Ethiopia’s economy has been challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, a severe locust infestation, localized unrest in several parts of the country, political tensions, and a devastating conflict in the Tigray region. The IMF forecasts economic growth to slow to two percentage points in Ethiopian fiscal year 2020/21 (starting July 8, 2020). Given the pandemic, potentially destabilizing national elections on June 5, 2021, and the conflict in Tigray, the timeline for a recovery is uncertain. However, the government has made progress on its ambitious economic reform agenda. In the last year alone, the Ethiopian government revised its sixty-year old commercial code, enacted a new investment regulation, began steps to sell two telecom spectrum licenses to foreign operators, and developed a financial sector liberalization roadmap. Still, Ethiopia’s rank in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index was 159 out of 190 economies in 2020, a metric indicative of the myriad challenges facing any investor in the country. Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa after Nigeria, with a population of over 110 million, approximately two-thirds of whom are under age 30. Low-cost labor, a national airline with well over 100 passenger connections, and growing consumer markets are key elements attracting foreign investment.
In September 2019, the Government of Ethiopia (GOE) unveiled its “Homegrown Economic Reform Plan” as a codified roadmap to implement sweeping macro, structural, and sectoral reforms, with a focus on enhancing the role of the private sector in the economy and attracting more foreign direct investment. The ambitious three-year plan prioritizes growth in five sectors: mining, ICT, agriculture, tourism, and manufacturing. In December 2019, the IMF approved a three-year, 2.9 billion U.S. dollar program to support the reform agenda. The program seeks to reduce public sector borrowing, rein in inflation, and reform the exchange rate regime.
The challenges remain vast. Ethiopia’s imports in the last four years have experienced a slight decline, in large part due to a reduction in public investment programs and a dire foreign exchange shortage. Export performance remains weak, as the country struggles to develop exports beyond primary commodities (coffee, gold, and oil seeds). The overvalued exchange rate and illicit trade have also hampered official exports. The acute foreign exchange shortage (the Ethiopian birr is not a freely convertible currency) and the absence of capital markets are choking private sector growth. Companies often face long lead-times importing goods and dispatching exports due to logistical bottlenecks, corruption, high land-transportation costs, and bureaucratic delays. Ethiopia is not a signatory of major intellectual property rights treaties.
All land in Ethiopia is administered by the government and private ownership does not exist. “Land-use rights” have been registered in most populated areas. The GOE retains the right to expropriate land for the “common good,” which it defines to include expropriation for commercial farms, industrial zones, and infrastructure development. Successful investors in Ethiopia conduct thorough due diligence on land titles at both the regional and federal levels and undertake consultations with local communities regarding the proposed use of the land.
The largest volume of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Ethiopia comes from China, followed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Political instability associated with various ethnic conflicts—most notably the conflict in the Tigray region—could negatively impact the investment climate and lower future FDI inflow.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Ethiopia needs significant inflows of FDI to meet its ambitious growth goals. Over the past year, in an effort to attract more foreign investment, the government has passed a new investment law, acceded to the New York Convention on Arbitration, amended its six-decade old commercial code, and digitized commercial registration and business licensing processes. The government has also begun implementing the Public Private Partnership (PPP) proclamation, in an attempt to allow for private investment in the power generation and road construction sectors.
The Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC) has the mandate to promote and facilitate foreign investments in Ethiopia. To accomplish this task, the EIC is charged with 1) promoting the country’s investment opportunities to attract and retain investment; 2) issuing investment permits, business licenses, and construction permits; 3) issuing commercial registration certificates and renewals; 4) negotiating and signing bilateral investment agreements; 5) issuing work permits; and 6) registering technology transfer agreements. In addition, the EIC has the mandate to advise the government on policies to improve the investment climate and hold regular and structured public-private dialogues with investors and their associations. At the local level, regional investment agencies facilitate regional investment. On the 2020 World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index Ethiopia ranks 159 out of 190 countries, which is the exact same ranking it held in both 2018 and 2019. To improve the investment climate, attract more FDI, and tackle unemployment challenges, the Prime Minister’s Office formed a committee to systematically examine each indicator on the Doing Business Index and identify factors that inhibit the private sector.
The American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) works on voicing the concerns of U.S. businesses in Ethiopia. AmCham provides a mechanism for coordination among American companies and facilitates regular meetings with government officials to discuss issues that hinder operations in Ethiopia. The Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce also organizes a monthly business forum that enables the business community to discuss issues related to the investment climate with government officials.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish, acquire, own, and dispose of most forms of business enterprises. The new Investment Proclamation and associated regulations outline the areas of investment reserved for government and local investors. There is no private ownership of land in Ethiopia. All land is technically owned by the state but can be leased for up to 99 years. Small-scale rural landholders have indefinite use rights, but cannot lease out holdings for extended periods, except in the Amhara Region. The 2011 Urban Land Lease Proclamation allows the government to determine the value of land in transfers of leasehold rights, in an attempt to curb speculation by investors.
A foreign investor intending to buy an existing private enterprise or shares in an existing enterprise needs to obtain prior approval from the EIC. While foreign investors have complained about inconsistent interpretation of the regulations governing investment registration (particularly relating to accounting for in-kind investments), they generally do not face undue screening of FDI, unfavorable tax treatment, denial of licenses, discriminatory import or export policies, or inequitable tariff and non-tariff barriers.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
Over the past three years, the government has not undertaken any third-party investment policy review by a multilateral or non-governmental organization. The government has worked closely with some international stakeholders, such as the International Finance Corporation, in its attempt to modernize and streamline its investment regulations.
The EIC has attempted to establish itself as a “one-stop shop” for foreign investors by acting as a centralized location where investors can obtain the visas, permits, and paperwork they need, thereby reducing the time and cost of investing and acquiring business licenses. The EIC has worked with international consultants to modernize its operations, and as part of its work plan has adopted a customer manager system to build lasting relationships and provide post-investment assistance to investors. Despite progress, the EIC readily admits that many bureaucratic barriers to investment remain. In particular, U.S. investors report that the EIC, as a federal organization, has little influence at regional and local levels. According to the 2020 World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report, on average, it takes 32 days to start a business in Ethiopia.
Currently, more than 95 percent of Ethiopia’s trade passes through the Port of Djibouti, with residual trade passing through the Somaliland Port of Berbera or Port Sudan. Ethiopia concluded an agreement in March of 2018 with the Somaliland Ports Authority and DP World to acquire a 19 percent stake in the joint venture developing the Port of Berbera. The agreement will help Ethiopia secure an additional logistical gateway for its increasing import and export trade. Following the July 2018 rapprochement with Eritrea, the Ethiopian government has the opportunity of accessing an alternative port at either Massawa or Assab. At present, however, land borders with Eritrea remain closed, and little progress is being made to operationalize alternative logistics corridors in Eritrea.
The Government of Ethiopia is working to improve business facilitation services by making the licensing and registration of businesses easier and faster. In February of 2021, the Ministry of Trade and Industry launched an eTrade platform (etrade.gov.et) for business registration licensing to enable individuals to register their companies and acquire business licenses online. The amended commercial registration and licensing law eliminates the requirement to publicize business registrations in local newspapers, allows business registration without a physical address, and reduces some other paperwork burdens associated with business registration. U.S. companies can obtain detailed information for the registration of their business in Ethiopia from an online investment guide to Ethiopia: (https://www.theiguides.org/public-docs/guides/ethiopia) and the EIC’s website: (http://www.investethiopia.gov.et/index.php/investment-process/starting-a-business.html). Though the government is taking positive steps to socially empower women (approximately half of cabinet members are women), there is no special treatment provided to women who wish to engage in business.
There is no officially recorded outward investment by domestic investors from Ethiopia as citizens/local investors are not allowed to hold foreign accounts.
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
Ethiopia is a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) and it has bilateral investment and protection agreements with Algeria, Austria, China, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, Finland, France, Iran, Israel, Italy, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey and Yemen. Other bilateral investment agreements have been signed but are not in force with Belgium/Luxemburg, Brazil, Equatorial Guinea, India, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates. Ethiopia signed a protection of investment and property acquisition agreement with Djibouti. A Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations, which entered into force in 1953, governs economic and consular relations with the United States.
There is no double taxation treaty between the United States and Ethiopia. Ethiopia has taxation treaties with fourteen countries, including Italy, Kuwait, Romania, Russia, Tunisia, Yemen, Israel, South Africa, Sudan, and the United Kingdom.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
Ethiopia’s regulatory system is generally considered fair, though there are instances in which burdensome regulatory or licensing requirements have prevented the local sale of U.S. exports, particularly health-related products. Investment decisions can involve multiple government ministries, lengthening the registration and investment process.
The Constitution is the highest law of the country. The parliament enacts proclamations, which are followed by regulations that are passed by the Council of Ministers and implementing directives that are passed by ministries or agencies. The government increasingly engages the public for feedback before passage of draft legislation through public meetings, and regulatory agencies request comments on proposed regulations from stakeholders. Ministries or regulatory agencies do neither impact assessments for proposed regulations nor ex-post reviews. Parties that are affected by an adopted regulation can request reconsideration or appeal to the relevant administrative agency or court. There is no requirement to periodically review regulations to determine whether they are still relevant or should be revised.
Legal matters related to the federal government are entertained by Federal Courts, while state matters go to state courts. To ensure consistency of legal interpretation and to promote predictability of the courts, the Federal Supreme Court Cassation Division is empowered to give binding legal interpretation on all federal and state matters. Though there are no publicly listed companies in Ethiopia, all banks and insurance companies are obliged to adhere to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).
Regulations related to human health and environmental pollution are often enforced. In January of 2019, the Oromia Region’s Environment, Forest, and Climate Change Commission shut down three tanneries in the Oromia Region for what was said to be repeated environmental pollution offenses. The federal government also suspended the business license of MIDROC Gold Mining in May 2018 following weeks of protests by local communities who accused the company of causing health and environmental hazards in the Oromia Region. The Ethiopian Parliament in February of 2019 passed a bill entitled ‘Food and Medicine Administration Proclamation,’ which bans smoking in all indoor workplaces, public spaces, and means of public transport and prohibits alcohol promotion on broadcasting media.
On April 7, 2020, Ethiopia published the Administrative Procedure Proclamation (APP) in the federal gazette, the final step for a law to come into force. The APP’s main aim is to allow ordinary citizens who seek administrative redress to file suits in federal courts against government institutions. Potential redress includes financial restitution. The APP’s passage will require government institutions to set up offices that will handle such complaints. Complainants are required to follow an administrative appeal process, and only after exhausting administrative remedies will a person be allowed to file a suit in federal court. Four government institutions are exempt from the APP: the Federal Attorney General’s Office; the Ethiopian Federal Police; the Ethiopian National Defense Force and the intelligence agencies. The enactment of the APP is widely viewed as a positive step in increasing confidence in the public sector and addressing the need for governmental institutions to adhere to the rule of law.
Ethiopia is a member of UNCTAD’s international network of transparent investment procedures. Foreign and national investors can find detailed information from the investment commission’s website (https://www.invest-ethiopia.com/) on administrative procedures applicable to investing in Ethiopia.
The government released its five-year public finance administration strategic plan (2018 – 2022) in March of 2018, mapping out reforms in government revenue and expenditure forecasting, government accounts management, internal auditing, public procurement administration, public debt management, and public financial transparency and accountability. In support of this initiative, the Ministry of Finance (MoF) issued a directive on Public Financial Transparency and Accountability in October of 2018. The directive mandates that all public institutions report their budgetary performance and financial accounts in platforms that are accessible to the wider public in a timely manner. It also makes the MoF responsible for disseminating a regular and detailed physical and financial performance evaluation of large publicly funded projects. The directive further outlines a clear timeline for the publication of each major piece of budgetary information, such as the pre-budget macroeconomic and fiscal framework, the enacted budget, quarterly execution reports, annual execution reports, and the annual audit report. The government makes public its annual budget as well as the external and domestic debt position of the county on the MoF’s website (https://www.mofed.gov.et/en/resources/bulletin/)
International Regulatory Considerations
In April of 2020 Ethiopia became a member of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The AfCFTA aims to create a single, continental market for goods and services, with free movement of businesspersons and investments. Ethiopia is also a member of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), a regional economic block, which has 21 member countries and has introduced a 10 percent tariff reduction on goods imported from member states. Ethiopia has not yet joined the COMESA free trade area, however. Ethiopia resumed its WTO accession process in 2018, which it originally began in 2003, but which later stagnated.
Ethiopian standards have a national scope and applicability and some of them, particularly those related to human health and environmental protection, are mandatory. The Ethiopian Standards Agency is the national standards body of Ethiopia.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Ethiopia has codified criminal and civil laws, including commercial and contractual law. According to the contractual law, a contract agreement is binding between contracting parties. Disputes between the parties can be taken to court. There are, however, no specialized courts for commercial law cases, though there are specialized benches at both the federal and state courts.
While there have been allegations of executive branch interference in judiciary cases with political implications, there is no evidence of widespread interference in purely commercial disputes. The country has a procedural code for both civil and criminal court. Enforcement actions are appealable and there are at least three appeal processes from the lower courts to the Supreme Court. The Criminal Procedure Code follows the inquisitorial system of adjudication.
Companies that operate businesses in Ethiopia assert that courts lack adequate experience and staffing, particularly with respect to commercial disputes. While property and contractual rights are recognized, judges often lack understanding of commercial matters, including bankruptcy and contractual disputes. In addition, cases often face extended scheduling delays. Contract enforcement remains weak, though Ethiopian courts will at times reject spurious litigation aimed at contesting legitimate tenders.
In March of 2021 the parliament approved an amendment to the sixty-two-year-old commercial code. The revised legislation modernizes and simplifies business regulations, develops regulations for new technologies not covered in the prior version of the code, and seeks to implement greater transparency and accountability in commercial activities.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The Investment Proclamation 1180/2020 and Regulation 474/2020 are Ethiopia’s main legal regime related to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). These laws instituted the opening of new economic sectors to foreign investment, enumerated the requirements for FDI registration, and outlined the incentives that are available to investors.
The investment law allows foreign investors to invest in any investment area except those that are clearly reserved for domestic investors. A few specified investment areas are possible for foreign investors only as part of a joint venture with domestic investors or the government. The Investment Proclamation has introduced an Investment Council, chaired by the Prime Minister, to accelerate implementation of the new law and to address coordination challenges investors face at the federal and regional levels. Further, the new law expanded the mandate of the EIC by allowing it to provide approvals to foreign investors proposing to buy existing enterprises. The EIC now also delivers “one stop shop” services by consolidating investor services provided by other ministries and agencies. Still, the EIC delegates licensing of investments in some areas: air transport services (the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority), energy generation and transmission (the Ethiopian Energy Authority), and telecommunication services (the Ethiopian Communications Authority).
Ethiopia’s Trade Practice and Consumers Protection Authority (TPCPA), operating under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, is tasked with promoting a competitive business environment by regulating anti-competitive, unethical, and unfair trade practices to enhance economic efficiency and social welfare. It has an administrative tribunal with a jurisdiction on matters pertaining to market competition and consumer protection. The authority also annually entertains many cases associated with consumer protection and unfair trade practices.
The EIC reviews investment transactions for compliance with FDI requirements and restrictions as outlined by the Investment Proclamation. Nonetheless, companies have complained that SOEs receive favorable treatment in the government tender process.
Expropriation and Compensation
Per the 2020 Investment Proclamation, no investment by a domestic or foreign investor or enterprise can be expropriated or nationalized, wholly or partially, except when required by public interest in compliance with the law and provided adequate compensatory payment.
The former Derg military regime nationalized many properties in the 1970s. The current government’s position is that property seized lawfully by the Derg (by court order or government proclamation published in the official gazette) remains the property of the state. In most cases, property seized by oral order or other informal means is gradually being returned to the rightful owners or their heirs through a lengthy bureaucratic process. Claimants are required to pay for improvements made by the government during the time it controlled the property. The Public Enterprises Holding and Administration Agency stopped accepting requests from owners for return of expropriated properties in July of 2008.
According to local and foreign businesses operating in the Oromia Region, there have been a number of incidents threatening investors in that region. Various pretexts have been used to close legitimate operations. False charges have been filed with regional courts, property has been confiscated, and bank accounts have been frozen, all in the name of “returning the land” to the “rightful owners” or “creating job opportunities” for the youth. Regional officials, however, deny any systematic attack on investors and have repeatedly provided assurance that all legitimate investors will be protected. Meanwhile, some investors who have invested heavily in government and community relations and actively engaged local and regional officials have prospered. The experience of investors is uneven and clear trends are not evident.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Since 1965, Ethiopia has been a non-signatory member state to the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) Convention. In November 2020, Ethiopia acceded to the UN Convention on The Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (commonly known as the New York Convention).
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
The constitution and the investment law both guarantee the right of any investor to lodge complaints related to their investment with the appropriate investment agency. If the investor has a grievance against a legal or regulatory decision, they can appeal to the investment board or to the respective regional agency, as appropriate. According to the new investment law, the investment dispute between the state and foreign investor can be resolved either through the courts or via arbitration, with the precondition of government agreement for resolution via the latter. Additionally, a dispute that arises between a foreign investor and the state may be settled based on the relevant bilateral investment treaty.
Due to an overloaded court system, dispute resolution can last for years. According to the 2020 World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report, it takes on average 530 days to enforce contracts through the courts.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Arbitration has become a widely used means of dispute settlement among the business community as the Ethiopian civil code recognizes Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms as a means of dispute resolution. The Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce has an Arbitration Center to assist with arbitration. Following Ethiopia’s accession to the New York Convention, local courts now must automatically recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards from a New York Convention member state country. There are no publicly available statistics that indicate a bias in the courts towards state-owned enterprises (SOEs) as pertains to investment/commercial disputes.
The Ethiopian Commercial Code (Book V) outlines bankruptcy provisions and proceedings and establishes a court system that has jurisdiction over bankruptcy proceedings. The primary purpose of the law is to protect creditors, equity shareholders, and other contractors. Bankruptcy is not criminalized. In practice, there is limited application of bankruptcy procedures due to a lack of knowledge on the part of the private sector.
According to the 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report, Ethiopia stands at 149 in the ranking of 190 economies with respect to resolving insolvency. Ethiopia’s score on the strength of insolvency framework index is 5.0. (Note: The index ranges from zero to 16, with higher values indicating insolvency legislation that is better designed for rehabilitating viable firms and liquidating nonviable ones.)
4. Industrial Policies
Investment Regulation 474/2020 retains the investment incentive provisions as outlined under the 2012 law. Accordingly, investors in manufacturing, agro-processing, and selected agricultural products are entitled to income tax exemptions ranging from two to five years, depending on the location of the investment. Additionally, investors in the areas of manufacturing; agriculture; ICT; electricity generation, transmission, and distribution; and producers who produce for export or supply to an exporter, or who export at least 60 percent of the products or services, are entitled to an additional two years of income tax exemption.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
The Industrial Park Proclamation 886/2015 mandates that the Ethiopian Industrial Parks Corporation develop and administer industrial parks under the auspices of government ownership. The law designates industrial parks as duty-free zones, and domestic as well as foreign operators in the parks are exempt from income tax for up to 10 years. Investors operating in parks are also exempt from duties and other taxes on the import of capital goods, construction materials, and raw materials for production of export commodities and vehicles.
An investor who operates in a designated Industrial Development Zone in or near Addis Ababa is entitled to two years of income tax exemptions, and four more years of income tax exemption if the investment is made in an industrial park in other areas, provided 80 percent or more of production is for export or constitutes input for an exporter.
Industrial Parks can be developed by either government or private developers. In practice, the majority have been developed by the Ethiopian government with Chinese financing. The government has announced plans to construct a total of 17 industrial parks in various locations around the country. As of March 2021, operational industrial parks include Hawassa Industrial Park, Bole Lemi Industrial Park, Eastern Industrial Zone, George Shoe Ethiopia, Kombolcha Industrial Park, Adama Industrial Park, Jimma Industrial Park, and Debre Berhan Industrial Park. There are also industrial parks focused on agro-industrial processing located at four sites across the country.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
Ethiopia does not formally impose performance requirements on foreign investors, though investors in Ethiopia routinely encounter business visa delays and onerous paperwork requirements. In addition, investors are required to allocate a minimum of 200,000 U.S. dollars per investment project, with the requirement being lowered to 100,000 U.S. dollars for architectural or engineering projects. For most joint investments with a domestic partner, the investment requirement is lowered to 150,000 U.S. dollars.
The minimum capital requirement is waived if the foreign investor reinvests profits or dividends generated from an existing enterprise in any investment area open for foreign investors; and if a foreign investor purchases a portion or the entirety of an existing enterprise owned by another foreign investor. There are no forced localization or data storage requirements for private investors. Local content in terms of hiring, products, and services is strongly encouraged but not required. The EIC, in collaboration with the Immigration, Nationality, and Vital Events Agency, facilitates visas and work permits for investors and expatriate workers. The government typically issues three to five year multiple entry visas for foreign investors, senior management, and board members, as mandated by the 2020 Investment Proclamation.
In the absence of qualified local personnel, an investor can employ foreigners in positions of higher management (chief executive officer, chief operation officer, and chief financial officer), supervisor, trainers, and other technical professionals. Although not a legal requirement, in joint ventures with state-owned enterprises investors report informal requirements of up to 30 percent domestic content in goods and/or technology.
Proclamation 808/2013 mandates that the Information Network Security Agency (INSA) control the import and export of information technology, build an information technology testing and evaluation laboratory center, and regulate cryptographic products and their transactions.
5. Protection of Property Rights
The constitution recognizes and protects ownership of private property, however all land in Ethiopia belongs to “the people” and is administered by the government. Private ownership does not exist, but land-use rights have been registered in most populated areas. As land is public property, it cannot be mortgaged. Confusion with respect to the registration of urban land-use rights, particularly in Addis Ababa, is common. Allegations of corruption in the allocation of urban land to private investors by government agencies are a major source of popular discontent. The government retains the right to expropriate land for the common good, which it defines as including expropriation for commercial farms, industrial zones, and infrastructure development. While the government claims to allocate only sparsely settled or empty land to investors, some people have been resettled. In particular, traditional grazing land has often been defined as empty and expropriated, leading to resentment, protests, and in some cases, conflict. In addition, leasehold regulations vary in form and practice by region. Successful investors in Ethiopia conduct thorough due diligence on land titles at both regional and federal levels, and conduct consultations with local communities regarding the proposed use of the land before investing.
We encourage potential investors to ensure their needs are communicated clearly to the host government. It is important for investors to understand who had land-use rights preceding them, and to research the attitude of local communities to an investor’s use of that land, particularly in the region of Oromia, where conflict between international investors and local communities has occurred.
The 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report ranked Ethiopia 142 out of 190 economies in registering property, as it takes on average 52 days to register property.
Intellectual Property Rights
The Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office (EIPO) oversees intellectual property rights (IPR) issues. Ethiopia is not yet a signatory to a number of major IPR treaties, such as the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty, the Berne Convention for Literary and Artistic Works, the Madrid System for the International Registration of Marks, or the Patent Cooperation Treaty. In 2020 Ethiopia ratified the Marrakesh Treaty to facilitate access to published works for persons who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise print disabled. The government has expressed its intention to accede to the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, and the Madrid Protocol. Because Ethiopia’s accession to the WTO is incomplete, it is not a party to the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement.
EIPO is primarily tasked with protecting Ethiopian patents and copyrights and fighting software piracy. Historically, however, the EIPO has struggled with a lack of qualified staff and small budgets; further, the institution does not have law enforcement authority. Abuse of U.S. trademarks is rampant, particularly in the hospitality and retail sectors. The government does not publicly track counterfeit goods seizures, and no estimates are available. Ethiopia is not included in the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report or Notorious Markets List.
Ethiopia has a limited and undeveloped financial sector, and investment is largely closed off to foreign firms. Liquidity at many banks is limited, and commercial banks often require 100 percent collateral, making access to credit one of the greatest hindrances to growth in the country. Ethiopia has the largest economy in Africa without a securities market, and sales/purchases of debt are heavily regulated.
The IMF, as part of its Extended Credit Facility and Extended Fund Facility, in December of 2019 approved a three-year, 2.9 billion U.S. dollar program to support Ethiopia’s economic reform agenda. The program seeks to reduce public sector borrowing, rein in inflation, reform the exchange rate regime, and ensure external debt sustainability.
The Ethiopian government has announced, as part of its overall economic reform effort, its intention to liberalize the financial sector. The government has already made good progress by allowing non-financial Ethiopian firms to participate in mobile money activities, introducing Treasury-bill auctions with market pricing, and reducing forced lending to the government on the part of the commercial banks. The government is also planning to create a stock market, with a draft proclamation currently under review by the parliament. Work to create the regulatory body necessary to adequately oversee bond and equity markets is also ongoing.
The National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE, the central bank) began offering, in December of 2019, a limited number of 28-day and 91-day Treasury bills at market-determined interest rates. Since then, more bond offerings of longer tenures have been included in the auctions. The move was part of an effort to expand the NBE’s monetary policy tools and finance the government in a more sustainable way. Previously, the NBE had only sold Treasury bills at below-market interest rates, and the only buyers were public sector enterprises, primarily the Public Social Security Agency and the Development Bank of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia issued its first Eurobond in December of 2014, raising 1 billion U.S. dollars at a rate of 6.625 percent. The 10-year bond was oversubscribed, indicating continued market interest in high-growth sub-Saharan African markets. According to the Ministry of Finance, the bond proceeds are being used to finance industrial parks, the sugar industry, and power transmission infrastructure. Due to its increasing external debt load and the terms of its IMF program, the Ethiopian government has committed to refrain from non-concessional financing for new projects and to shift ongoing projects to concessional financing when possible. As Ethiopia’s ability to service its external debts declined in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ethiopia participated in the World Bank’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative, which suspended external debt payments from May 2020 through June of 2021. Ethiopia is seeking further debt treatment under the G20 Common Framework for Debt Treatments Beyond the DSSI. Details concerning Ethiopia’s participation in the framework are currently being finalized.
Money and Banking System
Ethiopia has 19 commercial banks, two of which are state-owned banks, and 17 of which are privately owned banks. The Development Bank of Ethiopia, a state-owned bank, provides loans to investors in priority sectors, notably agriculture and manufacturing. By regional standards, the 17 private commercial banks are not large (either by total assets or total lending), and their service offerings are not sophisticated. Mobile money and digital finance, for instance, remain limited in Ethiopia. Foreign banks are not permitted to provide financial services in Ethiopia; however, since April 2007, Ethiopia has allowed some foreign banks to open liaison offices in Addis Ababa to facilitate credit to companies from their countries of origins. Chinese, German, Kenyan, Turkish, and South African banks have opened liaison offices in Ethiopia, but the market remains completely closed to foreign retail banks. Foreigners of Ethiopian origin are now allowed to both establish their own banks and hold shares in financial institutions.
Based on recently made available data, the state-owned Commercial Bank of Ethiopia mobilizes more than 60 percent of total bank deposits, bank loans, and foreign exchange. The NBE controls banks’ minimum deposit rate, which now stands at 7 percent, while loan interest rates are allowed to float. Real deposit interest rates have been negative in recent years, mainly due to double digit annual inflation. The Government of Ethiopia in November of 2019 rescinded the so-called “27% Rule,” which mandated forced, below inflation rate lending by the commercial banks to the NBE.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
All foreign currency transactions must be approved by the NBE. Ethiopia’s national currency (the Ethiopian birr) is not freely convertible. The GOE removed in September 2018 the limit on holding foreign currency accounts faced by non-resident Ethiopians and non-resident foreign nationals of Ethiopian origin.
Foreign exchange reserves started to become depleted in 2012 and have remained at critically low levels since then. At present, gross reserves stand at about 4 billion U.S. dollars, covering approximately 2 months of imports. According to the IMF, heavy government infrastructure investment, along with debt servicing and a large trade imbalance, have all fueled the intense demand for foreign exchange. In addition, the decrease in foreign exchange reserves has been exacerbated by weaker-than-expected earnings from coffee exports and low international commodity prices for other important exports such as oil seeds. Businesses encounter delays of six months to two years in obtaining foreign exchange, and they must deposit the full equivalent in Ethiopian birr in their accounts to begin the process to obtain foreign exchange. Slowdowns in manufacturing due to foreign exchange shortages are common, and high-profile local businesses have closed their doors altogether due to the inability to import required goods in a timely fashion.
Due to the foreign exchange shortage, companies have experienced delays of up to two years in the repatriation of larger volumes of profits. Local sourcing of inputs and partnering with export-oriented partners are strategies employed by the private sector to address the foreign exchange shortage, but access to foreign exchange remains a problem that limits growth, interferes with maintenance and spare parts replacement, and inhibits imports of adequate raw materials.
The foreign exchange shortage distorts the economy in a number of other ways: it fuels the contraband trade through Somaliland because the Ethiopian birr is an unofficial currency there and can be used for the purchase of products from around the world. Exporters, who have priority access to foreign exchange, sometimes sell their allocations of hard currency to importers at inflated rates, creating a black-market for dollars that is roughly 30 to 40 percent over the official rate. Other exporters use their foreign exchange earnings to import consumer goods or industrial inputs with high margins, rather than re-investing profits in their core businesses. Meanwhile, the lack of access to foreign exchange impacts the ability of American citizens living in Ethiopia to pay their taxes, or for students to pay school fees abroad.
The Ethiopian birr has depreciated significantly against the U.S. dollar over the past ten years, primarily through a series of controlled steps, including a 20 percent devaluation in September 2010 and a 15 percent devaluation in October 2017. The NBE increased the devaluation rate of the Ethiopian birr starting in November of 2019, and it has continued to be devalued at a more rapid rate since that time, as per the terms of the IMF program. The official exchange rate was approximately 40.81 Ethiopian birr to the U.S. dollar as of March 2021, while the illegal parallel market exchange rate for the same time was approximately 52 Ethiopian birr to the U.S. dollar.
In late 2017, the NBE increased the minimum savings interest rate from five percent to seven percent and limited the outstanding loan growth rate in commercial banks to 16.5 percent, which limits their loan provision for businesses other than those in the export and manufacturing sectors. Moreover, commercial banks were instructed to transfer 30 percent of their foreign exchange earnings to the account of NBE so the regulator can use the foreign exchange to meet the strategic needs of the country, including payments to procure petroleum, wheat, pharmaceuticals, and sugar.
Ethiopia’s Financial Intelligence Unit monitors suspicious currency transfers, including large transactions exceeding 200,000 Ethiopian birr (roughly equivalent to U.S. reporting requirements for currency transfers exceeding 10,000 U.S. dollars). Ethiopia citizens are not allowed to hold or open an account in foreign exchange. Ethiopian residents entering the country from abroad should declare foreign currency in excess of 1,000 U.S. dollars, and non-residents in excess of 3,000 U.S. dollars. Residents are not allowed to hold foreign currency for more than 30 days after acquisition. A maximum of 1,000 Ethiopian birr in cash can be carried out of the country.
Ethiopia’s Investment Proclamation allows all registered foreign investors, whether or not they receive incentives, to remit profits and dividends, principal and interest on foreign loans, and fees related to technology transfer. Foreign investors may remit proceeds from the sale or liquidation of assets, from the transfer of shares or of partial ownership of an enterprise, and funds required for debt servicing or other international payments. The right of expatriate employees to remit their salaries is granted by NBE foreign exchange regulations. In practice, however, foreign companies and individuals have experienced difficulties obtaining foreign currency to remit dividends, profits, or salaries due to the critical shortage of foreign currency the country currently faces.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
Ethiopia has no sovereign wealth funds.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
State-owned enterprises (SOEs) dominate major sectors of the economy. There is a state monopoly or state dominance in telecommunications, power, banking, insurance, air transport, shipping, railway, industrial parks, and petroleum importing. State-owned enterprises have considerable advantages over private firms, including priority access to credit and customs clearances. While there are no conclusive reports of credit preference for these entities, there are indications that they receive incentives, such as priority foreign exchange allocation, preferences in government tenders, and marketing assistance. Ethiopia does not publish financial data for most state-owned enterprises, but Ethiopian Airlines and the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia have transparent accounts.
Ethiopia is not a member to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and does not adhere to the guidelines on corporate governance of SOEs. Corporate governance of SOEs is structured and monitored by a board of directors composed of senior government officials and politically affiliated individuals, but there is a lack of transparency in the structure of SOEs.
In July of 2018 the government announced its intention to privatize a minority share of EthioTelecom, Ethiopian Shipping and Logistics Service Enterprise, and power generation projects, and to fully privatize sugar projects, railways, and industrial parks. The privatization program will be implemented through public tenders and will be open to local and foreign investors. The government has prioritized privatizations in the telecommunications and sugar sectors, and in those sectors has begun asset valuations of the enterprises, standardization of the financial reports, and establishment of modernized legal and regulatory frameworks. The GOE has also reached out to potential investors and has begun creating tender and bidding documents that will guide the privatizations. To broaden the role and participation of the private sector in the economy, and to implement the privatization program in an open and transparent manner, Ethiopia enacted a new privatization bill in June of 2020. The bill gives the Public Enterprise Holding and Administration Agency majority control over future privatization processes, with the Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Finance (MoF) as key stakeholders.
The government has sold more than 370 public enterprises since 1995, mainly small companies in the trade and service sectors, most of which were nationalized by the Derg military regime in the 1970s. Currently, twenty-three SOEs are under the Public Enterprises Holding and Administration Agency.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
Some larger international companies in Ethiopia have introduced corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. Most Ethiopian companies, however, do not officially practice CSR, though individual entrepreneurs engage in charity, sometimes on a large scale. There are efforts to develop CSR programs by the Ministry of Trade and Industry in collaboration with the World Bank, U.S. Agency for International Development, and other institutions.
The government encourages CSR programs for both local and foreign direct investors but does not maintain specific guidelines for these programs, which are inconsistently applied and not controlled or monitored.
Ethiopia was admitted as a candidate-member to the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) in 2014 and in 2019 it was found to have made meaningful progress in implementing EITI standards. Per the Commercial Code, extractive industries and other businesses are expected to conduct statuary audits of their financial statements at the end of each financial year, though the financial statements are not available to the public, only to financial institutions and share companies.
The Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (FEACC) is charged with preventing corruption and is accountable to the Office of the Prime Minister. The Commission provides ethics training and education to prevent corruption. The Federal Police Commission is responsible for investigating corruption crimes and the Federal Attorney General handles corruption prosecutions.
The Attorney General’s Office has opened a new and consolidated Anti-Corruption Directorate to recover stolen assets and fight corruption. The Directorate is empowered to enter into mutual legal assistance treaties (MLAT’s) and otherwise coordinate with foreign nations to fight corruption.
The Federal Police is mandated with investigating corruption crimes committed by public officials as well as “Public Organizations.” The latter are defined as any organ in the private sector that administers money, property, or any other resources for public purposes. Examples of such organizations include share companies, real estate agencies, banks, insurance companies, cooperatives, labor unions, professional associations, and others.
Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures perceived levels of public sector corruption, rated Ethiopia’s corruption at 38 (the score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of zero to 100, with the former indicating highly corrupt and the latter indicating very clean). Its comparative rank in 2020 was 94 out of 180 countries, a two-point improvement from its 2019 rank. The American Chamber of Commerce in Ethiopia recently polled its members and asked what the leading business climate challenges were; transparency and governance ranked as the 4th leading business climate challenge, ahead of licensing and registration and public procurement.
Ethiopian and foreign businesses routinely encounter corruption in tax collection, customs clearance, and land administration. Many past procurement deals for major government contracts, especially in the power generation, telecommunications, and construction sectors were widely viewed as corrupt.
Ethiopia is not a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. Ethiopia is a signatory to the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption. Ethiopia is also member of the East African Association of Anti-Corruption Authorities.Ethiopia signed the UN Anticorruption Convention in 2003, which was eventually ratified in November 2007. It is a criminal offense to give or receive bribes, and bribes are not tax deductible.
Contacts at government agency or agencies are responsible for combating corruption:
Federal Police Commission
+251 11 861-9595
Ethnic conflict—often sparked by historical grievances or resource competition, including land disputes—has resulted in varying levels of violence across Ethiopia. In September of 2020, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) released a report concluding that there were more than 1.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country. IOM concluded that the primary cause of displacements was conflict, which resulted in the displacement of 1,233,557 persons. The second highest cause was drought, which displaced an additional 351,062 persons, followed by seasonal floods and flash flooding.
Most significantly, in early November of 2020, a conflict broke out between a regional political party in the Tigray Region and the federal government. The conflict quickly enlarged, with Eritrean troops present in parts of Tigray Region, Amhara Region forces controlling much of Western Tigray, and clashes between the Ethiopian and Sudanese governments over a long-disputed border area. The conflict in Tigray has led to countless deaths, widespread displacements, extensive destruction of infrastructure, allegations of widespread gross human rights violations and the use of gender violence as a weapon of war, a vast reduction in public services, and widespread hunger. As of the present, conflict continues in Tigray, and the aftereffects from the violence will likely reverberate for years.
Insecurity, often driven by ethnic tensions, persists in many other areas, notably in Gedeo Zone, West Guji, and other areas of southern and western Oromia; in eastern parts of Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region; and in the Hararges on the border of the Somali Region. In the four Wellega Zones in western Oromia, the Oromo Liberation Army-Shane and other unidentified armed groups continue to attack public and local government officials; this violence occasionally spills over into other parts of Oromia. Regional security forces and the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) are actively combatting these groups. In early July of 2020, the assassination of a popular Oromo singer and activist, Hachualu Hundesa, resulted in widespread violence in the Oromia Region and Addis Ababa that saw over 150 dead and thousands arrested. In the wake of the violence the federal government shut down internet access in the country for a period of several weeks. In far western Ethiopia, persistent ethnic violence in the Metekel Zone of Benishangul-Gumuz Region led the ENDF to establish a “command post” presence there in September of 2020 in an effort to stem communal attacks. Despite the military’s presence, clashes worsened in early 2021, leaving hundreds dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Under PM Abiy’s administration, political space in Ethiopia has opened significantly. Constitutional rights, including freedoms of assembly and expression, are now generally supported at the level of the federal government, though the protection of these rights remains uneven, especially at regional and local levels. Part of Abiy’s opening of political space led to the release of political prisoners in 2018, though recently there have been some reports of short-term detentions of opposition political leaders. Opposition parties usually operate freely, although authorities have employed politically motivated procedural roadblocks to hinder opposition parties’ efforts to hold meetings or other party activities. The space for media and civil society groups has become significantly more free following reforms instituted by PM Abiy. Still, journalism in the country remains undeveloped, social media is often rife with unfounded rumors, and government officials occasionally react with heavy-handedness, especially to news they feel might spur social unrest, resulting in self-censorship. Civil society reforms have spurred an expansion of the sector, though many civil society groups continue to struggle with capacity and resource issues. The parliament has set June 5, 2021 as the date for the next national and regional parliamentary elections; they were originally scheduled for May of 2020 but were delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new administration has also increased regional autonomy. Successful American investors tell us that understanding the different business climates across the regions—there are different regional taxation regimes, unique ethnic conflicts, varying levels of reception towards profit-making companies, and contrasting approaches to policing and security issues—is key to successfully investing in Ethiopia.
In 2020, Ethiopia instituted two State of Emergencies (SOE). The first SOE was declared between April 10 and September 5 as a measure against the spread of COVID-19. The SOE enforced measures such as the discontinuation of meetings involving more than four people; closure of entertainment and sports centers; requirements that restaurants distance tables and seating; and limitations on the number of passengers in public transportation vehicles. The second State of Emergency, which was limited in scope to Tigray Region, was declared on November 4 following the outbreak of conflict there. This SOE provides the central government the power to suspend some political rights in a stated effort to maintain sovereignty and peace in Tigray.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
More than 80 percent of Ethiopians work in agriculture. The second-most important employer is the government. If the population continues to grow at the current rate of 2.5 percent per year, Ethiopia will have more than 138 million people by 2030, only 27 percent of whom will live in urban areas. Ethiopia’s youth, those between the ages of 15 and 29, account for 30 percent of the population; 70 million Ethiopians are under the age of 30. The youth unemployment rate in urban settings is over 25 percent (Central Statistics Agency, 2018). The gender gap in employment is high; the unemployment rate among young women in urban areas is over 30 percent, compared with 19 percent for young men. Young women are three times more likely to be neither in employment, education, or training (NEET). According to International Labor Organization (ILO) statistics, Ethiopia’s youth NEET accounts for 10.5 percent of the youth population (5.7 percent for men, 15.1 percent for women).
Although labor remains readily available and inexpensive in Ethiopia, skilled manpower is scarce. Approximately 50 percent of Ethiopians over the age of 15 are illiterate, according to UNESCO’s definition. The primary school enrollment rate (age 7 to 14), on the other hand, has now reached 94 percent. To increase the skilled labor force, the GOE has undertaken a rapid expansion of the university system in the last 20 years, increasing the number of higher public education institutions from three to 49. It has adopted an education policy that requires 70 percent of public university students to study science, engineering, or technology subjects, but many students are not well prepared by secondary schools to study in those fields.
Ethiopia has ratified all eight core International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions. The Ethiopian Criminal Code and the 2019 Labor Proclamation both outlaw work specified as hazardous by ILO conventions. There is no national minimum wage, and public sector employees–the largest group of wage earners–earned a monthly minimum wage of 420 Ethiopian birr (approximately $10).
Labor unions and confederations are separate entities from the government, and are subject to a great deal of regulation and direct pressure/involvement from the government. The Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU) comprises well over two hundred thousand members in enterprise-based unions in a variety of sectors, but there is no formal requirement for unions to join the CETU. Much of the labor force remains in small-scale agriculture/industry and thus is not covered by enterprise unions. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs’ Directorate of Harmonious Industrial Relations provides labor dispute resolution services, but the caseload is high and the directorate’s capacity are low.
Employers offering contracted employment are required to provide severance pay. The vast majority of employees that work in small-scale agriculture and in many micro and small enterprises, however, do so without a contract. Large labor surpluses and lax labor law enforcement allow employers to retain employees without contracts that ensure strong worker protections.
Although the government actively engages with the international community to combat child labor and human trafficking, which includes forced/coerced labor, both remain widespread in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Parliament ratified ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor in May 2003. While not a pressing issue in the formal economy, child labor is common in the informal sector, including construction, agriculture, textiles, manufacturing, mining, and domestic work. Child labor is present in both urban and rural areas. According to the ILO’s International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor, more than 50 percent of Ethiopia’s child laborers work in the agriculture sector. Ethiopian traditional woven textiles are included on the U.S. government’s Executive Order 13126 list of goods that have been known to be produced by forced or indentured child labor. Both NGO and Ethiopian government sources concluded that goods produced (in the agricultural sector and traditional weaving industry in particular) via child labor are largely intended for domestic consumption, and not slated for export. Employers are prohibited from hiring children under the age of 15, and the minimum age is 18 for certain types of hazardous work. Ethiopia has a National Action Plan (NAP) for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor, which it is currently updating. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs conducts tens of thousands of targeted inspections on occupational safety and standards, though they are not legally empowered to assess fines for infractions and they do not make this data publicly available. Due to the shortage of labor inspectors and other enforcement resources, and the fact that inspectors do not inspect informal work sites, most child labor goes unreported.
In April 2020, the Ethiopian Parliament approved and published in the federal gazette the new Anti-Human Trafficking and Smuggling Criminal Proclamation 909/2019. The new legislation breaks down silos between stakeholder agencies, provides clear guidelines regarding how anti-trafficking efforts are funded, and provides clear, commensurate penalties for those involved in trafficking.
The Overseas Labor Proclamation legalizes and regulates the employment of Ethiopians in foreign countries. The law does not disallow Ethiopians from migrating to other countries to seek work, but it imposes requirements that are lengthy and expensive, making irregular migration more attractive for many. The main driver for irregular migration is economic incentives. Although trafficking remains problematic, experts report that the GOE has increasingly shown the political will to address this issue.
12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance and Development Finance Programs
The Development Finance Corporation (DFC) is currently exploring insurance and investment opportunities in Ethiopia, but does not currently have a significant portfolio in country.
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
*National Bank of Ethiopia and Ethiopian Investment Commission
**Ethiopian Fiscal Year 2019/2020, which begins on July 8, 2020.
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
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Data regarding inward direct investment are not available for Ethiopia via the IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS) site (http://data.imf.org/CDIS); we have instead used data from the Ethiopian Investment Commission.
*The yearly average exchange rate is used for each year from 1992 – 2020 in order to convert the amount of FDI from domestic currency into U.S. dollars.
*** Total Outward investment data are not available.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment Data regarding the equity/debt breakdown of portfolio investment assets are not available for Ethiopia via the IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS) and are not available for external publication from the Government of Ethiopia.