Pakistan has sought to foster inward investment, restructure tax collection, boost trade and investment, and fight corruption. It entered a $6 billion IMF Extended Fund Facility (EFF) program in July 2019, committing to carry out structural reforms that have been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In February 2022, the IMF Board authorized release of the latest tranche of the program, bringing the total disbursed to $3 billion. Nevertheless, progress has been slow in reforming taxation and privatizing state-owned enterprises. Pakistan has successfully tapped global bond markets three times since March 2021.
Pakistan’s economy outperformed downbeat forecasts during the COVID-19 pandemic, with GDP expanding 5.6 percent in FY 2021 (July 2020 – June 2021). Pakistan has made significant progress since 2019 in transitioning to a market-determined exchange rate. The current account deficit, on the decline through 2020, has increased substantially and constrains policy efforts. Rising inflation is another major constraint on policy, having risen in FY 2021 and reaching 13 percent in January 2022.
While Pakistan has a nominally open foreign direct investment (FDI) regime, it remains a challenging environment for investors. The security situation has improved in recent years but remains dynamic, dispute resolution processes are lengthy, enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPR) is weak, taxation is inconsistent, and regulations vary across Pakistan’s provinces. Incoming FDI declined by 8.9 percent in FY 2021 compared to FY 2020, and levels of investment have historically lagged behind Pakistan’s regional peers.
The Pakistani government updated its National Climate Change Policy and National Wildlife Policy in 2021, which address issues in water, agriculture, forestry, coastal areas, biodiversity, and vulnerable ecosystems. Pakistan also introduced the 2020-2023 National Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan, the 2020-2025 National Electric Vehicle Policy for 2-3 Wheelers and Commercial Vehicles, and the Alternative and Renewable Energy Policy in 2019.
The United States has consistently been one of Pakistan’s largest sources of FDI. In FY 2021, the PRC was Pakistan’s number one source of new FDI, largely due to projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) for which only PRC-approved companies could bid. Over the last three years, U.S. companies have pledged more than $1.5 billion of investment in Pakistan. American companies have profitable operations across a range of sectors, notably fast-moving consumer goods, agribusiness, and financial services. Other sectors attracting U.S. interest include franchising, information and communications technology (ICT), renewable energy, and healthcare services. The Karachi-based American Business Council, a local affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has 61 U.S. member companies, most of which are Fortune 500 companies and span a wide range of sectors. The Lahore-based American Business Forum, with 23 founding members and 22 associate members, also helps U.S. investors. The U.S.-Pakistan Business Council, a division of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, supports U.S.-based companies who do business with Pakistan. In 2003, the United States and Pakistan signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) as the primary vehicle to address impediments to bilateral trade and investment flows and to grow commerce between the two economies. In March 2022, the United States and Pakistan held TIFA intersessional talks.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Pakistan seeks inward investment to boost economic growth, particularly in the energy, agribusiness, information and communications technology, and industrial sectors. Since 1997, Pakistan has established and maintained a largely open investment regime. Pakistan introduced an Investment Policy in 2013 that further liberalized investment policies in most sectors to attract foreign investment and signed an economic co-operation agreement with China, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), in April 2015. CPEC Phase I, which concluded in late 2019, focused primarily on infrastructure and energy production. CPEC Phase II, which is ongoing, is reportedly pivoting away from infrastructure development to mainly promote Pakistan’s industrial growth by establishing special economic zones throughout the country. The PRC has also pledged to provide $1 billion in socio-economic initiatives focused on agriculture, health, education, poverty alleviation, and vocational training by 2024. However, progress on Phase II is significantly delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fiscal constraints, and regulatory issues. The government took almost two years to pass legislation formalizing the CPEC Authority (a centralized federal body charged with overseeing CPEC implementation across the country). Some opportunities are only open to approved Chinese companies, and CPEC has ensured those projects and their investors receive authorities’ attention.
To support its Investment Policy, Pakistan also has implemented sectoral policies designed to provide additional incentives to investors in those specific sectors. The Automotive Policy 2016, Export Enhancement Package 2019, Alternative and Renewable Energy Policy 2019, Merchant Marine Shipping Policy 2019 (with 2020 updates), the Electric Vehicle Policy 2020-2025, the Textile Policy 2021 (which took over two years for final approval), and then Prime Minister Imran Khan’s reform package for IT sector development (announced in February 2022) are a few examples of sector-specific incentive schemes. Sector-specific incentives typically include tax breaks, tax refunds, tariff reductions, the provision of dedicated infrastructure, and investor facilitation services.
The last Strategic Trade Policy Framework (STPF) – which lays out the government’s broad trade policy outlooks and priorities – expired in 2018; the Cabinet approved an updated STPF 2020-25 in November 2021. Following the expiration, incentives introduced through STPF 2015-18 remained in place until the updated STPF came into effect. Nonetheless, foreign investors continue to advocate for Pakistan to improve legal protections for foreign investments, protect intellectual property rights, and establish clear and consistent policies for upholding contractual obligations and settlement of tax disputes.
The Foreign Private Investment Promotion and Protection Act (FPIPPA), 1976, and the Furtherance and Protection of Economic Reforms Act, 1992, provide legal protection for foreign investors and investment in Pakistan. The FPIPPA stipulates that foreign investment will not be subject to higher income taxes than similar investments made by Pakistani citizens. All sectors and activities are open for foreign investment unless specifically prohibited or restricted for reasons of national security and public safety. Specified restricted industries include arms and ammunitions; high explosives; radioactive substances; securities, currency and mint; and consumable alcohol. There are no restrictions or mechanisms that specifically exclude U.S. investors.
Pakistan’s investment promotion agency is the Board of Investment (BOI). BOI is responsible for attracting investment, facilitating local and foreign investors, implementation of projects, and enhancing Pakistan’s international competitiveness. BOI assists companies and investors who seek to invest in Pakistan and facilitates the implementation and operation of their projects. BOI is not a one-stop shop for investors, however.
Pakistan pursues investor retention through “business dialogues” such as webinars and seminars with existing and potential investors. BOI plays the leading role in initiating and managing these dialogues. However, Pakistan does not have a dedicated ombudsman’s office focused on investment retention.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Foreigners, other than Indian and Israeli citizens/entities, can establish, own, operate, and dispose of interests in most types of businesses in Pakistan, excepting those involved in arms and ammunitions; high explosives; radioactive substances; securities, currency and mint; and consumable alcohol. There are no restrictions or mechanisms that specifically exclude U.S. investors. There are no laws or regulations authorizing domestic private entities to adopt articles of incorporation discriminating against foreign investment.
Pakistan does not place limits on foreign ownership or control. The 2013 Investment Policy eliminated minimum initial capital requirements across sectors so that there is no minimum investment requirement or upper limit on the allowed share of foreign equity, with the exception of investments in the airline, banking, agriculture, and media sectors. Waiver to these limits require approval from the cabinet and prime minister.
Foreign investors in the services sector may retain 100 percent equity, subject to obtaining permission, a “no objection certificate,” and license from the concerned agency, as well as fulfilling the requirements of the respective sectoral policy. In the education, health, and infrastructure sectors, 100 percent foreign ownership is allowed, while in the agriculture sector, the threshold is 60 percent, with an exception for corporate agriculture farming, where 100 percent ownership is allowed. Small-scale mining valued at less than PKR 300 million (roughly $1.7 million) is restricted to Pakistani investors.
Foreign banks may establish locally incorporated subsidiaries and branches, provided they have $5 billion in paid-up capital or belong to one of the regional organizations or associations to which Pakistan is a member (e.g., Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) or the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)). Absent these requirements, foreign banks are limited to a 49-percent maximum equity stake in locally incorporated subsidiaries.
There are no restrictions on payments of royalties and technical fees for the manufacturing sector, but there are restrictions on other sectors, including a $100,000 limit on initial franchise investments and a cap on subsequent royalty payments of 5 percent of net sales for five years. Royalties and technical payments are subject to remittance restrictions listed in Chapter 14, Section 12 of the SBP Foreign Exchange Manual (http://www.sbp.org.pk/fe_manual/index.htm).
Pakistan maintains investment screening mechanisms for inbound foreign investment. The BOI is the lead organization for such screening. Pakistan blocks foreign investments where the screening process determines the investment could negatively affect Pakistan’s national security. Though BOI is the official lead agency for investment screening mechanism, they lack in-house capacity for running such screenings and rely heavily on intelligence agencies for the required due diligence.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
Pakistan has not undergone any third-party investment policy reviews in the past three years.
The Board of Investment’s “Doing Business Reform Strategy 2018-21” is the national roadmap for improving Pakistan’s investment climate. In last few years, the government has simplified pre-registration and registration facilities and automated land records to simplify property registration, eased requirements for obtaining construction permits and utilities, introduced online/electronic tax payments, and facilitated cross-border trade by expanding electronic submissions and processing of trade documents.
The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) manages company registration, which is available to both foreign and domestic companies. Companies first provide a company name and pay the requisite registration fee to the SECP. They then supply documentation on the proposed business, including information on corporate offices, location of company headquarters, and a copy of the company charter. Both foreign and domestic companies must apply for national tax numbers with the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to facilitate payment of income and sales taxes. Industrial or commercial establishments with five or more employees must register with Pakistan’s Federal Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI) for social security purposes. Depending on the location, registration with provincial governments may also be required. The SECP website (https://www.secp.gov.pk/) offers a Virtual One Stop Shop (OSS) where companies can register with the SECP, FBR, and EOBI simultaneously. The OSS can be used by foreign investors.
Pakistan does not promote or incentivize outward investment.
While Pakistan does not explicitly restrict domestic investors from investing abroad, cumbersome and time-consuming approval processes, involving multiple entities including the SBP, SECP, and the Ministries of Finance, Economic Affairs, and Foreign Affairs, discourage outward investments. Despite those processes, larger Pakistani corporations have made investments in the United States in recent years.
2. Bilateral Investment and Taxation Treaties
Pakistan has signed Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) with 49 countries, although only 32 have entered into force. List of all countries with which Pakistan has bilateral investment treaties is available at https://invest.gov.pk/investment-regime/bits.
U.S.-Pakistan BIT negotiations began in 2004 and the text closed in 2012; however, the agreement has not been signed. Pakistan’s current government has declared its intention to pull out of BITs currently in force.
Pakistan has a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in place with the United States. Pakistan has free or preferential trade agreements with China, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Iran, Mauritius, and Indonesia. It is also a signatory of the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) and the Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA). A revised China-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement entered into force January 1, 2020. Pakistan is negotiating free trade agreements with Turkey and Thailand.
A U.S.-Pakistan bilateral tax treaty was signed in 1959. Pakistan has double taxation agreements with 63 other countries. A multilateral tax treaty between the SAARC countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) came into force in 2011 and provides additional provisions for the administration of taxes. In 2018, Pakistan updated its tax treaty with Switzerland.
Pakistan relies heavily on multinational corporations for a significant portion of its tax collections (up to one-third of revenue collected by the FBR, according to reports by the Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry.) Foreign investors in Pakistan regularly report that both federal and provincial tax regulations are difficult to navigate, and tax assessments are non-transparent. Since 2013, the government has requested advance tax payments from companies, complicating businesses’ operations as the government intentionally delays tax refunds.
In 2016, Pakistan signed the OECD’s Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters. The Convention will help Pakistan exchange banking details with the other 80 signatory countries to locate untaxed money in foreign banks. Pakistan is a member of the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) framework and will automatically exchange country-by-country reporting as required by the BEPS package. To date, Pakistan has not fully implemented the OECD’s inclusive framework on BEPS.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
Pakistan generally lacks transparency and effective policies and laws that foster market-based competition in a non-discriminatory manner. The Competition Commission of Pakistan has a mandate to ensure market-based competition, but laws and regulations are opaque, vary among provinces, and are sometimes applied to benefit domestic businesses.
All businesses in Pakistan are required to adhere to certain regulatory processes managed by the chambers of commerce and industry. Rules, for example on the requirement for importers or exporters to register with a chamber, are equally applicable to domestic and foreign firms. To date, Post is not aware of incidents where such rules have been used to discriminate against foreign investors in general or U.S. investors specifically.
The Pakistani government is responsible for establishing and implementing legal rules and regulations, but sub-national governments have a role as well depending on the sector. Prior to implementation, non-government actors and private sector associations can provide feedback to the government on regulations and policies, but governmental authorities are not bound to follow their input. Regulatory authorities are required to conduct in-house post-implementation reviews of regulations in consultation with relevant stakeholders. However, these assessments are not made publicly available. Since the 2010 introduction of the 18th amendment to Pakistan’s constitution, which delegated significant authorities to provincial governments, foreign companies must comply with provincial, and sometimes local, laws in addition to federal law. Foreign businesses complain about the inconsistencies in the application of laws and policies from different regulatory authorities. There are no rules or regulations in place that discriminate specifically against U.S. firms or investors, however.
The SECP is the main regulatory body for foreign companies operating in Pakistan, but it is not the sole regulator. Company financial transactions are regulated by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), labor by Social Welfare or the Employee Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI), and specialized functions in the energy sector are administered by bodies such as the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA), the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA), and Alternate Energy Development Board (AEDB). Each body has independent management, but all must submit draft regulatory or policy changes through the Ministry of Law and Justice before any proposed rules or regulations may be submitted to parliament or, in some cases, the executive branch.
The SECP is authorized to establish accounting standards for companies in Pakistan, however, execution and implementation of those standards is poor. Pakistan has adopted most, though not all, International Financial Reporting Standards. Though most of Pakistan’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms, execution and implementation is inefficient and opaque.
The Pakistani government requires companies to provide environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosures on their projects in country, but there is no single regulatory mechanism or central regulation for such requirements. For instance, companies must work with the Ministry of Climate Change on environmental disclosures; the EOBI on social disclosures, such as those that concern pensions; and SECP on governance disclosures. However, implementation and monitoring and enforcement mechanisms for such requirements are weak and opaque.
Most draft legislation is made available for public comment but there is no centralized body to collect public responses. The relevant authorities, usually the responsible ministry for proposed legislation, gathers public comments as it deems necessary; otherwise, the government submits legislation directly to the legislative branch. For business and investment laws and regulations, the Ministry of Commerce relies on stakeholder feedback obtained from chambers and associations – such as the American Business Council (ABC) and Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OICCI) – rather than publishing regulations online for public review.
There is no centralized online location where key regulatory actions are published. Different regulators publish their regulations and implementing actions on their respective websites. In most cases, regulatory implementing actions are not published online.
Businesses impacted by non-compliance with government regulations may seek relief from the judiciary, Ombudsman’s offices, and the Parliamentary Public Account Committee. These forums are designed to ensure the government follows required administrative processes.
Pakistan did not announce any enforcement reforms during the last year. Pakistan is in the process of updating its IPR laws to make them consistent and to improve IPR enforcement through draft amendments on trademark, patent, and copyright legislation. If drafted according to international IP treaties, and fully implemented, updated laws can improve IPR enforcement in Pakistan and boost foreign investor willingness to bring innovations to Pakistan.
Enforcement processes are legally reviewable – initially by specialized IP Tribunals, but also through the High and Supreme Courts of Pakistan. Few of these processes are digitalized.
The government publishes limited debt obligations in the budget document in two broad categories: capital receipts and public debt, which are published in the “Explanatory Memorandum on Federal Receipts.” These documents are available at http://www.finance.gov.pk/, https://www.fbr.gov.pk/, and http://www.sbp.org.pk/ecodata/index2.asp . The government does not publicly disclose the terms of bilateral debt obligations.
International Regulatory Considerations
Pakistan is a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC), and Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO). However, there is no regional cooperation between Pakistan and other member nations on regulatory development or implementation.
Pakistan’s judicial system incorporates British standards. As such, most of Pakistan’s regulatory systems use British norms to meet international standards.
Pakistan has been a World Trade Organization (WTO) member since January 1, 1995, and provides most favored nation (MFN) treatment to all member states, except India and Israel. In October 2015, Pakistan ratified the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). Pakistan is one of 23 WTO countries negotiating the Trade in Services Agreement. Pakistan notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade, albeit at times with significant delays.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Most international norms and standards incorporated in Pakistan’s regulatory system, including commercial matters, are influenced by UK law. Laws governing domestic or personal matters are strongly influenced by Islamic Sharia law. Regulations and enforcement actions may be appealed through the court system. The Supreme Court is Pakistan’s highest court and has jurisdiction over the provincial courts, referrals from the federal government, and cases involving disputes among provinces or between a province and the federal government. Decisions by the courts of the superior judiciary (the Supreme Court, the Federal Sharia Court, and five High Courts – Lahore High Court, Sindh High Court, Balochistan High Court, Islamabad High Court, and Peshawar High Court) have national standing. The lower courts are composed of civil and criminal district courts, as well as various specialized courts, including courts devoted to banking, intellectual property, customs and excise, tax law, environmental law, consumer protection, insurance, and cases of corruption. Pakistan’s judiciary is influenced by the government and other stakeholders. The lower judiciary is influenced by the executive branch and seen as lacking competence and fairness. It currently faces a significant backlog of unresolved cases.
Pakistan’s Contract Act of 1872 is the main law that regulates contracts with Pakistan. British legal decisions, under some circumstances, are also cited in court rulings. While Pakistan’s legal code and economic policy do not discriminate against foreign investments, enforcement of contracts remains problematic due to a weak and inefficient judiciary.
Theoretically, Pakistan’s judicial system operates independently of the executive branch. Although higher courts are widely viewed as credible, lower courts are often considered corrupt, inefficient, and subject to pressure from outside influences including the executive branch, the military, and other prominent figures. As a result, there are doubts concerning the competence, fairness, and reliability of Pakistan’s judicial system. In addition, concern over potential contempt of court proceedings inhibits businesses and the public from reporting on perceived weaknesses of the judicial system.
Regulations and enforcement actions are appealable. Specialized tribunals and departmental adjudication authorities are the primary forum for such appeals. Decisions made by a tribunal or adjudication authority may be appealed to a high court and then to the Supreme Court.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
Pakistan’s investment and corporate laws permit wholly owned subsidiaries with 100 percent foreign equity in most sectors of the economy. In the education, health, and infrastructure sectors, 100 percent foreign ownership is allowed. In the agricultural sector, the threshold is 60 percent, with an exception for corporate agriculture farming, where 100 percent ownership is allowed.
Most foreign companies operating in Pakistan are “private limited companies,” which are incorporated with a minimum of two shareholders and two directors registered with the SECP. While there are no regulatory requirements on the residency status of company directors, the chief executive must reside in Pakistan to conduct day-to-day operations. If the chief executive is not a Pakistani national, she or he is required to obtain a multiple-entry work visa. Corporations operating in Pakistan are statutorily required to retain full-time audit services and legal representation. Corporations must also register any changes to the name, address, directors, shareholders, CEO, auditors/lawyers, and other pertinent details to the SECP within 15 days of the change. To address long process delays, in 2013, the SECP introduced the issuance of a provisional “Certificate of Incorporation” prior to the final issuance of a “No Objection Certificate” (NOC). The certificate of incorporation includes a provision noting that company shares will be transferred to another shareholder if the foreign shareholder(s) and/or director(s) fails to obtain a NOC.
No new law, regulation, or judicial decision was announced or went into effect during the last year which would be significant to foreign investors.
There is no “single window” website for investment in Pakistan which provides direct access to all relevant laws, rules, and reporting requirements for investors.
Competition and Antitrust Laws
Established in 2007, the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) is designed to ensure private and public sector organizations are not involved in any anti-competitive or monopolistic practices. Complaints regarding anti-competitive practices can be lodged with CCP, which conducts the investigation and is legally empowered to impose penalties; complaints are reviewable by the CCP appellate tribunal in Islamabad and the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The CCP appellate tribunal is required to issue decisions on any anti-competitive practice within six months from the date in which it becomes aware of the practice.
As of early 2022, the CCP was investigating a cement sector cartel; it found that cement manufacturers in Pakistan established a cartel and kept prices at an artificially high level, raising excess revenues worth $250 million, but its review was not yet final. In 2021, the CCP also conducted an inquiry into sugar prices and submitted a report to the Prime Minister’s office, with the Federal Investigation Agency tasked to follow up on the inquiry. However, to date no action has been taken on the report’s findings.
The CCP has also conducted an inquiry regarding the banking sector on the charges of forming a cartel to bid up interest rates for public sector debt.
The CCP generally adheres to transparent norms and procedures.
Agency decisions are reviewable by the CCP appellate tribunal and the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Expropriation and Compensation
Two Acts, the Protection of Economic Reforms Act 1992 and the Foreign Private Investment Promotion and Protection Act 1976, protect foreign investment in Pakistan from expropriation, while the 2013 Investment Policy reinforced the government’s commitment to protect foreign investor interests. Pakistan does not have a strong history of expropriation.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Pakistan is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention) in 2011 under its “Recognition and Enforcement (Arbitration Agreements and Foreign Arbitral Awards) Act.”
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Pakistan has Bilateral Investment Treaties (BIT) with 32 countries. The BITs include binding international arbitration of investment disputes. Since foreign investors generally distrust Pakistan’s domestic courts to enforce commercial contracts, they often include clauses requiring binding international arbitration of investment disputes in contracts with the Government of Pakistan.
Pakistan does not have a BIT or FTA in force with the United States.
A U.S. industrial services company has an ongoing issue regaining possession of its three gas compressors, with an estimated value of $2 million, which remain at Pakistan’s Bhikhi power grid station. The company entered into a three-year lease agreement with Pakistan Power Resources (PPR) LLC whereby the three compressors were installed at the Bhikki Rental Power Plant on November 1, 2007. PPR had entered into a contract with Pakistan’s Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) to supply 136MW of electricity under a Government of Pakistan rental power project scheme. The compressors were imported into Pakistan under a Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) “temporary import” scheme, with WAPDA listed as the importer entity. The temporary import program allowed for lower assessed import duties on the compressors, with the condition that the compressors would be re-exported within a pre-defined time period. A 2012 ruling by Pakistan’s Supreme Court declared all rental power projects illegal and ordered that all equipment be impounded until the case concluded. While the U.S. supplier was not directly involved in any court proceedings nor subsequent investigation, Pakistani authorities have refused to release the compressors due to outstanding penalties/duties assessed by the FBR for the company’s alleged failure to comply with “temporary import” rules. The FBR has not granted a waiver requested by the parties and continues to bar their re-export.
A California-based information technology company responded to an Expression of Interest by Islamabad’s Capital Development Authority (CDA) for the construction, development, and management of an information technology university in 2008. According to the Expression of Interest, the CDA would provide the land on a 99-year lease to the highest bidder against agreed yearly payments. The company was selected, entered into a lease agreement for approximately 200,000 square yards, and made regular payments to CDA. Upon taking possession of the land, the company determined that the land area was less than the area agreed in the lease contract. CDA was unsuccessful in clearing access to the leased land due to unlawful encroachment by local dwellers. Since 2015, the company has attempted without success to have CDA clear the land and/or reimburse the company its lease payments with interest.
A large U.S. insurance company sought U.S. support to repatriate approximately $3.2 million (approximate value based on current exchange rates) from the sale of its shares in its former Pakistani operations. The company purchased the Pakistani operations in 2010, which included business entities in the United States and Pakistan, and sold its Pakistani interest (worth 81 percent of the Pakistani business) in two tranches in 2014 and 2015. The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and Ministry of Finance withheld partial repatriation, based on legal findings at the time a former subsidiary was sold in the 1990s. After six years of lobbying, Pakistan’s cabinet approved the repatriation request in October 2021. In early February 2022, the U.S. company was finally able to repatriate the funds but incurred significant losses due to exchange rate depreciation over the intervening period.
Local courts do not recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government. Any award involving domestic enforcement component needs an additional affirmative ruling from a local court.
There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Arbitration and special judicial tribunals do exist as alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms for settling disputes between two private parties. Pakistan’s Arbitration Act of 1940 provides guidance for arbitration in commercial disputes, but cases typically take years to resolve. To mitigate such risks, most foreign investors include contract provisions that provide for international arbitration.
Pakistan’s judicial system also allows for specialized tribunals as a means of alternative dispute resolution. Special tribunals are able to address taxation, banking, labor, and IPR enforcement disputes. However, foreign investors lament the lack of clear, transparent, and timely investment dispute mechanisms. Protracted arbitration cases are a major concern. Pakistani courts have not upheld some international arbitration awards.
Pakistan’s local courts do not recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards. Any such award, involving local enforcement, requires direction from a local court. The Reko Diq mining dispute is an example where an international arbitral award against Pakistan was not enforced by local Pakistani courts and remains unresolved.
Generally, domestic courts favor SOEs for their investment disputes against foreign entities on the basis of “public interest.” However, there has not been a relevant case in the past ten years. In the 2006 Pakistan Steel Case, the Supreme Court struck down the contract between the Privatization Commission of Pakistan and the foreign investor who won the bid. The Supreme Court decided the bidder should have furnished a guarantee that it would make future investments to raise production capacity. Despite the fact that this was not a condition specified in the bid documents, the Supreme Court invalidated the contract. Since then, the government has not been able to find a serious investor/buyer for Pakistan Steel.
Pakistan does not have a single, comprehensive bankruptcy law. Foreclosures are governed under the Companies Act 2017 and administered by the SECP, while the Banking Companies Ordinance of 1962 governs liquidations of banks and financial institutions. Court-appointed liquidators auction bankrupt companies’ property and organize the actual bankruptcy process, which can take years to complete. On average, Pakistan requires 2.6 years to resolve insolvency issues and has a recovery rate of 42.8 percent. Pakistan was ranked 58 of 190 for ease of “resolving insolvency” rankings in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report.
The Companies Act 2017 regulates mergers and acquisitions. Mergers are allowed between international companies, as well as between international and local companies. In 2012, the government enacted legislation for friendly and hostile takeovers. The law requires companies to disclose any concentration of share ownership over 25 percent.
Pakistan has no dedicated credit monitoring authority. However, SBP has authority to monitor and investigate the quality of the credit commercial banks extend.
4. Industrial Policies
The government’s investment policy provides both domestic and foreign investors the same incentives, concessions, and facilities for industrial development. Though some incentives are included in the federal budget, the government relies on Statutory Regulatory Orders (SROs) – ad hoc arrangements implemented through executive order – for industry specific taxes or incentives. The government does not offer research and development incentives. Nonetheless, certain technology-focused industries, including information technology and solar energy, benefit from a wide range of fiscal incentives. Pakistan does not currently provide formal investment incentives such as grants, tax credits or deferrals, access to subsidized loans, nor reduced cost of land to individual foreign investors, including underrepresented groups such as women.
In general, the government does not issue guarantees nor jointly finance foreign direct investment projects. The government made an exception for CPEC-related projects and provided sovereign guarantees for the investment and returns, along with joint financing for specific projects.
To encourage use of electrical vehicles (EV), the Government of Pakistan incentivized imports of EVs via the Electric Vehicles Policy 2020-2025 as completely built up (CBU)/finished vehicles and EV specific parts in complete knock down (CKD)/unassembled vehicles. Incentives include rebates on customs duties, regulatory duties, exemptions from sales tax, and lower tariff rates. (Note: The Electric Vehicles Policy has been implemented following the Cabinet approval on December 21, 2021. EndNote.)
The government issued the Alternative and Renewable Energy Policy (2019) to boost the share of electricity generated from renewable sources from around 5 percent to 20 percent by 2025 and to 30 percent by 2030 (60 percent, including hydropower). The policy aims to achieve these targets by offering fiscal incentives to alternative and renewable energy projects. Key features of the policy include waiving import duties for imported plants and machinery by an existing or new industrial concern for manufacturing. The policy also exempts renewable energy projects from corporate income taxes to incentivize new projects. Interest in establishing solar and wind projects in Pakistan remains domestic driven. Feed-in-tariffs were used under the old renewable energy policy of 2006 to attract renewable energy projects; under the new policy the government must announce competitive auctions. Domestic companies remain keen to participate in future auctions to develop greenfield solar and wind power projects.
In addition, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has a Green Banking initiative aimed at including environmental considerations in banking products, services, and operations. As part of this initiative, the SBP issued the Financing Scheme for Renewable Energy on June 20, 2016, with a view to promote renewable energy projects in the country. The scheme can be financed by all commercial banks and development finance institutions (DFIs). Prospective sponsors wanting to set up renewable energy power projects with a capacity up to 50MW – provided the projects are approved by the Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB) – can borrow up to PKR 6 billion (about $33 million) for a single renewable energy project for 12 years. The mark-up rate on this scheme is capped and fixed at 6 percent per annum. Despite the SBP program, commercial banks remain risk averse to financing smaller residential and commercial business loans as they find the process cumbersome, not very profitable, and lacking guarantees.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
To boost exports, the government established fiscal and institutional incentives for export-oriented industries who located operations in Export Processing Zones (EPZ), the first of which was established in Karachi in 1989. Subsequently, EPZs were established in Risalpur, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Saindak, Gwadar, Reko Diq, and Duddar. However, today, only Karachi, Risalpur, Sialkot, and Saindak EPZs remain operational. These zones offer investors tax and duty exemptions on equipment, machinery, and materials (including components, spare parts, and packing material); indefinite loss carry-forward; and access to the EPZ Authority (EPZA) “Single Window,” which facilitates import and export authorizations.
The 2012 Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act, amended in 2016, allows both domestically focused and export-oriented enterprises to establish companies and public-private partnerships within SEZs. According to the Pakistan’s 2013 Investment Policy, any manufacturer that introduces technologies that are unavailable in Pakistan can receive the same incentives available to companies operating in Pakistan’s SEZs.
Pakistan has a total of 23 designated SEZs. All investors in SEZs are offered a number of incentives, including a ten-year tax holiday, one-time waiver of import duties on plant materials and machinery, and streamlined utilities connections. Despite these benefits to both foreign and domestic firms, Pakistan’s SEZs have struggled to attract investment due their lack of basic infrastructure. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Peshawar Economic Zone Office opened in 2020 an Industrial Facilitation Center to provide potential investors with a one-stop shop for existing and new foreign investors. Pakistan also intends to establish nine SEZs under CPEC; those SEZs remain in nascent stages of development and currently lack basic infrastructure.
Apart from SEZ-related incentives, the government offers special incentives for Export-Oriented Units (EOUs) – a stand-alone industrial entity exporting 100 percent of its production. EOU incentives include duty and tax exemptions for imported machinery and raw materials, as well as the duty-free import of vehicles. EOUs are allowed to operate anywhere in the country. Pakistan provides the same investment opportunities to foreign investors and local investors.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
Foreign investors are allowed to sign technical agreements with local investors without disclosing proprietary information. Foreign investors are not required to use domestic content in goods or technology or hire Pakistani nationals, either as laborers or as representatives on the company’s board of directors.
There are no specific performance requirements for foreign entities operating in the country. Similarly, there are no special performance requirements on the basis of origin of the investment. However, onerous requirements exist for foreign citizen board members of Pakistani companies, including additional documents required by the SECP as well as vetting by the Ministry of Interior. Such requirements discourage foreign nationals from becoming board members of Pakistani companies.
There are no specific performance requirements and/or investment incentives.
In the ICT sector, there are currently no requirements for foreign providers to disclose source code or provide access to encryption. However, the Government of Pakistan has plans to introduce regulations requiring such disclosure.
Currently Pakistan does not restrict data transfer outside of the economy or country’s territory except when involving the banking industry. State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) requires financial institutions to have local data storage and any transfer of data outside of Pakistan requires formal approval from SBP.
Currently, Pakistan is in the process of approving a “personal data protection” bill, and in 2020 approved and in 2021 began implementing the “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Content Rules.” Each requires data localization and requires platforms with more than 500,000 Pakistani users to register with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and establish a physical office in Pakistan within nine months of the implementation of the rules. Within three months of the local office’s establishment, a person must be appointed for coordination, and a data server system must be set up within 18 months. The rules are also slated to be applied to internet service providers. All companies and providers are instructed to restrict content contrary to the “security, prestige, and defense of the country.”
The government agencies involved are: the State Bank of Pakistan, the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications, and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Although Pakistan’s legal system includes the enforcement of property rights and both local and foreign owner interests, it offers incomplete protection for the acquisition and disposition of real property. There is no data with respect to the percentage of land with clear title, and land title problems are common. Except for the agricultural sector, where foreign ownership is limited to 60 percent, no specific regulations regarding the leasing of land or acquisition by foreign or non-resident investors exists. Corporate farming by foreign-controlled companies is permitted if the subsidiaries are incorporated in Pakistan. There are no limits on the size of corporate farmland holdings, and foreign companies can lease farmland for up to 50 years, with renewal options.
Mortgages and liens exist, but there are no reliable recording systems. The absence of a centralized system to record mortgages and lien frequently create legal issues for determining property rights.
The 1979 Industrial Property Order safeguards industrial property in Pakistan against government use of eminent domain without sufficient compensation for both foreign and domestic investors. The 1976 Foreign Private Investment Promotion and Protection Act guarantees the remittance of profits earned through the sale or appreciation in value of property.
Though protections exist for the legal purchase of land, land titles – even for unoccupied land – remain a challenge. Improvements to land titling have been made by the Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial governments, which have dedicated significant resources to digitizing land records. In the newly merged tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, land rights are held collectively by the tribes, not privately by individuals, and there are functionally no ownership records. However, the provincial government is currently undertaking a long-term land registration process in the newly merged districts for tribally owned land.
In urban centers, undocumented possession of unoccupied land (squatting) is widespread. If an owner can prove that the land was acquired through legitimate means, government agencies are generally supportive of taking possession of their property.
Intellectual Property Rights
The Government of Pakistan has identified protecting intellectual property (IP) rights as a reform priority and has taken concrete steps over the last two decades to strengthen its IP regime. In 2005, Pakistan created the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) to consolidate government control over trademarks, patents, and copyrights. IPO’s mission also includes coordinating and monitoring the enforcement and protection of IPR through law enforcement agencies. Enforcement agencies include the local police, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), customs officials at the FBR, the CCP, the SECP, the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP), and the Print and Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA).
IPO’s creation consolidated policymaking, but confusion surrounding enforcement agencies’ roles still constrains IP enforcement and IP rights holders struggle to elicit action against infringements. Although IPO established ten enforcement coordination committees to improve IP enforcement, and has signed MOUs with the FBR, CCP, Collective Management Office, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, and SECP to share information, coordination is insufficient and cumbersome. Weak penalties and agency redundancies allow counterfeiters to evade punishment, and rights holders are often unclear on the correct forum in which to file a complaint.
The IPO as an institution has historically suffered from leadership turnover, limited resources, and a lack of government attention. Since 2016, the Government of Pakistan has taken steps to improve the IPO’s effectiveness, starting with bringing IPO under the administrative responsibility of the Ministry of Commerce. The IPO Act 2012 stipulates a three-year term, 14-person policy board with at least five seats dedicated to the private sector. Section 8(2) of the IPO Act also stipulates, “the board shall meet not less than two times in a calendar year.” However, the IPO Policy Board only met just once in 2021 after holding no meetings in 2020. The board members completed their three-year tenure in June 2021. In February 2022, the Ministry of Commerce nominated a new chairman and the other positions on the 14-person policy board. IPO is severely under-resourced in human capital; only 50 percent of its approved staffing positions are filled. Filling the remaining positions has been on hold since 2019, pending Ministry of Law approval of IPO’s rules and new hiring procedures.
The IPO is also responsible for raising public awareness of IPR issues in collaboration with the private sector. COVID-19 has slowed IPO momentum in this area. In 2021, the IPO held just 15 webinars and virtual interactions, down from more than 100 in-person seminars in 2019 (pre-pandemic). A significant portion of IPO’s events focused on Pakistan’s new Geographical Indication (GI) Law. Academics and private attorneys who follow IPR issues say the creation of the IPO has enhanced public awareness, albeit slowly. While difficult to quantify, contacts have also observed increased local demand for IPR protections, including from small businesses and startups. Many Pakistani educational institutions rarely include IPR in their curricula and lack an established culture of commercializing innovations or garnering respect for IP. However, over the past several years, over 65 Offices of Research, Innovation, and Commercialization (ORICs) have been established and received technical assistance regarding identifying, evaluating, protecting, and commercializing university-developed IP. In addition, the International Islamic University now includes an IPR-specific course in its curriculum and Lahore University of Management Sciences has IPR courses included in its MBA program’s curriculum. IPO officials have expressed interest in collaborating further with Pakistani universities to raise IPR awareness. IPO has been working with the Higher Education Commission to offer IPR curricula at other universities but has achieved limited traction. Private and public sector contacts highlighted that the educational system is a “missing link” in IPR awareness and enforcement. In collaboration with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Technology Innovation Support Centers have been established at 47 different universities in Pakistan.
In 2016, Pakistan established three specialized IP tribunals: one in Karachi covering the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan; one in Lahore covering Punjab; and one in Islamabad covering Islamabad, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Gilgit-Baltistan. IPO had initiated a plan to create additional tribunals in 2019, however, the proposal is awaiting approval from the Ministry of Law. These tribunals have not been a priority in terms of assigning judges. They have experienced high turnover, as judges do not find IP tribunals an attractive posting, and the assigned judges do not receive any specialized technical training in IP law. Mission Pakistan, in coordination with the Department of Commerce’s Commercial Law Development Program (CLDP) and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), has provided technical assistance to IP tribunal judges since 2016. However, the high turnover of IP tribunal judges has limited the effectiveness of these capacity-building programs. Moreover, higher court justices, who often lack expertise in IP law, often overrule IP tribunal decisions by issuing injunctions overriding IP tribunal enforcement orders. Since the inception of the IP tribunals, no significant ruling by an IP tribunal has been implemented nor ultimately enforced.
Pakistan’s IPR legal framework remains inadequate. Pakistan’s IP legal framework consists of 40-year-old subordinate IP laws on copyright, patents, and trademarks alongside the 2012 IPO Act. The IPO Act provides the overall legal basis for IP licensing and enforcement while subordinate laws apply to specific IP fields, but inconsistencies in the laws make IP enforcement difficult. Since 2000, Pakistan has made piecemeal updates to IPR laws in an incomplete bid to bring consistency to IPR treatment within the legal system. With the help of Mission Pakistan, CLDP, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), IPO is updating Pakistan’s IPR laws to minimize inconsistencies and improve enforcement, but progress has been slow. As of January 2022, three new draft amendments – one each on trademark, patent, and copyright – were at various stages of review. IPO is also revising patent legislation to incorporate clauses that would allow Pakistan to eventually accede to the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT); the IPO plans to submit the revised version to the Commerce Ministry for further approvals by mid-2022. On the draft copyright amendment, as of January 2022 the IPO was collecting private sector feedback with a goal to submit the amendment to the of Commerce Ministry by the end of 2022
On May 24, 2021, Pakistan acceded to the Madrid Protocol on Trademarks, and as of mid-January 2022, Pakistan received more than 600 applications under the protocol. The IPO also expressed its intention to accede to the Marrakesh Treaty, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), as well as the WIPO Copyright Treaty and WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. No substantive progress has been made to date to prepare Pakistan for accession to these treaties.
Mission Pakistan continues to support capacity building and awareness efforts through ongoing programming with a variety of Pakistani entities. In 2021, USPTO and CLDP continued to include IPR engagement virtually as part of their technical assistance programming in Pakistan. In 2021, examples of such programming included a USPTO-CLDP virtual program on counterfeit medicines (with three multi-phase modules already completed and a fourth being planned in 2022). USPTO and CLDP also provided Trademark Examination Training to increase the knowledge and skills of IPO’s examiners.
Pakistan is currently on the Office of the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 Report Watch List.
Pakistan does not track and report on its seizures of counterfeit goods.
Resources for Intellectual Property Rights Holders:
Intellectual Property Counselor for South Asia
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Foreign Commercial Service
For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/.
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
Pakistan’s three stock exchanges (Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi) merged to form the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) in January 2016. As a member of the Federation of Euro-Asian Stock Exchanges and the South Asian Federation of Exchanges, PSX is also an affiliated member of the World Federation of Exchanges and the International Organization of Securities Commissions. Per the Foreign Exchange Regulations, foreign investors can invest in shares and securities listed on the PSX and can repatriate profits, dividends, or disinvestment proceeds. The investor must open a Special Convertible Rupee Account with any bank in Pakistan in order to make portfolio investments. In 2017, the government modified the capital gains tax and imposed a 15 percent tax on stocks held for less than 12 months, 12.5 percent on stocks held for more than 12 but less than 24 months, and 7.5 percent on stocks held for more than 24 months. The 2012 Capital Gains Tax Ordinance appointed the National Clearing Company of Pakistan Limited to compute, determine, collect, and deposit the capital gains tax.
The SBP and SECP provide regulatory oversight of financial and capital markets for domestic and foreign investors. Interest rates depend on the reverse repo rate (also called the policy rate).
Pakistan has adopted and adheres to international accounting and reporting standards – including IMF Article VIII, with comprehensive disclosure requirements for companies and financial sector entities.
Foreign-controlled manufacturing, semi-manufacturing (i.e. goods that require additional processing before marketing), and non-manufacturing concerns are allowed to borrow from the domestic banking system without regulated limits. Banks are required to ensure that total exposure to any domestic or foreign entity should not exceed 25 percent of a bank’s equity. Foreign-controlled (minimum 51 percent equity stake) semi-manufacturing concerns (i.e., those producing goods that require additional processing for consumer marketing) are permitted to borrow up to 75 percent of paid-up capital, including reserves. For non-manufacturing concerns, local borrowing caps are set at 50 percent of paid-up capital. While there are no restrictions on private sector access to credit instruments, few alternative instruments are available beyond commercial bank lending. Pakistan’s domestic corporate bond, commercial paper and derivative markets remain in the early stages of development.
Money and Banking System
The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) is the central bank of Pakistan.
According to the most recent statistics published by the SBP (2021), only 23 percent of the adult population uses formal banking channels to conduct financial transactions, while 24 percent are informally served by the banking sector. The remaining 53 percent of the adult population do not utilize formal financial services. Women are more likely to be unbanked than men.
Pakistan’s financial sector has improved in recent years according to international banks and lenders. The SBP’s most recent review of the banking sector, in July 2021, noted improving asset quality, stable liquidity, robust solvency, and a slow pick-up in private sector advances. The asset base of the banking sector expanded by 12.2 percent during 2021 due to a surge in banks’ deposits and investments, which increased by 10.4 percent and 18.7 percent respectively. The five largest banks, one of which is state-owned, control 57.8 percent of all banking sector assets.
SBP conducted the 8th wave of the Systemic Risk Survey in July 2021. The survey results indicated respondents perceived key risks for the financial system to be mostly exogenous and global in nature. Importantly, the policy measures rolled out by SBP to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 have been very well received by the stakeholders.
The risk profile of the banking sector remained satisfactory, and moderation in profitability and asset quality improved as non-performing loans as a percentage of total loans (infection ratio) was at 8.9 percent at the end of FY 2021 (June 30, 2021). In FY 2021, total assets of the banking industry were estimated at $165.7 billion and net non-performing bank loans totaled approximately $5 million.
The penetration of foreign banks in Pakistan is low, making a small contribution to the local banking industry and the overall economy. According to a study conducted by the World Bank Group in 2018 (the latest data available), the share of foreign bank assets to GDP stood at 3.5 percent while private credit by deposit stood at 15.4 percent of GDP. Foreign banks operating in Pakistan include Citibank, Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank, Samba Bank, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Bank of Tokyo, and the Bank of China. International banks are primarily involved in two types of international activities: cross-border flows, and foreign participation in domestic banking systems through brick-and-mortar operations. SBP requires foreign banks to hold at minimum $300 million in capital reserves at their Pakistani flagship location and maintain at least an 8 percent capital adequacy ratio. In addition, foreign banks are required to maintain the following minimum capital requirements, which vary based on the number of branches they are operating:
1 to 5 branches: $28 million in assigned capital;
6 to 50 branches: $56 million in assigned capital;
Over 50 branches: $94 million in assigned capital.
Foreigners require proof of residency – a work visa, company sponsorship letter, and valid passport – to establish a bank account in Pakistan. There are no other restrictions to prevent foreigners from opening and maintaining a bank account.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
As a prior action of its July 2019 IMF program, Pakistan agreed to adopt a flexible market-determined exchange rate. The SBP regulates the exchange rate and monitors foreign exchange transactions in the open market, with interventions limited to safeguarding financial stability and preventing disorderly market conditions. However, other government entities can influence SBP decisions through their membership on the SBP’s board; the finance secretary and the Board of Investment chair currently sit on the board.
Banks are required to report and justify outflows of foreign currency. Travelers leaving or entering Pakistan may physically carry no more than $10,000 in cash. While cross-border payments of interest, profits, dividends, and royalties are allowed without submitting prior notification, banks are required to report loan information so SBP can verify remittances against repayment schedules. Although no formal policy bars profit repatriation, U.S. companies have faced delays in profit repatriation due to unclear policies and coordination between the SBP, the Ministry of Finance and other government entities. Mission Pakistan has provided advocacy for U.S. companies which have struggled to repatriate their profits. Exchange companies are permitted to buy and sell foreign currency for individuals, banks, and other exchange companies, and can also sell foreign currency to incorporated companies to facilitate the remittance of royalty, franchise, and technical fees.
There is no clear policy on convertibility of funds associated with investment in other global currencies; the SBP takes an ad hoc approach in such cases.
The 2001 Income Tax Ordinance of Pakistan exempts taxes on any amount of foreign currency remitted from outside Pakistan through normal banking channels. Remittance of full capital, profits, and dividends over $5 million are permitted while dividends are tax-exempt. No limits exist for dividends, remittance of profits, debt service, capital, capital gains, returns on intellectual property, or payment for imported equipment in Pakistani law. However, large transactions that have the potential to influence Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves require approval from the government’s Economic Coordination Committee. Similarly, banks are required to account for outflows of foreign currency. Investor remittances must be registered with the SBP within 30 days of execution and can only be made against a valid contract or agreement.
In September 2020, then Prime Minister Imran Khan launched the Roshan Digital Account (RDA) project aimed at providing digital banking facilities to overseas Pakistanis. Customers can use both PKR and USD for transactions and the accounts receive special tax treatment.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
Pakistan does not have its own sovereign wealth fund (SWF) and no specific exemptions for foreign SWFs exist in Pakistan’s tax law. Foreign SWFs are taxed like any other non-resident person unless specific concessions have been granted under an applicable tax treaty to which Pakistan is a signatory.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
Pakistan has 212 SOEs operating in various sectors: 85 commercial SOEs, 83 subsidiaries of those commercial SOEs, and 44 non-commercial SOEs (defined as not-for-profits, trusts, universities, training institutions, and welfare funds). The commercial SOEs mainly operate in seven sectors: power; oil and gas; infrastructure, transport, and communication; manufacturing, mining, and engineering; finance; industrial estate development and management; and wholesale, retail, and marketing. They provide stable employment and other benefits for more than 450,000 workers, but a number require annual government subsidies to cover their substantial losses.
Three of the country’s largest SOEs include: Pakistan Railways (PR), Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), and Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM). According to the IMF, the total debt of SOEs amounts to 2.3 percent of GDP – just over $7 billion in 2019. Note: IMF and WB data for 2020-21 regarding SOEs is not yet available, however, according to SBP provisional data from December 2021, the total debt of Pakistani SOEs is $8.59 billion. EndNote. The IMF required audits of PIA and PSM by December 2019 as part of Pakistan’s IMF Extended Fund Facility. PR is the only provider of rail services in Pakistan and the largest public sector employer with approximately 90,000 employees. PR has received commitments for $8.2 billion in CPEC loans and grants to modernize its rail lines. PR relies on monthly government subsidies of approximately $2.8 million to cover its ongoing obligations. In 2019, government payments to PR totaled approximately $248 million. The government provided a $37.5 million bailout package to PR in 2020. The Government of Pakistan extended bailout packages worth $89 million to PIA in 2019 and $250 million in 2021. Established to avoid importing foreign steel, PSM has accumulated losses of approximately $3.77 billion per annum. The government has provided $562 million to PSM in bailout packages since 2008. In September 2020, Pakistan’s Cabinet approved a $124 million restructuring plan of PSM, offering its employees a Voluntary Separation Scheme to Cut Losses. The company loses $5 million a week, and has not produced steel since June 2015, when the national gas company shut off supplies to PSM facilities due to its greater than $340 million in outstanding unpaid utility bills.
SOEs competing in the domestic market receive non-market-based advantages from the host government. Two prominent examples are carrier PIA and steelmaker PSM, which operate at a loss while receiving financial bailouts from the federal government. Post is not aware of negative impacts to U.S firms as a result.
The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) introduced corporate social responsibility (CSR) voluntary guidelines in 2013. Adherence to the OECD guidelines is not known.
Terms to purchase public shares of SOEs and financial institutions are the same for both foreign and local investors. On March 7, 2019, the government announced plans to carry out a privatization program but postponed plans because of significant political resistance. Even though the government is still publicly committed to privatizing its national airline (PIA), the process has been stalled since early 2016 when three labor union members were killed during a violent protest in response to the government’s decision to convert PIA into a limited company, a decision which would have allowed shares to be transferred to a non-government entity and pave the way for privatization. A bill passed by the legislature requires the government retain 51% equity in the airline in the event it is privatized, reducing the attractiveness of the company to potential investors.
There is no unified set of standards defining responsible business conduct (RBC) in Pakistan. Though large companies, especially multi-national corporations, exhibit awareness of RBC standards, broader awareness is lacking. The Pakistani government has not established standards or strategic documents specifically defining RBC standards and goals. The Ministry of Human Rights published its most recent “Action Plan for Human Rights” in May 2017. Although it does not specifically address RBC or business and human rights, one of its six thematic areas of focus is implementation of international and UN treaties. Pakistan is signatory to nearly all International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions.
International organization, civil society, and labor union contacts all note that there is a lack of adequate implementation and enforcement of labor laws. Some NGOs, worker organizations, and business associations are working to promote RBC, but not on a wide scale.
According to NGOs, international organizations, and civil society contacts, children continued to work in conditions of forced and bonded labor. In rural areas, forced child labor appeared to occur most frequently in the agriculture and brick making industries. Pakistan does not have domestic measures which require supply chain due diligence for companies sourcing minerals originating from conflict-affected areas. In 2021, DOL started a pilot project to support tracing in supply chains for cotton in Punjab. It does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and/or the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.
The Pakistani government updated its National Climate Change Policy and National Wildlife Policy in 2021. These policies address sectoral issues in water, agriculture, forestry, coastal areas, biodiversity, and other vulnerable ecosystems. Pakistan also introduced the 2020-2023 National Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan, the 2020-2025 National Electric Vehicle Policy for 2-3 Wheelers and Commercial Vehicles, and the Alternative and Renewable Energy Policy in 2019.
Pakistan submitted its revised National Determined Contribution (NDC) in October 2021 and has pledged to cut methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Pakistan has not announced a net-zero year for carbon emissions, but aims to reduce total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50 percent by 2030 emissions versus a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario. Under the revised target, the share of renewables in power generation will increase from 30 to 60 percent, relying primarily on hydroelectric generation. Additionally, the 2021 NDC’s targets included: a 30 percent increase in the share of electric vehicles (from 0 to 30 percent), a moratorium on new investments in coal power plants and prohibition of coal imports starting in 2030, and the expansion of nature-based solutions (NbS) to sequester CO2 through reforestation and afforestation programs. The Pakistani government shelved two CPEC coal power projects of 2,400 MW at Muzaffargarh and Rahim Yar Khan in favor of 3,700 MW of hydropower projects in Kohala, Suki Kinari and Karot in KPK and Punjab. However, in 2021, the government rescinded tax exemptions on renewable technologies, instituting a 20 percent tax on the imports of solar panels and wind turbines and increasing sales tax for imported electric vehicles from 5 percent to 17 percent. Given Pakistan’s limited fiscal and financial means, the government cannot deliver on its climate commitments without additional external financing.
The federal government encourages the private sector’s role in implementing its climate ambition developing NbS to address Pakistan’s mitigation and adaptation needs. Pakistan established a Public Private Partnership Authority (PPPA) in 2017 with a mandate to develop, procure, and implement infrastructure projects focused on adaptation and mitigation on a public-private partnership basis. However, engagement with the private sector is confined mostly to the energy sector. With support from GIZ, the government conducted a four-year campaign, “RBF Off-Grid Electrification Project,” to encourage private sector investment, supporting eight private sector companies to finance off-grid solar installation at 1,700 households in Sindh and Punjab. In 2016, the State Bank of Pakistan introduced a Financing Scheme for Renewable Energy to make financing available for consumers in the private sector to invest in renewable electricity generation. Till February 2022, SBPhas provided PKR 74 billion (about $400 million) in financing to over 1,175 projects with a combined capacity of 1,375 MW in renewable energy.
The Pakistani government is working to institute market- and non-market-based approaches to diversify its climate funding, including nature performance bonds, green/blue bonds, and carbon pricing. However, those are still in the formative stage. In 2021, the government secured a “letter of Intent” with bilateral creditors – Canada, the UK, and Germany – on working on nature performance bonds. Through these, a mechanism will be devised through which funding will be released to Pakistan in exchange for supporting biodiversity conservation. In May 2021, the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) launched its first “green” Eurobond, the Indus bond, a 10-year, $500 million bond with at a 7.5 percent interest rate, for the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams. The federal government’s flagship programs on environmental conservation are focused on adaptation: the “Ten Billion Tree Tsunami” (afforestation), the “Protected Areas Initiative” (a national parks system), the “Clean Green Pakistan” movement (building parks, managing solid waste, and improving sanitation), and a nominal ban on plastic bags piloted in Islamabad and then adopted by Punjab and Sindh. The government has adopted an electric vehicle (EV) policy that lowers the GST on EVs for buyers, offers lower financing rates for manufacturers, and establishes targets for EV charging infrastructure, and mandates that 30 percent of new car sales by 2030, and 90 percent of new sales by 2040 be EVs. The government has also adopted the Euro-5 emission standards and converted 11,000 traditional brick kilns to use emissions-reducing zig-zag technology.
The SBP approved “green banking” guidelines in 2017 to promote environmental risk management by commercial banks and to encourage the use of climate financing. The federal government’s public procurement rules are silent on environmental concerns, but the National Planning Commission’s guidelines on federal government projects requires environmental impact assessments prior to project commencement. In practice, environmental assessments in Pakistan are pro forma exercises with scant follow up or enforcement.
Pakistan ranked 140 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index. The organization noted significant and persistent corruption within Pakistan due to gaps in accountability and enforcement of penalties, along with the lack of merit-based promotions and relatively low salaries.
Bribes are classified as criminal acts under the Pakistani legal code and are punishable by law, but are widespread across most levels of government. While higher courts are widely viewed as credible, lower courts are generally considered corrupt, inefficient, and subject to pressure from prominent wealthy, religious, political, and military figures. Political interference in judicial appointments increases the government’s influence over the court system.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Pakistan’s anti-corruption body, suffers from insufficient funding and professionalism, and is viewed by many as politically biased. NAB prosecutions alleging bureaucratic malfeasance deter agencies from acting on legitimate regulatory concerns affecting the business sector.
Resources to Report Corruption
National Accountability Bureau
Ataturk Avenue, G-5/2, Islamabad
Despite improvements to the security situation in recent years, the presence of foreign and domestic terrorist groups within Pakistan continues to pose threats to U.S. interests and citizens. Many multinational companies operating in Pakistan employ private security and risk management firms to mitigate the significant threats to their business operations. Although the number of attacks by terrorist groups has declined over the last decade, increased activity since 2021 has renewed security concerns in some regions. Baloch militant groups continue to target the Pakistani military as well as PRC-affiliated installations in Balochistan, where Gwadar port is being developed under CPEC. There are greater security resources and infrastructure in the major cities, particularly Islamabad, and security forces in those areas may be better able to respond to emergencies.
The BOI, along with provincial investment promotion agencies, can coordinate airport-to-airport security and secure lodging for foreign investors. To inquire about this service, investors can contact the BOI for additional information – https://www.invest.gov.pk/
Abductions/kidnappings of foreigners for ransom remains a concern.
While security challenges exist in Pakistan, the country has not grown increasingly politicized or insecure in the past year.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
According to Pakistan’s most recent labor force survey (conducted in 2017-2018), the civilian workforce consists of approximately 65.5 million workers. Women are far under-represented in the formal labor force. The survey estimated overall labor participation at approximately 45 percent, with male participation at 68 percent and females at 20 percent. The largest percentage of the labor force works in the agricultural sector (38.5 percent), followed by the services (37.84 percent), and industry/manufacturing (16 percent) sectors. Although the official unemployment rate hovered at roughly 6 percent pre-COVID-19, the figure is likely significantly higher. Additionally, there are as-yet no reliable unemployment statistics since the COVID-19 outbreak.
A large share of workers is in the informal sector, with over 32 percent of Pakistan’s GDP represented by the informal economy, according to estimates from the World Bank’s most recent Informal Economy Database. In 2019, the ILO reported informal workers have limited access to labor welfare services. A Labor Force Survey from 2017-18 cites higher rates of informal sector employment in rural areas than in urban areas. Occupational health and safety laws and inspections do not apply to the informal sector. In 2018, the UN Population Fund estimated that 29 percent of Pakistan’s population was between the ages of 10 and 24 and, according to 2017-18 labor force survey estimates, unemployment for those between the ages of 15 and 24 was 10.5 percent.
Pakistan has a complex system of labor laws. According to the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, jurisdiction over labor matters is managed by the provinces. Each province is in the process of developing its own labor law regime. They are currently at different stages of labor law development, but none have been finalized yet.
State administrators, workers in state-owned enterprises and export-processing zones, and public-sector workers are prohibited by federal law from engaging in collective bargaining or striking. Nevertheless, there have been numerous strikes at state-owned enterprises, typically opposing privatization. Provincial laws covering industrial relations also limit strikes and lockouts. Neither the federal or provincial governments effectively enforce applicable labor laws, and the penalties for violating those laws were not commensurate with laws involving the denial of civil rights.
Most unions functioned independently of government and political party influence. Labor leaders raised concerns regarding employers who sponsor management-friendly or only-on-paper worker unions – so-called yellow unions – to prevent effective unionization. There were no reported cases of the government dissolving a union without due process, however unions can be administratively “deregistered” without judicial review.
Although freedom of association is guaranteed under Article 17 of Pakistan’s Constitution, the ILO indicates that the Pakistani state and employers have used “disabling legislation and repressive tactics” to make union formation and collective bargaining “extremely difficult.” A report compiled by ILO in 2018 noted there were a total of 7,906 registered trade unions with a total membership of 1,414,160. However, this may underreport the actual figure because it pertains to the number of members declared at the time of union registration. As membership grows over time, provincial labor departments and the National Industrial Relations Commission (NIRC) do not regularly update their records. According to worker representative organizations, the estimated unionized workforce is approximately two million, which would represent roughly 3 percent of the total workforce in Pakistan. Provincial labor departments are responsible for managing trade union and industrial labor disputes. Each province has its own industrial relations legislation, and each has labor courts to adjudicate disputes. Recent strikes have been spearheaded by public sector workers such as teachers and public health workers.
Labor NGOs assisted workers by providing technical training and capacity-building workshops to strengthen labor unions and trade organizations. They also worked with established labor unions to organize workers in the informal sector and advocated policies and legislation to improve the rights, working conditions, and wellbeing of workers, including laborers in the informal sector.
The minimum wage as set by the federal government was 20,000 rupees (about $110) per month, which exceeded its definition of the poverty line income for an individual, which was 9,500 Pakistani rupees (about $52) per month. The minimum wage was also greater than the World Bank’s estimate for poverty level income. However, minimum wage laws did not cover significant sectors of the labor force, including workers in the informal sector, domestic servants, and agricultural workers. In addition, enforcement of minimum wage laws was uneven.
Legal protections for laborers are uneven across provinces, and implementation of labor laws is weak nationwide. Labor inspectorates have inadequate resources, which lead to inadequate frequency and quality of labor inspections. Some labor courts are reportedly corrupt and biased in favor of employers.
Pakistani labor laws generally do not cover domestic workers, including child domestic workers. In 2020, the Pakistani government amended the Employment of Children Act 1991 to include child domestic labor as hazardous work. While the decision applies only to the Islamabad Capital Territory, provinces can adopt the measure via a provincial assembly resolution. The federal government is currently conducting a child labor survey; the first results for Gilgit-Baltistan were published on October 27, 2021, and reported child labor prevalence in the province at 13.1 percent, with 1 in 7 children working. The remaining provincial survey reports are expected to be completed in 2022.
The ILO’s 2016-2020 Pakistan Decent Work Country Program states that “exploitative labor practices in the form of child and bonded labor remain pervasive…” and notes “the absence of reliable and comprehensive data to accurately assess the situation of hazardous child labor, worst forms of child labor, or forced labor.” The report also identifies weak compliance with, and enforcement of, labor laws and regulations as contributing to poor working conditions – including unhealthy and unsafe workplaces –and the erosion of worker rights. Nationwide, health and safety standards were poor in multiple sectors and failed to meet international standards.
In 2019, the Punjab Provincial Assembly passed the Punjab Domestic Workers Act 2019. The law prohibits the employment of children under age 15 as domestic workers and stipulates that children between 15 and 18 may only perform part-time, non-hazardous household work. The law also mandates a series of protections and benefits, including limits to the number of hours worked weekly, and paid sick and holiday leave.
In 2017 the Sindh Provincial Assembly passed the Sindh Prohibition of Employment of Children Act, 2017.
In April 2021, the Balochistan Assembly passed the Balochistan Forced and Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act 2021 and the Balochistan Employment of Children (Prohibition & Regulation) Act 2021. The Abolition Act banned hazardous work for children below 14 years of age and established a Committee on the Rights of the Child to oversee its implementation. It also made it a punishable offense to employ adolescents above 14 years of age in hazardous work if they are not paid wages equal to adults. In 2019, pursuant to resolution adopted by the Balochistan Assembly aimed at eradicating child labor in coal mines, the Balochistan government banned employment of children under the age of 15 in coal mines via a notification to the provincial chief inspector of Mines.
In August 2021, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly passed the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Home Based Workers (Welfare and Protection) Act, 2021, which prohibits children under the age of 14 from engaging in domestic and forced labor.
Pakistan is a labor exporter, particularly to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. According to Pakistan’s Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment’s 2020 “Export of Manpower Analysis,” (the latest report available) the bureau had registered more than 11 million Pakistanis going abroad for employment since 1971, with more than 96 percent traveling to GCC countries. Pakistanis working overseas have sent more than $20 billion in remittances each year since 2015. Despite the negative impacts of COVID-19, which resulted in many overseas Pakistanis returning to Pakistan since January 2021, formal remittances from overseas Pakistani workers increased by 24.9 percent during the first six months of FY 2021 compared to the corresponding period of 2020.
Overall, Pakistan’s workforce is insufficiently skilled. Federal and provincial government initiatives such as the National Vocational and Technical Training Commission and the Punjab government’s Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority aim to increase the employability of the Pakistani workforce. However, the ILO’s most recent 2016-2020 Pakistan Decent Work Country Program finds that neither national nor provincial policies for skills and entrepreneurship development are consistently applied. The ILO report notes that “a small fraction of vulnerable workers are covered by social security in one form or another, while access to comprehensive social protection systems is also limited.” The ILO’s 2016 Decent Work Country Profile, the latest data available, states that in 2015, only 9.4 percent of the economically active population – excluding public sector employees – were contributing to formal social security systems such as old age, survivors’, and disability pensions.
Pakistan remains a beneficiary of the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program as well as the EU’s GSP+ program, both of which require labor standards to be upheld.
12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), and Other Investment Insurance or Development Finance Programs
DFC is active in Pakistan, with a current portfolio in excess of $590 million as of December 2021, including investments in, insurance for, or financing of microfinance, wind energy, and healthcare projects, among others, with more in the pipeline. An Investment Incentive Agreement was signed between the United States and Pakistan in 1997.