop Service Bill 2018,” which aims to streamline business and investment registration processes.  Expected streamlined services from BIDA include: company registration, name clearance issuance, tax certificate and taxpayer’s identification number (TIN), value added tax (VAT) registration, visa recommendation letter issuance, work permit issuance, foreign borrowing request approval, and environment clearance.  BIDA started its online one-stop service (OSS) on a trial basis in January 2018. Businesses are currently getting 15 types of services online. BIDA aims to automate 150 processes from 34 government agencies once the OSS becomes fully operational.

Companies can register their business at the Office of the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms:  www.roc.gov.bd  .  However, the online business registration process is not clear and cannot be used by a foreign company to attain the business registration as certain steps are required to be performed in-person.  

In addition, BIDA has branch/liaison office registration information on its website at: http://bida.gov.bd/  .  

Other agencies with which a company must typically register are as follows:

  • City Corporation – Trade License
  • National Board of Revenue – Tax & VAT Registration
  • Chief Inspector of Shops and Establishments – Employment of workers notification.

The company registration process now takes around 15 workdays to complete.  The process to open a branch or liaison office is approximately one month. The process for a trade license, tax registration, and VAT registration requires seven days, two days, and three weeks, respectively.  

Outward Investment

Outward foreign direct investment is generally restricted through the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act of 1947.  As a result, the Bangladesh Bank plays a key role in limiting outbound investment. In September 2015, the government amended the 1947 Act by adding a “conditional provision” that permits outbound investment for export-related enterprises.  Private sector contacts note that the few international investments approved by the Bangladesh Bank have been limited to large exporting companies with international experience.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Bangladesh has signed bilateral investment treaties with 28 countries, including Austria, the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Japan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Netherlands, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Singapore, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.  

The U.S.-Bangladesh Bilateral Investment Treaty, signed on March 12, 1986, entered into force on July 23, 1989.  The Foreign Investment Act includes a guarantee of national treatment. The United States and Bangladesh also signed a bilateral treaty for the avoidance of double taxation on September 26, 2004.  The United States ratified it on March 31, 2006. The parties exchanged instruments of ratification on August 7, 2006. The treaty became effective for most taxpayers beginning in the 2007 tax year.

Bangladesh has successfully negotiated several regional trade and economic agreements, including the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA), the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA), and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral, Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).  Bangladesh has not signed any bilateral free trade agreements (FTA), but started FTA discussions with Sri Lanka in March 2017 with the intention to sign the agreement by the end of 2018. In August 2017, Bangladesh also signed a memorandum of understanding with Turkey to begin discussions towards an FTA.  It has also announced plans to negotiate agreements with Cambodia and Thailand.

Bangladesh has taken steps to strengthen bilateral economic relations with India by reducing trade barriers and improving connectivity.  Bangladesh gained duty-free access to India via regional trade agreements including the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Preferential Trading Arrangement (SAPTA) signed in 1993 and the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement signed in 2004.  Tariff reduction under SAFTA started from July 2006. Under SAFTA, Bangladesh can export goods duty-free to India, with the exception of alcohol and tobacco. India also provides duty-free and preferential tariff treatment to Bangladesh under the Duty Free Tariff Preference (DFTP) Scheme for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) effective from August 13, 2008.  As a founding member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and as a Less Developed Country (LDC), Bangladesh has been an active advocate for LDC interests in WTO negotiations. In reality, however, many non-tariff barriers between Bangladesh and India continue to inhibit increased regional trade. These include anti-dumping and countervailing duties, conformity in testing/assessment, compliance with sanitary and phytosanitary standards, rules of origin, visa restrictions, and trade facilitation like poor logistic facilities at land ports.  India is the destination for less than 2 percent of Bangladesh’s exports.

Bangladesh met all three criteria required to graduate from LDC status at the triennial review of the UN’s Economic and Social Council Committee for Development Policy held in March 2018.  Bangladesh expects to fully graduate from LDC status in 2024 and then receive a three-year transition period during which it can still enjoy LDC-specific benefits. After 2027, Bangladesh is expected to lose access to several trade preferences program, including the European Union’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Everything but Arms (EBA) program and other preferential financing arrangements.  To gain access to the EU’s GSP+ program, Bangladesh will need to ratify 27 international conventions on human and labor rights, environment, and governance.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Since 1989, the government has gradually moved to decrease regulatory obstruction of private business.  The Bangladeshi chambers of commerce have called for a greater voice for the private sector in government decisions and for privatization, but at the same time, many support protectionism and subsidies for their own industries.  The result is that policy and regulations in Bangladesh are often not clear, consistent, or publicized. Registration and regulatory processes are alleged to be frequently used as rent-seeking opportunities. The major rule-making and regulatory authority exist 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 controlling policies, as well as foreign investment in government-controlled projects. 

The Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA)—a merger of the Board of Investment (BOI) and the Privatization Commission (PC)—was formed in accordance with the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority Bill 2016 passed by Parliament on July 25, 2016.  The bill established BIDA as the lead private investment promotion and facilitation agency in Bangladesh. The move came amid complaints about redundancies in the BOI’s and the PC’s overlapping mandates and concerns that the PC had not made sufficient progress. BIDA hopes to become a “one-stop shop” for investors and a “true” investment promotion authority rather than simply follow the referral service-orientation of BOI.  Currently, BIDA is not yet a one-stop shop and companies must still seek approvals from relevant line ministries

Bangladesh has achieved incremental progress in using information technology to improve the transparency and efficiency of some government services and to develop independent agencies to regulate the energy and telecommunication sectors.  Some investors cited government laws, regulations, and 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 that provides for multilevel stakeholders consultation through workshops or media outreach.  Although the consultation process exists, it is still weak and subject to further improvement.

Ministries do not generally publish and release draft proposals to the public.  However, several government organizations, including the Bangladesh Bank (central bank), 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.

Regulatory agencies generally do not solicit comments on proposed regulations from the general public; however, when a consultation occurs, comments may be received through public media consultation, feedback on websites (e.g., in the past, the Bangladesh Bank received comments on monetary policy), focus group discussions, or workshops with relevant stakeholders.  There is no government body tasked with soliciting and receiving comments, but the Bangladesh Government Press of the Ministry of Information is entrusted with the authority of disseminating government information to the public. The law does not require regulatory agencies to report on the results of consultations and, in practice, regulators do not generally report the results.  Widespread use of social media in Bangladesh has created an additional platform for public input into developing regulations and government officials appear to be sensitive to this form of messaging.

The government printing office, The Bangladesh Government Press (http://www.dpp.gov.bd/bgpress/  ), publishes the weekly “Bangladesh Gazette” every Thursday.  The gazette provides official notice of government actions, including the 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 (FRC) in 2016 in an aim to establish transparency and accountability in the accounting and auditing of financial institutions.  However, the FRC is not fully functional as the regulations that will govern the accountings, earning reports, and disclosure of companies have not yet been formulated. Accounting practices and quality varies widely in Bangladesh.  Internationally known and recognized firms have begun establishing local offices in Bangladesh and the presence of these firms is positively influencing the accounting norms in the country. Some firms are capable of providing financial reports audited to international standards while others maintain unreliable (or multiple) sets of accounting reports.  Regulatory agencies also do not conduct impact assessment of proposed regulations; hence, regulations are often not reviewed on the basis of data-driven assessments. National budget documents are not prepared according to internationally accepted standards.

International Regulatory Considerations

The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) aims to integrate regional regulatory systems between 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 law is 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 January 1995.  The 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.  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 the notification activities to WTO through the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Industries.

Focal Points and Methods of Contact are:  

General Contact:

Email: ictcell.bsti@gmail.com
Tel: +880-2-8870275

Email address for WTO-TBT National Enquiry Point: bsti_pub@bangla.net

Focal Points for WTO:

  • Md. Muazzem Hossain, Director General, BSTI, Dhaka; Email: dg@bsti.gov.bd, Tel: +880-2-8870275
  • Mr. Shajjatul Bari, Deputy Director, Standards Wing, BSTI, Dhaka; Email: dstd@bsti.gov.bd, Tel: +880-2-8870278, Cell: +8801672790239
  • Mr. Md. Munir Chowdhury, Director General, WTO Cell, Ministry of Commerce; Email: dg.wto@mincom.gov.bd, Tel: +880-2-9545383, Cell: +88 0171 1591060
  • Focal Points for Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS), Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) and Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS):
  • Mr. Md. Hafizur Rahman, Director, WTO Cell, Ministry of Commerce: Email: director1.wto@mincom.gov.bd, Tel: +880-2-9552105, Cell: +88 0171 1861056
  • Mr. Md. Hamidur Rahman Khan, Director, WTO Cell, Ministry of Commerce-
  • Email: director2.wto@mincom.gov.bd, Tel: +880-2-9549195, Cell: +88 01711372093

Link to BSTI: http://www.bsti.gov.bd/  

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Bangladesh is a common law based jurisdiction.  Many of the basic laws of Bangladesh, such as the penal code, civil and criminal procedural codes, contract law, and company law are influenced by English common laws.  However, family laws, such as laws relating to marriage, dissolution of marriage, and inheritance are based on religious scripts and therefore differ between 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 court. As a common law system, statutes are typically short and set out basic rights and responsibilities that are then elaborated on by the courts in their application and interpretation. The Judiciary of Bangladesh acts through (1) The Superior Judiciary having appellate, revision, and original jurisdiction and (2) Sub-Ordinate Judiciary having original jurisdiction.

Since 1971, Bangladesh’s legal system has been updated in the areas of company, banking, bankruptcy, and money loan court laws and other commercial laws.  An important impediment to investment in Bangladesh is a 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 delays in proceedings carry no penalties.  Bangladesh does not have a separate court or division of a court dedicated solely to hearing 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 the interference of 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.

Bangladesh scored a 3.33 in the World Bank’s 2017 Judicial Independence Index on a 1-7 band score with 7 being the best ranking.  That was up from 2016 when it scored a 2.38.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

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, the Industrial Policy Act of 2005, the Industrial Policy Act of 2010, and the Bangladesh Economic Zones Act 2010.  The Industrial Policy Act of 2016 was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Industrial Purchase on February 24, 2016 and replaces the Industrial Policy of 2010.

The Industrial Policy Act of 2016 offers incentives for “green” (environmental), high-tech, or “transformative” industries.  Foreign investors who invest USD 1 million or transfer USD 2 million to a recognized financial institution can apply for Bangladeshi citizenship.  The Government of Bangladesh will provide financial and policy support for high-priority industries (those that create large-scale employment and earn 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 will be given to agriculture and food processing, ready-made garments (RMG), information and communication technology (ICT), software, pharmaceuticals, leather and leather products, and jute and jute goods.

In 2017, BIDA submitted proposed legislation for a One-Stop Service Act (OSS), which was approved by the Parliament in February 2018, to attract further foreign direct investment to Bangladesh.  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.

BIDA has a “one-stop” website that provides relevant laws, rules, procedure, 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 business, potential sectors, and how to do business in Bangladesh.  The website also has an eService Portal for Investors which provides services like 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.  However, the effectiveness of these online services is questionable.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The GOB formed an independent agency in 2011 called the “Bangladesh Competition Commission (BCC)” under the Ministry of Commerce.  The Bangladesh Parliament then passed the Competition Act in June 2012. However, the BCC has experienced operational delays and it has not received sufficient resources to fully operate.  Currently, the WTO Cell of the Ministry of Commerce handles most competition-related issues.

In January 2016, the two parent companies of Malaysia-based Robi and India-based Airtel signed a formal deal to merge their operations in Bangladesh, completing the country’s first telecommunications merger.  The deal, valued at USD 12.5 million, is to date Bangladesh’s largest corporate merger. The merger raised anti-competition concerns but it was completed in November 2016 after the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gave final approvals.  

Expropriation and Compensation

Since the Foreign Investment Act of 1980 banned nationalization or expropriation without adequate compensation, the GOB 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.  During the last 20 years, the government has since taken steps to privatize many of these industries and the private sector has developed into a main driver of the country’s sustained economic growth.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Bangladesh is a signatory to the International Convention for the Settlement of Disputes (ICSID) and it acceded in May 1992 to the United Nations Convention for the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.  Alternative dispute resolutions are possible under the Bangladesh Arbitration Act of 2001. The current legislation allows for enforcement of arbitral awards.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Bangladeshi law allows contracts to refer investor-state dispute settlement to third country fora for resolution.  The U.S.-Bangladesh Bilateral Investment Treaty also stipulates that parties may, upon the initiative of either of them and as a part of their consultation and negotiation, agree to rely upon non-binding, third-party procedures, such as the fact-finding facility available under the Rules of the “Additional Facility (“Facility”) of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (“Centre”).”  If the dispute cannot be resolved through consultation and negotiation, then the dispute shall be submitted for settlement in accordance with the applicable dispute-settlement procedures upon which they have previously agreed. Bangladesh is also a party to the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Agreement for the Establishment of an Arbitration Council, signed November 2005, which aims to establish a permanent center for alternative dispute resolution in one of the SAARC member countries.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Bangladeshi law allows contracts to refer dispute settlement to third country fora for resolution.  The Bangladesh Arbitration Act of 2001 and amendments in 2004 reformed alternative dispute resolution in Bangladesh.  The Act consolidated the law relating to both domestic and international commercial arbitration. It thus creates a single and unified legal regime for arbitration in Bangladesh.  Although the new Act is principally based on the UNCITRAL Model Law, it is a patchwork as some unique provisions are derived from the Indian Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996 and some from the English Arbitration Act 1996.

In practice, enforcement of arbitration results is applied unevenly and the GOB has challenged ICSID rulings, especially those that involve rulings against the GOB.  The timeframe for dispute resolution is unpredictable and has no set limit. It can be done as quickly as a few months, but often takes years depending on the type of dispute.  Anecdotal information indicates average resolution time can be as high as 16 years. Local courts may be biased against foreign investors in resolving disputes.

Bangladesh is a signatory of the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards and recognizes the enforcement of international arbitration awards.  Domestic arbitration is under the authority of the district judge court bench and foreign arbitration is under the authority of the relevant high court bench.

The ability of the Bangladeshi judicial system to enforce its own awards is weak.  Senior members of the government have been effective in using their offices to resolve investment disputes on several occasions, but the GOB’s ability to resolve investment disputes at a lower level is mixed.  The GOB does not publish the numbers of investment disputes involving U.S. or foreign investors. Anecdotal evidence indicates investment disputes occur with limited frequency and the involved parties often resolve the disputes privately rather than seek government intervention.  

The practice of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in Bangladesh has many challenges, including lack of funds, lack of lawyer cooperation, and lack of good faith.  Slow adoption of ADR mechanisms and sluggish judicial processes impede the enforcement of contracts and the resolution of business disputes in Bangladesh.

As in many countries, Bangladesh has adopted a “conflicts of law” approach to determining whether a judgment from a foreign legal jurisdiction is enforceable in Bangladesh.  This single criterion allows Bangladesh courts broad discretion in choosing whether to enforce foreign judgments with significant effects on matrimonial, adoption, corporate, and property disputes.  Most enterprises in Bangladesh, and especially state-owned enterprises (SOEs), whose leadership is nominated by the ruling government party, maintain strong ties with the government.  Thus domestic courts strongly tend to favor SOEs and local companies in investment disputes.

Investors are also increasingly turning to the Bangladesh International Arbitration Center (BIAC) for dispute resolution.  BIAC is an independent arbitration center established by prominent local business leaders in April 2011 to improve commercial dispute resolution in Bangladesh to stimulate economic growth.  The council committee is headed by the President of International Chamber of Commerce—Bangladesh (ICCB) and includes the presidents of other prominent chambers such as like Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) and Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI).  The center operates under the Bangladesh Arbitration Act of 2001. According to BIAC, fast track cases are resolved in approximately six months while typical cases are resolved in one year. Major Bangladeshi trade and business associations such as the American Chamber of Commerce in Bangladesh (AmCham) can sometimes help to resolve transaction disputes.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Many laws affecting investment in Bangladesh are old and outdated.  Bankruptcy laws, which apply mainly to individual insolvency, are sometimes not used in business cases because of the series of falsified assets and uncollectible cross-indebtedness supporting insolvent banks and companies.  A Bankruptcy Act was enacted in 1997 but has been ineffective in addressing these issues. An amendment to the Bank Companies Act of 1991 was enacted in 2013. Some bankruptcy cases fall under the Money Loan Court Act which has more stringent and timely procedures.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Details regarding fiscal and non-fiscal incentives are available on the BIDA website: http://bida.gov.bd/?page_id=146  . Current regulations permit a tax holiday for designated “thrust” (strategic) sectors and infrastructure projects established between July 01, 2011 and June 30, 2019.  Industries set up in Export Processing Zones (EPZs) are also eligible for tax holidays. Thrust sectors subject to exemption include: certain pharmaceuticals, automobile manufacturing, contraceptives, rubber latex, chemicals or dyes, certain electronics, bicycles, fertilizer, biotechnology, commercial boilers, certain brickmaking technologies, compressors, computer hardware, energy efficient appliances, insecticides, pesticides, petro-chemicals, fruit and vegetable processing, textile machinery, tissue grafting, and tire manufacturing industries. Physical infrastructure projects eligible for exemptions include: deep sea ports, elevated expressways, road overpasses, toll road and bridges, EPZs, gas pipelines, information technology parks, industrial waste and water treatment facilities, liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, electricity transmission, rapid transit projects, renewable energy projects, and ports.

In addition to the above tax rebate, manufacturers located in rural areas and commencing commercial operations between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2019 are eligible for tax exemptions of up to 20 percent for the first 10 years of production.

Independent non-coal fired power plants (IPPs) commencing production (COD) after January 1, 2015 are granted a 100 percent tax exemption for five years, a 50 percent exemption for years 6-8, and a 25 percent exemption for years 9-10.  For coal-fired IPPs contracting with the GOB before June 30, 2020 and COD before June 30, 2023, the tax exemption rate is 100 percent for the first 15 years of operations. For power projects, import duties are waived for imports of capital machinery and spare parts.

The valued-added tax (VAT) rate on exports is zero.  For companies that only export, import duties are waived for imports of capital machinery and spare parts.  For companies that primarily export (80 percent of production and above), an import duty rate of one percent is charged for imports of capital machinery and spare parts identified and listed in notifications to relevant regulators.  Import duties are also waived for EPZ industries and other export oriented industries for imports of raw materials consumed in production.

Special incentives are provided to encourage non-resident Bangladeshis to invest in the country.  Incentives include the ability to buy newly issued shares and debentures in Bangladeshi companies.  A quota of 10 percent of primary shares has been fixed for non-resident Bangladeshis. Furthermore, non-resident Bangladeshis can maintain foreign currency deposits in Non-resident Foreign Currency Deposit (NFCD) accounts.

In the past several years, U.S. companies have experienced difficulties securing the investment incentives initially offered by the GOB.  Several companies have reported instances of infrastructure guarantees (ranging from electricity to gas connections) not being fully delivered or tax exemptions being delayed, either temporarily or indefinitely.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Under the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority Act of 1980, the government established an EPZ in Chattogram in 1983.  Additional EPZs now operate in Dhaka (Savar), Mongla, Ishwardi, Cumilla, Uttara, Karnaphuli (Chattogram), and Adamjee (Dhaka).  Korean investors are also operating a separate and private EPZ in Chattogram.

Investments that are wholly foreign-owned, joint ventures, and wholly Bangladeshi-owned companies are all permitted to operate in and enjoy equal treatment in the EPZs.  Approximately one dozen U.S. firms—mostly textile producers—are currently operating in Bangladesh EPZs. Investors have begun to view intermittent infrastructure services, including electricity and gas connections, and increasing costs as making the EPZs less attractive.

In 2010, Bangladesh enacted the Special Economic Zone Act that allows for the creation of privately owned economic zones (EZs) that can produce for export and domestic markets.  The EZs provide special fiscal and non-fiscal incentives to domestic and foreign investors in designated underdeveloped areas throughout Bangladesh. The International Finance Corporation provided assistance to the GOB to establish an EZ authority, the Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority (BEZA), modeled after BEPZA, to implement the new law and oversee the establishment of EZs. The government recently announced plans to create up to 100 new EZs and invited private companies to develop the zones.  Several EZs are moving forward under this initiative: http://www.beza.gov.bd/  .  However, assurances regarding access to necessary infrastructure and other resources, including gas and power, have not been made.  

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Performance Requirements

The Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) has set restrictions for the employment of foreign nationals and the issuance of work permits as follows:

  • Nationals of countries recognized by Bangladesh are eligible for employment consideration;
  • Expatriate personnel will only be considered for employment in enterprises duly registered with the appropriate regulatory authority;
  • Employment of foreign nationals is generally limited to positions for which qualified local workers are unavailable;
  • Persons below 18 years of age are not eligible for employment;
  • The board of directors of the employing company must issue a resolution for each offers or extension of employment;
  • The percentage of foreign employees should not exceed 5 percent in industrial sectors and 20 percent in commercial sectors, including among senior management positions;
  • Initial employment of any foreign national is for a term of two years, which may be extended based on merit;
  • The Ministry of Home Affairs will issue necessary security clearance certificates.

In response to the high number of expatriate workers in the ready-made garment industry, BIDA has issued informal guidance encouraging industrial units to refrain from hiring additional semi-skilled foreign experts and workers.  Overall, the government looks favorably on investments that employ significant numbers of local workers and/or provide training and transfers of technical skills.

The GOB does not formally mandate that investors use domestic content in goods or technology.  However, companies bidding on government procurement tenders are often informally encouraged to have a local partner and to produce or assemble a percentage of their products in country.

Data Storage Requirements

According to a legal overview by the Telenor Group, for reasons of national security or in times of emergency, several regulations and amendments, including the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Act, 2001 (the “BTRA”), Information and Communication Technology Act 2006 (the “ICT Act”), and the Telegraph Act 1885 (the “1885 Act”), grant law enforcement and intelligence agencies legal authority to lawfully seek disclosure of communications data and request censorship of communications.  A draft Digital Security Act of 2016 (the “Digital Security Act”) was adopted by the Parliament in October 2018.

On the grounds of national security and maintaining public order, the GOB can authorize relevant government authorities (intelligence agencies, national security agencies, investigation agencies, or any officer of any law enforcement agency) to suspend or prohibit the transmission of any data or any voice call and to record or collect user information relating to any subscriber to a telecommunications service.  

Under section 30 of the ICT Act, the GOB, through the ICT Controller, may access any computer system, any apparatus, data, or any other material connected with a computer system, for the purpose of searching for and obtaining any such information or data.  The ICT Controller may, by order, direct any person in charge of, or otherwise concerned with the operation of a computer system, data apparatus, or material, to provide reasonable technical and other assistance as may be considered necessary. Under section 46 of the ICT Act, the ICT Controller can also direct any government agency to intercept any information transmitted through any computer resource, and may order any subscriber or any person in charge of computer resources to provide all necessary assistance to decrypt relevant information.

There is no direct reference in the BTRA to the storage of metadata.  Under the broad powers granted to the BTRA, however, the GOB, on the grounds of national security and public order, may require telecommunications operators to keep records relating to the communications of a specific user.  Telecommunications operators are also required to provide any metadata as evidence if ordered to do so by any civil court.

The ICT Controller enforces the ICT Act and the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) enforces the BTRA.  The Ministry of Home Affairs grants approval for use of powers given under the BTRA. The ICT Act also established a Cyber Tribunal to adjudicate cases.  If approved, the Digital Security Act would create a Digital Security Agency (DSA) empowered to monitor and supervise digital content. Also under the Digital Security Act, for reasons of national security or maintenance of public order, the Director General (DG) of the DSA would be authorized to block communications and to require that service providers facilitate the interception, monitoring, and decryption of a computer or other data source.  

The Bangladesh Road Transport Authority’s (BRTA) Ride-sharing Service Guideline 2017 came into force on March 8, 2018.  The new regulations included requirements that ride sharing companies keep data servers within Bangladesh.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Although land, whether for purchase or lease, is often critical for investment and as security against loans, antiquated real property laws and poor record-keeping systems can complicate land and property transactions.  Instruments take effect from the date of execution, not the date of registration, so a bona fide purchaser can never be certain of title. Land registration records have historically been prone to competing claims. Land disputes are common, and both U.S. companies and citizens have filed complaints about fraudulent land sales.  For example, sellers fraudulently claiming ownership have transferred land to good faith purchasers while the actual owners were living outside of Bangladesh. In other instances, U.S.-Bangladeshi dual citizens have purchased land from legitimate owners only to have third parties make fraudulent claims of title to extort settlement compensation.

Property owners can obtain mortgages but parties generally avoid registering mortgages, liens, and encumbrances due to the high cost of stamp duties (i.e., transaction taxes based on property value) and other charges.  There are also concerns that non-registered mortgages are often unenforceable.

Article 42 of the Bangladesh Constitution guarantees a right to property for all citizens but property rights are often not protected due to a weak judiciary system.  The Transfer of Property Act of 1882   and the Registration Act of 1908   are the two main laws that regulate transfer of property in Bangladesh but these laws do not have any specific provisions covering foreign and/or non-resident investors.  Currently, foreigners and non-residents can incorporate a company with the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms. The company would be considered a local entity and would be able to buy land in its name.

Intellectual Property Rights

Counterfeit goods are readily available in Bangladesh.  The GOB has limited resources for intellectual property rights (IPR) protection.  Industry estimates that 90 percent of business software is pirated. A number of U.S. firms, including film studios, manufacturers of consumer goods, and software firms, have reported violations of their IPR.  Investors note that police are willing to investigate counterfeit goods producers when informed but are unlikely to initiate independent investigations.

The Software Alliance, also known as BSA, is a trade group established by Microsoft Corporation in 1988.  It opened a Bangladesh office in early 2014 as a platform to improve IPR protection in Bangladesh. Public awareness of IPR is growing, thanks in part to the efforts of the Intellectual Property Rights Association of Bangladesh: http://www.ipab.org.bd/ .  Bangladesh is not currently listed in the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 or Notorious Markets reports.  Bangladesh is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and acceded to the Paris Convention on Intellectual Property in 1991.

Bangladesh has slowly made progress toward bringing its legislative framework into compliance with the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).  The government enacted a Copyright Law in July 2000 (amended in 2005), a Trademarks Act in 2009, and Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act in 2013. The Department of Patents, Designs and Trademarks (DPDT) drafted a new Patent Act in 2014 prepared in compliance with the requirements of the TRIPS Agreement.  However the draft act still remains under Ministry of Industries review and this effort has not made measurable progress during the past year.

A number of government agencies are empowered to take action against counterfeiting, including the NBR/Customs, Mobile Courts, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), and local Police.  The Department of National Consumer Rights Protection (DNCRP) is charged with tracking and reporting on counterfeit goods and the NBR/Customs tracks counterfeit goods seizures at ports of entry.  Reports are not publicly available.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Capital markets in Bangladesh are still developing and the financial sector remains highly dependent on bank lending.  Current government policy inhibits the creation of reliable benchmarks for long-term bonds and prevents the development of a tradable bond market.  

Bangladesh is home to the Dhaka Stock Exchange (DSE) and the Chittagong Stock Exchange (CSE).  The Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission (BSEC), a statutory body formed in 1993 and attached to the Ministry of Finance, regulates both.  As of March 2019, the DSE market capitalization stood at USD 48.6 billion.

Although the GOB has a positive attitude towards foreign portfolio investors, participation remains low due to limited liquidity 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 and Bangladeshi firms increasingly rely on capital markets to finance investment projects.  In March 2017, the government relaxed investment rules making it possible for foreign investors to use local currency to invest directly in local companies through the purchase of corporate shares.

BSEC has formed separate committees to establish a central clearing and settlement company, allow venture capital and private equity firms, launch derivatives products, and activate the bond market.  In December 2013, BSEC became a full signatory of 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,” that provides real time connectivity with exchanges and depository institutions.  As a result, the market abuse detection capabilities of BSEC have improved significantly. A new mandatory Corporate Governance Code for listed companies was introduced in August 2012. Demutualization of both the DSE and CSE was completed in November 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.  All these reforms target a disciplined market with better infrastructure so that entrepreneurs can raise capital and attract foreign investors.

The Demutualization Act 2013 also directed DSE to pursue a strategic investor who would acquire a 25 percent stake in the bourse.  DSE opened bids for a strategic partner in February 2018 and, in September 2018, the Chinese consortium of Shenzhen and Shanghai stock exchanges became DSE’s strategic partner after buying a 25 percent share of DSE for taka 9.47 billion (USD 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.

Money and Banking System

The Bangladesh Bank (BB) acts as the central bank of Bangladesh.  It was established on December 16, 1971 through the enactment of the Bangladesh Bank Order-1972.  General supervision and strategic direction of BB has been entrusted to a nine-member Board of Directors, which is headed by the BB Governor.  BB has 45 departments and 10 branch offices.

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 59 “scheduled” banks in Bangladesh operate under the full control and supervision of the center as per the Bangladesh Bank Order 1972. The scheduled banks including six SOCBs, three specialized government banks established for specific objectives like agricultural or industrial development, 41 PCBs, and nine FCBs as of March 2019.  The scheduled banks are licensed to operate under Bank Company Act 1991 (Amended 2013). There are also five non-scheduled banks in Bangladesh, established for special and definite objectives and operating under Acts that are enacted for meeting up 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.  Out of the total, two are fully government owned, one is a subsidiary of an SOCB, 15 are private domestic initiatives, and 15 are joint venture initiatives.  Major sources of funds of these financial institutions are term deposits (at least three months tenure), credit facilities from banks and other financial institutions, call money, as well as bonds and securitization.

The major difference between banks and FIs are as follows:

FIs cannot issue checks, pay-orders, or demand drafts,

FIs cannot receive demand deposits,

FIs cannot be involved in foreign exchange financing,

FIs can employ diversified financing modes like syndicated financing, bridge financing, lease financing, securitization instruments, private placement of equity etc.

Microfinance institutions (MFIs) remain the dominant players in rural financial markets.  According to the Bangladesh Microcredit Regulatory Authority, as of June 2017, there were 783 licensed micro-finance institutions operating a network of 17,120 branches with 29.2 million members.  A 2014 Institute of Microfinance survey study showed that around 40 percent of the adult population and 75 percent of households had access to financial services in Bangladesh.

The banking sector has had a mixed record of performance over the past several years, but the sector has maintained overall healthy growth.  Total assets in the banking sector stood at 62.5 percent of gross domestic product at end of September 2018. The gross non-performing loan (NPL) ratio was 11.45 percent at end of September 2018.

On December 26, 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 that users may incur financial losses.  According to the BB, the circular did not constitute a ban. Bangladesh foreign exchange regulations, which limit outward payments, largely prevent the use of cryptocurrencies in Bangladesh.  The BB issued similar warnings against cryptocurrencies in 2014.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange Policies

Free repatriation of profits is legally allowed for registered companies and profits are generally fully convertible.  However, companies report that the procedures for repatriation of foreign currency are lengthy and cumbersome. The Foreign Investment Act guarantees the right of repatriation of invested capital, profits, capital gains, post-tax dividends, and approved royalties and fees for businesses.  The central bank’s exchange control regulations and the U.S.-Bangladesh Bilateral Investment Treaty (in force since 1989) provide similar investment transfer guarantees. The Bangladesh Investment Development Authority may need to approve repatriation of royalties and other fees.

Since 2013, Bangladesh has tried to manage its exchange rate vis-à-vis the U.S. dollar within a fairly narrow range.  Until 2017, the Bangladesh taka traded between 76 and 78.8 taka to the dollar. The taka has depreciated relative to the dollar since October 2017 reaching 84.25 taka per dollar as of March 2019, despite ongoing interventions from the Bangladesh Bank.  The Bangladesh currency, the taka, is approaching full convertibility for current account transactions, such as imports and travel, but not for capital account transactions, such as investing, currency speculation, or e-commerce.

Remittance Policies

There are no set time limitations or waiting periods for remitting all types of investment returns.  Remitting dividends, returns on investments, interest, and payments on private foreign debts do not require approval from the central bank and transfers are done within one to two weeks.  For repatriating lease payments, royalties and management fees, some central bank approval is required, and this process can take between two and three-weeks. If a company fails to submit all the proper documents for remitting, it may take up to 60 days.  Foreign investors have reported difficulties transferring funds to overseas affiliates and making payments for certain technical fees without the government’s prior approval to do so. Additionally, some regulatory agencies have reportedly blocked the repatriation of profits due to sector-specific regulations.  The U.S. Embassy also received complaints of American citizens not being able to transfer the proceeds of sales of their properties. There is no mechanism in place for foreign investors to repatriate through government bonds issued in lieu of foreign currency payments. Bangladesh is not involved in currency manipulation tactics.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) notes that Bangladesh has established the legal and regulatory framework to meet its Anti-Money Laundering/Counterterrorism Finance (AML/CTF) commitments.  The Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), an independent and collaborative international organization based in Bangkok, conducted its mutual evaluation of Bangladesh’s AML/CTF regime in September 2018 and found that Bangladesh had made significant progress since the last Mutual Evaluation Report (MER) in 2009, but that Bangladesh still faces significant money laundering and terrorism financing risks.  The APG reports are available online: http://www.fatf-gafi.org/countries/#Bangladesh  .

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Bangladesh Finance Ministry first announced in 2015 that it is exploring the possibility of establishing a sovereign wealth fund for the purposes of investing a portion of Bangladesh’s foreign currency reserves.  In February 2017, the Cabinet initially approved a USD 10 billion “Bangladesh Sovereign Wealth Fund,” (BSWF) that will be created with funds from excess foreign exchange reserves. The government claims the BSWF will be used to invest in “public interest” projects.  Bangladesh does not currently follow the Santiago Principles, a voluntary set of 24 principles and practices designed to promote transparency, good governance, accountability, and prudent investment practices while encouraging a more open dialogue and deeper understanding of sovereign wealth fund activities.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The government privatized 74 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) during the past 20 years, but many SOEs retain an important role in the economy, particularly in the financial and energy sectors.  Out of the 74 SOEs, 54 were privatized through outright sale and 20 through offloading of shares. The Privatization Commission (PC) has slowed its rate of privatization activities and in 2016, the PC merged with the Board of Investment (BOI) to form a new Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA).  The 54 non-financial public enterprises in the country have been categorized into 7 sectors following the Bangladesh Standard Industrial Classification (BSIC) and their economic and financial performances are analyzed in the government budget.

Bangladesh’s 45 non-financial SOEs are spread among seven sectors – industrial; power, gas and water; transport and communication; trade; agriculture; construction; and services.  The list of non-financial SOEs and relevant budget details are published in Bangla in the Ministry of Finance’s SOE Budget Summary 2017-18: http://www.mof.gov.bd/site/page/5eed2680-c68c-4782-9070-13e129548aac/SOE-Budget  .

The current government has taken steps to restructure several SOEs to improve their competitiveness.  The GOB converted Biman Bangladesh Airline, the national airline, into a public limited company that initiated a rebranding and fleet renewal program, including the purchase of ten aircraft from Boeing, eight of which were delivered as of March 2019.  Three nationalized commercial banks (NCBs)—Sonali, Janata, and Agrani—have been converted to public limited companies. The GOB also liberalized the telecommunications sector in the last decade, which led to the development of a competitive cellular phone market.

The contribution of SOEs to gross domestic product, value-added production, employment generation, and revenue earning is substantial.  SOEs usually report to the ministries, though the government has allowed some enhanced autonomy for certain SOEs, such as Biman Bangladesh Airline.  SOEs maintain control of rail transportation whereas private companies compete freely in air and road transportation. The corporate governance structure of SOEs in Bangladesh has been restructured as per the guidelines published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), but the country’s practices are still not up to OECD standards.  There are no guidelines regarding ownership of SOEs, and while SOEs are required to prepare annual reports and make financial disclosures, disclosure documents are often unavailable to the public.  Each SOE has an independent board of directors composed of both government and private sector nominees. The boards report to the relevant regulatory ministry.  Most SOEs have strong ties with the government, and the ruling government party nominates most SOE leaders.  As the government controls most of the SOEs, domestic courts tend to favor the SOEs in investment disputes.

The Bangladesh Petroleum Act of 1974 grants authority for the government to award natural resources contracts and the Bangladesh Oil, Gas and Mineral Corporation Ordinance of 1984 gives Petrobangla, the state-owned oil and gas company, authority to assess and award natural resource contracts and licenses, to both SOEs and private companies.  Currently, oil and gas firms can pursue exploration and production ventures only through production sharing agreements with Petrobangla.

Privatization Program

Since 2010, the government’s privatization drive has slowed.  Previous privatization drives were plagued with allegations of corruption, undervaluation, political favoritism, and unfair competition.  Nonetheless, the government has publicly stated its goal of continuing the privatization drive. SOEs can be privatized through a variety of methods including: sales through international tender; sales of government shares in the capital market; transfers of some portion of the shares to the employees of the enterprises when shares are sold through the stock exchange; sale of government shares to a private equity company (restructuring); mixed sales methods; management contracts; leasing; and direct asset sales (liquidation).  In 2010, 22 SOEs were included in the Privatization Commission’s (now the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority’s) program for privatization. However, a study on privatized industries in Bangladesh conducted by the Privatization Commission in 2010 found that only 59 percent of the entities were in operation after being privatized and 20 percent of them were permanently closed down—implying a lack of planning or business motivation of their private owners. Later, in 2014, the government declared that SOEs would not be privatized via direct selling but instead by the offloading of shares in the SOE.  The government believed this to be a viable way for ensuring greater accountability for the management of the SOEs while minimizing the government’s exposure. However, unless the offloading of shares involves more than 50 percent of the SOE’s shares, the government would not divest control over the SOE. Additional information is available on the BIDA website at: http://bida.gov.bd/?page_id=4771 .

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The business community is increasingly aware of and engaged in responsible business conduct (RBC) activities with multinational firms leading the way.  While many firms in Bangladesh fall short on RBC activities and instead often focus on philanthropic giving, some of the leading local conglomerates have begun to incorporate increasingly rigorous environmental and safety standards in their workplaces.  U.S. companies present in Bangladesh maintain diverse RBC activities. Consumers in Bangladesh are generally less aware of RBC, and consumers and shareholders exert little pressure on companies to engage in RBC activities.

While many international firms are aware of OECD guidelines and international best practices in RBC, many local firms have limited familiarity with international standards.  There are currently two RBC NGOs active in Bangladesh:

CSR Bangladesh, http://www.csrbangladesh.org/aboutus.php  

CSR Centre Bangladesh, http://www.csrcentre-bd.org  .

Along with the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI), the CSR Centre is the joint focal point for United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) and its principles in Bangladesh.  The UN Global Compact is the world’s largest corporate citizenship and sustainability initiative. The Centre is a member of a regional RBC platform called the South Asian Network on Sustainability and Responsibility (SANSAR).  Currently, SANSAR has five member countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan.

While several NGOs have proposed National Corporate Social Responsibility Guidelines, the GOB has yet to adopt any national standards for RBC.  As a result, the GOB encourages enterprises to follow generally accepted RBC principles but does not mandate any specific guidelines.

Bangladesh has natural resources, but it has not joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).  The country does not adhere to the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.

9. Corruption

Corruption remains a serious impediment to investment and economic growth in Bangladesh.  While the government has established legislation to combat bribery, embezzlement, and other forms of corruption, enforcement is inconsistent.  The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is the main institutional anti-corruption watchdog. With amendments to the Money Prevention Act, the ACC is no longer the sole authority to probe money-laundering offenses.  Although it still has primary authority for bribery and corruption, other agencies will now investigate related offenses:

  • Bangladesh Police (Criminal Investigation Department) – Most predicate offenses.
  • NBR – VAT, taxation, and customs offenses.
  • Department of Narcotics Control – Drug related offenses.

The current Awami League-led government has publicly underscored its commitment to anticorruption efforts and reaffirmed the need for a strong ACC, but opposition parties claim that the ACC is used by the government to harass political opponents.  Efforts to ease public procurement rules and a recent constitutional amendment that reduced the independence of the ACC may undermine institutional safeguards against corruption. Bangladesh is a party to the UN Anticorruption Convention, but it has still not joined the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Public Officials.

Corruption is common in public procurement, tax and customs collection, and regulatory authorities.  Corruption, including bribery, raises the costs and risks of doing business. By some estimates, off-the-record payments by firms may result in an annual reduction of two to three percent of GDP.  Corruption has a corrosive impact on the broader business climate market and opportunities for U.S. companies in Bangladesh. It also deters investment, stifles economic growth and development, distorts prices, and undermines the rule of law.

Resources to Report Corruption

Mr. Iqbal Mahmood
Chairman
Anti-Corruption Commission, Bangladesh
1, Segun Bagicha, Dhaka 1000
+88-02-8333350
Email: chairman@acc.org.bd

Contact at “watchdog” organization:

Advocate Sultana Kamal
Chairperson
Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB)
MIDAS Centre (Level 4 & 5), House-5, Road-16 (New) 27 (Old), Dhanmondi, Dhaka – 1209
+880 2 912 4788 / 4789 / 4792
Email: 
edtib@ti-bangladesh.org, info@ti-bangladesh.org, advocacy@ti-bangladesh.org

10. Political and Security Environment

Prime Minister Hasina’s ruling Awami League party won 289 parliamentary seats out of 300 in a December 30, 2018 election that was marred by wide-spread vote-rigging, ballot-box stuffing, and intimidation.  Harassment, intimidation and violence during the pre-election period made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to meet, hold rallies, and campaign freely. The clashes between rival political parties and general strikes that previously characterized the political environment in Bangladesh have become far less frequent in the wake of the Awami League’s increasing dominance of the country and crackdown on dissent.  Many civil society groups have expressed concern about the apparent trend toward a one-party state and the marginalization of all political opposition groups.

Americans are advised to exercise increased caution due to crime and terrorism when traveling to Bangladesh.  Some areas have increased risk. For further information, see the State Department’s travel website for the Worldwide Caution, Travel Advisories, and Bangladesh Country Specific Information.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Bangladesh’s comparative advantage in cheap labor for manufacturing is partially offset by lower productivity due to poor skills development, inefficient management, pervasive corruption, and inadequate infrastructure.  Bangladeshi workers have a strong reputation for hard work, entrepreneurial spirit, and a positive and optimistic attitude. With an average age in Bangladesh of 26 years, the country boasts one of the largest and youngest labor forces in the world.

Bangladesh has labor laws that specify employment conditions, working hours, minimum wage levels, leave policies, health and sanitary conditions, and compensation for injured workers.  Freedom of association and the right to join unions are guaranteed in the constitution. In practice, compliance and enforcement of labor laws are inconsistent, and companies frequently discourage the formation of labor unions.  Export Processing Zones (EPZs) are a notable exception to the national labor law in that they do not allow trade union participation, but the government is considering amendments to change that (see below). Historically, unions have been heavily politicized and labor-management relations contentious.

Bangladesh’s garment sector has undergone several reforms since the April 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse and the November 2012 Tazreen Fashions factory fire that together killed over 1,230 workers.  With support from the international community and the private sector, Bangladesh has made significant progress on fire and workplace safety. Critical work remains on safeguarding workers’ rights to freely associate and bargain collectively, including in the Export Processing Zones (EPZs).  

In June 2013, President Obama suspended Bangladesh’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) trade benefits.  Accompanying this decision was a 16-point Action Plan that set forth specific steps to address workers’ rights and safety in Bangladesh.  In July 2013, the EU, the International Labor Organization (ILO), the GOB, and the United States jointly developed a Sustainability Compact.  

Bangladesh has made significant progress in factory fire and structural safety remediation, thanks in part to two industry-led initiatives, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (Alliance), which represents U.S. brands, and Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (Accord), which represents European brands.  Inspection and remediation of RMG factories outside the purview of the Alliance and the Accord are handled by the GOB, with assistance from the ILO, under the National Initiative. Only 20 percent of factories under the National Initiative, however, have completed remediation. The GOB has established a Remediation Coordination Center (RCC) to take over responsibility from the Alliance and Accord.

The Alliance successfully concluded its factory inspection and remediation operations at the end of 2018, as scheduled, but has quietly established a local NGO (Nirapon) to monitor remediated factories to ensure there is no backsliding.  Meanwhile, the Accord continues to seek to remain in Bangladesh to complete the remediation of the 1,600 factories under its remit. A Bangladeshi court initially ruled that Accord could not continue operations in Bangladesh past November 2018, but has subsequently instructed the Bangladesh government to try to work out a mutually acceptable, time-bound transition plan with the Accord.  The next court hearing to review where those negotiations stand is scheduled for May 2019.

Significant work remains to address freedom of association restrictions.  In December 2016, a widespread crackdown on union members drew international condemnation.  In response, the international community pressed the GOB to implement several labor reforms.  

The U.S. government suspended Bangladesh’s access to the U.S. General System of Preferences (GSP) over labor rights violations following a six-year formal review conducted by USTR.  The decision, announced in 2013, in the months following the Rana Plaza collapse that resulted in more than 1,100 deaths, was accompanied by a 16-point GSP Action Plan to help guide Bangladesh’s path to reinstatement of the trade benefits.  While some progress has been made in the intervening years, several key issues remain unaddressed. Preliminary analysis of recent revisions to the Bangladesh Labor Act (BLA) and Export Processing Zone (EPZ) law indicate they fail to allow free association and the formation of unions particularly in the ready-made garment (RMG) sector, and fall short of international labor standards.  The U.S. government funds efforts to improve occupational safety and health alongside labor rights in the readymade garments (RMG) sector in partnership with other international partners, civil society, businesses, and the GOB. The United States is also working with the EU, Canada, and the International Labor Organization (ILO) to continuously improve working conditions in the RMG sector via the Sustainability Compact, a coordination platform launched in 2013.  Labor unrest in December 2018 and January-February 2019 followed a disproportionate wage hike announced by the GOB, which increased the pay of entry-level workers by 50 percent, but left the wages of more skilled employees unchanged. In a subsequent crackdown, some 11,000 workers who participated in the mostly peaceful protests were reportedly terminated or forced to resign, and many of them were blacklisted and unable to find new employment.

The Bangladesh parliament in 2018 passed a series of amendments to the Bangladesh Labor Act and the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) law to address some concerns voiced by the International Labor Organization (ILO).  The European Union (EU) noted that 50 sections of the BLA had been amended.  The amendments reduced the membership requirement for the formation of trade unions from 30 to 20 percent and repealed conditional provisions for the employment of child labor in hazardous industries, while shortening time limits for the registration of unions from 60 to 55 days.  The amendments also established a festival allowance for the labor force and provided legal protections for women deprived of maternity leave.

The EU’s preliminary assessment of the EPZ law amendments indicated the BLA changes were made applicable to EPZ.  For example, the 20 percent threshold was now applicable to “Worker Welfare Associations” (WWA), which are allowed in EPZs in lieu of trade unions.  The Government of Bangladesh (GOB)’s Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) had also been given the authority to inspect factory conditions within EPZs. 

The ILO’s Committee of Experts (COE) is analyzing the BLA amendments.  The term “Committee of Experts” refers to a group of jurists who examine reports from governments on any of the eight fundamental and four governance ILO Conventions they (the governments) may have ratified.  Bangladesh ratified the Labor Inspection Convention, 1947 (No. 81) in 1972.  Meanwhile, the COE continues to wait for an official English translation of the EPZ law amendments before it can begin its analysis of the contents of the amendments.  There is no timeframe for the COE’s completion of the review.

The EU felt the reduction of the membership requirement to 20 percent was an “eyewash” because the GOB had erected other barriers to prevent trade union registration.  The Bangladesh office of the Solidarity Center (SC) shared EU’s concerns and feels the BLA amendments were most “obstructive” in the area of registering new unions, including the 20 percent vote required to recognize a union, which could easily be manipulated by factory management to favor “yellow” or corrupt, undemocratic unions over independent unions.  SC feels the main challenge with the BLA was not its lack of protections, but its lack of implementation.

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

The U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the Government of Bangladesh signed an updated bilateral agreement in May 1998: https://www.opic.gov/sites/default/files/docs/asia/bangladeshbilateral.pdf .  However, OPIC is not currently authorized for operation in the courty.  Investors should check OPIC’s website for updates: https://www.opic.gov/doing-business-us/OPIC-policies/where-we-operate  .  More information on OPIC services can be found at: www.opic.gov  .  

Bangladesh is also a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA): http://www.miga.org  .

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

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

Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2017 $249,700 2016 $221,400 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD?locations=BD  
Foreign Direct Investment 2017 $2,200 2016 $2,300 UNCTAD World Investment Report 2018  
U.S. FDI in Partner Country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $460 2016 $458 https://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm?Area=631  
Host Country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $2 2016 N/A https://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm?Area=631  
Total Inbound Stock of FDI as % host GDP 2017 0.86% 2016 1.05% https://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationWebflyer.aspx?publicationid=2130  


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $14,091 100% Total Outward $328 100%
United States $3,316 23.5% United Kingdom $84 25.6%
United Kingdom $1,559 11.1% China, P.R.: Hong Kong $76 23.2%
Singapore $934 6.6% Nepal $44 13.4%
Australia $860 6.1% India $42 12.8%
South Korea $811 5.8% United Arab Emirates $31 9.5%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Portfolio Investment Assets (June, 2018)
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $3,584 100% All Countries $10 100% All Countries $3,574 100%
-United States $587 16.4% Pakistan $10 100% United States $587 16.4%
Germany $581 16.2% N/A N/A N/A Germany $581 16.3%
United Kingdom $383 10.7% N/A N/A N/A United Kingdom $383 10.7%
Spain $235 6.6% N/A N/A N/A Spain $235 6.6%
France $201 5.6% N/A N/A N/A France $201 5.6%

14. Contact for More Information

Economic/Commercial Section
Embassy of the United States of America
Madani Avenue, Baridhara, Dhaka — 1212
Tel: +880 2 5566-2000
Email: USTC-Dhaka@state.gov

China

Executive Summary

China is one of the top global foreign direct investment destinations due to its large consumer base and integrated supply chains.  China remains, however, a relatively restrictive investment environment for foreign investors due to restrictions in key economic sectors.  Obstacles to investment include ownership caps and requirements to form joint venture partnerships with local Chinese firms, as well as the requirement often imposed on U.S. firms to transfer technology as a prerequisite to gaining market access.  While China made modest openings in some sectors in 2018, such as financial services, insurance, new energy vehicles, and shipbuilding, China’s investment environment continues to be far more restrictive than those of its main trading partners, including the United States.

China relies on the Special Administrative Measures for Foreign Investment Access (known as the “nationwide negative list”) to categorize market access restrictions for foreign investors in defined economic sectors.  While China in 2018 reduced some restrictions, foreign participation in many industries important to U.S. investors remain restricted, including financial services, culture, media, telecommunications, vehicles, and transportation equipment.

Even in sectors “open” to foreign investment, foreign investors often face difficulty establishing an investment due to stringent and non-transparent approval processes to gain licenses and other needed approvals.  These restrictions shield inefficient and monopolistic Chinese enterprises in many industries – especially state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and other enterprises deemed “national champions” – from competition against private and foreign companies.  In addition, lack of transparency in the investment process and lack of rule of law in China’s regulatory and legal systems leave foreign investors vulnerable to discriminatory practices such as selective enforcement of regulations and interference by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in judicial proceedings.  Moreover, industrial policies such as Made in China 2025 (MIC 2025), insufficient protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPR), requirements to transfer technology, and a systemic lack of rule of law are further impediments to successful foreign investments in China.

During the CCP 19th Party Congress held in October 2017, CCP leadership underscored Party Chairman Xi Jinping’s primacy by adding “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era” to the Party Charter.  In addition to significant personnel changes, the Party announced large-scale government and Party restructuring plans in early 2018 that further strengthened Xi’s leadership and expanded the role of the Party in all facets of Chinese life: cultural, social, military, and economic.  An increasingly assertive CCP has caused concern among the foreign business community about the ability of future foreign investors to make decisions based on commercial and profit considerations, rather than political dictates from the Party.

Although market access reform has been slow, the Chinese government has pledged greater market access and national treatment for foreign investors and has pointed to key announcements and new developments, which include:

  • On June 28, 2018 the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) jointly announced the release of Special Administrative Measures for Foreign Investment Access (i.e., “nationwide negative list”), which replaced the Foreign Investment Catalogue.  The negative list was reformatted to remove “encouraged” economic sectors and divided restrictions and prohibitions by industry.  Some of the liberalizations were previously announced, like financial services and insurance (November 2017) and automobile manufacturing and shipbuilding (April 2018).  A new version of the negative list is expected to be released in 2019.
  • On June 30, 2018 NDRC and MOFCOM jointly released the Special Administrative Measures for Foreign Investment Access in the Pilot Free Trade Zones (i.e., the Free Trade Zone, or FTZ, negative list).  The FTZ negative list matched the nationwide negative list with a few exceptions, including: foreign equity caps of 66 percent in the development of new varieties corn and wheat (the nationwide cap is 49 percent), removal of joint venture requirements on oil and gas exploration, and removal of the prohibition on radioactive mineral smelting and processing, including nuclear fuel production.
  • On December 25, 2018 the NDRC and MOFCOM jointly released The Market Access Negative List.  This negative list, unlike the nationwide negative list that applies only to foreign investors, defines prohibitions and restrictions to investment for all investors, both foreign and domestic.  This negative list attempted to unify guidance on allowable investments previously found in piecemeal laws and regulations that were often industry-specific. This list also highlighted what economic sectors are only open to state-owned investors.
  • On March 17, 2019 the National People’s Congress passed a Foreign Investment Law (FIL) that effectively replaced existing law governing foreign investment (i.e., the China-Foreign Joint Venture Law, the Contract Joint Venture Law, and the Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprises Law).  As drafted, the FIL would address longstanding concerns of U.S. investors, including forced technology transfer and national treatment; however, due to lack of details and implementation guidelines, it is not clear how foreign investor rights would be protected.

While Chinese pronouncements of greater market access and fair treatment of foreign investment is welcome, details are needed on how these policies will address longstanding problems foreign investors have faced in the Chinese market, including  being subject to inconsistent regulations, licensing and registration problems, insufficient IPR protections, and various forms of Chinese protectionism that have created an unpredictable and discriminatory business climate.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 87 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2018 46 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 17 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $107,556   http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $8,690 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

China continues to be one of the largest recipients of global FDI due to a relatively high economic growth rate, growing middle class, and an expanding consumer base that demands diverse, high quality products.  FDI has historically played an essential role in China’s economic development. In recent years, due to stagnant FDI growth and gaps in China’s domestic technology and labor capabilities, Chinese government officials have prioritized promoting relatively friendly FDI policies promising market access expansion and national treatment for foreign enterprises through general improvements to the business environment. They also have made efforts to strengthen China’s legal and regulatory framework to enhance broader market-based competition.  Despite these efforts, the on-the-ground reality for foreign investors in China is that the operating environment still remains closed to many foreign investments across a wide range of industries.

In 2018, China issued the nationwide negative list that opened up a few new sectors to foreign investment and promised future improvements to the investment climate, such as leveling the playing field and providing equal treatment to foreign enterprises.  However, despite these reforms, FDI to China has remained relatively stagnant in the past few years. According to MOFCOM, total FDI flows to China slightly increased from about USD126 billion in 2017 to just over USD135 billion in 2018, signaling that modest market openings have been insufficient to generate significant foreign investor interest in the market.  Rather, foreign investors have continued to perceive that the playing field is tilted towards domestic companies. Foreign investors have continued to express frustration that China, despite continued promises of providing national treatment for foreign investors, has continued to selectively apply administrative approvals and licenses and broadly employ industrial policies to protect domestic firms through subsidies, preferential financing, and selective legal and regulatory enforcement.  They also have continued to express frustration over China’s weak protection and enforcement of IPR; corruption; discriminatory and non-transparent anti-monopoly enforcement that forces foreign companies to license technology at below-market prices; excessive cybersecurity and personal data-related requirements; increased emphasis on requirements to include CCP cells in foreign enterprises; and an unreliable legal system lacking in both transparency and rule of law.

China seeks to support inbound FDI through the MOFCOM “Invest in China” website (www.fdi.gov.cn  ).  MOFCOM publishes on this site laws and regulations, economic statistics, investment projects, news articles, and other relevant information about investing in China.  In addition, each province has a provincial-level investment promotion agency that operates under the guidance of local-level commerce departments.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

In June 2018, the Chinese government issued the nationwide negative list for foreign investment that replaced the Foreign Investment Catalogue.  The negative list identifies industries and economic sectors restricted or prohibited to foreign investment. Unlike the previous catalogue that used a “positive list” approach for foreign investment, the negative list removed “encouraged” investment categories and restructured the document to group restrictions and prohibitions by industry and economic sector.  Foreign investors wanting to invest in industries not on the negative list are no longer required to obtain pre-approval from MOFCOM and only need to register their investment.

The 2018 foreign investment negative list made minor modifications to some industries, reducing the number of restrictions and prohibitions from 63 to 48 sectors.  Changes included: some openings in automobile manufacturing and financial services; removal of restrictions on seed production (except for wheat and corn) and wholesale merchandizing of rice, wheat, and corn; removal of Chinese control requirements for power grids, building rail trunk lines, and operating passenger rail services; removal of joint venture requirements for rare earth processing and international shipping; removal of control requirements for international shipping agencies and surveying firms; and removal of the prohibition on internet cafés.  While market openings are always welcomed by U.S. businesses, many foreign investors remain underwhelmed and disappointed by Chinese government’s lack of ambition and refusal to provide more significant liberalization. Foreign investors continue to point out these openings should have happened years ago and now have occurred mainly in industries that domestic Chinese companies already dominate.

The Chinese language version of the 2018 Nationwide Negative List: http://www.ndrc.gov.cn/zcfb/zcfbl/201806/W020180628640822720353.pdf .

Ownership Restrictions

The foreign investment negative list restricts investments in certain industries by requiring foreign companies enter into joint ventures with a Chinese partner, imposing control requirements to ensure control is maintained by a Chinese national, and applying specific equity caps.  Below are just a few examples of these investment restrictions:

Examples of foreign investments that require an equity joint venture or cooperative joint venture for foreign investment include:

  • Exploration and development of oil and natural gas;
  • Printing publications;
  • Foreign invested automobile companies are limited to two or fewer JVs for the same type of vehicle;
  • Market research;
  • Preschool, general high school, and higher education institutes (which are also required to be led by a Chinese partner);
  • General Aviation;
  • Companies for forestry, agriculture, and fisheries;
  • Establishment of medical institutions; and
  • Commercial and passenger vehicle manufacturing.

Examples of foreign investments requiring Chinese control include:

  • Selective breeding and seed production for new varieties of wheat and corn;
  • Construction and operation of nuclear power plants;
  • The construction and operation of the city gas, heat, and water supply and drainage pipe networks in cities with a population of more than 500,000;
  • Water transport companies (domestic);
  • Domestic shipping agencies;
  • General aviation companies;
  • The construction and operation of civilian airports;
  • The establishment and operation of cinemas;
  • Basic telecommunication services;
  • Radio and television listenership and viewership market research; and
  • Performance agencies.

Examples of foreign investment equity caps include:

  • 50 percent in automobile manufacturing (except special and new energy vehicles);
  • 50 percent in value-added telecom services (excepting e-commerce);
  • 51 percent in life insurance firms;
  • 51 percent in securities companies;
  • 51 percent futures companies;
  • 51 percent in security investment fund management companies; and
  • 50 percent in manufacturing of commercial and passenger vehicles.

Investment restrictions that require Chinese control or force a U.S. company to form a joint venture partnership with a Chinese counterpart are often used as a pretext to compel foreign investors to transfer technology against the threat of forfeiting the opportunity to participate in China’s market.  Foreign companies have reported these dictates and decisions often are not made in writing but rather behind closed doors and are thus difficult to attribute as official Chinese government policy. Establishing a foreign investment requires passing through an extensive and non-transparent approval process to gain licensing and other necessary approvals, which gives broad discretion to Chinese authorities to impose deal-specific conditions beyond written legal requirements in a blatant effort to support industrial policy goals that bolster the technological capabilities of local competitors.  Foreign investors are also often deterred from publicly raising instances of technology coercion for fear of retaliation by the Chinese government.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)

China is not a member of the OECD.  The OECD Council decided to establish a country program of dialogue and co-operation with China in October 1995.  The most recent OECD Investment Policy Review for China was completed in 2008 and a new review is currently underway.

OECD 2008 report: http://www.oecd.org/daf/inv/investment-policy/oecdinvestmentpolicyreviews-china2008encouragingresponsiblebusinessconduct.htm  .

In 2013, the OECD published a working paper entitled “China Investment Policy: An Update,” which provided updates on China’s investment policy since the publication of the 2008 Investment Policy Review.

World Trade Organization (WTO)

China became a member of the WTO in 2001.  WTO membership boosted China’s economic growth and advanced its legal and governmental reforms.  The sixth and most recent WTO Investment Trade Review for China was completed in 2018. The report highlighted that China continues to be one of the largest destinations for FDI with inflows mainly in manufacturing, real-estate, leasing and business services, and wholesale and retail trade.  The report noted changes to China’s foreign investment regime that now relies on the nationwide negative list and also noted that pilot FTZs use a less restrictive negative list as a testbed for reform and opening.

Business Facilitation

China made progress in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey by moving from 78th in 2017 up to 46th place in 2018 out of 190 economies.  This was accomplished through regulatory reforms that helped streamline some business processes including improvements related to cross-border trading, setting up electricity, electronic tax payments, and land registration.  This ranking, while highlighting business registration improvements that benefit both domestic and foreign companies, does not account for major challenges U.S. businesses face in China like IPR protection and forced technology transfer.

The Government Enterprise Registration (GER), an initiative of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), gave China a low score of 1.5 out of 10 on its website for registering and obtaining a business license.  In previous years, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) was responsible for business license approval. In March 2018, the Chinese government announced a major restructuring of government agencies and created the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) that is now responsible for business registration processes.  According to GER, SAMR’s Chinese website lacks even basic information, such as what registrations are required and how they are to be conducted.

The State Council, which is China’s chief administrative authority, in recent years has reduced red tape by eliminating hundreds of administrative licenses and delegating administrative approval power across a range of sectors.  The number of investment projects subject to central government approval has reportedly dropped significantly. The State Council also has set up a website in English, which is more user-friendly than SAMR’s website, to help foreign investors looking to do business in China.

The State Council Information on Doing Business in China: http://english.gov.cn/services/doingbusiness  

The Department of Foreign Investment Administration within MOFCOM is responsible for foreign investment promotion in China, including promotion activities, coordinating with investment promotion agencies at the provincial and municipal levels, engaging with international economic organizations and business associations, and conducting research related to FDI into China.  MOFCOM also maintains the “Invest in China” website.

MOFCOM “Invest in China” Information: http://www.fdi.gov.cn/1800000121_10000041_8.html  

Despite recent efforts by the Chinese government to streamline business registration procedures, foreign companies still complain about the challenges they face when setting up a business.  In addition, U.S. companies complain they are treated differently from domestic companies when setting up an investment, which is an added market access barrier for U.S. companies. Numerous companies offer consulting, legal, and accounting services for establishing wholly foreign-owned enterprises, partnership enterprises, joint ventures, and representative offices in China.  The differences among these corporate entities are significant, and investors should review their options carefully with an experienced advisor before choosing a particular Chinese corporate entity or investment vehicle.

Outward Investment

Since 2001, China has initiated a “going-out” investment policy that has evolved over the past two decades.  At first, the Chinese government mainly encouraged SOEs to go abroad and acquire primarily energy investments to facilitate greater market access for Chinese exports in certain foreign markets.  As Chinese investors gained experience, and as China’s economy grew and diversified, China’s investments also have diversified with both state and private enterprise investments in all industries and economic sectors.  While China’s outbound investment levels in 2018 were significantly less than the record-setting investments levels in 2016, China was still one of the largest global outbound investors in the world. According to MOFCOM outbound investment data, 2018 total outbound direct investment (ODI) increased less than one percent compared to 2017 figures.  There was a significant drop in Chinese outbound investment to the United States and other North American countries that traditionally have accounted for a significant portion of China’s ODI. In some European countries, especially the United Kingdom, ODI generally increased. In One Belt, One Road (OBOR) countries, there has been a general increase in investment activity; however, OBOR investment deals were generally relatively small dollar amounts and constituted only a small percentage of overall Chinese ODI.

In August 2017, in reaction to concerns about capital outflows and exchange rate volatility, the Chinese government issued guidance to curb what it deemed to be “irrational” outbound investments and created “encouraged,” “restricted,” and “prohibited” outbound investment categories to guide Chinese investors.  The guidelines restricted Chinese outbound investment in sectors like property, hotels, cinemas, entertainment, sports teams, and “financial investments that create funds that are not tied to specific investment projects.” The guidance encouraged outbound investment in sectors that supported Chinese industrial policy, such as Strategic Emerging Industries (SEI) and MIC 2025, by acquiring advanced manufacturing and high-technology assets.  MIC 2025’s main aim is to transform China into an innovation-based economy that can better compete against – and eventually outperform – advanced economies in 10 key high-tech sectors, including: new energy vehicles, next-generation IT, biotechnology, new materials, aerospace, oceans engineering and ships, railway, robotics, power equipment, and agriculture machinery. Chinese firms in MIC 2025 industries often receive preferential treatment in the form of preferred financing, subsidies, and access to an opaque network of investors to promote and provide incentives for outbound investment in key sectors.  The outbound investment guidance also encourages investments that promote China’s OBOR development strategy, which seeks to create connectivity and cooperation agreements between China and countries along the Chinese-designated “Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road” through an expansion of infrastructure investment, construction materials, real estate, power grids, etc.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

China has 109 Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) in force and multiple Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with investment chapters.  Generally speaking, these agreements cover topics like expropriation, most-favored-nation treatment, repatriation of investment proceeds, and arbitration mechanisms.  Relative to U.S.-negotiated BITs and FTA investment chapters, Chinese agreements are generally considered to be weaker and offer less protections to foreign investors.

A list of China’s signed BITs:

The United States and China last held BIT negotiations in January 2017.  China has been in active bilateral investment agreement negotiations with the EU since 2013.  The two sides have exchanged market access offers and have expressed an intent to conclude talks by 2020.  China also has negotiated 17 FTAs with trade and investment partners, is currently negotiating 14 FTAs and FTA-upgrades, and is considering eight further potential FTA and FTA-upgrade negotiations.  China’s existing FTA partners are Maldives, Georgia, ASEAN, Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Australia, Singapore, Pakistan, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Costa Rica, Iceland, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan.  China concluded its FTAs with Maldives and Georgia in 2017.

China’s signed FTAs:

The United States and China concluded a bilateral taxation treaty in 1984.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

In assessing China’s regulatory governance effectiveness, the World Bank Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance gave China a composite score of 1.75 out 5 points.  The World Bank attributed China’s relatively low score to the futility of foreign companies appealing administrative authorities’ decisions, given partial courts; not having laws and regulations in one accessible place that is updated regularly; the lack of impact assessments conducted prior to issuing new laws; and other concerns about public comments and transparency.

World Bank Rule Making Information: http://rulemaking.worldbank.org/en/data/explorecountries/china  

In various business climate surveys, 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.  These challenges stem from a complex legal and regulatory system that provides government regulators and authorities broad discretion to selectively enforce regulations, rules, and other guidelines in an inconsistent and impartial manner, often to the detriment of foreign investor interests.  Moreover, regulators are often allowed to hinder fair competition by allowing authorities to ignore Chinese legal transgressors while at the same time strictly enforcing regulations selectively against foreign companies.

Another compounding problem is that Chinese government agencies rely on rules and enforcement guidelines that often are not published or even part of the formal legal and regulatory system.  “Normative Documents” (opinions, circulars, notices, etc.), or quasi-legal measures used to address situations where there is no explicit law or administrative regulation, are often not made available for public comment or even published, yet are binding in practice upon parties active in the Chinese market.  As a result, foreign investors are often confronted with a regulatory system rife with inconsistencies that hinders business confidence and generates confusion for U.S. businesses operating in China.

One of China’s WTO accession commitments was to establish an official journal dedicated to the publication of laws, regulations, and other measures pertaining to or affecting trade in goods, services, Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), or the control of foreign exchange.  The State Council’s Legislative Affairs Office (SCLAO) issued two regulations instructing Chinese agencies to comply with this WTO obligation and also issued Interim Measures on Public Comment Solicitation of Laws and Regulations and the Circular on Public Comment Solicitation of Department Rules, which required government agencies to post draft regulations and departmental rules on the official SCLAO website for a 30-day public comment period.  Despite the fact this requirement has been mandated by Chinese law and was part of the China’s WTO accession commitments, Chinese ministries under the State Council continue to post only some draft administrative regulations and departmental rules on the SCLAO website.  When drafts are posted for public comment, the comment period often is less than the required 30 days.

China’s proposed draft regulations are often drafted without using scientific studies or quantitative analysis to assess the regulation’s impact.  When Chinese officials claim an assessment was made, the methodology of the study and the results are not made available to the public. When draft regulations are available for public comment, it is unclear what impact third-party comments have on the final regulation.  Many U.S. stakeholders have complained of the futility of the public comment process in China, often concluding that the lack of transparency in regulation drafting is purposeful and driven primarily by industrial policy goals and other anti-competitive factors that are often inconsistent with market-based principles.  In addition, foreign parties are often restricted from full participation in Chinese standardization activities, potentially providing Chinese competitors opportunity to develop standards inconsistent with international norms and detrimental to foreign investor interests.

In China’s state-dominated economic system, it is impossible to assess the motivating factors behind state action.  The relationships are often blurred between the CCP, the Chinese government, Chinese business (state and private owned), and other Chinese stakeholders that make up the domestic economy.  Foreign invested enterprises perceive that China prioritizes political goals, industrial policies, and a desire to protect social stability at the expense of foreign investors, fairness, and overall rule of law.  These blurred lines are on full display in some industries that have Chinese Self-Regulatory Organizations (SROs) that make licensing decisions. For instance, a Chinese financial institution who is a direct competitor to a foreign enterprise applying for a license may be a voting member of the governing SRO and can either influence other SRO members or even directly adjudicate the application of the foreign license.  To protect market share and competitive position, this company likely has an incentive to disapprove the license application, further hindering fair competition in the industry or economic sector.

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

International Regulatory Considerations

China has been a member of the WTO since 2001.  As part of its accession agreement, China agreed to notify the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Committee) of all draft technical regulations.  Compliance with this WTO commitment is something Chinese officials have promised in previous dialogues with U.S. government officials. The United States remains concerned that China continues to issue draft technical regulations without proper notification to the TBT Committee

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Chinese legal system is based on a civil law model that borrowed heavily from the legal systems of Germany and France but retains Chinese legal characteristics.  The rules governing commercial activities are found in various laws, regulations, and judicial interpretations, including China’s civil law, contract law, partnership enterprises law, security law, insurance law, enterprises bankruptcy law, labor law, and several interpretations and regulations issued by the Supreme People’s Court (SPC).  While China does not have specialized commercial courts, it has created specialized courts and tribunals for the hearing of intellectual property disputes. In 2014, China launched three intellectual property (IP) courts in Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai. In October 2018, the National People’s Congress approved the establishment of an national-level appellate tribunal within the SPC to hear civil and administrative appeals of technically complex IP cases .

China’s Constitution and various laws provide contradictory statements about court independence and the right of judges to exercise adjudicative power free from interference by administrative organs, public organizations, and/or powerful individuals.  However in practice, courts are heavily influenced by Chinese regulators. Moreover, the Chinese Constitution established that the “leadership of the Communist Party” is supreme, which in practices makes judges susceptible to party pressure on commercial decisions impacting foreign investors.  This trend of central party influence in all areas, not just in the legal system, has only been strengthened by President Xi Jinping’s efforts to consolidate political power and promote the role of the party in all economic activities. Other reasons for judicial interference may include:

  • Courts fall under the jurisdiction of local governments;
  • Court budgets are appropriated by local administrative authorities;
  • Judges in China have administrative ranks and are managed as administrative officials;
  • The CCP is in charge of the appointment, dismissal, transfer, and promotion of administrative officials;
  • China’s Constitution stipulates that local legislatures appoint and supervise the courts; and
  • Corruption may also influence local court decisions.

While in limited cases U.S. companies have received favorable outcomes from China’s courts, the U.S. business community consistently reports that Chinese courts, particularly at lower levels, are susceptible to outside political influence (particularly from local governments), lack the sophistication and educational background needed to understand complex commercial disputes, and operate without transparency.  U.S. companies often avoid challenging administrative decisions or bringing commercial disputes before a local court because of perceptions that these efforts would be futile and for fear of future retaliation by government officials.

Reports of business disputes involving violence, death threats, hostage-taking, and travel bans involving Americans continue to be prevalent.  However, American citizens and foreigners in general do not appear to be more likely than Chinese nationals to be subject to this kind of coercive treatment.  Police are often reluctant to intervene in what they consider internal contract disputes.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The legal and regulatory framework in China controlling foreign direct investment activities is more restrictive and less transparent across-the-board compared to the investment frameworks of developed countries, including the United States.  China has made efforts to unify its foreign investment laws and clarify prohibited and restricted industries in the negative list.

On March 17, 2019 China’s National People’s Congress passed the Foreign Investment Law (FIL) that intends to replace existing foreign investment laws.  This law will go into effect on January 1, 2020 and will replace the previous foreign investment framework based on three foreign-invested entity laws: the China-Foreign Equity Joint Venture Enterprise Law, the China-Foreign Cooperative Joint Venture Enterprise Law, and the Foreign-Invested Enterprise (FIE) Law.  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 similar laws as domestic companies, like the company law, the enterprise law, etc.

In addition to these foreign investment laws, multiple implementation guidelines and other administrative regulations issued by the State Council that are directly derived from the law also affect foreign investment.  Under the three current foreign investment laws, such implementation guidelines include:

  • Implementation Regulations of the China-Foreign Equity Joint Venture Enterprises Law;
  • Implementation Regulations of the China-Foreign Cooperative Joint Venture Enterprise Law;
  • Implementation Regulations of the FIE Law;
  • State Council Provisions on Encouraging Foreign Investment;
  • Provisions on Guiding the Direction of Foreign Investment; and
  • Administrative Provisions on Foreign Investment to Telecom Enterprises.

In addition to the three central-level laws mentioned above, there are also over 1,000 rules and regulatory documents related to foreign investment in China,  issued by government ministries, including:

  • the Foreign Investment Negative List;
  • Provisions on Mergers and Acquisition (M&A) of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors;
  • Administrative Provisions on Foreign Investment in Road Transportation Industry;
  • Interim Provisions on Foreign Investment in Cinemas;
  • Administrative Measures on Foreign Investment in Commercial Areas;
  • Administrative Measures on Ratification of Foreign Invested Projects;
  • Administrative Measures on Foreign Investment in Distribution Enterprises of Books, Newspapers, and Periodicals;
  • Provision on the Establishment of Investment Companies by Foreign Investors; and
  • Administrative Measures on Strategic Investment in Listed Companies by Foreign Investors.

The State Council has yet to provide a timeframe for new implementation guidelines for the Foreign Investment Law that will replace the implementation guidelines under the previous foreign investment system.  While the FIL reiterates existing Chinese commitments in regards to certain elements of the business environment, including IP protection for foreign-invested enterprises, details on implementation and the enforcement mechanisms available to foreign investors have yet to be provided.

In addition to central-level laws and implementation guidelines, local regulators and governments also enact their own regulations, rules, and guidelines that directly impact foreign investment in their geographical area.  Examples include the Wuhan Administration Regulation on Foreign-Invested Enterprises and Shanghai’s Municipal Administration Measures on Land Usage of Foreign-Invested Enterprises.

A Chinese language list of Chinese laws and regulations, at both the central and local levels: http://www.gov.cn/zhengce/  .

FDI Laws on Investment Approvals

Foreign investments in industries and economic sectors that are not explicitly restricted or prohibited on the foreign investment negative list are not subject to MOFCOM pre-approval, but notification is required on proposed foreign investments.  In practice, investing in an industry not on the negative list does not guarantee a foreign investor national treatment in establishing an foreign investment as investors must comply with other steps and approvals like receiving land rights, business licenses, and other necessary permits.  In some industries, such as telecommunications, foreign investors will also need to receive approval from regulators or relevant ministries like the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

The Market Access Negative List issued December 2018 incorporated the previously issued State Council catalogue for investment projects called the Decision on Investment Regime Reform and the Catalogue of Investment Projects subject to Government Ratification (Ratification Catalogue).  Both foreign enterprises and domestic firms are subject to this negative list and both are required to receive government ratification of investment projects listed in the catalogue.  The Ratification Catalogue was first issued in 2004 and has since undergone various reiterations that have shortened the number of investment projects needed for ratification and removed previous requirements that made foreign investors file for record all investment activities.  The most recent version was last issued in 2016. Projects still needing ratification by NDRC and/or local DRCs include investments surpassing a specific dollar threshold, in industries experiencing overcapacity issues, or in industries that promote outdated technologies that may cause environmental hazards.  For foreign investments over USD300 million, NDRC must ratify the investment. For industries in specific sectors, the local Development and Reform Commission (DRC) is in charge of the ratification.

Ratification Catalogue: http://www.gov.cn/zhengce/content/2016-12/20/content_5150587.htm  

When a foreign investment needs ratification from the NDRC or a local DRC, that administrative body is in charge of assessing the project’s compliance with China’s laws and regulations; the proposed investment’s compliance with the foreign investment and market access negative lists and various industrial policy documents; its national security, environmental safety, and public interest implications; its use of resources and energy; and its economic development ramifications.  In some cases, NDRC also solicits the opinions of relevant Chinese industrial regulators and “consulting agencies,” which may include industry associations that represent Chinese domestic firms. This presents potential conflicts of interest that can disadvantage foreign investors seeking to receive project approval. The State Council may also weigh in on high-value projects in “restricted” sectors.

If a foreign investor has established an investment not on the foreign investment negative list and has received NDRC approval for the investment project if needed, the investor then can apply for a business license with a new ministry announced in March 2018, the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR).  Once a license is obtained, the investor registers with China’s tax and foreign exchange agencies. Greenfield investment projects must also seek approval from China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment and the Ministry of Natural Resources. In several sectors, subsequent industry regulatory permits are required. The specific approvals process may vary from case to case, depending on the details of a particular investment proposal and local rules and practices.

For investments made via merger or acquisition with a Chinese domestic enterprise, an anti-monopoly review and national security review may be required by SAMR if there are competition concerns about the foreign transaction.  The anti-monopoly review is detailed in a later section of this report, on competition policy.

Article 12 of MOFCOM’s Rules on Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investment stipulates that parties are required to report a transaction to SAMR if:

  • Foreign investors obtain actual control, via merger or acquisition, of a domestic enterprise in a key industry;
  • The merger or acquisition affects or may affect “national economic security”; or
  • The merger or acquisition would cause the transfer of actual control of a domestic enterprise with a famous trademark or a Chinese time-honored brand.

If SAMR determines the parties did not report a merger or acquisition that affects or could affect national economic security, it may, together with other government agencies, require the parties to terminate the transaction or adopt other measures to eliminate the impact on national economic security.  They may also assess fines.

In February 2011, China released the State Council Notice Regarding the Establishment of a Security Review Mechanism for Foreign Investors Acquiring Domestic Enterprises.  The notice established an interagency Joint Conference, led by NDRC and MOFCOM, with authority to block foreign M&As of domestic firms that it believes may impact national security.  The Joint Conference is instructed to consider not just national security, but also “national economic security” and “social order” when reviewing transactions. China has not disclosed any instances in which it invoked this formal review mechanism.  A national security review process for foreign investments was written into China’s new Foreign Investment Law, but with very few details on how the process would be implemented.

Chinese local commerce departments are responsible for flagging transactions that require a national security review when they review them in an early stage of China’s foreign investment approval process.  Some provincial and municipal departments of commerce have published online a Security Review Industry Table listing non-defense industries where transactions may trigger a national security review, but MOFCOM has declined to confirm whether these lists reflect official policy.  In addition, third parties such as other governmental agencies, industry associations, and companies in the same industry can seek MOFCOM’s review of transactions, which can pose conflicts of interest that disadvantage foreign investors.  Investors may also voluntarily file for a national security review.

U.S.  Chamber of Commerce report on Approval Process for Inbound Foreign Direct Investment: http://www.uschamber.com/sites/default/files/reports/020021_China_InvestmentPaper_hires.pdf .

Foreign Investment Law

On March 15, 2019 the National People’s Congress passed the Foreign Investment Law (FIL) that replaced all existing foreign investment laws, including the China-Foreign Joint Venture Law, the Contract Joint Venture Law, and the Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprises Law.  The FIL is significantly shorter than the 2015 draft version issued for public comment and the text is vague and provides loopholes through which regulators could potentially discriminate against foreign investors. While the law made policy declarations on important issues to U.S. and other foreign investors (e.g.,  equal protection of intellectual property, prohibitions again certain kinds of forced technology transer, and greater market access,), specifics on implementation and enforcement were lacking.  The law goes into effect on January 1, 2020. Many high-level Chinese officials have stated that the implementation guidelines and other corresponding legal changes will be developed prior to the law going into effect.  The content of these guidelines and future corresponding changes to other laws to become consistent with the FIL will largely determine the impact it will have on the investment climate.

Free Trade Zone Foreign Investment Laws

China issued in 2015 the Interim Measures on the National Security Review of Foreign Investment in Free Trade Zones.  The definition of “national security” is broad, covering investments in military, national defense, agriculture, energy, infrastructure, transportation, culture, information technology products and services, key technology, and manufacturing.

In addition, MOFCOM issued the Administrative Measures for the Record-Filing of Foreign Investment in Free Trade Zones, outlining a more streamlined process that foreign investors need to follow to register investments in the FTZs.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

China uses a complex system of laws, regulations, and agency specific guidelines at both the central and provincial levels that impacts an economic sector’s makeup, sometimes as a monopoly, near-monopoly, or authorized oligopoly.  These measures are particularly common in resource-intensive sectors such as electricity and transportation, as well as in industries seeking unified national coverage like telecommunication and postal services. The measures also target sectors the government deems vital to national security and economic stability, including defense, energy, and banking.  Examples of such laws and regulations include the Law on Electricity (1996), Civil Aviation Law (1995), Regulations on Telecommunication (2000), Postal Law (amended in 2009), Railroad Law (1991), and Commercial Bank Law (amended in 2003), among others.

Anti-Monopoly Law

China’s Anti-Monopoly Law (AML) went into effect on August 1, 2008.  The National People Congress in March 2018 announced that AML enforcement authorities previously held by three government ministries would be consolidated into a new ministry called the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR).  This new agency would still be responsible for AML enforcement and cover issues like concentrations review (M&As), cartel agreements, abuse of dominant market position, and abuse of administrative powers. To fill in some of the gaps from the original AML and to address new commercial trends in China’s market, SAMR has started the process of issuing draft implementation guidelines to clarify enforcement on issues like merger penalties, implementation of abuse of market dominant position, etc.  By unifying antitrust enforcement under one agency, the Chinese government hopes to consolidate guidelines from the three previous agencies and provide greater clarity for businesses operating in China. Generally, the AML enforcement agencies have sought public comment on proposed measures and guidelines, although comment periods can be less than 30 days.

In addition to the AML, the State Council in June 2016 issued guidelines for the Fair Competition Review Mechanism that targets administrative monopolies created by government agents, primarily at the local level.  The mechanism not only requires government agencies to conduct a fair competition review prior to issuing new laws, regulations, and guidelines, to certify that proposed measures do not inhibit competition, but also requires government agencies to conduct a review of all existing rules, regulations, and guidelines, to eliminate existing laws and regulations that are competition inhibiting.  In October 2017, the State Council, State Council Legislative Affairs Office, Ministry of Finance, and three AML agencies issued implementation rules for the fair competition review system to strengthen review procedures, provide review criteria, enhance coordination among government entities, and improve overall competition-based supervision in new laws and regulations. While local government bodies have reported a completed review of over 100,000 different administrative documents, it is unclear what changes have been made and what impact it has had on actually improving the competitive landscape in China.

While procedural developments such as those outlined above are seen as generally positive, the actual enforcement of competition laws and regulations is uneven.  Inconsistent central and provincial enforcement of antitrust law often exacerbates local protectionism by restricting inter-provincial trade, limiting market access for certain imported products, using measures that raise production costs, and limiting opportunities for foreign investment.  Government authorities at all levels in China may also restrict competition to insulate favored firms from competition through various forms of regulations and industrial policies. While at times the ultimate benefactor of such policies is unclear, foreign companies have expressed concern that the central government’s use of AML enforcement is often selectively used to target foreign companies, becoming an extension of other industrial policies that favor SOEs and Chinese companies deemed potential “national champions.”

Since the AML went into effect, the number of M&A transactions reviewed each year by Chinese officials has continued to grow.  U.S. companies and other observers have expressed concerns that SAMR is required to consult with other Chinese agencies when reviewing a potential transaction and that other agencies can raise concerns that are often not related to competition to either block, delay, or force one or more of the parties to comply with a condition in order to receive approval.  There is also suspicion that Chinese regulators rarely approve “on condition” any transactions involving two Chinese companies, thus signaling an inherent AML bias against foreign enterprises.

Under NDRC’s previous enforcement of price-related monopolies, some procedural progress in AML enforcement was made, as they started to release aggregate data on investigations and publicize case decisions.  However, many U.S. companies complained that NDRC discouraged companies from having legal representation during informal discussions or even during formal investigations. In addition, the investigative process reportedly lacked basic transparency or specific best practice guidance on procedures like evidence gathering.  Observers continue to raise concern over the use of “dawn raids” that can be used at any time as a means of intimidation or to prop up a local Chinese company against a competing foreign company in an effort to push forward specific industrial policy goals. Observers also remain concerned that Chinese officials during an investigation will fail to protect commercial secrets and have access to secret and proprietary information that could be given to Chinese competitors.

In prior bilateral dialogues, China committed to strengthening IP protection and enforcement.  However, concerns remain on how China views the intersection of IP protection and antitrust. Previous AML guidelines issued by antitrust regulators for public comment disproportionately impacted foreign firms (generally IP rights holders) by requiring an IP rights holder to license technology at a “fair price” so as not to allow abuse of the company’s “dominant market position.”  Foreign companies have long complained that China’s enforcement of AML serves industrial policy goals of, among other things, forcing technology transfer to local competitors. In other more developed antitrust jurisdictions, companies are free to exclude competitors and set prices, and the right to do so is recognized as the foundation of the incentive to innovate.

Another consistent area of concern expressed by foreign companies deals with the degree to which the AML applies – or fails to apply – to SOEs and other government monopolies, which are permitted in some industries.  While SAMR has said AML enforcement applies to SOEs the same as domestic or foreign firms, the reality is that only a few minor punitive actions have been taken against provincial level SOEs. In addition, the AML explicitly protects the lawful operations of SOEs and government monopolies in industries deemed nationally important.  While SOEs have not been entirely immune from AML investigations, the number of investigations is not commensurate with the significant role SOEs play in China’s economy. The CCP’s proactive orchestration of mergers and consolidation of SOEs in industries like rail, marine shipping, metals, and other strategic sectors, which in most instances only further insulates SOEs from both private and foreign competition, signaling that enforcement against SOEs will likely remain limited despite potential negative impacts on consumer welfare.

Expropriation and Compensation

Chinese law prohibits nationalization of foreign-invested enterprises, except under “special circumstances.”  Chinese laws, such as the Foreign Investment Law, states there are circumstances for expropriation of foreign assets that may include national security or a public interest needs, such as large civil engineering projects.  However, the law does not specify circumstances that would lead to the nationalization of a foreign investment. Chinese law requires fair compensation for an expropriated foreign investment but does not provide details on the method or formula used to calculate the value of the foreign 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.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

China is a contracting state to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) and has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the New York Convention).  The domestic legislation that provides for enforcement of foreign arbitral awards related to these two Conventions includes the Arbitration Law adopted in 1994, the Civil Procedure Law adopted in 1991 (later amended in 2012), the Law on Chinese-Foreign Equity Joint Ventures adopted in 1979 (amended most recently in 2001), and a number of other laws with similar provisions.  China’s Arbitration Law has embraced many of the fundamental principles of The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law’s Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Chinese officials typically urge private parties to resolve commercial disputes through informal conciliation.  If formal mediation is necessary, Chinese parties and the authorities typically prefer arbitration to litigation.  Many contract disputes require arbitration by the Beijing-based China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC).  Established by the State Council in 1956 under the auspices of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT), CIETAC is China’s most widely-utilized arbitral body in China for foreign-related disputes.  Some foreign parties have obtained favorable rulings from CIETAC, while others have questioned CIETAC’s fairness and effectiveness.

CIETAC also had four sub-commissions located in Shanghai, Shenzhen, Tianjin, and Chongqing.  CCPIT, under the authority of the State Council, issued new arbitration rules in 2012 that granted CIETAC headquarters greater authority to hear cases than the sub-commissions.  As a result, CIETAC Shanghai and CIETAC Shenzhen declared independence from the Beijing authority, issued new rules, and changed their names. This split led to CIETAC disqualifying the former Shanghai and Shenzhen affiliates from administering arbitration disputes, raising serious concerns among the U.S. business and legal communities over the validity of arbitration agreements arrived at under different arbitration procedures and the enforceability of arbitral awards issued by the sub-commissions.  In 2013, the Supreme People’s Court issued a notice clarifying that any lower court that hears a case arising out of the CIETAC split must report the case to the court before making a decision. However, this notice is brief and lacks detail like the timeframe for the lower court to refer and the timeframe for the Supreme People’s Court to issue an opinion.

Beside the central-level arbitration commission, there are also provincial and municipal arbitration commissions that have emerged as serious domestic competitors to CIETAC.  A foreign party may also seek arbitration in some instances from an offshore commission. Foreign companies often encounter challenges in enforcing arbitration decisions issued by Chinese and foreign arbitration bodies.  In these instances, foreign investors may appeal to higher courts.

The Chinese government and judicial bodies do not maintain a public record of investment disputes.  The Supreme People’s Court maintains an annual count of the number of cases involving foreigners but does not provide details about the cases, identify civil or commercial disputes, or note foreign investment disputes.  Rulings in some cases are open to the public.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Articles 281 and 282 of China’s Civil Procedural Law governs the enforcement of judgments issued by foreign courts.  The law states that Chinese courts should consider factors like China’s treaty obligations, reciprocity principles, basic Chinese law, Chinese sovereignty, Chinese social and public interests, and national security before determining if the foreign court judgment should be recognized.  As a result of this broad criteria, there are few examples of Chinese courts recognizing and enforcing a foreign court judgment. China has bilateral agreements with 27 countries on the recognition and enforcement of foreign court judgments, but not with the United States.

Article 270 of China’s Civil Procedure Law also states that time limits in civil cases do not apply to cases involving foreign investment.  According to the 2012 CIETAC Arbitration Rules, in an ordinary procedure case, the arbitral tribunal shall render an arbitral award within six months (in foreign-related cases) from the date on which the arbitral tribunal is formed.  In a summary procedure case, the arbitral tribunal shall make an award within three months from the date on which the arbitral tribunal is formed.

Bankruptcy Regulations

China’s Enterprise Bankruptcy Law took effect on June 1, 2007 and applies to all companies incorporated under Chinese laws and subject to Chinese regulations.  This includes private companies, public companies, SOEs, foreign invested enterprises (FIEs), and financial institutions.  China’s primary bankruptcy legislation generally is commensurate with developed countries’ bankruptcy laws and provides for reorganization or restructuring, rather than liquidation.  However, due to the lack of implementation guidelines and the limited number of previous cases that could provide legal precedent, the law has never been fully enforced.  Most corporate debt disputes are settled through negotiations led by local governments.  In addition, companies are disincentivized from pursing bankruptcy because of the potential for local government interference and fear of losing control over the bankruptcy outcome.  According to experts, Chinese courts not only lack the resources and capacity to handle bankruptcy cases, but bankruptcy administrators, clerks, and judges all lack relevant experience.

In the October 2016 State Council Guiding Opinion on Reducing Enterprises’ Leverage Ratio, bankruptcy was identified as a tool to manage China’s corporate debt problems.  This was consistent with increased government rhetoric throughout the year in support of bankruptcy.  For example, in June 2016, the Supreme People’s Court issued a notice to establish bankruptcy divisions at intermediate courts and to increase the number of judges and support staff to handle liquidation and bankruptcy issues.  On August 1, 2016, the court also launched a new bankruptcy and reorganization electronic information platform: http://pccz.court.gov.cn/pcajxxw/index/xxwsy  .

The number of bankruptcy cases has continued to grow rapidly since 2015.  According to a National People’s Congress (NPC) official, in 2018, 18,823 liquidation and bankruptcy cases were accepted by Chinese courts, an increase of over 95 percent from last year.  11,669 of those cases were closed, an increase of 86.5 percent from the year before.  The Supreme People’s Court (SPC) reported that in 2017, 9,542 bankruptcy cases were accepted by the Chinese courts, representing a 68.4 percent year-on-year increase from 2016, and 6,257 cases were closed, representing a 73.7 percent year-on-year increase from 2016. The SPC has continued to issue clarifications and new implementing measures to improve bankruptcy procedures.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

To attract foreign investment, different provinces and municipalities offer preferential packages like a temporary reduction in taxes, resources and land use benefits, reduction in import and/or export duties, special treatment in obtaining basic infrastructure services, streamlined government approvals, research and development subsidies, and funding for initial startups.  Often, these packages stipulate that foreign investors must meet certain benchmarks for exports, local content, technology transfer, and other requirements.  Preferential treatment often occurs in specific sectors that the government has identified for policy support, like technology and advanced manufacturing, and will be specific to a geographic location like a special economic zone (like FTZs), development zone, or a science park.  The Chinese government has also prioritized foreign investment in inland China by providing incentives to invest in seven new FTZs located in inland regions (2017) and offering more liberalizations to foreign investment through its Catalogue of Priority Industries for Foreign Investment in Central and Western China that provides greater market access to foreign investors willing to invest in less developed areas in Central and Western China.

While state subsidies has long been an area that foreign investors have criticized for distorting competition in certain industries, Chinese officials have publicly pledged that foreign investors willing to manufacture products in China can equally participate in the research and development programs financed by the Chinese government.  The Chinese government has also said foreign investors have equal access to preferential policies under initiatives like Made in China 2025 and Strategic Emerging Industries that seek to transform China’s economy into an innovation-based economy that becomes a global leader in future growth sectors.  In these high-tech and advanced manufacturing sectors, China needs foreign investment because it lacks the capacity, expertise, and technological know-how to conduct advanced research or manufacture advanced technology on par with other developed economies.  Announced in 2015, China’s MIC 2025 roadmap has prioritized the following industries: new-generation information technology, advanced numerical-control machine tools and robotics, aerospace equipment, maritime engineering equipment and vessels, advanced rail, new-energy vehicles, energy equipment, agricultural equipment, new materials, and biopharmaceuticals and medical equipment.  While mentions of MIC 2025 have all but disappeared from public discourse, a raft of policy announcements at the national and sub-national level indicate China’s continued commitment to developing these sectors.  Foreign investment plays an important role in helping China move up the manufacturing value chain.  However, there are a large number of economic sectors that China deems sensitive due to broadly defined national security concerns, including “economic security,” which can effectively close off foreign investment to those sectors.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

China has customs-bonded areas in Shanghai, Tianjin, Shantou, Guangzhou, Dalian, Xiamen, Ningbo, Zhuhai, Fuzhou, and parts of Shenzhen.  In addition to these official duty-free zones identified by China’s State Council, there are also numerous economic development zones and “open cities” that offer preferential treatment and benefits to investors, including foreign investors.

In September 2013, the State Council in conjunction with the Shanghai municipal government, announced the Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone that consolidated the geographical area of four previous bonded areas into a single FTZ.  In April 2015, the State Council expanded the pilot to include new FTZs in Tianjin, Guangdong, and Fujian. In March 2017, the State Council approved seven new FTZs in Chongqing, Henan, Hubei, Liaoning, Shaanxi, Sichuan, and Zhejiang, with the stated purpose to integrate these areas more closely with the OBOR initiative – the Chinese government’s plan to enhance global economic interconnectivity through joint infrastructure and investment projects that connect China’s inland and border regions to the rest of the world.  In October 2018, the Chinese government rolled out plans to convert the entire island province of Hainan into an FTZ that will take effect in 2020. This FTZ aims to provide a more open and high-standard trade and investment hub focused on improved rule of law and financial services. In addition to encourage tourism development, the Hainan FTZ will also seek to develop high-tech industries while preserving the ecology of the island. The goal of all China’s FTZs is to provide a trial ground for trade and investment liberalization measures and to introduce service sector reforms, especially in financial services, that China expects eventually to introduce in other parts of the domestic economy.

The FTZs should offer foreign investors “national treatment” for the market access phase of an investment in industries and sectors not listed on the FTZ “negative list,” or on the list of industries and economic sectors restricted or prohibited for foreign investment.  The State Council published an updated FTZ negative list in June 2018 that reduced the number of restrictions and prohibitions on foreign investment from 95 items down to 45. The most recent negative list did not remove many commercially significant restrictions or prohibitions compared to the nationwide negative list also released in June 2018.

Although the FTZ negative list in theory provides greater market access for foreign investment in the FTZs, many foreign firms have reported that in practice, the degree of liberalization in the FTZs is comparable to other opportunities in other parts of China.  According to Chinese officials, over 18,000 entities have registered in the FTZs. The municipal and central governments have released a number of administrative and sector-specific regulations and circulars that outline the procedures and regulations in the zones.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

As part of China’s WTO accession agreement, China promised to revise its foreign investment laws to eliminate sections that imposed export performance, local content, balanced foreign exchange through trade, technology transfer, and create research and development center requirements on foreign investors as a prerequisite to enter China’s market.  As part of these revisions, China committed to only enforce technology transfer requirements that do not violate WTO standards on IP and trade-related investment measures. In practice, however, China has not completely lived up to these promises with some U.S. businesses reporting that local officials and regulators sometimes only accept investments with “voluntary” performance requirements or technology transfer that helps develop certain domestic industries and support the local job market.  Provincial and municipal governments will sometimes restrict access to local markets, government procurement, and public works projects even for foreign firms that have already invested in the province or municipality. In addition, Chinese regulators have reportedly pressured foreign firms in some sectors to disclose IP content or provide IP licenses to Chinese firms, often at below market rates. These practices not only run contrary to WTO principles but hurt the competitive position of foreign investors.

China also called to restrict the ability of both domestic and foreign operators of “critical information infrastructure” to transfer personal data and important information outside of China while also requiring those same operators to only store data physically in China.  These potential restrictions have prompted many firms to review how their networks manage data. Foreign firms also fear that calls for use of “secure and controllable,” “secure and trustworthy,” etc. technologies will curtail sales opportunities for foreign firms or that foreign companies may be pressured to disclose source code and other proprietary information, putting IP at risk.  In addition, prescriptive technology adoption requirements, often in the form of domestic standards that diverge from global norms, in effect gives preference to domestic firms and their technology. These requirements not only hinder operational effectiveness but also potentially puts in jeopardy IP protection and overall competitiveness of foreign firms operating in China.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Foreign companies have long complained that the Chinese legal system, responsible for mediating acquisition and disposition of property, has inconsistently protected the legal real property rights of foreigners.

Urban land is entirely owned by the State.  The State can issue long-term land leases to individuals and companies, including foreigners, subject to many restrictions.  China’s Property Law stipulates that residential property rights will renew automatically, while commercial and industrial grants shall be renewed if the renewal does not conflict with other public interest claims.  A number of foreign investors have reported that their land use rights were revoked and given to developers to build neighborhoods designated for building projects by government officials. Investors often complain that compensation in these cases has been nominal.

In rural China, collectively-owned land use rights are more complicated.  The registration system chronically suffers from unclear ownership lines and disputed border claims, often at the expense of local farmers who are excluded from the process by village leaders making “handshake deals” with commercial interests.  The central government announced in 2016, and reiterated in 2017 and 2018, plans to reform the rural land registration system so as to put more control in the hands of farmers, but some experts remain skeptical that changes will be properly implemented and enforced.

China’s Securities Law defines debtor and guarantor rights, including rights to mortgage certain types of property and other tangible assets, including long-term leases.  Chinese law does not prohibit foreigners from buying non-performing debt, which can only be acquired through state-owned asset management firms. However, in practice, Chinese official often use bureaucratic hurdles that limit foreigners’ ability to liquidate assets, further discouraging foreign purchase of non-performing debt.

Intellectual Property Rights

Following WTO accession, China updated many laws and regulations to comply with the WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and other international agreements.  However, despite the changes to China’s legal and regulatory regime, some aspects of China’s IP protection regime fall short of international best practices.  In addition, enforcement ineffectiveness of Chinese laws and regulations remains a significant challenge for foreign investors trying to protect their IPR.

Major impediments to effective IP enforcement include the unavailability of deterrent-level penalties for infringement, a lack of transparency, unclear standards for establishing criminal investigations, the absence of evidence production methods to compel evidence from infringers, and local protectionism, among others.  Chinese government officials tout the success of China’s specialized IP courts – including the establishment of a new appellate tribunal within the SPC – as evidence of its commitment to IP protection; however, while this shows a growing awareness of IPR in China’s legal system, civil litigation against IP infringement will remain an option with limited effect until there is an increase in the amount of damages an infringer pays for IP violations.

Chinese-based companies remain the largest IP infringers of U.S. products.  Goods shipped from China (including those transshipped through Hong Kong) accounted for an estimated 87 percent of IPR-infringing goods seized at U.S. borders.  (Note: This U.S.  Customs statistic does not specify where the fake goods were made.)  China imposes requirements that U.S. firms develop their IP in China or transfer their IP to Chinese entities as a condition to accessing the Chinese market, or to obtain tax and other preferential benefits available to domestic companies.  Chinese policies can effectively require U.S. firms to localize research and development activities, practices documented in the March 2018 Section 301 Report released by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).  China remained on the Priority Watch List in the 2019 USTR Special 301 Report, and several Chinese physical and online markets were included in the 2018 USTR Notorious Markets Report.  For detailed information on China’s environment for IPR protection and enforcement, please see the following reports:

For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local intellectual property offices, please see the World Intellectual Property Organization’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en  

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

China’s leadership has stated that it seeks to build a modern, highly developed, and multi-tiered capital market.  Bank loans continue to provide the majority of credit options (reportedly around 81.4 percent in 2018) for Chinese companies, although other sources of capital, such as corporate bonds, equity financing, and private equity are quickly expanding their scope, reach, and sophistication in China.  In the past three years, Chinese regulators have taken measures to rein in the rapid growth of China’s “shadow banking” sector, which includes vehicles such as wealth management and trust products.  The measures have achieved positive results. The share of trust loans, entrust loans and undiscounted bankers’ acceptances dropped a total of 15.2 percent in total social financing (TSF) – a broad measure of available credit in China, most of which was comprised of corporate bonds. TSF’s share of corporate bonds jumped from a negative 2.31 percent in 2017 to 12.9 percent in 2018. Chinese regulators regularly use administrative methods to control credit growth, although market-based tools such as interest rate policy and adjusting the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) play an increasingly important role.

The People’s Bank of China (PBOC), China’s central bank, has gradually increased flexibility for banks in setting interest rates, formally removing the floor on the lending rate in 2013 and the deposit rate cap in 2015 – but is understood to still influence bank’s interest rates through “window guidance.”  Favored borrowers, particularly SOEs, benefit from greater access to capital and lower financing costs, as they can use political influence to secure bank loans, and lenders perceive these entities to have an implicit government guarantee.  Small- and medium-sized enterprises, by contrast, have the most difficulty obtaining financing, often forced to rely on retained earnings or informal investment channels.

In 2018, Chinese regulators have taken measures to improve financing for the private sector, particularly small, medium and micro-sized enterprises (SMEs).  On November 1, 2018, Xi Jinping held an unprecedented meeting with private companies on how to support the development of private enterprises. Xi emphasized to the importance of resolving difficult and expensive financing problems for private firms and pledged to create a fair and competitive business environment.  He encouraged banks to lend more to private firms, as well as urged local governments to provide more financial support for credit-worthy private companies. Provincial and municipal governments could raise funds to bailout private enterprises if needed. The PBOC increased the relending and rediscount quota of RMB 300 billion for SMEs and private enterprises at the end of 2018.  The government also introduced bond financing supportive instruments for private enterprises, and the PBOC began promoting qualified PE funds, securities firms, and financial asset management companies to provide financing for private companies. The China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission’s (CBIRC) Chairman said in an interview that one-third of new corporate loans issued by big banks and two-thirds of new corporate loans issued by small and medium-sized banks should be granted to private enterprises, and that 50 percent of new corporate loans shall be issued to private enterprises in the next three years.  At the end of 2018, loans issued to SMEs accounted for 24.6 percent of total RMB loan issuance. The share dropped 1 percent from 25.6 percent in 2017. Interest rates on loans issued by the six big state-owned banks – Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), China Construction Bank (CCB), Bank of China (BOC), Agriculture Bank of China (ABC), Bank of Communications and China Postal Savings Bank – to SMEs averaged 4.8 percent, in the fourth quarter of 2018, down from 6 percent in the first quarter of 2018.

Direct financing has expanded over the last few years, including through public listings on stock exchanges, both inside and outside of China, and issuing more corporate and local government bonds.  The majority of foreign portfolio investment in Chinese companies occurs on foreign exchanges, primarily in the United States and Hong Kong.  In addition, China has significantly expanded quotas for certain foreign institutional investors to invest in domestic stock markets; opened up direct access for foreign investors into China’s interbank bond market; and approved a two-way, cross-border equity direct investment scheme between Shanghai and Hong Kong and Shenzhen and Hong Kong that allows Chinese investors to trade designated Hong Kong-listed stocks through the Shanghai and Shenzhen Exchanges, and vice versa.  Direct investment by private equity and venture capital firms is also rising, although from a small base, and has faced setbacks due to China’s capital controls that complicate the repatriation of returns

Money and Banking System

After several years of rapid credit growth, China’s banking sector faces asset quality concerns.  For 2018, the China Banking Regulatory Commission reported a non-performing loans (NPL) ratio of 1.83 percent, higher than the 1.74 percent of NPL ratio reported the last quarter of 2017.  The outstanding balance of commercial bank NPLs in 2018 reached 2.03 trillion RMB (approximately USD295.1 billion).  China’s total banking assets surpassed 268 trillion RMB (approximately USD39.1 trillion) in December 2018, a 6.27 percent year-on-year increase.  Experts estimate Chinese banking assets account for over 20 percent of global banking assets.  In 2018, China’s credit and broad money supply slowed to 8.1 percent growth, the lowest published rate since the PBOC first started publishing M2 money supply data in 1986.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange Policies

While the central bank’s official position is that companies with proper documentation should be able to freely conduct business, in practice, companies have reported challenges and delays in getting foreign currency transactions approved by sub-national regulatory branches.  In 2017, several foreign companies complained about administrative delays in remitting large sums of money from China, even after completing all of the documentation requirements.  Such incidents come amid announcements that the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) had issued guidance to tighten scrutiny of foreign currency outflows due to China’s rapidly decreasing foreign currency exchange.  China has since announced that it will gradually reduce those controls, but market analysts expect they would be re-imposed if capital outflows accelerate again.

Under Chinese law, FIEs do not need pre-approval to open foreign exchange accounts and are allowed to retain income as foreign exchange or to convert it into RMB without quota requirements.  Foreign exchange transactions related to China’s capital account activities do not require review by SAFE, but designated foreign exchange banks review and directly conduct foreign exchange settlements.  Chinese officials register all commercial foreign debt and will limit foreign firms’ accumulated medium- and long-term debt from abroad to the difference between total investment and registered capital.  China issued guidelines in February 2015 that allow, on a pilot basis, a more flexible approach to foreign debt within several specific geographic areas, including the Shanghai Pilot FTZ.  The main change under this new approach is to allow FIEs to expand their foreign debt above the difference between total investment and registered capital, so long as they have sufficient net assets.

Chinese foreign exchange rules cap the maximum amount of RMB individuals are allowed to convert into other currencies at approximately USD50,000 each year and restrict them from directly transferring RMB abroad without prior approval from SAFE.  In 2017, authorities further restricted overseas currency withdrawals by banning sales of life insurance products and capping credit card withdrawals at USD5,000 per transaction.  SAFE has not reduced this quota, but during periods of higher than normal capital outflows, banks are reportedly instructed by SAFE to increase scrutiny over individuals’ requests for foreign currency and to require additional paperwork clarifying the intended use of the funds, with the express intent of slowing capital outflows.

China’s exchange rate regime is managed within a band that allows the currency to rise or fall by 2 percent per day from the “reference rate” set each morning.  In August 2015, China announced that the reference rate would more closely reflect the previous day’s closing spot rate.  Since that change, daily volatility of the RMB has at times been higher than in recent years, but for the most part, remains below what is typical for other currencies.  In 2017, the PBOC took additional measures to reduce volatility, introducing a “countercyclical factor” into its daily RMB exchange rate calculation.  Although the PBOC reportedly suspended the countercyclical factor in January 2018, the tool remains available to policymakers if volatility re-emerges.

Remittance Policies

The remittance of profits and dividends by FIEs is not subject to time limitations, but FIEs need to submit a series of documents to designated banks for review and approval.  The review period is not fixed, and is frequently completed within one or two working days of the submission of complete documents.  In the past year, this period has lengthened during periods of higher than normal capital outflows, when the government strengthens capital controls.

Remittance policies have not changed substantially since SAFE simplified some regulations in January 2014, devolving many review and approval procedures to banks.  Firms that remit profits at or below USD50,000 dollars can do so without submitting documents to the banks for review.

For remittances above USD50,000, the firm must submit tax documents, as well as the formal decision by its management to distribute profits.

For remittance of interest and principle on private foreign debt, firms must submit an application form, a foreign debt agreement, and the notice on repayment of the principle and interest.  Banks will then check if the repayment volume is within the repayable principle.

The remittance of financial lease payments falls under foreign debt management rules.  There are no specific rules on the remittance of royalties and management fees.  In August 2018, SAFE raised the reserve requirement for foreign currency transactions from zero to 20 percent, significantly increasing the cost of foreign currency transactions.  The reserve ratio was introduced in October 2015 at 20 percent, which was lowered to zero in September 2017.

The Financial Action Task Force has identified China as a country of primary concern.  Global Financial Integrity (GFI) estimates that over S1 trillion of illicit money left China between 2003 and 2012, making China the world leader in illicit capital flows.  In 2013, GFI estimated that another USD260 billion left the country.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

China officially has only one sovereign wealth fund (SWF), the China Investment Corporation (CIC).  Established in 2007, CIC manages over USD941.4 billion in assets (as of 2017) and invests on a 10-year time horizon.  China’s sovereign wealth is also invested by a subsidiary of SAFE, the government agency that manages China’s foreign currency reserves, and reports directly to the PBOC.  The SAFE Administrator also serves concurrently as a PBOC Deputy Governor.

CIC publishes an annual report containing information on its structure, investments, and returns.  CIC invests in diverse sectors like financial, consumer products, information technology, high-end manufacturing, healthcare, energy, telecommunication services, and utilities.

China also operates other funds that function in part like sovereign wealth funds, including: China’s National Social Security Fund, with an estimate USD341.4 billion in assets; the China-Africa Development Fund (solely funded by the China Development Bank), with an estimated USD5 billion; the SAFE Investment Company, with an estimated USD439.8 billion; and China’s state-owned Silk Road Fund, established in December 2014 with USD40 billion to foster investment in OBOR partner countries.  Chinese SWFs do not report the percentage of their assets that are invested domestically.

Chinese SWFs follow the voluntary code of good practices known as the Santiago Principles and participate in the IMF-hosted International Working Group on SWFs.  The Chinese government does not have any formal policies specifying that CIC invest funds consistent with industrial policies or in government-designated projects, although CIC is expected to pursue government objectives.  The SWF generally adopts a “passive” role as a portfolio investor.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

China has approximately 150,000 SOEs which are wholly owned by the state.  Around 50,000 (33 percent) are owned by the central government and the remainder by local governments.  The central government directly controls and manages 96 strategic SOEs through the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), of which around 60 are listed on stock exchanges domestically and/or internationally.  SOEs, both central and local, account for 30 to 40 percent of total GDP and about 20 percent of China’s total employment.  SOEs can be found in all sectors of the economy, from tourism to heavy industries.

SASAC regulated SOEs: http://www.sasac.gov.cn/n2588035/n2641579/n2641645/c4451749/content.html  .

China’s leading SOEs benefit from preferential government policies aimed at developing bigger and stronger “national champions.”  SOEs enjoy favored access to essential economic inputs (land, hydrocarbons, finance, telecoms, and electricity) and exercise considerable power in markets like steel and minerals.  SOEs have long enjoyed preferential access to credit and the ability to issue publicly traded equity and debt.

During the November 2013 Third Plenum of the 18th Party Congress – a hallmark session that announced economic reforms, including calling for the market to play a more decisive role in the allocation of resources – President Xi Jinping called for broad SOE reforms.  Cautioning that SOEs still will remain a key part of China’s economic system, Xi emphasized improved SOE operational transparency and legal reforms that would subject SOEs to greater competition by opening up more industry sectors to domestic and foreign competitors and by reducing provincial and central government preferential treatment of SOEs.  The Third Plenum also called for “mixed ownership” economic structures, providing greater economic balance between private and state-owned businesses in certain industries, including equal access to factors of production, competition on a level playing field, and equal legal protection.

At the 2018 Central Economic Work Conference, Chinese leaders said in 2019 they will promote a greater role for the market, as well as renewed efforts on reforming SOEs – to include mixed ownership reform.  In delivering the 2019 Government Work Report, Premier Li Keqiang pledged to improve corporate governance, including allowing SOE company boards, rather than SASAC, to appoint senior leadership. 

OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance

SASAC participates in the OECD Working Party on State Ownership and Privatization Practices (WPSOPP).  Chinese officials have indicated China intends to utilize OECD SOE guidelines to improve the professionalism and independence of SOEs, including relying on Boards of Directors that are independent from political influence.  However, despite China’s Third Plenum commitments in 2013 (i.e., to foster “market-oriented” reforms in China’s state sectors), Chinese officials and SASAC have made minimal progress in fundamentally changing the regulation and business conduct of SOEs.  China has also committed to implement the G-20/OECD Principles of Corporate Governance, which apply to all publicly-listed companies, including listed SOEs.

Chinese law lacks unified guidelines or a governance code for SOEs, especially among provincial or locally-controlled SOEs.  Among central SOEs managed by SASAC, senior management positions are mainly filled by senior CCP members who report directly to the CCP, and double as the company’s Party secretary

The lack of management independence and the controlling ownership interest of the State make SOEs de facto arms of the government, subject to government direction and interference.  SOEs are rarely the defendant in legal disputes, and when they are, they almost always prevail, presumably due to the close relationship with the CCP.  U.S. companies often complain about the lack of transparency and objectivity in commercial disputes with SOEs.  In addition, SOEs enjoy preferential access to a disproportionate share of available capital, whether in the form of loans or equity.

In its September 2015 Guiding Opinions on Deepening the Reform of State-Owned Enterprises, the State Council instituted a system for classifying SOEs as “public service” or “commercial enterprises.”  Some commercial enterprise SOEs were further sub-classified into “strategic” or “critically important” sectors (i.e., with strong national economic or security importance).  SASAC has said the new classification system would allow the government to reduce support for commercial enterprises competing with private firms and instead channel resources toward public service SOEs.

Other recent reforms have included salary caps, limits on employee benefits, and attempts to create stock incentive programs for managers that have produced mixed results.  However, analysts believe minor reforms will be ineffective as long as SOE administration and government policy are intertwined.

A major stumbling block to SOE reform is that SOE regulators are outranked in the CCP party structure by SOE executives, which minimizes SASAC and other government regulators’ effectiveness at implementing reforms.  In addition, SOE executives are often promoted to high-ranking positions in the CCP or local government, further complicating the work of regulators.

During the Third Plenum of the CCP’s 18th Central Committee, in 2013, the CCP leadership announced that the market would play a “decisive role” in economic decision making and emphasized that SOEs needed to focus resources in areas that “serve state strategic objectives.”  However, experts point out that despite these new SOE distinctions, SOEs continue to hold dominant shares in their respective industries, regardless of whether they are strategic, which may further restrain private investment in the economy.  Moreover, the application of China’s Anti-Monopoly Law, together with other industrial policies and practices that are selectively enforced by the authorities, protects SOEs from private sector competition.

China is not a party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) within the framework of the WTO, although Hong Kong is listed.  During China’s WTO accession negotiations, Beijing signaled its intention to join GPA.  And, in April 2018, President Xi announced his intent to join GPA, but no timeline has been given for accession.

Investment Restrictions in “Vital Industries and Key Fields”

The intended purpose of China’s State Assets Law is to safeguard and protect China’s economic system, promoting “socialist market economy” principles that fortify and develop a strong, state-owned economy.  A key component of the State Assets Law is enabling SOEs to play the leading role in China’s economic development, especially in “vital industries and key fields.”  To accomplish this, the law encourages Chinese regulators to adopt policies that consolidate SOE concentrations to ensure dominance in industries deemed vital to “national security” and “national economic security.” This principle is further reinforced by the December 2006 State Council announcement of the Guiding Opinions Concerning the Advancement of Adjustments of State Capital and the Restructuring of State-Owned Enterprises, which called for more SOE consolidation to advance the development of the state-owned economy, including enhancing and expanding the role of the State in controlling and influencing “vital industries and key fields relating to national security and national economic lifelines.”  These guidelines defined “vital industries and key fields” as “industries concerning national security, major infrastructure and important mineral resources, industries that provide essential public goods and services, and key enterprises in pillar industries and high-tech industries.”

Around the time the guidelines were published, the SASAC Chairman also listed industries where the State should maintain “absolute control” (e.g., aviation, coal, defense, electric power and the state grid, oil and petrochemicals, shipping, and telecommunications) and “relative control” (e.g., automotive, chemical, construction, exploration and design, electronic information, equipment manufacturing, iron and steel, nonferrous metal, and science and technology).  China has said these lists do not reflect its official policy on SOEs.  In fact, in some cases, regulators have allowed for more than 50 percent private ownership in some of the listed industries on a case-by-case basis, especially in industries where Chinese firms lack expertise and capabilities in a given technology Chinese officials deemed important at the time.

Parts of the agricultural sector have traditionally been dominated by SOEs.  Current agriculture trade rules, regulations, and limitations placed on foreign investment severely restrict the contributions of U.S. agricultural companies, depriving China’s consumers of the many potential benefits additional foreign investment could provide.  These investment restrictions in the agricultural sectors are at odds with China’s objective of shifting more resources to agriculture and food production in order to improve Chinese lives, food security, and food safety.

Privatization Program

At the November 2013 Third Plenum, the Chinese government announced reforms to SOEs that included selling shares of SOEs to outside investors.  This approach is an effort to improve SOE management structures, emphasize the use of financial benchmarks, and gradually take steps that will bring private capital into some sectors traditionally monopolized by SOEs like energy, telecommunications, and finance.  In practice, these reforms have been gradual, as the Chinese government has struggled to implement its SOE reform vision and often opted to utilize a preferred SOE consolidation approach. In the past few years, the Chinese government has listed several large SOEs and their assets on the Hong Kong stock exchange, subjecting SOEs to greater transparency requirements and heightened regulatory scrutiny.  This approach is a possible mechanism to improve SOE corporate governance and transparency. Starting in 2017, the government began pushing the mixed ownership model, in which private companies invest in SOEs and outside managers are hired, as a possible solution, although analysts note that ultimately the government (and therefore the CCP) remains in full control regardless of the private share percentage.  Over the last year, President Xi and other senior leaders have increasingly focused reform efforts on strengthening the role of the State as an investor or owner of capital, instead of the old SOE model in which the state was more directly involved in managing operations.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

General awareness of Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) standards (including environmental, social, and governance issues) is a relatively new concept to most Chinese companies, especially companies that exclusively operate in China’s domestic market.  Chinese laws that regulate business conduct use voluntary compliance, are often limited in scope and are frequently cast aside when RBC priorities are superseded by other economic priorities. In addition, China lacks mature and independent NGOs, investment funds, worker unions, worker organizations, and other business associations that promote RBC, further contributing to the general lack of awareness in Chinese business practices.

The Foreign NGO Law remains a concern for U.S. organizations due to the restrictions on many NGO activities, including promotion of RBC and corporate social responsibility (CSR) best practices.  For U.S. investors looking to partner with a Chinese company or to expand operations by bringing in Chinese suppliers, finding partners that meet internationally recognized standards in areas like labor, environmental protection, worker safety, and manufacturing best practices can be a challenge.  However, the Chinese government has placed greater emphasis on protecting the environment and elevating sustainability as a key priority, resulting in more Chinese companies adding environmental concerns to their CSR initiatives.

In 2014, China signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the OECD to cooperate on RBC initiatives.  This MOU, however, does not require or necessarily mean that Chinese companies will adhere to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.  Industry leaders have pushed for China to comply with OECD guidelines and establish a national contact point or RBC center.  As a result, MOFCOM in 2016 launched the RBC Platform, which serves as the national contact point on RBC issues and supplies information to companies about RBC best practices in China.

In 2014, China participated in the OECD’s RBC Global Forum, including hosting a workshop in Beijing in May 2015.  Policy developments from the workshops included incorporation of human rights into social responsibility guidelines for the electronics industry; referencing the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights; mandating social impact assessments for large footprint projects; and agreeing to draft a new law on public participation in environmental protection and impact assessments.

The MOFCOM-affiliated Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Metals, Minerals, and Chemical Importers and Exporters (CCCMC) also signed a separate MOU with the OECD in October 2014, to help Chinese companies implement RBC policies in global mineral supply chains.  In December 2015, CCCMC released Due Diligence Guidelines for Responsible Mineral Supply Chains, which draw heavily from the OECD Due Diligence Guidelines.  China is currently drafting legislation to regulate the sourcing of minerals, including tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold, from conflict areas.  China is not a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), but Chinese investors participate in EITI schemes where these are mandated by the host country.

9. Corruption

Corruption remains endemic in China.  The lack of an independent press, along with the lack of independence of corruption investigators, who answer to and are managed by the CCP, all hamper the transparent and consistent application of anti-corruption efforts.

Chinese anti-corruption laws have strict penalties for bribes, including accepting a bribe, which is a criminal offense punishable up to life imprisonment or death in “especially serious” circumstances.  Offering a bribe carries a maximum punishment of up to five years in prison, except in cases with “especially serious” circumstances, when punishment can extend up to life in prison.

In August 2015, the NPC amended several corruption-related parts of China’s Criminal Law.  For instance, bribing civil servants’ relatives or other close relationships is a crime with monetary fines imposed on both the bribe-givers and the bribe-takers; bribe-givers, mainly in minor cases, who aid authorities can be given more lenient punishments; and instead of basing punishments solely on the specific amount of money involved in a bribe, authorities now have more discretion to impose punishments based on other factors.

In February 2011, an amendment was made to the Criminal Law, criminalizing the bribing of foreign officials or officials of international organizations.  However, to date, there have not been any known cases in which someone was successfully prosecuted for offering this type of bribe.

In March 2018, the NPC approved the creation of the National Supervisory Commission (NSC), a new government anti-corruption agency that resulted from the merger of the Ministry of Supervision and the CCP’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).  The NSC absorbed the anti-corruption units of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and those of the National Bureau of Corruption Prevention.  In addition to China’s 89 million CCP members, the new commission has jurisdiction over all civil servants and employees of state enterprises, as well as managers in public schools, hospitals, research institutes, and other public service institutions.  Lower-level supervisory commissions have been set up in all provinces, autonomous regions, municipalities, and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps.  The NPC also passed the State Supervision Law, which provides the NSC with its legal authorities to investigate, detain, and punish public servants.

The CCDI remains the primary body for enforcing ethics guidelines and party discipline, and refers criminal corruption cases to the NSC for further investigation.

President Xi Jinping’s Anti-Corruption Efforts

Since President Xi’s rise to power in 2012, China has undergone an intensive and large-scale anti-corruption campaign, with investigations reaching into all sectors of the government, military, and economy.  President Xi labeled endemic corruption as an “existential threat” to the very survival of the CCP that must be addressed.  Since then, each CCP annual plenum has touched on judicial, administrative, and CCP discipline reforms needed to thoroughly root out corruption.  Judicial reforms are viewed as necessary to institutionalize the fight against corruption and reduce the arbitrary power of CCP investigators, but concrete measures have emerged slowly.  To enhance regional anti-corruption cooperation, the 26th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Ministers Meeting adopted the Beijing Declaration on Fighting Corruption in November 2014.

According to official statistics, from 2012 to 2018 the CCDI investigated 2.17 million cases – more than the total of the preceding ten years.  In 2018 alone, the CCP disciplined around 621,000 individuals, up almost 95,000 from 2017.  However, the majority of officials only ended up receiving internal CCP discipline and were not passed forward for formal prosecution and trial.  A total of 195,000 corruption and bribery cases involving 263,000 people were heard in courts between 2013 and 2017, according to the Supreme People’s Court.  Of these, 101 were officials at or above the rank of minister or head of province.  In 2018, a large uptick of 51 officials at or above the provincial/ministerial level were disciplined by the NSC.  One group heavily disciplined in recent years has been the discipline inspectors themselves, with the CCP punishing more than 7,900 inspectors since late-2012.  This led to new regulations being implemented in 2016 by CCDI that increased overall supervision of its investigators.

China’s overseas fugitive-hunting campaign, called “Operation Skynet,” has led to the capture of more than 5,000 fugitives suspected of corruption.  In 2018 alone, CCDI reported that 1,335 fugitives suspected of official crimes were apprehended, including 307 corrupt officials mainly suspected for graft.  Anecdotal information suggests the Chinese government’s anti-corruption crackdown oftentimes is inconsistently and discretionarily applied, raising concerns among foreign companies in China.  For example, to fight rampant commercial corruption in the medical/pharmaceutical sector, China’s health authority issued “black lists” of firms and agents involved in commercial bribery.  Several blacklisted firms were foreign companies.  Additionally, anecdotal information suggests many Chinese government officials responsible for approving foreign investment projects, as well as some routine business transactions, are slowing approvals to not arouse corruption suspicions, making it increasingly difficult to conduct normal commercial activity.

While central government leadership has welcomed increased public participation in reporting suspected corruption at lower levels, direct criticism of central government leadership or policies remains off-limits and is seen as an existential threat to China’s political and social stability.  Some citizens who have called for officials to provide transparency and public accountability by disclosing public and personal assets, or who have campaigned against officials’ misuse of public resources, have been subject to criminal prosecution.

United Nations Anti-Corruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combating Bribery

China ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2005 and participates in APEC and OECD anti-corruption initiatives.  China has not signed the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery, although Chinese officials have expressed interest in participating in the OECD Working Group on Bribery meetings as an observer.

Resources to Report Corruption

The following government organization receives public reports of corruption:

Anti-Corruption Reporting Center of the CCP Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and the Ministry of Supervision, Telephone Number: +86 10 12388.

10. Political and Security Environment

The risk of political violence directed at foreign companies operating in China remains low.  Each year, government watchdog organizations report tens of thousands of protests throughout China.  The government is adept at handling protests without violence, but given the volume of protests annually, the potential for violent flare-ups is real.  Violent protests, while rare, have generally involved ethnic tensions, local residents protesting corrupt officials, environmental and food safety concerns, confiscated property, and disputes over unpaid wages.

In recent years, the growing number of protests over corporate M&A transactions has increased, often because disenfranchised workers and mid-level managers feel they were not included in the decision process.  China’s non-transparent legal and regulatory system allows the CCP to pressure or punish foreign companies for the actions of their governments. The government has also encouraged protests or boycotts of products from certain countries, like Korea, Japan, Norway, Canada, and the Philippines, in retaliation for unrelated policy decisions.  Examples of politically motivated economic retaliation against foreign firms include boycott campaigns against Korean retailer Lotte in 2016 and 2017 in retaliation for the decision to deploy the Thermal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) to the Korean Peninsula, which led to Lotte closing and selling its China operations; and high-profile cases of gross mistreatment of Japanese firms and brands in 2011 and 2012 following disputes over islands in the East China Sea.  Recently, some reports suggest China has retaliated against some Canadian companies and products as a result of a domestic Canadian legal issue that impacted a large Chinese enterprise.

There have also been some cases of foreign businesspeople that were refused permission to leave China over pending commercial contract disputes.  Chinese authorities have broad authority to prohibit travelers from leaving China (known as an “exit ban”) and have imposed exit bans to compel U.S. citizens to resolve business disputes, force settlement of court orders, or facilitate government investigations.  Individuals not directly involved in legal proceedings or suspected of wrongdoing have also been subject to lengthy exit bans in order to compel family members or colleagues to cooperate with Chinese courts or investigations. Exit bans are often issued without notification to the foreign citizen or without a clear legal recourse to appeal the exit ban decision.

In the past few years, Chinese authorities have detained or arrested several foreign nationals, including American citizens, and have refused to notify the U.S. Embassy or allow access to the American citizens detained for consular officers to visit.  These trends are in direct contravention of recognized international agreements and conventions.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

For U.S. companies operating in China, finding adequate human resources remains a major challenge.  Finding, developing, and retaining domestic talent, particularly at the management and highly-skilled technical staff levels, remain difficult challenges often cited by foreign firms.  In addition, labor costs continue to be a concern, as salaries along with other inputs of production have continued to rise. Foreign companies also continue to cite air pollution concerns as a major hurdle in attracting and retaining qualified foreign talent to relocate to China.  These labor concerns contribute to a small, but growing, number of foreign companies relocating from China to the United States, Canada, Mexico, or other parts of Asia.

Chinese labor law does not protect rights such as freedom of association and the right of workers to strike.  China to date has not ratified the United Nations International Labor Organization conventions on freedom of association, collective bargaining, and forced labor, but it has ratified conventions prohibiting child labor and employment discrimination.  Foreign companies often complain of difficulty navigating China’s ever-evolving labor laws, social insurance laws, and different agencies’ implementation guidelines on labor issues. Compounding the complexity, local characteristics and the application by different localities of national labor laws often vary.

Although required by national law, labor contracts are often not used by domestic employers with local employees.  Without written contracts, employees struggle to prove employment, thus losing basic labor rights like claiming severance and unemployment compensation if terminated, as well as access to publicly-provided labor dispute settlement mechanisms.  Similarly, regulations on agencies that provide temporary labor (referred to as “labor dispatch” in China) have tightened, and some domestic employers have switched to hiring independent service provider contractors in order to skirt the protective intent of these regulations.  These loopholes incentivize employers to skirt the law because compliance leads to substantially higher labor costs. This is one of many factors contributing to an uneven playing field for foreign firms that compete against domestic firms that circumvent local labor laws.

Establishing independent trade unions is illegal in China.  The law allows for worker “collective bargaining”; however, in practice, collective bargaining focuses solely on collective wage negotiations – and even this practice is uncommon.  The Trade Union Law gives the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), a CCP organ chaired by a member of the Politburo, control over all union organizations and activities, including enterprise-level unions.  The ACFTU’s priority task is to “uphold the leadership of the Communist Party,” not to protect workers’ rights or improve their welfare. The ACFTU and its provincial and local branches aggressively organize new constituent unions and add new members, especially in large multinational enterprises, but in general, these enterprise-level unions do not actively participate in employee-employer relations.  The absence of independent unions that advocate on behalf of workers has resulted in an increased number of strikes and walkouts in recent years.

ACFTU enterprise unions issue a mandatory employer-borne cost of 2 percent of payroll for membership.  While labor laws do not protect the right to strike, “spontaneous” worker protests and work stoppages occur with increasing regularity, especially in labor intensive and “sunset” industries (i.e., old and declining industries such as low-end manufacturing).  Official forums for mediation, arbitration, and other similar mechanisms of alternative dispute resolution have generally been ineffective in resolving labor disputes in China.  Some localities actively discourage acceptance of labor disputes for arbitration or legal resolution. Even when an arbitration award or legal judgment is obtained, getting local authorities to enforce judgments is problematic.

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

In the aftermath of the Chinese crackdown on Tiananmen Square demonstrations in June 1989, the United States suspended Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) programs in China.  OPIC honors outstanding political risk insurance contracts. The Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, an organization affiliated with the World Bank, provides political risk insurance for investors in China.  Some foreign commercial insurance companies also offer political risk insurance, as does the People’s Insurance Company of China.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

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

Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2018 (*) $13,239,840 2017 $12,238,000 www.worldbank.org/en/country   
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S.  FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 (**) $82,500 2017 $107,556 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 (**) $67,400 2017 $39,518 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2017 (**) %16.4 2017 12.6% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx  

*China’s National Bureau of Statistics (90.031 trillion RMB converted at 6.8 RMB/USD estimate)
** Statistics gathered from China’s Ministry of Commerce official data


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $2,688,470 100% Total Outward N/A 100%
China, PR: Hong Kong $1,242,441 46.21% N/A N/A N/A
Brit Virgin Islands $285,932 10.64% N/A N/A N/A
Japan $164,765 6.13% N/A N/A N/A
Singapore $107,636 4.00% N/A N/A N/A
Germany $86,945 3.23% N/A N/A N/A
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Source: IMF Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS)


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

Nissa Felton
Investment Officer – U.S.  Embassy Beijing Economic Section
55 Anjialou Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, P.R.  China
+86 10 8531 3000
EMail: beijinginvestmentteam@state.gov

Other Useful Online Resources

Chinese Government

United States Government

Pakistan

Executive Summary

Despite a relatively open foreign investment regime, Pakistan remains a challenging environment for foreign investors.  An improving but unpredictable security situation, difficult business climate, lengthy dispute resolution processes, poor intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement, and inconsistent taxation policies have contributed to lower Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), as compared to regional competitors.  Pakistan ranked 136 out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 rankings, gaining 11 places from 2018.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government elected in July 2018 pledged to improve Pakistan’s economy, restructure tax collection, enhance trade and investment, and eliminate corruption.  Since taking power, the PTI government has faced a rapidly expanding current account deficit and declining foreign reserves.  Due to the inherited balance of payments crisis, the PTI government has worked on immediate needs to acquire external financing rather than medium- to long-term structural reforms.  Progress has been slow on key structural reforms including broadening the tax base, reforming the tax authority, and privatizing state owned enterprises.  Current tax policies negatively affect large businesses, as the government relies heavily on them for meeting its tax collection targets.  The PTI government has not announced new policies to attract FDI yet, but is reportedly working on a five-year FDI strategy.  The strategy reportedly aims to gradually increase FDI to USD 7.4 billion by Fiscal Year (FY) 2022-23.

The United States has consistently been one of the largest sources of FDI in Pakistan and one of its most significant trading partners.  Two-way trade in goods between the United States and Pakistan exceeded USD 6.6 billion in 2018, a record for bilateral trade, and included a 4.3-percent increase in U.S. exports to Pakistan.  Agriculture remained the largest growth area for U.S. exports.  The Karachi-based American Business Council, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has 65 U.S. member companies, most of which are Fortune 500 companies operating in Pakistan across a range of industries.  The Lahore-based American Business Forum – which has 25 founding members and 18 associate members – also assists U.S. investors.  American companies have profitable investments across a range of sectors, notably, but not limited to, fast-moving consumer goods and financial services.  Other sectors attracting U.S. interest include franchising, information and communications technology (ICT), thermal and renewable energy, and healthcare services.

In 2003, the United States and Pakistan signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) to serve as a key forum for bilateral trade and investment discussion.  The TIFA seeks to address impediments to greater trade and investment flows and increase economic linkages between our respective business interests.  Themost recent TIFA meeting was held in October 2016 in Islamabad, led by United States Trade Representative Michael Froman.  The last TIFA intersessional, a working level meeting to review the decisions taken in TIFA, was in June 2017 in Washington.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 117 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 136 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 109 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $518 http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita (USD) 2017 $1,580 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

In the past decade, Pakistan was unable to attract sufficient foreign investments to support desired growth objectives and remains a low priority country for foreign investors.  The previous government recognized Pakistan’s need for foreign investment and introduced an Investment Policy, in 2013, to attract foreign investment and also signed an economic co-operation agreement with China, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), in April 2015.  CPEC is focused mainly on infrastructure and energy production.  Given that several large CPEC energy projects went online in 2018, Pakistan’s government has been able to develop sufficient power generation capacity in the country, though deficiencies in the transmission and distribution network remain.

The previous government also introduced incentives, which remain in place under the current PTI government, through the Strategic Trade Policy Framework (STPF) and Export Enhancement Packages (EEP).  These incentives are largely industry-specific and include tax breaks, tax refunds, tariff reductions, the provision of dedicated infrastructure, and investor facilitation services.  The current government is reportedly working on its own STPF, but has not announced a new policy.  Pakistan also designated special economic zones (SEZs), which the PTI government continues to develop, which offer a separate basket of incentives to potential investors.  None of the SEZs are fully operational, but they have attracted some investment and are available to any company, domestic or foreign.

Net inflows of FDI peaked at USD 5.4 billion in fiscal year FY2008.  [Note:  Pakistan’s fiscal year in runs from July 1 to June 30.  End Note.]  In FY2018, net FDI was USD 3.1 billion, approximately 14.8 percent higher than FY2017.  According to the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), the largest share of FDI (USD 997 million) was in the power sector (largely due to Chinese FDI in CPEC projects), followed by USD 708 million in the construction sector, and USD 400 million in financial business.  Most analysts believe that the improved security environment, large energy projects under CPEC, and improvements in macroeconomic stability have played a key role in the improvement of FDI in FY2018.  China remained the single largest FDI contributor in Pakistan, contributing more than 58 percent of Pakistan’s total FDI in FY2018.  During the last five years, cumulative FDI inflows remained USD 10 billion, over 81 percent in non-manufacturing sectors.  Since the PTI government started in 2018, Pakistan has signed Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Malaysia.  These MoUs agreed to bring investments of over USD 21 billion, largely in the areas of energy, agriculture and oil and gas exploration.

Notwithstanding the substantial increase in Chinese FDI, non-Chinese sources are limited.  Compared to the region, low FDI is attributed to Pakistan offering competitive returns in only a few sectors.  For example, multinational companies in the consumer goods sector have witnessed steady profits, while pharmaceuticals have been obstructed by opaque and restrictive government regulations.  Power companies have also experienced an uptick in business since CPEC, but mostly by conventional energy providers; renewable energy providers have encountered obstacles in the form of inconsistent and discouraging policies from regulators.  The current government is working on introducing new energy policy for the next 25 years.  It aims to have 20-30 percent share of all energy come from renewable energy by 2030, compared to the current share of 2-3 percent.  The ICT sector has risen steadily, albeit from a relatively low base.  Growth has come from companies engaged in outsourcing services and software development.

Pakistan has a low tax-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio of approximately 13 percent in FY2018, which slightly increased from FY2017.  [Note:  For comparison, OECD countries averaged 32-34 percent over the past decade.  End Note]  Pakistan relies heavily on multinational corporations for a significant portion of the tax collections.  Foreign investors in Pakistan regularly report that both federal and provincial tax regulations are difficult to navigate.  The World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 report notes that companies pay 47 different taxes, compared to an average of 24.8 in other South Asian countries.  On average, calculating these payments requires that business spend on average over 293 hours per year.  In addition, companies frequently lament the lack of transparency in the assessment of taxes.  Since 2013, the government has requested advance tax payments from companies, complicating businesses’ operations as the government intentionally delays tax refunds.

The Foreign Private Investment Promotion and Protection Act, 1976, and the Furtherance and Protection of Economic Reforms Act, 1992, provide legal protection of foreign investors and investment in Pakistan.  All sectors and activities are open for foreign investment unless specifically prohibited or restricted for reasons of national security and public safety.  Specified restricted industries include arms and ammunitions; high explosives; radioactive substances; securities, currency and mint; and consumable alcohol.

The specialized investment promotion agency of Pakistan is the Board of Investment (BOI).  The BOI is responsible for the promotion of investment, facilitating local and foreign investors for implementation of their projects, and to enhance Pakistan’s international competitiveness.  They assist companies and investors who intend to invest in Pakistan and facilitate the implementation and operation of their projects.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

The 2013 Investment Policy eliminated minimum initial capital investment requirements across sectors so that no minimum investment requirement or upper limit on the share of foreign equity is allowed, with the exception of the airline, banking, agriculture, and media sectors.  Foreign investors in the services sector may retain 100 percent equity – subject to obtaining permission, a no objection certificate, or license from the concerned agency, as well as fulfilling the requirements of respective sectoral policy.  In the education, health, and infrastructure sectors, 100 percent foreign ownership is allowed, while in the agricultural sector, the threshold is 60 percent – with an exception for corporate agriculture farming, where 100 percent ownership is allowed.  There are no restrictions on payments of royalties and technical fees for the manufacturing sector, but there are restrictions on other sectors, including a USD 100,000 limit on initial franchise investments and a cap on subsequent royalty payments of 5 percent of net sales for five years.  Royalties and technical payments are subject to a 15 percent income tax, and subject to remittance restrictions listed in Chapter 14, section 12 of the SBP Foreign Exchange Manual (http://www.sbp.org.pk/fe_manual/index.htm ).  The tourism, housing, construction, and information and communications technology sectors have been granted “industry status,” eligible for lower tax and utility rates compared to “commercial sector” enterprises, including banks and insurance companies.  Small-scale mining valued at less than PKR 300 million (roughly USD 2.6 million) is restricted to Pakistani investors.

With the exception of arms, ammunition, high explosives, radioactive substances, private security companies, currency, and consumable alcohol, foreign investors are allowed in all sectors.  There are no restrictions or mechanisms that specifically exclude U.S. investors.

Since signing the World Trade Organization (WTO) Financial Services Agreement in December 1997, Pakistan’s financial services commitments have improved.  Foreign banks can establish locally incorporated subsidiaries and branches, provided they have USD 5 billion or belong to one of the regional organizations or associations to which Pakistan is a member (e.g., Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) or the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)).  Absent these requirements, foreign banks are limited to a 49-percent maximum equity stake in locally incorporated subsidiaries.  Foreign and local banks must submit an annual branch expansion plan to the SBP for approval.  The SBP approves branch openings based on the bank’s net worth, adequacy of capital structure, future earnings prospects, credit discipline, and the needs of the local population.  All banks are required to open 20 percent of their new branches in small cities, towns, and villages.

The Foreign Private Investment Promotion and Protection Act stipulates that foreign investments will not be subject to higher income taxes than similar investments made by Pakistani citizens.  While Pakistan’s legal code and economic policy do not discriminate against foreign investments, enforcement of contracts remains problematic due to a weak and inefficient judiciary.  Pakistani courts have not upheld some international arbitration awards.

Pakistan maintains investment screening mechanisms for inbound foreign investment.  The BOI is the lead organization for such screening.  Pakistan blocks foreign investments if the screening process determines the investment could negatively affect Pakistan’s national security.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Pakistan has not undergone any third-party investment policy reviews in last three years.  The International Monetary Fund assessed the nation’s overall macro economy under Article-IV consultation in 2018; however, that review was not specific to investment policy.

Business Facilitation

Pakistan works with the World Bank to improve its overall ease of doing business standing.  The government has simplified pre-registration and registration facilities and automated land records to simplify property registrations.  To improve cross border trade, it has also improved electronic submissions and processing of trade documents.  Even so, Pakistan ranked 130 out of 190 countries in the World Bank Doing Business 2019 report’s “Starting a Business” category.  Pakistan is ranked 26 out of 190 for protecting minority investors.  Starting a business in Pakistan normally involves 10 procedures and takes at least 16.5 days.

The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) manages company registrations.  Both foreign and domestic companies begin the registration by providing a company name and paying the requisite registration fees to the SECP.  Companies then supply documentation on the proposed business, including information on corporate offices, location of company headquarters, and a copy of the company charter.  Companies must apply for national tax numbers with the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to facilitate payment of income and sales taxes.  Industrial or commercial establishments with five or more employees must register with Pakistan’s Federal Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI) for social security purposes.  Depending on the location, registration with provincial governments may be required.

The SECP website (www.secp.gov.pk ) offers the Virtual One Stop Shop (OSS) where companies can register with the SECP, FBR, and EOBI simultaneously.  OSS is also available for foreign investors.

The government’s investment policy provides both domestic and foreign investors the same incentives, concessions, and facilities for industrial development.  Though some incentives are included in the federal budget, the government relies on Statutory Regulatory Orders (SROs) for industry specific taxes or incentives.  For example, an SRO issued in February 2019 imposed additional labeling requirements for imported goods, creating non-tariff barriers.

Outward Investment

Pakistan does not promote or incentivize outward investment.  Although the government does not explicitly prohibit Pakistanis from investing abroad, the process of approvals is so cumbersome it normally takes years, discouraging potential investors.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Though U.S.-Pakistan Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) negotiations began in 2004 and closed the text in 2012, the agreement has not been signed due to reservations from Pakistani stakeholders.  According to the BOI, Pakistan has signed BITs with 49 countries with only 27 entered into force.

Pakistan does not have a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with United States.  However, both countries have Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in place.  Pakistan has trade agreements with China, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Iran, Mauritius, and Indonesia.  It is also a signatory of the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) and the Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA).  Pakistan is negotiating FTAs with Turkey and Thailand and re-negotiating its existing FTA with China.

A U.S.-Pakistan bilateral tax treaty was signed in 1959.  Pakistan has double taxation agreements with 63 other countries and a multilateral tax treaty between the SAARC countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) came into force in 2011.  The treaty provides additional provisions for the administration of taxes.  In 2018, Pakistan updated its tax treaty with Switzerland and has approached the United States government to request the same.

In 2016, Pakistan signed the OECD’s Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters.  The Convention will help Pakistan exchange banking details with the other 80 signatory countries to locate untaxed money in foreign banks.  Pakistan is a member of the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) framework and will automatically exchange country-by-country reporting as required by the BEPS package.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Since the 2010 introduction of the 18th amendment to Pakistan’s constitution, foreign companies must address provincial, and sometimes local, government laws in addition to national law.  Respective regulatory authorities conduct in-house post-implementation reviews for regulations in consultation with relevant stakeholders.  However, these assessments are not made publicly available.  Prior to implementation, non-government sectors and private sector associations can provide feedback to the government on different laws and policies, but authorities are not bound to collect nor implement their suggestions.  Many foreign businesses in Pakistan complain about the inconsistencies in laws and policies from different regulatory authorities.  Since the implementation of the 18th amendment, which devolved certain powers from the federal to provincial governments, inconsistencies have affected sales of U.S. companies, particularly in food and beverages; the two largest provinces, Punjab and Sindh, have different regulations for beverages.  However, there are no rules or regulations in place that discriminate specifically against U.S. investors.

The SECP is the main regulatory body for foreign companies in Pakistan.  However, the SECP is not the sole regulator.  Company financial transactions are regulated by SBP, labor by the Social Welfare or EOBI, and specialized functions are overseen by bodies such as the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority or Alternate Energy Development Board.  Each body is overseen by autonomous management but all are required to go through the Ministry of Law and Justice before submitting their policies and laws to parliament or, in some cases, the executive branch; parliament or the Prime Minister is the final authority for any operational or policy related legal changes.

The SECP is technically empowered to notify accounting standards to companies in Pakistan.  Pakistan has adopted most, though not all, International Financial Reporting Standards.  Though most of Pakistan’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms, execution and implementation is inefficient and opaque.

Most draft legislations are made available for public comment but there is no centralized body to collect public responses.  The relevant authority gathers public comments, if deemed necessary; otherwise legislation is directly submitted to the legislative branch.  For business and investment laws and regulations, the Ministry of Commerce collects feedback from local chambers and associations – such as the American Business Council and Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OICCI).  Rather than publishing regulations online for public review, the Ministry relies on stakeholder discussion forums for comment.

The government publishes limited debt obligations in the budget document in two broad categories: capital receipts and public debt, which are published in the “Explanatory Memorandum on Federal Receipts.”  These documents are available at http://www.finance.gov.pk , http://www.fbr.gov.pk , and http://www.sbp.org.pk/edocata .  The government does not adequately disclose the terms of bilateral debt obligations, including financing on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects.

International Regulatory Considerations

Pakistan has bilateral trade agreements with China, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Mauritius, and Sri Lanka, although most are limited to a few hundred tariff lines and do not cover all trade.  It is negotiating additional trade agreements with Turkey and Thailand.  Pakistan is a member of the South Asia Free Trade Area, SAARC, the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC), and Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO).

Pakistan has been a World Trade Organization (WTO) member since January 1, 1995, and provides most favored nation (MFN) treatment to all member states, except India and Israel.  Since 2012, the government has maintained a “negative” list of products that cannot be imported from India.  The list contains approximately 1,200 products.  Pakistan does not recognize the State of Israel and thus does not trade with Israel.

In October 2015, Pakistan ratified the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).  Pakistan is one of 23 WTO countries negotiating the Trade in Services Agreement.  Pakistan notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Most international norms and standards incorporated in Pakistan’s regulatory system are influenced by British laws.  Laws governing domestic or personal matters are strongly influenced by Islamic Sharia Law.  Of the two courts – superior (high) courts and the subordinate (lower) courts – the superior judiciary is composed of the Supreme Court, the Federal Sharia Court, and five High Courts (Lahore High Court, Sindh High Court, Balochistan High Court, Islamabad High Court, and Peshawar High Court), and decisions have national standing.  The Supreme Court is Pakistan’s highest court and has jurisdiction over the provincial courts, referrals from the federal government, and cases involving disputes among provinces or between a province and the federal government.  A 2015 constitutional amendment allows military courts to try civilians for terrorism, sectarian violence, and other charges; parliament renewed this authority in January 2017 for an additional two years, which lapsed in March 2019.  The sitting PTI government favors an extension of these courts for another two years but opposition benches are not supportive.  For extension, parliament needs a two-thirds majority to pass the bill, which the PTI government lacks.  Additionally, the government also use special civilian terrorism courts to try a wide range of cases, not necessarily limited to terrorism, including any crimes involving violence and acts or speech deemed by the government to foment religious hatred, including blasphemy.  The lower courts are composed of civil and criminal district courts, as well as various specialized courts, including courts devoted to banking, intellectual property, customs and excise, smuggling, drug trafficking, terrorism, tax law, environmental law, consumer protection, insurance, and cases of corruption.  Pakistan’s judiciary is influenced by the government and other stakeholders.  The lower judiciary is influenced by the executive branch and seen as lacking competence and fairness.  It currently faces a significant backlog of unresolved cases.

Pakistan has a written contractual/commercial law with the Contract Act of 1872 as the main source for regulating Pakistani contracts.  English decisions, where relevant, are also cited in courts.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Pakistan’s investment and corporate laws permit wholly-owned subsidiaries with 100 percent foreign equity in all sectors of the economy, subject to obtaining relevant permissions.  In the education, health, and infrastructure sectors, 100 percent foreign ownership is allowed.  In the agricultural sector, the threshold is 60 percent, with an exception for corporate agriculture farming, where 100 percent ownership is allowed.  A majority of foreign companies operating in Pakistan are “private limited companies,” which are incorporated with a minimum of two shareholders and two directors registered with the SECP.

While there are no regulatory requirements on the residency status of company directors, the chief executive must reside in Pakistan to conduct day-to-day operations.  If the chief executive is not a Pakistani national, she or he is required to obtain a multiple entry work visa.  Companies operating in Pakistan are statutorily required to retain full-time audit services and legal representation.  Companies must also register any changes to the name, address, directors, shareholders, CEO, auditors/lawyers, and other pertinent details to the SECP within 15 days of the change.

To address long process delays, in 2013, the SECP introduced the issuance of a provisional “Certificate of Incorporation” prior to the final issuance of a “No Objection Certificate” (NOC).  The Certificate includes a provision noting that company shares will be transferred to another shareholder if the foreign shareholder(s) and/or director(s) fails to obtain a NOC.

Pakistan’s judicial system allows specialized tribunals as a means of alternative dispute resolution.  Special tribunals are able to address taxation, banking, labor, and IPR enforcement disputes.  However, due to an active but weak and inefficient judiciary, most foreign investors include contract provisions that provide for international arbitration to avoid protracted disputes.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Established in 2007, the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) ensures private and public sector organizations are not involved in any anti-competitive or monopolistic practices.  Complaints regarding anti-competition practices can be lodged with CCP, which conducts the investigation and is legally empowered to award penalties; complaints are reviewable by the CCP appellate tribunal in Islamabad and the Supreme Court of Pakistan.  The CCP appellate tribunal is required to issue decisions on any anti-competition practice within six months from the date in which it becomes aware of the practice.

Expropriation and Compensation

Two Acts, the Protection of Economic Reforms Act 1992 and the Foreign Private Investment Promotion and Protection Act 1976, protect foreign investment in Pakistan from expropriation, while the 2013 Investment Policy reinforced the government’s commitment to protect foreign investor interests.  Pakistan does not have a strong history of expropriation.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Pakistan is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).  Pakistan ratified the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention) in 2005.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

In 2008, the Pakistani government instituted a Rental Power Plant (RPP) plan to help alleviate the chronic power shortages throughout the country.  Walters Power International Limited was a participant in three RPP plants and brought the power generation equipment into Pakistan to service these plants.  Subsequently, in 2010, the Supreme Court of Pakistan nullified all RPP contracts due to widespread corruption in cash advances made to RPP operators.  Walters Power International Limited settled with the Pakistan National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the Central Power Generation Company Limited by returning advance payments plus interest.  In mid-2012, NAB formally acknowledged that settlement with the Walters Power International Limited had been made, which under Pakistani law released Walters Power International Limited from any further liability, criminal or civil, and should have permitted re-export of equipment.

However, the Government of Pakistan has (a) refused to allow the plant be exported so that some salvage value could be obtained, and (b) prevented the plant to operate despite critical need for power in the country.  This plant was internationally advertised in a competitive bidding process and went through seven levels of regulatory approvals.  Despite repeated efforts by Walters Power International Limited, NAB has declined to instruct the appropriate parties to issue a Notice of Clearance to Pakistan Customs to allow the re-export of the equipment.  Walters Power International Limited alleges that the unreasonable delay in permitting re-export of equipment following settlement constitutes expropriation.  The case is still pending with NAB.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Foreign investors lament the lack of clear, transparent, and timely investment dispute mechanisms.  Protracted arbitration cases are a major concern.  Pakistan’s Arbitration Act of 1940 provides guidance for arbitration in commercial disputes, but cases typically take years to resolve.  To mitigate such risks, most foreign investors include contract provisions that provide for international arbitration.

Pakistan is not a signatory of any treaty or investment agreement in which binding international arbitration of investment disputes is required.  With the exception of arbitration, there is no alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanism available as a means for settling disputes between two private parties.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Pakistan was ranked 53 of 190 for ease of “resolving insolvency” rankings in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 report.  On average, Pakistan requires 2.6 years to resolve insolvency issues and has a recovery rate of 44.5 percent.

Pakistan does not have a single, comprehensive bankruptcy law.  Foreclosures are governed under the Companies Act 2017 and administered by the SECP, while the Banking Companies Ordinance of 1962 governs liquidations of banks and financial institutions.  Court-appointed liquidators auction bankrupt companies’ property and organize the actual bankruptcy process, which can take years to complete.

The Companies Act 2017 regulates mergers and acquisitions.  Mergers are allowed between international companies, as well as between international and local companies.  In 2012, the government enacted legislation for friendly and hostile takeovers.  The law requires companies to disclose any concentration of share ownership over 25 percent.  There are no laws or regulations authorizing private firms to adopt articles of incorporation discriminating against foreign investment.

Pakistan has no dedicated credit monitoring authority.  However, SBP has authority to monitor and investigate the quality of the credit commercial banks extend.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Pakistan currently does not provide any formal investment incentives such as grants, tax credits or deferrals, access to subsidized loans, or reduced cost of land to individual foreign investors.  The 2013 investment policy revolves around business facilitation and not direct incentives.  However, in 2016, the government reduced or eliminated custom duties on the imports of equipment and machinery and introduced temporary tariff concessions for the automobile manufacturing sector.  The government does not offer research and development incentives.  Nonetheless, certain technology-focused industries, including information technology and solar energy, benefit from a wide range of fiscal incentives.

In general, the government does not issue guarantees or jointly finance foreign direct investment projects.  However, the government made an exception for CPEC related projects; the Government of Pakistan provided sovereign guarantees for the investment and returns, and provided joint financing for specific projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Providing unique fiscal and institutional incentives exclusively for export-oriented industries, the government established the first Export Processing Zone (EPZ) in Karachi in 1989.  Subsequently, EPZs were established in Risalpur, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Saindak, Gwadar, RekoDek, and Duddar; today, only Karachi, Risalpur, Sialkot, and Saindak remain operational.  EPZs offer investors tax and duty exemptions on equipment, machinery, and materials (including components, spare parts, and packing material); indefinite loss carry-forward; and access to the EPZ Authority (EPZA) “Single Window,” which facilitates import and export authorizations.  The 2012 Special Economic Zones Act allows both domestically focused and export-oriented enterprises to establish companies and public-private partnerships within SEZs.  Despite offering substantial financial, investor service, and infrastructure benefits to reduce the cost of doing business, Pakistan’s SEZs have struggled to attract investment due to lack of basic infrastructure.

Pakistan intends to establish nine SEZs under China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).  The government plans to inaugurate the first one in Rashakai, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in June 2019.  Most CPEC SEZs remain in nascent stages of development.

Apart from SEZ-related incentives, the government offers special incentives for Export-Oriented Units (EOU) – a stand-alone industrial entity exporting 100 percent of its production.  Export-Oriented Units incentives include duty and tax exemptions for imported machinery and raw materials, as well as the duty-free import of vehicles.  Export-Oriented Units are allowed to operate anywhere in the country.  Pakistan provides the same investment opportunities to foreign investors and local investors.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Foreign business officials have struggled to get business visas to Pakistan.  When permitted, business people typically received single-entry visas with a short duration validity.  Once in country, Pakistan required NOCs to visit locations outside of Islamabad, Karachi, or Lahore, making it difficult to inspect factories, supply chains, or goods outside of these three cities.  Pakistan announced updates to its visa and NOC policies to attract foreign tourists and businesspeople, but the more open polices have not been fully implemented.  New visa policies will not apply to U.S. passport holders.  Technical and managerial personnel working in sectors that are open to foreign investments are typically not required to obtain special work permits.  The new NOC policy permits travel throughout Pakistan, with exceptions for travel near Pakistan’s borders that still requires an NOC.

Foreign investors are not required to use domestic content in goods or technology or hire Pakistani nationals, either as laborers or as representatives on the company’s board of directors.  Likewise, there are no specific performance requirements for foreign entities operating in the country, and the same investment incentives are available to both local and foreign investors.  Similarly, there are no special performance requirements on the basis of origin of the investment.

Foreign investors are allowed to sign technical agreements with local investors without disclosing proprietary information.  According to the country’s 2013 Investment Policy, manufacturers introducing new technologies that are unavailable in Pakistan receive the same incentives available to companies operating in Pakistan’s SEZs.

The embassy has not received complaints regarding encryption issues from IT companies operating in Pakistan.  Officially, accreditation from the Electronic Certification Accreditation Council (under the Ministry of Information Technology) is required for entities using encryption and cryptography services, though it is not consistently enforced.  Despite the company’s April 2016 announcement that it would employ end-to-end encryption, WhatsApp is widely used.  The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) initially demanded unfettered access to Research in Motion’s BlackBerry customer information, but the issue was resolved when the company agreed to assist law enforcement agencies in the investigation of criminal activities.  PTA and SBP prohibit telecom and financial companies from transferring customer data overseas.  Other data, including emails, can be legally transmitted and stored outside the country.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Though Pakistan’s legal system supports the enforcement of property rights and both local and foreign owner interests, it offers incomplete protection for the acquisition and disposition of property rights.  With the exception of the agricultural sector, where foreign ownership is limited to 60 percent, no specific regulations regarding land lease or acquisition by foreign or non-resident investors exists.  Corporate farming by foreign-controlled companies is permitted if the subsidiaries are incorporated in Pakistan.  There are no limits on the size of corporate farmland holdings, and foreign companies can lease farmland for up to 50 years, with renewal options.

The 1979 Industrial Property Order safeguards industrial property in Pakistan against government use of eminent domain with insufficient compensation for both foreign and domestic investors.  The 1976 Foreign Private Investment Promotion and Protection Act guarantees the remittance of profits earned through the sale or appreciation in value of property.

Though protection for legal purchasers of land are provided, even if unoccupied, clarity of land titles remains a challenge.  Improvements to land titling have been made by the Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial governments dedicating significant resources to digitizing land records.

Intellectual Property Rights

The Government of Pakistan has identified intellectual property rights (IPR) protection as a key economic reform and has taken concrete steps over the past 15 years to strengthen its IPR regime.  In 2005, Pakistan created the Intellectual Property Organization (IPO) to consolidate government control over trademarks, patents, and copyrights.  Three ministries handled these areas previously: the Ministry of Education for copyright, Ministry of Commerce for trademarks, and the Ministry of Industries for patents.  The IPO’s mission also includes coordinating and monitoring the enforcement and protection of IPR through law enforcement agencies.  Enforcement agencies include local police, the Federal Investigation Agency, customs officials at the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), the Securities & Exchange Commission (SECP), the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP), the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP), and the Print and Electronic Media Regulatory Authority.

Although the creation of the IPO consolidated policy-making institutions, confusion surrounding enforcement agencies’ roles still constrains IPO performance on IPR enforcement, leaving IPR holders struggling to identify the right forum in which to address IPR infringement.  The IPO constituted seven new enforcement coordination committees for better IPR enforcement and signed an MOU with the FBR to share information.  The IPO is in initial stages to sign MOUs with the CCP and SECP.  However, the IPO labors to coordinate disparate bodies under current laws.  Weak penalties and agencies’ redundancies allow counterfeiters to evade punishment, while companies struggle to identify the correct forum to file complaints.  Pakistan is the fourth largest source of counterfeit and pirated goods seized by U.S. customs and border protection.

In 2016, Pakistan established three specialized IP tribunals – in Karachi covering Sindh and Balochistan, in Lahore covering Punjab, and in Islamabad covering Islamabad and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.  There are plans to create tribunals for Peshawar and Quetta as well.  The Lahore and Islamabad IP tribunals became fully operational in 2016, and the Karachi tribunal came online in April 2017.  The IP tribunals have already ruled on 800 cases, many of which have resulted in injunction orders.  Numerous U.S. companies have successfully defended their IPR in the new tribunals, but a lack of capacity and consistency of the presiding officers remains a concern.  In under three years, the Islamabad and Lahore tribunals have each seated three different presiding officers while Karachi had two, and high court justices without expertise in IP law often overrule tribunals’ decisions.  While these three tribunals are fully operational and have improved IPR enforcement, they have not made any major rulings, and it remains too early to assess their long-term influence on Pakistan’s IPR environment.

In 2018, the CCP investigated and imposed a fine of USD 47,000 on a local coffee house on charges of unauthorized use of the Starbucks trademark.

Pakistan has sought to encourage investment in the seed industry through enhanced regulatory structure.  Over the past three years officials have revised the 1976 Seed Act, cautiously resumed  the biotechnology approval process, and received parliamentary approval of the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act (approved December 2016), which, once implementing rules are written, is expected to provide Pakistan’s first-ever intellectual property protection for seeds.  While current and potential investors have expressed concern over enforcement capacity and would like to accelerate the approval process for new technologies, the Government of Pakistan is taking steps to solidify federal (rather than provincial) oversight of the sector and respond to industry input.  Access to modern seed technology is vital to the development of Pakistan’s agricultural sector.

Pakistan is a party to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works and is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).  In July 2004, Pakistan acceded to the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property.  Pakistan has not yet ratified the WIPO Copyright Treaty or the WIPO Performance and Phonograms Treaty.

In 2016, Pakistan was upgraded from Priority Watch List to Watch List with an Out-of-Cycle Review on the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 Report.  Pakistan currently remains on the Watch List for the 2019 Special 301 Report, which acknowledged certain achievements by the government but highlighted the lack of enforcement on violations, particularly with respect to copyrights, pharmaceutical data, and media piracy.  Pakistan is not included on the Notorious Markets List.

Pakistan does not track and report on seizure of counterfeit goods.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Government of Pakistan does not provide any investment incentives except the incentives offered to attract new capital inflows in specialized sectors and SEZs.  These incentives for specific sector and SEZs include tax exemptions, tariffs reductions, infrastructure, and investor facilitation services in designated special economic zones.  Since 1997, Pakistan has established and maintained a largely open investment regime.  The PML-N government introduced the Investment Policy 2013 that further liberalized investment policies in most sectors.  However, in addition to expressing concern about the deteriorating law and order situation, foreign investors continue to advocate for Pakistan to improve legal protections for foreign investments, protect intellectual property rights, and an established a clear and consistent policy of upholding contractual obligations and settlement of tax disputes.

Pakistan’s three stock exchanges (Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi) merged to form the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSE) in January 2016.  As a member of the Federation of Euro-Asian Stock Exchanges and the South Asian Federation of Exchanges, PSE is also an affiliated member of the World Federation of Exchanges and the International Organization of Securities Commissions.  In 2016, the government imposed a capital gains tax of 10 percent on stocks held for less than six months, and eight percent on stocks held for more than six months but less than a year and no capital gains tax for holdings that exceed 12 months.  However, in 2017, the government modified the capital gain tax and imposed 15 percent on stocks held for less than 12 months, 12.5 percent on stocks held for more than 12 but less than 24 months, and 7.5 percent on stocks held for more than 24 months.  The 2012 Capital Gains Tax Ordinance appointed the National Clearing Company of Pakistan Limited to compute, determine, collect, and deposit the capital gains tax.  Per the Foreign Exchange Regulations, foreign investors can invest in shares and securities listed on the PSE and can repatriate profits, dividends, or disinvestment proceeds.  The investor must open a Special Convertible Rupee Account with any bank in Pakistan in order to make portfolio investments.

The free flow of financial resources for domestic and foreign investors is supported by financial sector policies, with the SBP and SECP providing regulatory oversight of financial and capital markets.  Interest rates depend on the reverse repo rate (also called the policy rate).  The SBP steadily lowered the policy rate from a high of 10 percent at the fourth quarter 2014 to 6 percent in November 2017, but has increased the rate to 10.75 percent in March 2019.

Pakistan has adopted and adheres to international accounting and reporting standards – including IMF Article VIII, with comprehensive disclosure requirements for companies and financial sector entities.

Foreign-controlled manufacturing, semi-manufacturing (i.e. goods that require additional processing before marketing), and non-manufacturing concerns are allowed to borrow from the domestic banking system without regulated limits.

The banks are required to ensure that total exposure to any domestic or foreign entity should not exceed 25 percent of banks’ equity with effect from December 2013.  Foreign-controlled (minimum 51 percent equity stake) semi-manufacturing concerns (i.e., those producing goods that require additional processing for consumer marketing) are permitted to borrow up to 75 percent of paid-up capital, including reserves.

For non-manufacturing concerns, local borrowing caps are set at 50 percent of paid-up capital.  While there are no restrictions on private sector access to credit instruments, few alternative instruments are available beyond commercial bank lending.  Pakistan’s domestic corporate bond, commercial paper and derivative markets remain in early stages of development.  There are a limited number of venture capitalists operating in Pakistan.

Money and Banking System

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) is the central bank of Pakistan.

According to the most recent statistics published by the SBP, only 23 percent of the adult population uses formal banking channels to conduct financial transactions while 24 percent are informally served by the banking sector.  The remaining 53 percent of the adult population do not use any formal financial services.

The overall financial sector has done well in Pakistan over the last few years.  The SBP’s December 2018 banking sector review noted improving asset quality, stable liquidity, robust solvency, and increased investment in the banking sector.  The asset base of the banking sector expanded by 7.3 percent during 2018.  The risk profile of the banking sector remained satisfactory because profitability and asset quality improved as the non-performing loans to gross loans (infection) rate declined to its lowest level in a decade, 8 percent, at the end of 2018.

The five largest banks, one of which is state owned, control 52.3 percent of all banking sector assets.  In 2018, total assets of the banking industry were USD 140.6 billion[1].  As of December 2018, net non-performing bank loans totaled approximately USD 785.7 million – 1.4 percent of net total loans.

The penetration of foreign banks in Pakistan is relatively low and do not account for a significant portion of the local banking industry and overall economy.  According to a study conducted by the World Bank Group in 2018, the share of foreign banks to GDP stands at 3.5 percent.  In the wake of the global financial crisis, foreign banks have scaled down their operations and businesses in Pakistan mainly due to policies to shrink operations in small and struggling markets.  Banks closing down or limiting their operations included the Royal Bank of Scotland and Citibank, which sold its consumer banking portfolio to Habib Bank Limited and restricted its operations to corporate banking.  Other foreign banks operating in Pakistan are Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank, Samba Bank, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Bank of Tokyo, and the newly established Bank of China.

International banks are involved in two major types of international activities: cross-border flows, and foreign participation in domestic banking systems through brick-and-mortar operations.

SBP requires that foreign banks hold at minimum USD 300 million in capital reserves at their Pakistan flagship location, and maintain at least an eight percent capital adequacy ratio.  In addition, foreign banks are required to maintain the following minimum capital requirements, which vary based on the number of branches they are operating:

  • 1 to 5 branches: USD 28 million in assigned capital;
  • 6 to 50 branches: USD 56 million in assigned capital;
  • Over 50 branches: USD 94 million in assigned capital.

Foreigners require proof of residency – a work visa, company sponsorship letter, and valid passport – to establish a bank account in Pakistan.  There are no further other restrictions to prevent foreigners from opening and operating a bank account.  However, most foreigners prefer to use a foreign bank to conduct their banking transactions.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

SBP maintains strict controls over the exchange rate and monitors foreign exchange transactions in the open market.  Banks are required to report and justify outflows of foreign currency.  Travelers leaving or entering Pakistan are allowed to physically carry a maximum of USD 10,000 in cash.  While cross-border payments of interest, profits, dividends, and royalties are allowed without submitting prior notification, banks are required to report loan information so SBP can verify remittances against repayment schedules.  Exchange companies are permitted to buy and sell foreign currency for individuals, banks, and other exchange companies, and can also sell foreign currency to incorporated companies to facilitate the remittance of royalty, franchise, and technical fees.  Exchange companies are playing an increasingly important role in facilitating remittances from Pakistanis working overseas.

There is no clear policy on convertibility of funds associated with investment to other global currencies.  SBP deals with such cases and opts for an ad-hoc approach on a case to case and situational basis.

The embassy has provided advocacy for U.S. companies that have struggled to repatriate their profits.  Although no formal policy bars profit repatriation, U.S. companies have faced delays in repatriation from the SBP.

The Ministry of Finance and the SBP jointly manage Pakistan’s exchange rate.  Even though the exchange rate is determined by the market, over the past few years the SBP has intervened to stabilize the exchange rate or manage its decline.  Falling foreign exchange reserves have constrained the SBP’s ability to directly intervene in the market by injecting dollars into it.

Remittance Policies

The 2001 Income Tax Ordinance of Pakistan exempts taxes on any amount of foreign currency remitted from outside Pakistan through normal banking channels.  Remittance of full capital, profits, and dividends over USD 5 million are permitted while dividends are tax-exempt.  No limits exist for dividends, remittance of profits, debt service, capital, capital gains, returns on intellectual property, or payment for imported equipment in Pakistani law.  However, large transactions that have the potential to influence Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves require approval from the government’s Economic Coordination Committee.  Similarly, banks are required to account for outflows of foreign currency.  Investor remittances must be registered with the SBP within 30 days of execution and can only be made against a valid contract or agreement.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Pakistan does not have its own sovereign wealth fund (SWF) and no specific exemptions for foreign SWFs exist in Pakistan’s tax law.  Foreign SWFs are taxed like any other non-resident person unless specific concessions have been granted under an applicable tax treaty to which Pakistan is a signatory.

[1] Even though the value of total assets has increased in PKR, due to devaluation of the rupee, the converted number in USD has decreased from 2017.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The second round of the Government of Pakistan’s extensive 15-year privatization campaign came to an abrupt halt after 2006 when the Supreme Court reversed a proposed deal for the privatization of Pakistan Steel Mills, setting a precedent for future offerings.  As a result, large and inefficient state-owned enterprises (SOEs) retain monopolistic powers in a few key sectors, requiring the government to provide annual subsidies to cover SOE losses.  Three of the country’s largest SOEs include Pakistan Railways (PR), Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), and Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM).  According to the IMF, the total debt of SOEs now amounts to 3.6 percent of GDP (almost USD 10 billion) in 2018.

There are 197 SOEs in the power, oil and gas, banking and finance, insurance, and transportation sectors.  Some are profitable; others suffer losses.  They provide stable employment and other benefits for more than 420,000 workers.  According to the IMF, in 2018, Pakistan’s total debts and liabilities for SOEs exceeded PKR 1.2 trillion (USD 10 billion), or 3.6 percent of GDP – a 22 percent increase since 2016, but roughly the same since 2017.  Some SOEs have governing boards, but they are not effective.

The following links provides details of the Government of Pakistan’s privatized transactions over the past 18 years since 1991.  http://privatisation.gov.pk/?page_id=125 

SOEs competing in the domestic market receive non-market based advantages from the host government.  Two examples include PIA and PSM, which are operating at loss, but the Government of Pakistan continues to provide them with financial bailout packages.  The embassy is not aware of any negative impact to the U.S firms in this regard.

PR is the only provider of rail services in Pakistan and the largest public sector employer, with approximately 90,000 employees.  PR’s freight traffic has declined by over 75 percent since 1970 and only about 250 of PR’s 458 locomotives are serviceable.  PR has attempted to recapture the market share previously ceded to the trucking industry, and in 2016, the company purchased 55 new locomotives from GE for its freight operations.  PR has received commitments for USD 8.2 billion in CPEC loans and grants to modernize its mail rail lines.  PR relies on monthly government subsidies of approximately USD 2.8 million to cover its ongoing obligations.  In FY2018, government payments to PR totaled approximately USD 321 million.  Pakistan no longer intends to privatize PR, and the Privatization Commission has removed it from the list of SOEs identified for privatization.

Even though the government is still publicly committed to privatizing its national airline, the process has been stalled since early 2016 when three labor union members were killed during a violent protest of the government’s decision to convert PIA into a limited company.  The move would have allowed shares to be transferred to a non-government entity and pave the way for privatization.  The legislature eventually passed a bill, but it requires that the Pakistan government retain 51 percent equity in the airline in the event it is privatized, reducing the attractiveness of the company to potential investors.  In 2018, the Government of Pakistan extended bailout packages worth USD 300 million to PIA.

Established to avoid importing foreign steel, PSM has accumulated losses of approximately USD 3.77 billion per annum.  The company loses USD 5 million a week, and has not produced steel since June 2015, when the national gas company cut power supplies due to over USD 340 million in outstanding bills.  Like PIA, the government attempted to privatize PSM under the IMF program but was stymied by domestic and political opposition.  The government is reportedly considering leasing or selling a portion of PSM’s 19,000 acres, coupled with a basket of incentives that would provide for a 10-year tax holiday and duty-free import of any machinery and equipment upgrades to potential leases.

The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) introduced corporate social responsibility (CSR) voluntary guidelines in 2013, though adherence to the OECD guidelines is not known.

Privatization Program

Terms to purchase public shares of SOEs and financial institutions for both foreign and local investors are the same.  Under the 2013 IMF EFF program, the government identified 31 SOEs for either partial or total privatization.  In 2015, the government successfully offloaded stakes in several banks and publicly traded firms, and in 2016 sold its 40 percent stakes in PSE.  However, due to significant political resistance, the government postponed plans to privatize its largest and most inefficient SOEs, namely PIA, PSM, and several power generation and distribution companies.

Eight SOEs from the banking, energy, mining, and hospitality sectors are scheduled to be privatized by the end of 2019.  Foreign investors can participate after following guidelines established by the Privatization Commission.

The Privatization Commission (PC) claims the privatization process to be a transparent, easy to understand, and non-discriminatory 17 step process, available on its website: http://privatisation.gov.pk/?page_id=88 

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is no unified set of standards defining responsible business conduct in Pakistan.  Though large companies, especially multi-national corporations, have an awareness of responsible business conduct standards, there is a lack of wider awareness.  The Pakistani government has not established standards or strategic documents specifically defining responsible business conduct standards and goals.  The Ministry of Human Rights published its most recent “Action Plan for Human Rights” in May 2017.  Although it does not specifically address responsible business conduct or business and human rights, one of its six thematic areas of focus is implementation of international and UN treaties.  Pakistan is signatory to nearly all International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions.

In late 2016 and early 2017, a series of explosions and a fire, occurred at the Gadani shipbreaking yards in Balochistan.  The incidents underscored the lack of safety and environmental standards in the industry.  The Prime Minister’s office launched a probe into the 2016 explosion and concluded that negligence by ship owners and government officials caused the incident.  The government suspended officials found guilty of negligence, and announced that families of the incident’s victims would receive compensation.  A subsequent January 2017 fire prompted officials to halt the scrapping of oil and liquid petroleum gas tankers at the shipyard.

International organization, civil society, NGO, and labor union contacts all note that there is a lack of adequate implementation and enforcement of labor laws.  Some NGOs, worker organizations, and business associations are working to promote responsible business conduct, but not on a wide scale.

Pakistan does not have domestic measures requiring supply chain due diligence for companies sourcing minerals originating from conflict-affected areas and does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and/or the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.

9. Corruption

Pakistan was ranked 117 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index.  Following the institution of the 18th Amendment, corruption at the provincial level has increased, according to Transparency International.  The organization noted that corruption problems persist due to the lack of accountability and enforcement of penalties, followed by the lack of merit-based promotion, and relatively low salaries.

Bribes are criminal acts punishable by law but exist at all levels of government.  Although high courts are widely viewed as more credible, lower courts are often considered corrupt, inefficient, and subject to pressure from prominent wealthy, religious, and political figures.  Political involvement in judicial appointments increases the government’s influence over the court system.

NAB, Pakistan’s anti-corruption organization, suffers from insufficient funding and staffing.  Like NAB, the CCP’s mandate also includes anti-corruption authorities, but its effectiveness is also hindered by resource constraints.

Resources to Report Corruption

Justice (R) Javed Iqbal
Chairman
National Accountability Bureau
Ataturk Avenue, G-5/2, Islamabad
+92-51-111-622-622
chairman@nab.gov.pk

Sohail Muzaffar
Chairman
Transparency International
5-C, 2nd Floor, Khayaban-e-Ittehad, Phase VII, D.H.A., Karachi
+92-21-35390408-9
pakistan@gmail.com

10. Political and Security Environment

Despite improvements to the security situation in recent years, the presence of foreign and domestic terrorist groups within Pakistan continues to pose a significant danger to U.S. interests and citizens.  Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting transportation hubs, markets, shopping malls, military installations, airports, universities, tourist locations, schools, hospitals, places of worship, and government facilities.  The embassies of many countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, have issued travel advisories regarding travel to Pakistan, and many multinational companies operating in Pakistan employ private security and risk management firms to mitigate the significant threats to their business operations.  Even with improvements in the security situation, terrorist attacks remain frequent in Pakistan.  Despite high levels of violence in Karachi, carried out by criminal gangs with alleged political affiliations, targeted killings have largely declined since Pakistan’s paramilitary Rangers began an intensive campaign of operations in 2013 to counter violent crime.

The BOI, in collaboration with Provincial Investment Promotion Agencies, has coordinated airport-to-airport security and secure lodging for foreign investors.  To inquire about this service, investors can contact the BOI for additional information.

The embassy is not aware of any damage to projects and/or installations.  Abductions/kidnappings of foreigners for ransom remains a concern.

While security challenges exist in Pakistan, the country has not grown increasingly politicized or insecure in the past year.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Pakistan has a complex system of labor laws.  Due to the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, the provinces manage jurisdiction over labor matters.  Each province is in the process of developing its own labor law regime, and the provinces are at different stages of labor law development.

In the Islamabad Capital Territory and provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh, the minimum wage for unskilled workers is PKR 15,000 per month (USD 106).  In Punjab, it is PKR 16,500 per month (USD 118), while in Baluchistan PKR 14,000 per month (USD 100).  Legal protections for laborers are also uneven across provinces, and implementation of labor laws is weak nationwide.  Lahore inspectorates have inadequate resources, which lead to inadequate frequency and quality of labor inspections.  On January 23, 2019, the Punjab Provincial Assembly passed the Punjab Domestic Workers Act 2019.  The law prohibits the employment of children under age 15 as domestic workers, and stipulates that children between 15 and 18 may only perform part-time, non-hazardous household work.  The law also mandates a series of protections and benefits, including limits to the number of hours worked weekly, and paid sick and holiday leave.  On January 25, 2017, the Sindh Provincial Assembly passed the Sindh Prohibition of Employment of Children Act, 2017.  The Senate passed the Domestic Workers (Employment Rights) Act in March 2016 (http://www.senate.gov.pk/uploads/documents/1390294147_766.pdf ), but the bill has not progressed in the National Assembly.  An amendment to the federal Employment of Children Act, 1991, which would raise the minimum age of employment to sixteen, has been pending in the National Assembly since January 2016.

According to Pakistan’s most recent labor force survey (conducted 2017-2018), the civilian workforce consists of approximately 65.5 million workers.  Women are extremely under-represented in the labor force.  The survey estimated overall labor participation at approximately 45 percent, with male participation at 68 percent and female participation at 20 percent.  The largest percentage of the labor force works in the agricultural sector (38.5 percent), followed by the services (38 percent), and industry/manufacturing (16 percent) sectors.  The official unemployment rate continued to hover at around 6 percent, but the figure is likely significantly higher for youth.  In 2018, the UN Population Fund estimated that 29 percent of Pakistan’s population was between the ages of 10 and 24 and according to 2017-18 labor force survey estimates unemployment for 15 to 24 year old was 10.5 percent.

Pakistan is a labor exporter, particularly to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.  According to Pakistan’s Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment’s 2018 “Export of Manpower Analysis,” the bureau had registered more than 10.5 million Pakistanis going abroad for employment since 1971, with more than 96 percent traveling to GCC countries.  Pakistanis working overseas sent more than USD 19 billion in remittances each year between 2015 and 2018.

Pakistani government contacts say their workforce is insufficiently skilled.  Federal and provincial government initiatives such as the National Vocational and Technical Training Commission and the Punjab government’s Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority aim to increase the employability of the Pakistani workforce.  However, the ILO’s 2016-2020 Pakistan Decent Work Country Programme notes that “Neither a comprehensive national policy nor coherent provincial policies for skills and entrepreneurship development are being applied.”

The ILO’s 2016-2020 Pakistan Decent Work Country Program notes that “a small fraction of vulnerable workers are covered by social security in one form or another, while access to comprehensive social protection systems is also limited.”  The ILO’s 2014 Decent Work Country Profile states that in 2013, only 9.4 percent of the economically active population – excluding public sector employees – were contributing to formal social security systems such as old age, survivors’, and disability pensions.

Freedom of association is guaranteed under article 17 of Pakistan’s constitution.  However, the ILO indicates that the Pakistani state and employers have used “disabling legislation and repressive tactics” to make union formation and collective bargaining “extremely difficult.”  The Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research in its 2015 “Status of Labour Rights in Pakistan” noted that according to non-official data, there were 949 registered trade unions with a total membership of 1,865,141 – approximately four percent of the total estimated labor force.  Provincial labor departments are responsible for managing trade union and industrial labor disputes.  Each province has its own industrial relations legislation, and each has labor courts to adjudicate disputes.  Public sector workers, such as teachers and public health workers, have spearheaded recent strikes.

The ILO’s 2016-2020 Pakistan Decent Work Country Programme states that “exploitative labour practices in the form of child and bonded labour remain pervasive…” and notes “the absence of reliable and comprehensive data to accurately assess the situation of hazardous child labour, worst forms of child labour, or forced labour.”  The report also identifies weak compliance with, and enforcement of, labor laws and regulations as contributing to poor working conditions – including unhealthy and unsafe workplaces –and the erosion of worker rights.

The Balochistan government, in collaboration with ILO, supported tripartite consultations regarding the Balochistan Prohibition of Employment of Children Bill.  The draft legislation prohibits employment of children in 39 worst forms of labor or hazardous labor, including domestic labor.  Negotiations were ongoing as of March 2018, and NGO and international organization contacts said they expected the Provincial Assembly to enact the law in 2018.

Pakistan is a Generalized System of Preferences beneficiary, which requires labor standards to be upheld.

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) maintains an active portfolio of projects worth USD 352.7 million in Pakistan, including new investments in microfinance and hospital care in rural Pakistan.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

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

Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2018 $299,099 2017 $304,952 https://data.worldbank.org/country/pakistan 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $136 2017 $518 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $27 2017 $224 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 1.3% 2017 14.1% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx 

* Source for Host Country Data: All host country statistical data used from State Bank of Pakistan which publishes data on a monthly basis.


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Direct Investment From/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $42,447 100% Total Outward $1,928 100%
United Kingdom $12,378 29.2% United Arab Emirates $487 25.3%
Switzerland $6,221 14.7% Bangladesh $211 10.9%
Netherlands $3,891 9.2% United Kingdom $184 9.5%
China,P.R. Mainland $2,972 7% Bahrain $145 7.5%
Japan $2,065 4.9% Kenya $80 4.1%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $462.5 100% All Countries $151.8 100% All Countries $310.7 100%
Saudi Arabia $126.6 27.4% Saudi Arabia $121.2 79.8% UAE $107.9 34.7%
UAE $108.5 23.5% United Kingdom $10.1 6.6% USA $71.2 22.9%
USA $78.1 16.9% British Virgin Islands $9.6 6.3% Indonesia $39.4 12.7%
Indonesia $39.4 8.5% USA $6.9 4.5% Oman $26.6 8.6%
Oman $26.6 5.8% Luxemburg $1.03 0.68% Qatar $14.8 4.8%

14. Contact for More Information

Christopher Elms
Economic Officer
U.S. Embassy Islamabad
Diplomatic Enclave, Ramna 5
Islamabad, Pakistan
Phone: (+92) 051-201-4000
Email: ElmsC@state.gov

Turkey

Executive Summary

Turkey provided an appealing market for investors for more than a decade.  It experienced strong economic growth on the back of the many positive economic and banking reforms it implemented between 2002 and 2007.  After the global economic crisis of 2008-2009, Turkey continued to attract substantial investment as a relatively stable emerging market with a promising trajectory of reforms and a strong banking system. 

Despite this progress, over the last several years, economic and democratic reforms have stalled and in some cases regressed.  Starting in 2011, Turkey has seen nine years of gross domestic product (GDP) growth. GDP growth was 7.4 percent in 2017 mainly due to government stimulus programs, but it fell to 2.6 percent in 2018 as the economy entered a recession in the second half of the year.  While the Government of Turkey projects 2.3 percent GDP growth in 2019, many economists project negative growth. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts the GDP to contract by 2.5 percent in 2019. According to sceptics, the government’s economic policymaking remains opaque, irregular, and sometimes politicized.  These factors contributed to a fall in the value of the lira, in addition to inflation of more than 20 percent and unemployment rates over 13 percent. The state of emergency, which had been in effect since the coup attempt in July 2016, ended in July 2018.  

Turkey transitioned to a presidential system in July 2018, following a referendum in 2017 and presidential election in June 2018.  The opacity of government decision making, lack of confidence in the independence of the central bank, and concerns about the government’s commitment to the rule of law, combined with high levels of foreign exchange-denominated debt held by Turkish non-financial corporates, have made foreign investors cautious leading to historically low levels of foreign direct investment (FDI).   

While there are more than 1,700 U.S. businesses active in Turkey, many with long-standing ties to the country, the number of U.S. companies is relatively low given the size of the Turkish economy.  Despite the challenging investment climate, there are still positive growth prospects. Some established U.S. companies have increased investment in Turkey in the technology, consumer goods, and aerospace sectors.  According to some businesses, due to economic challenges and concerns about the rule of law, arbitrary detentions, and lack of predictability on the political front, many existing firms slowed new investment, and only a few new firms entered the market in 2018.  While there was substantial investment in 2018, investment is projected to continue to slow going forward. 

The most positive aspects of Turkey’s investment climate are its favorable demographics and prime geographical position, providing access to multiple regional markets.  Turkey is also an island of relative stability and growth potential in a turbulent region, making it a desirable hub for regional operations. Turkey has a relatively educated work force, well-developed infrastructure, and a resilient consumption-based economy. 

Reportedly, the most negative aspects of Turkey’s investment climate are geopolitical risk and concern over the deterioration of the rule of law and security environment.  Many observers remain concerned about transparency, corruption, and reduced judicial independence. In the past few years, especially after the July 2016 coup attempt, the government apparently marginalized critics, confiscated over 1,100 companies worth more than USD 11 billion, and removed more than 130,000 civil servants, often on terrorism-related charges alleging association with Fethullah Gulen.  The political focus on transitioning to a presidential system, cross-border military operations in Syria, the worsening economic climate, and persistent questions about the relationship between the United States and Turkey as well as Turkey’s relationship with the European Union (EU), all may negatively affect consumer confidence and investment in the future.

Turkey’s willingness to make progress on needed structural economic reforms will remain key for the country.  Government officials will need to make difficult political choices to liberalize the market to align with the goal of modernizing Turkey’s EU Customs Union agreement, itself impacted by worsening relations with EU member states.  The government’s push to require manufacturing and data localization in many sectors also impacts foreign investment into the country. Other import issues include tax reform and the decreasing independence of the judiciary and the Central Bank.  Turkey hosts 3.5 million Syrian refugees, which creates an additional economic burden on the country as the government provides services such as education and healthcare to refugees.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 78 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/cpi2018
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2018 43 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 50 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator

 

U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $4,300 http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/

 

World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $10,940 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Turkey acknowledges that it needs to attract significant new foreign direct investment (FDI) to meet its ambitious development goals, as well as finance its current account deficit.  As a result, Turkey has one of the most liberal legal regimes for FDI in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). According to the Central Bank of Turkey’s balance of payments data, Turkey attracted a total of USD 6.5 billion of FDI in 2018, almost USD 1 billion down from USD 7.4 billion in 2017.  U.S. FDI to Turkey was USD 446 million in 2018, up from a historically low USD 180 million in 2017, as FDI dropped considerably following the 2016 coup attempt. (Note: Official statistics understate the amount of U.S. FDI in Turkey. The Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey estimated, for example, that in 2013 and 2014 U.S. FDI inflows were 30 percent higher than official statistics.  End Note.) To attract more FDI, Turkey needs to improve enforcement of international trade rules, ensure the transparency and timely execution of judicial orders, increase engagement with foreign investors on policy issues, and pursue policies to promote strong, sustainable, and balanced growth. It also needs to take other political measures to increase stability and predictability for investors.  A stable banking sector, tight fiscal controls, efforts to reduce the size of the informal economy, increase flexibility of the labor market, improve labor skills, and continued privatization of state-owned enterprises have the potential to improve the investment environment in Turkey. 

Most sectors open to Turkish private investment are also open to foreign participation and investment.  All investors, regardless of nationality, face some challenges: excessive bureaucracy, a slow judicial system, high and inconsistently applied taxes, weaknesses in corporate governance, unpredictable decisions made at the local government level, and frequent changes in the legal and regulatory environment.  Structural reforms that will create a more transparent, equal, fair, and modern investment and business environment remain stalled. Venture capital and angel investing are still relatively new in Turkey, but regulators and new legislation should continue to facilitate greater development of these financing opportunities.

Turkey does not screen, review, or approve FDI specifically.  However, the government established regulatory and supervisory authorities to regulate different types of markets.  Important regulators in Turkey include the Competition Authority; Energy Market Regulation Authority; Banking Regulation and Supervision Authority; Information and Communication Technologies Authority; Tobacco, Tobacco Products and Alcoholic Beverages Market Regulation Board; Privatization Administration; Public Procurement Authority; Radio and Television Supreme Council; and Public Oversight, Accounting and Auditing Standards Authority.  Some of the aforementioned authorities screen as needed without discrimination, primarily for tax audits. Screening mechanisms are executed to maintain fair competition and for other economic benefits. If an investment fails a review, possible outcomes can vary from a notice to remedy, which allows for a specific period of time to correct the problem, to penalty fees. The Turkish judicial system allows for appeals of any administrative decision, including tax courts that deal with tax disputes. 

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

There are no general limits on foreign ownership or control.  Nevertheless, there are increasing pressures in some sectors for foreign investors to partner with local companies and transfer technology and some discriminatory barriers to foreign entrants, such as on the basis of “anti-competitive practices,” especially in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector or pharmaceuticals.  In many areas, Turkey’s regulatory environment is business-friendly. Investors can establish a business in Turkey irrespective of nationality or place of residence. There are no sector-specific restrictions that discriminate against foreign investor access, which are prohibited by World Trade Organization Regulations. 

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In recent years, Turkey has not conducted an investment policy review through the OECD. Turkey’s last investment policy review through the World Trade Organization (WTO) was conducted in March 2016.  Turkey has not conducted an investment policy review through the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Turkey has cooperated with the World Bank to produce several reports on the general investment climate that can be found at: http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/turkey/research  .

Business Facilitation

The Republic of Turkey Prime Ministry Investment Support and Promotion Agency (ISPAT) was the official organization for promoting Turkey’s investment opportunities to the global business community and assisting investors before, during, and after their entry into Turkey.  Under the new presidential system, the institution has been re-organized and named as the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey Investment Office. Its website is clear and easy to use, with information about legislation and company establishment. (http://www.invest.gov.tr/en-US/investmentguide/investorsguide/Pages/EstablishingABusinessInTR.aspx  ).  The website is also a resource for foreigners registering their businesses.

The conditions for foreign investors setting up a business and transferring shares are the same as those applied to local investors.  International investors may establish any form of company set out in the Turkish Commercial Code (TCC), which offers a corporate governance approach that meets international standards, fosters private equity and public offering activities, creates transparency in managing operations, and aligns the Turkish business environment with EU legislation and the EU accession process.

Turkey defines micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises according to Decision No. 2018/11828 of the Official Gazette dated June 2, 2018:

  • Micro-sized enterprises: fewer than 10 employees and less than or equal to 3 million Turkish lira in net annual sales or financial statement.
  • Small-sized enterprises: fewer than 50 employees and less than or equal to 25 million Turkish lira in net annual sales or financial statement.
  • Medium-sized enterprises: fewer than 250 employees and less than or equal to 125 million Turkish lira in net annual sales or financial statement.

Outward Investment

The government promotes outward investment via investment promotion agencies and other platforms.  It does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Since 1962, Turkey has negotiated and signed agreements for the reciprocal promotion and protection of investments.  As of 2018, Turkey has 75 bilateral investment agreements in force with: Afghanistan, Albania, Argentina, Austria, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Libya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malaysia, Malta, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Netherlands, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russian Federation, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Yemen.

Turkey has a bilateral taxation treaty with the United States.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Government of Turkey (GOT) has adopted policies and laws that, in principle, should foster competition and transparency.  The GOT makes its budgetary spending reports available online. Accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures appear to be consistent with international norms, including standards set forth by the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), the EU, and the OECD.

Publicly traded companies adhere to international accounting standards and are audited by well-respected international firms.  Copies of draft bills are generally made available to the public by posting them to the websites of the relevant ministry, Parliament, or Official Gazette.  Nevertheless, foreign companies in several sectors claim that regulations are applied in a nontransparent manner. In particular, public tender decisions and regulatory updates can be opaque and politically driven, according to critics. 

International Regulatory Considerations

Turkey is a candidate for membership in the EU; however, the accession process has stalled, with the opening of new accession chapters put on hold.  Some, though not all, Turkish regulations have been harmonized with the EU, and the country has adopted many European regulatory norms and standards. Turkey is a member of the WTO, though it does not notify all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Turkey’s legal system is based on civil law, and provides means for enforcing property and contractual rights, and there are written commercial and bankruptcy laws.  Turkey’s court system, however, is overburdened, which sometimes results in slow decisions and judges lacking sufficient time to grasp complex issues. Judgments of foreign courts, under certain circumstances, need to be upheld by local courts before they are accepted and enforced.  Recent developments reinforce the Turkish judicial system’s need to undertake significant reforms to adopt fair, democratic, and unbiased standards “There were indications the judiciary remained subject to influence, particularly from the executive branch, and faces a number of challenges that limited judicial independence.” See: https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/turkey/

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Turkey’s investment legislation is simple and complies with international standards, offering equal treatment for all investors.  The New Turkish Commercial Code No. 6102 (“New TCC”) was published in the Official Gazette on February 14, 2011. The backbone of the investment legislation is made up of the Encouragement of Investments and Employment Law No. 5084, Foreign Direct Investments Law No. 4875, international treaties and various laws and related sub-regulations on the promotion of sectorial investments.  Regulations related to mergers and acquisitions include: a) Turkish Code of Obligations: Article 202 and Article 203, b) Turkish Commercial Code: Articles 134-158, c) Execution and Bankruptcy Law: Article 280, d) Law on the Procedures for the Collection of Public Receivables: Article 30, and e) Law on Competition: Article 7. The government’s primary website for investors is http://www.invest.gov.tr/en-US/Pages/Home.aspx  .   Although most U.S. investors have not been directly affected to date, there is an increased perception that the government is willing to use its executive authority to interfere in the court system in ways that could affect foreign investors, including favoring domestic companies.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Competition Authority is the sole authority on competition issues in Turkey and handles private sector transactions.  Public institutions are exempt from its authority. The Constitutional Court can overrule the Competition Authority’s finding of innocence in a competition case.  There have been some cases of Turkish courts blocking foreign company operations on the basis of anti-competitive claims and a few investigations into foreign companies initiated.  Such cases can take over a year to resolve, during which time the companies can be prohibited from doing business in Turkey, benefitting their (local) competitors. 

Expropriation and Compensation

Under the U.S.-Turkey Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT), expropriation can only occur in accordance with due process of law, can only be for a public purpose, and must be non-discriminatory.  Compensation must be prompt, adequate, and effective. The GOT occasionally expropriates private real property for public works or for state industrial projects. The GOT agency expropriating the property negotiates the purchase price.  If the owners of the property do not agree with the proposed price, they are able to challenge the expropriation in court and ask for additional compensation. There are no known outstanding expropriation or nationalization cases for U.S. firms.  Although there is not a pattern of discrimination against U.S. firms, the GOT aggressively targeted businesses, banks, media outlets, and mining and energy companies with alleged ties to the so-called “Fethullah Terrorist Organization” (FETO) and/or the July 2016 attempted coup, including the expropriation of over 1,100 private companies worth more than USD 11 billion.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Turkey is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and is a signatory of the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.  Turkey ratified the Convention of the Multinational Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) in 1987. There are no known arbitration cases involving a U.S. company pending before ICSID. Foreign arbitral awards will be enforced if the country of origin of the award is a New York Convention state, if the dispute is commercial under Turkish law, and as long as none of the grounds under article V of the New York Convention are proved by the opposing party.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The U.S.-Turkey BIT ensures that U.S. investors have full access to Turkey’s local courts and the ability to take the host government directly to third-party international binding arbitration to settle investment disputes.  There is also a provision for state-to-state dispute settlement. There is limited data about investment disputes available to the U.S. Embassy’s economic team, with only a handful of known cases. Over the last decade, the government has a mixed record of handling investment disputes through international arbitration.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Turkey adopted the International Arbitration Law, based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade model law, in 2001.  Local courts accept binding international arbitration of investment disputes between foreign investors and the state. In practice, however, Turkish courts have been reported to sometimes fail to uphold an international arbitration ruling involving private companies in favor of Turkish firms.  There are two main arbitration bodies in Turkey: the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (www.tobb.org.tr  ) and the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce Arbitration and Mediation Center (www.itotam.com/en  ).  Most commercial disputes can be settled through arbitration, including disputes regarding public services.  Parties decide the arbitration procedure, set the arbitration rules, and select the language of the proceedings.  The Istanbul Arbitration Center was established in October 2015 as an independent, neutral, and impartial institution to mediate both domestic and international disputes through fast track arbitration, emergency arbitrator, and appointments for ad hoc procedures.  Its decisions are binding and subject to international enforcement. (www.istac.org.tr/en  ).

As of January 2019, some commercial disputes may be subject to mandatory mediation; if the parties are unable to resolve the dispute through mediation, the case moves to a trial.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Turkey criminalizes bankruptcy and has a bankruptcy law based on the Execution and Bankruptcy Code No. 2004 (the “EBL”), published in the Official Gazette on June 19, 1932 and numbered 2128.  The World Bank’s Doing Business Report gave Turkey a rank of 109 out of 190 countries for ease of resolving insolvency. See: http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploretopics/resolving-insolvency  )

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Turkey’s regional incentives program divides various regions of the country into one of six different zones, providing the following benefits to investors: corporate tax reduction; customs duty exemption; value-added tax (VAT) exemption and VAT refund; employer’s share social security premium support; income tax withholding allowance; land allocation; and interest rate support for investment loans.  The program was launched in 2012 and more detailed information can be found at the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey Investment Office website: http://www.invest.gov.tr/en-US/investmentguide/investorsguide/Pages/Incentives.aspx  .

The incentives program gives priority to high-tech, high-value-added, globally competitive sectors and includes regional incentive programs to reduce regional economic disparities and increase competitiveness.  The investment incentives’ “tiered” system provides greater incentives to invest in less developed parts of the country, and is designed to encourage investments with the potential to reduce dependency on the importation of intermediate goods seen as vital to the country’s strategic sectors.  Other primary objectives are to reduce the current account deficit and unemployment, increase the level of support instruments, promote clustering activities, and support investments to promote technology transfer. The map and explanation of the program can be found at: www.invest.gov.tr/en-US/Maps/Pages/InteractiveMap.aspx  

Foreign firms are eligible for research and development (R&D) incentives if the R&D is conducted in Turkey.  However, investors, especially in the technology sector, say that Turkey has a retrograde brick-and-mortar definition of R&D that overlooks other types of R&D investments (such as in internet platform technologies).  Turkey pays close attention to the impact that micro-economic factors have on business development and growth, and is seeking to foster entrepreneurship and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Through the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Organization (KOSGEB), the Turkish Government provides various incentives for innovative ideas and cutting-edge technologies, in addition to providing SMEs easier access to medium and long-term funds.  There are also a number of technology development zones (TDZs) in Turkey where entrepreneurs are given assistance in commercializing business ideas. The Turkish Government provides support to TDZs, including infrastructure and facilities, exemption from income and corporate taxes for profits derived from software and R&D activities, exemption from all taxes for the wages of researchers, software, and R&D personnel employed within the TDZVAT, corporate tax exemptions for IT-specific sectors, and customs and duties exemptions.

Turkey’s Scientific and Technological Research Council (TUBITAK) has special programs for entrepreneurs in the technology sector, and the Turkish Technology Development Foundation (TTGV) has programs that provide capital loans for R&D projects and/or cover R&D-related expenses.  Projects eligible for such incentives include concept development, technological research, technical feasibility research, laboratory studies to transform concept into design, design and sketching studies, prototype production, construction of pilot facilities, test production, patent and license studies, and activities related to post-scale problems stemming from product design.  TUBITAK also has a Technology Transfer Office Support Program, which provides grants to establish Technology Transfer Offices (TTO) in Turkey.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

There are no restrictions on foreign firms operating in any of Turkey’s 21 free zones.  The zones are open to a wide range of activities, including manufacturing, storage, packaging, trading, banking, and insurance.  Foreign products enter and leave the free zones without payment of customs or duties if products are exported to third country markets.  Income generated in the zones is exempt from corporate and individual income taxation and from the value-added tax, but firms are required to make social security contributions for their employees.  Additionally, standardization regulations in Turkey do not apply to the activities in the free zones, unless the products are imported into Turkey. Sales to the Turkish domestic market are allowed with goods and revenues transported from the zones into Turkey subject to all relevant import regulations.

Taxpayers who possessed an operating license as of February 6, 2004, do not have to pay income or corporate tax on their earnings in free zones for the duration of their license.  Earnings based on the sale of goods manufactured in free zones are exempt from income and corporate tax until the end of the year in which Turkey becomes a member of the European Union.  Earnings secured in a free zone under corporate tax immunity and paid as dividends to real person shareholders in Turkey, or to real person or legal-entity shareholders abroad, are subject to 10 percent withholding tax.  See the Ministry of Trade’s website: https://www.ticaret.gov.tr/serbest-bolgeler  .

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The government mandates a local employment ratio of five Turks per foreign worker.  These schemes do not apply equally to senior management and boards of directors, but their numbers are included in the overall local employment calculations.  Foreign legal firms are forbidden from working in Turkey except as consultants; they cannot directly represent clients and must partner with a local law firm. There are no onerous visa, residence, work permits or similar requirements inhibiting mobility of foreign investors and their employees.  There are no known government-imposed conditions on permissions to invest.

There are no performance requirements imposed as a condition for establishing, maintaining, or expanding investment in Turkey.  GOT requirements for disclosure of proprietary information as part of the regulatory approval process are consistent with internationally accepted practices, though some companies, especially in the pharmaceutical sector, worry about data protection during the regulatory review process.  Enterprises with foreign capital must send their activity report submitted to shareholders, their auditor’s report, and their balance sheets to the Ministry of Trade, Foreign Capital Foreign Capital Directorate, annually by May. Turkey grants most rights, incentives, exemptions, and privileges available to national businesses to foreign business on a most-favored-nation (MFN) basis.  U.S. and other foreign firms can participate in government-financed and/or subsidized research and development programs on a national treatment basis.

Offsets are an important aspect of Turkey’s military procurement, and increasingly in other sectors, and such guidelines have been modified to encourage direct investment and technology transfer.  The GOT targets the energy, transportation, medical devices, and telecom sectors for the usage of offsets. In February 2014, Parliament passed legislation requiring the Ministry of Science, Industry, and Technology (MSIT), currently named the Ministry of Industry and Technology, to establish a framework to incorporate civilian offsets into large government procurement contracts.  The Ministry of Health (MOH) established an office to examine how offsets could be incorporated into new contracts. The law suggests that for public contracts above USD 5 million, companies must invest up to 50 percent of contract value in Turkey and “add value” to the sector. In general, labor, health and safety laws do not distort or impede investment, although legal restrictions on discharging employees may provide a disincentive to labor-intensive activity in the formal economy.

Recent laws targeting the ICT sector have increased regulations on data, online broadcasting, tax collection, and payment platforms.  In particular, ICT and other companies report GOT pressure to localize data, which it views as a precursor to greater GOT access to user information and source code.  Law #6493 on Payment and Security Systems, Payment Services and e-money Institutions, also requires financial institutions to establish servers in Turkey in order to localize data.  The Turkish Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) is the authority that issues business licenses as long as companies 1) localize their IT systems in Turkey, and 2) keep the original data, not copies, in Turkey.  Regulations on data localization, internet content, and taxation/licensing resulted in the departure of several U.S. tech companies from the Turkish market, and has chilled investment by other possible entrants to the e-commerce and e-payments sectors.  The laws potentially affect all companies that collect private user data, such as payment information provided online for a consumer purchase.

Turkey enacted the Personal Data Protection Law in April 2016.  The law regulates all operations performed upon personal data including obtaining, recording, storage, and transfer to third parties or abroad.  For all data previously processed before the law went into effect, there was a two-year transition period. After two years, all data had to be compliant with new legislation requirements, erased, or anonymized.  All businesses are urged to assess how they currently collect and store data to determine vulnerabilities and risks in regard to legal obligations. The law created the new Data Protection Authority, which is charged with monitoring and enforcing corporate data use.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Secured interests in property, both movable and real, are recognized and enforced, and there is a reliable system of recording such security interests.  For example, real estate is registered with a land registry office. Turkey’s legal system protects and facilitates acquisition and disposal of property rights, including land, buildings, and mortgages, although some parties have complained that the courts are slow to render decisions and are susceptible to external influence.  However, following the July 2016 coup attempt, the GOT confiscated over 1,100 companies as well as significant real estate holdings for alleged terrorist ties. Although the seizures did not directly impact many foreign firms, it nonetheless raises investor concerns about private property protections.

The Ministry of Environment and Urbanization enacted a law on title-deed registration in 2012 removing the previous requirement that foreign purchasers of real estate in Turkey had to be in partnership with a Turkish individual or company that owns at least a 50 percent share in the property, meaning foreigners can now own their own land.  The law is also much more flexible in allowing international companies to purchase real property. The new law also increases the upper limit on real estate purchases by foreign individuals to 30 hectares and allows further increases up to 60 hectares with permission from the Council of Ministers. As of March 2019, a valuation report, based upon real market value, must be prepared for real estate sales transactions involving buyers that are foreign citizens.  To ensure that land has a clear title, interested parties may inquire through the General Directorate of Land Registry and Cadastre (www.tkgm.gov.tr  ).

Intellectual Property Rights

In 2018, Turkey continued implementation of its Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) law, the first in modern Turkey’s history, and an important step forward in the country’s IPR development.  The law brings together a series of “decrees” into a single, unified, modernized legal structure. It also greatly increases the capacity of the country’s patent office, and improves the framework for commercialization and technology transfer.  Turkey also prepared draft legislation on a new Copyright Law. However, while legislative frameworks are improving, IPR enforcement remains lackluster. Turkey remains on the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Watch List for 2019 and the Notorious Markets List for 2018.  Concerns remain about policies requiring local production of pharmaceuticals, inadequate protection of test data, and a lack of transparency in national pricing and reimbursement. IPR enforcement suffers from a lack of awareness and training among judges and officers, as well as a lack of prioritization relative to terrorism and other concerns.  Law enforcement officers also do not have ex officio authority to seize and destroy counterfeit goods, which are prevalent in the local market and the Grand Bazaar. Software piracy is also high.

Additionally, the practice of issuing search-and-seizure warrants varies considerably.  Intellectual Property (IP) courts and specialized IP judges only exist in major cities. Outside these areas, the application for a search warrant must be filed at a regular criminal court (Court of Peace) and/or with a regular prosecutor.  The Courts of Peace are very reluctant to issue search warrants. Although, by law, “reasonable doubt” is adequate grounds for issuing a search-and-seizure order, judges often set additional requirements, including supporting documentation, photographs, and even witness testimony, which risk exposing companies’ intelligence sources.  In some regions, Courts of Peace judges rarely grant search warrants, for example in popular tourist destinations. Overall, according to some investors, it is difficult to protect their rights and general IPR enforcement is deteriorating. For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see World Intellectual Property Right’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en  .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Turkish Government strongly encourages and offers an effective regulatory system to facilitate portfolio investment.  There is sufficient liquidity in the markets to enter and exit sizeable positions. Existing policies facilitate the free flow of financial resources into the product and factor markets.  The government respects IMF Article VIII by refraining from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions. Credit is generally allocated on market terms, though the GOT has increased low- and no-interest loans for certain parties, and pressured state-owned banks to increase their lending, especially for public projects and electoral priorities.  Foreign investors are able to get credit on the local market. The private sector has access to a variety of credit instruments.

Money and Banking System

The Turkish banking sector, a central bank system, is relatively healthy.  The estimated total assets of the country’s largest banks are as follows: Ziraat Bankasi A.S. – USD 106.95 billion, Is Bankasi – USD 98.95 billion, Garanti – USD 83.42 billion, Akbank – USD 77.89 billion, Yapi ve Kredi Bankasi – USD 77.14 billion, Halk Bankasi – USD 72.75, Turkiye Vakiflar Bankasi – USD 67.04 billion.  (Conversion rate used was 5.47 TL/1 USD). According to the BDDK, the share of non-performing loans in the sector was approximately 4.03 percent as of March 2019. The only requirements for a foreigner to open a bank account in Turkey are a passport copy and either an ID number from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or a Turkish Tax ID number.  The Turkish Government adopted a framework Capital Markets Law in 2012, aimed at bringing greater corporate accountability, protection of minority-shareholders, and financial statement transparency.

The independent BDDK monitors and supervises Turkey’s banks.  The BDDK is headed by a board whose seven members are appointed for six-year terms.  Bank deposits are protected by an independent deposit insurance agency, the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (SDIF).  Because of historically high local borrowing costs and short repayment periods, foreign and local firms frequently seek credit from international markets to finance their activities.  Foreign banks are allowed to establish operations in the country.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Turkish law guarantees the free transfer of profits, fees, and royalties, and repatriation of capital.  This guarantee is reflected in Turkey’s 1990 Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with the United States, which mandates unrestricted and prompt transfer in a freely-usable currency at a legal market-clearing rate for all investment-related funds.  There is little difficulty in obtaining foreign exchange, and there are no foreign-exchange restrictions, though in 2018, the GOT continued to pressure businesses to conduct trade in lira. An amendment to the Decision on the Protection of the Value of the Turkish Currency was made with Presidential Decree No. 85 in September 2018 wherein the GOT tightened restrictions on Turkey-based businesses conducting numerous types of transactions using foreign currencies or indexed to foreign currencies.  The Turkish Ministry of Treasury and Finance may grant exceptions, however. Funds associated with any form of investment can be freely converted into any world currency. The exchange rate is free-floating, though the GOT has taken measures to stabilize the lira when it experiences a period of rapid depreciation.

Remittance Policies

In Turkey, there have been no recent changes or plans to change investment remittance policies, and indeed the GOT in 2018 actively encouraged the repatriation of funds.  The GOT announced “Assets Peace” in May 2018 which incentivized the citizens to bring assets to Turkey in the form of money, gold or foreign currency by eliminating any tax burden on the repatriated assets.  There are also no time limitations on remittances. Waiting periods for dividends, return on investment, interest and principal on private foreign debt, lease payments, royalties, and management fees do not exceed 60 days.  There are no limitations on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances of profits or revenue.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The GOT announced the creation of a sovereign wealth fund (SWF) in August 2016.  The controversial fund consists of shares of state owned enterprises (SOEs) and is designed to serve as collateral for raising foreign financing.  However, the SWF has not launched any major projects since its inception. In September 2018, the President became the Chairman of the SWF. Several leading SOEs, such as natural gas distributor BOTAS, Turkish Airlines and Ziraat Bank have been transferred to the SWF.  Critics worry management of the fund is opaque and politicized.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

As of 2018, the sectors with active SOEs include mining, banking, telecom, and transportation.  The full list can be found here: https://www.hmb.gov.tr/kamu-sermayeli-kurulus-ve-isletme-raporlari  .  Allegations of unfair practices by SOEs are minimal, and the Embassy is not aware of any ongoing complaints by U.S. firms.  Turkey is not a party to the World Trade Organization’s Government Procurement Agreement. Turkey is a member of the OECD Working Party on State Ownership and Privatization Practices, and OECD’s compliance regulations and new laws enacted in 2012 by the Turkish Competitive Authority closely govern SOE operations.  In 2015 at the Antalya Leaders’ Summit, G20 Leaders endorsed the new global standard on corporate governance which will help policymakers evaluate and improve their national corporate governance frameworks with a view to promote market-based financing and to boost long-term investment. The G20/OECD Principles of Corporate Governance represent a shared understanding with respect to corporate governance standards and practices in areas such as transparency, disclosure, accountability, board oversight, shareholder rights and the role of key stakeholders.  They also provide recommendations for national policymakers on executive remuneration, the behavior of institutional investors and how stock markets should function.

Privatization Program

The GOT has continued to make progress on privatization over the last decade.  Of 278 companies the state once owned, 207 are fully privatized. According to the Ministry of Treasury and Finance’s Privatization Administration, transactions completed under the Turkish privatization program generated 751 million USD in 2017 and 1.379 million USD 2018.  See: https://www.oib.gov.tr/  The Turkish government says it is committed to continuing the privatization process despite the contraction in global capital flows.  However, other measures, such as the creation of a SWF with control over major state-owned enterprises, suggests that the government sees greater benefit in using some public assets to raise additional debt rather than privatizing them.  Accordingly, the GOT has shelved plans to increase privatization of Turkish Airlines and instead moved them and other SOEs into the SWF. Additional information can be found at the Ministry of Treasury and Finance’s Privatization Administration website: https://www.oib.gov.tr/  .

8. Responsible Business Conduct

In Turkey, responsible business conduct (RBC) is gaining traction and more is being expected of companies.  Reforms carried out as part of the EU harmonization process have had a positive effect on laws governing Turkish associations, especially non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  However, recent democratic backsliding has reversed some of these gains, and there has been increasing pressure on civil society. Turkey has not yet established a central coordinating office or information agency to assist companies in their efforts, and the topic of RBC is handled by the various ministries.  Some U.S. companies have focused RBC activities on improving education in Turkey.

NGOs that are active in the economic sector, such as the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) and the Turkish Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association (TÜSIAD), issue regular reports and studies, and hold events aimed at encouraging Turkish companies to become involved in policy issues.  In addition to influencing the political process, these two NGOs also assist their members with civic engagement. The Business Council for Sustainable Development Turkey (http://www.skdturkiye.org/en) and the Corporate Social Responsibility Association in Turkey (www.csrturkey.org  ), founded in 2005, are two associations devoted exclusively to issues of responsible business conduct.  The Turkish Ethical Values Center Foundation, the Private Sector Volunteers Association (www.osgd.org  ) and the Third Sector Foundation of Turkey (www.tusev.org.tr  ) also play an important role.

9. Corruption

Corruption remains a serious concern to many businesses, a reality reflected in Turkey’s sliding score in recent years in Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index, where it ranked 78 of 180 countries and territories around the world in 2018.  According to some businesses, government mechanisms to investigate and punish alleged abuse and corruption by state officials remained inadequate, and impunity remained a problem. Though independent in principle, the judiciary remained prone to government, and particularly executive branch, interference, including with respect to the investigation and prosecution of major corruption cases.  In some cases, the state of emergency amplified pre-existing concerns about judicial independence. (See the Department of State’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for more details: https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/turkey/).  The government does not actively encourage private companies to establish internal codes of conduct that prohibit bribery of public officials.  Turkey is a participant in regional anti-corruption initiatives, specifically co-heading the G20 Anti-Corruption working group with the United States.   Under the new presidential system, the Presidential State Supervisory Council is responsible for combating corruption.

Public procurement reforms were designed in Turkey to make procurement more transparent and less susceptible to political interference, including through the establishment of an independent public procurement board with the power to void contracts.  Critics claim, however, that government officials have continued to award large contracts to firms friendly with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), especially for large public construction projects.

Turkish legislation outlaws bribery, but enforcement is uneven.  Turkey’s Criminal Code makes it unlawful to promise or to give any advantage to foreign government officials in exchange for their assistance in providing improper advantage in the conduct of international business.

The provisions of the Criminal Law regarding bribing of foreign government officials are consistent with the provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 of the United States (FCPA).  There are, however, a number of differences between Turkish law and the FCPA. For example, there is no exception under Turkish law for payments to facilitate or expedite performance of a “routine governmental action” in terms of the FCPA.  Another difference is that the FCPA does not provide for punishment by imprisonment, while Turkish law provides for punishment by imprisonment from four to twelve years. The Presidential State Supervisory Council, which advises the Corruption Investigations Committee, is responsible for investigating major corruption cases brought to its attention by the Committee.  Nearly every state agency has its own inspector corps responsible for investigating internal corruption. The Parliament can establish investigative commissions to examine corruption allegations concerning cabinet ministers; a majority vote is needed to send these cases to the Supreme Court for further action.

Turkey ratified the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Public Officials and passed implementing legislation in 2003 to provide that bribes of foreign, as well as domestic, officials are illegal.  In 2006, Turkey’s Parliament ratified the UN Convention against Corruption.

Resources to Report Corruption

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

Presidential State Supervisory Council
Beştepe Mahallesi, Alparslan Türkeş Caddesi, Devlet Denetleme Kurulu, Yenimahalle
Telephone: Phone: +90 312 470 25 00
Fax : +90 312 470 13 03

Contact at “watchdog” organization

Seref Malkoc
Chief Ombudsman
The Ombudsman Institution
Kavaklidere Mah. Zeytin Dali Caddesi No. 4 Cankaya Ankara
Telephone: +90 312 465 22 00
Email: iletisim@ombudsman.gov.tr

10. Political and Security Environment

2015 and 2016 was one of the most violent periods in Turkey since the 1970s.  However, since January 2017, Turkey has experienced historically low levels of violence when compared to even relatively calm years since the 1970s.  Turkey experiences politically motivated violence ranging from coup attempts to attacks on opposition party offices. In July 2016, an attempted coup resulted in the death of more than 240 people, and injured over 2,100 others.  Since the July 2015 collapse of the cessation of hostilities between the government and the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) [also operating as the Kurdistan People’s Congress (KCK), Kongra Gel (KGK), or via splinter groups like the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK)], PKK terrorist attacks and violence between government security forces and the PKK have claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians and security forces.

Other U.S.-designated terrorist organizations such as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the leftist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party–Front (DHKP/C) are present in Turkey and conducted attacks in 2015, 2016, and early 2017.  The indigenous terrorist organization DHKP/C, established in the 1970s and designated by the U.S. in 1997, is responsible for several attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Ankara and the U.S. Consulate General Istanbul in recent years. The DHKP/C has stated its intention to commit further attacks against the United States, NATO, and Turkey.  In addition, violent extremists associated with other groups have transited Turkey en route to Syria.

There have been past instances of violence against religious missionaries and others perceived as proselytizing for a non-Islamic religion in Turkey.  Perpetrators have threatened and assaulted Christian and Jewish individuals, groups, and places of worship. Anti-Israeli sentiment remains high.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Turkey has a population of 82.3 million, with 23.4 percent under the age of 14 as of 2018.  92.3 percent of the population lives in urban areas. Official figures put the labor force at 32.0 million in December 2018.  Approximately one-fifth of the labor force works in agriculture while another fifth works in industrial sectors. The country retains a significant informal sector at 33 percent.  In 2018, the official unemployment rate stayed at 13.5 percent, with 24.5 percent unemployment among those 15-24 years old. Turkey provides twelve years of free, compulsory education to children of both sexes in state schools.  Authorities continue to grapple with facilitating legal employment for working-age Syrians, a major subset of the 3.5 million displaced Syrian men, women, and children—unknown numbers of which were working informally—in the country in 2018.

Turkey has an abundance of unskilled and semi-skilled labor, and vocational training schools exist at the high school level.  There remains a shortage of high-tech workers. Individual high-tech firms, both local and foreign-owned, typically conduct their own training programs.  Within the scope of employment mobilization, the Ministry of Family, Labor, and Social Services, Turkish Employment Agency (ISKUR) and Turkey Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) has launched the Vocational Education and Skills Development Cooperation Protocol (MEGIP).  Turkey has also undertaken a significant expansion of university programs, building dozens of new colleges and universities over the last decade.

The use of subcontracted workers for jobs not temporary in nature remained common, including by firms executing contracts for the state.  Generally ineligible for equal benefits or collective bargaining rights, subcontracted workers—often hired via revolving contracts of less than a year duration— remained vulnerable to sudden termination by employers and, in some cases, poor working conditions.  Employers typically utilized subcontracted workers to minimize salary/benefit expenditures and, according to critics, to prevent unionization of employees.

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes.  A minimum of seven workers is required to establish a trade union without prior approval. To become a bargaining agent, a union must represent 40 percent of the employees at a given work site and one percent of all workers in that particular industry.  Certain public employees, such as senior officials, magistrates, members of the armed forces, and police, cannot form unions. Nonunionized workers, such as migrants, domestic servants, and those in the informal economy, are also not covered by collective bargaining laws.

Unionization rates generally remain low.  Independent labor unions—distinct from their government-friendly counterpart unions—reported that employers continued to use threats, violence, and layoffs in unionized workplaces across sectors.  Service-sector union organizers reported that private sector employers sometimes ignored the law and dismissed workers to discourage union activity. Turkish law provides for the right to strike but prohibits strikes by public workers engaged in safeguarding life and property and by workers in the coal mining and petroleum industries, hospitals and funeral industries, urban transportation, energy and sanitation services, national defense, banking, and education.  The law explicitly allows the government to deny the right to strike for any situation it determines a threat to national security. Turkey has labor-dispute resolution mechanisms, including the Supreme Arbitration Board, which addresses disputes between employers and employees pursuant to collective bargaining agreements. Labor courts function effectively and relatively efficiently. Appeals, however, can last for years. If a court rules that an employer unfairly dismissed a worker and should either reinstate or compensate him or her, the employer generally pays compensation to the employee along with a fine.

Turkey has ratified key International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions protecting workers’ rights, including conventions on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize; Rights to Organize and to Bargain Collectively; Abolition of Forced Labor; Minimum Age; Occupational Health and Safety; Termination of Employment; and Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor.  Implementation of a number of these, including ILO Convention 87 (Convention Concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize) and Convention 98 (Convention Concerning the Application of the Principles of the Right to Organize and to Bargain Collectively), remained uneven. Implementation of legislation related to workplace health and safety likewise remained uneven.  Child labor continued, including in its worst forms and particularly in the seasonal agricultural sector, despite ongoing government efforts to address the issue. See the Department of State’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and the Department of Labor’s annual Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor for more details on Turkey’s labor sector and the challenges it continues to face.

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) offers a full range of programs in Turkey, including political risk insurance for U.S. investors, under its bilateral agreement.  OPIC is also active in financing private investment projects implemented by U.S. investors in Turkey, including public hospital projects. Small- and medium-sized U.S. investors in Turkey are also eligible to utilize the Small Business Center facility at OPIC, offering OPIC finance and insurance support on an expedited basis for loans from USD 100,000 to USD 10 million.  In 1987, Turkey became a member of the Multinational Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

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

Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2018 $784,087 2017 $851,549 www.worldbank.org/en/country  
*www.turkstat.gov.tr  
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $6,867 2017 $4,532 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  

* www.tcmb.gov.tr  

Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $1,828 2017 $1,975 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  

* www.tcmb.gov.tr  

Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2017 23% 2017 22.8% UNCTAD data available at

https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx  

* www.tcmb.gov.tr  


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Direct Investment From/in Counterpart Economy Data (2018)
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $6,534 100% Total Outward $3,997 100%
The Netherlands $833 13% The Netherlands $1,825 46%
Azerbaijan $516 8% USA $900 23%
Italy $509 8% UK $323 8%
Austria $465 7% Germany $155 4%
USA $446 7% Switzerland $83 2%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $1,152 100% All Countries $447 100% All Countries $704 100%
USA $388 34% USA $341 76% Lebanon $278 39%
Lebanon $278 24% Germany $34 8% Cayman Islands $213 30%
Cayman Islands $213 18% China, P.R.: Hong Kong $25 6% USA $47 7%
Germany $43 4% UK $13 3% The Netherlands $27 4%
The Netherlands $28 2% Canada $9 2% Greece $13 2%

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Specialist
American Embassy Ankara
110 Atatürk Blvd.
Kavaklıdere, 06100 Ankara – Turkey
Phone: +90 (312) 455-5555
Email:  Ankara-ECON-MB@state.gov

Vietnam

Executive Summary

Vietnam continues to welcome foreign direct investment (FDI). In 2018, Vietnam attracted USD 19.1 billion of FDI, a 9.1 percent increase from 2017, while global foreign direct investment fell by nearly a fifth, according to the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) 2018 report. Vietnam’s 2018 GDP grew 7.08 percent, the highest rate since prior to the 2008 global financial crisis, thanks to strong FDI inflows and growth in the services and manufacturing sectors, productivity, private consumption, and exports.  

Continued strong FDI inflows are due in part to ongoing economic reforms, a young, and increasingly urbanized, population, political stability, and inexpensive labor. Despite the strong FDI inflows, significant challenges remain in the business climate, including corruption, a weak legal infrastructure and judicial system, poor intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement, a shortage of skilled labor, restrictive labor practices, and impediments to infrastructure investment.

Examples of large investment projects approved in 2018 include a Hanoi-area “smart” residential township with USD 4.1 billion in Japanese investment; a USD 1.2 billion polypropylene factory, a liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage facility, and two electronics factories worth USD 500 million, all by Korean investors; and an additional USD 1.2 billion investment in an existing Singaporean resort.

Vietnam must continue to reform in order to maintain or boost competitiveness in the face of internal factors such as a sustained budget deficit, high debt levels, a weak domestic sector that has low linkages to the global supply chain, low productivity of state-owned enterprises (SOEs), and a financial sector burdened by non-performing loans.

The recently entered-into-force Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EV FTA), if approved, present significant potential benefits for Vietnam.  They are expected to fuel robust economic gains, in the form of more FDI, increased competitiveness of Vietnamese exports, and millions more jobs. These trends may accelerate if foreign companies relocate manufacturing facilities from China to Vietnam due to trade tensions, rising cost of Chinese labor, and China’s shift towards more high-tech industries.  Private-sector analysts predict that the electronics, textiles, shoes, and auto-parts sectors in Vietnam would benefit most.

Table 1

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 117 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/cpi2018
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2019 69 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/data/exploreeconomies/vietnam
Global Innovation Index 2018 45 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/

analysis-indicator  

U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $2,010 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $2,160 http://data.worldbank.org/

indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Vietnam continues to welcome FDI and foreign companies play an important role in the economy. According to the Government Statistics Office (GSO), FDI exports of USD 175 billion accounted for 72 percent of total exports in 2018 (compared to 47 percent in 2000).

Despite improvements in the business environment, including economic reforms intended to enhance competitiveness and productivity, Vietnam has benefited from global investors’ efforts to diversify their supply chains. Vietnam’s rankings fell in the most recent World Economic Forum Competitiveness Index (from 74/135 in 2017 to 77/140 in 2018) and World Bank Doing Business Index (from 68 in 2018 to 69 in 2019), but its raw scores improved compared to prior years. According to the 2018 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Investment Policy Review, Vietnam has an “average” level of openness compared to other OECD countries, though it is second to only Singapore within ASEAN. The OECD ranked Vietnam’s openness to FDI as higher than that of South Korea, Australia, and Mexico.

Vietnam seeks to move up the global value chain by attracting FDI in sectors that will facilitate technology transfer, increase skill sets in the labor market, and improve labor productivity, specifically targeting high-tech, high value-added industries with good environmental safeguards. Assisted by the World Bank, the government is drafting a new FDI Attraction Strategy for 2030. This new strategy is intended to facilitate technology transfer and environmental protection, and will supposedly move away from tax reductions to other incentives, such as using accelerated depreciation and more flexible loss carry-forward provisions and focusing on value-added qualities instead of on sectoral categories.

Since the Prime Minister included the Provincial Competitiveness Index (PCI) as a target for improving national business competitiveness in Resolution 19 in 2014, PCI has become a major measurement for provincial economic governance policy reform. In January 2019, a new Resolution 02 also included PCI targets as a means to improve the business and investment environment in Vietnam.

Although there are foreign ownership limits (FOL), the government does not have investment laws discriminating against foreign investors; however, the government continues to favor domestic companies through various incentives. According to the OECD 2018 Investment Policy Review, SOEs account for one third of Vietnam’s gross domestic product and receive preferential treatment, including favorable access to credit and land. Regulations are often written to avoid overt conflicts and violations of bilateral or international agreements, but in reality, U.S. investors feel there is not always a level playing field in all sectors. In the 2018 Perceptions of the Business Environment Report, the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) stated: “Foreign investors need a level playing field, not only to attract more investment in the future, but also to maintain the investment that is already here. Frequent and retroactive changes of laws and regulations – including tax rates and policies – are significant risks for foreign investors in Vietnam.”

The Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) oversees an Investment Promotion Department to facilitate all foreign investments, and most of provinces and cities have investment promotion agencies. The agencies provide information, explain regulations, and offer support to investors when requested.

The semiannual Vietnam Business Forum allows for a direct dialogue between the foreign business community and government officials. The U.S.-ASEAN Business Council (USABC) also hosts multiple missions for its U.S. company members enabling direct engagement with senior government officials through frequent dialogues to try to resolve issues. In addition, the 2018 PCI noted 68.5 percent of surveyed companies stated that dialogues and business meetings with provincial authorities helped address obstacles and that they were satisfied with the way provincial regulators dealt with their concerns.  

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own businesses in Vietnam, except in six prohibited areas (illicit drugs, wildlife trading, prostitution, human trafficking, human cloning, and chemical trading). If a domestic or foreign company wants to operate in 243 provisional sectors, it must satisfy conditions in accordance with the 2014 Investment Law. Future amendments to the law are likely to narrow this list further, allowing firms to engage in more business areas. Foreign investors must negotiate on a case-by-case basis for market access in sectors that are not explicitly open under existing signed trade agreements. The government occasionally issues investment licenses on a pilot basis with time limits, or to specifically targeted investors.

Vietnam allows foreign investors to acquire full ownership of local companies, except when mentioned otherwise in international and bilateral commitments, including equity caps, mandatory domestic joint-venture partner, and investment prohibitions. For example, as specified in the Vietnam’s World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments, highly specialized and sensitive sectors (such as banking, telecommunication, and transportation) still maintain FOL, but the Prime Minister can waive these restrictions on a case-by-case basis. Vietnam also limits foreign ownership of SOEs and prohibits importation of old equipment and technologies more than 10 years old. No mechanisms disadvantage or single out U.S. investors.

Merger and acquisition (M&A) activities can be complicated if the target domestic company is operating in a restricted or prohibited sector. For example, when a foreign investor buys into a local company through an M&A transaction, it is difficult to determine which business lines the acquiring foreign company is allowed to maintain and, in many cases, the targeted company may be forced to reduce its business lines.

The 2017 Law on Technology Transfer came into effect in July 2018, along with its implementing documents Decree 76/2018/ND-CP and Circular 02/2018/TT-BKHCN. These require mandatory registration of technology transfers from a foreign country to Vietnam. This registration is separate from registration of intellectual property rights and licenses.  

Vietnam allows for five years of regulatory data protection (RDP) as part of its U.S.-Vietnam bilateral trade agreement obligations.  However, Vietnamese law requires companies to apply separately for RDP within the 12 months following receipt of market authorization for any country in the world. Specifically, decree No. 169/2018/ND-CP, effective from February 2018, tightened the regulatory process for the registration of medical devices and no longer accepted foreign classification results in Vietnam, lengthening procedural time and increasing expenses for foreign manufacturers.

Vietnamese authorities screen investment-license applications using a number of criteria, including: 1) the investor’s legal status and financial capabilities; 2) the project’s compatibility with the government’s “Master Plan” for economic and social development and projected revenue; 3) technology and expertise; 4) environmental protection; 5) plans for land-use and land-clearance compensation; 6) project incentives including tax rates, and 7) land, water, and sea surface rental fees. The decentralization of licensing authority to provincial authorities has, in some cases, streamlined the licensing process and reduced processing times. However, it has also caused considerable regional differences in procedures and interpretations of investment laws and regulations. Insufficient guidelines and unclear regulations can prompt local authorities to consult national authorities, resulting in additional delays. Furthermore, the approval process is often much longer than the timeframe mandated by laws. Many U.S. firms have successfully navigated the investment process, though a lack of transparency in the procedure for obtaining a business license can make investing riskier.

Provincial People’s Committees approve all investment projects, except the following:

  • The National Assembly must approve investment projects that:
    • have a significant environmental impact;
    • change land usage in national parks;
    • are located in protected forests larger than 50 hectares; or
    • require relocating 20,000 people or more in remote areas such as mountainous regions.
  • The Prime Minister must approve the following types of investment project proposals:
    • building airports, seaports, or casinos;
    • exploring, producing and processing oil and gas;  
    • producing tobacco;
    • possessing investment capital of more than VND 5,000 billion (USD 233 million);
    • including foreign investors in sea transportation, telecommunication or network infrastructure, forest plantation, publishing, or press; and
    • involving fully foreign-owned scientific and technology companies or organizations.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Vietnam went through an OECD Investment Policy Review in 2018. The WTO reviewed Vietnam’s trade policy and the report is online. (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp387_e.htm  ).

U.N. Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) conducted an investment policy review in 2009. (https://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationArchive.aspx?publicationid=521  )

Business Facilitation

Vietnam’s business environment continues to improve due to new laws that have streamlined the business registration processes.

The 2018 PCI report found that 75 percent of companies rated paperwork and procedures as simple, compared to 51 percent in 2015. Vietnam decreased duplicate and overlapping inspections with only 10 percent of companies reporting such cases in 2018, compared to 25 percent in 2015. However, many firms still felt the entry costs remain too high and 16 percent reported waiting over one month to complete all required paperwork (aside from getting a business license) to become fully legal. In addition, a 2018 AmCham position paper cited very frequent and largely unnecessary post-import audits as creating burdens for companies. Multiple U.S. companies report facing recurring and unpredictable tax audits based on assumptions or calculations not in alignment with international standards.

Vietnam’s nationwide business registration site is http://dangkykinhdoanh.gov.vn  . In addition, as a member of the UNCTAD international network of transparent investment procedures, information on Vietnam’s investment regulations can be found online (http://vietnam.eregulations.org/  ). The website provides information for foreign and national investors on administrative procedures applicable to investment and income generating operations, 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 and regulatory citations for seven major provinces. The 2019 World Bank’s Doing Business Report stated it took on average 17 days to start a business compared to 22 days in 2018. Vietnam is one of the few countries to receive a 10-star rating from UNCTAD in business registration procedures.

Outward Investment

The government does not have a clear mechanism to promote or incentivize outward investments. The majority of companies engaged in overseas investments are large SOEs, which have strong government-backed financial resources. The government does not implicitly restrict domestic investors from investing abroad. Vietnamese companies have increased investments in the oil, gas, and telecommunication sectors in various developing countries and countries with which Vietnam has close political relationships. According to a government’s most recent report, between 2011-2016, SOE PetroVietnam made USD 7 billion in outbound investments out of a total of USD 12.6 billion from all SOEs.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Vietnam maintains trade relations with more than 200 countries, and has 66 bilateral investment treaties (BITs) and 26 treaties with investment provisions. It is a party to five free trade agreements (FTAs) with ASEAN, Chile, the Eurasian Customs Union, Japan, and South Korea. As a member of ASEAN, Vietnam also is party to ASEAN FTAs with Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong.   

In addition, CPTPP entered into force January 14, 2019, in Vietnam. Once fully implemented, CPTPP will form a trading bloc representing 495 million consumers and 13.5 percent of global GDP – worth a total of USD 10.6 trillion.  

In July 2018, the EU and Vietnam agreed on the final text of the EV FTA and the EU-Vietnam Investment Protection Agreement (EV IPA), which are due to be voted upon by the European Parliament in 2019.

Vietnam is a participant in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations, which include the 10 ASEAN countries and Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand, and it is negotiating FTAs with other countries, including Israel. A full list of signed agreements to which Vietnam is a party is on the UNCTAD website:  http://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/IIA/CountryBits/229#iiaInnerMenu  .

Vietnam has signed double taxation avoidance agreements with 80 countries, listed at http://taxsummaries.pwc.com/ID/Vietnam-Individual-Foreign-tax-relief-and-tax-treaties  . The United States and Vietnam concluded and signed a Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTA) in 2016, but it is still awaiting ratification by the U.S. Congress.

There are no systematic tax disputes between the government and foreign investors. However, an increasing number of U.S. companies disputed tax audits, which resulted in retroactive tax assessments. U.S. businesses generally attribute these cases to unclear, conflicting, and amended language in investment and tax laws and the government’s desire for revenue to reduce chronic budget deficits. These retroactive tax cases against U.S. companies can obscure the true risks of operating in Vietnam and give some U.S. investors pause when deciding whether to expand operations.

Decree 20/2017/ND-CP, effective since May 2017, introduced many new transfer-pricing reporting and documentation requirements, as well as new guidance on the tax deductibility of service and interest expenses. The Ministry of Finance (MOF) is drafting revisions to its Law on Tax Administration and expects to submit the draft law to the National Assembly for review and approval in 2019.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

U.S. companies often report that they face significant challenges with inconsistent regulatory interpretation, irregular enforcement, and unclear laws. A 2017 survey of AmCham members in the ASEAN region found that, more than in any other ASEAN country, American companies perceive a lack of fair law enforcement in Vietnam, which heavily affects their ability to do business in the country. The 2018 PCI report found that access to land, taxes, and social insurance were the most burdensome administrative procedures. However, the report also found improvements in the area of post-entry regulations (regulations businesses face after they start operations), and the burden of administrative procedures was declining. In addition, according to that report, corruption has become less prevalent in certain areas for foreign-invested enterprises (FIEs).

In Vietnam, the National Assembly passes laws, which serve as the highest form of legal direction, but which often lack specifics. The central government, with the Prime Minister’s approval, issues decrees, which provide guidance on a law’s implementation. Individual ministries issue circulars, which provide guidance as to how that ministry will administer a law or a decree. Ministries draft laws and circulate for review among related ministries. Once the law is cleared through the various ministries, the government will post the law for a 60-day comment period. During the comment period or ministry review, if there are major issues with the law, the law will go back to the ministry that drafted the law for further revisions. Once the law is ready, it is submitted to the Office of Government (OOG) for approval, and then submitted to the National Assembly for a series of committee and plenary-level reviews. During this review, the National Assembly can send the law back to the drafting ministry for further changes. For some special or controversial laws, the Communist Party’s Politburo will review via a separate process.

Drafting agencies often lack the resources needed to conduct adequate scientific or data-driven assessments. In principle, before issuing regulations, agencies are required to conduct policy impact assessments that consider economic, social, gender, administrative, and legal factors. The quality of these assessments varies, however.

Regulatory authority exists in both the central and provincial governments, and foreign companies are bound by both central and provincial government regulations. Vietnam has its own accounting standards to which publicly listed companies are required to adhere.

The MOF updates the Vietnam Accounting Standards to match IFRS from time to time. In 2013, it set out a road map for public companies to apply 10 to 20 simple IFRS standards by 2020, 30 standards by 2023, and fully comply with IFRS by 2025. However, some companies already prepare financial statements in line with International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) in the interest of reporting to foreign investors.

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) is in charge of ensuring that government ministries and agencies follow administrative processes. The Ministry has a Regulatory Management Department, which oversees and reviews legal documents after they are issued to ensure compliance with the legal system. The Law on the Promulgation of Legal Normative Documents requires all legal documents and agreements be published online for comments for 60 days, and published in the Official Gazette before implementation. Business associations and various chambers of commerce regularly comment on draft laws and regulations. However, when issuing more detailed implementing guidelines, government entities sometimes issue circulars with little advance warning and without public notification, resulting in little opportunity for comment by affected parties. In several cases, authorities receive comments for the first draft only and make subsequent draft versions unavailable to the public. The centralized location where key regulatory actions are published can be found at http://vbpl.vn/  .

While Vietnam’s legal framework might comply with international norms in some areas, the biggest issue continues to be enforcement. For example, while anti-money laundering (AML) statutes comply with international standards, Vietnam has prosecuted very few AML cases so far. Therefore, while all state agencies participate in reviewing the regulatory enforcement under their legal mandates, regulatory review and enforcement mechanisms remain weak.

While general information is publically available, Vietnam’s public finances and debt obligations (including explicit and contingent liabilities) are not transparent. The National Assembly set a statutory limit for public debt at 65 percent of nominal GDP, and, according to official figures, Vietnam’s public debt to GDP ratio in late 2018 reached 61 percent, down 0.3 percent from 2017. However, the official public-debt figures exclude the debt of certain SOEs. This poses a risk to its public finances, as the state is ultimately liable for the debts of these companies. Vietnam could improve its fiscal transparency by making its executive budget proposal widely and easily accessible to the general public long before the National Assembly enacted the budget; including budgetary and debt expenses in the budget; ensuring greater transparency of off-budget accounts; and publicizing the criteria by which the government awards contracts and licenses for natural resource extraction.

International Regulatory Considerations

Vietnam is a member of ASEAN, a 10-member regional organization working to advance economic integration through cooperation in economic, social, cultural, technical, scientific and administrative fields. Within ASEAN, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC  ) has the goal of establishing a single market across ASEAN nations (similar to the EU), but that goal appears to be long term in nature. To date, the greatest success of the AEC has been tariff reductions. As a result, more than 97 percent of intra-ASEAN trade is tariff-free, and less than 5 percent is subject to tariffs above 10 percent.

Vietnam is a party to the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and has been implementing the TFA’s Category A provisions. Vietnam submitted its Category B and Category C implementation timelines on August 2, 2018. According to these timelines, Vietnam will fully implement the Category B and C provisions by the end of 2023 and 2024, respectively. 

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The legal system is a mix of customary, French, and Soviet civil legal traditions. Vietnam generally follows an operational understanding of the rule of law that is consistent with its top-down, one-party political structure and traditionally inquisitorial judicial system. Various laws and regulations regulate contracts, with each type of contract subject to specific regulations.

If a contract does not contain a dispute-resolution clause, courts will have jurisdiction over a possible dispute. Vietnamese law allows dispute-resolution clauses in commercial contracts explicitly through the Law on Commercial Arbitration. The law follows the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) model law as an international standard for procedural rules, and the lawmakers’ intention is indeed arbitration-friendly.

Under the revised 2015 Civil Code, all contracts are “civil contracts” subject to uniform rules. In foreign civil contracts, parties may choose foreign laws as a reference for their agreement, if the application of the law does not violate the basic principles of Vietnamese law. When the parties to a contract are unable to agree on an arbitration award, they can bring the dispute to court.

The 2005 Commercial Law regulates commercial contracts between businesses. Specific regulations provide specific forms of contracts, depending on the nature of the deals. The hierarchy of the country’s courts is: (1) the Supreme People’s Court; (2) the High People’s Court; (3) Provincial People’s Courts; and (4) District People’s Courts. The People’s Courts operate in five divisions: criminal, civil, administrative, economic, and labor. The People’s Procuracy is responsible for prosecuting criminal activities as well as supervising judicial activities.

Vietnamese courts will only consider recognition of civil judgments issued by courts in countries that have entered into agreements on recognition of judgments with Vietnam or on a reciprocal basis. However, with the exception of France, these treaties only cover non-commercial judgments.

Vietnam lacks an independent judiciary, and there is a lack of separation of powers among Vietnam’s branches of government. For example, Vietnam’s Chief Justice is also a member of the Communist Party’s Central Committee. According to Transparency International, the risk of corruption in judicial rulings is significant, as nearly one-fifth of surveyed Vietnamese households that have been to court declared that they had paid bribes at least once. Many businesses therefore avoid Vietnamese courts.

Along with corruption, the judicial system continues to face additional problems. For example, many judges and arbitrators lack adequate legal training and are appointed through personal or political contacts with party leaders or based on their political views. In addition, extremely low judicial salaries engender corruption.

Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable, and appeals are adjudicated in the national court system. Through a separate legal mechanism, individuals and companies can file complaints against enforcement actions under the Law on Complaints.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The 2014 Investment Law aimed to improve the investment environment. Previously, Vietnam used a “positive list” approach, meaning that foreign businesses were only allowed to operate in a list of specific sectors outlined by law. Starting in July 2015, Vietnam implemented a “negative list” approach, meaning that foreign businesses are allowed to operate in all areas except for six prohibited sectors or business lines. In November 2016, the National Assembly amended the Investment Law to reduce the list of 267 provisional business lines to 243; subsequent amendments will likely further narrow this list, allowing firms to engage in more business areas.

The law also requires foreign and domestic investors to be treated the same in cases of nationalization and confiscation. However, foreign investors are subject to different business-licensing processes and restrictions, and Vietnamese companies that have a majority foreign investment are subject to foreign-investor business-license procedures. Since June 2017, foreign investors can choose to apply for ERC and Investment Registration Certificate (IRC) separately or through a “one-stop-shop” process, which saves time and cost. However, large-scale projects still require a high-level approval before receiving an IRC. This is often a lengthy process. Investment procedures for the seven major provinces of Binh Dinh, Danang, Hai Phuong, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Phu Yen, and Vinh Phuc can be found at https://vietnam.eregulations.org/  .

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

In 2018, Vietnam passed a new Law on Competition, which will come into effect on July 1, 2019. While the 2014 Law on Competition only applied to activities, transactions, and agreements originating inside Vietnam, the new law applies to those originating inside and outside Vietnam that negatively affect competitiveness in Vietnam. The revised law included punishments to minimize impediments to competition created by government agencies and introduced leniency towards firms and individuals, as an incentive to align with international practices and improve the effectiveness of the law.

Unlike the 2014 Law on Competition, which specified that a firm was exercising market power if it had 30 percent or more of market share, the revised law contains more criteria to determine market power, including firm size, financial ability, advantages on technology and infrastructure, etc. The new law does not forbid market concentration for firms with combined market share over 50 percent unless the market concentration significantly constrains competition.

The law charges the National Competition Commission under the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT) with competition management. The Commission will support the Trade Minister on competition management, conduct investigations, and review requests for exemptions.

Expropriation and Compensation

Under Vietnamese law, the government can only expropriate investors’ property in cases of emergency, disaster, defense, or national interest, and the government is required to compensate investors if it expropriates property. Under the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement, Vietnam must apply international standards of treatment in any case of expropriation or nationalization of U.S. investor assets, which includes acting in a non-discriminatory manner with due process of law and with prompt, adequate, and effective compensation.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Vietnam has not yet acceded to the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) Convention. MPI has submitted a proposal to the government to join the ICSID, but this is still under consideration.

Vietnam is a party to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, meaning that foreign arbitral awards rendered by a recognized international arbitration institution should be respected by Vietnamese courts without a review of cases’ merits. Only a limited number of foreign awards have been submitted to the MOJ and local courts for enforcement so far, and almost none have successfully made it through the appeals process to full enforcement. As a signatory to the New York Convention, Vietnam is required to recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards within its jurisdiction, with very few exceptions. However, in practice, this is not always the case.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The government is not a signatory to a treaty or investment agreement in which binding international arbitration of investment disputes is recognized, and has yet to sign a BIT or FTA with the United States. Although the law states that the court should recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards, Vietnamese courts may reject these judgements if the award is contrary to the basic principles of Vietnamese laws.

According to UNCTAD, over the last 10 years there were two dispute cases against the Vietnamese government involving U.S. companies. The courts decided in favor of the government in one case, and the parties decided to discontinue the other case. The Vietnam government was a respondent state in seven disputes. More details are available at https://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/ISDS/CountryCases/229?partyRole=2  

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Vietnam’s legal system remains underdeveloped and is often ineffective in settling commercial disputes. Negotiation between concerned parties is the most common means of dispute resolution. Since the Law on Arbitration does not allow a foreign investor to refer an investment dispute to a court in a foreign jurisdiction, Vietnamese judges cannot apply foreign laws to a case before them, and foreign lawyers cannot represent plaintiffs in a court of law.

In February 2017, the government issued Decree No. 22/2017/ND-CP (Decree 22) on commercial mediation, which came into effect in April 2017. Decree 22 spells out in detail the principle procedures for commercial mediation. More information on Decree 22 can be found at http://eng.viac.vn/decree-no-.-22/2017/nd-cp-on-commercial-mediation-a487.html  .

The Law on Commercial Arbitration took effect in 2011. Currently there are no foreign arbitration centers in Vietnam, although the Arbitration Law permits foreign arbitration centers to establish branches or representative offices. Foreign and domestic arbitral awards are legally enforceable in Vietnam; however, in practice it can be very difficult.

As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, Vietnam is required to recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards within its jurisdiction, with very few exceptions.

There are no readily available statistics on how often domestic courts rule in favor of SOEs. In general, the court system in Vietnam works slowly. International arbitration awards, when enforced, may take years from original judgment to payment. According to the 2018 PCI report, 20 percent of surveyed foreign companies had a contract dispute. Only 39 percent of private domestic companies and two percent of foreign firms were willing to use the courts to resolve ongoing disputes in 2018, due to concerns related to time, costs, and potential bribery during the process. Companies turned to other methods such as arbitration or using influential individuals trusted by both parties.

Bankruptcy Regulations

In 2014, Vietnam revised its Bankruptcy Law to make it easier for companies to declare bankruptcy. The law clarified the definition of insolvency as an enterprise that is more than three months overdue in meeting its payment obligations. The law also provided provisions allowing creditors to commence bankruptcy proceedings against an enterprise, and created procedures for credit institutions to file for bankruptcy. Despite these changes, according to the World Bank’s 2019 Ease of Doing Business Report, Vietnam ranked 133 out of 190 for resolving insolvency. The report noted that it still takes on average five years to conclude a bankruptcy case in Vietnam, and the recovery rate on average is only 21 percent. The courts have not improved bankruptcy case processing speed.  

The Credit Information Center of the State Bank of Vietnam provides credit information services.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Foreign investors are exempt from import duties on goods imported for their own use that cannot be procured locally, including machinery, vehicles, components and spare parts for machinery and equipment, raw materials, inputs for manufacturing, and construction materials. Remote and mountainous provinces are allowed to provide additional tax breaks and other incentives to prospective investors.

In addition, projects in the following areas are entitled to investment incentives such as lower corporate income tax, exemption of import tariffs, or favorable land rental rates: high-tech; research and development; new materials; energy; clean energy; renewable energy; energy saving products; automobiles; software; waste treatment and management; primary or vocational education; and those located in remote areas or in industrial zones.

According to the OECD’s 2018 Investment Policy Review, Vietnam has an expansionary tax policy aimed at stimulating investment. Vietnam’s corporate income tax rate is highly competitive regionally at 20 percent.

Vietnam has also offered non-tax incentives, including exemption or reduction of infrastructure-use fees and land-use fees; assistance with recruitment and training of skilled labor; and assistance with immigration and residence procedures.

Vietnam promotes foreign investment in certain priority sectors, and in geographic regions that are remote or underdeveloped. The government encourages investment in the following areas: production of new materials, new energy sources, metallurgy and chemical industries; manufacturing of high-tech products, biotechnology, information technology, mechanical engineering; agricultural, fishery and forestry production; salt production; generation of new plant varieties and animal species; ecology and environmental protection; research and development; knowledge-based services; processing and manufacturing; labor-intensive projects (using 5,000 or more full-time laborers); infrastructure projects; education and training; and health and sports development.

Although Vietnam seeks FDI in infrastructure, including the energy sector, it has been reluctant to give government guarantees that investors often seek, due to its concerns about reaching its public-debt ceiling of 65 percent of GDP.  (In 2018, its public debt was 61 percent of GDP.) This has delayed some approvals of large-scale projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

In recent years, Vietnam has prioritized efforts to establish free trade zones (FTZs). Vietnam currently has more than 350 industrial zones (IZs) and export processing zones (EPZs). Many foreign investors report that it is easier to implement projects in industrial zones because they do not have to be involved in site clearance and infrastructure construction. Enterprises pay no duties when importing raw materials if they export the finished products. Customs warehouse keepers in FTZs can provide transportation services and act as distributors for the goods deposited. Additional services relating to customs declaration, appraisal, insurance, reprocessing, or packaging, require the approval of the provincial customs office. In practice, the time involved for clearance and delivery of goods by provincial custom officials can be lengthy and unpredictable.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Vietnam does not mandate that businesses hire local workers, including for senior management roles or the board of directors. However, companies must prove their efforts to hire suitable local employees were unsuccessful before recruiting foreigners. This does not apply to board members elected by shareholders or capital contributors. In February 2016, the government issued Decree No.11/2016/ND-CP, guiding a number of articles of the Labor Code on foreigners working in Vietnam, which entered into force in April 2016. Decree 11 included positive changes, including changes to the conditions, paperwork, and timeline for work-permit applications and exemptions, and clarification that the work-permit and exemption-certificate requirements did not apply to foreigners coming to work for less than 30 days with less than 90 days of cumulative working time in one year.

In October 2018, the government issued Decree No. 140/2018/ND-CP (Decree 140), which amends various decrees on investment, business conditions, and administration procedures, and Decree No. 143/2018/ND-CP (Decree 143) on compulsory social insurance for foreigners working in Vietnam. Decree 140 streamlines the work-permit process for foreigners working in Vietnam. Decree 143 requires foreign individuals with a work permit, practicing certificate, or practicing license, and working under a labor contract with an indefinite term or a definite term of one year or more with a company in Vietnam, to participate in a mandatory social insurance scheme, which previously was applicable to Vietnamese workers only.  

The government has been increasingly adopting policies to encourage or require foreign investors to use domestic content in goods and technology. For example, Circular 14/2015/TT-BKHDT applied high tariffs to imported automotive parts to protect domestic production and encourage foreign auto manufacturers to source component parts locally. Another example is Decree 54/2017/ND-CP, which stipulates foreign invested entities can import drugs into Vietnam, but are not permitted to transport, store, or distribute drugs.

In June 2018, the National Assembly approved a Law on Cybersecurity, effective January 1 2019, which requires cross-border services to store data of Vietnamese users in Vietnam, despite sustained international and domestic opposition to the regulation.  The law’s data-localization provisions are broad and vague, with subsequent draft guidance implying the data-localization requirements will only apply to firms that do not comply with strict online content removal requests from the government. Foreign firms and legal experts await implementing decrees expected in mid-2019 to clarify how the government intends to implement the law. In 2015, the National Assembly issued the Law on Network Information Security, effective July 1, 2016, which included obligations to disclose proprietary information as a condition to enter the market, overly broad definitions of personal information, overly broad provisions requiring “cooperation with the Government” regarding access to data, and requirements to decrypt encrypted information held by third parties. MOF is also proposing draft legislation in 2019 to request cross-border service providers via internet protocols to have a representative office in Vietnam, citing the necessity of local office requirements for taxation purposes.

There are currently no measures preventing or unduly impeding companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside of Vietnam. The most important regulation is Decree 72/2013/ND-CP, on the management, provision, and use of internet services and online information. While Decree 72 technically requires organizations establishing “general websites,” or social networks and companies providing online gaming services or services across mobile networks to maintain at least one server in Vietnam, in practice the regulation is only applied to domestic firms, and then only sporadically. It also establishes requirements for storing certain types of data (personally identifiable information of users, user activity logs, etc.), but it is unclear if that information must be stored on a local server. In 2016, the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) issued Circular 38/2016/TT-BTTT, one of the implementing circulars of Decree 72. The circular does not require localization of servers, though it does require offshore service providers with a large number of users in Vietnam to comply with local content restrictions. Specific requirements under Circular 38 apply to offshore entities that provide cross-border public information into Vietnam (including websites, social networks, online applications, search engines and other similar forms of services) that (a) have more than one million hits from Vietnam per month or (b) lease a data center to store digital information in Vietnam in order to provide its services.

Provisions of the new cybersecurity law require firms to hand over unencrypted user information upon request by law enforcement. However, application of this requirement hinges on issuance of implementing decrees, expected in mid-2019. Vietnam has no international commitments in this area and does not permit cross-border online gaming. Therefore, gaming providers tend to establish a joint venture with a Vietnamese company and locate one server in Vietnam. Regarding financial data localization, Circular 31 requires backup information, but does not impede cross-border data flows.

When Vietnam joined the WTO in 2007, it established minimum commitments on market access for U.S. goods and services, as well as equal treatment for Vietnamese and foreign companies. Vietnam undertook commitments on goods (tariffs, quotas, and ceilings on agricultural subsidies) and services (provisions of access to foreign-service providers and related conditions). It has also committed to implementing agreements on intellectual property (the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement), customs valuation, technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, import licensing provisions, anti-dumping and countervailing measures, and rules of origin. As part of its WTO accession, Vietnam also committed to remove performance requirements that are inconsistent with the agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMs). The 2014 Investment Law specifically prohibits the following: giving priority to domestic goods or services; compulsory purchases from a specific domestic firm; export of goods or services at a fixed percentage; restricting the quantity, value, or type of goods or services exported or sourced domestically; fixing import goods at the same quantity and value as goods exported; requirements to achieve certain local content ratios in manufacturing goods; stipulated levels or values on research and development activities; supplying goods or services in a particular location; and mandating the establishment of head offices in a particular location.

The government updates, on an ad hoc basis, the list of investment priority high-tech products and companies investing in research and development for items that are entitled to the highest tax incentives and may be eligible for funding from the National High-Tech Development Program. Companies that develop infrastructure for high-tech parks will also receive land incentives.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The State collectively owns and manages all land in Vietnam, and therefore neither foreigners nor Vietnamese nationals can own land. However, the government grants land-use and building rights, often to individuals.  According to the Ministry of National Resources and Environment (MONRE), as of September 2018, the government has issued land-use rights certificates for 96.9 percent of land in Vietnam. If land is not used, according to the land-use rights certificate or if it is unoccupied, it reverts to the government. Vietnam is building a national land-registration database, and some localities have already digitized their land records.

The MONRE is drafting amendments to the 2013 Land Law, which would focus on several major issues, including eradicating the farmland acquisition quota, increasing cases of land recovery by the State, assigning district-level administrators rather than provincial-level administrators to accurately set land prices, and allowing foreigners to own homes in Vietnam. MONRE expects to submit the draft law to the National Assembly for review and approval in 2020.    

State protection of property rights is still evolving, as the State can expropriate land for socio-economic development. Under the Housing Law and Real Estate Business Law passed by the National Assembly in November 2014, the government can take land if it deems it necessary for socio-economic development in the public or national interest and the Prime Minister, the National Assembly, or the Provincial People’s Council approves such action. However, the law loosely defined “socio-economic” development, and there are many outstanding legal disputes between landowners and local authorities. Disputes over land rights continue to be a significant driver of social protest in Vietnam. Foreign investors also may be exposed to land disputes through merger and acquisition activities when they buy into a local company.

In addition to land, the State’s collective property includes “forests, rivers and lakes, water supplies, wealth lying underground or coming from the sea, the continental shelf and the air, the funds and property invested by the government in enterprises, and works in all branches and fields – the economy, culture, society, science, technology, external relations, national defense, security – and all other property determined by law as belonging to the State.”

The Housing Law and Real Estate Business Law extended “land-use rights” to foreign investors, allowing titleholders to conduct property transactions, including mortgages. Foreign investors can lease land for renewable periods of 50 years, and up to 70 years in some poor areas of the country.

In June 2018, the National Assembly decided to delay indefinitely the debate on and adoption of the controversial draft Law on Special Administrative and Economic Zones. The law aimed to loosen regulations on foreign investors, permitting them to lease land in the Van Don, Bac Van Phong, and Phu Quoc Special Administrative and Economic Zones for up to 99 years. The National Assembly’s decision followed widespread protests against the proposed law.  

Some investors have encountered difficulties amending investment licenses to expand operations onto land adjoining existing facilities. Investors also note that local authorities may intend to increase requirements for land-use rights when current rights must be renewed, particularly in instances when the investment in question competes with Vietnamese companies.

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)

The legal basis for IPR includes the 2005 Civil Code, the 2005 Intellectual Property (IP) Law as amended in 2009, the 2015 Penal Code, and implementing regulations and decrees. Vietnam has joined the Paris Convention on Industrial Property and the Berne Convention on Copyright; the Rome Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations; the Patent Cooperation Treaty; the Madrid Protocol; and the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants. It has worked to meet its commitments under these international treaties. The Vietnamese government has ratified the revised Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights protocol, which took effect on January 23, 2017.  On January 1, 2018, the 2015 Penal Code entered into force with clearer guidelines on the application of criminal penalties for certain acts of IPR infringement or piracy. For the first time, commercial entities can be liable for violations. On June 12, 2018, the National Assembly passed a new Law on Competition, eliminating outdated IP-related unfair competition provisions and bringing guidelines in line with Vietnam’s other IP laws. The government also issued Decree No. 22/2018/ND-CP, which replaced a 2006 regulation and updated copyright guidelines under the Civil Code and Law on IP. However, enforcement agencies still lack clarity and experience in how to impose criminal penalties on IPR violators and continue to wait for further implementing guidelines. On June 19, 2018, the Prime Minister issued Directive No. 17/CT-TTg to strengthen the fight against smuggling, commercial fraud, and the production and trade of low-quality foods and fake goods, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics.

Circular No. 16/2016/TT-BKHCN, which amends and supplements a number of articles of Circular No. 01/2007/TT-BKHCN, one of the core regulations in the Vietnam IP system, came into force on January 15, 2018. IP attorneys expect the circular will have a significant, positive impact on patent and trademark examination procedures, but also expect further revisions in 2019 and in the IP Law revision. The National Assembly ratified the CPTPP on November 2, 2018, and Vietnam intends to amend laws, including the Law on Intellectual Property, to align with the international treaty by 2021. With technical support from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Vietnam in 2017 also completed a National Strategy for Intellectual Property to create a roadmap for promoting innovation and a more effective IP framework by 2030.

Although Vietnam has made progress in establishing a legal framework for IPR protection, significant problems remain and new challenges are emerging. The country remains on the Special 301 Watch List. The rate of unlicensed software in Vietnam is still high, at 74 percent, according to the Software Alliance’s latest data, representing a commercial value of USD 492 million. In 2018, Vietnam had mixed results in its efforts to protect IPR. Vietnam’s continued integration into the global economic community, as well as increasing domestic pressure for IP protections, may stimulate positive change. Nevertheless, infringement and piracy remained commonplace, and the impact of digital piracy and the increasing prevalence of counterfeit goods sold online continued to undermine the IPR environment. The increasingly sophisticated capabilities of domestic counterfeiters, coupled with developing smuggling routes through Vietnam’s porous borders, were also worrisome trends. There are ten ministries sharing some level of responsibility for IPR enforcement and protection, which often leads to duplication or confusion. Additionally, the roles and power of these ministries and agencies varies widely. In October 2018, the MOIT upgraded the Market Surveillance Agency, the country’s leading IP enforcement agency, to the Directorate of Market Surveillance (DMS). The move requires all 63 provincial-level market surveillance departments to report directly to the national agency rather than to local provincial governments, improving coordination and efficiency among enforcement agencies.

In 2018, the Intellectual Property Office of Vietnam (IP Vietnam) reported receiving 108,375 IP applications of all types (an increase of 5.9 percent compared to 2017), of which 63,617 were registered for industrial property rights (up 8.7 percent compared to 2017). IP Vietnam reported granting 2,212 patents in 2018 (up 27 percent from 2017). Industrial designs registrations reached 2,360 in 2018 (up 4.1 percent from 2017). In total, IP Vietnam granted more than 29,040 protection titles for industrial property, out of more than 63,617 applications in 2018 (up 8.1 percent from 2017). The DMS processed 6,149 counterfeit and IP infringement cases and collected USD 5,500 in fines.  The most infringed products were agricultural materials, agricultural and pharmaceutical products, and spare automobile parts.  

The Copyright Office of Vietnam received and settled seven copyright petitions, and received and settled 12 requests for copyright assessment in 2018. In 2018, the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism Inspectorate carried out inspections for software licensing compliance and discovered 46 violations that resulted in fines of USD 58,000, a 15 percent decrease in fines from 2017.

For more information, please see the following reports from the U.S. Trade Representative:

Special 301 Report:

https://ustr.gov/issue-areas/intellectual-property/special-301/2018-special-301-review  

Notorious Markets Report: https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/Press/Reports/2017 percent20Notorious percent20Markets percent20List percent201.11.18.pdf 

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

While the government has acknowledged the need to strengthen both the capital and debt markets, there has been little progress, leaving the banking sector as the primary capital source for Vietnamese companies. Challenges to raising capital domestically include insufficient transparency in Vietnam’s financial markets and non-compliance with internationally accepted accounting standards.

Vietnam welcomes foreign portfolio investment; however, Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) continues to classify Vietnam as a Frontier Market, which precludes some of the world’s biggest asset managers from investing in its stock markets. Vietnam is improving its legal framework in an effort to reach its goal of meeting the “emerging market” criteria in 2020 and attracting more foreign capital. The UK-based FTSE Russell’s decision to place Vietnam on its watch list for possible reclassification as a “Secondary Emerging Market” in September 2018 could also encourage faster reforms.  

The government is drafting amendments to the Securities Law (revised in 2010) along with decrees, circulars, and guiding documents, and is targeting submission to the National Assembly for approval late in 2019. These will likely include comprehensive changes on securities trading, corporate governance, share issuance, and most notably foreign ownership limits (FOL), to help move Vietnam toward emerging market status.

The State Securities Commission (SSC) under the MOF regulates Vietnam’s two stock exchanges, the HCMC Stock Exchange (HOSE), which lists larger companies, and the Hanoi Stock Exchange (HNX), which has smaller companies, bonds, and derivatives. Vietnam also has a market for unlisted public companies (UPCOM) at the Hanoi Securities Center, where many equitized SOEs first list their shares (due to lower transparency requirements) before moving to the HOSE or HNX. In January 2019, the Prime Minister approved a plan to establish the Vietnam Stock Exchange (VSE) as a MOF wholly state-owned company, which would own both the HOSE and HNX.

There is sufficient liquidity in the markets to enter and maintain sizable positions.  Stock and fund certificate liquidity increased in 2018, reaching an average trading value per session of around USD 280 million, up 30 percent from 2017. Combined market capitalization at the end of 2018 was approximately USD 169 billion, equal to 80 percent of Vietnam’s GDP, with the HOSE accounting for USD 124 billion, the HNX USD 8 billion, and the UPCOM USD 37 billion. Bond market capitalization reached over USD 50 billion in 2018, the majority of which were government bonds, largely held by domestic commercial banks. Insurance firms also were noticeably more active government bond investors in 2018.  

Vietnam complies with International Monetary Fund (IMF) Article VIII. The government notified the IMF that it accepted the obligations of Article VIII, Sections 2, 3, and 4, effective November 8, 2005.

Local banks charge relatively high interest rates for new loans because they must continue to service existing non-performing loans (NPLs). Domestic companies, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs), often have difficulty accessing credit. Foreign investors are generally able to obtain local financing.

Money and Banking System

Since recovering from the 2008 global downturn, Vietnam’s banking sector has been stable. However, despite various banking reforms, the sector continues to be concentrated at the top and fragmented at the bottom. Based on its 2018 survey, the central bank, the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV), estimated that 50 percent of Vietnam’s population is underbanked or does not have bank accounts, due to an inherent distrust of the banking sector; the ingrained habit of holding assets in cash, foreign currency, and gold; and the limited use of financial technology tools. However, this SBV estimate appears significantly understated, with the likely percentage being closer to 70 percent.  The World Bank’s The Global Findex Database 2017 (the most recent available) estimated that only 31 percent of Vietnamese over the age of 15 had an account at a financial institution or through a mobile money provider.

The banking sector’s estimated total assets in 2018 were USD 481 billion, of which USD 207 billion belonged to seven state-owned and majority state-controlled commercial banks, accounting for 44 percent of total assets. Though grouped under joint-stock (private) commercial banks, the Bank of Investment and Development Bank (BIDV), Vietnam Joint Stock Commercial Bank for Industry and Trade (VietinBank), and Joint Stock Commercial Bank for Foreign Trade of Vietnam (Vietcombank) all are majority-controlled by SBV. In addition, the SBV holds 100 percent of Agribank, Global Petro Commercial Bank (GPBank), Construction Bank (CBBank), and Oceanbank.  

In addition, there were nine foreign-owned banks (HSBC, Standard Chartered, Shinhan, Hong Leong, Woori Bank, Public Bank, CIMB Bank, ANZ, and United Overseas Bank), 49 branches of foreign banks, 52 representatives of foreign credit institutions, and two joint-venture banks (Vietnam-Russia Bank and Indovina Bank).

Vietnam has made progress in recent years to reduce its NPLs, but most domestic banks remain under-capitalized with high NPL levels that continue to drag on economic growth. Accurate NPL data is not available and the central bank frequently underreports the level of NPLs. In 2018, the NPL ratio on the banks’ balance sheets reportedly went down to 2.4 percent, from 2.5 percent in 2017, while the off-balance sheet NPL ratio remain unpublished. The SBV attributes the declining NPL level to the uptrend of the property markets and its application of the National Assembly’s 2017 Resolution 42 which helps credit institutions and the Vietnam Asset Management Company (VAMC) to repossess collateral and better manage bad loans. Under its Development Strategy of the Vietnam Banking Sector to 2025, the SBV aims to reduce the NPL ratio at the banks and the VAMC to below 3 percent by 2020 (excluding poorly performing banks under a separate structure.)

Other issues in the banking sector include state-directed lending by state-owned commercial banks, cross-ownership, related-party lending under non-commercial criteria, and preferential loans to SOEs that crowd out credit to SMEs. By law, banks must maintain a minimum-chartered capital of VND 3 trillion (roughly USD 134 million); however, Vietnam is moving towards adoption of Basel II standards in 2020.

Currently, the total FOL in a Vietnamese bank is 30 percent, with a 5 percent limit for non-strategic individual investors, a 15 percent limit for non-strategic institutional investors, and a 20 percent limit for strategic institutional partners. Prudential measures and regulations apply the same to domestic and foreign banks. To meet the capital adequacy ratio required by Basel II, many banks are seeking overseas capital, and calling for relaxation of the FOL.

We are unaware of any lost correspondent-banking relationships in the past three years. However, after the SBV took over three failing banks (Ocean Bank, Construction Bank, and GP Bank), and placed Dong A Bank under special supervision in 2015, correspondent-banking relationships with those banks may have been limited.

The government is trying to leverage Vietnam’s high adoption rate of mobile and smart phones to promote financial inclusion, increase use of electronic payments, and shift Vietnam towards a cashless society. Although the SBV announced plans to implement a “regulatory sandbox” for financial technology (fintech) activities to inform its future updates to the legal framework, it has not yet published details and has licensed only 26 organizations to provide cashless services. Fintech is rapidly gaining market acceptance as many banks have implemented QR code payments and others have deployed online payment services. Nearly 100 fintech startups have reportedly launched in Vietnam, operating mainly in the e-payments space. However, these startups must overcome many legal mechanisms and policies, such as obtaining licenses.  No foreign e-payments fintech companies have such licenses yet.

Cryptocurrencies remain prohibited as legal tender, preventing the issuance, supply, and use of Bitcoin and other similar virtual currency as a means of payment. Failure to comply can result in criminal prosecution. However, in 2018, the MOJ reportedly submitted to the Prime Minister’s office for approval a crypto-assets proposal, though it has yet to make public any details.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange Policies

There are no restrictions on foreign investors converting and repatriating earnings or investment capital from Vietnam. However, funds associated with any form of investment cannot be freely converted into any world currency.

The SBV has a mechanism to determine the interbank reference exchange rate. In order to provide flexibility in responding to exchange rate volatility, the SBV announces a daily interbank reference exchange rate. The rate is determined based on the previous day’s average interbank exchange rates, taking into account movements in the currencies of Vietnam’s major trading and investment partners.

Remittance Policies

Vietnam mandates all monetary transactions must be in Vietnamese Dong (VND), and allows foreign businesses to remit lawful profits, capital contributions, and other legal investment activity revenues in foreign currency authorized credit institutions. There are no time constraints on remittances or limitations on outflow; however, outward foreign currency transactions require supporting documents (such as audited financial statements, import/foreign-service procurement contracts and proof of tax obligation fulfillment, and approval of the SBV on loan contracts etc.). Foreign investors are also required to submit notification of profit remittance abroad to tax authorities at least seven working days prior to the remittance.

The inflow of foreign currency to Vietnam is less constrained.  There are no recent changes or plans to change investment remittance policies that either tighten or relax access to foreign exchange for investment remittances.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The State Capital Investment Corporation (SCIC) technically qualifies as a sovereign wealth fund (SWF), as its mandate includes investing dividends and proceeds from privatization.  The Ministry of Finance transferred oversight of SCIC and 18 other large SOEs to the Committee for Management of State Capital at Enterprises (CMSC) in November 2018, following the CMSC’s launch in September 2018 and the issuance of the Prime Minister’s Decree 131 defining its functions, tasks, powers, and organizational structure.

As of August 31, 2018, the SCIC had invested in 139 businesses, with nearly USD 866.3 million in state capital (book value). The SCIC does not manage or invest balance-of-payment surpluses, official foreign currency operations, government transfer payments, fiscal surpluses, or surpluses from resource exports. SCIC’s primary mandate is to manage the non-privatized portion of SOEs. The SCIC invests 100 percent of its portfolio in Vietnam, and the SCIC’s investment of dividends and divestment proceeds does not appear to have any ramifications for U.S. investors. The SCIC budget is reasonably transparent, audited, and can be found at http://www.scic.vn/  .

7. State-Owned Enterprises

According to the World Bank, SOEs would benefit from a “modern corporate governance system that separates state ownership rights from regulatory functions and implements an objective and transparent mechanism for the selection of CEOs and board members.” The government framework for wholly owned SOEs is fragmented, incoherent, and the management of SOEs is not in line with sound corporate governance. To improve corporate governance and SOE efficiency, the government established the CMSC in 2018. The government’s aim was to separate state ownership from regulatory oversight of 19 large centrally owned SOEs by moving their supervision away from the line ministries to CMSC.

Vietnam currently has over 500 wholly owned SOEs – including seven groups, 57 corporations, and 441 other enterprises managed by ministries and localities, according to the Ministry of Finance. Vietnam does not publish a full list of SOEs and they operate in nearly every industrial sector. However, in 2016, the government issued Decision 58/2016/QD-TTg (Decision 58) specifying the industries and areas in which the government will have wholly owned and majority-owned enterprises, including electricity distribution, airport management and operation, large-scale mineral mining, production of basic chemicals, and telecommunications services with network infrastructure, among others.

While SOEs have boards of directors, these boards are not independent. After CMSC’s establishment, it took over the oversight of the 19 largest SOEs. Aside from the CMSC’s supervision of the 19 largest SOEs, ministries govern the remaining centrally owned SOEs, while provincial governments run local SOEs. CMSC, ministries, and local governments all can appoint their staff to the boards. For SOEs with majority shares owned by government, the government ministries, and provincial governments still have the right to appoint executive staff of the companies. SOE senior officials do not typically retain their government positions, but they still retain links to the government, and may return to government service once they terminate their employment with the SOE.

SOEs do not operate on a level playing field with domestic companies and continue to benefit from preferential access to resources such as land, capital, and political largesse. However, in the 2018 PCI report, the percentage of surveyed firms that believe provincial authorities favored SOEs declined from 41 percent in 2017 to 32 percent in 2018.

In 2015, the government issued Decree 81/2015/ND-CP to require SOEs to implement strict information disclosure procedures in accordance with listed company requirements. However, because there is no clear punishment for violations, SOEs have little incentive to follow the decree. Although over 40 percent of SOEs disclose the required information, MPI confirmed the quality of reporting was insufficient to assess the SOEs’ transparency. Although there are penalties for insufficient disclosure and non-disclosure, these penalties are not significant enough to improve information disclosure.

Privatization Program

Vietnam has been working to reform the SOE sector for over 15 years. Because SOE share sales have historically only transferred a nominal interest (2 to 3 percent) to the private sector, the process of privatization (also known as equitization) has been slow. Inadequate regulations specifying equitization procedures and pressure from vested interests present the biggest obstacles. Decree 58 specified sectors targeted for equitization, including airport management and related services, mineral mining and extraction, financial service and banking, chemical manufacturing, rice wholesale, petro and oil importation, telecommunications, rubber and coffee processors, and electricity distribution. It appears the government plans to sell or partially privatize the best, most efficient SOEs first to quickly raise cash, but has been slow to address inefficiencies in the rest.

Although the government appears more committed to privatization due to fiscal budget pressures and the necessity of expanding the private sector for continued economic growth, it has yet to meet its annual SOE equitization targets. After some notable large deals (Vinamilk in 2016 and Sabeco in 2017), the government released decision 1232/2017/QD-TTg in 2017, which listed 406 additional SOEs it would divest in the period 2017-2020, along with specific target divestment percentages. The decision aimed to reduce the number of wholly owned SOEs to about 150 by 2020. However, only 12 SOEs were equitized in 2018 against a target of 85 and share proceeds totaled less than USD 1 billion and divestments USD 880 million. The MOF expects the process to speed up in 2019 with equitization and divestment proceeds of over USD 2 billion. 

Foreign investors can invest in SOEs. SOE share bidding process information can be found at https://www.hsx.vn/Modules/Auction/Web/AucInfoList?fid=271f94f836a14eb0a7d2207c05f7a39e  https://www.hnx.vn/en-gb/dau-gia/lich-dau-gia.html  , and http://www.scic.vn/english/index.php/investment.html  . SOE financial information is available on http://business.gov.vn/C percentC3 percentB4ngb percentE1 percentBB percent91Th percentC3 percentB4ngtin/Th percentC3 percentB4ngtindoanhnghi percentE1 percentBB percent87p.aspx  .

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The government has issued regulations intended to protect the public from adverse business practices in relation to labor rights, consumer protection, and environmental protection. However, the enforcement of these laws is weak. The Enterprise Law allows shareholders to take court action against the management of a company and can nullify fully, or partly, a resolution of a shareholder general meeting through a court order or an arbitration decision. Companies are required to publish their corporate social responsibility activities, corporate governance work, information of related parties and transactions, and compensation of the management. Companies must also announce extraordinary circumstances, such as changes to management, dissolution, or establishment of subsidiaries, within 36 hours of the event.

Most multinational companies implement Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs that contribute to improving the business environment, and awareness of CSR programs is increasing among large domestic companies. The Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) conducts CSR training and highlights corporate engagement on a dedicated website (http://www.csr-vietnam.eu/  ) in partnership with the UN. In addition, AmCham also has a CSR group that organizes events and activities to raise awareness of social issues. Non-governmental organizations collaborate with government bodies, such as the VCCI and the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA), to promote business practices in Vietnam in line with international norms and standards. Discussions on ethical business standards during negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the CPTPP – in addition to the gradual introduction of CSR practices by some multinational corporations over the years – have helped to shift social expectations around business responsibilities in Vietnam.

Overall, the government has not defined responsible business conduct (RBC), nor has it established a national plan or agenda for RBC. The government has yet to establish a national contact point or ombudsman for stakeholders to get information or raise concerns about RBC. Vietnam may make additional strides in labor rights and ethical business practices in its revised Labor Code, due for discussion by the National Assembly in 2019.  

The 2005 Law on Enterprises in theory regulates corporate governance in line with OECD corporate governance principles. However, corporate governance standards are relatively weak in Vietnam, which ranks lower than Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia, according to the most recent Asia Development Bank (ADB) 2017 report on ASEAN listed companies.

The government does not have regulations encouraging companies to adhere to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas, but many multinational companies already comply. In 2016, the Prime Minister called on the MOIT to implement the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in order to improve the efficiency of the minerals extraction industry. However, to date, Vietnam has not agreed to do so. Vietnam remains only an observer in EITI. Decree 158/2016/ND-CP came into effect in January 2017 and provides guidelines for implementing the Mineral Law, which may improve transparency in the mining sector.

For labor rights regulations, see Section 11 on Labor Policies and Practices, and for a detailed description of regulations on worker/labor rights in Vietnam, see the Department of State’s Human Rights Report (https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/vietnam/).

Environmental Protection

Vietnam’s current legal framework for environmental protection is fragmented and often confusing, while enforcement of environmental crimes and violations is weak and ineffective.  The government has issued many legal documents regulating the environment, including the revision of the Environmental Protection Law of 2014, the Constitution of 2013, the Law on Water Resources of 2012, the Law on Fisheries of 2017, as well as hundreds of decrees and circulars that guide the implementation of these laws. While these legal documents specify civil penalties for environmental crimes, the penalties are rarely high enough to have a deterrent effect. There are virtually no criminal penalties in the law. Additionally, some industry sectors have little regulation. For example, government and industry contacts note that inspections of pollution emission testing devices rarely occur. When they do, it is often following advance notice that enables the firm being inspected to show compliance, regardless of how non-compliant its normal operations may be.  

Historically, Vietnam has prioritized economic growth over environmental protection. In 2016, after a massive fish kill gained nationwide attention, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources embarked on an ambitious plan to update Vietnam’s environmental laws and regulations.  This effort is ongoing and will likely result in newer, and moderately stronger, environmental protections.

While Vietnam’s legal framework is marginal, enforcement of environmental laws is weak and ineffective. For example, the Law on Environmental Protection requires that entities, individuals, and households that discharge waste must classify the waste for recycling and reuse. However, violations of this provision are rampant and rarely punished. The 2017 Law on Fisheries stipulates that fishing organizations and individuals must follow set standards when catching fish, specifies significant financial penalties for individuals and organizations engaged in illegal fishing, and prohibits the use of explosives for fishing. However, in practice, violations of these regulations are quite common.

Vietnam is a party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, and enacted new penalties in its 2015 Penal Code, which took effect on January 1, 2018. However, Vietnam rarely investigates or arrests wildlife traffickers. Although the lack of official statistics makes an official accounting impossible, according to an analysis by members of civil society groups, the number of arrests and prosecutions has actually decreased since the new stricter law went into effect.

9. Corruption

Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) determined Vietnam had taken positive steps to improve some areas of its anti-corruption legal framework and policies. However, Vietnam’s 2018 rank of 117 out of 180 in the CPI global index reflects the country’s continuing challenges. Also according to the 2018 PCI report, corruption declined, with 55 percent of enterprises reporting paying informal charges (bribes), which equaled up to 10 percent of their revenue. The CPI report recommends more sustained effort by government agencies and cooperation from businesses. Firms need to improve management controls, strengthen legal understanding and compliance, and strive to operate with integrity.

Corruption is due, in large part, to low levels of transparency, accountability, and media freedom, as well as poor remuneration for government officials and inadequate systems for holding officials accountable. Competition among agencies for control over business and investments has created overlapping jurisdictions and bureaucratic procedures that, in turn, create opportunities for corruption.

In November 2018, Vietnam’s legislature revised its 2005 anti-corruption law to strengthen asset-reporting requirements for government officials and set strict penalties for corrupt practices. However, many officials lamented the law does not provide sufficient oversight authorities to Vietnam’s legislature or government agencies to ensure its full implementation. Furthermore, the law does not recognize the role of civil society or an independent mechanism to promote government accountability and transparency.

The Government has tasked various agencies to deal with corruption, including the Central Steering Committee for Anti-Corruption (chaired by the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) General Secretary Nguyen), the Government Inspectorate, and line ministries and agencies. Formed in 2007, the Central Steering Committee for Anti-Corruption, since February 2013, has been under the CPV Central Commission of Internal Affairs. The National Assembly provides oversight to the operations of government ministries. Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have encouraged the government to establish a single independent agency with oversight and enforcement authority, and to ensure enforcement.

A new Penal Code came into effect in January 2018, which introduced a number of provisions relating to corporate criminal liability and corruption, increased the risks for businesses in the country. While the previous Vietnamese criminal code only provided for criminal liability for individuals, now corporate entities can face criminal sanctions too. The new Penal Code also criminalizes private-sector corruption—something that was absent from Vietnam’s previous anti-corruption regime.

Vietnam signed the UN Anticorruption Convention in December 2003 and ratified it in August 2009. The law does not cover family members of officials, but does cover ranking members of the Communist Party.

The government increased its scrutiny of conflict-of-interest concerns in public procurement since late 2016. To signal the government’s seriousness about reforming government procurement, the Prime Minister approved in July 2016 a 10-year master plan for procurement, including developing the national e-Government Procurement Application to promote online tendering and increase transparency and reduce corruption opportunities. In January 2019, with help from the ADB and the World Bank, the government implemented an e-bidding public procurement site, which will supplement its existing e-procurement portal.

There are laws prohibiting companies from bribing public officials. While some private companies have internal controls, ethics, and compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery of government officials, the government does not require companies to establish such internal codes of conduct.

Since 2016, the government has embarked on a large anti-corruption initiative. As a result, perceptions of corruption, and the burden of administrative procedures, are both declining. While high-profile arrests have grabbed the focus of the news media, there has been less attention paid to institutional changes meant to prevent corrupt activities, including greater transparency and civil-service reforms to encourage accountability.

According to the 2018 PCI, there were statistically significant declines in three core indicators of corruption: 1) the share of firms believing informal charges are common; 2) the estimated bribe payments by firms as a share of revenue; and 3) whether commissions are necessary to win government procurement contracts. Although the 2018 PCI results indicate signs of declining corruption, surveyed companies reported that it took more than a month to complete necessary paperwork to start their business and obtain certificates for technical regulatory conformity and certificates of qualification for doing conditional business lines. The report concluded that government authorities were more cautious to approve big projects due to fear of being swept up and implicated in the ongoing, widespread anti-corruption campaign.

The 2018 PCI findings are consistent with the results of UN Development Program’s 2018 annual Provincial Administrative Performance Index (PAPI) survey.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency responsible for combating corruption:

Mr. Phan Dinh Trac
Chairman, Communist Party Central Committee Internal Affairs
4 Nguyen Canh Chan
+84 0804-3557

Contact at NGO:

Ms. Nguyen Thi Kieu Vien
Executive Director, Towards Transparency
Transparency International National Contact in Vietnam
Floor 4, No 37 Lane 35, Cat Linh street, Dong Da, Hanoi, Vietnam
Phone: +84-24-37153532
Fax: +84-24-37153443
kieuvien@towardstransparency.vn  

10. Political and Security Environment

Vietnam is a unitary single-party state, and its political and security environment is largely stable. Protests and civil unrest are rare, though there are occasional demonstrations against perceived social, environmental, and labor injustices. There have been anti-China protests on multiple occasions since 2008. In May 2014, Vietnam experienced large protests against China’s movement of its Haiyang Shiyou Oil Rig 981 into Vietnam’s territorial waters. Anti-China protests resulted in at least one death and dozens of injuries among the plant’s Chinese workers; protesters separately destroyed and looted multiple foreign-owned factories.

In April 2016, after the Formosa Steel plant discharged toxic pollutants into the ocean and caused a massive fish death, the affected fishermen and residents in central Vietnam began a series of regular protests against the company and the government’s lack of response to the disaster. Protests continued into 2017 in multiple cities until security forces largely suppressed the unrest. Many activists who helped organize or document these protests were subsequently arrested and imprisoned, including influential blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (aka “Mother Mushroom,” who was released in 2018 and now resides in the United States), labor activist Hoang Duc Binh, and videographer Nguyen Van Hoa.

Nationwide protests erupted in June 2018 in response to the proposed Special Administrative Economic Zone Law. The protests, reportedly the largest since 1975, drew tens of thousands of Vietnamese citizens in Ho Chi Minh City and six other provinces who objected to the law’s tax and lease benefits for companies investing in three Economic Zones. Many believed Chinese investors were the primary beneficiaries of this bill, leading to widespread fears of growing Chinese investment and economic influence in Vietnam. Responding to the protests and other pushback against the law, the government ultimately decided to delay its passage indefinitely.

The protests had little effect on the operations of U.S. companies.

The government increased its anti-corruption efforts in 2016, resulting in a number of arrests and convictions of senior officials across the public and private sector. In January 2018, the party stripped former Politburo member and Ho Chi Minh Secretary Dinh La Thang of his party membership and he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for mismanagement of state assets during his tenure as Chairman of state-owned PetroVietnam (PVN) between 2009 and 2011. Thang was tried with 22 other defendants for their alleged roles in corrupt practices at PVN and its subsidiaries.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

According to official government statistics, in 2018 there were 55 million people participating in the formal labor force in Vietnam out of over 72 million people aged 15 and above.  The labor force is relatively young, with 15-to-39 year olds currently accounting for about half of the total labor force. This demographic structure represents Vietnam’s best opportunity to make significant economic strides in the coming decades. Despite the strong shift towards urbanization, the majority of workers are still located in rural areas, making up over 68 percent of the total labor force.  

The official labor participation rate was over 78 percent of the total population, based on the most recent data available in 2017. The official unemployment and underemployment rates hover around 2 percent; however, this figure is likely underreported by counting people who have multiple, low-paying informal jobs, along with those with one formal job. The official unemployment rate among youth, defined as those between the ages of 15 and 24 years, was 7 percent in 2018.  Wages have grown 9 percent since 2017 to an average of USD 2,160 per year.

Despite relatively high literacy rates, enrollment, and graduation rates for primary and secondary education, less than 20 percent of the employed population have ever attended college or received vocational training or mid-term professional training. Those who complete a post-secondary degree are often unprepared with the types of skills necessary to enter a highly skilled workforce. Many Vietnamese companies report a shortage of workers with adequate skills.  While there is a shortage of educated and skilled labor, Vietnam is a labor surplus country, with a un- and under-employed labor force that serves as an abundant source of migrant labor regionally as well as globally.

Shortages or Surpluses of Specialized Labor Skills

According to World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Human Capital Index (the most recent available), Vietnam ranked 64th overall (after fellow ASEAN countries Singapore (11), Malaysia (33), and Thailand (40)). Many businesses reported it is difficult to find skilled labor in Vietnam. The government is aware of the deficiencies in higher education and vocational training, and admits the need for reform in order to increase the skills of its labor force. To this end, the Law on Vocational Education took effect in 2015, which stressed the importance of vocational training in human resource development, as well as the government’s strategy for vocation education through 2020. In addition, the national employment fund, managed by the MOLISA, will sponsor targeted vocational training programs for poor households, youth, members of the military, and entrepreneurs.  

Foreign nationals are restricted to employment in high-skilled professions, such as managers, executives, and consultants. The government relatively readily grants work-permits for high-skilled foreign workers, especially those at multinational corporations and NGOs.

Nearly 84,000 foreigners were working in Vietnam in 2017 (the most recent year available) compared to 12,600 in 2004, and the country was developing policies and methods to collect social insurance payments from these workers.  

Layoffs and Unemployment Insurance

An employer is permitted to lay off employees because of technological changes or changes in organizational structure (in cases of a merger, consolidation, or cessation of operation of one or several departments), or where the employer faces economic difficulties. If these changes lead to the termination of two or more employees, the employer, in conjunction with the local trade union, is required to form and implement a “labor usage plan.” Companies can terminate two or more employees only after consultation with the local trade union and after a 30-day notice to the provincial labor authority.

The employer must pay a job-loss allowance for a laid-off employee who had regularly worked for the employer for at least 12 full months. The job-loss allowance is equal to one month’s salary for each year of service with the employer. After layoffs, workers will receive unemployment benefits if they contributed to the unemployment fund for at least 12 months.  

There are no waivers made to labor requirements to attract foreign investment.

Collective Bargaining

The constitution affords the right of association and the right to demonstrate, but limits the exercise of these rights, including preventing workers from organizing or joining independent unions of their choice. While workers may choose whether to join a union and at which level (local or “grassroots,” provincial, or national), the law requires every union to be under the legal purview and control of the country’s only trade union confederation, the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL), an organization run by the CPV.

The law gives the VGCL exclusive authority to recognize unions and confers on VGCL upper-level trade unions the responsibility to establish workplace unions. The law also limits freedom of association by not allowing trade unions full autonomy in administering their affairs. The law confers on the VGCL ownership of all trade-union property and gives it the right to represent lower-level unions.  Union members do not elect trade union leaders and officials; the CPV appoints them.

Chapter 5 of the Labor Code provides conditions for collective bargaining. Although collective bargaining is not a new concept in Vietnam, the quality of collective bargaining agreements (CBA) is limited. Vietnam had approximately 27,866 CBAs accounting for 68 percent of unionized enterprises, according to 2017 figures. While CBAs are weakly enforced, VGCL in recent years has collaborated with the International Labor Organization (ILO) to pilot multi-employer CBAs in some industrial zones and sectoral CBAs in the textile sector.

Labor Dispute Resolution Mechanisms

The 2012 revised Labor Code introduced a process of mediation and arbitration for labor disputes. The law allows trade unions and employer organizations to facilitate and support collective bargaining, and requires companies to establish a mechanism to enable management, and the workforce to exchange information, and to consult on subjects that affect working conditions. Regulations require conducting workplace dialogues every three months. The Labor Code stipulates that trade unions have the right and responsibility to organize and lead strikes and establishes certain substantive and procedural restrictions on strikes. Strikes that do not arise from a collective labor dispute, or do not adhere to the process outlined by law, are illegal. The law makes a distinction between “interest-based” disputes (“a dispute arising out of the request of the workers’ collective on the establishment of a new working condition … in the negotiation process between the workers’ collective and the employers”) and “rights-based” disputes (“a dispute between the workers’ collective with the employer arising out of different interpretation and implementation of provisions of labor laws, collective bargaining agreements, internal working regulations, other lawful regulations and agreements.”) In contravention of international standards, the law forbids strikes over “rights-based” disputes. This includes strikes arising out of economic and social policy measures that are not a part of a collective negotiation process, as they are both outside the law’s definition of protected “interest-based” strikes.

The Labor Code prescribes an extensive and cumbersome process of mediation and arbitration before a lawful strike over an interest-based collective dispute can occur. Before workers may hold a strike, they must submit their claims through a process involving a conciliation council (or a district-level labor conciliator where no union is present). If the two parties do not reach a resolution, unions must submit claims to a provincial arbitration council. Unions (or workers’ representatives where no union is present) have the right either to appeal decisions of provincial arbitration councils to provincial people’s courts, or to strike. Individual workers may take cases directly to the people’s court system, but in most cases they may do so only after conciliation has been attempted and failed.  

If a workplace trade union does not exist, the law requires that an “immediate upper-level trade union” must perform the tasks of a grassroots union, even where workers have not so requested or have voluntarily elected not to organize. For non-unionized workers to organize a strike, they must request that the strike “be organized and led by the upper-level trade union,” and if non-unionized workers wish to bargain collectively, the upper-level VGCL union must represent them.

The law prohibits strikes by workers in businesses that serve the public or that the government considers essential to the national economy, defense, public health, and public order. “Essential services” include electricity production, post and telecommunications, maritime and air transportation, navigation, public works, and oil and gas production. The law stipulates strikers may not be paid wages while they are not at work. By law, individuals participating in strikes declared illegal by a people’s court and found to have caused damage to their employer are liable for damages. The law also grants the prime minister the right to suspend a strike considered detrimental to the national economy or public safety.

Strikes in Vietnam

According to VGCL, there have been 6,000 strikes in Vietnam since 1990, though most were not VGCL-led.  More than 73 percent of the 189 strikes in the first eight months of 2018 occurred at foreign direct-investment companies (mainly Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese, and Chinese companies), and nearly 40 percent occurred in the southern economic zone area in Binh Duong, Dong Nai, and Ba Ria-Vung Tau provinces and HCMC, according to the VGCL. None of the strikes followed the authorized conciliation and arbitration process, and thus authorities considered them illegal “wildcat” strikes. The government, however, took no action against the strikers and, on occasion, actively mediated agreements in the workers’ favor. For example, in 2018 the Prime Minister had dialogues with 1,000 workers in the northern region, and with 3,000 workers in the south, and 2,000 workers in the central region during 2016-2017. In some cases of government mediation, the government imposed heavy fines on employers, especially of foreign-owned companies, that engaged in illegal practices that led to strikes.

Gaps in Compliance in Law or Practice with International Labor Standards

Vietnam has been a member of the ILO since 1992, and has ratified five of the core ILO labor conventions (Conventions 100 and 111 on discrimination, Conventions 138 and 182 on child labor, and Convention 29 on forced labor). While the constitution and law prohibit forced or compulsory labor, Vietnam has not ratified Convention 105 dealing with forced labor as a means of political coercion and discrimination, or Conventions 87 and 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining, although the government is currently taking steps toward ratification.  Under the 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, however, all ILO members, including Vietnam, have pledged to respect and promote core ILO labor standards, including those regarding association, the right to organize, and collective bargaining.

Vietnam’s legal framework on child labor appears generally in accordance with international standards, however, the Labor Code allows children under age 13 to work in “specific work regulated by the MOLISA.” Since 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor has included Vietnamese garments, produced with child labor and forced labor, and bricks, produced with child labor, in violation of international standards.  Vietnamese garments are also included in a list of products produced by forced or indentured child labor under Executive Order 13126: Prohibition of Acquisition of Products Produced by Forced or Indentured Child Labor. Based on the results of Vietnam’s National Child Labor Survey, in 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor included 14 additional goods produced by child labor in Vietnam to the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor: cashews, coffee, fish, footwear, furniture, leather, pepper, rice, rubber, sugarcane, tea, textiles, timber, and tobacco.

The government has increasingly acknowledged the issue of child labor in recent years and is a participant in a five-year, USD 8 million project implemented by the ILO to enhance national capacity to reduce and prevent child labor. The government is also in the process of enhancing its policy and regulatory framework for occupational safety and health (OSH).  The OSH law, passed in June 2015, extends OSH protections to all workers, including the informal economy, and includes the establishment of an injury compensation system for workers in the informal economy, which constitutes more than 60 percent of the workforce. The ILO is assisting the government with the drafting of implementing regulations for the law and finalizing a national OSH program for 2016-2020.

In January 2018, Penal Code amendments entered into effect, criminalizing all forms of labor trafficking of adults and prescribing penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment and fines of approximately USD 860 to USD 4,300 (VND 20-100 million). The amendments also criminalized labor trafficking of children under the age of 16 and prescribed penalties of seven to 12 years imprisonment and fines of USD 2,150 to USD 8,620 (VND 50-200 million). NGOs continued to report occurrences of forced labor of men, women, and children within the country. Labor recruitment firms, most of which were affiliated with SOEs, and unlicensed brokers reportedly charged workers seeking international employment higher fees than the law allows, doing so with impunity. Those workers incurred high debts and were thus more vulnerable to forced labor, including debt bondage.

As part of the government’s 2016-20 National Plan of Action for Children and National Program for Child Protection, the government continued efforts to prevent child labor and specifically targeted children in rural areas, disadvantaged children, and children at risk of exposure to hazardous work conditions. The Vietnam National Child Labor Survey 2012 report (the most recent data available) categorized 1.75 million working children as “child laborers,” accounting for 9.6 percent of the national child population or 62 percent of children engaged in economic activities. Of child laborers, 40 percent were girls, nearly 85 percent lived in rural areas, and 60 percent belonged to the 15-17 age group. Some children started work as young as age 12 and nearly 55 percent did not attend school (5 percent of whom would never attend school). Agriculture was the most common sector for child laborers, accounting for 67 percent of all child labor, while 15.7 percent worked in construction/manufacturing and 16.7 percent in services. There were reports of children between ages 10 and 18, and some as young as six, producing garments under forced-labor conditions. International and domestic NGOs noted successful partnerships with provincial governments to implement national-level policies combating child labor.  

It is illegal to establish independent labor unions and therefore, no government-sanctioned domestic labor NGOs can organize workers. Independent labor activists seeking to form unions separate from the Communist Party-run VGCL or inform workers of their labor rights sometimes suffer government harassment. However, government-sanctioned local labor NGOs have supported VGCL’s efforts to raise awareness of worker rights and occupational safety and health issues and to support internal and external migrant workers. Multiple international labor NGOs collaborated with the VGCL to provide training to VGCL-affiliated union representatives on labor organizing, collective bargaining, and other trade union issues. The ILO-International Finance Corporation (IFC) Better Work project reported that management interference in the activities of the trade union was one of the most significant issues in garment factories in the country.  

Credible reports, including from the ILO-IFC Better Work 2017 Annual Report, indicated that factories exceeded legal overtime thresholds and did not meet legal requirements for rest days. The ILO-IFC report stated that, while a majority of factories in the program complied with the daily limit of four hours of overtime, 77 percent exceeded monthly limits (30 hours) and 72 percent exceeded annual limits (300 hours). In addition, and because of the high prevalence of Sunday work, 44 percent of factories failed to provide at least four days of rest per month to all workers.

MOLISA is the principal labor authority, and it oversees the enforcement of the labor law, administers labor relations policy, and promotes job creation. The Labor Inspections Department is responsible for workplace inspections to confirm compliance with labor laws and occupational safety and health standards. Inspectors may use sanctions, fines, withdrawal of operating licenses or registrations, closures of enterprises, and mandatory training. Inspectors may take immediate measures when they have reason to believe there is an imminent and serious danger to the health or safety of workers, including temporarily suspending operations, although such measures were rare. MOLISA acknowledged shortcomings in its labor inspection system and emphasized the number of labor inspectors countrywide, fewer than 1,000 for a country of 96 million people, was insufficient.

New Labor Related Laws or Regulations

Planned amendments to Vietnam’s Labor Code were delayed until 2019. According to current plans, the government will make public the draft Labor Code for public comment in April-May 2019 and will submit the draft to the National Assembly for discussion in October 2019. The National Assembly will likely not pass a labor law until 2020, at the earliest. Lack of consensus about increasing the retirement age (from 60 to 62 to men and from 55 to 60 for women), among other issues, has delayed the process. Although progress has been slow, recent shifts within MOLISA leadership may signal more progress and reforms on labor issues in comparison with previous years, including on challenging issues such as industrial relations.  

The CPTPP and EV FTA, if passed, may help advance labor reform in Vietnam.  In particular, the EV FTA would require Vietnam to publish a timeline for ratifying the three remaining core ILO conventions: Convention 98 (on the right to collective bargaining) in 2019; Convention 105 (abolition of forced labor) in 2020; and Convention 87 (freedom of association and protection of the right to organize) in 2023. The most important of these are Convention 98 and 87 as they would allow trade unions, currently dominated by the VGCL, to better represent workers’ interests. Even with new momentum on labor issues, enactment of legal and regulatory changes to improve working conditions in Vietnam will still take years to fully develop and implement.  

12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) signed a bilateral agreement with Vietnam in 1998, and Vietnam joined the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) in 1995.

In October 2018, OPIC became the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (USIDFC) under the 2018 Build Act. The USIDFC will help support developing countries move through the transitory stage from non-market to market economies with an emphasis toward U.S. assistance and foreign policy objectives. The U.S. Congress authorized the USIDFC to make loans or loan guarantees (including in local currency) and to acquire equity or financial interests as a minority investor. It also will provide insurance or reinsurance to private-sector entities and qualifying sovereign entities. Moreover, the USIDFC will provide technical assistance, administer special projects, establish enterprise funds, issue obligations, and charge and collect service fees.

In October 2016, the then-OPIC President visited Vietnam to develop private-sector investment opportunities. In January 2017, former Secretary of State John Kerry along with OPIC presented a letter of intent to Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV) to support the design and construction of the university’s main campus in HCMC, which will bolster the university’s academic programs as well as expand enrollment up to 7,000 students. In June 2017, FUV recruited students for its 2018 school year. In November 2017, the then-OPIC President presented a letter of intent to Virginia-based energy company AES to support its construction of a LNG terminal and 2,250 megawatt combined cycle power plant in Vietnam which would provide around 5 percent of the country’s power generation capacity, but the project has yet to be approved.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

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

  Host Country Statistical Source USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (USD $M) 2018 $236,500 2017 $223,780 https://data.worldbank.org/country/vietnam  
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source USG or International Statistical Source USG or international Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country (USD $M, stock positions) 2018 $9,334 2017 $2,010 BEA data available at

https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm  

Host country’s FDI in the United States (USD $M, stock positions) 2018 N/A 2017 $73 BEA data available at

https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm  

Total inbound stock of FDI as percent host GDP 2018 15% NA NA N/A


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment* Outward Direct Investment**
Total Inward Amount 100% Total Outward Amount 100%
Japan $8,598 24% N/A
South Korea $7,212 20%  
Singapore $5,071 14%  
Hong Kong $3,231 9%  
China $2,564 7%  
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

*No IMF Data Available; Vietnam’s Foreign Investment Agency under the Ministry of Planning and Investment (fia.mpi.gov.vn)

**No local data available


Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total* Equity Securities** Total Debt Securities**
All Countries Amount 100% All Countries Amount 100% All Countries Amount 100%
Singapore $1,801 18% N/A N/A
British Virgin Islands $1,331 13%    
Hong Kong $1,294 13%    
South Korea $1,283 13%    
China $802 8%    

*No IMF Data Available; Vietnam’s Foreign Investment Agency under the Ministry of Planning and Investment (fia.mpi.gov.vn)
**No local data available

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Section
U.S. Embassy
7 Lang Ha, Ba Dinh, Hanoi, Vietnam
+84-24-3850-5000
InvestmentClimateVN@state.gov