Turkmenistan is slightly larger than the state of California but is sparsely inhabited, with abundant hydrocarbon resources, particularly natural gas. Turkmenistan’s economy depends heavily on the production and export of natural gas, oil, petrochemicals and, to a lesser degree, cotton, wheat, and textiles. The economy is still recovering from a deep recession that followed the late 2014 collapse in global energy prices. The current investment climate is considered high risk for U.S. foreign direct investment.
Official figures from the government of Turkmenistan show that the country’s GDP at the official exchange rate was USD 40.76 billion in 2018 and USD 38 billion in 2017. The black-market exchange rate for dollars, on average 4 times the official rate in 2017-2018, suggests the true GDP numbers are much lower. An official number for 2019 GDP was not yet available, though the government reported an implausibly high GDP growth of 6.2 percent in 2019. GDP growth in 2018 was reported as 6.5 percent. Most economic indicators released by the government are widely seen as unreliable.
Many businesses assert the government has not taken serious measures to incentivize foreign direct investment outside the petroleum industry and there is no significant U.S. FDI in Turkmenistan. Most U.S. commercial activity in Turkmenistan is related to exports. Some companies, such as General Electric and John Deere, have established themselves as key suppliers of industrial equipment in certain sectors, but their business operations are largely limited to sales to the Turkmen government. Delays in payment to foreign companies are common and some firms require upfront payment prior to delivery of goods.
A lack of established rule of law, an opaque regulatory framework, and rampant corruption remain serious problems in Turkmenistan. Contracts are often awarded to companies with close ties to the President’s family. The government strictly controls foreign exchange flows and limits on currency conversion make it difficult to repatriate profits or make payments to foreign suppliers. In 2019 the black market rate was relatively steady, hovering around 18 manat/dollar, while the official exchange rate was pegged at 3.5 manat (TMT)/dollar. The COVID-19 pandemic put additional pressure on Turkmenistan’s hard currency reserves and caused the black-market rate to spike to 21 manat/dollar in the first part of 2020.
Although Turkmenistan regularly amends its laws to meet international standards, many businesses have complained that the country often fails to implement or consistently enforce investment-related legislation. There are no meaningful legal protections against government expropriation of assets and there is no independent judiciary. In December 2016, the government expropriated the largest (and only foreign-owned) grocery store in Ashgabat, as well as the shopping center where it was located and a business center, without compensation or other legal remedy. There have also been consistent reports in recent years of officials associated with the family of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov seizing local companies. In some cases, local business owners have reportedly been jailed using security-related laws as a pretext to reopen the business under new ownership.
Political stability is the most positive aspect of doing business in Turkmenistan. Where opportunities exist, U.S. companies may be able to secure contracts with the Turkmen government for export of goods or services, in particular for construction materials, agricultural equipment, oil and gas extraction parts, medical devices, and food processing equipment. Many foreign firms working with the Turkmen government are able to provide some form of financing, often through export credit agencies and development banks. The Turkmen government has expressed interest in attracting more U.S. companies to compete for tenders and take part in infrastructure projects and bringing more western technology to the Turkmen market.
Key issues to watch: developments in the financial sector, including the TMT/USD black market exchange rate and the severity of restrictions on currency conversion, will determine to some extent the health of the investment climate. The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to have lasting economic consequences for Central Asia in particular, although the extent of the crisis remains to be seen. Downward pressure on global energy prices and fundamental shifts in natural gas markets are also expected to have an outsized impact on Turkmenistan’s government revenue.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment
Turkmenistan regularly announces its desire to attract more foreign investment, but tight state control of the economy, the government’s inability to meet its financial obligations, a lack of transparency, and a restrictive visa regime have created a difficult foreign investment climate. In January 2013, Turkmenistan created the Agency for Protection from Economic Risks to oversee international investments in the country. The Agency is responsible for reviewing foreign companies wishing to enter Turkmenistan’s market, including an assessment of the financial and political risks associated with allowing the company to do business in Turkmenistan. The arbitrary nature of the agency’s assessments further increases the already opaque and arduous bureaucratic procedures facing foreign firms.
Historically, the most promising areas for investment are in the energy, agricultural, and construction sectors and the government often touts foreign loans as investment. However, a number of foreign companies have been forced out of the market in recent years due to their inability to convert local manat into hard currency and non-payment of invoices by the government. The government seeks foreign technology and investment in order to diversify its economy through the development of domestic chemical and petrochemical facilities. Decisions to allow foreign investment are often politically driven; companies offering more “friendly” terms are generally more successful in winning tenders and signing contracts. The tender process is opaque and not all tenders are publicly announced.
According to government sources, total capital investment amounted to TMT 54.2 billion (USD 15.5 billion) in 2017 and TMT 40.3 billion (USD 11.5 billion) in 2018. There is no publicly available information on the percent of capital investment that comes from foreign direct investment or loans. In February 2019, the government announced TMT 22 billion (USD 6.3 billion) would be invested in the construction sector in 2019. In June 2018, the State Bank for Foreign Economic Affairs of Turkmenistan announced it was creating an open-ended investment fund to attract foreign direct investment. There is a general lack of integrity and consistency in official economic numbers.
In 2012, the government announced that it would invest USD 80.6 billion to construct 450 industrial and social facilities throughout the country by 2020. According to the national program for the transformation of rural areas, of that, TMT 4.9 billion (USD 1.4 billion) was invested in Turkmenistan’s five provinces, including TMT 1.13 billion in Ahal, TMT 1.14 billion in Balkan, TMT 814 million in Dashoguz, TMT 964 million in Lebap, and TMT 850 million in Mary. The government has released no information on the status of this program and it is impossible to verify it independently.
Turkmenistan’s key industries are state owned. According to the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (UIE), the private sector share of the Turkmen economy had reached 70 percent in March 2020. However, this number excludes the hydrocarbon sector, which is estimated to be 35 percent of GDP, and there are no independent estimates available to verify the official statistics. The top economic priorities for the government include increasing domestic production as part of its drive toward import substitution and self-sufficiency in food production. The economy’s health remains reliant on natural gas exports.
In May 2010, the government adopted its National Program for the Socio-Economic Development of Turkmenistan (2011-2030). The program envisages diversification of the economy and recognizes, at least in theory, the importance of market and institutional reform. The program also includes the privatization of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). In October 2006, Turkmenistan adopted an Oil and Gas Development Plan (2007-2030). The Council of Elders, precursor to the People’s Council, adopted the president’s 2018-2024 program on socio-economic development in October 2017. Despite these initiatives, including rhetoric about the importance of privatization, Turkmenistan operates largely as a planned economy.
The government selectively chooses its investment partners and establishing a strong relationship with a government official is often essential to achieving commercial success. Officials may “seek rents” for permitting or assisting foreign investors to enter the local market. Some foreign investors have found success working through foreign business representatives who are able to leverage their personal relationships with senior leaders to advance their business interests.
Turkmenistan has accepted financing from international financial institutions (IFIs) since its independence in 1991. In 2009, the government reportedly accepted a USD 4 billion loan from the Chinese Development Bank (CDB) to develop Galkynysh, the world’s second largest natural gas field, as well as several significantly smaller loans from the Chinese Export-Import Bank for transportation- and communication-related projects. In 2011, Turkmenistan secured a second USD 4.1 billion loan from the CDB to further develop the Galkynysh gas field. The government also accepted a USD 1 billion loan from the Islamic Development Bank in 2010 to fund infrastructure projects. In 2011, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) provided a USD 125 million loan to the government to finance the procurement and installation of power and signaling equipment for a 311-kilometer section of the Kazakhstan–Turkmenistan–Iran railway. In November 2013, the ADB was appointed as transaction advisor for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) natural gas pipeline project and TurkmenGas was identified as consortium lead in 2015. In October 2016, the government announced that the Islamic Development Bank would provide a USD 710 million loan to finance the Turkmenistan segment of TAPI. Part of the pipeline in Turkmenistan is reportedly complete but the three partner countries have not yet broken ground on their respective segments. If successful, the project would have a transformative impact on the region, but adequate financing remains an open question.
The government tends to support companies wishing to invest in the country and foreign companies with approved government contracts generally do not face problems or significant delays when registering their operations in Turkmenistan. Under Turkmen law, all local and foreign entities operating in Turkmenistan are required to register with the Registration Department under the Ministry of Finance and Economy. Before the registration is granted, however, an inter-ministerial commission that includes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Agency for Protection from Economic Risks, law enforcement agencies, and industry-specific ministries must approve it.
Foreign companies without approved government contracts that seek to establish a legal entity in Turkmenistan must go through a lengthy and cumbersome registration process involving the inter-ministerial commission mentioned above. The commission evaluates foreign companies based on their financial standing, work experience, reputation, and perceived political and legal risks. The inter-ministerial commission does not give a reason when denying the registration of a legal entity.
In order to participate in a government tender, companies are not required to be registered in Turkmenistan. However, a company interested in participating in the tender process must submit all the tender documents to the respective ministry or agency in person. Many foreign companies with no presence in Turkmenistan provide a limited power of attorney to local representatives who then submit tender documents on the company’s behalf. A list of required documents for screening is usually provided by the state agency announcing the tender.
Before the contract can be signed, the State Commodity and Raw Materials Exchange, the Central Bank, the Supreme Control Chamber, and the Cabinet of Ministers must approve the agreement. The approval process is not transparent and is often politically driven. There is no legal guarantee that the information provided by companies to the government will be kept confidential.
While Turkmenistan does not have a specific law that governs competition, Article 17 (Development of Competition and Antimonopoly Activities) of the Law on State Support to Small and Medium Enterprises seeks to promote fair competition in the country.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
There are no legal limits on foreign ownership or control of companies. In practice, the government has only allowed fully owned foreign operations in the oil sector. The law permits foreigners to establish and own businesses and generally engage in business activities, but revenue repatriation is very challenging as currency conversion remains difficult. The nature of government-awarded contracts may vary in terms of the requirements for ownership of local enterprises. All contractors operating in Turkmenistan for a period of at least 183 days a year must register with the Tax Department of the Ministry of Finance and Economy (formerly the Main State Tax Service). National accounting and international financial reporting standards apply to foreign investors. In the energy sector, Turkmenistan precludes foreign investors from investing in the exploration and production of its onshore gas resources. All land in Turkmenistan is government owned. The State Migration Service of Turkmenistan requires that citizens of Turkmenistan make up 90 percent of the workforce of foreign-owned companies. This policy, however, does not apply to foreign-owned oil and gas companies, which are subject to a more lenient policy requiring only 30 percent of the workforce to be Turkmen citizens, with the expectation that expats will also gradually be replaced by local experts through training programs.
Many businesses have asserted there are several ways that the government discriminates against investors, including through excessive and arbitrary tax examinations, arbitrary license extension denials, and customs clearance and visa issuance obstacles. In most cases, the government has insisted on maintaining a majority interest in any joint venture (JV). Foreign investors have been reluctant to enter JVs controlled by the government, mainly because of differing business cultures and conflicting management styles. Although there is no specific legislation requiring foreign investors to receive government approval to divest, in practice they are expected to coordinate such actions with the government. The court system is subject to government interference.
Private entities in Turkmenistan have the right to establish and own business enterprises. The 2000 Law on Enterprises defines the legal forms of state and private businesses (state enterprises, sole proprietorships, cooperatives, partnerships, corporations and enterprises of non-government organizations). The law allows foreign companies to establish subsidiaries, though the government does not currently register subsidiaries. The Civil Code of Turkmenistan and the Law on Enterprises govern the operation of representative and branch offices in Turkmenistan. Enterprises must be registered with the Registration Department of the Ministry of Finance and Economy. The 2008 Law on the Licensing of Certain Types of Activities (last amended in November 2015) lists 44 activities that require government licenses. The Law on Enterprises and the Law on Joint Stock Societies allow acquisitions and mergers. Turkmenistan’s legislation is not clear, however, about acquisitions and mergers involving foreign parties, nor does it have specific provisions for the disposition of interests in business enterprises, both solely domestic and those with foreign participation. Governmental approval is necessary for acquisitions and mergers of enterprises with state shares.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The government has not undergone an investment policy review by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or World Trade Organization (WTO). Turkmenistan has expressed interest in exploring the WTO accession process and in January 2013 created an intergovernmental commission to review the benefits of accession, but until recently, there was little sign of progress or serious interest. In early 2020 the government indicated it would pursue WTO observer status. This may be a precursor to the lengthy process of applying for full membership. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) World Investment Report (WIR), the volume of FDI into Turkmenistan amounted to USD 2.3 billion in 2016, USD 2.1 billion in 2017 and USD 2 billion in 2018.
Laws/Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
Incoming foreign investment is regulated by the Law on Foreign Investment (last amended in 2008), the Law on Investments (last amended in 1993), and the Law on Joint Stock Societies (1999), which pertains to start-up corporations, acquisitions, mergers, and takeovers. Foreign investment activities are affected by bilateral or multilateral investment treaties, the Law on Enterprises (2000), the Law on Business Activities (last amended in 2008), and the Land Code (2004). Foreign investment in the energy sector is subject to the 2008 Petroleum Law (also known as the Law on Hydrocarbon Resources, which was amended in 2011 and 2012). The Tax Code provides the legal framework for the taxation of foreign investment. The Civil Code (2000) defines what constitutes a legal entity in Turkmenistan. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Center in Ashgabat maintains a database of Turkmenistan’s laws, presidential decrees and resolutions at http://www.turkmenlegaldatabase.info. This information is also available on the Ministry of Justice of Turkmenistan’s website at:
Turkmenistan has taken a number of steps to promote economic reform, including a law to combat money laundering and terrorism financing and a presidential decree that mandates the use of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). In January 2010, Turkmenistan established a Financial Intelligence Unit under the Ministry of Finance to strengthen its anti-money laundering (AML) efforts and its ability to combat terrorism financing (CFT).
On January 1, 2012, Turkmenistan’s banks switched to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). Government agencies transitioned to National Financial Reporting Standards (NFRS) in January 2014. Despite these positive steps, Turkmenistan remains one of the most closed economies in the region and financing of many large projects remains opaque.
Most foreign investment is governed by project-specific presidential decrees, which can grant privileges not provided by legislation. Legally, there are no limits on the foreign ownership of companies. In practice, however, the government has allowed fully-owned foreign operations only in the energy sector. Some companies take the presidential decree as a sovereign guarantee.
In 2007, Turkmenistan created the Awaza (Avaza) Tourist Zone (ATZ) to promote tourism and development on the Caspian Sea coast. It granted some tax incentives to those willing to invest in the construction of hotels and recreational facilities. Amendments to the Tax Code in October 2007 exempted construction and tourist facilities in the ATZ from value-added tax (VAT). Services offered at tourist facilities, including catering and room accommodations, are also exempt from VAT until 2021. In general, tax and investment incentives for the ATZ can be negotiated case by case. Turkmenistan also adopted multiple-year national development programs in various sectors of economy, which might include separate sub-sections on attracting investment in these sectors. However, the country’s visa regime is rigid, making an increase in foreign tourism unlikely in the near term. In addition, as of August 2017, Turkmenistan charges a USD 2 daily fee for foreigners traveling to Turkmenistan, as well as foreigners residing in Turkmenistan if they travel within the country. Information on these programs is not publicly available. While development of tourism is perpetually on the government’s agenda, the concept is largely one of organized tour operators seeking letters of invitation for clients who travel as a group, often to archeological and cultural heritage sites.
Turkmenistan does not have a business registration website for use by domestic or foreign companies. Depending on the type of business activity a foreign company seeks in Turkmenistan, registration with the local statistics office, the Agency for Protection from Economic Risks, the Registration and Tax Departments under the Ministry of Finance and Economy, and the State Commodity and Raw Materials Exchange could all be required. Business registration usually takes about six months and often depends on personal connections in various government offices. The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index has no data for Turkmenistan.
Development and implementation of public policies to attract foreign investment, investment coordination, and assistance to foreign investors are carried out by the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan. The Agency for Protection from Economic Risks under the Ministry of Finance and Economy makes decisions on providing any investment-related services to potential foreign investors based on criteria such as the financial status of the investor.
Turkmenistan’s Law on State Support to Small and Medium Enterprises (adopted in August 2009) defines small- and medium-sized enterprises as follows: in industry, power generation, construction, and gas and water supply sectors, small enterprises are defined as those with up to 50 employees and medium enterprises are those with up to 200 employees; in all other sectors small enterprises are those with up to 25 employees and medium enterprises are those with up to 100 people.
However, the benefits of the Law on State Support to Small and Medium Enterprises do not apply to: 1) state-owned enterprises; 2) enterprises with foreign investment carrying out banking or insurance activities; and 3) activities related to gambling and gaming for money.
As in many countries, business-related activities, particularly any large scale contracts for goods or services, benefits from face-to-face contact. Foreigners wishing to visit Turkmenistan usually request a letter of invitation from the MFA to travel to the country; permission also must be received from the government to meet with state ministries, agencies, and enterprises. It can also be possible to conduct business with the government by hiring a local agent. The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat can assist with U.S. companies interested in identifying potential local partners and in requesting a letter of invitation, which allows a traveler to board a plane for Turkmenistan and to request a visa on arrival at the airport.
The government of Turkmenistan does not promote or incentivize outward investment and there is no investment promotion agency. The existing policies are aimed at reducing imports and promoting exports. According to unofficial reports, individual entrepreneurs have been known to invest in real estate abroad, namely in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Those entrepreneurs who invest abroad tend not to disclose such information, fearing possible retribution from the government. The number of inquiries from private businesses that want to invest in the United States has also increased over the past several years.
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
According to UNCTAD, Turkmenistan has signed bilateral investment agreements with 28 countries, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belgium, China, Egypt, France, Georgia, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Pakistan, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and Uzbekistan. In 2009, the European Parliament passed a resolution on the EU-Turkmenistan Interim Trade Agreement, reasoning that economic and trade engagement with the country would stimulate political reforms in Turkmenistan.
The United States government considers the Convention with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on Matters of Taxation, which entered into force in 1976, to continue to be in effect between the United States and Turkmenistan. There is no bilateral investment treaty between Turkmenistan and the United States.
Turkmenistan is one of the former Soviet Republics which are now covered by the 1973 income tax treaty with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
The government does not use transparent policies to foster competition and foreign investment. Laws have frequent references to bylaws that are not publicly available. Most bylaws are passed in the form of presidential decrees. Such decrees are not categorized by subject, which makes it difficult to find relevant cross references. Personal relations with government officials can play a decisive role in determining how and when government regulations are applied. Conversely, running a successful foreign business can lead to problems with local authorities. Some local officials may enforce certain verbal directives as if they were official laws or regulations, without providing any proof of the existence of such laws or regulations. Some successful businesspeople left the country fearing possible targeting by the authorities. In some cases, authorities have jailed the legal owners of a local enterprise using security-related laws as a legal pretext and reopened the business under new ownership. There is no information available on whether the government conducts any market study or quantitative analysis of the impact of regulations. Regulations often appear to follow the government’s try-and-see approach to addressing pressing issues. (See “Expropriation and Compensation” below for specific examples of expropriation.)
Some U.S. firms, including General Electric and John Deere, have established themselves as key suppliers in certain sectors, but their business operations are largely limited to sales of industrial equipment to the Turkmen government. Some companies require upfront payment prior to delivery of goods. Government delays in payment to foreign companies and restrictions on converting earnings into hard currency are major contributors to the country’s challenging investment climate. Moreover, arbitrary audits and investigations by several government bodies are common in relation to both foreign and local companies. Belarusian firm Belgorkhimprom is in litigation with Turkmenistan over contractual and non-payment issues.
Many businesses report that bureaucratic procedures are confusing and cumbersome. The government does not generally provide information support to investors, and officials use this lack of information to their personal benefit. As a result, foreign companies may spend months conducting due diligence in Turkmenistan. A serious impediment to foreign investment is the lack of knowledge of internationally recognized business practices, as well as the fact that there are few fluent English speakers in Turkmenistan. English-language material on legislation is scarce, and there are very few business consultants to assist investors. Proposed laws and regulations are not generally published in draft form for public comment. The general public is typically not invited to make contributions during parliamentary deliberations on the proposed bills or amendments to legislation and finds out about such laws only when published in the official newspaper.
There are no standards-setting consortia or organizations besides the Main State Standards Service. There is no independent body for filing complaints. Financial disclosure requirements are neither transparent nor consistent with international norms. Government enterprises are not required to publicize financial statements, even to foreign partners. Financial audits are often conducted by local auditors, not internationally recognized firms.
The legal framework contained in the Law on Petroleum (2008) was a partial step toward creating a more transparent policy in the energy sector. Turkmenistan’s banks completed transitioning to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). State-owned agencies began the transition to the IFRS in 2012 and fully transitioned to National Financing Reporting Standards (NFRS) in January 2014, which is reportedly in accordance with IFRS. While the IFRS may improve accounting standards by bringing them into compliance with international standards, it has no discernible impact on Turkmenistan’s fiscal transparency since fiscal data remains inaccessible to the public. There is no publicly available information regarding the budget’s conformity with IFRS. There is no public consultation process on draft bills and there are no informal regulatory processes managed by nongovernmental organizations or private sector associations. Public finances and debt obligations are not transparent at all.
International Regulatory Considerations
Turkmenistan pursues a policy of neutrality (acknowledged by the United Nations in 1995) and generally does not join regional blocs. Turkmenistan is, however, a member of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), a ten-member intergovernmental organization created in 1985 to promote trade and economic cooperation among its members. In drafting laws and regulations, the government usually includes a clause that states international agreements and laws will prevail in the case of a conflict between local and international legislation. Turkmenistan is not a member of the Eurasian Economic Union or the WTO, though it may soon pursue WTO observer status.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Turkmenistan is a civil law country in terms of the nature of the legal system and many laws have been codified in an effort to transition from Soviet laws. The Mejlis, the country’s parliament, adopts nearly 50 laws per year without involving the public. Most contracts negotiated with the government have an arbitration clause. The Embassy strongly advises U.S. companies to include an arbitration clause identifying a dispute resolution venue outside Turkmenistan. There have been several commercial disputes involving U.S. and other foreign investors or contractors in Turkmenistan, though not all disputes were filed with arbitration courts. Investment and commercial disputes involving Turkmenistan have three common themes: nonpayment of debts, non-delivery of goods or services, and contract renegotiations. The government may claim the provider did not meet the terms of a contract as justification for nonpayment. Several disputes have centered on the government’s unwillingness to pay in freely convertible currency as contractually required. In cases where government entities have not delivered goods or services, the government has often ignored demands for delivery. Finally, a change in leadership in the government agency that signed the original contract routinely triggers the government’s desire to re-evaluate the entire contract, including profit distribution, management responsibilities, and payment schedules. The judicial branch is independent of the executive on paper only and is largely influenced by the executive branch.
On February 28, 2015, President Berdimuhamedov signed an updated law entitled “On the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Turkmenistan” (first adopted in 1993). The new law redefined the legal and economic framework for the activities of the Chamber, defined the state support measures, and created a new body for international commercial arbitration under the Chamber’s purview. This body can consider disputes arising from contractual and other civil-legal relations in foreign trade and other forms of international economic relations, if at least one of the parties to the dispute is located outside of Turkmenistan. The enforcement of the decisions of commercial arbitration outside of Turkmenistan may be denied in Turkmenistan under certain conditions listed under Article 47 of the Law of Turkmenistan, “On Commercial Arbitration”, adopted in 2014 and in force as of 2016. International commercial arbitration is governed by the Law of Turkmenistan “On International Commercial Arbitration” clause and other domestic laws. According to the commercial arbitration law, the parties in dispute can appeal the arbitration decision only to the Supreme Court of Turkmenistan and nowhere abroad. The government of Turkmenistan recognizes foreign court judgements on a case-by-case basis.
According to the 2008 Law on Foreign Investment, all foreign and domestic companies and foreign investments must be registered at the Ministry of Finance and Economy.
The Petroleum Law of 2008 (last amended in 2012) regulates offshore and onshore petroleum operations in Turkmenistan, including petroleum licensing, taxation, accounting, and other rights and obligations of state agencies and foreign partners. The Petroleum Law supersedes all other legislation pertaining to petroleum activities, including the Tax Code.
According to the Land Code (last amended February 2017), foreign companies or individuals are permitted to lease land for non-agricultural purposes, but only the cabinet of ministers has the authority to grant the lease. Foreign companies may own structures and buildings.
Turkmenistan adopted a Bankruptcy Law in 1993. Other laws affecting foreign investors include the Law on Investments (last amended in 1993), the Law on Joint Stock Societies (1999), the Law on Enterprises (2000), the Law on Business Activities (last amended in 1993), the Civil Code enforced since 2000, and the 1993 Law on Property.
Turkmenistan requires that import/export transactions and investment projects be registered at the State Commodity and Raw Materials Exchange (SCRME) and at the Ministry of Finance and Economy. The procedure applies not only to the contracts and agreements signed at SCRME, but also to contracts signed between third parties. SCRME is state-owned and is the only exchange in the country. The contract registration procedure includes an assessment of “price justification”, and while SCRME does not directly dictate pricing, it does generally set a ceiling for imports and a minimum price for exports. Import transactions must be registered before goods are delivered to Turkmenistan. The government generally favors long-term investment projects that do not require regular hard currency purchases of raw materials from foreign markets.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
Under Turkmenistan’s law, all local and foreign entities operating in Turkmenistan are required to register with the Registration Department under the Ministry of Finance and Economy. Before the registration is granted, however, an inter-ministerial commission that includes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Agency for Protection from Economic Risks, law enforcement agencies, and industry-specific ministries must approve it. There is no “one-stop-shop” website for investment that provides relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors.
Foreign companies without approved government contracts that seek to establish a legal entity in Turkmenistan must go through a lengthy and cumbersome registration process involving the inter-ministerial commission mentioned above. The commission evaluates foreign companies based on their financial standing, work experience, reputation, and perceived political and legal risks.
In order to participate in a government tender, the companies are not required to be registered in Turkmenistan. However, a company interested in participating in a tender process must submit all the tender documents to the respective ministry or agency in person. Many foreign companies with no presence in Turkmenistan provide a limited power of attorney to local representatives who then submit tender documents on their behalf. A list of required documents for screening is usually provided by the state agency announcing the tender. Before the contract can be signed, the State Commodity and Raw Materials Exchange, the Central Bank, the Supreme Control Chamber, and the Cabinet of Ministers must approve the agreement. The approval process is not transparent and is often politically driven. There is no legal guarantee that the information provided by companies to the government of Turkmenistan will be kept confidential.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
There is no publicly available information on which agencies review transactions for competition-related concerns. The government does not publish information on any competition cases. While Turkmenistan does not have a specific law that governs competition, Article 17 (Development of Competition and Antimonopoly Activities) of the Law on State Support to Small and Medium Enterprises seeks to promote fair competition in the country.
Expropriation and Compensation
Three cases raise expropriation concerns for foreign businesses investing in Turkmenistan. In December 2016, the government expropriated the largest (and only foreign-owned) grocery store in Ashgabat, Yimpaş (Yimpash) shopping and business center, without compensation or other legal remedy. In April 2017, the Turkish Hospital in Ashgabat was expropriated without compensation. In September 2017, cell phone service provider MTS suspended its operations after the state-owned Turkmen Telecom cut it off from the network over an alleged expired license. In each case the companies involved had valid licenses or leases.
Turkmenistan’s legislation does not provide for private ownership of land. The government has a history of arbitrarily expropriating the property of local businesses and individuals. Under former President Niyazov, the government frequently refused to compensate those affected when the government exercised its right of eminent domain. However, during a March 2007 Cabinet of Ministers meeting, President Berdimuhamedov stated that residents of affected apartments or houses would be provided alternative housing before their homes were demolished. Despite these assurances, many families were evicted from their homes when the government demolished their houses in preparation for the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games and were forced to stay with relatives and friends or rent temporary housing.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Turkmenistan is a Party to the 1995 Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID), but it is not a member of the 1958 Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention). The commercial law enforcement system includes the Arbitration Court of Turkmenistan which tries 13 categories of disputes, both pre-contractual and post-contractual, including taxation, legal foundations, and bankruptcy issues. The court does not interfere in an enterprise’s economic relations, but reviews disputes upon the request of either party involved. Appeals to decisions of the Arbitration Court can be filed at the Arbitration Committee of the Supreme Court of Turkmenistan.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Turkmenistan does not have a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) or Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with an investment chapter with the United States.
There are several examples, as recently as 2017, of Western companies being unable to enforce contracts or prevail in formal procedures in investment disputes. In some instances, the government bluntly refused to pay awards to the companies despite a court decision that required it to do so. In others, the government disputes the amount owed, which has made any collection efforts by the companies futile. There are also scattered reports of the government falsifying documents to win arbitration cases.
Although Turkmenistan has adopted a number of laws designed to regulate foreign investment, the laws have not been consistently or effectively implemented. The government does not always distinguish between foreign investment and loans from foreign financial institutions. The Law on Foreign Investment, as amended in 2008, is the primary legal instrument defining the principles of investment. The law also provides for the protection of foreign investors. A foreign investor is defined in the law as an entity owning a minimum of 20 percent of a company’s assets.
No known investment disputes have involved a U.S. person over the course of the past ten years.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
There are no alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in Turkmenistan as a means for settling disputes between two private parties. The government’s dispute settlement clause in contracts generally does not allow for arbitration in a venue outside the country. However, the government is sometimes willing to codify the right to international arbitration in contracts with foreign companies. U.S. companies may wish to include an international arbitration clause in their contracts, as political considerations still influence local courts. Several foreign companies have pursued international arbitration against the Turkmen government through the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes and the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce.
The commercial law enforcement system includes the Arbitration Court of Turkmenistan, which tries 13 categories of disputes, both pre-contractual and post-contractual, including taxation, legal foundations, and bankruptcy issues. The court does not interfere in an enterprise’s economic relations, but reviews disputes upon the request of either party involved. Appeals to decisions of the Arbitration Court can be filed at the Arbitration Committee of the Supreme Court of Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan adopted a Bankruptcy Law in 1993 (last amended March 2016), which protects certain rights of creditors, such as the satisfaction of creditors’ claims in case of the debtor’s inability or unwillingness to make payments. The law allows for criminal liability for intentional actions resulting in bankruptcy. The law does not specify the currency in which the monetary judgments are made. Turkmenistan’s economy is not ranked by the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report.
4. Industrial Policies
According to the Law on Foreign Investments, foreign investors, especially those operating in the free economic zones, may enjoy some incentives and privileges, including license and tax exemptions, reduced registration and certification fees, land leasing rights, and extended visa validity. However, the law is inconsistently implemented and enforced.
Foreign investors are more disadvantaged because they face higher tax rates than most local companies. Amendments to the 2005 Tax Code did not affect tax rates. The value-added tax rate (VAT) is 15 percent, an income tax of eight percent is applied to JVs, and an income tax of 20 percent is applied to wholly-owned foreign companies and state-owned enterprises. Dividends are taxed at 15 percent. The personal income tax rate is 10 percent. Under the Simplified Tax System of Turkmenistan, most individual entrepreneurs pay a flat two percent income tax.
The president has issued special decrees granting exemptions from taxation and other privileges to specific investors while they recoup their initial investments. The assets and property of foreign investors should be insured with the State Insurance Company of Turkmenistan pursuant to Article 53 of the 2008 Petroleum Law (if applicable) and Article 3 of the 1995 Insurance Law. National accounting and financial reporting requirements apply to foreign investors. All contractors operating in Turkmenistan for a period of at least 183 days a year must register at the Main State Tax Service. As of January 2017, 90 percent of the workforce of a company owned by a foreign investor must be composed of citizens of Turkmenistan. Even large construction and engineering companies executing large-scale turnkey projects must comply with the 90 percent law.
Petroleum Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) holders are regulated by the 2008 Petroleum Law. They are subject to a 20 percent income tax and royalties up to 15 percent, depending on the level of production. The social welfare tax, which is 20 percent of the total local staff payroll, is paid by foreign investors and their subcontractors. PSA holders’ employees and their subcontractors pay a personal income tax of 10 percent. Under the Petroleum Law, PSA concessions have been made to eight foreign energy companies: five offshore and three onshore concessions for periods ranging from 20-25 years. Subcontractors of PSA holders can bring their equipment into the country only for the duration of a valid contract. There is no specific legislation that regulates the operations of oil and gas subcontractors. Turkmenistan currently lists 49 import and 20 export goods and materials that are subject to customs duties. The goods and materials on these lists are subject to a 0.2 percent customs fee payment and a charge of TMT 20 (USD 5.7) for every hour a Customs official spends inspecting the imported goods. The Customs Service maintains a list of goods subject to customs duty payment. State enterprises often receive preferential treatment; for example, wool carpets produced at state factories are exempt from customs duties. In contrast, private carpet producers pay USD 20 per square meter in customs duties to export a carpet. Foreign investors are required to adhere to the sanitary and environmental standards of Turkmenistan and should produce products of equal or higher quality than prescribed in national standards. Since Turkmenistan is not a member of WTO, the Embassy is not aware of any measures that U.S. businesses allege are inconsistent with WTO trade-related investment measures (TRIMs).
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
The Law on Free Economic Zones was enacted in October 2017. The law guarantees the rights of businesses, both foreign and domestic, to operate in free economic zones (FEZs) without profit ceilings. The law forbids the nationalization of enterprises operating in the zones and discrimination against foreign investors. Other rights guaranteed include:
Preferential tax status, including an exemption from profit tax if profits are reinvested in export-oriented, advanced technology enterprises;
Repatriation of after-tax profits;
Exemption from customs duties, except on products of foreign origin;
Export of products; and
Setting product prices.
The Law on Free Economic Zones does not list any FEZs currently in Turkmenistan. Previously there were ten FEZs, but these zones were not successful in drawing increased economic activity, to some extent because the government interfered in the business decisions of firms located in the zones and did not provide financing for FEZ infrastructure.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
Ninety percent of the workforce of foreign-owned enterprises must be citizens of Turkmenistan by law. The regulation on this ratio does not differentiate between senior management and other employees. The State Migration Service controls access to the country and monitors the movement of foreign citizens. There have been reports over the last year that some Turkish citizens working for foreign companies in Ashgabat had difficulty renewing their visas and little or no explanation was provided as to why. All visitors staying for more than three business days are required to register with the State Migration Service. Visa-related decisions are not transparent. Travel to most border areas, which covers a large portion of the country, requires a special permit. Representatives of foreign businesses seeking to enter Turkmenistan for the first time often have difficulty obtaining an entry visa unless invited by a government agency or by a local business partner. Established investors frequently complain about bureaucratic delays in securing visas to return to the country. The Government of Turkmenistan does not follow forced localization policies and does not officially require foreign investors to use domestic content in goods and technology. A few foreign companies working in the construction sector on government contracts reported that the government required them to use locally produced cement for their projects. However, this seems to be more of an exception than a rule. The only internet provider is state-owned telecommunications company Turkmen Telekom and service can be unreliable in some areas, particularly outside Ashgabat. The government does not require foreign IT providers to turn over source code or encryption keys. We are not aware of any rules that require foreign companies to maintain a certain amount of data storage in Turkmenistan.
5. Protection of Property Rights
All land is owned by the government. Individuals and entities may own property on the land. The 1993 Law on Property (last amended November 2015) defines the following types of property owners: private, state, non-government organizations, cooperative, joint venture, foreign states, legal entities and citizens, international organizations, and mixed private and state. Some dwellings have been privatized, allowing Turkmenistan’s citizens to rent and sell apartments and houses. The Law on Privatization of State Housing came into force in January 2014. The October 2007 amendments to the Land Code (last amended February 2017) provide land leases for up to 40 years for hotels and recreational facilities in National Tourist Zones. Land and facilities subsequently built on the plot must be transferred to the state after the expiration of the contract. According to the Law on Foreign Investment, foreign investments in Turkmenistan are not subject to nationalization and requisition; foreign properties may be confiscated only following a court decision. However, this law has not been respected in practice.
Banks provide preferential mortgage loans (at an annual interest rate of 1 percent for up to 30 years, including a five-year grace period) for the purchase of a new residence. Only government employees qualify for such concessional loans. In addition, government entities often pay 50 percent of the price of the new residence for their employees. Until mid-2015, banks also provided regular mortgage loans (with an annual interest rate of 7-8 percent for up to 10 years) for housing in locations other than so-called “elite” apartments. Liens are not common in Turkmenistan, in part because the 30-year mortgage payment dates have not expired for most of the apartments bought after the country’s independence in 1991.
Intellectual Property Rights
While the legal structure to protect intellectual property (IP) is strong, enforcement is weak. IP infringement and theft are common. The government has enacted laws designed to protect intellectual property rights (IPR) domestically, but these laws are either arbitrarily implemented or not implemented at all. Among them are the Law on Publishing (2014), Law on State Policy on Research and Technology (2014), Law on Inventions and Industrial Samples (2008), Law on the Protection of Scientific Research (1993), the Patent Law (1993), the Law on Inventions and Industrial Designs (2008), and the Law on Trade and Service Marks and Places of Origin (2008). These regulations provide legal protection to intellectual property registered with the Patent Agency, which was established in 1993. However, due to significant deficiencies in Turkmenistan’s intellectual property protection regime, Turkmenistan has been on the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Watch List since 2000.
The Law on Foreign Investment guarantees the protection of foreign investors’ intellectual property, including literary, artistic and scientific works, software, databases, patents, and other copyrighted items. Turkmenistan has not yet adopted more explicit and comprehensive administrative and civil procedures and criminal penalties for IPR violations. Turkmenistan adopted a law on copyright and related rights in 2012. The 1993 Most Favored Nation Agreement between the United States and Turkmenistan also provides for favorable treatment of copyrighted materials.
The following table presents the major international IPR treaties that Turkmenistan has signed:
Accession: February 29, 2016
May 29, 2016
Accession: December 16, 2015
March 16, 2016
Accession: December 16, 2015
January 16, 2016
Accession: March 7, 2006
June 7, 2006
Accession: March 7, 2006
June 7, 2006
Accession: March 7, 2006
June 7, 2006
Accession: March 7, 2006
March 7, 2007
Accession: June 28, 1999
September 28, 1999
Declaration of Continued Application: March 1, 1995
December 25, 1991
Patent Cooperation Treaty
Declaration of Continued Application: March 1, 1995
December 25, 1991
Declaration of Continued Application: March 1, 1995
December 25, 1991
Turkmenistan has not signed the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)’s 1996 Copyright Treaty, the 1996 WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (collectively known as the WIPO Internet treaties), or the 2000 Patent Law Treaty. In August 2015, Turkmenistan adopted an Action Plan for the Development of an Intellectual Property System in Turkmenistan for 2015-2020, and the plan includes a section on the role of IPR in attracting foreign investment into the country. However, it is still a challenge to purchase legally-recorded material in Turkmenistan. Border enforcement of IPR is weak, allowing pirated goods to cross easily into Turkmenistan for sale. Turkmenistan’s laws do not provide for either civil or criminal ex-parte search procedures needed for effective anti-piracy enforcement.
Turkmenistan signed WIPO treaties on industrial property rights and patent cooperation in 1995. Turkmenistan has also joined the Eurasian Patent Organization created as part of the WIPO for CIS countries. The Copyright Law was enacted in 2000 as part of Turkmenistan’s Civil Code. This law defines copyrighted products and the rights of owners of the copyrighted products and provides for their legal protection. In January 2012, the law was amended to include additional IPR-related provisions, including exclusive rights (absolute title), licensing agreements, and the collective management of ownership rights. There is a Patent Department in the Ministry of Finance and Economy which issues patents on intellectual property but does not enforce copyright laws. In November 2014, the government enacted a new Law on Publishing that establishes the legal basis for oversight of publishers, manufacturers, distributors, and consumers of printed materials. The law states that illegal reproduction of printed materials and other violations of intellectual property rights of the publisher will carry monetary penalties and allow for full recovery of losses incurred, including lost income. Article 153 of the Criminal Code details the criminal penalties for IPR-related violations. Currently articles such as DVDs, software, and literature are freely copied and sold. Counterfeit goods constitute a significant share of most consumer goods including imported textile products, footwear, and electronics. There is no publicly available information or estimate on any seizure, storage, or destruction of counterfeit goods. Most software in use is unlicensed, including in many government ministries. The government has not committed to purchasing licensed software. Turkmenistan is not listed on the USTR Notorious Markets List. For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at https://www.wipo.int/directory/en/.
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
Turkmenistan’s underdeveloped financial system and severe hard currency shortage significantly hinder the free flow of financial resources. The largest state banks include: the State Bank for Foreign Economic Relations (Vnesheconombank), Dayhanbank, Turkmenbashy Bank, Turkmenistan Bank, and Halk Bank. These banks have narrow specializations—foreign trade, agriculture, industry, social infrastructure, and savings and mortgages, respectively. Senagat Bank took over Garagum Bank in 2017 and now is the sole remaining local bank providing general banking services for businesses. In September 2011, the government established the State Development Bank to provide loans to state-owned and private enterprises implementing projects that increase production and create jobs. The government also established Rysgal Bank in 2011 to provide general banking services to the members of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. There are also five foreign commercial banks in the country: a joint Turkmen-Turkish bank (joint venture of Dayhanbank and Ziraat Bank), a branch of the National Bank of Pakistan, a branch of Saderat Bank of Iran, as well as Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank offices, which provide European bank guarantees for companies and for the Turkmen government but do not provide general banking services. Insufficient liquidity can make it difficult for investors to exit the market easily. There were no reported cases where foreign investors received credit on the local market. The Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, a nominally- independent organization of private companies and businesspeople, is in fact closely controlled by the government and issues loans with no more than one per cent interest per annum to its member companies to finance projects in strategic sectors, including animal husbandry, agriculture, food production and processing, and industrial development. According to unofficial reports, credit is not allocated on market terms. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) provides some loans to private small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Turkmenistan. In November 2018, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) announced it allocated a USD 500 million loan to Turkmenistan to reinforce its power transmission network, improve reliability of power supply and increase electricity exports. The Islamic Development Bank is also active in Turkmenistan and provides financing for infrastructure projects, including USD 700 million for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline. There is no publicly available information to confirm whether the government or Central Bank respect IMF Article VIII. There is no stock market in the country.
The assets of other banks are believed to be much smaller. All banks, including commercial banks, are tightly regulated by the state. Commercial banks are prohibited from providing services to state enterprises.
State banks primarily service state enterprises and allocate credit on subsidized terms to state entities. Foreign investors are only able to secure credit on the local market through the Pakistan National Bank and equity loans from EBRD and Turkmen-Turkish Bank. There are no capital markets in Turkmenistan, although the 1993 Law on Securities and Stock Exchanges outlines the main principles for issuing, selling, and circulating securities. The 1999 Law on Joint Stock Societies further provides for the issuance of common and preferred stock and bonds and convertible securities in Turkmenistan, but in the absence of a stock exchange or investment company, there is no market for securities. In late 2015, the President signed a decree on the issuance of government bonds for a term of up to five years on the basis of the refinancing rate of the Central Bank of Turkmenistan (five percent). The bonds have not yet been issued as of March 2020. The Embassy is not aware of any official restrictions on a foreigner’s ability to establish a bank account based on residency status, though in practice foreigners may only open foreign currency accounts, and not manat accounts. There is no publicly available information on any rules related to hostile takeovers.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
The government tightly controls the country’s foreign exchange flows. On January 1, 2009, Turkmenistan introduced the re-denominated manat (TMT), which had a fixed exchange rate of 2.85 TMT/1 USD until January 1, 2015, when Turkmenistan devalued its currency against the U.S. dollar to 3.50 TMT/1 USD. In October 2011, Turkmenistan adopted the Law on Hard Currency Control and the Regulation of Foreign Economic Relations as a step towards bringing the national legislation into compliance with international standards. The Central Bank controls the fixed rate by releasing U.S. dollars into official exchange markets. Foreign exchange regulations adopted in June 2008 allow the Central Bank to provide banks with access to foreign exchange. These regulations also allowed commercial banks to open correspondent accounts.
For the last several years, the government has been unable to meet demand for U.S. dollars. For example, debit cards have daily and monthly withdrawal limits. (The limits fluctuate, but tend to hover around USD 5 per day and USD 150 per month.). The government has also imposed administrative procedures that make withdrawals more cumbersome (e.g. proof of residency is now required). On January 12, 2016, the Central Bank of Turkmenistan further restricted access to foreign currency and issued a press release preventing banks from selling U.S. dollars at the country’s exchange points. In addition, when an individual purchases foreign currency through a wire transfer (limited to the equivalent of the monthly salaries of the individual and his/her immediate family members’ monthly salaries), the currency (at an exchange rate of 3.50 TMT/1 USD) must be deposited onto the individual’s international debit card (Visa or MasterCard). The individual does not receive cash. There have been media reports in the past that Vnesheconombank has blocked the Visa cards of some of its customers without notice. Moreover, the TMT used to purchase the foreign currency must be transferred through the individual’s TMT account. If the individual wishes to pay cash, he or she must prove the origins of the cash with an official document. The government also introduced an amendment to the Administrative Offenses Code that raises the fines for illegal foreign exchange transactions (i.e., selling and purchasing foreign currency via informal channels) and also trading in foreign currency on the territory of Turkmenistan.
Turkmen manat is not freely convertible, and the inability to convert enough manat into a hard currency is problematic for many companies operating in Turkmenistan. The energy sector is somewhat shielded from the problem, as oil producers operating under the Petroleum Law (2008) receive a share of their profit in crude oil, which they ship to other Caspian Sea littoral states. In many cases, petrochemical investors have negotiated deals with the government to recoup their investment in the form of future petroleum products. Some U.S. companies, however, are not being paid by various government agencies and ministries for services and goods delivered. Converting the local currency and repatriating funds remains a challenge for foreign companies and their local distributors operating in Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan imports the vast majority of its industrial equipment and consumer goods. The government’s export earnings, foreign exchange reserves, and foreign loans pay for industrial equipment and infrastructure projects.
At the end of 2015, a black market for U.S. dollars emerged in Turkmenistan. During the period covered by this report, the black market rate was relatively steady at roughly TMT 18/USD in 2019. In 2020, the black market rate spiked to TMT 20/USD during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Foreign investors generating revenue in foreign currency do not generally have problems repatriating their profits; the problem lies with foreign companies earning manat. These companies struggle to convert and repatriate earnings. Some foreign companies receiving income in Turkmen manat seek indirect ways to convert local currency to hard currency through the local purchase of petroleum and textile products for resale on the world market. Since the government of Turkmenistan introduced numerous limitations on foreign currency exchange in January 2016, converting local currency remains a challenge in many sectors. Some foreign companies have complained of non-payment or major delays in payment by the government.
In June 2010, Turkmenistan became a full member of the Eurasian Group (EAG), a regional organization to combat money laundering and terrorism financing. EAG is an associate member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). EAG aims to increase the transparency of financial systems in the region, including measures related to correspondent banking, money and value transfer services, and wire transfer services.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
The government maintains a sovereign wealth fund known as the Stabilization Fund, which mainly holds state budget surpluses. The government also keeps a separate fund known as the Foreign Exchange Reserve Fund (FERF) for oil and gas revenues. There is no publicly available information about the size of these funds or how they are managed.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
State-owned enterprises (SOEs) dominate Turkmenistan’s economy and control the lion’s share of the country’s industrial production, especially in onshore hydrocarbon production, transportation, refining, electricity generation and distribution, chemicals, transportation, and construction material production. Education, healthcare, and media enterprises are, with some rare exceptions, also state owned and tightly controlled. SOEs are also to varying degrees involved in agriculture, food processing, textiles, communications, construction, trade, and services. Although SOEs are often inefficient, the government considers them strategically important. While there are some small-scale private enterprises in Turkmenistan, the government continues to exert significant influence in this area. There are no mechanisms to ensure transparency or accountability in the business decisions or operations of SOEs. There is no publicly available information on the total assets of SOEs, total net income of SOEs, the number of people employed by SOEs and the expenses these SOEs allocate to research and development (R&D). There is no published list of SOEs. Turkmenistan is not a member of the WTO and is not a party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) within the framework of the WTO. SOEs are not uniformly subject to the same tax burden as their private sector competitors.
Efforts to privatize former state enterprises have attracted little foreign or domestic investment. Outdated technology, poor infrastructure, and bureaucratic obstacles can make privatized enterprises unattractive for foreign and local investors.
In November 2012, Turkmenistan adopted a national program related to the privatization of state-owned enterprises and facilities. The document identifies the main goals and procedures for privatizing state property. The program was implemented in three phases: privatization of small enterprises (2013), privatization of medium-sized enterprises (2014-2015), and privatization of large enterprises (2016-2017).
The privatization of state enterprises in construction, transportation, and communications and the creation of joint stock companies are part of the program. Strategic facilities, as identified by the government, are not subject to privatization, including those related to natural resources. Other property not subject to privatization includes objects of cultural importance, the property of the armed and security forces, government institutions, research institutes, the facilities of the Academy of Sciences, the integrated energy system, and the public transportation system.
The rules and procedures governing privatization in Turkmenistan lack transparency. Foreign investors are allowed to participate in the bidding process only after they have been approved by the State Agency for Protection from Economic Risks under the Ministry of Finance and Economy. In December 2013, the parliament passed the Law on the Denationalization and Privatization of State Property, which took effect in July 2014. The official newspaper Biznes Reklama (Business Advertising) of the Ministry of Trade and Foreign Economic Affairs published the following state statistics on privatized state property as of January 1, 2019. It is difficult to verify the validity of these numbers.
Privatized State Property in Turkmenistan
Entities available for privatization
Despite official comments emphasizing the importance of private sector growth, supporting privatization has been low on the government’s agenda. All land is government owned. Private citizens have some land usage rights, but these rights exclude the sale or mortgage of land. Land rights can be transferred only through inheritance. Foreign companies or individuals are permitted to lease land for non-agricultural purposes, but only the cabinet of ministers has the authority to grant leases. Since 2018, the government offers some agricultural land for long-term 99-year leases to farmers. As of 2019, 40 such leases existed.
The government has attempted to introduce an element of competition for state contracts by announcing international tenders for some projects. The tender process is nontransparent. On December 20, 2014, Turkmenistan adopted the Law on Tenders that went into effect on July 1, 2015. The law ostensibly seeks to develop competition among bidders, improve transparency and implementation of tender procedures, and ensure compliance with international standards.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
The government implements various policies and regulations that it states promote socially responsible business conduct (RBC), though there is no point of contact or ombudsperson for stakeholders to raise concerns about RBC. In the past, foreign companies operating in Turkmenistan were not required to implement social projects. Social welfare activities connected with doing business in Turkmenistan generally take the form of financial sponsorship of cultural or athletic events, providing academic scholarships to Turkmen students, or the construction of small-scale facilities, such as medical clinics, to benefit the locality around a company’s facilities. Some large foreign firms have felt pressured to make significant contributions to government construction projects. There are no independent NGOs, investment funds, worker organizations/unions, or business associations promoting or monitoring RBC.
In March 2013, Turkmenistan introduced mandatory environmental insurance for all types of enterprises and organizations (with the exception of government-financed entities) carrying out activities that are potentially hazardous to the environment. This insurance program was adopted to raise environmental awareness, hold industries and businesses accountable for violating environmental laws and regulations, and prevent and respond to environmental disasters. The mandatory environmental insurance regulation includes a list of hazardous work and facilities subject to such insurance. The mandatory environmental insurance also applies to foreign legal entities, their branch offices, and entrepreneurs. The State Committee for Environmental Protection and Land Resources conducts ecological inspections for companies’ compliance with regulations.
Turkmenistan is not a participant in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). It is not clear if the government of Turkmenistan follows the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
There is no single specifically designated government agency responsible for combating corruption. In June 2017, Turkmenistan set up the State Service for Combating Economic Crimes (SSCEC) to investigate officials and state-owned enterprises on corruption charges. The SSCEC, which reports to the Minister of Internal Affairs, does not appear to be an independent and objective investigative body. There is no independent corruption watchdog organization.
Anti-corruption laws are not generally enforced, and rampant corruption remains a problem. Formally, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (including the police), the Ministry of National Security, and the General Prosecutor’s Office are responsible for combating corruption. President Berdimuhamedov has publicly stated that corruption will not be tolerated. In 2020, Transparency International ranked Turkmenistan 165 among 180 countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index. Foreign firms have identified widespread government corruption, including in the form of bribe seeking, as an obstacle to investment and business development throughout all economic sectors and regions. It is most pervasive in the areas of government procurement, the awarding of licenses, and customs. In March 2014, the parliament adopted a law on Combating Corruption to help identify and prosecute cases of corruption. The law prohibits government officials from accepting gifts (in person or through an intermediary) from foreign states, international organizations, and political parties. It also severely limits the ability of government officials to travel on business at the expense of foreign entities. Notwithstanding the 2014 law, corruption remains rampant. There are no NGOs involved in monitoring or investigating corruption. Certain government officials including traffic police are known to ask for bribes.
10. Political and Security Environment
Turkmenistan’s political system has remained stable since Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov became president in February 2007 and, with the exception of a reported coup attempt in 2002, there is no history of politically-motivated violence. There have been no recorded examples of damage to projects or installations.
The government does not permit political opposition and maintains a tight grip on all politically sensitive issues, in part by requiring all organizations to register their activities. The Ministry of National Security and the Ministry of Internal Affairs actively monitor locals and foreigners. The country’s parliament passed a Law on Political Parties in January 2012 that defines the legal grounds for the establishment of political parties, including their rights and obligations. In August 2012, under the directive of President Berdimuhamedov, Turkmenistan created a second political party, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. This pro-government party, created from the membership of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, has a platform nearly identical to the President’s Democratic Party. The same is true for the Agrarian Party, which was created in September 2014 in an effort to move Turkmenistan towards a multi-party system. Organized crime is rare, and authorities have effectively rooted out organized crime groups and syndicates. Turkmenistan does not publish crime statistics or information about crime.
The Department of State has reported significant human rights issues in Turkmenistan. These issues include: reports of torture by police and prison officials; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; severe restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including threats of violence and threats of unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists; censorship and site blocking; interference with the freedoms of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions of religious freedom; substantial restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; widespread corruption; trafficking in persons; and the existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual activity between men.
Labor issues are governed by the Labor Code of Turkmenistan (last amended in July 2009), the Social Welfare code, and a number of regulations approved by presidential resolutions. Turkmenistan joined the International Labor Organization in 1993. Unemployment and underemployment are major societal issues, particularly among Turkmenistan’s youth and in rural communities. Unofficial estimates of unemployment range from 10 to 50 percent. Due to a severe shortage of jobs and low salaries in the country, anecdotal evidence indicates that growing numbers of young Turkmen have emigrated or are emigrating to other countries, including Turkey, Russia, and other former Soviet republics. In order to stop outward migration, the State Migration Service of Turkmenistan on numerous occasions has arbitrarily denied exit to citizens at the airport and border points. In February 2016, President Berdimuhamedov signed a decree “On Matters of Registration of the Individuals Arriving in Ashgabat for Employment Purposes,” (https://habartm.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Karar1.pdf) which makes it more difficult for residents from other regions to seek employment in the capital city, Ashgabat. The decree introduces a work permit system by the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, which may issue work permits for a maximum of one year. Ashgabat residents are given priority over non-residents for job openings in the city. The government has also introduced a requirement that 90 percent of any firm’s workforce be Turkmen citizens. The government continues to be the largest employer in the country. The Law on Child Labor (2004) prohibits the employment of children under the age of 16 and makes employment in hazardous and harmful labor illegal for any individual under the age of 18.
Turkmenistan’s labor regulations require that all vacancies be posted at local employment offices. Most vacancies are for low-skilled jobs. Only a few state agencies post job advertisements in the local newspaper. Most government positions are filled through personal connections. Employment offices have not been effective tools in reducing unemployment, or in providing suitable candidates for international companies. The National Center of Trade Unions of Turkmenistan, the successor to the Soviet-era system of government-controlled trade unions, is the only trade union association allowed in the country. Due to low oil prices, the government has taken steps to reduce expenses by laying off some public sector employees. There have been many reports of ministries not meeting payroll requirements for staff. Article 294 of the Labor Code of Turkmenistan states that the courts handle employer-employee labor disputes. Article 368 states that disputes arising out of collective bargaining and collective agreements can be investigated by commissions on labor disputes, trade unions of enterprises, and the court system. Although the Labor Code allows for collective bargaining, in practice it is not used and the courts do not perform the labor dispute resolution function they are assigned.
The International Labor Organization’s Turkmenistan-specific profile is available at:
The official workday in Turkmenistan is eight hours, with the standard work week consisting of 40 hours over five days. The 2009 Labor Code reconfirmed a 40-hour work week, protected workers’ rights by promoting the role of trade unions, guaranteed job security by restricting short-term contracts, and extended the duration of annual leave from 24 calendar days to 30 calendar days. In practice, government and many private sector employees are required to work 10 hours per day and/or a sixth day without compensation. Health and safety regulations exist but are not commonly enforced. Foreigners with government permission to reside in Turkmenistan may work and are subject to the same labor regulations as citizens unless otherwise specified by law.
Turkmenistan was listed as a Tier 3 country in the State Department’s most recent Trafficking in Persons Report. This means that the Government of Turkmenistan does not fully comply with the minimum standards outlined in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and has not made significant efforts to do so. Turkmenistan’s Tier 3 ranking is due in part to the government’s continued mobilizations of adult citizens for forced labor in the annual cotton harvest and in public works projects.
On May 18, 2018, U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued a Withhold Release Order for all Turkmenistan cotton or products produced in whole or in part with Turkmenistan cotton. U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued the order under the authority of the the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 which includes prohibitions on the importation of products made by forced labor, including child labor.
12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs
Turkmenistan signed an Investment Incentive Agreement with the United States in 1992, but there has been no investment insurance, investment guarantees, or financing provided by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) for Turkmenistan. The recently-formed U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), which consolidated OPIC and USAID’s Development Credit Authority, is currently evaluating opportunities for financing and investment insurance in Turkmenistan.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
Government data on many economic indicators, including Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), are generally unavailable or unreliable. According to various independent analysts, however, most foreign investment is directed toward the country’s oil and gas sector. Turkmenistan has a natural gas production sharing agreement (PSA) for the Bagtyyarlyk contractual territory with the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), the only foreign firm Turkmenistan has allowed into onshore gas production. In the oil sector there are two onshore PSAs: the Nebitdag contractual territory operated by Italy’s ENI, and the Hazar project operated jointly by the Turkmennebit state oil concern and Mitro International of Austria. In addition, there are five PSAs for offshore operations: Block I operated by Petronas of Malaysia, Block II (Cheleken Contractual Territory) operated by Dragon Oil (UAE), Block III operated by Buried Hill (UK), Blocks 19 and 20 operated by ENI (Italy), and Block 21 operated by Areti (Russian-owned, headquartered in Switzerland). RWE of Germany terminated its PSA for Block 23 with the Government of Turkmenistan and closed down its Turkmenistan branch in December 2017.
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
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP), in billions