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Azerbaijan

Executive Summary

The overall investment climate in Azerbaijan continues to improve, although significant challenges remain.  Over the past few years, Azerbaijan’s government has sought to attract foreign investment, undertake reforms to diversify its economy, and stimulate private sector-led growth.  However, the Azerbaijani economy remains heavily dependent on oil and gas output, which account for roughly 90 percent of export revenue and over half of the state budget.  Real GDP grew 2.2 percent in 2019, primarily due to a ramp up in natural gas exports.  While the oil and gas sector has historically attracted the largest amount of foreign investment, the Azerbaijani government has targeted four non-oil sectors to diversify the economy: agriculture, tourism, information and communications technology (ICT), and transportation.  Measures taken in recent years to improve the business climate and reform the overall economy include eliminating redundant business license categories, empowering the popular “ASAN” government service centers with licensing authority, simplifying customs procedures, suspending certain business inspections, and reforming the tax regime.

Azerbaijan fell from 25th to 34th among 190 countries in the “Doing Business 2020” rating published by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation.  According to the report published on October 24, Azerbaijan carried out four successful reforms from May 2018 to May 2019, thereby fulfilling four out of five goals.  These reforms were related to registering property, obtaining credit, protecting minority investors, and enforcing contracts.  Due to these indicators, Azerbaijan was featured as one of the top 20 “reformer” countries.  However, progress remains slow on structural reforms required to create a diversified and competitive private sector, and corruption remains a major challenge for firms operating in Azerbaijan.  A small group of government-connected holding companies dominate the economy, enforcement of intellectual property rights is insufficient, and judicial transparency is lacking.

Under Azerbaijani law, foreign investments enjoy complete and unreserved legal protection and may not be nationalized or appropriated, except under specific circumstances.  Private entities may freely establish, acquire, and dispose of interests in business enterprises.  Foreign citizens, organizations, and enterprises may lease, but not own, land.  Azerbaijan’s government has not shown any pattern of discriminating against U.S. persons or entities through illegal expropriation.  The Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) between the United States and Azerbaijan provides U.S. investors with recourse to settle investment disputes using the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).  The average time needed to resolve international business disputes through domestic courts or alternative dispute resolution varies widely.

Azerbaijan considers travel to the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories unlawful.  Engaging in any commercial activities in Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories, whether directly or through business subsidiaries, can result in criminal prosecution and/or other legal action against individuals and/or businesses in Azerbaijan; it may also affect the ability to travel to Azerbaijan in the future.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 152 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 25 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 82 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 N/A http://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $4,050 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies towards Foreign Direct Investment

Over the past few years, the Azerbaijani government has actively sought to attract foreign investment.  Flows of foreign direct investment to Azerbaijan have risen steadily in recent years, primarily in the energy sector.  Foreign investment in the government’s priority sectors for economic diversification (agriculture, transportation, tourism, and ICT) has thus far been limited.

Foreign investments enjoy complete and unreserved legal protection under the Law on the Protection of Foreign Investment, the Law on Investment Activity, and guarantees contained within international agreements and treaties.  In accordance with these laws, Azerbaijan will treat foreign investors, including foreign partners in joint ventures, in a manner no less favorable than the treatment accorded to national investors.  Azerbaijan’s Law on the Protection of Foreign Investments protects foreign investors against nationalization and requisition, except under specific circumstances.  The Azerbaijani government has not shown any pattern of discriminating against U.S. persons or entities through illegal expropriation.

Azerbaijan’s primary body responsible for investment promotion is the Azerbaijan Export and Investment Promotion Agency (AzPromo).  AzPromo is a joint public-private initiative, established by the Ministry of Economy and Industry in 2003 to foster the country’s economic development and diversification by attracting foreign investment into the non-oil sector and stimulating non-oil exports.  A January 2018 decree called for new legislation, which has not yet been introduced, to ensure Azerbaijan conforms to international standards to protect foreign investor rights.  The Azerbaijani government meets regularly with the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) to solicit the input from the business community, particularly as part of AmCham’s biennial white paper process.  In 2018, AmCham reported the government accepted around 50 percent of the proposals put forth in their white paper.  The next white paper will be presented in 2020.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreigners are allowed to register business entities by opening a fully owned subsidiary, acquiring shares of an existing company, or creating a joint venture with a local partner.  Foreign companies are also permitted to operate in Azerbaijan without creating a local legal entity by registering a representative or branch office with the tax authorities.

Foreigners are not permitted to own land in Azerbaijan but are permitted to lease land and own real estate.  Under Azerbaijani laws, the state must retain a controlling stake in companies operating in the mining, oil and gas, satellite communication, and military arms sectors, limiting foreign or domestic private ownership to a 49 percent share of companies in these industries.  Foreign ownership in the media sector is also strictly limited.  Furthermore, a special license to conduct business is required for foreign or domestic companies operating in telecommunications, sea and air transportation, insurance, and other regulated industries.  Azerbaijan does not screen inbound foreign investment and U.S. investors are not specifically disadvantaged by any existing control mechanisms.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Azerbaijan has not conducted an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) investment policy review, a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) investment policy review, or a WTO Trade Policy Review.

Business Facilitation

Azerbaijani law requires all companies operating in the country to register.  Without formal registration, a company may not maintain a bank account, or clear goods through customs.  As part of the ongoing business law reforms, a “Single Window” principle was introduced January 1, 2008, significantly streamlining the registration process.  Businesses must now only register with the tax authorities, which takes approximately three days for commercial organizations.  Since 2011, companies have also been able to e-register at http://taxes.gov.az .

Azerbaijan ranked 34th and joined the top 20 “reformer” countries, according to the World Bank’s “Doing Business 2020” report.  Over the period from May 2018 to May 2019, the government implemented four reforms related to obtaining registration of real estate rights, obtaining loans, and protecting minority shareholders.  In addition, Azerbaijan made enforcing contracts easier by introducing an e-system allowing plaintiffs to file an initial complaint electronically and by adopting a consolidated law on voluntary mediation, according to the report.  The country has also improved its position in terms of “obtaining loans” indicator, climbing 21 spots to take first place.

Outward Investment

Azerbaijan does not actively promote or incentivize outward investment, though Azerbaijani entities, particularly the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) and the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan (SOFAZ), have invested in various countries, including the United States.  SOFAZ investment is typically limited to real estate, precious metals, and low-yield government securities.  SOCAR has invested heavily in oil and gas infrastructure and petrochemicals processing in Turkey and Georgia, as well as gas pipeline networks in Greece, Albania, and Italy as part of the Southern Gas Corridor that transports Azerbaijani gas to European markets.  The government does not restrict domestic investors from investing overseas.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Azerbaijan has signed 51 Bilateral Investment Treaties (BIT).  The 2001 BIT in force between the United States and Azerbaijan facilitates the reciprocal protection of investment.  Azerbaijan also has bilateral investment treaties currently in force with: Austria, Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine, UAE, the United Kingdom, and Uzbekistan.

Azerbaijan has free trade agreements (FTAs) with Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Moldova, and Belarus.  Under the FTAs, goods can be imported from those countries free of customs duties.

The United States signed a double taxation treaty with the USSR, to which Azerbaijan is considered a successor state.  The United States and Azerbaijan do not have a separate bilateral double taxation treaty.  The United States and Azerbaijan are parties to the OECD Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters.  Azerbaijan signed an intergovernmental agreement with the United States to implement the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) on October 9, 2015, based on the “IGA Model 1a” form.

Azerbaijan also has double taxation treaties with: Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Iran, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkey, UAE, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.  Treaties with Jordan, Spain, Sweden, Malta and Denmark are pending ratification by the parliament of Azerbaijan.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Azerbaijani central government is the primary source of regulations relevant to foreign businesses.  Azerbaijan’s regulatory system has improved in recent years, although enforcement is inconsistent and decision-making opaque.  Private sector associations do not play a significant role in regulatory processes.  Draft legislation is neither made available for public comment nor usually involves a public consultation process.  However, the government has engaged business organizations, such as the American Chamber of Commerce in Azerbaijan (AmCham), and consulting firms on various draft laws.  The website of Azerbaijan’s National Parliament, http://meclis.gov.az/ , lists all the country’s laws, but only in the Azerbaijani language.

Legal entities in Azerbaijan must adhere to the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).  These are only obligatory for large companies.  Medium-sized companies can choose between reporting based on IFRS or IFRS-SME standards, which are specially designed for large and medium enterprises.  Small and micro enterprises can choose between reporting based on IFRS, IFRS-SME, or simplified accounting procedures established by the Finance Ministry.

Several U.S. companies with operations and investments in Azerbaijan previously reported they had been subject to repeated tax audits, requests for prepayment of taxes, and court-imposed fines for violations of the tax code.  These allegations have markedly decreased since 2017.

On October 19, 2015, Azerbaijan suspended inspections of entrepreneurs for two years, but inspections still may occur if a complaint is lodged.  This suspension was subsequently extended through January 1, 2021.  Food and pharmaceutical products are not subject to this suspension order and are inspected for quality and safety.

The government has also simplified its licensing regime.  All licenses are now issued with indefinite validity through the ASAN service centers and must be issued within 10 days of application.  The Economy Ministry also reduced the number of activities requiring a license from 60 to 32.

International Regulatory Considerations

Azerbaijan has had observer status at the World Trade Organization (WTO) since 1997 but has not made significant progress toward joining the WTO for the past several years.  A working party on Azerbaijan’s succession to the WTO was established on July 16, 1997, and Azerbaijan began negotiations with WTO members in 2004.  The WTO Secretariat reports Azerbaijan is less than a quarter of the way to full membership.  In 2016, Azerbaijan imposed higher tariffs on a number of imported goods, including agricultural products, to promote domestic production and reduce imports.  In February 2020, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev made public remarks outlining Azerbaijan’s “cautious” approach to the WTO, saying that “the time [had] not come” for Azerbaijani membership.  Currently, Azerbaijan is negotiating bilateral market access with 19 economies.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Azerbaijan’s legal system is based on Civil Law.  Disputes or disagreements arising between foreign investors and enterprises with foreign investment, Azerbaijani state bodies and/or enterprises, and other Azerbaijani legal entities, are to be settled in the Azerbaijani court system or, upon agreement between the parties, in a court of arbitration, including international arbitration bodies.  The judiciary consists of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the appellate courts of the Republic of Azerbaijan, trial courts, and other specialized courts.  Trial court judgments may be appealed in appellate courts and the judgments of appellate courts can be appealed in the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country.  Under the Civil Procedure Code of Azerbaijan, appellate court judgments are published within three days of issuance, or within ten days in exceptional circumstances.  The Constitutional Court has the authority to review laws and court judgments for compliance with the Constitution.  In February 2016, Azerbaijan also established a Board of Appeal to address complaints filed by entrepreneurs against local executive authorities.

Businesses report problems with the reliability and independence of judicial processes in Azerbaijan.  While the government promotes foreign investment and the law guarantees national treatment, in practice investment disputes can arise when a foreign investor or trader’s success threatens well-connected or favored local interests.  According to Freedom House’s 2017 report, Azerbaijan’s court system is “subservient to the executive.”  The U.S. business community has complained about inconsistent application of regulations and non-transparent decision-making.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Foreign investment in Azerbaijan is regulated by a number of international treaties and agreements, as well as domestic legislation.  These include the BIT between the United States and Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijan-European Commission Cooperation Agreement, the Law on Protection of Foreign Investment, the Law on Investment Activity, the Law on Investment Funds, the Law on Privatization of State Property, the Second Program for Privatization of State Property, and sector-specific legislation.  Azerbaijani law permits foreign direct investment in any activity in which a national investor may also invest, unless otherwise prohibited (see “Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment” for further information).

A January 2018 Presidential decree called for drafting a new law on investment activities to conform to international standards.  The decree also established mechanisms to protect investor rights and regulate damages, including lost profit caused to investors.  The details of the proposed new law had not been publicized as of April 2020.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The State Service for Antimonopoly Policy and Consumer Protection under the Economy Ministry is responsible for implementing competition-related policy.  The law on Antimonopoly Activity was amended in April 2016 to introduce regulations on price fixing and other anti-competitive behavior.  Parliament began revising a new version of the Competition Code in late 2014, but it has not yet been adopted.  Azerbaijan’s antimonopoly legislation does not constrain the size or scope of the handful of large holding companies that dominate the non-oil economy.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Law on the Protection of Foreign Investments forbids nationalization and requisition of foreign investment, except under certain circumstances.  Nationalization of property can occur when authorized by parliamentary resolution, although there have been no known cases of official nationalization or requisition against foreign firms in Azerbaijan.  Requisition – by a decision of the Cabinet of Ministers – is possible in the event of natural disaster, an epidemic, or other extraordinary situation.  In the event of nationalization or requisition, foreign investors are legally entitled to prompt, effective, and adequate compensation.  Amendments made to Azerbaijan’s Constitution in September 2016 enabled authorities to expropriate private property when necessary for social justice and effective use of land.  According to Freedom House’s 2016 report, “[property] rights and free choice of residence are affected by government-backed development projects that often entail forced evictions, unlawful expropriations, and demolitions with little or no notice.”  The Azerbaijani government has not shown any pattern of discriminating against U.S. persons by way of direct expropriations.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Azerbaijan is a member of the International Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID convention) as well as the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.  The Supreme Court of Azerbaijan is responsible for recognizing and enforcing arbitral awards rendered pursuant to the Conventions.  While there are no specialized commercial courts in Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijan International Commercial Arbitration Court (AICAC) was established by a non-governmental organization in 2003 as an independent arbitral institution.  The AICAC, a third-party tribunal, is the only arbitration institution functioning in Azerbaijan, but public information on the case load of the AICAC is not available.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Azerbaijan has also ratified the European Convention on Foreign Commercial Arbitration dated April 21, 1961.  The BIT between the United States and Azerbaijan, which went into force in 2001, provides U.S. investors recourse to settle any investment dispute using the ICSID convention.  Azerbaijan has been a party to three ICSID cases, two of which (Barmek v. Azerbaijan and Fondel Metal Participations and B.V. v. Azerbaijan) were settled and one of which (Azpetrol v. Azerbaijan) was decided in favor of the State.  Thus far, the ICSID has not issued arbitral awards against the government of Azerbaijan.  Over the past 10 years, the U.S. Embassy in Baku has been notified of three investment dispute cases regarding U.S. citizens.  None of these cases, however, have been resolved.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

International arbitration in Azerbaijan is regulated by the Law on International Commercial Arbitration, based on the UNCITRAL model law.  Parties may select arbitrators of any nationality, the language of the proceedings, the national law to be applied, and the arbitration procedure to be used.  In cases in which parties did not stipulate the terms of the proceedings, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Azerbaijan will resolve the omission.  Azerbaijan has incorporated the provisions of the New York Convention into the Law on International Commercial Arbitration.  The Supreme Court may refuse to enforce a foreign arbitral award on specific grounds contained in Article 476 of the Civil Code.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Azerbaijan’s Bankruptcy Law applies only to legal entities and entrepreneurs, not to private individuals.  Bankruptcy proceedings may be initiated by either a debtor facing insolvency or by any creditor.  In general, the legislation focuses on liquidation procedures.  Bankruptcy law in Azerbaijan is under-developed, which restricts private sector economic development by deterring entrepreneurship.  Amendments to Azerbaijan’s bankruptcy law adopted in 2017 extended the obligations of bankruptcy administrators and defined new rights for creditors.  In the World Bank’s Doing Business Report’s section on resolving insolvency, Azerbaijan’s ranking decreased from 45 in 2019 to 47 in 2020 out of 190 countries.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Since early 2016, the government has introduced tax and investment incentives for entrepreneurs and legal entities in non-oil export sectors as part of the overall economic reform/diversification effort.  These measures include certain partial, temporary exemptions from corporate and property taxes; favorable tax treatment for manufacturing facilities and imports of manufacturing equipment; and subsidies for certain exports.  Investment certificate holders are exempt from paying 50 percent of the assessed income tax; 100 percent of the land tax; and 100 percent of customs duties on imported machinery, equipment, and devices.  Certificates are issued for seven years to projects in priority non-oil sectors.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

A government decree established a free trade zone (FTZ) next to the Port of Alat, located approximately 50 miles south of Baku in March 2016.  President Aliyev signed legislation setting forth the incentives and regulations governing the Alat FTZ in June 2018.  The law exempts all businesses in the FTZ from taxes and customs; charges the FTZ’s administration with setting up its own employment, migration, dispute resolution, and arbitration regulations; provides protections from nationalization; and guarantees the free flow of funds in and out of the FTA.  While the legal framework is in place, implementing regulations are still pending, and the FTZ is not operational.

The Ministry of Transport, Communications, and High Technologies has discussed plans to create other special economic zones, including a petrochemical complex and regional innovation zones to boost telecommunications sector development.  Currently, legal entities and individuals involved in entrepreneurial activities in one of five state-designated industrial or technological parks are exempt from income tax, property tax, land tax, and VAT on imported machinery and equipment until 2023.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The Azerbaijani government does not mandate local employment, although some energy sector Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs) in the oil sector include localization provisions.  While performance requirements are not generally imposed on new investments, the government is seeking to increase the number of value-added services and processes performed in Azerbaijan.  American companies have reported that government-connected companies often pressure current or potential partners to establish joint ventures, initiate local production of certain components, or otherwise invest in Azerbaijan in order to maintain or expand cooperation.

Azerbaijan does not have any data localization requirements.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

International organizations, foreign citizens, and foreign legal entities may not own land or be granted a purchase option on a lease, but they are permitted to lease land.  Following independence, the government implemented land reforms that divided state-owned farms into privately held small plots.  Due to poor record keeping and titling in rural areas, it is often difficult to determine definitively who owns a plot.  Amendments made to Azerbaijan’s Constitution in September 2016 enabled authorities to expropriate private property with compensation in instances where necessary for “social justice and efficient use of the land.”

Azerbaijan’s State Real Estate Registry Service at the Committee for Property Issues registers real estate.  April 2016 amendments to the Law on Immovable Property Register cut the time to register property from 20 to 10 working days.  The World Bank’s “Doing Business” Report ranked Azerbaijan 44 out of 190 countries in 2019 in its country rankings on the Ease of Registering Property.

Intellectual Property Rights

The legal structure for the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) in Azerbaijan is relatively strong, but experts and businesspeople report the level of enforcement within the country is weak, and U.S. companies routinely list weak enforcement of IPR as a key concern.  Piracy and blatant infringements of IPR of both digital and physical goods are commonplace and stifle foreign investment and local entrepreneurship.  The Business Software Alliance estimated the prevalence of software piracy at 84 percent in 2015, including in government ministries.  With strong Embassy encouragement, the government is taking steps to increase the use of licensed software in government institutions, but progress thus far has been limited.

IPR in Azerbaijan is regulated by the Law on Copyrights and Related Rights, the Law on Trademarks and Geographic Designations, the Law on Patents, the Law on the Topology of Integrated Microcircuits, the Law on Unfair Competition, and the Law on Securing Intellectual Property Rights and Combating Piracy.

Azerbaijan is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and party to the Paris Convention for Protection of Industrial Property, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.  Since Azerbaijan is not a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), it does not adhere to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).  In Azerbaijan, violation of IPR can result in civil, criminal, and administrative charges.  Azerbaijan tracks and reports on seizures of counterfeit goods but does not publish statistics on this effort.  Azerbaijan is not listed in USTR’s Special 301 Report, nor is it included in the Notorious Markets List.  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

Access to capital is a critical impediment to business development in Azerbaijan.  An effective regulatory system that encourages and facilitates portfolio investment, foreign or domestic, is not fully in place.  Though the Baku Stock Exchange opened in 2000, there is insufficient liquidity in the market to enter or exit sizeable positions.The Central Bank assumed control over all financial regulation in January 2020, following disbandment of a formerly independent regulator.  Non-bank financial sector staples such as capital markets, insurance, and private equity are in the early stages of development.  The Capital Market Modernization Project is an attempt by the government to build the foundation for a modern financial capital market, including developing market infrastructure and automation systems, and strengthening the legal and market frameworks for capital transactions.  One major hindrance to the stock market’s growth is the difficulty in encouraging established Azerbaijani businesses to adapt to standard investor-friendly disclosure practices, which are generally required for publicly listed companies.

Azerbaijan’s government and Central Bank do not restrict payments and transfers for international transactions.  Foreign investors are permitted to obtain credit on the local market, but smaller companies and firms without an established credit history often struggle to obtain loans on reasonable commercial terms.  Limited access to capital remains a barrier to development, particularly for small and medium enterprises.

Money and Banking System

The country’s financial services sector – of which banking comprises more than 90 percent – is underdeveloped, which constrains economic growth and diversification.  The drop in world oil prices in 2014/2015 and the resulting strain on Azerbaijan’s foreign currency earnings and the state budget exacerbated existing problems in the country’s banking sector and led to rising non-performing loans (NPLs) and high dollarization.  Subsequent reforms have improved overall sector stability.  President Aliyev signed a decree in February 2019 to provide partial relief to retail borrowers on foreign-currency denominated loans that meet certain criteria.

As of April 2020, 30 banks were registered in Azerbaijan, including 14 banks with foreign capital and two state-owned banks.  These banks employ 19,572 people and have a combined 508 branches and 2,659 ATMs nationwide.  Total banking sector assets stood at approximately USD $19.3 billion as of January 2020, with the top five banks holding almost 58 percent of this amount.

The banking sector is still recovering from the drop in world oil prices which began in in 2014/2015 and the resulting devaluations.  The Financial Markets Supervisory Agency closed 10 insolvent banks in 2016.  The government subsequently bailed-out the International Bank of Azerbaijan (IBA) which held approximately 40 percent of the country’s banking assets.  In January 2017, the Finance Ministry increased the government’s stake in the IBA from 54.96 percent to 76.73 percent.  The government undertook a substantial cleanup of IBA assets, transferring IBA’s non-performing assets at book value to AgrarKredit, a government-owned non-financial enterprise funded by the Central Bank.  The amount of transferred assets totaled USD 6 billion in 2015-2016 and a further USD 3 billion was transferred in 2017 (25 percent of 2016 GDP in total).  In May 2017, IBA entered formal restructuring, similar to U.S. Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and completed its restructuring process in September 2017.  IBA is still updating its commercial strategy.

Foreign banks are permitted in Azerbaijan and may take the form of representative offices, branches, joint ventures, and wholly owned subsidiaries.  These banks are subject to the same regulations as domestic banks, with certain additional restrictions.  Foreign individuals and entities are also permitted to open accounts with domestic or foreign banks in Azerbaijan.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Azerbaijan’s Central Bank officially adopted a floating exchange rate in 2016 but continues to operate under an “interim regime” that effectively pegs the exchange rate at AZN 1.7 per USD.  Azerbaijan’s foreign currency reserves are based on the reserves of the Central Bank, those of the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan (SOFAZ), and the assets of the State Treasury Agency under the Finance Ministry.  Foreign currency reserves of the Central Bank increased by 14 percent during 2019 and totaled $6.4 billion in January 2020.  Between January 2019 and January 2020, SOFAZ assets increased by 12 percent to reach $43.3 billion.

Foreign exchange transactions are governed by the Law on Currency Regulation.  The Central Bank administers the overall enforcement of currency regulation.  Currency conversion is carried out through the Baku Interbank Currency Exchange Market and the Organized Interbank Currency Market.

There are no statutory restrictions on converting or transferring funds associated with an investment into freely usable currency at a legal, market-clearing rate.  The average time for remitting investment returns is two to three business days.  Some requirements on disclosure of the source of currency transfers have been imposed to reduce illicit transactions.

Remittance Policies

Corporate branches of foreign investors are subject to a remittance tax of 10 percent on all profits derived from its business activities in Azerbaijan.  There have not been any recent changes or plans to change investment remittance policies that either tighten or relax access to foreign exchange for investment remittances.  There do not appear to be time limitations on remittances, including dividends, return on investment, interest and principal on private foreign debt, lease payments, royalties, and management fees.  Nor does there appear to be limits on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances of profits or revenue.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Azerbaijan’s sovereign wealth fund is the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan (SOFAZ).  Its mission is to transform hydrocarbon reserves into financial assets generating perpetual income for current and future generations and to finance strategically important infrastructure and social projects of national scale.  While its main statutory focus is investing in assets outside of the country, since it was established in 1999 SOFAZ has financed several socially-beneficial projects in Azerbaijan related to infrastructure, housing, energy, and education.  The government’s newly adopted fiscal rule places limits on pro-cyclical spending, with the aim of increasing hydrocarbon revenue savings.  SOFAZ publishes an annual report which it submits for independent audit.  The fund’s assets totaled USD $43.3 billion as of January 1, 2020.  More information is available at oilfund.az.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

In Azerbaijan, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are active in the oil and gas, power generation, communications, water supply, railway, and air passenger and cargo sectors, among others.  There is no published list of SOEs.  While there are no SOEs that officially have been delegated governmental powers, companies such as the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR), Azerenerji (the national electricity utility), and Azersu (the national water utility) – all of which are closed joint-stock companies with majority state ownership and limited private investment – enjoy quasi-governmental or near-monopoly status in their respective sectors.

SOCAR is wholly owned by the government of Azerbaijan and takes part in all oil and gas activities in the country.  It publishes regular reports on production volumes, the value of its exports, estimates of investments in exploration and development, production costs, the names of foreign companies operating in the country, production data by company, quasi-fiscal activities, and the government’s portion of production-sharing contracts.  SOCAR is also responsible for negotiating Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs) with all foreign partners for hydrocarbon development.  SOCAR’s annual financial reports are audited by an independent external auditor and include the consolidated accounts of all SOCAR’s subsidiaries, although revenue data is incomplete.

There have been instances where state-owned enterprises have used their regulatory authority to block new entrants into the market.  SOEs are, in principle, subject to the same tax burden and tax rebate policies as their private sector competitors.  However, in sectors that are open to both the private and foreign competition, SOEs generally receive a larger percentage of government contracts or business than their private sector competitors.  While SOEs regularly purchase or supply goods or services from private sector firms, domestic and foreign private enterprises have reported problems competing with SOEs under the same terms and conditions with respect to market share, information, products and services, and incentives.  Private enterprises do not have the same access (including terms) to financing as SOEs.  SOEs are also afforded material advantages such as preferential access to land and raw materials, advantages that are not available to private enterprises.  There is little information available on Azerbaijani SOEs’ budget constraints, due to the limited transparency in their financial accounts.

Privatization Program

A renewed privatization process started with the May 2016 presidential decree implementing additional measures to improve the process of state property privatization and the July 2016 decree on measures to accelerate privatization and improve the management efficiency of state property.  The State Committee on Property Issues launched a portal to provide privatization information, privatization.az, in July 2016.  The portal contains information about the properties, their addresses, location, and initial costs with the aim of facilitating privatization.  Azerbaijan’s current privatization efforts focus on smaller state-owned properties, and there are no active plans to privatize large SOEs.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Responsible business conduct (RBC) is a relatively new concept in Azerbaijan.  Producers and consumers tend not to prioritize responsible business conduct, including environmental, social, and governance issues.  No information is available on legal corporate governance, accounting, and executive compensation standards to protect shareholders in Azerbaijan.  Larger foreign entities tend to follow generally accepted RBC principles consistent with parent company guidelines and aim to educate their local partners, who generally consider basic charitable donations and paying taxes as acts of social responsibility.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Azerbaijan (AmCham) established a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Committee in October 2011 to encourage companies to embrace social responsibility through activities and dialogue with relevant stakeholders.  AmCham also published a corporate social responsibility guide on CSR for businesses in Azerbaijan.  In 2011, the Economy Ministry established standards for corporate governance, which included an evaluation methodology for these standards and a code of ethical behavior.  The Economy Ministry has been tasked with explaining the importance of corporate governance standards to entrepreneurs.  Some companies report that government restrictions on NGO registration have complicated CSR corporate social responsibility efforts.

Azerbaijan’s Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) status was downgraded from “compliant” to “candidate” in April 2015, due to concerns about Azerbaijani civil society’s ability to engage critically in the EITI process.  Following the EITI Secretariat’s evaluation in March 2017 that Azerbaijan had not sufficiently implemented required “corrective actions,” Azerbaijan withdrew from the EITI and established a domestic Extractive Industries Transparency Commission in April 2017 to ensure transparency and accountability in the extractive industries of the country.  The Commission has published two Reports on Transparency in the Extractive Industries.

9. Corruption

Corruption is a major challenge for firms operating in Azerbaijan and is a barrier to foreign investment, despite government efforts to reduce low-level corruption.  Azerbaijan does not require that private companies establish internal codes of conduct to prohibit bribery of public officials, nor does it provide protections to NGOs involved in investigating corruption.  U.S. firms have identified corruption in government procurement, licensing, dispute settlement, regulation, customs, and taxation as significant obstacles to investment.

The Azerbaijani government publicly acknowledges problems with corruption but has neither effectively nor consistently enforced anti-corruption laws nor regulations.  Azerbaijan has made modest progress in implementing a 2005 Anticorruption Law, which created a commission with the authority to require full financial disclosure from government officials.  The government has achieved a degree of success reducing red tape and opportunities for bribery through a focus on e-government and government service delivery through centralized ASAN service centers, which first opened in February 2013.  ASAN centers provide more transparent, efficient, and accountable services through a “one window” model that reduces opportunities for rent-seeking and petty government corruption and have become a model for other initiatives aimed at improving government service delivery.

Despite progress in reducing corruption in public services delivery, the civil service, public procurement apparatus, and the judiciary still suffer from corruption.  Tax reforms announced in January 2019 are partially aimed at reducing corruption in tax administration.

Azerbaijan signed and ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention and is a signatory to the Council of Europe Criminal and Civil Law Conventions.  Azerbaijan is not currently a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

Resources to Report Corruption

Kamal Jafarov
Acting Executive Secretary
Commission on Combating Corruption
Baku, Azerbaijan
(+994 12) 492-04-65
kamal.jafarov@antikorrupsiya.gov.az

10. Political and Security Environment

On multiple occasions in 2019, authorities selectively blocked mobile and fixed-line internet access, temporarily restricted access to foreign media and social networking sites, and imposed blocks on virtual private network (VPN) services, apparently in response to political protests.  Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty are among the sites permanently blocked in Azerbaijan.  The increase in frequency and lack of transparency regarding internet disruptions raise serious concerns about future Azerbaijani government efforts to control access to information in ways that impede foreign business interests.

There have been no known acts of political violence against U.S. businesses or assets, nor against any foreign owned entity.  It is unlikely that civil disturbances, should they occur, would be directed against U.S. businesses or the U.S. community.

A cease-fire with Armenia has been in effect since 1994 for the conflict surrounding the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.  However, intermittent gunfire along the cease-fire line and along the border with Armenia continues, often resulting in injuries and/or deaths.  There have been no threats to commercial enterprises from skirmishes in the border areas.  The Azerbaijani government has suspended or threatened to suspend the operations of U.S. companies in Azerbaijan if the companies’ products or services are provided in Nagorno-Karabakh.  Azerbaijan considers travel to the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding occupied territories unlawful.  Engaging in any commercial activities in Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding occupied territories, whether directly or through business subsidiaries, can result in criminal prosecution and/or other legal action being taken against individuals and/or businesses in Azerbaijan; it may also affect the ability to travel to Azerbaijan in the future.  Due to the existing state of hostilities, consular services are not available to U.S. citizens in Nagorno-Karabakh.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The 1999 Labor Code regulates overall labor relations and recognizes international labor rights.  The work week generally is 40 hours.  The right to strike exists, though industrial strikes are rare.  Azerbaijan is a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and has ratified more than 57 ILO Conventions.  In practice, labor unions are strongly tied to political interests of the government.  Collective bargaining is not practiced.  Azerbaijan has regulations to monitor labor abuses, health, and safety standards in low-wage assembly operations, but enforcement is less effective.

Employment relations are established by an employment contract, which, in most cases, does not necessarily indicate a fixed term of employment.  While a number of workers still work without contracts in Azerbaijan’s informal economy, recent tax and customs reforms have provided incentives for individuals to register their employment to benefit from state financial support.  Under national law, an employer must give an employee two months’ notice of termination, with certain exceptions.  An employee can terminate his/her employment contract at any time but must give one month’s notice.  Upon termination of formally registered employment, employers must pay departing employees monetary compensation for unused vacation leave.  A formally registered employee who becomes unemployed is entitled to 70 percent of his/her average monthly wage, calculated over the past 12 months at the last place of work.  An employee must have worked under a valid labor contract in order to obtain unemployment benefits.  The law “On Unemployment Insurance” signed in August 2017 allows for payments to unemployed individuals registered with the State Employment Fund.

Azerbaijan has an abundant supply of semi-skilled and unskilled laborers.  An estimated 40 percent of the Azerbaijani population works in agriculture, although this sector only contributes around 6 percent of the country’s GDP.  The construction sector tends to use temporary and contract workers; reportedly many of these workers’ agreements are not formally registered with the government.  The relatively limited supply of highly skilled labor is one of the biggest challenges in Azerbaijan’s labor market.  The average monthly wage as of January 2020 was AZN 712 ($418), and the official minimum wage increased in 2019 to AZN 250 ($147) per month, compared to the previous level of AZN 180 ($106) per month.

12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs

The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and the U.S. Export-Import (EXIM) Bank provide political risk insurance and financing and loan guarantees in Azerbaijan.  Azerbaijan is also a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).  The World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and other third-country institutions are active in providing financing and insurance for investment in Azerbaijan.

Over the past two decades, the DFC (through its predecessor, OPIC) has invested around $230 million in Azerbaijan across 24 business projects.  While Azerbaijan’s financial services sector has been a major area for investments, legacy OPIC-funded projects have included investments in the energy (such as the BTC oil pipeline completed in 2006), franchising, banking, microfinance, and hotel and hospitality sectors of Azerbaijan.  The DFC has repeatedly provided funds for numerous banks operating in Azerbaijan in order to expand their SME lending portfolios, including $4.8 million to Rabita Bank in 2008 and $7.3 million to Turan Bank in 2009.  In 2011, DFC predecessor OPIC provided MuganBank a loan guarantee for $10 million to expand its operations, targeting SME borrowers.  OPIC also provided USD $1 million and $3 million to FinDev and CredAgro for microfinance lending, respectively.  In 2012, OPIC provided loan insurance to Viator Microcredit Azerbaijan LLC ($500,000), NBCO Vision Fund Azercredit LLC ($2 million), and FinDev again ($1 million).  In 2013, OPIC signed a memorandum with Turan Bank for a loan in the amount of $7 million with a term of seven years for SME financing.  As of 2015, the DFC has active loan projects with two non-banking credit organizations, KredAgro and TBC Kredit.

In its 2014 annual report, EXIM Bank reported outstanding insurance and loan guarantees for Azerbaijan in the amount of $211.9 million, primarily in support of aviation sales.  In 2011, EXIM Bank closed a $116.6 million loan with a ten-year repayment period to finance the Azerbaijan space agency’s purchase of the AzerSat-1 satellite from Orbital Sciences.  In June 2015, EXIM Bank finalized a $211.9 million loan to finance Azerbaijan Airline’s purchase of Boeing commercial aircraft.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2018 $46,939 2017 $40,748 https://data.worldbank.org/
country/azerbaijan
 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)  

No reliable data

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

No reliable data

BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP  

No reliable data

 

2017 76.6% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 
 

* Source for Host Country Data:  Azerbaijan State Statistical Committee

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $29,314 100% Total Outward $20,461 100%
United Kingdom $6,317 22% Turkey $10,761 53%
Turkey $5,797 20% Georgia $2,984 15%
Norway $3,063 10% Switzerland $1,237 6%
Iran $2,523 9% United Kingdom $1,013 5%
Cyprus $1,907 7% United States $594 3%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

Belarus

Executive Summary

The Government of Belarus (GOB) officially welcomes foreign investment, which is seen as a source of new production technologies, jobs, and hard currency.  Belarusian authorities stress the country’s geographic location, its inclusion in the Eurasian Economic Union (which also includes Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia), extensive transport infrastructure, and a highly skilled workforce as competitive advantages for investment.  Belarus also highlights the preferential tax benefits and special investor incentives it provides for its six export-oriented and regionally located free economic zones, the IT sector-centric High Tech Park (HTP), and the joint Belarus-China Great Stone Industrial Park.

Belarus places a priority on investments in pharmaceuticals; biotechnology; nanotechnologies and nanomaterials; metallurgy; mechanical engineering industry; production of machines, electrical equipment, home appliances and electronics; transport and related infrastructure; agriculture and food industry; information and communication technologies; creation and development of logistics systems; and tourism.

In early 2019, Belarus’ State Property Committee approved a list of 23 joint stock companies for full or partial privatization. Also in 2019, the World Bank concluded a pilot project that identified and helped prepare 12 Belarusian SOEs for privatization. However, the GOB allowed sale of the government share in these companies on the condition that the purchasing investors preserve existing jobs and production lines. The State Property Committee reported that the government sold its minority share (under 25 percent) in only two enterprises in 2019.

Investments in sectors dominated by SOEs have been known to come under threat from regulatory bodies.  Investors, whether Belarusian or foreign, purportedly benefit from equal legal treatment and have the same right to conduct business operations or establish new business in Belarus.  However, according to numerous sources in the local business community and independent media, selective law enforcement and unwritten practices can discriminate against the private sector, including foreign investors, regardless of their country of origin.  Serious concerns remain about the independence of the judicial system and its ability to objectively adjudicate cases rather than favor the powerful central government.

When considering investing in Belarus, it is also important to note that pursuant to a June 2006 Executive Order, the United States maintains targeted sanctions against nine Belarusian SOEs and 16 individuals in relation to concerns about undermining Belarus’ democratic processes.  Since October 2015, however, the U.S. Department of Treasury, in consultation and coordination with the Department of State, has provided temporary sanctions relief for the nine SOEs. The current 18-month period of temporary sanctions relief ends on April 26, 2021.  For additional information click here:  https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/pages/belarus.aspx.

Despite GOB organizations that promote foreign direct investment (FDI), both the central and local governments’ policies often reflect an old-fashioned, Soviet-style distrust of private enterprise – whether local or foreign.  Technically the legal regime for foreign investments should be no less advantageous than the domestic one, yet FDI in many key sectors is limited, particularly in the petrochemical, agricultural, and alcohol production industries.  FDI is prohibited for national security reasons in defense as well as production and distribution of narcotics, dangerous and toxic substances.  FDI can also be restricted in activities and operations prohibited by law or in the interests of environmental protection, historical, and cultural values, public order, morality protection, public health, and rights and freedoms of individuals.  Investments in businesses that have a dominant position in the commodity markets of Belarus are not allowed without approved by the Ministry of Trade and Antimonopoly Regulation.

In 2019 the Council of Europe’s (COE) Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) publicly declared Belarus non-compliant with GRECO’s anti-corruption standards.  This was GRECO’s first ever declaration of non-compliance. According to the COE, Belarus failed to address 20 out of 24 recommendations made in 2012; had not authorized the publication of the 2012 report or related compliance reports; and was non-responsive since 2017 to requests from GRECO to organize a high-level mission to Belarus. In the first half of 2020, Belarusian courts convicted 463 individuals “on corruption-related charges.” However, the absence of independent judicial and law enforcement systems, the lack of separation of powers, and an independent press largely barred from interaction with a nontransparent state bureaucracy make it virtually impossible to gauge the true scale of corruption challenging the country.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 66 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/country/BLR
World Bank’s Doing Business Index 2020 49 of 190 https://www.doingbusiness.org/
en/data/exploreeconomies/belarus/#
Global Innovation Index 2018 72 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2018 N/A https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/factsheet.cfm?Area=336
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $5,670 https://data.worldbank.org/country/
belarus?view=chart

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Attracting FDI is one of the government’s foreign policy priorities; net inflows of FDI have been included in the list of government performance targets since December 2015.  The GOB has no specific requirements for foreigners wishing to establish a business in Belarus.  Investors, whether Belarusian or foreign, reportedly benefit from equal legal treatment and have the same right to conduct business operations in Belarus by incorporating separate legal entities.  However, selective application of existing laws and practices often discriminate against the private sector, including foreign investors, regardless of the country of their origin.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

While the GOB asserts foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity,  in reality, the GOB imposes limits on a case-by-case basis.  The limits on foreign equity participation in Belarus are above the average for the 20 countries covered by the World Bank Group’s Investing Across Borders indicators for Eastern Europe and the Central Asia region.  Belarus, in particular, limits foreign equity ownership in service industries.  Sectors such as fixed-line telecommunications services, electricity transmission and distribution, and railway freight transportation are closed to foreign equity ownership.  In addition, a comparatively large number of sectors are dominated by government monopolies, including, but not limited to, those mentioned above.  Those monopolies make it difficult for foreign companies to invest in Belarus.  Finally, the government may restrict investments in the interests of national security (including environmental protection, historical and cultural values), public order, morality protection, and public health, as well as rights and freedoms of people.

While Belarus has no formal investment screening mechanism for national security purposes, it retains elements of a Soviet-style command economy and does screen investments through an informal and hierarchical process that escalates through the bureaucracy depending on the size of the investment or the size of incentives an investor seeks from the Belarusian government.  The President and his administration prescreen and approve all significant (multi-million dollar) foreign investment.

Additionally, Belarus’ Ministry of Antimonopoly Regulation and Trade is responsible for reviewing transactions for competition-related concerns (whether domestic or international).

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The UN Conference on Trade and Development reviewed Belarus’ investment policy in 2009 and made recommendations regarding the improvement of its investment climate. http://unctad.org/en/Docs/diaepcb200910_en.pdf 

Business Facilitation

Individuals and legal persons can apply for business registration via the web portal of the Single State Register (http://egr.gov.by/egrn/index.jsp?language=en ) – a resource that includes all relevant information on establishing a business.

Belarus has a regime allowing for a simplified taxation system for small and medium-sized and foreign-owned businesses.

Belarus defines enterprises as follows:
Micro enterprises – fewer than 15 employees;
Small enterprises – from 16 to 100 employees;
Medium-sized enterprises – from 101 to 250 employees.

Belarus’ investment promotion agency is the National Agency of Investments and Privatization (NAIP).  https://investinbelarus.by/en/naip-and-what-we-do/  NAIP is tasked with representing the interests of Belarus as it seeks to attract FDI into the country.  The Agency states it is a one-stop shop with services available to all investors, including:  organizing fact-finding missions to Belarus, assisting with visa formalities; providing information on investment opportunities, special regimes and benefits, state programs, and procedures necessary for making investment decisions; selecting investment projects; and providing solutions and post-project support, i.e., aftercare.

To maintain an ongoing dialogue with investors, Belarus has established the Foreign Investment Advisory Council (FIAC) chaired by the Prime Minister.  FAIC activities include, but are not limited to:  developing proposals to improve investment legislation; participating in examining corresponding regulatory and legal acts; and approaching government agencies for the purpose of adopting, repealing or modifying the regulatory and legal acts that restrict the rights of investors.  The FIAC includes the heads of government agencies and other state organizations subordinate to the GOB, as well as heads of international organizations and foreign companies and corporations.

Outward Investment

The government does not promote or incentivize outward investment, nor does it restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.  According to government statistics, Belarusian businesses’ outward investments in 2019 totaled USD 5.8 billion.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

According to Belarusian legislation, drafts of laws and regulations pertaining to investment and doing business are subject to public discussion.  Draft legislation is published on government agencies’ websites.  The government states that its policies are transparent and the implementation of laws is consistent with international norms to foster competition and establish clear rules of the road.  However, independent economic experts note that private sector businesses are often discriminated against in relation to public sector businesses.  In particular, SOEs often receive government subsidies, benefits and exemptions, including cheaper loans and debt forgiveness, that is generally unavailable to private sector companies.

International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) have been a part of Belarus’ legislative framework since 2016.  Public-interest entities, which include banks, insurance companies, and public corporations with subsidiary companies, are required to publish their financial statements, which comply with IFRS.  Such statements are subject to statutory audit.

IFRS in Belarus can be accessed through the Ministry of Finance at the following link:  http://www.minfin.gov.by/ru/accounting/inter_standards/docs/ 

Belarus’ Ministry of Finance posts regular updates and information on budgetary policy, public finances, and debt obligations on its websites:   http://www.minfin.gov.by/en/budgetary_policy/ 
http://www.minfin.gov.by/en/public_debt/ 

International Regulatory Considerations

Belarus is not a WTO member but since 2016 has stepped up efforts to join. Together with the WTO Secretariat, the government drafted an indicative roadmap for the completion of Belarus’s WTO accession, now envisioned for late 2020 or early 2021.

Belarus is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU); EAEU regulations and decisions supersede the national regulatory system.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Belarusian legal system is a civil law system with a legal separation of branches and institutions and with the main source of law being legal act, not precedent.  For example, Article 44 of Belarus’ Constitution guarantees the inviolability of property.  Article 11 of the Civil Code safeguards property rights.  Presidential edicts and decrees, however, typically carry more force than legal acts adopted by the legislature, which risks weakening investor protections and incentives previously passed into law.  There is sometimes a public comment process during drafting of legislation or presidential decrees, but the process is often not transparent or sufficiently inclusive of investors’ concerns.  Belarus has a written and consistently applied commercial law, which is broadly codified but contains inconsistencies and is not always considered to be business friendly.

Each of Belarus’ six regions and the capital city of Minsk have economic courts to address commercial and economic issues.  In addition, the Supreme Court has a judicial panel on economic issues.  In 2000, Belarus established a judicial panel to enforce intellectual property rights.  Under the Labor Code, any claims of unfair labor practices are heard by regular civil courts or commissions on labor issues.  However, the judiciary’s lack of independence from the executive branch impedes its role as a reliable and impartial mechanism for resolving disputes, whether labor, economic, commercial, or otherwise.  According to Freedom House’s 2018 Nations in Transit report, executive authorities can directly influence a judge’s decision-making if their political or economic interests are involved, and such influence usually takes the form of direct instructions from officials.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Foreign investment in Belarus is governed by the 2013 laws “On Investments” and “On Concessions,” the 2009 Presidential Decree No. 10 “On the Creation of Additional Conditions for Investment Activity in Belarus,” and other legislation as well as international and investment agreements signed and ratified by Belarus.

The GOB regularly updates the following websites with the latest in laws, rules, procedures and reporting requirements for foreign investors:
http://www.investinbelarus.by/en/ 
http://www.economy.gov.by/ 
http://president.gov.by/en/official_documents_en/ 

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The June 3, 2016, presidential edict number 188 authorized the Ministry of Antimonopoly Regulation and Trade to counteract monopolistic activities and promote competition in Belarus’ markets.

Expropriation and Compensation

According to Article 12 of the Investment Code, neither party may expropriate or nationalize investments both directly and indirectly by means of measures similar to expropriation or nationalization, for other purposes than for the public benefit and on a nondiscriminatory basis; according to the appropriate legal procedure; and on conditions of compensation payment.  Belarus has signed 67 bilateral agreements on the mutual protection and encouragement of investments which include obligations regarding expropriation.

In 2018, there was one nationally-reported case of nationalization, however the Belarusian government compensated the Ukrainian owner market value for shares of the Motor Sich aircraft repair factory in Orsha. In the past five years, there have been no instances of confiscation of business property as a penalty for violations of law.

Dispute Settlement

There were no known investment disputes between Belarusian government authorities and American investors in 2019.

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Belarus is a party to both the International Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID) and the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, meaning that local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards in compliance with the above conventions, national laws, and regulations. The enforcement of arbitral awards in Belarus is governed by Chapter 28 of the Code of Commercial Procedure.

Most of the BITs concluded by Belarus include a provision on international investment arbitration as a mechanism for settling investor-State disputes and recognize the binding force of the awards issued by tribunals. Under Belarusian law, if an international treaty signed by Belarus establishes rules other than those established by local law, the rules of the international treaty prevail.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Local economic court proceedings normally do not exceed two months.  The term of such proceedings with the participation of foreign persons is normally no longer than seven months, unless established otherwise by an international agreement signed by Belarus.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Judgments of foreign courts are accepted and enforced if there is a relevant international agreement signed by Belarus. Courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards. The Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has an International Arbitration Court. The 2013 “Law on Mediation,” as well as codes of civil and economic procedures, established various alternative ways of addressing investment disputes.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Belarus’ 2012 bankruptcy law, related presidential edicts, and government resolutions are not always consistently applied. Additional legal acts, such as the Civil Code and Code of Economic Procedures, also include certain regulations on bankruptcy-related issues. Under the bankruptcy law, foreign creditors have the same rights as Belarusian creditors. Belarusian law criminalizes false and intentional insolvency as well as concealing insolvency. According to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Index, Belarus was ranked 74 in Resolving Insolvency (rankings available at http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/belarus ).

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

According to the GOB’s Strategy for Attracting FDI, priority sectors include pharmaceuticals; biotechnology; nanotechnologies and nanomaterials; metallurgy; mechanical engineering industry; production of machines, electrical equipment, home appliances and electronics; transport and related infrastructure; agriculture and food industry; information and communication technologies; creation and development of logistics systems; and tourism. NAIP maintains a database of investment proposals at: https://map.investinbelarus.by/en/investbase/offers/ .

The GOB offers various incentives and programs for FDI depending on the sector and industry.  GOB enters into specific investment agreements with other governments and may accord preferential   incentives and benefits including but not limited to:

incentives and benefits including but not limited to:

  • Allocation of a land plot without auctioning the right to lease it
  • Removal of vegetation without compensation during construction
  • Full VAT deduction for the purchase of goods, services (works) or property rights
  • Exemption from import tariffs and VAT on the imports of production equipment
  • Exemption from fees for the right to conclude a land lease
  • Exemption from duties for employing foreign nationals
  • Exemption from compensation for losses sustained by the agriculture and/or forestry industries due to the use of a land plot under the investment agreement
  • Exemption from land tax on land plots in government or private ownership, and from rent on land plots in government ownership, for a period starting from the first day of the month in which the investment agreement came into effect until December 31 of the year following the year in which the last of the facilities scheduled under the investment agreement started operations.

Investment agreements concluded under the decision of the Belarusian Council of Ministers and with the permission of the President of Belarus may offer additional incentives and benefits not expressly provided for in legislation. Such incentives are provided on a case-by-case basis.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Each of Belarus’ six regions has its own free economic zone (FEZ): Minsk, Brest, Gomel-Raton, Mogilev, Grodno Invest, and Vitebsk. The tax and regulatory pattern applicable to businesses in these zones is simpler and lower than elsewhere in Belarus. To become a FEZ resident, an investor needs to make a minimal investment of EUR 1 million, or at least EUR 500,000 provided the entire sum is invested during a three-year period, as well as engage in the production of import-substituting products or goods for export.

In October 2005, the President of Belarus signed the edict that established uniform rules for all FEZs. The list of main tax benefits for FEZ residents was revised in December 2016 to include certain exemptions from the corporate profit tax (CPT), real estate tax, land tax, and rent on government-owned land plots located within the boundaries of the FEZ, among others.

As of 2017, FEZ residents benefit from a simplified procedure of export-import operations. Resident enterprises are exempt from customs duties and taxes on facilities, construction materials, other equipment used in implementation of their investment projects. They are also exempt from customs duties and taxes on raw materials and materials used in the process of manufacture of the products sold outside the territory of the Eurasian Economic Union.

Otherwise, FEZ residents pay VAT, excise duties, ecological tax, natural resource extraction tax, state duty, patent duties, offshore duty, stamp duty, customs duties and fees, local taxes and duties, and contributions to the Social Security Fund according to the general guidelines.

For more details please visit:

FEZ Minsk: http://www.fezminsk.by/en/ 
FEZ Gomel-Raton: http://www.gomelraton.com/en/ 
FEZ Vitebsk: http://www.fez-vitebsk.com/en/ 
FEZ GrondoInvest: https://grodnoinvest.by/en/ 
FEZ Brest: http://fezbrest.com/en/ 
FEZ Mogilev: http://www.fezmogilev.by/ 

The Great Stone Industrial Park is a special economic zone of approximately 112.5 square kilometers located adjacent to the Minsk National Airport and Belarusian highway M1, which connects Moscow to Berlin. Great Stone resident companies also have access to Lithuania’s Klaipeda seaport on the Baltic Sea.  According to a master plan approved in 2013, Great Stone will eventually include production facilities, dormitories and residential areas for workers, offices and shopping malls, and financial and research centers.

Great Stone is primarily a Belarus-China joint venture but any company – regardless of its country of origin – can apply to join the industrial park.  Interested companies must submit either a business project worth at least USD 500,000, to be invested within three years from the moment of the business’ registration; or submit a business project worth at least USD 5 million without any time limit for investment; or submit a business project worth at least USD 500,000 tied to research and development.

As of 2017, Great Stone residents receive, among other preferences, certain exemptions on income tax, real estate and land taxes, and dividend income; the right to import goods, including raw materials, under a preferential customs regime; full VAT repayment on goods used for the design, building, and equipment of facilities in Great Stone; exemptions from environmental compensatory payments; and a preferential entry/exit program allowing Great Stone residents and their employees to stay in Belarus without a visa for up to 180 days. Great Stone residents are also exempt from any new taxes or fees through 2027 should the government make adverse changes to the tax code.

For more information on Great Stone, please visit: https://industrialpark.by/en/home.html 

Created in 2005 to foster development of the IT and software development industry, the High Technology Park (Hi-Tech Park) is a “virtual” legal regime that extends over the entire territory of Belarus. A physical campus of the HTP is found in the eastern part of Minsk and a satellite campus is located in Hrodna. The legislation behind the HTP was updated in 2017 with the signing of Presidential Decree No. 8 “On the Development of the Digital Economy.” The decree extended the HTP preferences from 2022 until 2049 and expanded the list of business activities in which HTP residents may engage, including but not limited to: software development; data processing; cryptocurrency and token-related activity; data center services; development and deployment of Internet-of-Things technologies; ICT education; and cybersports.

HTP provides residents beneficial tax preferences, including but not limited to: exemptions from VAT and CPT on sale of goods or services; exemptions from customs duty and VAT on certain kinds of equipment imported into Belarus for use in investment projects; immovable property tax and land tax benefits with regard to buildings and land within the boundaries of the HTP campuses; and caps on personal income tax at nine percent for employees and five percent for foreign entities.

Foreign nationals who are hired on contract by an HTP resident company, or who are founders of a HTP resident company, or who are employed by such founders, are eligible for visa-free entry into Belarus for a stay of up to 180 days a year. Foreigners employed by HTP residents are not required to have working permit in Belarus and are entitled to apply for a temporary residence permit for the duration of their contract.

Government agencies are not allowed to inspect the operations of HTP residents without prior consent of the HTP Administration.

For more information on HTP, please visit: http://www.park.by/ 

Small and medium-sized cities/town and rural areas in Belarus are defined by a 2012 presidential decree as settlements with populations under 60,000. Individual entrepreneurs and legal entities who work in rural areas, defined as settlements of less than 2,000, receive additional tax benefits and exemptions.

Since 2012, companies and individual entrepreneurs operating in all rural areas and towns enjoy the following benefits in the first seven years after registration: exemption from profit tax on the sale of goods, work, and services of a company’s own production; exemption from other taxes and duties, except for VAT, excise tax, offshore duty, land tax, ecological tax, natural resources tax, customs duties and fees, state duties, patent duties, and stamp duty; exemption from mandatory sale of foreign currency received from sale of goods, work, and services of a company’s own production, and from leasing property; no restrictions on insuring risks with foreign insurers; exemption from import tariffs on certain goods brought into Belarus that contribute to the charter fund of a newly established business. The special legal regime does not apply to banks, insurance companies, investment funds, professional participants in the securities market, businesses operating under other preferential legal regimes (e.g. FEZ or HTP), and certain other businesses.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The host government does not mandate local employment.  Foreign investors have the right to invite foreign citizens and stateless persons, including those without permanent residence permits, to work in Belarus provided their labor contracts comply with Belarusian law.  The GOB often imposes various conditions on permission to invest, and pursues localization policies when it deems it appropriate.  Other performance requirements are often applied uniformly to both domestic and foreign investors.

According to official Belarusian sources, licenses are not required for data storage.  Law enforcement regulations governing electronic communications do not include any requirements specifically for foreign internet service providers.  Beginning in 2016, internet service providers are required, by law, to maintain all electronic communications for a one-year period.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Property rights are enforced by the Civil Code.  Mortgages and liens are available, and the property registry system is reliable.  Investors and/or duly established commercial organizations with the participation of a foreign investor (investors) have the right to rent plots of land for up to 99 years.  According to the Belarusian Land Code, foreign legal persons and individuals are denied land ownership.  According to the 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report, Belarus ranked 14 in the world on ease of property registration (http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/data/exploreeconomies/belarus ).

Intellectual Property Rights

Belarus has made progress on improving legislation to protect intellectual property rights (IPR) and prosecuting violators. However, challenges for effective enforcement include a lack of sufficiently qualified officers . The United States expects Belarus to continue improving its IPR regime as part of its WTO accession negotiations and will continue to assist Belarus with technical consultations to that end. According to information provided by Belarus’ National Center of Intellectual Property, the government amended Article 4.5 of the Administrative Code in 2018 to allow greater prosecution of industrial property and IPR violations. Notably, in 2018 Belarusian law enforcement prosecuted five legal persons for distribution of counterfeit products under Article 9.21 of Belarus’ Administrative Code, based on a request filed by a U.S. company operating in Belarus.

Belarus was removed from USTR’s Special 301 Report in 2016 and is not included in the Notorious Markets List.

Belarus is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and party to the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty, among others.

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

Resources for Rights Holders

U.S. Embassy Minsk
Economic Section
tel.+375 (17) 210-1283
e-mail: usembassyminsk@state.gov

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Belarusian government welcomes portfolio investment and has taken steps to safeguard such investment and ensure a free flow of financial instruments. The Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange is open to foreign investors, but it is still largely undeveloped because the government only allows companies to trade stocks if they meet certain but often burdensome criteria. Private companies must be profitable and have net assets of at least EUR 1 million. In addition, any income from resulting operations is taxed at 24 percent. Finally, the state owns more than 70 percent of all stocks in the country, and the government appears hesitant and unwilling to trade in them freely. Bonds are the predominant financial instrument on Belarus’ corporate securities market.

In 2001, Belarus joined Article VIII of the IMF’s Articles of Agreement, undertaking to refrain from restrictions on payments and transfers under current international transactions. Loans are allocated on market terms and foreign investors are able to get them. However, the discount rate of 8.75 percent (as of February 2020) makes credit too expensive for many private businesses, which, unlike many SOEs, do not receive subsidized or reduced-interest loans.

Since 2016, businesses buy and sell foreign exchange at the Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange through their banks. Belarus used to require businesses to sell 10-20 percent of foreign currency revenues through the Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange, however in late 2018 the National Bank abolished the mandatory sale rule.

Money and Banking System

Belarus has a central banking system. The country’s main bank, the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus, represents the interest of the state and is the main regulator of the country’s banking system. The President of Belarus appoints the Chair and Members of the Board of the National Bank, designates auditing organizations to examine its activities, and approves its annual report.

As of January 2020, the banking system of Belarus included 24 commercial banks and three non-banking credit and finance organizations. According to the National Bank, the share of non-performing loans in the banking sector was 4.2 percent in 2019. The country’s five largest commercial banks, all of which have some government share, accounted for 67 percent of the approximately USD 36 billion in total assets across the country’s banking sector. There are five representative offices of foreign banks in Belarus, with China’s Development Bank opening most recently in 2018. To the best of the Embassy’s knowledge, rules on hostile take-overs are clear, and applied on a non-discriminatory basis.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

According to the GOB, Belarus’ foreign exchange regulations do not include any restrictions or limitations regarding converting, transferring, or repatriating funds associated with investment. Foreign exchange transactions related to FDI, portfolio investments, real estate purchasing, and opening bank accounts are carried out without any restrictions. Foreign exchange is freely traded in the domestic foreign exchange market. Foreign investors can purchase foreign exchange from their Belarusian accounts in Belarusian banks for repaying investments and transferring it outside Belarus without any restrictions.

Since 2015, the Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange has traded the U.S. dollar, the euro, and the Russian ruble in a continuous double auction regime. Local banks submit their bids for buying and selling foreign currency into the trading system during the entire period of the trading session. During the trades the bids are honored if and when the specified exchange rates are met. The average weighted exchange rate of the U.S. dollar, the euro, and the Russian ruble set during the trading session is used by the National Bank as the official exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble versus the above-mentioned currencies from the day on which the trades are made. The cross rates versus other foreign currencies are calculated based on the data provided by other countries’ central banks or information from Reuters and Bloomberg. The stated quotation becomes effective on the next calendar day and is valid till the new official exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble versus these foreign currencies comes into force. The IMF has listed Belarus’ exchange rate regime in the floating exchange rate category.

Remittance Policies

There have not been reports of problems exchanging currency and/or remitting revenues earned abroad.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Belarus has the State Budget Fund of National Development, which is used for implementing major economic and social projects in the country.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Although SOEs are outnumbered by private businesses, SOEs dominate the economy in terms of assets. According to independent economic experts, the share of Belarus’ GDP derived from SOEs is at least 75 percent. Belarus does not consider joint stock companies, even those with 100 percent government ownership of the stocks, to be state-owned and generally refers to them as part of the non-state sector, rendering official government statistics regarding the role of SOEs in the economy as misleading.

According to independent economic media reports, SOEs receive preferential access to government contracts, subsidized credits, and debt forgiveness. While SOEs are generally subject to the same tax burden and tax rebate policies as their private sector competitors, private enterprises do not have the same preferential access to land and raw materials. Since Belarus is not a WTO member, it is not a party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA).

Privatization Program

Belarusian officials welcome “strategic investors,” including foreign investors, and claim that any state-owned or state-controlled enterprise can be privatized. However, Belarus’ privatization program is in practice extremely limited. Notably, in April 2020, the government sold its controlling share in Belarus’ fifteenth-largest bank, Paritetbank. Otherwise, there was no privatization of state-controlled companies in either 2018 or 2019, one SOE was bought by private investors in 2017, and no companies or shares were privatized in 2016.  In early 2019, Belarus’ State Property Committee approved a list of 23 joint stock companies for full or partial privatization in 2019. Also in 2019, the World Bank concluded a pilot SOE privatization project that identified and helped prepare 12 Belarusian SOEs for privatization. However, the GOB allowed sale of the government share in these companies on the condition that the purchasing investors preserve existing jobs and production lines. The State Property Committee reported that the government sold its minority share (under 25 percent) in two enterprises in 2019.

For a list of open-joint stock companies whose shares are available for privatization, as well as a description of the assets and conditions for privatization, visit: http://gki.gov.by/en/inf_for_investors-ifi_on_priv/ 

Investors interested in assets on the published privatization list are encouraged to forward a brief letter of interest to the State Property Committee. A special commission reviews offers and makes a recommendation to the President on the process of privatization – via tender, auction, or direct sale. Investors may also send a letter of interest regarding assets that are not on the State Property Committee list and the government will examine such offers.

Additionally, the State Property Committee occasionally organizes and holds privatization auctions. Many of the auctions organized by the State Property Committee have low demand as the government conditions privatizations with strict requirements, including preserving or creating jobs, continuing in the same line of work or production, or launching a successful business project within a limited period of time, etc.

In 2016, Belarusian joint stocks were allowed trans-border placement via issuing depositary receipts. However, to the Embassy’s knowledge, this instrument of attracting investments has not been put to the test in Belarus.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Post continues to develop resources and information on the current state and development of responsible business conduct in Belarus.

9. Corruption

According to official sources, most corruption cases involve soliciting and accepting bribes, fraud, and abuse of power, although anecdotal evidence indicates such corruption usually does not occur as part of day-to-day interaction between citizens and minor state officials. In Belarus, bribery is considered a form of corruption and is punishable with a maximum punishment of 10 years in jail and confiscation of property. The most corrupt sectors are considered to be state administration and procurement, the industrial sector, the construction industry, health care, and education. In the first half of 2020, Belarusian courts convicted 463 individuals “on corruption-related charges.” However, the absence of independent judicial and law enforcement systems, the lack of separation of powers, and a harried independent press largely barred from interaction with a nontransparent state bureaucracy make it virtually impossible to gauge the true scale of corruption.

Belarus has anti-corruption legislation consisting of certain provisions of the Criminal Code and Administrative Code as well as the Law on Public Service and the Law on Combating Corruption. The latter is the country’s main anti-corruption document and was adopted in 2015. Belarusian anti-corruption law covers family members of government officials and political figures. The country’s regulations require addressing any potential conflict of interests of parties seeking to win a government procurement contract. The list of such regulations include the July 13, 2012, law “On public procurement of goods (works, services),” the December 31, 2013, presidential decree “On conducting procurement procedures,” and the March 15, 2012, Council of Ministers resolution on the procurement of goods (works, services). Government organizations directly engaged in anti-corruption efforts are prosecutors’ offices, internal affairs, state security and state control agencies.

Belarus is a party to a number of international anti-corruption conventions and agreements. The Republic of Belarus has consistently ratified and complied with requirements of main international anti-corruption acts, such as the Convention of the Council of Europe 173 On criminal liability for corruption (S 173) (concluded in Strasbourg on 27 January, 1999); the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, signed by Belarus in Palermo on 24 December, 2000, and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (concluded in New York on 31 October, 2003); and the Civil Law Convention on Corruption (concluded in Strasbourg on 4 November, 1999) (ratified in 2005). Belarus also signed a number of the intergovernmental agreements to address this problem. Belarus is currently considering joining the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

In 2019, the Council of Europe’s (COE) Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) publicly declared Belarus non-compliant with GRECO’s anti-corruption standards.  This was GRECO’s first ever declaration of non-compliance. According to the COE, Belarus failed to address 20 out of 24 recommendations made in 2012; had not authorized the publication of the 2012 report or related compliance reports; and was non-responsive since 2017 to requests from GRECO to organize a high-level mission to Belarus. The majority of GRECO’s recommendations related to fundamental anti-corruption requirements, such as strengthening the independence of the judiciary and of the prosecution office, as well as increasing the operational autonomy of the law enforcement and limiting immunity protection of certain categories of persons. However, the COE contends that limited reporting indicates that corruption is particularly alarming higher up in the government hierarchy and in procurement for state-run enterprises.

According to Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perception Index, Belarus climbed from 70 to 66 out of 180 countries in the rankings.  In Belarus’ region, Poland ranked 36, Lithuania 38, Latvia 41, Ukraine 120, and Russia 138.

Resources to Report Corruption

General Prosecutor’s Office
Internatsionalnaya Street 22
Minsk, Belarus
+375 17 337-43-57
info@prokuratura.gov.by

Ms. Oksana Drebezova
Belarus National Contact
Transparency International
Levkova Street 15-113
Minsk, Belarus
+375 29 619 71 25
drebezovaoksana@gmail.com

10. Political and Security Environment

In the Embassy’s estimation, the potential is low for widespread, politically-inspired violence that would adversely affect foreign property interests.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Belarus has a highly skilled and well-educated work force, due to its advanced system of higher and specialized education. Wages are lower than in Western Europe, the United States, and even Russia.

Belarus has been a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO) since 1954 and is a party to almost 50 ILO conventions. In 2004, the ILO made several recommendations regarding workers’ rights to organize and freedom of association. However, Belarus has not adequately responded to the 2004 ILO Commission of Inquiry.

The Constitution, the Labor Code, and presidential decrees are the main documents regulating the Labor Market in Belarus. Prior to the 1999 Presidential Decree No. 29, the vast majority of the labor contracts in the country were open-ended work agreements. Decree No. 29 established a new option to employ workers on 1-5 year-long term contracts and to transfer current employees to these new type contracts. In 2019, more than 90 percent of employees in Belarus were working on term contracts.

The term contract system generally favors the employer. The employer can choose not to renew a contract upon its expiration without giving the employee a cause for dismissal. Technically, the employer can also refuse an employee’s proposed resignation before the contract term is up, which would then require the employee to argue their case in court. The employer, on the other hand, can terminate the contract at will. There are several protected employee groups that are exempt from early termination: pregnant women, women with children of up to 3 years old, and single parents with children under 14 years old. Additionally, the employer is obligated to renew contracts with women on maternity leave and with those employees who have reached pre-pension age at the end of their prior contract (53 years for women and 58 for men).

Severance pay in the case of reduction in force is 13 weeks of salary, and eight weeks’ notice is required for dismissal. However, severance pay only applies to workers on open-ended work agreements, less than 10 percent of all labor contracts in 2019. The law establishes a standard workweek of 40 hours and provides for at least one 24-hour rest period per week. Under the law, Belarusians receive mandatory overtime and nine days of holiday pay and overtime is limited to 10 hours a week, with a maximum of 180 hours of overtime each year. A non-standard work hour regime is allowed with the condition that the employee is provided with up to seven days of additional annual leave. In general, employees must be granted at least 24 calendar days of paid leave a year.

There are special provisions on employing foreign citizens who have no permanent residence permit. Such citizens have to secure a work permit, which can be usually granted only if an unemployed Belarusian citizen cannot perform the required work. To date, the Embassy has not heard of discriminatory or excessively onerous visa, residence or work permit requirements inhibiting foreign investors, nor of restrictions placed on the numbers or duration of employment of foreign managers brought in to supervise foreign investment projects. In practice, however, few firms, excluding Belarus’ IT sector, employ significant numbers of foreigners. Those that do tend to hire Russian citizens, who benefit from Russia’s and Belarus’ common employment regulations streamlined thanks to their membership in the EAEU.

In July 2000 the United States withdrew benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) for Belarus. This decision was based on a 1997 American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) petition to the United States Trade Representative (USTR). The petition alleged that Belarus was not acting in accordance with the Trade Act of 1974, as amended, regarding internationally recognized worker rights. These include the freedom to form independent trade unions and the right to organize and bargain collectively. The rights of independent trade unions are often subject to government attack, as documented in the Department of State’s Report on Human Rights Practices for 2019: https://2017-2021.state.gov/reports/2019-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/belarus/

The official unemployment rate in Belarus has been steady in recent years at or just below one percent. According to ILO methodology, unemployment in Belarus in 2019 was approximately five percent.

12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs

Belarus has been a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) of the World Bank since December 1992. In July 2011, Belarus ratified amendments to the Convention on Establishing MIGA and concluded agreements on the legal protection of guaranteed foreign investment and the use of local currency. According to Belarus’ Economy Ministry, these agreements finalized procedures for Belarus to become a full member of MIGA.

The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (formerly known as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation) is not active in Belarus and does not provide political risk insurance for investments in this country. Under Section 5 (Sense of Congress Relating to Sanctions Against Belarus), paragraph C (Prohibition on Loans and Investment) of the Belarus Democracy Act signed by the president on October 20, 2004, no loan, credit guarantee, insurance, financing, or other similar financial assistance should be extended by any agency of the United States government (including the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation) to the Government of Belarus, except with respect to the provision of humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

According to official statistics, Belarus received USD 1.1 billion in FDI (on a net basis) in January-September 2019, USD 1.6 billion in 2018, USD 1.24 billion in FDI in 2017, and USD 1.3 billion in 2016. Russia (24.1 percent), Cyprus (20.6 percent), UAE (5.1 percent), Germany (4.9 percent), Switzerland (4.9 percent), UK (4.2 percent), China (4.1 percent), Netherlands (3.9 percent), USA (3.3 percent), and Poland (3.0 percent) are considered the top ten foreign investors in Belarus.

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $63,100 2018 $59,700 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $54.5 2019 N/A BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $39 2019 N/A BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 14.3 2018 34.8 UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

* Source for Host Country Data:

For detailed statistics on foreign direct investments in and outside Belarus for 2010-2019 see the website of Belarus’ National Bank (http://www.nbrb.by/engl/statistics/ForeignDirectInvestments/ ) and Economy Ministry (https://www.economy.gov.by/ru/pezultat-ru/ ). 

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 13,060 100% Total Outward 1,443 100%
Russian Federation 4,042 30.9% Russian Federation 1,191 82.5%
Cyprus 2,303 17.6% Cyprus 70.8 4.9%
Austria 1,070 8.2% Lithuania 50 3.5%
Turkey 552 4.2% Ukraine 43.3 3.0%
China 368 2.8 Venezuela 28.5 1.9%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 2,038 100% All Countries 2 100% All Countries 2036 100%
Luxembourg 811 39.7% Estonia 1 50% Luxembourg 811 39.7%
United States 503 24.6% Russian Federation 1 50% United States 503 24.6%
Germany 163 7.9% Germany 163 7.9%
Russian Federation 151 7.4% Russian Federation 151 7.4%
Denmark 78 3.8% Denmark 78 3.8%

Hong Kong

Executive Summary

Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on July 1, 1997, with its status defined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. Under the concept of “one country, two systems,” the PRC government promised that Hong Kong will retain its political, economic, and judicial systems for 50 years after reversion.  The PRC’s imposition of the National Security Law on June 30 undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy and introduced heightened uncertainty for foreign and local firms operating in Hong Kong.  As a result, U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Hong Kong may be subject to increased levels of surveillance, as well as arbitrary enforcement of laws and detention for purposes other than maintaining law and order.  Hong Kong generally pursues a free market philosophy with minimal government intervention. The Hong Kong Government (HKG) generally welcomes foreign investment, neither offering special incentives nor imposing disincentives for foreign investors.

Hong Kong provides for no distinction in law or practice between investments by foreign-controlled companies and those controlled by local interests. Foreign firms and individuals are able to incorporate their operations in Hong Kong, register branches of foreign operations, and set up representative offices without encountering discrimination or undue regulation. There is no restriction on the ownership of such operations. Company directors are not required to be citizens of, or resident in, Hong Kong. Reporting requirements are straightforward and are not onerous.

Hong Kong remains a  popular destination for U.S. investment and trade. Despite a population of less than eight million, Hong Kong is America’s fifteenth-largest export market, ninth-largest for total agricultural products, and sixth-largest for high-value consumer food and beverage products. Hong Kong’s economy, with world-class institutions and regulatory systems, is based on competitive financial and professional services, trading, logistics, and tourism, though tourism suffered steep drops in 2019 due to sustained political protests. The service sector accounts for more than 90 percent of its nearly USD 368 billion gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019. Hong Kong hosts a large number of regional headquarters and regional offices. More than 1,400 U.S. companies are based in Hong Kong, with more than half regional in scope. Finance and related services companies, such as banks, law firms, and accountancies, dominate the pack. Seventy of the world’s 100 largest banks have operations here.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 10 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 3 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/
en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 13 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2018 USD 82,546 http://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 USD 50,300 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Hong Kong is the world’s third-largest recipient of foreign direct investment (FDI) according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) World Investment Report 2019. The HKG’s InvestHK encourages inward investment, offering free advice and services to support companies from the planning stage through to the launch and expansion of their business. U.S. and other foreign firms can participate in government financed and subsidized research and development programs on a national treatment basis. Hong Kong does not discriminate against foreign investors by prohibiting, limiting, or conditioning foreign investment in a sector of the economy.

Capital gains are not taxed, nor are there withholding taxes on dividends and royalties. Profits can be freely converted and remitted. Foreign-owned and Hong Kong-owned company profits are taxed at the same rate – 16.5 percent. The tax rate on the first USD 255,000 profit for all companies is currently 8.25 percent. No preferential or discriminatory export and import policies affect foreign investors. Domestic industries receive no direct subsidies. Foreign investments face no disincentives, such as quotas, bonds, deposits, nor other similar regulations.

According to HKG statistics, 4,031 overseas companies had regional operations registered in Hong Kong in 2019. The United States has the largest number with 735. Hong Kong is working to attract more start-ups as it works to develop its technology sector and about 34 percent of start-ups in Hong Kong come from overseas.

Hong Kong’s Business Facilitation Advisory Committee is a platform for the HKG to consult the private sector on regulatory proposals and implementation of new or proposed regulations.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign investors can invest in any business and own up to 100 percent of equity. Like domestic private entities, foreign investors have the right to engage in all forms of remunerative activity.

The HKG owns all land in Hong Kong, which the HKG administers by granting long-term leases without transferring title. Expatriates claim that a 15 percent Buyer’s Stamp Duty on all non-permanent-resident and corporate buyers discriminates against them.

The main exceptions to the HKG’s open foreign investment policy are:

Broadcasting – Voting control of free-to-air television stations by non-residents is limited to 49 percent. There are also residency requirements for the directors of broadcasting companies.

Legal Services – Foreign lawyers at foreign law firms may only practice the law of their jurisdiction. Foreign law firms may become “local” firms after satisfying certain residency and other requirements. Localized firms may thereafter hire local attorneys, but must do so on a 1:1 basis with foreign lawyers. Foreign law firms can also form associations with local law firms.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Hong Kong last conducted the Trade Policy Review in 2018 through the World Trade Organization (WTO). https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/g380_e.pdf 

Business Facilitation

The Efficiency Office under the Innovation and Technology Bureau is responsible for business facilitation initiatives aimed at improving the business regulatory environment of Hong Kong.

The e-Registry (https://www.eregistry.gov.hk/icris-ext/apps/por01a/index) is a convenient and integrated online platform provided by the Companies Registry and the Inland Revenue Department for applying for company incorporation and business registration. Applicants, for incorporation of local companies or for registration of non-Hong Kong companies, must first register for a free user account, presenting an original identification document or a certified true copy of the identification document. The Companies Registry normally issues the Business Registration Certificate and the Certificate of Incorporation on the same day for applications for company incorporation. For applications for registration of a non-Hong Kong company, it issues the Business Registration Certificate and the Certificate of Registration two weeks after submission.

Outward Investment

As a free market economy, Hong Kong does not promote or incentivize outward investment, nor restrict domestic investors from investing abroad. Mainland China and British Virgin Islands were the top two destinations for Hong Kong’s outward investments in 2018.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Hong Kong’s regulations and policies typically strive to avoid distortions or impediments to the efficient mobilization and allocation of capital and to encourage competition. Bureaucratic procedures and “red tape” are usually transparent and held to a minimum.

In amending or making any legislation, including investment laws, the HKG conducts a three-month public consultation on the issue concerned which then informs the drafting of the bill. Lawmakers then discuss draft bills and vote. Hong Kong’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms.

Gazette is the official publication of the HKG. This website https://www.gld.gov.hk/egazette/english/whatsnew/whatsnew.html is the centralized online location where laws, regulations, draft bills, notices and tenders are published. All public comments received by the HKG are published at the websites of relevant policy bureaus.

The Office of the Ombudsman, established in 1989 by the Ombudsman Ordinance, is Hong Kong’s independent watchdog of public governance.

Public finances are regulated by clear laws and regulations. The Basic Law prescribes that authorities strive to achieve a fiscal balance and avoid deficits. There is a clear commitment by the HKG to publish fiscal information under the Audit Ordinance and the Public Finance Ordinance, which prescribe deadlines for the publication of annual accounts and require the submission of annual spending estimates to the Legislative Council (LegCo). There are few contingent liabilities of the HKG, with details of these items published about seven months after the release of the fiscal budget. In addition, LegCo members have a responsibility to enhance budgetary transparency by urging government officials to explain the government’s rationale for the allocation of resources. All LegCo meetings are open to the public so that the government’s responses are available to the general public.

International Regulatory Considerations

Hong Kong is an independent member of WTO and Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC), adopting international norms. It notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade and was the first WTO member to ratify the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). Hong Kong has achieved a 100 percent rate of implementation commitments.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Hong Kong’s common law system is based on the United Kingdom’s, and judges are appointed by the Chief Executive on the recommendation of the Judicial Officers Recommendation Commission.. Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable and they are adjudicated in the court system.

Hong Kong’s commercial law covers a wide range of issues related to doing business. Most of Hong Kong’s contract law is found in the reported decisions of the courts in Hong Kong and other common law jurisdictions.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Hong Kong’s extensive body of commercial and company law generally follows that of the United Kingdom, including the common law and rules of equity. Most statutory law is made locally. The local court system, which is independent of the government, provides for effective enforcement of contracts, dispute settlement, and protection of rights. Foreign and domestic companies register under the same rules and are subject to the same set of business regulations.

The Hong Kong Code on Takeovers and Mergers (1981) sets out general principles for acceptable standards of commercial behavior.

The Companies Ordinance (Chapter 622) applies to Hong Kong-incorporated companies and contains the statutory provisions governing compulsory acquisitions. For companies incorporated in jurisdictions other than Hong Kong, relevant local company laws apply. The Companies Ordinance requires companies to retain information about significant controllers accurate and up-to-date.

The Securities and Futures Ordinance (Chapter 571) contains provisions requiring shareholders to disclose interests in securities in listed companies and provides listed companies with the power to investigate ownership of interests in its shares. It regulates the disclosure of inside information by listed companies and restricts insider dealing and other market misconduct.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The independent Competition Commission (CC) investigates anti-competitive conduct that prevents, restricts, or distorts competition in Hong Kong. In January 2019, a newly-established Hong Kong Seaport Alliance (HKSA) announced that they had agreed to operate and manage 23 berths, a reported market share of 95 percent, across eight terminals at Kwai Tsing Container Terminal in a bid to deliver more efficient services to carriers and enhance the overall port’s competitiveness.  The CC subsequently launched, as a matter of priority, a probe, still underway as of March 2020, into whether the HKSA acted in contravention of competition rules.

Expropriation and Compensation

The U.S. Consulate General is not aware of any expropriations in the recent past. Expropriation of private property in Hong Kong may occur if it is clearly in the public interest and only for well-defined purposes such as implementation of public works projects. Expropriations are to be conducted through negotiations, in a non-discriminatory manner in accordance with established principles of international law. Investors in and lenders to expropriated entities are to receive prompt, adequate, and effective compensation. If agreement cannot be reached on the amount payable, either party can refer the claim to the Land Tribunal.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

The Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention) and the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention) apply to Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s Arbitration Ordinance provides for enforcement of awards under the 1958 New York Convention.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The U.S. Consulate General is not aware of any investor-state disputes in recent years involving U.S. or other foreign investors or contractors and the HKG. Private investment disputes are normally handled in the courts or via private mediation. Alternatively, disputes may be referred to the Hong Kong International Arbitration Center.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The HKG accepts international arbitration of investment disputes between itself and investors and has adopted the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law model law for domestic and international commercial arbitration. It has with mainland China a Memorandum of Understanding modelled on the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention) for reciprocal enforcement of arbitral awards.

Under Hong Kong’s Arbitration Ordinance emergency relief granted by an emergency arbitrator before the establishment of an arbitral tribunal, whether in or outside Hong Kong, is enforceable. The Arbitration Ordinance stipulates that all disputes over intellectual property rights may be resolved by arbitration.

The Mediation Ordinance details the rights and obligations of participants in mediation, especially related to confidentiality and admissibility of mediation communications in evidence.

Third party funding for arbitration and mediation came into force on February 1, 2019.

Foreign judgments in civil and commercial matters may be enforced in Hong Kong by common law or under the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Ordinance, which facilitates reciprocal recognition and enforcement of judgments on the basis of reciprocity. A judgment originating from a jurisdiction that does not recognize a Hong Kong judgment may still be recognized and enforced by the Hong Kong courts, provided that all the relevant requirements of common law are met. However, a judgment will not be enforced in Hong Kong if it can be shown that either the judgment or its enforcement is contrary to Hong Kong’s public policy.

In January 2019, Hong Kong and mainland China signed a new Arrangement on Reciprocal Recognition and Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters by the Courts of the mainland and of Hong Kong to facilitate enforcement of judgments in the two jurisdictions. The arrangement, which is pending implementing legislation, will cover the following key features: contractual and tortious disputes in general; commercial contracts, joint venture disputes, and outsourcing contracts; intellectual property rights, matrimonial or family matters; and judgments related to civil damages awarded in criminal cases.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Hong Kong’s Bankruptcy Ordinance provides the legal framework to enable i) a creditor to file a bankruptcy petition with the court against an individual, firm, or partner of a firm who owes him/her money; and ii) a debtor who is unable to repay his/her debts to file a bankruptcy petition against himself/herself with the court. Bankruptcy offences are subject to criminal liability.

The Companies (Winding Up and Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance aims to improve and modernize the corporate winding-up regime by increasing creditor protection and further enhancing the integrity of the winding-up process.

The Commercial Credit Reference Agency collates information about the indebtedness and credit history of SMEs and makes such information available to members of the Hong Kong Association of Banks and the Hong Kong Association of Deposit Taking Companies.

Hong Kong’s average duration of bankruptcy proceedings is just under ten months, ranking 45th in the world for resolving insolvency, according to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 rankings.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Hong Kong imposes no export performance or local content requirements as a condition for establishing, maintaining, or expanding a foreign investment. There are no requirements that Hong Kong residents own shares, that foreign equity is reduced over time, or that technology is transferred on certain terms. The HKG does not have a practice of issuing guarantees or jointly financing foreign direct investment projects.

The HKG allows a deduction on interest paid to overseas-associated corporations and provides an 8.25 percent concessionary tax rate derived by a qualifying corporate treasury center.

The HKG offers an effective tax rate of around three to four percent to attract aircraft leasing companies to develop business in Hong Kong.

The HKG has set up multiple programs to assist enterprises in securing trade finance and business capital, expanding markets, and enhancing overall competitiveness. These support measures are available to any enterprise in Hong Kong, irrespective of origin.

Hong Kong-registered companies with a significant proportion of their research, design, development, production, management, or general business activities located in Hong Kong are eligible to apply to the Innovation and Technology Fund (ITF), which provides financial support for research and development (R&D) activities in Hong Kong.  Hong Kong Science & Technology Parks (Science Park) and Cyberport are HKG-owned enterprises providing subsidized rent and financial support through incubation programs to early-stage startups.

The HKG offers additional tax deductions for domestic expenditure on R&D incurred by firms. Firms enjoy a 300 percent tax deduction for the first HKD 2 million (USD 255,000) qualifying R&D expenditure and a 200 percent deduction for the remainder. Since 2017, the Financial Secretary has announced over HKD 120 billion (USD 15.3 billion) in funding to support innovation and technology development in Hong Kong.  These funds are largely directed at supporting and adding programs through the ITF, Science Park, and Cyberport.

HKD 20 billion (USD 2.6 billion) has been earmarked for the Research Endowment Fund, which provides research grants to academics and universities.  Another HKD 10 billion (USD 1.3 billion) has been set aside to provide financial incentives to foreign universities to partner with Hong Kong universities and establish joint research projects housed in two research clusters in Science Park, one specializing in artificial intelligence and robotics and the other specializing in biotechnology.  Another HKD 20 billion (USD 2.6 billion) has been appropriated to begin construction on a second, larger Science Park, located on the border with Shenzhen, which is intended to provide a much larger number of subsidized-rent facilities for R&D which are also expected to have special rules allowing mainland residents to work onsite without satisfying normal immigration procedures.

In September 2018, the HKG launched the Technology Talent Admission Scheme (TechTAS) and the Postdoctoral Hub Program (PHP) to attract non-local talent and nurture local talent. The TechTAS provides a fast-track arrangement for eligible technology companies/institutes to admit overseas and mainland technology talent to undertake R&D for them in the areas of biotechnology, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, robotics, data analytics, financial technologies, and material science are eligible for application. The PHP provides funding support to recipients of the ITF as well as incubatees and tenants of Science Park and Cyberport to recruit up to two postdoctoral talents for R&D. Applicants must possess a doctoral degree in a science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related discipline from either a local university or a well-recognized non-local institution.

The HKG will set up a USD 256.4 million Re-industrialization Funding Scheme in 2020 to subsidize manufacturers, on a matching basis, setting up smart production lines in Hong Kong.

In May 2018, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) launched the Pilot Bond Grant Scheme with enhanced tax concessions for qualifying debt instruments in order to enhance Hong Kong’s competitiveness in the international bond market.

In February 2020, the Financial Secretary announced that the HKG will inject USD 44 million for a pilot subsidy scheme to encourage the logistics industry to enhance productivity through the application of technology.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Hong Kong, a free port without foreign trade zones, has modern and efficient infrastructure making it a regional trade, finance, and services center. Rapid growth has placed severe demands on that infrastructure, necessitating plans for major new investments in transportation and shipping facilities, including a planned expansion of container terminal facilities, additional roadway and railway networks, major residential/commercial developments, community facilities, and environmental protection projects. Construction on a third runway at Hong Kong International Airport is scheduled for completion by 2023.

Hong Kong and mainland China have a Free Trade Agreement Transshipment Facilitation Scheme that enables mainland-bound consignments passing through Hong Kong to enjoy tariff reductions in the mainland. The arrangement covers goods traded between mainland China and its trading partners, including ASEAN members, Australia, Bangladesh, Chile, Costa Rica, Iceland, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Peru, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Switzerland and Taiwan.

The HKG launched in December 2018 phase one of the Trade Single Window (TSW) to provide a one-stop electronic platform for submitting ten types of trade documents, promoting cross-border customs cooperation, and expediting trade declaration and customs clearance. Phase two is expected to be implemented in 2023.

The latest version of CEPA has established principles of trade facilitation, including simplifying customs procedures, enhancing transparency, and strengthening cooperation.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The HKG does not mandate local employment or performance requirements. It does not follow a forced localization policy making foreign investors use domestic content in goods or technology.

Foreign nationals normally need a visa to live or work in Hong Kong. Short-term visitors are permitted to conduct business negotiations and sign contracts while on a visitor’s visa or entry permit. Companies employing people from overseas must demonstrate that a prospective employee has special skills, knowledge, or experience not readily available in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong allows free and uncensored flow of information.  The freedom and privacy of communication is enshrined in Basic Law Article 30. The HKG is required to follow due process and warrant requirements to engage in electronic surveillance or demand most communications records from telecoms providers. The HKG has no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and does not interfere with data center operations.

Hong Kong does not currently restrict transfer of personal data outside the SAR, but the dormant Section 33 the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance would prohibit such transfers unless the personal data owner consents or other specified conditions are met.  The Privacy Commissioner is authorized to bring Section 33 into effect at any time, but it has been dormant since 1995. Hong Kong’sSecurities and Futures Commission is considering new data storage rules for financial institutions.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Basic Law ensures protection of leaseholders’ rights in long-term leases that are the basis of the SAR’s real property system.  The Basic Law also protects the lawful traditional rights and interests of the indigenous inhabitants of the New Territories. The real estate sector, one of Hong Kong’s pillar industries, is equipped with a sound banking mortgage system. HK ranked 51st for ease of registering property, according to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 rankings.

Land transactions in Hong Kong operate on a deeds registration system governed by the Land Registration Ordinance. The Land Titles Ordinance provides greater certainty on land title and simplifies the conveyancing process.

Intellectual Property Rights

Hong Kong generally provides robust intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and enforcement and for the most part has instituted an IP regime consistent with international standards. Hong Kong has effective IPR enforcement capacity, a judicial system that supports enforcement efforts with an effective public outreach program that discourages IPR-infringing activities.   Despite the robustness of Hong Kong’s IP system, challenges remain, particularly in copyright infringement and effective enforcement against the heavy, bi-directional flow of counterfeit goods.

Hong Kong’s commercial and company laws provide for effective enforcement of contracts and protection of corporate rights. Hong Kong has filed its notice of compliance with the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) requirements of the WTO. The Intellectual Property Department, which includes the Trademarks and Patents Registries, is the focal point for the development of Hong Kong’s IP regime. The Customs and Excise Department (CED) is the sole enforcement agency for intellectual property rights (IPR). Hong Kong has acceded to the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Bern Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, and the Geneva and Paris Universal Copyright Conventions. Hong Kong also continues to participate in the World Intellectual Property Organization as part of mainland China’s delegation; the HKG has seconded an officer from CED to INTERPOL in Lyon, France to further collaborate on IPR enforcement.

The HKG devotes significant resources to IPR enforcement. Hong Kong courts have imposed longer jail terms than in the past for violations of Hong Kong’s Copyright Ordinance. CED works closely with foreign customs agencies and the World Customs Organization to share best practices and to identify, disrupt, and dismantle criminal organizations engaging in IP theft that operate in multiple countries. The government has conducted public education efforts to encourage respect for IPR. Pirated and counterfeit products remain available on a small scale at the retail level throughout Hong Kong. CED detected a total of 888 infringement cases in 2019, a 6.6 percent decrease from 2018. Of these cases, 203 involved internet crime.

Other IPR challenges include end-use piracy of software and textbooks, internet peer-to-peer downloading, and the illicit importation and transshipment of pirated and counterfeit goods from mainland China and other places in Asia. Hong Kong authorities have taken steps to address these challenges by strengthening collaboration with mainland Chinese authorities, prosecuting end-use software piracy, and monitoring suspect shipments at points of entry. It has also established a task force to monitor and crack down on internet-based peer-to-peer piracy.

The Drug Office of Hong Kong imposes a drug registration requirement that requires applicants for new drug registrations make a non-infringement patent declaration. The Copyright Ordinance protects any original copyrighted work created or published anywhere in the world and criminalizes copying and distribution of protected works for business and circumventing technological protection measures. The Ordinance also provides rental rights for sound recordings, computer programs, films, and comic books; in addition to including enhanced penalty provisions and other legal tools to facilitate enforcement. The law defines possession of an infringing copy of computer programs, movies, TV dramas, and musical recordings (including visual and sound recordings) for use in business as an offense, but provides no criminal liability for other categories of works.  In November 2019, an amendment bill to implement the Marrakesh Treaty was referred to the LegCo’s House Committee, which was however caught in a gridlock as it failed to elect a chairman after rounds of meetings.

The HKG has consulted unsuccessfully with internet service providers and content user representatives on a voluntary framework for IPR protection in the digital environment. It has also failed to pass amendments to the Copyright Ordinance that would enhance copyright protection against online piracy. As of February 2020, the Infringing Website List Scheme (IWLS) established by the Hong Kong Creative Industries Association to clamp down on websites that display pirated content reportedly included 60 infringing websites in the portal. In addition, 25 HKG agencies have been assigned with an individual password for checking with the IWLS prior placing digital advertisements and tenders.

The Patent Ordinance allows for granting an independent patent in Hong Kong based on patents granted by the United Kingdom and Mainland China. Patents granted in Hong Kong are independent and capable of being tested for validity, rectified, amended, revoked, and enforced in Hong Kong courts. In December 2019, the Original Grant Patent system came into operation. The new system takes into account the patent systems generally established in regional and international patent treaties, while retaining the existing re-registration system for the granting of standard patents.

The Registered Design Ordinance is modeled on the EU design registration system. To be registered, a design must be new and the system requires no substantive examination. The initial period of five years protection is extendable for four periods of five years each, up to 25 years.

Hong Kong’s trademark law is TRIPS-compatible and allows for registration of trademarks relating to services. All trademark registrations originally filed in Hong Kong are valid for seven years and renewable for 14-year periods. Proprietors of trademarks registered elsewhere must apply anew and satisfy all requirements of Hong Kong law. When evidence of use is required, such use must have occurred in Hong Kong. In March 2019, the HKG introduced into LegCo a draft bill to implement the Madrid Protocol. The bill is waiting for its second and third readings on the LegCo floor. Upon enactment of the bill and completion of other preparatory work, the HKG will liaise with the Mainland to seek application of the Madrid Protocol to Hong Kong beginning in 2022.

Hong Kong has no specific ordinance to cover trade secrets; however, the government has a duty under the Trade Descriptions Ordinance to protect information from being disclosed to other parties. The Trade Descriptions Ordinance prohibits false trade descriptions, forged trademarks, and misstatements regarding goods and services supplied in the course of trade.

There are eight types of IP rights for which the capital expenditure, such as registration expenditure and purchase cost, are deductible.

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

There are no impediments to the free flow of financial resources. Non-interventionist economic policies, complete freedom of capital movement, and a well-understood regulatory and legal environment make Hong Kong a regional and international financial center. It has one of the most active foreign exchange markets in Asia.

Asset and wealth managed in Hong Kong posted a record high of USD 3.1 trillion in 2018 (the latest figure available), with two-thirds of that coming from overseas investors. In order to enhance the competitiveness of Hong Kong’s fund industry, open-ended fund companies as well as onshore and offshore funds are offered a profits tax exemption.

The HKMA’s Infrastructure Financing Facilitation Office (IFFO) provides a platform for pooling the efforts of investors, banks, and the financial sector to offer comprehensive financial services for infrastructure projects in emerging markets. IFFO is an advisory partner of World Bank Group’s Global Infrastructure Facility.

Under the Insurance Companies Ordinance, insurance companies are authorized by the Insurance Authority to transact business in Hong Kong. As of March 2020, there were 163 authorized insurance companies in Hong Kong, 70 of them foreign or mainland Chinese companies.

The Hong Kong Stock Exchange’s total market capitalization dropped by 28.0 percent to USD 4.9 trillion in 2019, with 2,449 listed firms at year-end. Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited, a listed company, operates the stock and futures exchanges. The Securities and Futures Commission, an independent statutory body outside the civil service, has licensing and supervisory powers to ensure the integrity of markets and protection of investors.

No discriminatory legal constraints exist for foreign securities firms establishing operations in Hong Kong via branching, acquisition, or subsidiaries.  Rules governing operations are the same for all firms. No laws or regulations specifically authorize private firms to adopt articles of incorporation or association that limit or prohibit foreign investment, participation, or control.

In 2019, a total of 284 Chinese enterprises had “H” share listings on the stock exchange, with combined market capitalization of USD 823.9 billion. The Shanghai-Hong Kong and Shenzhen-Hong Kong Stock Connects allow individual investors to cross trade Hong Kong and mainland stocks. In December 2018, the ETF Connect, which was planned to allow international and mainland investors to trade in exchange-traded fund products listed in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Shenzhen, was put on hold indefinitely due to “technical issues.”

By the end of 2019, 50 mainland mutual funds and 23 Hong Kong mutual funds were allowed to be distributed in each other’s markets through the mainland-Hong Kong Mutual Recognition of Funds scheme. Hong Kong also has mutual recognition of funds programs with Switzerland, Ireland, France, the United Kingdom, and Luxembourg.

Hong Kong has developed its debt market with the Exchange Fund bills and notes program. Hong Kong Dollar debt stood at USD 278.0 billion by the end of 2019. As of February 2020, RMB 1,056.6 billion (USD 147.9 billion) of offshore RMB bonds were issued in Hong Kong. Multinational enterprises, including McDonald’s and Caterpillar, have also issued debt. The Bond Connect, a mutual market access scheme, allows investors from mainland China and overseas to trade in each other’s respective bond markets through a financial infrastructure linkage in Hong Kong.

The HKG requires workers and employers to contribute to retirement funds under the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) scheme. Contributions are expected to channel roughly USD five billion annually into various investment vehicles. By the end of 2019, the net asset values of MPF funds amounted to USD 124.3 billion.

Money and Banking System

Hong Kong has a three-tier system of deposit-taking institutions: licensed banks (163), restricted license banks (17), and deposit-taking companies (13). HSBC is Hong Kong’s largest banking group. With its majority-owned subsidiary Hang Seng Bank, HSBC controls more than 40.3 percent of Hong Kong Dollar (HKD) deposits. The Bank of China (Hong Kong) is the second-largest banking group with 13.9 percent of HKD deposits throughout 200 branches. In total, the five largest banks in Hong Kong had more than USD 1.8 trillion in total assets at the end of 2018. Thirty-five U.S. “authorized financial institutions” operate in Hong Kong, and most banks in Hong Kong maintain U.S. correspondent relationships. Full implementation of the Basel III capital, liquidity, and disclosure requirements completed in 2019.

Credit in Hong Kong is allocated on market terms and is available to foreign investors on a non-discriminatory basis. The private sector has access to the full spectrum of credit instruments as provided by Hong Kong’s banking and financial system. Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms. The HKMA, the de facto central bank, is responsible for maintaining the stability of the banking system and managing the Exchange Fund that backs Hong Kong’s currency. Real Time Gross Settlement helps minimize risks in the payment system and brings Hong Kong in line with international standards.

Banks in Hong Kong have in recent years strengthened anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing controls, including the adoption of more stringent customer due diligence (CDD) process for existing and new customers. In September 2016, the HKMA issued a circular stressing that “CDD measures adopted by banks must be proportionate to the risk level and banks are not required to implement overly stringent CDD processes.”

The HKMA welcomes the establishment of virtual banks, which are subject to the same set of supervisory principles and requirements applicable to conventional banks. The HKMA has granted eight virtual banking licenses by end-March 2020.

The HKMA’s Fintech Facilitation Office (FFO) aims to promote Hong Kong as a fintech hub in Asia. FFO has launched the faster payment system to enable banks customers to make cross-bank/e-wallet payments easily and created a blockchain-based trade finance platform to reduce errors and risks of fraud. The HKMA has signed nine fintech co-operation agreements with the regulatory authorities of Abu Dhabi, Brazil, Dubai, France, Poland, Singapore, Switzerland, Thailand and the United Kingdom.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Conversion and inward/outward transfers of funds are not restricted. The HKD is a freely convertible currency linked via de facto currency board to the U.S. dollar.  The exchange rate is allowed to fluctuate in a narrow band between HKD 7.75 – HKD 7.85 = USD 1.

Remittance Policies

There are no recent changes to or plans to change investment remittance policies. Hong Kong has no restrictions on the remittance of profits and dividends derived from investment, nor reporting requirements on cross-border remittances. Foreign investors bring capital into Hong Kong and remit it through the open exchange market.

Hong Kong has anti-money laundering (AML) legislation allowing the tracing and confiscation of proceeds derived from drug-trafficking and organized crime. Hong Kong has an anti-terrorism law that allows authorities to freeze funds and financial assets belonging to terrorists. Travelers arriving in Hong Kong with currency or bearer negotiable instruments (CBNIs) exceeding HKD 120,000 (USD 15,385) must make a written declaration to the CED. For a large quantity of CBNIs imported or exported in a cargo consignment, an advanced electronic declaration must be made to the CED.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Future Fund, Hong Kong’s wealth fund, was established in 2016 with an endowment of USD 28.2 billion. The fund seeks higher returns through long-term investments and adopts a “passive” role as a portfolio investor. About half of the Future Fund has been deployed in alternative assets, mainly global private equity and overseas real estate, over a three-year period. The rest is placed with the Exchange Fund’s Investment Portfolio, which follows the Santiago Principles, for an initial ten-year period. In February 2020, the HKG announced that it will deploy 10 percent of the Future Fund to establish a new portfolio focusing on domestic investments.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Hong Kong has several major HKG-owned enterprises classified as “statutory bodies.” Hong Kong is party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) within the framework of WTO. Annex 3 of the GPA lists as statutory bodies the Housing Authority, Hospital Authority, Airport Authority, Mass Transit Railway Corporation Limited, and the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation, which procure in accordance with the agreement.

The HKG provides more than half the population with subsidized housing, along with most hospital and education services from childhood through the university level. The government also owns major business enterprises, including the stock exchange, railway, and airport.

Conflicts occasionally arise between the government’s roles as owner and policy-maker. Industry observers have recommended that the government establish a separate entity to coordinate its ownership of government-held enterprises and initiate a transparent process of nomination to the boards of government-affiliated entities. Other recommendations from the private sector include establishing a clear separation between industrial policy and the government’s ownership function, and minimizing exemptions of government-affiliated enterprises from general laws.

The Competition Law exempts all but six of the statutory bodies from the law’s purview. While the government’s private sector ownership interests do not materially impede competition in Hong Kong’s most important economic sectors, industry representatives have encouraged the government to adhere more closely to the Guidelines on Corporate Governance of State-owned Enterprises of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Privatization Program

All major utilities in Hong Kong, except water, are owned and operated by private enterprises, usually under an agreement framework by which the HKG regulates each utility’s management.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The Hong Kong Stock Exchange adopts a higher standard of disclosure – ‘comply or explain’ – about its environmental key performance indicators for listed companies. Results of a consultation process to review its environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting guidelines indicate strong support for enhancing the ESG reporting framework. It will implement proposals from the consultation process in July 2020. Because Hong Kong is not a member of the OECD, OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises are not applicable to Hong Kong companies. The HKG, however, commends enterprises for fulfilling their social responsibility.

9. Corruption

Mainland China ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in January 2006, and it was extended to Hong Kong in February 2006. The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is responsible for combating corruption and has helped Hong Kong develop a track record for combating corruption. U.S. firms have not identified corruption as an obstacle to FDI. A bribe to a foreign official is a criminal act, as is the giving or accepting of bribes, for both private individuals and government employees. Offences are punishable by imprisonment and large fines.

The Hong Kong Ethics Development Center (HKEDC), established by the ICAC, promotes business and professional ethics to sustain a level-playing field in Hong Kong. The International Good Practice Guidance – Defining and Developing an Effective Code of Conduct for Organizations of the Professional Accountants in Business Committee published by the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) and is in use with the permission of IFAC.

Resources to Report Corruption

Simon Pei, Commissioner
Independent Commission Against Corruption
303 Java Road, North Point, Hong Kong
+852-2826-3111
Email: com-office@icac.org.hk

10. Political and Security Environment

Hong Kong experienced sustained political unrest in 2019, with several protests turning violent at times. There were also instances of individuals detonating improvised incendiary devices or improvised explosive devices.  The U.S. Consulate General is not aware of recent incidents involving politically motivated damage to projects or installations, though protesters regularly vandalized companies linked to mainland China or associated with pro-government views.  Some companies faced pressure from mainland China to take political stances against Hong Kong protesters.  Beijing’s imposition of the National Security Law on June 30, 2020 has introduced heightened uncertainties for companies operating in Hong Kong.  As a result, U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Hong Kong may be subject to increased levels of surveillance, as well as arbitrary enforcement of laws and detention for purposes other than maintaining law and order.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Hong Kong’s unemployment rate stood at 3.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019, with the unemployment rate of youth aged 15-19 rising to 10.2 percent. In 2019, skilled personnel working as administrators, managers, professionals, and associate professionals accounted for 41.3 percent of the total working population. At the end of March 2019, there were about 391,500 foreign domestic helpers working in Hong Kong. In 2019, about 18,931 foreign professionals came to work in the city, more than 3,000 fewer than the previous year. The Employees Retraining Board provides skills re-training for local employees. To address a shortage of highly skilled technical and financial professionals, the HKG seeks to attract qualified foreign and mainland Chinese workers.

The Employment Ordinance (EO) and the Employees’ Compensation Ordinance prohibit the termination of employment in certain circumstances: 1) Any pregnant employee who has at least four weeks’ service and who has served notice of her pregnancy; 2) Any employee who is on paid statutory sick leave and; 3) Any employee who gives evidence or information in connection with the enforcement of the EO or relating to any accident at work, cooperates in any investigation of his employer, is involved in trade union activity, or serves jury duty may not be dismissed because of those circumstances. Breach of these prohibitions is a criminal offence.

According to the EO, someone employed under a continuous contract for not less than 24 months is eligible for severance payment if: 1) dismissed by reason of redundancy; 2) under a fixed term employment contract that expires without being renewed due to redundancy; or 3) laid off.

Unemployment benefits are income and asset tested on an individual basis if living alone; if living with other family members, the total income and assets of all family members are taken into consideration for eligibility. Recipients must be between the ages of 15-59, capable of work, and actively seeking full-time employment.

Parties in a labor dispute can consult the free and voluntary conciliation service offered by the Labor Department (LD). A conciliation officer appointed by the LD will help parties reach a contractually binding settlement. If there is no settlement, parties can commence proceedings with the Labor Tribunal (LT), which can then be raised to the Court of First Instance and finally the Court of Appeal for leave to appeal. The Court of Appeal can grant leave only if the case concerns a question of law of general public importance.

Local law provides for the rights of association and of workers to establish and join organizations of their own choosing. The government does not discourage or impede the formation of unions. As of 2018, Hong Kong’s 846 registered unions had 911,593 members, a participation rate of about 25.06 percent. In 2019, 23 new worker unions formed as a result of the political protests. Hong Kong’s labor legislation is in line with international laws. Hong Kong has implemented 41 conventions of the International Labor Organization in full and 18 others with modifications. Workers who allege discrimination against unions have the right to a hearing by the Labor Relations Tribunal. Legislation protects the right to strike. Collective bargaining is not protected by Hong Kong law; there is no obligation to engage in it; and it is not widely used. For more information on labor regulations in Hong Kong, please visit the following website: http://www.labour.gov.hk/eng/legislat/contentA.htm (Chapter 57 “Employment Ordinance”).

The LT has the power to make an order for reinstatement or re-engagement without securing the employer’s approval if it deems an employee has been unreasonably and unlawfully dismissed. If the employer does not reinstate or re-engage the employee as required by the order, the employer must pay to the employee a sum amounting to three times the employee’s average monthly wages up to USD 9,300. The employer commits an offence if he/she willfully and without reasonable excuse fails to pay the additional sum.

Starting from January 2019, male employees with are entitled to five days’ paternity leave (increased from three days).

In January 2020, the HKG introduced bill amending the EO in order to increase the statutory maternity leave from the current ten weeks to 14 weeks. The bill is pending discussions in LegCo.

Effective May 1 2019, the statutory minimum hourly wage rate increase from USD 4.4 to USD 4.8.

In August 2019, Hong Kong was hit by widespread strikes resulting from Hong Kong’s political unrest. Strikers included aviation workers, teachers, lifeguards, security workers, and construction workers.

In February 2020, about 2,500 medical workers of the Hospital Authority took part in an industrial action, demanding the HKG close its border to mainland China to prevent the spread of  COVID-19. They ended the strike a few days later without getting their demands realized.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $367,714 2018 $362,682 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $37,321 2018 $82,546 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $14,192 2018 $15,716 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 536% 2018 550% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 
  

* Source for Host Country Data: Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 1,706,788 100% Total Outward 1,636,445 100%
British Virgin Islands 623,152 37% China, P.R.: Mainland 740,713 45%
China, P.R.: Mainland 466,525 27% British Virgin Islands 551,764 34%
Cayman Islands 138,069 8% Cayman Islands 64,659 4%
United Kingdom 134,014 8% Bermuda 43,373 3%
Bermuda 99,503 6% United Kingdom 34,354 2%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 1,596,386 100% All Countries 1,002,321 100% All Countries 594,064 100%
Cayman Islands 475,874 30% Cayman Islands 457,839 46% United States 138,669 23%
China, P.R.: Mainland 343,873 22% China, P.R.: Mainland 208,012 21% China, P.R.: Mainland 135,861 23%
United States 176,107 11% Bermuda 132,577 13% Japan 42,652 7%
Bermuda 134,336 8% United Kingdom 57,854 6% Australia 36,464 6%
United Kingdom 80,001 5% United States 37,438 4% Luxembourg 32,374 5%

India

Executive Summary

India’s GDP growth in 2019 declined to the slowest rate in over six years. Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Monetary Fund had reduced its growth prediction for FY 2020 to 4.8 percent from a previous estimate of 6.1 percent. The slowing growth reflected a sharp decline in private sector consumption and reduced activity in manufacturing, agriculture, and construction. The stock of foreign direct investment (FDI) in India has declined a full percentage point over the last six years according to data from the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT). This mirrors a similar drop in Indian private investment during the same period.

Non-performing assets continue to hold back banks’ profits and restrict their lending, particularly in the state banking sector. The collapse of the non-bank financial company Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) in 2018 led to a credit crunch that largely continued throughout 2019 and hampered consumer lending.

Demographic increases mean India must generate over ten million new jobs every year – a challenge for the economy and policy makers. While difficult to measure, given the large size of the informal economy, several recent studies, in 2017-18 suggest India’s unemployment rate has risen significantly, perhaps event to a 40-year high.

The Government of India has announced several measures to stimulate growth, including lowering the corporate tax rate, creating lower personal income tax brackets, implementing tax exemptions for startups, establishing ambitious targets for divestment of state-owned enterprises, withdrawing a surcharge imposed on foreign portfolio investors, and providing cash infusions into public sector banks. India’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), also adopted a monetary policy that was accommodative of growth, reducing interest rates by a cumulative 135 basis points throughout 2019 to 5.15 percent. However, transmission remained a problem as banks, already struggling with large volumes of non-performing assets pressuring their balance sheets, were hesitant to lend or pass on the RBI’s rate cuts to consumers.

The government actively courts foreign investment. In 2017, the government implemented moderate reforms aimed at easing investments in sectors such as single brand retail, pharmaceuticals, and private security. It also relaxed onerous rules for foreign investment in the construction sector. In August 2019, the government announced a new package of liberalization measures removing restrictions on FDI in multiple sectors to help spur the slowing economy. The new measures included permitting investments in coal mining and contract manufacturing through the so-called Automatic Route. India has continued to make major gains in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings in 2019, moving up 14 places to number 63 out of 190 economies evaluated. This jump follows India’s gain of 23 places in 2018 and 30 places in 2017.

Nonetheless, India remains a difficult place to do business and additional economic reforms are necessary to ensure sustainable and inclusive growth. In April 2018, the RBI, announced, without prior stakeholder consultation, that all payment system providers must store their Indian transaction data only in India. The RBI mandate to store all “data related to payments systems” only in India went into effect on October 15, 2018, despite repeated requests by industry and the U.S. officials for a delay to allow for more consultations. In July 2019, the RBI, again without prior stakeholder consultation, retroactively expanded the scope of its 2018 data localization requirement to include banks, creating potential liabilities going back to late 2018. The RBI policy overwhelmingly and disproportionately affects U.S. banks and investors, who depend on the free flow of data both to achieve economies of scale and to protect customers by providing global real-time monitoring and analysis of fraud trends and cybersecurity. U.S. payments companies have been able to implement the mandate for the most part, though at great cost and potential damage to the long-term security of their Indian customer base, which will receive fewer services and no longer benefit from global fraud detection and AML/CFT protocols. Similarly, U.S. banks have been able to comply with RBI’s expanded mandate, though incurring significant compliance costs and increased risk of cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

In addition to the RBI data localization directive for payments companies, the government formally introduced its draft Data Protection Bill in December 2019, which contains restrictions on all cross-border transfers of personal data in India. The Bill is currently under review by a Joint Parliamentary Committee and stipulates that personal data that are considered “critical” can only be stored in India. The Bill is based on the conclusions of a ten-person Committee of Experts, established by the Ministry of Information Technology (MeitY) in July 2017.

On December 26, 2018, India unveiled new restrictions on foreign-owned e-commerce operations without any prior notification or opportunity to submit public comments. While Indian officials argue that these restrictions were mere “clarifications” of existing policy, the new guidelines constituted a major regulatory change that created several extensive new regulatory requirements and onerous compliance procedures. The disruption to foreign investors’ businesses was exacerbated by the refusal to extend the February 1, 2019 deadline for implementation.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 80 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/
cpi2019
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 63 of 190 https://www.doingbusiness.org/
en/rankings?region=south-asia
Global Innovation Index 2019 52 of 127 https://www.wipo.int/
global_innovation_index/en/2019/
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $44,458 https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $2009.98 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies toward Foreign Direct Investment

Changes in India’s foreign investment rules are notified in two different ways: (1) Press Notes issued by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) for the vast majority of sectors, and (2) legislative action for insurance, pension funds, and state-owned enterprises in the coal sector. (Note: in January 2019, the government of India changed the name of DIPP to Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT). End Note). FDI proposals in sensitive sectors will, however, require the additional approval of the Home Ministry.

The DPIIT, under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, is the nodal investment promotion agency, responsible for the formulation of FDI policy and the facilitation of FDI inflows. It compiles all policies related to India’s FDI regime into a single document to make it easier for investors to understand, and this consolidated policy is updated every year. The updated policy can be accessed at: http://dipp.nic.in/foreign-direct-investment/foreign-direct-investment-policy.  DPIIT, through the Foreign Investment Implementation Authority (FIIA), plays an active role in resolving foreign investors’ project implementation problems and disseminates information about the Indian investment climate to promote investments. The Department establishes bilateral economic cooperation agreements in the region and encourages and facilitates foreign technology collaborations with Indian companies and DPIIT oftentimes consults with ministries and stakeholders, but some relevant stakeholders report being left out of consultations.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

In most sectors, foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own businesses and engage in remunerative activities. Several sectors of the economy continue to retain equity limits for foreign capital as well as management and control restrictions, which deter investment. For example, the 2015 Insurance Act raised FDI caps from 26 percent to 49 percent, but also limits for foreign capital as well as management and control restrictions, which deter investment. For example, the 2015 Insurance Act raised FDI caps from 26 percent to 49 percent, but also mandated that insurance companies retain “Indian management and control.” Similarly, in 2016, India allowed up to 100 percent FDI in domestic airlines; however, the issue of substantial ownership and effective control (SOEC) rules which mandate majority control by Indian nationals have not yet been clarified. A list of investment caps is accessible at: http://dipp.nic.in/foreign-direct-investment/foreign-direct-investment-policy .

In 2017, the government implemented moderate reforms aimed at easing investments in sectors including single-brand retail, pharmaceuticals, and private security. It also relaxed onerous rules for foreign investment in the construction sector. All FDI must be reviewed under either an “Automatic Route” or “Government Route” process. The Automatic Route simply requires a foreign investor to notify the Reserve Bank of India of the investment. In contrast, investments requiring review under the Government Route must obtain the approval of the ministry with jurisdiction over the appropriate sector along with the concurrence of DPIIT. In August 2019, the government announced a new package of liberalization measures removing restrictions on FDI in multiple additional sectors to help spur the slowing economy. The new measures included permitting investments in coal mining and contract manufacturing through the Automatic Route. The new rules also eased restrictions on investment in single-brand retail.

Screening of FDI

Since the abolition of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board in 2017, appropriate ministries have screened FDI. FDI inflows were mostly directed towards the largest metropolitan areas – Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai – and the state of Gujarat. The services sector garnered the largest percentage of FDI. Further FDI statistics available at: http://dipp.nic.in/publications/fdi-statistics. 

Other Investment Policy Reviews

2019 OECD Economic Survey of India: http://www.oecd.org/economy/india-economic-snapshot/ 

2015 WTO Trade Policy Review: https://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/FE_Search/FE_S_S009-  DP.aspx?language=E&CatalogueIdList=131827,6391,16935,35446,11982&CurrentCatal  ogueIdIndex=0&FullTextHash=&HasEnglishRecord=True&HasFrenchRecord=True&H  asSpanishRecord=True 

2015-2020 Government of India Foreign Trade Policy: http://dgft.gov.in/ForeignTradePolicy 

Business Facilitation

DPIIT is responsible for formulation and implementation of promotional and developmental measures for growth of the industrial sector, keeping in view national priorities and socio- economic objectives. While individual lead ministries look after the production, distribution, development and planning aspects of specific industries allocated to them, DPIIT is responsible for the overall industrial policy. It is also responsible for facilitating and increasing the FDI flows to the country.

Invest India  is the official investment promotion and facilitation agency of the Government of India, which is managed in partnership with DPIIT, state governments, and business chambers. Invest India specialists work with investors through their investment lifecycle to provide support with market entry strategies, deep dive industry analysis, partner search, and policy advocacy as required. Businesses can register online through the Ministry of Corporate Affairs website: http://www.mca.gov.in/ . After the registration, all new investments require industrial approvals and clearances from relevant authorities, including regulatory bodies and local governments. To fast-track the approval process, especially in case of major projects, Prime Minister Modi has started the Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation (PRAGATI initiative) – a digital, multi-modal platform to speed the government’s approval process. Per the Prime Minister’s Office as of November 2019 a total of 265 project proposals worth around $169 billion related to 17 sectors were cleared through PRAGATI. Prime Minister Modi personally monitors the process, to ensure compliance in meeting PRAGATI project deadlines. In December 2014, the Modi government also approved the formation of an Inter-Ministerial Committee, led by the DPIIT, to help track investment proposals that require inter-ministerial approvals. Business and government sources report this committee meets informally and on an ad hoc basis as they receive reports from business chambers and affected companies of stalled projects.

Outward Investment

According to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), India’s central bank, the total overseas direct investment (ODI) outflow from India till December 2019 was $18.86 billion. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Indian direct investment into the U.S. was $9.9 billion in 2017. RBI contends that the growth in magnitude and spread (in terms of geography, nature and types of business activities) of ODI from India reflects the increasing appetite and capacity of Indian investors.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

India made public a new model Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) in December 2015. This followed a string of rulings against Indian firms in international arbitration. The new model BIT does not allow foreign investors to use investor-state dispute settlement methods, and instead requires foreign investors to first exhaust all local judicial and administrative remedies before entering into international arbitration. The Indian government also announced its intention to abrogate all BITs negotiated on the earlier model BIT. The government has served termination notices to roughly 58 countries, including EU countries and Australia. Currently 14 BITs are in force. The Ministry of Finance said the revised model BIT will be used for the renegotiation of existing and any future BITs and will form the investment chapter in any Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreements (CECAs)/Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements (CEPAs)/Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).

In September 2018, Belarus became the first country to execute a new BIT with India. The Belarus – India BIT is predominantly based on the new Model BIT. In December 2018, Taipei Cultural & Economic Centre (TECC) in India signed a BIT with India Taipei Association (ITA) in Taipei. The TECC is the representative office of the government in Taipei in India and is responsible for promoting bilateral relations between Taiwan and India. By December 2019, two BITs/ JIS have been concluded but not yet signed with Brazil and Cambodia. Several BITs and joint interpretative statements are under discussion such as with Iran, Switzerland, Morocco, Kuwait, Ukraine, UAE, San Marino, Hong Kong, Israel, Mauritius and Oman. The complete list of agreements can be found at: https://dea.gov.in/bipa. 

Bilateral Taxation Treaties

India has a bilateral taxation treaty with the United States, available at: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-trty/india.pdf 

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Some government policies are written in a way that can be discriminatory to foreign investors or favor domestic industry; for example, approval for higher FDI in the insurance sector came with a new requirement for “Indian management and control.” On most occasions the rules are framed after thorough discussions by the competent government authorities and require the approval of the cabinet and, in some cases, the Parliament as well. Policies pertaining to foreign investments are framed by DPIIT, and implementation is undertaken by lead federal ministries and sub-national counterparts.

In December 2018, India unveiled new “Guidelines” on foreign-owned e-commerce operations that imposed restrictions disproportionately affecting over $20 billion in combined investments by U.S. companies. As of February 1, 2019, these platforms may not offer exclusive discounts; sell products from companies in which they own a stake; or have any vendor who sources more than 25 percent of their retail stock from a single source. The Guidelines were issued without prior notification or opportunity to provide public comments. While Indian officials argue this was a mere “clarification” of existing policy, the new Guidelines constituted a major regulatory change that severely affected U.S. investors’ operations and business models. The refusal of Indian authorities to extend the deadline for implementation beyond just over one month, further exacerbated the undue and unnecessary disruption to U.S. investors.

The Indian Accounting Standards were issued under the supervision and control of the Accounting Standards Board, a committee under the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI), and has government, academic, and professional representatives. The Indian Accounting Standards are named and numbered in the same way as the corresponding International Financial Reporting Standards. The National Advisory Committee on Accounting Standards recommends these standards to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, which all listed companies must then adopt. These can be accessed at: http://www.mca.gov.in/MinistryV2/Stand.html 

International Regulatory Considerations

India is a member of the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), an eight- member regional block in South Asia. India’s regulatory systems are aligned with SAARC economic agreements, visa regimes, and investment rules. Dispute resolution in India has been through tribunals, which are quasi-judicial bodies. India has been a member of the WTO since 1994, and generally notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade; however, at times there are delays in publishing the notifications. The Governments of India and the United States cooperate in areas such as standards, trade facilitation, competition, and antidumping practices.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

India adopted its legal system from English law and the basic principles of the Common Law as applied in the UK are largely prevalent in India. However, foreign companies need to make adaptations per Indian Law and the Indian business culture when negotiating and drafting contracts in India to ensure adequate protection in case of breach of contract. The Indian Judicial Structure provides for an integrated system of courts to administer both central and state laws. The legal system has a pyramidal structure, with the Supreme Court at the apex, and a High Court in each state or a group of states which covers a hierarchy of subordinate courts. Article 141 of the Constitution of India provide that a decision declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all courts within the territory of India. Apart from courts, tribunals are also vested with judicial or quasi-judicial powers by special statutes to decide controversies or disputes relating to specified areas.

Courts have maintained that the independence of the judiciary is a basic feature of the Constitution, which provides the judiciary institutional independence from the executive and legislative branches.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The government has a policy framework on FDI, which is updated every year and formally notified as the Consolidated FDI Policy (http://dipp.nic.in/foreign-direct-investment/foreign- direct-investment-policy). DPIIT makes policy pronouncements on FDI through Press Notes/Press Releases, which are notified by the RBI as amendments to the Foreign Exchange Management (Transfer or Issue of Security by Persons Resident Outside India) Regulations, 2000 (Notification No. FEMA 20/2000-RB dated May 3, 2000). These notifications are effective on the date of the issued press release, unless otherwise specified. The judiciary does not influence FDI policy measures.

The government has introduced a “Make in India” program as well as investment policies designed to promote manufacturing and attract foreign investment. “Digital India” aims to open up new avenues for the growth of the information technology sector. The “Start-up India” program created incentives to enable start-ups to commercialize and grow. The “Smart Cities” project intends to open up new avenues for industrial technological investment opportunities in select urban areas. The U.S. Government continues to urge the Government of India to foster an attractive and reliable investment climate by reducing barriers to investment and minimizing bureaucratic hurdles for businesses.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The central government has been successful in establishing independent and effective regulators in telecommunications, banking, securities, insurance, and pensions. The Competition Commission of India (CCI), India’s antitrust body, is now taking cases against mergers, cartels, and abuse of dominance, as well as conducting capacity-building programs for bureaucrats and business officials. Mergers meeting certain thresholds must be notified to the CCI for its review. Upon receipt of a complaint, or upon its own enquiry, if the CCI is of the opinion that there exists a prima facie case, it must direct its investigative arm (the Director General) to investigate. Currently the Director General is required to seek the approval of the local chief metropolitan magistrate for any search and seizure operations. The Securities and Exchange Bureau of India (SEBI) enforces corporate governance standards and is well-regarded by foreign institutional investors. The RBI, which regulates the Indian banking sector, is also held in high regard. Some Indian regulators, including SEBI and the RBI, engage with industry stakeholders through periods of public comment, but the practice is not consistent across the government.

Expropriation and Compensation

The government has taken steps to provide greater clarity in regulation. In 2016, the government successfully carried out the largest spectrum auction in the country’s history. India also has transfer pricing rules that apply to related party transactions. The government implemented the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in July 2017, which reduced the complexity of tax codes and eliminated multiple taxation policies. It also enacted the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code in 2016, which offers uniform, comprehensive insolvency legislation for all companies, partnerships and individuals (other than financial firms).

Though land is a State Government (sub-national) subject, “acquisition and requisitioning of property” is in the concurrent list, thus both the Indian Parliament and State Legislatures can make laws on this subject. Legislation approved by the Central Government is used as guidance by the State Governments. Land acquisition in India is governed by the Land Acquisition Act (2013), which entered into force in 2014, but continues to be a complicated process due to the lack of an effective legal framework. Land sales require adequate compensation, resettlement of displaced citizens, and 70% approval from landowners. The displacement of poorer citizens is politically challenging for local governments.

Dispute Settlement

India made resolving contract disputes and insolvency easier with the establishment of a modern bankruptcy regime with the enactment in 2016 and subsequent implementation of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC). Among the areas where India has improved the most in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Ranking the past three years has been under the resolving insolvency metric. The World Bank Report noted that the 2016 law has introduced the option of insolvency resolution for commercial entities as an alternative to liquidation or other mechanisms of debt enforcement, reshaping the way insolvent companies can restore their financial well-being or close down. The Code has put in place effective tools for creditors to successfully negotiate and effectuated greater chances for creditors to realize their dues. As a result, the overall recovery rate for creditors jumped from 26.5 to 71.6 cents on the dollar and the time taken for resolving insolvency also came down significantly from 4.3 years to 1.6 years. (https://www.ibbi.gov.in/uploads/publication/62a9cc46d6a96690e4c8a3c9ee3ab862.pdf 

India enacted the Arbitration and Conciliation Act in 1996, based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law model, as an attempt to align its adjudication of commercial contract dispute resolution mechanisms with most of the world. Judgments of foreign courts are enforceable under multilateral conventions, including the Geneva Convention. The government established the International Center for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ICADR) as an autonomous organization under the Ministry of Law and Justice to promote the settlement of domestic and international disputes through alternate dispute resolution. The World Bank has also funded ICADR to conduct training for mediators in commercial dispute settlement.

India is a signatory to the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention). It is not unusual for Indian firms to file lawsuits in domestic courts in order to delay paying any arbitral award. Seven cases are currently pending, the oldest of which dates to 1983. India is not a member state to the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague and the Indian Law Ministry agreed in 2007 to establish a regional PCA office in New Delhi, although no progress has been made in establishing the office. The office would provide an arbitration forum to match the facilities offered at The Hague but at a lower cost.

In November 2009, the Department of Revenue’s Central Board of Direct Taxes established eight dispute resolution panels across the country to settle the transfer-pricing tax disputes of domestic and foreign companies. In 2016 the government also presented amendments to the Commercial Courts, Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of High Courts Act to establish specialized commercial divisions within domestic courts to settle long-pending commercial disputes.

InvestorState Dispute Settlement

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, India has been a respondent state for 25 investment dispute settlement cases, of which 11 remain pending (http://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/ISDS/CountryCases/96?partyRole=2 ).

Though India is not a signatory to the ICSID Convention, current claims by foreign investors against India can be pursued through the ICSID Additional Facility Rules, the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL Model Law) rules, or through the use of ad hoc proceedings.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Since formal dispute resolution is expensive and time consuming, many businesses choose methods, including ADR, for resolving disputes. The most commonly used ADRs are arbitration and mediation. India has enacted the Arbitration and Conciliation Act based on the UNCITRAL Model Laws of Arbitration. Experts agree that the ADR techniques are extra-judicial in character and emphasize that ADR cannot displace litigation. In cases that involve constitutional or criminal law, traditional litigation remains necessary.

Dispute Resolutions Pending

An increasing backlog of cases at all levels reflects the need for reform of the dispute resolution system, whose infrastructure is characterized by an inadequate number of courts, benches and judges, inordinate delays in filling judicial vacancies, and only 14 judges per one million people. Almost 25 percent of judicial vacancies can be attributed to procedural delays.

Bankruptcy Regulations

According to the World Bank, it used to take an average of 4.3 years to recover funds from an insolvent company in India, compared to 2.6 years in Pakistan, 1.7 years in China and 1.8 years in OECD countries. The introduction and implementation of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) in 2016 led to an overhaul of the previous framework on insolvency and paved the way for much-needed reforms. The IBC focused on creditor-driven insolvency resolution, and offers a uniform, comprehensive insolvency legislation encompassing all companies, partnerships and individuals (other than financial firms).

The law, however, does not provide for U.S. style Chapter 11 bankruptcy provisions. The government is proposing a separate framework for bankruptcy resolution in failing banks and financial sector entities. Supplementary legislation would create a new institutional framework, consisting of a regulator, insolvency professionals, information utilities, and adjudicatory mechanisms that would facilitate formal and time-bound insolvency resolution process and liquidation.

In August 2016, the Indian Parliament passed amendments to the Securitization and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest (SARFAESI) Act, and the Debt Recovery Tribunals Act. These amendments were geared at improving the effectiveness of debt recovery laws and helping address the problem of rising bad loans for domestic and multilateral banks. It will also help banks and financial institutions recover loans more effectively, encourage the establishment of more asset reconstruction companies (ARCs) and revamp debt recovery tribunals.

4. Industrial Policies

The regulatory environment in terms of foreign investment has been eased to make it investor- friendly.  The measures taken by the Government are directed to open new sectors for foreign direct investment, increase the sectoral limit of existing sectors and simplifying other conditions of the FDI policy.  The Indian government does issue guarantees to investments but only in case of strategic industries.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The government established several foreign trade zone initiatives to encourage export-oriented production.  These include Special Economic Zones (SEZs), Export Processing Zones (EPZs), Software Technology Parks (STPs), and Export Oriented Units (EOUs).  In 2018, the Indian government announced guidelines for the establishment of the National Industrial and Manufacturing Zones (NIMZs), envisaged as integrated industrial townships to be managed by a special purpose vehicle and headed by a government official.  So far, three NIMZs have been accorded final approval and 13 have been accorded in-principle approval.  In addition, eight investment regions along the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DIMC) have also been 12 established as NIMZs.  SEZs are treated as foreign territory; businesses operating within SEZs are not subject to customs regulations, nor have FDI equity caps.  They also receive exemptions from industrial licensing requirements and enjoy tax holidays and other tax breaks.  EPZs are industrial parks with incentives for foreign investors in export-oriented businesses.  STPs are special zones with similar incentives for software exports. EOUs are industrial companies, established anywhere in India, that export their entire production and are granted the following: duty-free import of intermediate goods, income tax holidays, exemption from excise tax on capital goods, components, and raw materials, and a waiver on sales taxes. These initiatives are governed by separate rules and granted different benefits, details of which can be found at: http://www.sezindia.nic.in,  https://www.stpi.in/  http://www.fisme.org.in/export_schemes/DOCS/B- 1/EXPORT%20ORIENTED%20UNIT%20SCHEME.pdf and http://www.makeinindia.com/home. 

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Preferential Market Access (PMA) for government procurement has created substantial challenges for foreign firms operating in India.  State-owned “Public Sector Undertakings” and the government accord a 20 percent price preference to vendors utilizing more than 50 percent local content.  However, PMA for government procurement limits access to the most cost effective and advanced ICT products available.  In December 2014, PMA guidelines were revised and reflect the following updates:

  1. Current guidelines emphasize that the promotion of domestic manufacturing is the objective of PMA, while the original premise focused on the linkages between equipment procurement and national security.
  2. Current guidelines on PMA implementation are limited to hardware procurement only. Former guidelines were applicable to both products and services.
  3. Current guidelines widen the pool of eligible PMA bidders, to include authorized distributors, sole selling agents, authorized dealers or authorized supply houses of the domestic manufacturers of electronic products, in addition to OEMs, provided they comply with the following terms:
    1. The bidder shall furnish the authorization certificate by the domestic manufacturer for selling domestically manufactured electronic products.
    2. The bidder shall furnish the affidavit of self-certification issued by the domestic manufacturer to the procuring agency declaring that the electronic product is domestically manufactured in terms of the domestic value addition prescribed.
    3. It shall be the responsibility of the bidder to furnish other requisite documents required to be issued by the domestic manufacturer to the procuring agency as per the policy.
  4. The current guidelines establish a ceiling on fees linked with the complaint procedure. There would be a complaint fee of INR 200,000 ($3000) or one percent of the value of the Domestically Manufactured Electronic Product being procured, subject to a maximum of INR 500,000 ($7500), whichever is higher.

In January 2017, the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY) issued a draft notification under the PMA policy, stating a preference for domestically manufactured servers in government procurement.  A current list of PMA guidelines, notified products, and tendering templates can be found on MeitY’s website:  http://meity.gov.in/esdm/pma. 

Research and Development

The Government of India allows for 100 percent FDI in research and development through the automatic route.

Data Storage & Localization

In April 2018, the RBI, announced, without prior stakeholder consultation, that all payment system providers must store their Indian transaction data only in India. The RBI mandate went into effect on October 15, 2018, despite repeated requests by industry and the U.S. officials for a delay to allow for more consultations.  In July 2019, the RBI, again without prior stakeholder consultation, retroactively expanded the scope of its 2018 data localization requirement to include banks, creating potential liabilities going back to late 2018.  The RBI policy overwhelmingly and disproportionately affects U.S. banks and investors, who depend on the free flow of data to both achieve economies of scale and to protect customers by providing global real-time monitoring and analysis of fraud trends and cybersecurity.  U.S. payments companies have been able to implement the mandate for the most part, though at great cost and potential damage to the long-term security of their Indian customer base, which will receive fewer services and no longer benefit from global fraud detection and AML/CFT protocols.  Similarly, U.S. banks have been able to comply with RBI’s expanded mandate, though incurring significant compliance costs and increased risk of cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

In addition to the RBI data localization directive for payments companies and banks, the government formally introduced its draft Data Protection Bill in December 2019, which contains restrictions on all cross-border transfers of personal data in India.  The Bill is currently under review by a Joint Parliamentary Committee and stipulates that personal data that is considered “critical” can only be stored in India.  The Bill is based on the conclusions of a ten-person Committee of Experts, established by MeitY in July 2017.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Several cities, including the metropolitan cities of Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Chennai have grown according to a master plan registered with the central government’s Ministry of Urban Development. Property rights are generally well-enforced in such places, and district magistrates—normally senior local government officials—notify land and property registrations. Banks and financial institutions provide mortgages and liens against such registered property.

In other urban areas, and in areas where illegal settlements have been built up, titling often remains unclear. As per the Department of Land Resources, in 2008 the government launched the National Land Records Modernization Program (NLRMP) to clarify land records and provide landholders with legal titles. The program requires the government to survey an area of

the National Land Records Modernization Program (NLRMP) to clarify land records and provide landholders with legal titles. The program requires the government to survey an area of approximately 2.16 million square miles, including over 430 million rural households, 55 million urban households, and 430 million land records. Initially scheduled for completion in 2016, the program is now scheduled to conclude in 2021. Traditional land use rights, including communal rights to forests, pastures, and agricultural land, are sanctioned according to various laws, depending on the land category and community residing on it. Relevant legislation includes the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006, the Tribal Rights Act, and the Tribal Land Act.

In 2016, India introduced its first regulator in the real estate sector in the form of the Real Estate Act. The Real Estate Act, 2016 aims to protect the rights and interests of consumers and promote uniformity and standardization of business practices and transactions in the real estate sector. Details are available at: http://mohua.gov.in/cms/TheRealEstateAct2016.php 

Foreign and domestic private entities are permitted to establish and own businesses in trading companies, subsidiaries, joint ventures, branch offices, project offices, and liaison offices, subject to certain sector-specific restrictions. The government does not permit foreign investment in real estate, other than company property used to conduct business and for the development of most types of new commercial and residential properties. Foreign Institutional Investors (FIIs) can now invest in initial public offerings (IPOs) of companies engaged in real estate. They can also participate in pre-IPO placements undertaken by such real estate companies without regard to FDI stipulations.

To establish a business, various government approvals and clearances are required, including incorporation of the company and registration under the State Sales Tax Act and Central and State Excise Acts. Businesses that intend to build facilities on land they own are also required to take the following steps: register the land; seek land use permission if the industry is located outside an industrially zoned area; obtain environmental site approval; seek authorization for electricity and financing; and obtain appropriate approvals for construction plans from the respective state and municipal authorities. Promoters must also obtain industry-specific environmental approvals in compliance with the Water and Air Pollution Control Acts. Petrochemical complexes, petroleum refineries, thermal power plants, bulk drug makers, and manufacturers of fertilizers, dyes, and paper, among others, must obtain clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

The Foreign Exchange Management Regulations and the Foreign Exchange Management Act set forth the rules that allow foreign entities to own immoveable property in India and convert foreign currencies for the purposes of investing in India. These regulations can be found at: https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/Fema.aspx . Foreign investors operating under the automatic route are allowed the same rights as an Indian citizen for the purchase of immovable property in India in connection with an approved business activity.

In India, a registered sales deed does not confer title ownership and is merely a record of the sales transaction. It only confers presumptive ownership, which can still be disputed. The title is established through a chain of historical transfer documents that originate from the land’s original established owner. Accordingly, before purchasing land, buyers should examine all documents that establish title from the original owner. Many owners, particularly in urban areas, do not have access to the necessary chain of documents. This increases uncertainty and risks in land transactions.

Intellectual Property Rights

In 2018, India became a signatory to the WIPO Centralized Access to Search and Examination (CASE) and Digital Access Service (DAS) agreements.  The CASE system enables patent offices to securely share and search examination documentation related to patent applications, and DAS provides details of the types of applications managed by individual digital libraries together with any operational procedures and technical requirements.  However, the provision of Indian law prescribing criminal penalties for failure to furnish information pertaining to applications for a patent for the “same or substantially the same invention” filed in any country outside India remains in place.

Prime Minister Modi’s courtship of multinationals to invest and “Make in India” has not yet addressed longstanding hesitations over India’s lack of effective intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement.  Despite the release of the National IPR Policy and the establishment of India’s first intellectual property (IP) crime unit in Telangana in 2016, India’s IP regime continues to fall short of global best practices and standards.  U.S. engagement has not yet translated into the progress and/or actions on IPR that were anticipated under the previous U.S. administration.  Some “Notorious Markets” across the country continue to operate, while many smaller stores sell or deal with pirated content across the country. U.S. and Indian Government officials continued to engage on IPR issues.  U.S. government representatives continued to meet government officials and industry stakeholders on IPR-related matters in 2018 and 2019, including during visits to India by officials from the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), the U.S. Patent Trademark Office (USPTO), the U.S.  Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, and the Departments of State, Commerce, and Agriculture. India has made efforts to streamline its IP framework through administrative actions and awareness programs and is in the process of reducing its decade-long backlog of patent and trademark applications.  India also addresses IPR in its recently established Commercial Courts, Commercial Divisions, and Commercial Appellate Divisions within India’s High Courts.

U.S. and Indian Government officials continued to engage on IPR issues.  U.S. government representatives continued to meet government officials and industry stakeholders on IPR-related matters in 2018 and 2019, including during visits to India by officials from the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), the U.S. Patent Trademark Office (USPTO), the U.S.  Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, and the Departments of State, Commerce, and Agriculture. India has made efforts to streamline its IP framework through administrative actions and awareness programs and is in the process of reducing its decade-long backlog of patent and trademark applications.  India also addresses IPR in its recently established Commercial Courts, Commercial Divisions, and Commercial Appellate Divisions within India’s High Courts.

Although India’s copyright laws were amended in 2012, the amendments have not been fully implemented. Without an active copyright board in place to determine royalty rates for authors, weak enforcement of copyright regulations, and the widespread issue of pirated copyrighted materials are all contributing factors to why copyright law requires more emphasis on implementation.

The Delhi High Court diluted the publishing industry’s and authors’ rights and expanded the definition of fair use judgment, by allowing photocopiers to copy an entire book for educational purposes without seeking prior permission of the copyright holder.  The movie industry identified new illegal cam cording hubs of operation in Indore and Noida, and the Telangana police cracked down on two syndicates that used under-age children to illegally record movies.  After years of advocacy by industry groups, especially the Indian office of the Motion Picture Association (MPA), the GOI released a draft Cinematography Bill for comment in December 2018, which contained anti-cam cording legislation.  Industry groups welcomed this move, which included criminal and financial penalties for offenders.  The bill is now awaiting Parliamentary approval.  However, the penalties for infringement and IP theft are significantly weakened from those suggested in the initial draft legislation in 2013.

The music industry remains concerned about a Section 31D memorandum that the Department of Industry and Policy Promotion (DIPP), now DPIIT,-issued announced in September 2016 to announce that all online transmissions fall under the statutory licensing provisions of section 31D of the Copyright Act.  The memo places internet service providers on par with radio broadcasters, allowing them to provide music on their websites by paying the same royalties to copyright societies, two percent of ad revenues.  The industry argues that most of the websites have little to no ad revenue, and some may be hosted on servers outside India, which makes collection of royalties challenging.  However, in February 2017, India issued a notice to all event organizers that they would have to pay music royalties to artists when played at an event. On a more positive note, in April 2019, the Bombay High Court issued its decision in Tips Industries LTD v. Wynk Music LTD (Airtel) that statutory licensing under section 31D of the Copyright Act does not cover Internet transmissions (streaming), but rather is limited to traditional television and radio broadcasts.  The Court also stated that Section 31D was an exception to copyright and must be distinctly interpreted.   It is not clear if this judgement will move the Government of India to withdraw DPIIT’s 2016 memo. However, in 2019, the DPIIT proposed amendments to the Copyright Rules that would, in contravention to the plain statutory text, broaden the scope of the statutory licensing exception to encompass not only radio and television broadcasting, but also Internet broadcasting.

2018 was a year of great difficulty in the agriculture and biotechnology space, which has been reeling from the aftermath of a coordinated attack in 2016 and 2017 on the Monsanto Corporation’s India operations (reported in our 2016 and 2017 Special 301 submissions).  In 2017, the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act (PPVFRA) removed the long-standing requirement for breeders to produce a “No-Objection-Certificate” from the patentee of a particular genetically modified (GM) trait.  The move was nearly unprecedented and removed a key preemptive tool for breeders to diligently ensure stakeholders are consulted and patentee’s innovations are not being infringed upon or used without permission.

In April 2018, the Delhi High Court judgment struck down a patent held by Monsanto in a summary judgment.  In a series of decisions on this matter, most recently in August, 2019, the Supreme Court overturned Delhi High Court Divisional Bench judgement of April 2018 and reinstated the March 2017 Single Judge decision, pointing to the Divisional Bench failing to have confined itself to the examination of the validity of the order of injunction granted by the Single Judge 2017 decision.   Issues remain complex and unsettled.  The GM Licensing Guidelines remain in draft form but could have significant and wide-ranging implications for Monsanto and many other IP holders.  Moreover, follow-on decisions and administrative legal actions could set important Indian legal precedents for stopping a patent, the role of the PVPFRA and its relationship to biological innovation, the application of administrative regulations regarding price and term of a patent, and the interplay between the Patents Act, PVPFRA, and the Biodiversity Act.  It is worth noting that in December 2015, Monsanto terminated more than 40 of its license agreements with Indian companies for nonpayment of licensing fees.  The Indian licensees subsequently challenged Monsanto’s patents in court on several grounds, including challenging the validity of the patent and efficacy of the technology.

The Government of India’s refusal to repudiate Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare’s GM licensing guidelines has already resulted in withdrawal of next-generation innovative biotechnology from the Indian marketplace and has given pause to many other companies who seek to protect their innovative products.  Other biotech-led industries are also following this development and are greatly concerned, as the action reaches beyond compulsory licensing under the Patents Act.

Indian law still does not provide any statutory protection for trade secrets. After a workshop conducted in October 2016, DIPP agreed to provide guidance to start-ups on trade secrets.  The Designs Act allows for the registration of industrial designs and affords a 15-year term of protection.

Other long-standing concerns remain. Since 2012, outstanding concerns that have not been addressed either in the IP Policy or by Government of India include; Section 3(d) of India’s Patent Act, which creates confusing criteria on “enhanced efficacy” for the patentability of pharmaceutical products;  draft biotechnology licensing regulations from the Ministry of Agriculture which are mandatory, overly prescriptive, and  severely limit the value of IPR; remaining lack of clarity on the conditions under which compulsory licensing may be allowed; lack of a copyright board; lack of a trade secrets law; lack of data exclusivity legislation; lack of an early dispute resolution mechanism for patents ; lack of a legislative framework facilitating public-private partnership in government-funded research  (along the lines of  Bayh-Dole in the United States); weak IP enforcement; and overall unwillingness to make IPR a priority within the Indian government.  All these measures across various sectors create uncertainty at best, and at worst perceptions of a hostile business environment.

In addition, the Patent Act requires patentees to regularly report on a commercial scale “the working” of their patents.  This is implemented by filing a required annual form called Form 27 on patent working.  The current requirement to file Form 27 is not only onerous and costly for patentees and ill-suited to the reality of patented technology, it also hinders any incentives to invent and advance innovation.

Standard Essential Patents (SEPs) and fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) licensing criteria and systems are another concerning area.  Discussions on FRAND licensing terms restarted in 2019 but did not include stakeholders.  Several cases are pending before the Delhi High Court surrounding the issue of royalty payments for standard essential patents.  While initial indications from Delhi High Court proceedings are encouraging, a 2016 GOI discussion paper on SEPs raised concerns related to active government involvement in setting standards and determining FRAND royalties.  Some decisions from the Competition Commission of India (CCI) have been inconsistent with the Delhi High Court, creating confusion related to the development of SEP policy and practices in India.

Another area of concern is the global blocking order against “Intermediaries”.  A Delhi High Court judge issued an interim injunction directing Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other “intermediaries” to remove – on a global basis – content uploaded to their platforms allegedly defaming the guru Baba Ramdev.  The judgment moved beyond traditional “geo-blocking,” in which take down orders are limited to specific geographic regions.  Facebook has challenged the judgment before a Division Bench.

In 2019, we observed that public notice and comment procedures on policy – including on IPR related issues – were often not followed.  Stakeholders were not properly notified of meetings with agencies to discuss concerns, including for changes to critical issues like price controls on medical devices or changes to key policies.  Moreover, Mission India remains concerned that when stakeholder input is solicited, it is often disregarded and/or ignored during the final determination of a policy.

India actively engages at multilateral negotiations, including the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council.  As a result, in April 2017, the MOHFW issued a notification that amended the manufacturing license form (Form 44), taking out any requirement to notify the regulator if the drug, for which manufacturing approval was being sought, is under patent or not.  The GOI cited their view that Form 44 provisions were outside the scope of their WTO TRIPS agreement commitments as justification for the change.  Industry contracts point to the clear benefit this change has delivered to the Indian generic pharmaceutical industry, which now has an even easier path to manufacture patented drugs for years, while IP holders are forced to discover the violation and challenge the infringement in separate courts.  These negotiations will have an impact on innovation, trade, and investment in IP-intensive products and services.

Developments Strengthening the Rights of IP Holders

Clarification of Patentability Criteriathe Delhi High Court added clarity on the matter of the patentability criterion under Section 3(k) of the India Patents Act, ruling in Ferid Allani vs UOI & Ors that there is no absolute bar on the patentability of computer programs.  Additionally, ‘technical effect’ or ‘technical contribution’ must be taken into consideration during examination when determining the patent eligibility of a computer program.

Bombay High Court Clarifies 31(D) of the Copyright Act: Ruling on “Tips Industries vs. Wynk Music,” the Bombay High Court stated that the extension of the Copyright Act, 2016’s Section 31(D) to the internet is flawed logic and unsound in law.  The court also noted that Section 31(D) is an exception to copyright and must be strictly interpreted.  It is to be seen if this judgement helps Government of India in withdrawing of DPIIT memo of 2016.

Delhi High Court Confronts Online Piracy: The Delhi High Court decided that approved site take down requests will apply to those sites with addresses specifically listed in the request as well as similar sites that operate under different addresses.  This “dynamic injunction” is meant to eliminate the need for complainants to approach courts with new requests should a banned site reappear under a new address.

The Delhi High Court in July 2019 took steps to address the “gridlock” of the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB).  IPAB was established in 2003 to adjudicate appeals over patents, trademarks, copyrights, and other decisions, but lacked the necessary number of technical members to form a quorum and make judgements, resulting in a significant backlog.  To clear the backlog of cases, the court decided that until the appointments were filled, the chairman and available technical members could issue decisions despite lacking a quorum.  If no technical members were available, the IPAB chairman could consult a scientific advisor from the panel of scientific advisors appointed under Section 115 of the 1970 Patents Act.  Additionally, in October 2019, the court permitted the current IPAB chairman to serve past his term – which ended in September 2019, reinstating him until a replacement takes over.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Total market capitalization of the Indian equity market stood around $2.2 trillion as of December 31, 2019. The benchmark Standard and Poor’s (S&P) BSE (erstwhile Bombay Stock Exchange) Sensex recorded gains of about 14 percent in 2019. Nonetheless, Indian equity markets were tumultuous throughout 2019. The BSE Sensex generally gained from the beginning of the year until July 5, when Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman introduced a tax increase on foreign portfolio investment in her post-election Union Budget for the remainder for FY 2020.  The Sensex declined, erasing all previous gains for the year as the new tax led to a rapid exodus of foreign portfolio investors from the market.  The market continued to fluctuate even after the tax increase was repealed on August 23 until September 20, when the Finance Minister made a surprise announcement to slash corporate tax rates.  After that, the Sensex surged and hit a record high of 41,854 on December 20. However, even as the benchmark Sensex hit record highs, the midcap and small cap indices disappointed investors with a year of negative returns.  The Sensex’s advance was driven by a handful of stocks; two in particular Reliance Industries Ltd. and ICICI Bank Ltd. accounted for about half the gain.   Foreign portfolio investors (FPIs), pumped a net of over $14 billion into India’s equity markets in 2019, making it their highest such infusion in six years.  In 2018, FPIs pulled out $ 4.64 billion from the market.  Domestic money also continued to flow into equity markets via systematic investment plans (SIP) of mutual funds.  SIP assets under management hit an all-time high of $43.94 billion in November, according to data from the Association of Mutual Funds of India.

Foreign portfolio investors (FPIs), pumped a net of over $14 billion into India’s equity markets in 2019, making it their highest such infusion in six years.  In 2018, FPIs pulled out $ 4.64 billion from the market.  Domestic money also continued to flow into equity markets via systematic investment plans (SIP) of mutual funds.  SIP assets under management hit an all-time high of $43.94 billion in November, according to data from the Association of Mutual Funds of India.

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) is considered one of the most progressive and well-run of India’s regulatory bodies.  It regulates India’s securities markets, including enforcement activities, and is India’s direct counterpart to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  SEBI oversees three national exchanges: the BSE Ltd. (formerly the Bombay Stock Exchange), the National Stock Exchange (NSE), and the Metropolitan Stock Exchange.  SEBI also regulates the three national commodity exchanges: the Multi Commodity Exchange (MCX), the National Commodity & Derivatives Exchange Limited, and the National Multi-Commodity Exchange.

Foreign venture capital investors (FVCIs) must register with SEBI to invest in Indian firms.  They can also set up domestic asset management companies to manage funds.  All such investments are allowed under the automatic route, subject to SEBI and RBI regulations, and to FDI policy.  FVCIs can invest in many sectors, including software, information technology, pharmaceuticals and drugs, biotechnology, nanotechnology, biofuels, agriculture, and infrastructure.  Companies incorporated outside India can raise capital in India’s capital markets through the issuance of Indian Depository Receipts (IDRs) based on SEBI guidelines.  Standard Chartered Bank, a British bank which was the first foreign entity to list in India in June 2010, remains the only foreign firm to have issued IDRs.

Companies incorporated outside India can raise capital in India’s capital markets through the issuance of Indian Depository Receipts (IDRs) based on SEBI guidelines.  Standard Chartered Bank, a British bank which was the first foreign entity to list in India in June 2010, remains the only foreign firm to have issued IDRs.  External commercial borrowing (ECB), or direct lending to Indian entities by foreign institutions, is allowed if it conforms to parameters such as minimum maturity, permitted and non-permitted end-uses, maximum all-in-cost ceiling as prescribed by the RBI, funds are used for outward FDI, or for domestic investment in industry, infrastructure, hotels, hospitals, software, self-help groups or microfinance activities, or to buy shares in the disinvestment of public sector entities: https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/BS_PressReleaseDisplay.aspx?prid=47736.

Total external commercial borrowings through both the approval and automatic route increased 61.45 percent year-on-year to $50.15 billion as of December 2019, according to the Reserve Bank of India’s data.

The RBI has taken a number of steps in the past few years to bring the activities of the offshore Indian rupee market in Non Deliverable Forwards (NDF) onshore, in order to deepen domestic markets, enhance downstream benefits, and generally obviate the need for an NDF market.  FPIs with access to currency futures or the exchange-traded currency options market can hedge onshore currency risks in India and may directly trade in corporate bonds. In October 2019, the RBI allowed banks to freely offer foreign exchange quotes to non-resident Indians at all times and said trading on rupee derivatives would be allowed and settled in foreign currencies in the International Financial Services Centers (IFSCs).  This was based on the recommendations of the task force on offshore rupee markets to examine and recommend appropriate policy measures to ensure the stability of the external value of the Rupee (https://m.rbi.org.in/Scripts/PublicationReportDetails.aspx?UrlPage=&ID=937).    The International Financial Services Centre at Gujarat International Financial Tec-City (GIFT City) in Gujarat is being developed to compete with global financial hubs.  The BSE was the first to start operations there, in January 2016.  The NSE and domestic banks including Yes Bank, Federal Bank, ICICI Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank, IDBI Bank, State Bank of India, and IndusInd Bank have started IFSC banking units in GIFT city.  Standard Chartered Bank and Bank of America started operations in GIFT City in 2019.

The International Financial Services Centre at Gujarat International Financial Tec-City (GIFT City) in Gujarat is being developed to compete with global financial hubs.  The BSE was the first to start operations there, in January 2016.  The NSE and domestic banks including Yes Bank, Federal Bank, ICICI Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank, IDBI Bank, State Bank of India, and IndusInd Bank have started IFSC banking units in GIFT city.  Standard Chartered Bank and Bank of America started operations in GIFT City in 2019.

Money and Banking System

The public sector remains predominant in the banking sector, with public sector banks (PSBs) accounting for about 66 percent of total banking sector assets. Although most large PSBs are listed on exchanges, the government’s stakes in these banks often exceeds the 51 percent legal minimum. Aside from the large number of state-owned banks, directed lending and mandatory holdings of government paper are key facets of the banking sector. The RBI requires commercial banks and foreign banks with more than 20 branches to allocate 40 percent of their loans to priority sectors which include agriculture, small and medium enterprises, export-oriented companies, and social infrastructure. Additionally, all banks are required to invest 18.25 percent of their net demand and time liabilities in government securities. The RBI plans to reduce this by 25 basis points every quarter until the investment requirement reaches 18 percent of their net demand and time liabilities.

PSBs currently face two significant hurdles: capital constraints and poor asset quality. As of September 2019, gross non-performing loans represented 9.3 percent of total loans in the banking system, with the public sector banks having an even larger share at 12.7 percent of their loan portfolio. The PSBs’ asset quality deterioration in recent years is driven by their exposure to a broad range of industrial sectors including infrastructure, metals and mining, textiles, and aviation. With the new bankruptcy law (IBC) in place, banks are making progress in non-performing asset recognition and resolution. As of December 2019, the resolution processes have been approved in 190 cases Lengthy legal challenges have posed the greatest obstacle, as time spent on litigation was not counted against the 270 day deadline.

In July 2019, Parliament amended the IBC to require final resolution within 330 days including litigation time. To address asset quality challenges faced by public sector banks, the government injected $30 billion into public sector banks in recent years. The capitalization largely aimed to address the capital inadequacy of public sector banks and marginally provide for growth capital. Following the recapitalization, public sector banks’ total capital adequacy ratio (CRAR) improved to 13.5 percent in September 2019 from 12.2 in March 2019. In 2019, the Indian authorities also announced a consolidation plan entailing a merger of 10 public sector banks into 4, thereby reducing the total number of public sector banks from 18 to 12.

Women in the Financial Sector

Women in India receive a smaller portion of financial support relative to men, especially in rural and semi-urban areas. In 2015, the Modi government started the Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency Ltd. (MUDRA), which supports the development of micro-enterprises. The initiative encourages women’s participation and offers collateral-free loans of around $15,000. The Acting Finance Minister Piyush Goyal while delivering the 2019 budget speech mentioned that 70 percent of the beneficiaries of MUDRA initiative are women. Under the MUDRA initiative, 155.6 million loans have been disbursed amounting to $103 billion. Following the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) 2017, government agency the National Institute for Transforming India (NITI Aayog), launched a Women’s Entrepreneurship Platform, https://wep.gov.in/, a single window information hub which provides information on a range of issues including access to finance, marketing, existing government programs, incubators, public and private initiatives, and mentoring. About 5,000 members are currently registered and using the services of the portal said a NITI Aayog officer who has an oversight of the project.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The RBI, under the Liberalized Remittance Scheme, allows individuals to remit up to $250,000 per fiscal year (April-March) out of the country for permitted current account transactions (private visit, gift/donation, going abroad on employment, emigration, maintenance of close relatives abroad, business trip, medical treatment abroad, studies abroad) and certain capital account transactions (opening of foreign currency account abroad with a bank, purchase of property abroad, making investments abroad, setting up Wholly Owned Subsidiaries and Joint Ventures outside of India, extending loans). The INR is fully convertible only in current account transactions, as regulated under the Foreign Exchange Management Act regulations of 2000 (https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/Fema.aspx ).

Foreign exchange withdrawal is prohibited for remittance of lottery winnings; income from racing, riding or any other hobby; purchase of lottery tickets, banned or proscribed magazines; football pools and sweepstakes; payment of commission on exports made towards equity investment in Joint Ventures or Wholly Owned Subsidiaries of Indian companies abroad; and remittance of interest income on funds held in a Non-Resident Special Rupee Scheme Account (https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/BS_ViewMasDirections.aspx?id=10193#sdi ). Furthermore, the following transactions require the approval of the Central Government: cultural tours; remittance of hiring charges for transponders for television channels under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and Internet Service Providers under the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology; remittance of prize money and sponsorship of sports activity abroad if the amount involved exceeds $100,000; advertisement in foreign print media for purposes other than promotion of tourism, foreign investments and international bidding (over $10,000) by a state government and its public sector undertakings (PSUs); and multi-modal transport operators paying remittances to their agents abroad. RBI approval is required for acquiring foreign currency above certain limits for specific purposes including remittances for: maintenance of close relatives abroad; any consultancy services; funds exceeding 5 percent of investment brought into India or USD $100,000, whichever is higher, by an entity in India by way of reimbursement of pre-incorporation expenses.

Capital account transactions are open to foreign investors, though subject to various clearances. NRI investment in real estate, remittance of proceeds from the sale of assets, and remittance of proceeds from the sale of shares may be subject to approval by the RBI or FIPB.

FIIs may transfer funds from INR to foreign currency accounts and back at market exchange rates. They may also repatriate capital, capital gains, dividends, interest income, and compensation from the sale of rights offerings without RBI approval. The RBI also authorizes automatic approval to Indian industry for payments associated with foreign collaboration agreements, royalties, and lump sum fees for technology transfer, and payments for the use of trademarks and brand names. Royalties and lump sum payments are taxed at 10 percent.

The RBI has periodically released guidelines to all banks, financial institutions, NBFCs, and payment system providers regarding Know Your Customer (KYC) and reporting requirements under Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA)/Common Reporting Standards (CRS). The government’s July 7, 2015 notification (https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/content/pdfs/CKYCR2611215_AN.pdf ) amended the Prevention of Money Laundering (Maintenance of Records) Rules, 2005, (Rules), for setting up of the Central KYC Records Registry (CKYCR)—a registry to receive, store, safeguard and retrieve the KYC records in digital form of clients.

Remittance Policies

Remittances are permitted on all investments and profits earned by foreign companies in India once taxes have been paid. Nonetheless, certain sectors are subject to special conditions, including construction, development projects, and defense, wherein the foreign investment is subject to a lock-in period. Profits and dividend remittances as current account transactions are permitted without RBI approval following payment of a dividend distribution tax.

Foreign banks may remit profits and surpluses to their headquarters, subject to compliance with the Banking Regulation Act, 1949. Banks are permitted to offer foreign currency-INR swaps without limits for the purpose of hedging customers’ foreign currency liabilities. They may also offer forward coverage to non-resident entities on FDI deployed since 1993.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The FY 2016 the Indian government established the National Infrastructure Investment Fund (NIIF), touted as India’s first sovereign wealth fund to promote investments in the infrastructure sector. The government agreed to contribute $3 billion to the fund, while an additional $3 billion will be raised from the private sector primarily from sovereign wealth funds, multilateral agencies, endowment funds, pension funds, insurers, and foreign central banks. So far, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Australian Super, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, Temasek, Axis Bank, HDFC Group, ICICI Bank and Kotak Mahindra Life Insurance have committed investments into the NIIF Master Fund, alongside Government of India. NIIF Master Fund now has $2.1 billion in commitments with a focus on core infrastructure sectors including transportation, energy and urban infrastructure.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The government owns or controls interests in key sectors with significant economic impact, including infrastructure, oil, gas, mining, and manufacturing. The Department of Public Enterprises (http://dpe.gov.in ), controls and formulates all the policies pertaining to SOEs, and is headed by a minister to whom the senior management reports. The Comptroller and Auditor General audits the SOEs. The government has taken a number of steps to improve the performance of SOEs, also called the Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs), including improvements to corporate governance. Reforms carried out in the 1990s focused on liberalization and deregulation of most sectors and disinvestment of government shares. These and other steps to strengthen CPSE boards and enhance transparency evolved into a more comprehensive governance approach, culminating in the Guidelines on Corporate Governance of State-Owned Enterprises issued in 2007 and their mandatory implementation beginning in 2010. Governance reforms gained prominence for several reasons: the important role that CPSEs continue to play in the Indian economy; increased pressure on CPSEs to improve their competitiveness as a result of exposure to competition and hard budget constraints; and new listings of CPSEs on capital markets.

According to the Public Enterprise Survey 2018-19 as of March 2019 there were 348 central public sector enterprises (CPSEs) with a total investment of $234 billion, of which 248 are operating CPSEs. The report puts the number of profit-making CPSEs at 178, while 70 CPSEs were incurring losses. The government tried to unsuccessfully privatize the state-run loss- incurring airline Air India.

Foreign investments are allowed in the CPSEs in all sectors. The Master List of CPSEs can be accessed at http://www.bsepsu.com/list-cpse.asp.  While the CPSEs face the same tax burden as the private sector, on issues like procurement of land they receive streamlined licensing that private sector enterprises do not.

Privatization Program

Despite the financial upside to disinvestment in loss-making state-owned enterprises (SOEs), the government has not generally privatized its assets as they have led to job losses in the past, and therefore engender political risks. Instead, the government has adopted a gradual disinvestment policy that dilutes government stakes in public enterprises without sacrificing control. Such disinvestment has been undertaken both as fiscal support and as a means of improving the efficiency of SOEs.

In recent years, however the government has begun to look to disinvestment proceeds as a major source of revenue to finance its fiscal deficit. For the first time in seven years, the government met its disinvestment target in fiscal year 2017-18, generating $15.38 billion against a target of $11.15 billion. For FY 2020, the government increased the disinvestment target of $12.3 billion but managed to generate only $2.5 billion till December 2019 The Government of India’s plan to sell state-owned carrier Air India could not happen in FY 2020. The Indian Government constituted inter-ministerial panel recommended 100 percent stake sale in Air India to make it more lucrative as against a 76 percent stake sale last year. Government did say that they have received some good bids, but the process might go to a back burner because of the COVID19 pandemic and its resulting impact on the economy.

Foreign institutional investors can participate in these disinvestment programs subject to these limits: 24 percent of the paid-up capital of the Indian company and 10 percent for non-resident Indians and persons of Indian origin. The limit is 20 percent of the paid-up capital in the case of public sector banks. There is no bidding process. The shares of the SOEs being disinvested are sold in the open market. Detailed policy procedures relating to disinvestment in India can be accessed at: https://dipam.gov.in/disinvestment-policy 

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Among Indian companies there is a general awareness of standards for responsible business conduct. The Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) administers the Companies Act of 2013 and is responsible for regulating the corporate sector in accordance with the law. The MCA is also responsible for protecting the interests of consumers by ensuring competitive markets.

The Companies Act of 2013 also established the framework for India’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) laws. While the CSR obligations are mandated by law, non-government organizations (NGOs) in India also track CSR activities provide recommendations in some cases for effective use of CSR funds. MCA released the National Guidelines on Responsible Business Conduct, 2018 (NGRBC) on March 13, 2019 (an improvement over the existing National Voluntary Guidelines on Social, Environmental & Economic Responsibilities of Business, 2011), as a means to nudge businesses to contribute towards wider development goals while seeking to maximize their profits. The NGRBC is dovetailed with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights (UNGPs).

A CRISIL study reported that cumulative spending on CSR since it was mandated is more than $ 7 billion (Rs.50,000 crores) including $ 4.85 billion (Rs. 34,000 crores) by listed companies and nearly $ 2.7 billion (Rs.19,000 crores) by unlisted ones. The study further noted that overall, 1,913 companies met the government’s eligibility criteria but 667 of them could not spend for various reasons. About 153 companies spent 3 percent or more as against the mandated 2 percent of profits. In terms of spending, energy companies were front runners to spend $ 322 million (Rs. 2,253 crore) or 23 percent of the overall spending followed by manufacturing, financial services and information technology services. The preferred spending heads were education, skill development, healthcare, and sanitation and preferred areas being National Capital region, Karnataka and Maharashtra. The study however noted that there could be shrink both in terms of number of companies and their total spend after the Companies (Amendment) Act 2017 where the eligibility criteria is now based on financials of the “immediately preceding financial year” rather than the earlier stipulation of “any three preceding “immediately preceding financial year” rather than the earlier stipulation of “any three preceding financial years.”

India does not adhere to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas. There are provisions to promote responsible business conduct throughout the supply chain.

India is not a member of Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) nor is it a member of Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.

9. Corruption

India is a signatory to the United Nation’s Conventions Against Corruption and is a member of the G20 Working Group against corruption. India showed marginal improvement and scored 41 out of 100 in Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perception Index, with a ranking of 78 out of the 180 countries surveyed (as compared to a score of 40 out of 100 and ranked 81 in 2017).

Corruption is addressed by the following laws: the Companies Act, 2013; the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002; the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988; the Code of Criminal Procedures, 1973; the Indian Contract Act, 1872; and the Indian Penal Code of 1860. Anti- corruption laws amended since 2004 have granted additional powers to vigilance departments in government ministries at the central and state levels. The amendments also elevated the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to be a statutory body. In addition, the Comptroller and Auditor General is charged with performing audits on public-private-partnership contracts in the infrastructure sector on the basis of allegations of revenue loss to the exchequer.

In November 2016, the Modi government ordered that INR 1000 and 500 notes, comprising approximately 86 percent of cash in circulation, be demonetized to curb “black money,” corruption, and the financing of terrorism. An August 2018 RBI report stated 99 percent of demonetized cash was deposited in legitimate bank accounts, leading analysts to question if the exercise enabled criminals to launder money into the banking system. Digital transactions increased due to demonetization, as mobile banking inclusion jumped from 40 percent to 60 percent of the populace. India is investigating 1.8 million bank accounts and 200 individuals associated with unusual deposits during demonetization, and banks’ suspicious transaction reports quadrupled to 473,000 in 2016. On August 7, SEBI directed stock exchanges to restrict trading and audit 162 suspected shell companies on the basis of large cash deposits during demonetization.

The Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Act of 2016 entered into effect in November 2016, and strengthened the legal and administrative procedures of the Benami Transactions Act 1988, which was ultimately never notified. (Note: A benami property is held by one person, but paid for by another, often with illicit funds.) Analysts expect the government to issue a roadmap in 2017-2018 to begin implementing the Act. In May 2017, the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 came into effect. The Act will regulate India’s real estate sector, which is notorious for its corruption and lack of transparency.

In November 2016, India and Switzerland signed a joint declaration to enter into an Agreement on the Exchange of Information (AEOI) to automatically share financial information on accounts held by Indian residents, beginning in 2018. India also amended its Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement with Singapore, Cyprus, and Mauritius in 2016 to prevent income tax evasion. The move follows the Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act, 2015, which replaced the Income Tax (IT) Act of 1961 regarding the taxation of foreign income. The new Act penalizes the concealment of foreign income, as well as provides criminal liability for foreign income tax evasion.

In February 2014, the government enacted the Whistleblower Act, intended to protect anti- corruption activists, but it has yet to be implemented. Experts believe that the prosecution of corruption has been effective only among the lower levels of the bureaucracy; senior bureaucrats have generally been spared. Businesses consistently cite corruption as a significant obstacle to FDI in India and identify government procurement as a process particularly vulnerable to corruption. To make the Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2014 more effective, the government proposed an amendment bill in 2015. This bill is still pending with the Upper House of Parliament; however anti-corruption activists have expressed concern that the bill will dilute the Act by creating exemptions for state authorities, allowing them to stay out of reach of whistleblowers.

The Companies Act of 2013 established rules related to corruption in the private sector by mandating mechanisms for the protection of whistle blowers, industry codes of conduct, and the appointment of independent directors to company boards. As yet, the government has established no monitoring mechanism, and it is unclear the extent to which these protections have been instituted. No legislation focuses particularly on the protection of NGOs working on corruption issues, though the Whistleblowers Protection Act, 2011, may afford some protection once it has been fully implemented.

In 2013, Parliament enacted the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act 2013, which created a national anti- corruption ombudsman and requires states to create state-level ombudsmen within one year of the law’s passage. Till December 2018, the government had not appointed an ombudsman. (Note: An ombudsman was finally appointed in March 2019.)

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

India is a signatory to the United Nations Conventions against Corruption and is a member of the G20 Working Group against Corruption. India is not party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

Resources to Report Corruption

Matt Ingeneri
Economic Growth Unit Chief U.S. Embassy New Delhi Shantipath, Chanakyapuri New Delhi
+91 11 2419 8000 ingeneripm@state.gov

Ashutosh Kumar Mishra
Executive Director
Transparency International, India
Lajpat Bhawan, Room no.4
Lajpat Nagar,
New Delhi – 110024 +91 11 2646 0826
info@transparencyindia.org

10. Political and Security Environment

Prime Minister Modi’s BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government won a decisive mandate in the May 2019 elections, winning a larger majority in the Lok Sabha (lower house of Parliament) than in 2014. The new government’s first 100 days of its second term were marked by the removal of special constitutional status from the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) The government’s decision to remove J&K autonomy was preceded by a heavy paramilitary build-up in the State, arrests of local opposition leaders, and cutting of mobile phone and Internet services. Internet connections have since been largely opened, but with continued severe limitations on data download speeds to the extent that everyday activities of Kashmiris often take hours or need to be completed outside the region.

A number of areas of India suffered from terrorist attacks by separatists, including Jammu and Kashmir and some states in India’s northeast.

In December 2019, the government passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which promises fast-tracked citizenship to applicants from six minority religious groups from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, but does not offer a similar privilege to Muslims from these countries. The new law sparked widespread protests that sometimes-included violence by demonstrators, government supporters, and security services.

Travelers to India are invited to visit the U.S. Department of State travel advisory website at: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/india.html for the latest information and travel resources.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Although there are more than 20 million unionized workers in India, unions still represent less than 5 percent of the total work force. Most of these unions are linked to political parties. Unions are typically strong in state-owned enterprises. A majority of the unionized work force can be found in the railroads, port & dock, banking and insurance sectors. According to provisional figures form the Ministry of Labor and Employment (MOLE), over 1.74 million workdays were lost to strikes and lockouts during 2018. Labor unrest occurs throughout India, though the reasons and affected sectors vary widely. A majority of the labor problems are the result of workplace disagreements over pay, working conditions, and union representation.

India’s labor regulations are very stringent and complex, and over time have limited the growth of the formal manufacturing sector. In an effort to reduce the number of labor related statutes, the Indian parliament passed the Code on Wages legislation in 2019. This Code combines four previously existing statutes- The Payment of Wages Act, the Minimum Wages Act, the Payment of Bonus Act, and the Equal Renumeration Act- into one code to simplify compliance procedures for employers. Minimum industrial wages vary by state, ranging from about $2.20 per day for unskilled laborers to over $9.30 per day for skilled production workers.  Retrenchment, closure, and layoffs are governed by the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947, which requires prior government permission to lay off workers or close businesses employing more than 100 people, although some states including Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra have increased the threshold to 300 people. RBI approval is also required for foreign banks to close branches.  Permission is generally difficult to obtain, which has resulted in the increasing use of contract workers (i.e. non- permanent employees) to circumvent the law.  Private firms successfully downsize through voluntary retirement schemes.

Since the current government assumed office in 2014, much of the movement on labor laws has taken place at the state level, particularly in Rajasthan, where the government has passed major amendments to allow for quicker hiring, firing, laying off, and shutting down of businesses. The Ministry of Labor and Employment launched a web portal in 2014 to assist companies in filing a single online report on compliance with 16 labor-related laws. The government has also drafted a Code on Industrial Relations that is currently being reviewed by a parliamentary committee. India’s major labor unions have opposed labor reforms, arguing that they compromise workers’ safety and job security.

In March 2017, the Maternity Benefits Act was amended to increase the paid maternity leave for women from 12 weeks to 26 weeks.  The amendment also makes it mandatory for all industrial establishments employing 50 or more workers to have a creche for babies to enable nursing mothers to feed the child up to 4 times in a day.

In August 2016, the Child Labor Act was amended establishing a minimum age of 14 years for work and 18 years as the minimum age for hazardous work. In December 2016, the government promulgated legislation enabling employers to pay worker salaries through checks or e-payment in addition to the prevailing practice of cash payment.

There are no reliable unemployment statistics for India due to the informal nature of most employment. A 2019 report from India’s National Statistics Commission claimed that the official unemployment rate in India rose to 6.1 percent in 2018, a 45-year high. In contrast, the unemployment rate was only 2.2 percent the last time when the commission conducted this survey in 2012. The government acknowledges a shortage of skilled labor in high-growth sectors of the economy, including information technology and manufacturing. The current government has established a Ministry of Skill Development and has embarked on a national program to increase skilled labor.

12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs

The United States and India signed an Investment Incentive Agreement in 1987. This agreement covered the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and its successor agency, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC). DFC is the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, launched in January 1, 2020, to incorporate OPIC’s programs as well as the Direct Credit Authority of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Since 1974, DFC (under its predecessor agency, OPIC) has provided support to over 200 projects in India in the form of loans, investment funds, and political risk insurance.

As of March 2020, DFC’s current outstanding portfolio in India comprises more than $1.7 billion, across 50 projects. These commitments are concentrated in utilities, financial services (including microfinance), and impact investments that include agribusiness and healthcare. 13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) 2019 $2.92 trillion 2018 $2.791 trillion https://data.worldbank.org/
country/india
 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country (stock positions) 2019 $28.34*billion 2019 $45.9 billion https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States (stock positions) 2015 $9.2*billion 2018 $5.0 billion https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2019 15.1% https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

*The Indian government source for GDP is: https://www.indiabudget.gov.in/economicsurvey/doc/Statistical-Appendix-in-English.pdf  The Indian government source for FDI statistics is: http://dipp.nic.in/publications/fdi-statistics  and the figure is the cumulative FDI from April 2000 to December 2017. The DIPP figures include equity inflows, reinvested earnings and “other capital,” and are not directly comparable with the BEA data. Outward FDI data has been sourced from: http://ficci.in/study-  page.asp?spid=20933&deskid=54531  

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 456,911 100% Total Outward N/A 100%
Mauritius 141,925 31% N/A N/A N/A
Singapore 94,651 21% N/A N/A N/A
Japan 33,081 7% N/A N/A N/A
Netherlands 30,884 7% N/A N/A N/A
United States 28,349 6% N/A N/A N/A
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Note: Outward Direct InvestmentAccording to India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF) of the Department of Commerce, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the outward FDI from India in equity, loan and guaranteed issue stood at US$ 12.59 billion in FY2018-19.
Source: Inward FDI DIPP, Ministry of Commerce and Industry
Outward Investments (July 2018-December 2018) RBI

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 3,374 100% All Countries 2,010 100% All Countries 1,723 100%
United States 2218 59% United States 614 31% United States 1604 93%
China, P.R. Mainland 605 16% China, P.R. Mainland 605 30% Brazil 51 3%
Luxembourg 317 8% Luxembourg 317 16% Mauritius 27 2%
Mauritius 144 4% Mauritius 117 6% France 20 1%
Indonesia 63 2% Indonesia 63 3% United Kingdom 19 1%

Indonesia

Executive Summary

Indonesia’s population of 268 million, GDP over USD 1 trillion, growing middle class, and stable economy all serve as attractive features to U.S. investors; however, different entities have noted that investing in Indonesia remains challenging.  Since 2014, the Indonesian government under President Joko (“Jokowi”) Widodo, now in his second and final five-year term,  has prioritized boosting infrastructure investment and human capital development to support Indonesia’s economic growth goals.  As he began his second term in October 2019, President Jokowi announced sweeping plans to pass omnibus laws aimed at improving Indonesia’s economic competitiveness by lowering corporate taxes, reforming rigid labor laws, and reducing bureaucratic and regulatory barriers to investment.  However, with the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, the government shifted its focus to providing fiscal and monetary stimulus to support the economy.  Regardless of the outcome of further reforms, factors such as a decentralized decision-making process, legal and regulatory uncertainty, economic nationalism, and powerful domestic vested interests in both the private and public sectors, create a complex investment climate.  Other factors relevant to investors include: government requirements, both formal and informal, to partner with Indonesian companies, and to manufacture or purchase goods and services locally; restrictions on some imports and exports; and pressure to make substantial, long-term investment commitments.  Despite recent limits placed on its authority, the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) continues to investigate and prosecute corruption cases.  However, investors still cite corruption as an obstacle to pursuing opportunities in Indonesia.

Other barriers to foreign investment that have been reported include difficulties in government coordination, the slow rate of land acquisition for infrastructure projects, weak enforcement of contracts, bureaucratic inefficiency, and ambiguous legislation in regards to tax enforcement. Businesses also face difficulty from changes to rules at government discretion with little or no notice and opportunity for comment, and lack of consultation with stakeholders in the development of laws and regulations.  Investors have noted that many new regulations are difficult to understand and often not properly communicated to those affected.  In addition, companies have complained about the complexity of inter-ministerial coordination that continues to delay some processes important to companies, such as securing business licenses and import permits.  In response, in July 2018 the government launched a “one stop shop” for licenses and permits via an online single submission (OSS) system at the Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM).  Indonesia restricts foreign investment in some sectors through a Negative Investment List that Indonesian officials have indicated will be scrapped as part of omnibus legislation.  The latest version, issued in 2016, details the sectors in which foreign investment is restricted and outlines the foreign equity limits in a number of other sectors.  The 2016 Negative Investment List allows greater foreign investments in some sectors, including e-commerce, film, tourism, and logistics.  In health care, the 2016 list loosens restrictions on foreign investment in categories such as hospital management services and manufacturing of raw materials for medicines, but tightens restrictions in others such as mental rehabilitation, dental and specialty clinics, nursing services, and the manufacture and distribution of medical devices. Companies have reported that energy and mining still face significant foreign investment barriers.

Indonesia began to abrogate its more than 60 existing Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) in 2014, allowing some of the agreements to expire in order to be renegotiated.  The United States does not have a BIT with Indonesia.

Despite the challenges that industry has reported, Indonesia continues to attract significant foreign investment.  Singapore, Netherlands, United States, Japan and Hong Kong were among the top sources of foreign investment in the country in 2018 (latest available full-year data). Private consumption is the backbone of the largest economy in ASEAN, making Indonesia a promising destination for a wide range of companies, ranging from consumer products and financial services, to digital start-ups and franchisors.  Indonesia has ambitious plans to improve its infrastructure with a focus on expanding access to energy, strengthening its maritime transport corridors, which includes building roads, ports, railways and airports, as well as improving agricultural production, telecommunications, and broadband networks throughout the country. Indonesia continues to attract U.S. franchises and consumer product manufacturers.  UN agencies and the World Bank have recommended that Indonesia do more to grow financial and investor support for women-owned businesses, noting obstacles that women-owned business sometimes face in early-stage financing.

Table 1
Measure Year Index or Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions index 2019 85 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/cpi2019
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2020 73 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 85 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $11,140 M  https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $3,840 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD?locations=ID

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

With GDP growth of 5.02 percent in 2019, Indonesia is an attractive destination for foreign direct investment (FDI) due to its young population, strong domestic demand, stable political situation, and well-regarded macroeconomic policy.  Indonesian government officials often state that they welcome increased FDI, aiming to create jobs and spur economic growth, and court foreign investors, notably focusing on infrastructure development and export-oriented manufacturing.  Foreign investors, however, have complained about vague and conflicting regulations,  bureaucratic inefficiencies, ambiguous legislation in regards to  tax enforcement, poor existing infrastructure, rigid labor laws, sanctity of contract issues, and corruption.

The Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board, or BKPM, serves as an investment promotion agency, a regulatory body, and the agency in charge of approving planned investments in Indonesia.  As such, it is the first point of contact for foreign investors, particularly in manufacturing, industrial, and non-financial services sectors.  BKPM’s OSS system streamlines 492 licensing and permitting processes through the issuance of Government Regulation No.24/2018 on Electronic Integrated Business Licensing Services.  While the OSS system is operational, overlapping authority for permit issuance across ministries and government institutions, both at the national and subnational level, remains challenging.  Special expedited licensing services are available for investors meeting certain criteria, such as making investments in excess of approximately IDR100 billion (USD 6.6 million) or employing 1,000 local workers. The government has provided investment incentives particularly for “pioneer” sectors, (please see the section on Industrial Policies)

To further improve the investment climate, the government drafted an omnibus law on job creation to amend dozens of prevailing laws deemed to hamper investment.  In February 2020, the draft omnibus law was submitted to the legislature for deliberation.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Restrictions on FDI are, for the most part, outlined in Presidential Decree No.44/2016, commonly referred to as the Negative Investment List or the DNI. The DNI aims to consolidate FDI restrictions from numerous decrees and regulations, in order to create greater certainty for foreign and domestic investors.  The 2016 revision to the list eased restrictions in a number of previously closed or restricted fields.  Previously closed sectors, including the film industry (including filming, editing, captioning, production, showing, and distribution of films), on-line marketplaces with a value in excess of IDR 100 billion (USD 6.6 million), restaurants, cold chain storage, informal education, hospital management services, and manufacturing of raw materials for medicine, are now open for 100 percent foreign ownership.  The 2016 list also raises the foreign investment cap in the following sectors, though not fully to 100 percent:  online marketplaces under IDR 100 billion (USD 6.6 million), tourism sectors, distribution and warehouse facilities, logistics, and manufacturing and distribution of medical devices.  In certain sectors, restrictions are liberalized for foreign investors from other ASEAN countries.  Though the energy sector saw little change in the 2016 revision, foreign investment in construction of geothermal power plants up to 10 MW is permitted with an ownership cap of 67 percent, while the operation and maintenance of such plants is capped at 49 percent foreign ownership.  For investment in certain sectors, such as mining and higher education, the 2016 DNI is useful only as a starting point for due diligence, as additional licenses and permits are required by individual ministries.  A number of sensitive business areas, involving, for example, alcoholic beverages, ocean salvage, certain fisheries, and the production of some hazardous substances, remain closed to foreign investment or are otherwise restricted.

Foreign investment in small-scale and home industries (i.e. forestry, fisheries, small plantations, certain retail sectors) is reserved for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) or requires a partnership between a foreign investor and local entity.  Even where the 2016 DNI revisions lifted limits on foreign ownership, certain sectors remain subject to other restrictions imposed by separate laws and regulations.  As part of President Jokowi’s second-term economic reform agenda, Indonesian ministers have stated their interest in revising the 2016 DNI through a new presidential regulation that will be issued in 2020.  This new Investment Priorities List, or DPI, will incentivize investment into certain sectors, notably export-oriented manufacturing, digital technology projects, labor-intensive industries, and value-added processing, with the aim to spur innovation and reduce Indonesia’s current account deficit.  The government also intends to shorten the list of restricted sectors to six categories including cannabis, gambling, and chemical weapons..

In 2016, Bank Indonesia issued Regulation No.18/2016 on the implementation of payment transaction processing.  The regulation governs all companies providing the following services: principal, issuer, acquirer, clearing, final settlement operator, and operator of funds transfer.  The BI regulation capped foreign ownership of payments companies at 20 percent, though it contained a grandfathering provision.  BI’s 2017 Regulation No.19/2017 on the National Payment Gateway (NPG) subsequently imposed a 20 percent foreign equity cap on all companies engaging in domestic debit switching transactions.  Firms wishing to continue executing domestic debit transactions are obligated to sign partnership agreements with one of Indonesia’s four NPG switching companies.

Foreigners may purchase equity in state-owned firms through initial public offerings and the secondary market. Capital investments in publicly listed companies through the stock exchange are not subject to the DNI.

The government issued Trade Minister Regulation 71/2019 to revoke the requirement for eighty percent local content and limitation of outlet numbers in the franchise industry.  Nevertheless, the government encourages companies to utilize domestic goods and services that meet franchisor quality standards.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The latest World Trade Organization (WTO) Investment Policy Review of Indonesia was conducted in April 2013 and can be found on the WTO website: http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp378_e.htm 

The last OECD Investment Policy Review of Indonesia, conducted in 2010, can be found on the OECD website:

http://www.oecd.org/daf/inv/investmentfordevelopment/indonesia-investmentpolicyreview-oecd.htm 

The 2019 UNCTAD Report on ASEAN Investment can be found here: https://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationWebflyer.aspx?publicationid=2568 

Business Facilitation

In order to conduct business in Indonesia, foreign investors must be incorporated as a foreign-owned limited liability company (PMA) through the Ministry of Law and Human Rights.  Once incorporated, a PMA must register through the OSS system.  Upon registration, a company will receive a business identity number (NIB) along with proof of participation in the Workers Social Security Program (BPJS) and endorsement of any Foreign Worker Recruitment Plans (RPTKA).  An NIB remains valid as long as the business operates in compliance with Indonesian laws and regulations.  Existing businesses will eventually be required to register through the OSS system.  In general, the OSS system simplified processes for obtaining NIB from three days to one day upon the completion of prerequisites.

Once an investor has obtained a NIB, he/she may apply for a business license.  At this stage, investors must:  document their legal claim to the proposed project land/location; provide an environmental impact statement (AMDAL); show proof of submission of an investment realization report; and provide a recommendation from relevant ministries as necessary. Investors also need to apply for commercial and/or operational licenses prior to commencing commercial operations.  Special expedited licensing services are also available for investors meeting certain criteria, such as making investments in excess of approximately IDR 100 billion (USD 6.6 million) or employing 1,000 local workers.  After obtaining a NIB, investors in some designated industrial estates can immediately start project construction.

Foreign investors are generally prohibited from investing in MSMEs in Indonesia, although the 2016 Negative Investment List opened some opportunities for partnerships in farming and catalog and online retail.  In accordance with the Indonesian SMEs Law No. 20/2008, MSMEs are defined as enterprises with net assets less than IDR10 billion (USD 0.7 million) or with total annual sales under IDR50 billion (USD 3.3 million).  However, the Indonesian Central Bureau of Statistics defines MSMEs as enterprises with fewer than 99 employees.  The government provides assistance to MSMEs, including: expanded access to business credit for MSMEs in farming, fishery, manufacturing, creative business, trading and services sectors; a tax exemption for MSMEs with annual sales under IDR 200 million (USD 13,000); and assistance with international promotion.

The Ministry of Law and Human Rights’ implementation of an electronic business registration filing, and notification system has dramatically reduced the number of days needed to register a company.  Foreign firms are not required to disclose proprietary information to the government.

BKPM is responsible for issuing “investment licenses” (the term used to encompass both NIB and business licenses) to foreign entities and has taken steps to simplify the application process. The OSS serves as an online portal which allows foreign investors to apply for and track the status of licenses and other services online.  The OSS coordinates many of the permits issued by more than a dozen ministries and agencies required for investment approval.  In November 2019, the government through Presidential Instruction 7/2019 appointed BKPM as the main institution to issue business permits and to grant investment incentives which have been delegated from all ministries and government institutions. BKPM has also been tasked to review policies deemed unfavorable for investors.  In addition, BKPM now issues soft-copy investment and business licenses.  While the OSS’s goal is to help streamline investment approvals, investments in the mining, oil and gas, plantation, and most other sectors still require multiple licenses from related ministries and authorities.  Likewise, certain tax and land permits, among others, typically must be obtained from local government authorities.  Though Indonesian companies are only required to obtain one approval at the local level, businesses report that foreign companies often must seek additional approvals in order to establish a business.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform, and BKPM issued a circular in 2010 to clarify which government offices are responsible for investment that crosses provincial and regional boundaries.  Investment in a regency (a sub-provincial level of government) is managed by the regency government; investment that lies in two or more regencies is managed by the provincial government; and investment that lies in two or more provinces is managed by the central government, or central BKPM.  BKPM has plans to roll out its one-stop-shop structure to the provincial and regency level to streamline local permitting processes at more than 500 sites around the country.

Outward Investment

Indonesia’s outward investment is limited, as domestic investors tend to focus on the domestic market.  BKPM has responsibility for promoting and facilitating outward investment, to include providing information about investment opportunities in and policies of other countries.  BKPM also uses their investment and trade promotion centers abroad to match Indonesian companies with potential investment opportunities.  The government neither restricts nor provides incentives for outward investment.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Indonesia continues to bring its legal, regulatory, and accounting systems into compliance with international norms and agreements, but progress is slow.  Notable developments included passage of a comprehensive anti-money laundering law in 2010 and a land acquisition law in 2012.  Although Indonesia continues to move forward with regulatory system reforms foreign investors have indicated they still encounter challenges in comparison to domestic investors and have criticized the current regulatory system for its failure to establish clear and transparent rules for all actors.  Certain laws and policies, including the DNI, establish sectors that are either fully off-limits to foreign investors or are subject to substantive conditions.

Decentralization has introduced another layer of bureaucracy for firms to navigate, resulting in what companies have identified as additional red tape.  Certain businesses claim that Indonesia encounters challenges in launching bureaucratic reforms due to ineffective management, resistance from vested interests, and corruption.  U.S. businesses cite regulatory uncertainty and a lack of transparency as two significant factors hindering operations.  Government ministries and agencies, including the Indonesian House of Representatives (DPR), continue to publish many proposed laws and regulations in draft form for public comment; however, not all draft laws and regulations are made available in public fora and it can take years for draft legislation to become law.  Laws and regulations are often vague and require substantial interpretation by the implementers, leading to business uncertainty and rent-seeking opportunities.

U.S. companies note that regulatory consultation in Indonesia is inconsistent, despite the existence of Law No. 12/2011 on the Development of Laws and Regulations and its implementing Government regulation 87/204, which states that the community is entitled to provide oral or written input into draft laws and regulations.  The law also sets out procedures for revoking regulations and introduces requirements for academic studies as a basis for formulating laws and regulations.  Nevertheless, the absence of a formal consultation mechanism has been reported to lead to different interpretations among policy makers of what is required.

In 2016, the Jokowi administration repealed 3,143 regional bylaws that overlapped with other regulations and impeded the ease of doing business.  However, a 2017 Constitutional Court ruling limited the Ministry of Home Affairs’ authority to revoke local regulations and allowed local governments to appeal the central government’s decision.  The Ministry continues to play a consultative function in the regulation drafting stage, providing input to standardize regional bylaws with national laws.

In 2017, the government issued Presidential Instruction No. 7/2017, which aims to improve the coordination among ministries in the policy-making process.  The new regulation requires lead ministries to coordinate with their respective coordinating ministry before issuing a regulation.  Presidential Instruction No. 7 also requires Ministries to conduct a regulatory impact analysis and provide an opportunity for public consultation.  The presidential instruction did not address the frequent lack of coordination between the central and local governments.  Pursuant to various Indonesian economy policy reform packages over the past several years, the government has eliminated 220 regulations as of September 2018.  Fifty-one of the eliminated regulations are at the Presidential level and 169 at the ministerial or institutional level.

In July 2018, President Jokowi issued Presidential Regulation No. 54/2018, updating and streamlining the National Anti-Corruption Strategy to synergize corruption prevention efforts across ministries, regional governments, and law enforcement agencies.  The regulation focuses on three areas: licenses, state finances (primarily government revenue and expenditures), and law enforcement reform.  An interagency team, including KPK, leads the national strategy’s implementation efforts.

In October 2018, the government issued Presidential Regulation No. 95/2018 on e-government that requires all levels of government (central, provincial, and municipal) to implement online governance tools (e-budgeting, e-procurement, e-planning) to improve budget efficiency, government transparency, and the provision of public services.

International Regulatory Considerations

As a member of ASEAN, Indonesia has successfully implemented regional initiatives, including real-time movement of electronic import documents through the ASEAN Single Window, which reduces shipping costs, speeds customs clearance, and reduces opportunities for corruption.   Indonesia has also committed to ratify the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA), ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services (AFAS), and the ASEAN Mutual Recognition Arrangement.  Notwithstanding progress made in certain areas, the often-lengthy process of aligning national legislation has caused delays in implementation.  The complexity of interagency coordination and/or a shortage of technical capacity are among the challenges being reported.

Indonesia joined the WTO in 1995.  Indonesia’s National Standards Body (BSN) is the primary government agency to notify draft regulations to the WTO concerning technical barriers to trade (TBT) and sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS); however, in practice, notification is inconsistent.  In December 2017, Indonesia ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).  At this point, Indonesia has met 88.7 percent of its commitments to the TFA provisions, including publication and availability information, consultations, advance ruling, review procedure, detention and test procedure, fee and charges discipline, goods clearance, border agency cooperation, import/export formalities, and goods transit.

Indonesia is a Contracting Party to the Aircraft Protocol to the Convention of International Interests in Mobile Equipment (Cape Town Convention).  However, foreign investors bringing aircraft to Indonesia to serve the aviation sector have faced difficulty in utilizing Cape Town Convention provisions to recover aircraft leased to Indonesian companies.  Foreign owners of leased aircraft that have become the subject of contractual lease disputes with Indonesian lessees have been unable to recover their aircraft in certain circumstances.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Indonesia’s legal system is based on civil law.  The court system consists of District Courts (primary courts of original jurisdiction), High Courts (courts of appeal), and the Supreme Court (the court of last resort).  Indonesia also has a Constitutional Court.  The Constitutional Court has the same legal standing as the Supreme Court, and its role is to review the constitutionality of legislation.  Both the Supreme and Constitutional Courts have authority to conduct judicial review.

Corruption also continues to plague Indonesia’s judiciary, with graft investigations involving senior judges and court staffs.  Many businesses note that the judiciary is susceptible to influence from outside parties.  Certain companies have claimed that the court system often does not provide the necessary recourse for resolving property and contractual disputes and that cases that would be adjudicated in civil courts in other jurisdictions sometimes result in criminal charges in Indonesia.

Judges are not bound by precedent and many laws are open to various interpretations.  A lack of clear land titles has plagued Indonesia for decades, although the land acquisition law No.2/2012 enacted in 2012 included legal mechanisms designed to resolve some past land ownership issues.  In addition, companies find Indonesia to have a poor track record on the legal enforcement of contracts, and civil disputes are sometimes criminalized.  Government Regulation No. 79/2010 opened the door for the government to remove recoverable costs from production sharing contracts.  Indonesia has also required mining companies to renegotiate their contracts of work to include higher royalties, more divestment to local partners, more local content, and domestic processing of mineral ore.

Indonesia’s commercial code, grounded in colonial Dutch law, has been updated to include provisions on bankruptcy, intellectual property rights, incorporation and dissolution of businesses, banking, and capital markets.  Application of the commercial code, including the bankruptcy provisions, remains uneven, in large part due to corruption and training deficits for judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

FDI in Indonesia is regulated by Law No. 25/2007 (the Investment Law). Under the law, any form of FDI in Indonesia must be in the form of a limited liability company, with the foreign investor holding shares in the company. In addition, the government outlines restrictions on FDI in Presidential Decree No. 44/2016, commonly referred to as the 2016 Negative Investment List or DNI. It aims to consolidate FDI restrictions in certain sectors from numerous decrees and regulations to provide greater certainty for foreign and domestic investors. The 2016 DNI enables greater foreign investment in some sectors like film, tourism, logistics, health care, and e-commerce. A number of sectors remain closed to investment or are otherwise restricted. The 2016 DNI contains a clause that clarifies that existing investments will not be affected by the 2016 revisions. The website of the Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) provides information on investment requirements and procedures: http://www2.bkpm.go.id/ .  Indonesia mandates reporting obligations for all foreign investors through BKPM Regulation No.7/2018.  See section two for Indonesia’s procedures for licensing foreign investment.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Indonesian Competition Authority (KPPU) implements and enforces the 1999 Indonesia Competition Law. The KPPU reviews agreements, business practices and mergers that may be deemed anti-competitive, advises the government on policies that may affect competition, and issues guidelines relating to the Competition Law. Strategic sectors such as food, finance, banking, energy, infrastructure, health, and education are KPPU’s priorities. In April 2017, the Indonesia DPR began deliberating a new draft of the Indonesian antitrust law, which would repeal the current Law No. 5/1999 and strengthen KPPU’s enforcement against monopolistic practices and unfair business competition.

Expropriation and Compensation

Indonesia’s political leadership has long championed economic nationalism, particularly in regard to mineral and oil and gas reserves. According to Law No. 25/2007 (the Investment Law), the Indonesian government is barred from nationalizing or expropriating an investors’ property rights, unless provided by law.  If the Indonesian government nationalizes or expropriates an investors’ property rights, it must provided market value compensation to the investor.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Indonesia is a member of the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) through the ratification of the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention). Thus, foreign arbitral awards are legally recognized and enforceable in the Indonesian courts; however, some investors note that these awards are not always enforced in practice.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Since 2004, Indonesia has faced seven known Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) arbitration cases, including those that have been settled, and discontinued cases. In 2016, an ICSID tribunal ruled in favor of Indonesia in the arbitration case of British firm Churchill Mining. In March 2019, the tribunal rejected an annulment request from the claimants. In addition, a Dutch arbitration court recently ruled in favor of the Indonesian government in USD 469 million arbitration case against Indian firm Indian Metals & Ferro Alloys. Two cases involved Newmont Nusa Tenggara under the BIT with Netherlands and Oleovest under the BIT with Singapore were discontinued.

Indonesia recognizes binding international arbitration of investment disputes in its bilateral investment treaties (BITs). All of Indonesia’s BITs include the arbitration under ICSID or UNCITRAL rules, except the BIT with Denmark. However, in response to an increase in the number of arbitration cases submitted to ICSID, BKPM formed an expert team to review the current generation of BITs and formulate a new model BIT that would seek to better protect perceived national interests. The Indonesian model BIT is under legal review.

In spite of the cancellation of many BITs, the 2007 Investment Law still provides protection to investors through a grandfather clause. In addition, Indonesia also has committed to ISDS provisions in regional or multilateral agreement signed by Indonesia (i.e. ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement).

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Judicial handling of investment disputes remains mixed. Indonesia’s legal code recognizes the right of parties to apply agreed-upon rules of arbitration. Some arbitration, but not all, is handled by Indonesia’s domestic arbitration agency, the Indonesian National Arbitration Body.

Companies have resorted to ad hoc arbitrations in Indonesia using the UNCITRAL model law and ICSID arbitration rules. Though U.S. firms have reported that doing business in Indonesia remains challenging, there is not a clear pattern or significant record of investment disputes involving U.S. or other foreign investors. Companies complain that the court system in Indonesia works slowly as international arbitration awards, when enforced, may take years from original judgment to payment.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Indonesian Law No. 37/2004 on Bankruptcy and Suspension of Obligation for Payment of Debts is viewed as pro-creditor and the law makes no distinction between domestic and foreign creditors. As a result, foreign creditors have the same rights as all potential creditors in a bankruptcy case, as long as foreign claims are submitted in compliance with underlying regulations and procedures. Monetary judgments in Indonesia are made in local currency.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Indonesia seeks to facilitate investment through fiscal incentives, non-fiscal incentives, and other benefits. Fiscal incentives are in the form of tax holidays, tax allowances, and exemptions of import duties for capital goods and raw materials for investment. As part of the Economic Policy Package XVI, Indonesia issued a modified tax holiday scheme in November 2018 through Ministry of Finance (MOF) Regulation 150/2018, which revokes MOF Regulation 35/2018.  This regulation is intended to attract more direct investment in pioneer industries and simplify the application process through the OSS. The period of the tax holiday is extended up to 20 years; the minimum investment threshold is IDR 100 billion (USD 6.6 million), a significant reduction from the previous regulation at IDR 500 billion (USD 33 million). In addition to the tax holiday, depending on the investment amount, this regulation also provides either 25 or 50 percent income tax reduction for the two years after the end of the tax holiday. The following table explains the parameters of the new scheme:

Provision New Capital Investment IDR 100 billion to less than IDR 500 billion New Capital Investment IDR more  than IDR 500 billion
Reduction in Corporate Income Tax Rate 50% 100%
Concession Period 5 years 5-20 years
Transition Period 25% Corporate Income Tax Reduction for the next 2 years 50% Corporate Income Tax Reduction for the next 2 years

Based on BKPM Regulation 1/2019 as amended by BKPM Regulation 8/2019, the coverage of pioneer sectors was expanded to the digital economy, agricultural, plantation, and forestry, bringing the total to eighteen industries:

  1. Upstream basic metals;
  2. Oil and gas refineries;
  3. Petrochemicals derived from petroleum, natural gas, and coal;
  4. Inorganic basic chemicals;
  5. Organic basic chemicals;
  6. Pharmaceutical raw materials;
  7. Semi-conductors and other primary computer components;
  8. Primary medical device components;
  9. Primary industrial machinery components;
  10. Primary engine components for transport equipment;
  11. Robotic components for manufacturing machines;
  12. Primary ship components for the shipbuilding industry;
  13. Primary aircraft components;
  14. Primary train components;
  15. Power generation including waste-to-energy power plants;
  16. Economic infrastructure;
  17. Digital economy including data processing; and
  18. Agriculture, plantation, and forestry-based processing

Government Regulation No. 9/2016 expanded regional tax incentives for certain business categories in 2016. Apparel, leather goods, and footwear industries in all regions are now eligible for the tax incentives. In this regulation, existing tax facilities are maintained, including:

  • Deduction of 30 percent from taxable income over a six-year period
  • Accelerated depreciation and amortization
  • Ten percent of withholding tax on dividend paid by foreign taxpayer or a lower rate according to the avoidance of double taxation agreement
  • Compensation losses extended from 5 to 10 years with certain conditions for companies that are:
    1. Located in industrial or bonded zone;
    2. Developing infrastructure;
    3. Using at least 70 percent domestic raw material;
    4. Absorbing 500 to 1000 laborers;
    5. Doing research and development (R&D) worth at least 5 percent of the total investment over 5 years;
    6. Reinvesting capital; or,
    7. Exporting at least 30 percent of their product.

On March 31, 2020, Indonesia issued Government Regulation in Lieu of Law No. 1 of 2020 on State Financial Policy and the Stability of Financial Systems for the Handling of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic (Perppu 1/2020). Among its provisions are plans to regulate electronic based trading activity (e-trading) and to charge value-added taxes (VAT) on taxable intangible goods and services from foreign e-commerce parties and other highly-digitalized businesses. Income tax will also be imposed upon foreign e-commerce parties that are judged to meet a “significant economic presence” threshhold, based on consolidated gross circulation of a business group, total sales value, or active Indonesian users. The regulation also introduces an electronic transaction tax (ETT) that will be imposed on foreign entities that are subject to income tax obligations under the aformentioned threshhold but would not otherwise be subject to corporate income tax in Indonesia in the absence of a permanent establishment, where taxing such transactions is prohibited by bilateral tax treaties.  Industry representatives have expressed concern that such provisions seek to circumvent bilateral tax treaties intended to avoid double taxation, including the tax treaty between Indonesia and the United States.  They have also noted a lack of clarity over the Perppu’s implementation and concerns over administrative sanctions and the high cost to comply with new measures.  The new regulation will also also cut the corporate income tax rate, lowering it to 22 percent for 2020 and 2021, and to 20 percent for 2022. In addition, a company can claim a further 3 percent reduction if it is publicly listed, with a total number of shares traded on an Indonesian stock exchange of at least 40 percent.

The government provides the facility of Government-Borne Import Duty (Bea Masuk Ditanggung Pemerintah /BMDTP) with zero percent import duty to improve industrial competitiveness and public goods procurement in high value added, labor intensive, and high growth sectors. MOF Regulation 12/2020 provides zero import duty for imported raw materials in 36 sectors including plastics, cosmetics, polyester, resins, other chemical materials, machinery for agriculture, electricity, toys, vehicle components including for electric vehicles, telecommunications, fertilizers, and pharmaceuticals until December 2020.

To cope with soaring demand and to improve domestic production of medical devices and supplies amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the government through BKPM Regulation 86/2020 streamlined licensing requirement for manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and medical devices. The Ministry of Health also accelerated product registration and certification for medical devices and household health supplies. Moreover, the Ministry of Trade issued Regulation 28/2020 to relax import requirements for certain medical-related products.

 At present, Indonesia does not have formal regulations granting national treatment to U.S. and other foreign firms participating in government-financed or subsidized research and development programs. The Ministry of Research and Technology handles applications on a case-by-case basis.

Indonesia’s vast natural resources have attracted significant foreign investment over the last century and continues to offer significant prospects. However, some companies report that a variety of government regulations have made doing business in the resources sector increasingly difficult, and Indonesia now ranks 64th of 76 jurisdictions in the Fraser Institute’s 2019 Mining Policy Perception Index. In 2012, Indonesia banned the export of raw minerals, dramatically increased the divestment requirements for foreign mining companies, and required major mining companies to renegotiate their contracts of work with the government. A ban on the export of raw minerals went into effect in January 2014. However, in July 2014, the government issued regulations that allowed, until January 2017, the temporary export of copper and several other mineral concentrates with export duties and other conditions imposed. When the full export ban came back into effect in January 2017, the government again issued new regulations that allowed exports of copper concentrate and other specified minerals, but imposed more onerous requirements. Of note for foreign investors, provisions of the regulations require that to be able to export non-smelted mineral ores, companies with contracts of work must convert to mining business licenses—and thus be subject to prevailing regulations—and must commit to build smelters within the next five years. Also, foreign-owned mining companies must gradually divest 51 percent of shares to Indonesian interests over ten years, with the price of divested shares determined based on a “fair market value” determination that does not take into account existing reserves. In January 2020, the government banned the export of  nickel ore for all mining companies, foreign and domestic, in the hopes of encouraging construction of domestic nickel smelters. The 2009 mining law devolved the authority to issue mining licenses to local governments, who have responded by issuing more than 10,000 licenses, many of which have been reported to overlap or be unclearly mapped. In the oil and gas sector, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court disbanded the upstream regulator in 2012, injecting confusion and more uncertainty into the natural resources sector. Until a new oil and gas law is enacted, upstream activities are supervised by the Special Working Unit on Upstream Oil and Gas (SKK Migas).

During President Jokowi’s first term, the Indonesian government invested more than  USD 350 billion in infrastructure to connect Indonesia’s more than 17,000 islands. The investments included toll roads, seaports, airports, power generation, telecommunications, and upgrades to Indonesia’s social infrastructure, such as, clean water and sanitation, and housing projects.  President Jokowi has emphasized that he will continue this infrastructure program during his second five-year term, aiming to increase Indonesia’s infrastructure stock from 43 percent of GDP in 2019 to 50 percent in 2024.

Despite high-level attention from Indonesian policymakers, many U.S. companies and investors report that the current institutional arrangement for infrastructure development still suffers from functional overlap, lack of capacity for public-private partnership (PPP) projects in regional governments, lack of solid value-for-money methodologies, crowding out of the private sector by state-owned enterprises (SOEs), legal uncertainty, lack of a solid land-acquisition framework, long-term operational risks for the private sector, unwillingness from stakeholders to be the first ones to test a new policy approach, corruption, and a relatively small Indonesian private sector. As a result of these challenges, the World Bank estimates that Indonesia faces a USD 1.5 trillion infrastructure gap in comparison to other emerging market economies.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Trade/ Trade Facilitation

Indonesia offers numerous incentives to foreign and domestic companies that operate in special economic and trade zones throughout Indonesia. The largest zone is the free trade zone (FTZ) island of Batam, located just south of Singapore. Neighboring Bintan Island and Karimun Island also enjoy FTZ status. Investors in FTZs are exempted from import duty, income tax, VAT, and sales tax on imported capital goods, equipment, and raw materials. Fees are assessed on the portion of production destined for the domestic market which is “exported” to Indonesia, in which case fees are owed only on that portion.  Foreign companies are allowed up to 100 percent ownership of companies in FTZs. Companies operating in FTZs may lend machinery and equipment to subcontractors located outside of the zone for a maximum two-year period.

Indonesia also has numerous Special Economic Zones (SEZs), regulated under Law No. 39/2009, Government Regulation No. 1/2020 on SEZ management, and Government Regulation No. 12/2020 on SEZ facilities. These benefits include a reduction of corporate income taxes for a period of years (depending on the size of the investment), income tax allowances, luxury tax, customs duty and excise, and expedited or simplified administrative processes for import/export, expatriate employment, immigration, and licensing. As of  February 2020, Indonesia has identified fifteen SEZs in manufacturing and tourism centers that are operational or under construction. Eleven SEZs are operational (though development is sometimes limited) at: 1) Sei Mangkei, North Sumatera; 2) Tanjung Lesung, Banten; 3) Palu, Central Sulawesi; 4) Mandalika, West Nusa Tenggara; 5) Arun Lhokseumawe, Aceh; 6) Galang Batang, Bintan, Riau Islands; 7) Tanjung Kelayang, Pulau Bangka, Bangka Belitung Islands; 8) Bitung, North Sulawesi; 9) Morotai, North Maluku; 10) Maloy Batuta Trans Kalimantan, East Kalimantan; and 11) Sorong, Papua. Four more SEZs are under construction: Tanjung Api-Api, South Sumatera; Singhasari, East Java; Kendal, Central Java; and Likupang, North Sulawesi. In 2016, the government began the process of transitioning Batam from an FTZ to SEZ in order to provide further investment incentives. The Indonesian government announced in December 2018 that it plans to transition management of the Batam FTZ to the local government, creating a single regulatory authority on the island. The conversion to an SEZ is still ongoing  and will not affect the status of the neighboring FTZs on Bintan and Karimun islands.

Indonesian law also provides for several other types of zones that enjoy special tax and administrative treatment.  Among these are Industrial Zones/Industrial Estates (Kawasan  Industri), bonded stockpiling areas (Tempat Penimbunan Berikat), and Integrated Economic Development Zones (Kawasan Pengembangan Ekonomi Terpadu).  Indonesia is home to 103 industrial estates that host thousands of industrial and manufacturing companies.  Ministry of Finance Regulation No. 105/2016 provides several different tax and customs facilities available to companies operating out of an industrial estate, including corporate income tax reductions, tax allowances, VAT exemptions, and import duty exemptions depending on the type of industrial estate.  Bonded stockpile areas include bonded warehouses, bonded zones, bonded exhibition spaces, duty free shops, bonded auction places, bonded recycling areas, and bonded logistics centers. Companies operating in these areas enjoy concessions in the form of exemption from certain import taxes, luxury goods taxes, and value added taxes, based on a variety of criteria for each type of location. Most recently, bonded logistics centers (BLCs) were introduced to allow for larger stockpiles, longer temporary storage (up to three years), and a greater number of activities in a single area. The Ministry of Finance issued Regulation 28/2018, providing additional guidance on the types of BLCs and shortening approval for BLC applications. By October 2019, Indonesia had designated 106 BLCs in 159 locations, with plans to designate more in eastern Indonesia.  In 2018, Ministry of Finance and the Directorate General for Customs and Excise (DGCE) issued regulations (MOF Regulation No. 131/2018 and DGCE Regulation No. 19/2018) to streamline the licensing process for bonded zones.  Together the two regulations are intended to reduce processing times and the number of licenses required to open a bonded zone.

Shipments from FTZs and SEZs to other places in the Indonesia customs area are treated similarly to exports and are subject to taxes and duties.  Under MOF Regulation 120/2013, bonded zones have a domestic sales quota of 50 percent of the preceding realization amount on export, sales to other bonded zones, sales to free trade zones, and sales to other economic areas (unless otherwise authorized by the Indonesian government).  Sales to other special economic areas are only allowed for further processing to become capital goods, and to companies which have a license from the economic area organizer for the goods relevant to their business.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Indonesia expects foreign investors to contribute to the training and development of Indonesian nationals, allowing the transfer of skills and technology required for their effective participation in the management of foreign companies. Generally, a company can hire foreigners only for positions that the government has deemed open to non-Indonesians. Employers must have training programs aimed at replacing foreign workers with Indonesians. If a direct investment enterprise wants to employ foreigners, the enterprise should submit an Expatriate Placement Plan (RPTKA) to the Ministry of Manpower.

Indonesia recently made significant changes to its foreign worker regulations. Under Presidential Regulation No. 20/2018, issued in March 2018, the Ministry of Manpower now has two days to approve a complete RPTKA application, and an RPTKA is not required for commissioners or executives. An RPTKA’s validity is now based on the duration of a worker’s contract (previously it was valid for a maximum of five years). The new regulation no longer requires expatriate workers to go through the intermediate step of obtaining a Foreign Worker Permit (IMTA). Instead, expatriates can use an endorsed RPTKA to apply with the immigration office in their place of domicile for a Limited Stay Visa or Semi-Permanent Residence Visa (VITAS/VBS). Expatriates receive a Limited Stay Permit (KITAS) and a blue book, valid for up to two years and renewable for up to two extensions without leaving the country. Regulation No. 20/2018 also abolished the requirement for all expatriates to receive a technical recommendation from a relevant ministry. However, ministries may still establish technical competencies or qualifications for certain jobs, or prohibit the use of foreign worker for specific positions, by informing and obtaining approval from the Ministry of Manpower. Foreign workers who plan to work longer than six months in Indonesia must apply for employee social security and/or insurance.

Regulation No. 20/2018 provides for short-term working permits (maximum six months) for activities such as conducting audits, quality control, inspections, and installation of machinery and electrical equipment. Ministry of Manpower issued Regulation No.10/2018 to implement Regulation 20/2018, revoking its Regulation No. 16/2015 and No. 35/2015. Regulation 10/2018 provides additional details about the types of businesses that can employ foreign workers, sets requirements to obtain health insurance for expatriate employees, requires companies to appoint local “companion” employees for the transfer of technology and skill development, and requires employers to “facilitate” Indonesian language training for foreign workers. Any expatriate who holds a work and residence permit must contribute USD 1,200 per year to a fund for local manpower training at regional manpower offices. The Ministry of Manpower issued Decree 228/2019 to widen the number of jobs open for foreign workers across 18 sectors, ranging from construction, transportation, education, telecommunication, and professionals. Foreign workers  have to obtain approval from Manpower Minister or designated officials for applying positions not listed in the decree. Some U.S. firms report difficulty in renewing KITASs for their foreign executives. In February 2017, the Ministry of Energy and Natural resources abolished regulations specific to the oil and gas industry, bringing that sector in line with rules set by the Ministry of Manpower.

With the passage of a defense law in 2012 and subsequent implementing regulations in 2014, Indonesia established a policy that imposes offset requirements for procurements from foreign defense suppliers. Current laws authorize Indonesian end users to procure defense articles from foreign suppliers if those articles cannot be produced within Indonesia, subject to Indonesian local content and offset policy requirements. On that basis, U.S. defense equipment suppliers are competing for contracts with local partners. The 2014 implementing regulations still require substantial clarification regarding how offsets and local content are determined. According to the legislation and subsequent implementing regulations, an initial 35 percent of any foreign defense procurement or contract must include local content, and this 35 percent local content threshold will increase by 10 percent every five years following the 2014 release of the implementing regulations until a local content requirement of 85 percent is achieved. The law also requires a variety of offsets such as counter-trade agreements, transfer of technology agreements, or a variety of other mechanisms, all of which are negotiated on a per-transaction basis. The implementing regulations also refer to a “multiplier factor” that can be applied to increase a given offset valuation depending on “the impact on the development of the national economy.” Decisions regarding multiplier values, authorized local content, and other key aspects of the new law are in the hands of the Defense Industry Policy Committee (KKIP), an entity comprising Indonesian interagency representatives and defense industry leadership. KKIP leadership indicates that they still determine multiplier values on a case-by-case basis, but have said that once they conclude an industry-wide gap analysis study, they will publish a standardized multiplier value schedule. According to government officials, rules for offsets and local content apply to major new acquisitions only, and do not apply to routine or recurring procurements such as those required for maintenance and sustainment.

Indonesia notified the WTO of its compliance with Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMS) on August 26, 1998. The 2007 Investment Law states that Indonesia shall provide the same treatment to both domestic and foreign investors originating from any country. Nevertheless, the government pursues policies to promote local manufacturing that could be inconsistent with TRIMS requirements, such as linking import approvals to investment pledges or requiring local content targets in some sectors.

In October 10, 2019, Indonesia issued Government Regulation No. 71 (GR71) to replace Regulation No. 82/2012 which classifies electronic system operators (ESO) into two categories: public and private. Public ESOs are either a state institution or an institution assigned by a state institution but not a financial sector regulator or supervision authority. Private ESOs are individuals, businesses and communities that operate electronic system. Public ESOs are required to manage, process, and store their data in Indonesia, unless the storing technology is not available locally.  Private ESOs have the option to choose where they will manage, process, and store their data. However, if private ESOs choose to process data outside of Indonesia, they are required to provide access to their systems and data for government supervision and law enforcement purposes. For private financial sector ESOs, GR71 provides  that such firms are “further regulated” by Indonesia’s financial sector supervisory authorities with regards to the private sector’s ESO systems, data processing, and data storage.

In March 2020, the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (MCIT) published a proposed draft implementing regulation of GR 71 for private ESOs. Article 6 of the draft requires private ESOs to obtain approval from MCIT before they can manage, process, and store their data outside of Indonesia. This provision has been widely criticized by foreign firms and is more restrictive than the original government regulation (GR71) which allows offshore data storage. Post continues to monitor this issue.

Additionally, pursuant to GR71, the Financial Services Authority (OJK) issued Regulation 13/2020, an amendment to Regulation 38/2016, which allows banks to operate their electronic data processing systems and disaster recovery centers outside of Indonesia, provided that the system receives approval from OJK.  Furthermore, OJK will evaluate whether the arrangement for offshore data could diminish its supervisory efficiency, negatively affect the bank’s performance, and if the data center complies with Indonesia’s laws and regulations. The regulation became effective March 31, 2020.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Basic Agrarian Law of 1960, the predominant body of law governing land rights, recognizes the right of private ownership and provides varying degrees of land rights for Indonesian citizens, foreign nationals, Indonesian corporations, foreign corporations, and other legal entities. Indonesia’s 1945 Constitution states that all natural resources are owned by the government for the benefit of the people. This principle was augmented by the passage of a land acquisition bill in 2011 that enshrined the concept of eminent domain and established mechanisms for fair market value compensation and appeals. The National Land Agency registers property under Regulation No. 24/1997, though the Ministry of Forestry administers all ”forest land.” Registration is sometimes complicated by local government requirements and claims, as a result of decentralization. Registration is also not conclusive evidence of ownership, but rather strong evidence of such. Government Regulation No.103/2015 on house ownership by foreigners domiciled in Indonesia allows foreigners to have a property in Indonesia with the status of a “right to use” for a maximum of 30 years, with extensions available for up to 20 additional years.

As part of President Jokowi’s second-term economic reform agenda, the Indonesian government has introduced an omnibus bill on job creation that aims to reduce uncertainty around the roles of the central and local governments, including around spatial planning and environmental and social impact assessments (AMDALs).

Intellectual Property Rights

In the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 Report released on April 29, 2020, Indonesia remains on the priority watch list due to the  lack of adequate and effective IP protection and enforcement. Indonesia’s patent law continues to raise serious concerns, including with respect to patentability criteria and compulsory licensing. Further, counterfeiting and piracy continue to be pervasive, IP enforcement remains weak, and there are continued market access restrictions for IP-intensive industries. According to U.S. stakeholders, Indonesia’s failure to effectively protect intellectual property and enforce IP rights laws has resulted in high levels of physical and online piracy. Local industry associations have reported large amounts of pirated films, music, and software in circulation in Indonesia in recent years, causing potentially billions of dollars in losses.  Indonesian physical markets, such as Mangga Dua Market, and online markets Tokopedia, Bukalapak, were included in USTR’s Notorious Markets List in 2019.

Indonesia improved market access by amending a troubling provision within the 2016 Patent Law related to compulsory licenses (CLs). Ministry of Law and Human Right (MLHR) Regulation 30/2019 aims to provide more clarity on the criteria for CLs, including provisions on the non-transferability of CLs to third parties, specific purposes, and duration. The provisions also clarify conditions where CLs can be granted based on determination of “detriment to society”, including insufficient supply and unfordable prices of patented products. The new regulation incorporates Regulation 15/2018’s renewable exemption for patent holders to delay local manufacturing requirements. While industry contacts viewed this regulation as an improvement, they still have concerns that this regulation may undermine the overall level of protection that patent holders receive by registering their patents in Indonesia.

MLHR’s Director General of Intellectual Property (DGIP)  said the GOI will further amend the 2016 Patent Law through the pending omnibus bill and a future Patent Law amendment. The job creation omnibus bill would remove a requirement under Article 20 to produce a patented product in Indonesia within 36 months of the grant of a patent. Previously, MLHR allowed a five-year exemption from local production requirements under Regulation 15/2018. The Patent Law amendment will contain revisions to Article 4 on second use and Article 82 on compulsory licensing. The 2016 Patent Law contains several other concerning provisions, including a restrictive definition of “invention” that potentially imposes an additional “meaningful benefit” requirement for patents on new forms of existing compounds, an expansive national interest test for proposed patent licenses, and disclosure of genetic information and traditional knowledge to promote access and benefit sharing.  Observers expect the omnibus bill to be passed in 2020.  Aside from the Article 20 revision in the omnibus bill, there is no concrete timeline for the Patent Law amendment. DGIP reports it is currently drafting guidelines for patent examiners on pharmacy, computer, and biotechnology patents that will be released in 2020.

DGIP has relaxed its more aggressive efforts to collect patent annuity fees by offering extensions to the deadline.  On August 16, 2018, DGIP issued a circular letter warning stakeholders that it may refuse to accept new patent applications from rights holders that have not paid patent annuity fee debts. The letter gave rights holders until February 16, 2019, to settle unpaid patent annuity payments. On February 17, 2019, DGIP issued another circular letter on its website extending the deadline to August 17, 2019. DGIP has since announced a further extension to settle any unpaid annuities to July 31, 2020. However, in order to benefit from the latest extension, companies were required to send a “commitment letter” to DGIP by January 31, 2020 indicating their intention to pay the outstanding annuities.  The U.S. government continues to monitor implementation of this policy with DGIP and industry stakeholders.

Indonesia deposited its instrument of accession to the Madrid Protocol with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in October 2017 and issued implementing regulations in June 2018. Under the new rules, applicants desiring international mark protection under the Madrid Protocol are required to first register their application with DGIP , and must be Indonesian citizens, domiciled in Indonesia, or have clear industrial or commercial interests in Indonesia. Although the Trademark Law of 2016 expanded recognition of non-traditional marks, Indonesia still does not recognize certification marks. In response to stakeholder concerns over a lack of consistency in treatment of international well-known trademarks, the Supreme Court issued Circular Letter 1/2017, which advised Indonesian judges to recognize cancellation claims for well-known international trademarks with no time limit stipulation.

Following the issuance of Ministry of Finance (MOF) Regulation No.40/2018, on December 10, 2019, the Supreme Court ruled on MOF Regulation No. 6/2019, which further granted DGCE the legal authority to hold shipments believed to contain imitation goods for up to two days, pending inspection. Under Regulation No.6/2019, rights holders are notified by DGCE (through the recordation system) when an incoming shipment is suspected of containing infringing products. If the inspection reveals an infringement, the rights holder has four days to file a court injunction to request a suspension of the shipment. Rights holders are required to provide a refundable monetary guarantee of IDR 100 million (approximately USD 6,600) when they file a claim with the court. Rights holders can apply for a 10-day (extendable for an additional 10 days) temporary suspension of the shipment until the completion of a commercial court review.  Once the commercial court examines the evidence, the court can make a ruling that same day whether to maintain the temporary hold or to cancel the judgement.  If the court sides with the rights holder, then the guarantee money will be returned to the applicant. Despite  business stakeholder concerns, the GOI retained a requirement that only companies with offices domiciled in Indonesia may use the recordation system.

In 2015, DGIP and KOMINFO jointly released implementing regulations under the Copyright Law to provide for rights holders to report websites that offer IP-infringing products and sets forth procedures for blocking IP-infringing sites. Also in 2015, Indonesia’s Creative Economy Agency (BEKRAF) launched an anti-piracy task force with film and music industry stakeholders. BEKRAF reported that the task force remained focused on coordinating the review of complaints from industry about infringing websites in 2018.  MCIT reported that it blocked 1,946 infringing websites in 2019, a significant increase from the previous  year’s 442 cases. IndoXXI and LayarIndo21, two of the largest online pirated entertainment providers,  reportedly closed in early January. After the IndoXXI shutdown was announced, Video Coalition of Indonesia (VCI) found 200 new infringing websites with similar content. A YouGov survey published by the Asia Video Industry Association (AVIA) revealed that 63 percent of Indonesians access infringing websites for entertainment purposes. MCIT senior officials stated the Ministry is working with the Indonesia National Police Cybercrime Unit and industry groups, including AVIA, to determine and identify the source host, but admitted MCIT does not have the capability to track down the perpetrators and bring criminal charges,

DGIP reports that its directorate of investigation has increased staffing to 187 investigators, including 40 nationwide investigators and 147 staff certified to act as local investigators in 33 provinces when needed for a pending case, and saw the number of investigations double from 30 in 2018 to 47 in 2019. Trademark, Patent, and Copyright legislation requires a rights-holder complaint for investigations, and DGIP and BPOM investigators lack the authority to make arrests so must rely on police cooperation for any enforcement action.

Resources for Rights Holders

Additional information regarding treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, can be found at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) country profile website http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .For a list of local lawyers, see: http://jakarta.usembassy.gov/us-service/attorneys.html.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Indonesia Stock Exchange (IDX) index has 668 listed companies as of December 2019 with a daily trading volume of USD 650 million and market capitalization of USD 521 billion. Over the past five years, there has been a 34 percent increase of the number listed companies, but the IDX is dominated by its top 20 listed companies, which represent 59.26 percent of the market cap. There were 50 initial public offerings in 2019 – seven fewer than 2018. As of January 2020, domestic entities conducted more than 67.97 percent  of total IDX stock trades.

In November 2018, IDX introduced T+2 settlement, with sellers now receiving proceeds within two days instead of the previous standard of three days (T+3). In 2011, the IDX launched the Indonesian Sharia Stock Index (ISSI), its first index of sharia-compliant companies, primarily to attract greater investment from Middle East companies and investors. This was followed in 2017 by the IDX’s introduction the first online sharia stock trading platform. As of December 2019, the ISSI is composed of 429 stocks that are a part of IDX’s Jakarta Composite Index (JCI), with a total market cap of USD 267 billion.

Government treasury bonds are the most liquid bonds offered by Indonesia. Corporate bonds are less liquid due to less public knowledge of the product. The government also issues sukuk (Islamic treasury notes) treasury bills as part of its effort to diversify Islamic debt instruments and increase their liquidity. Indonesia’s sovereign debt as of December 2019 was rated as BBB- by Standard and Poor, BBB by Fitch Ratings and Baa2 by Moody’s.

OJK began overseeing capital markets and non-banking institutions in 2013, replacing the Capital Market and Financial Institution Supervisory Board. In 2014, OJK also assumed BI’s supervisory role over commercial banks. Foreigners have access to the Indonesian capital markets and are a major source of portfolio investment (including 38.57 percent of government securities). Indonesia respects International Monetary Fund (IMF) Article VIII by refraining from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions. Foreign ownership of Indonesian companies may be limited in certain industries or sectors, such as those outlined in the DNI.

Money and Banking System

Although there is some concern regarding the operations of the many small and medium sized family-owned banks, the banking system is generally considered sound, with banks enjoying some of the widest net interest margins in the region. As of August 2019, the 10 top banks had IDR 5,210 trillion (USD 372 billion) in total assets. Loans grew 6.08 percent in 2019 compared to 11.5 percent in2018. Gross non-performing loans in December 2019 remained at 2.53 percent from 2.4 percent the previous year. For 2020, the Financial Services Authority (OJK) project annual credit growth at 12-14 percent and deposit growth around 10-12 percent for Indonesia’s banking industry.

OJK Regulation No.56/03/2016 limits bank ownership to no more than 40 percent by any single shareholder, applicable to foreign and domestic shareholders. This does not apply to foreign bank branches in Indonesia. Foreign banks may establish branches if the foreign bank is ranked among the top 200 global banks by assets.  A special operating license is required from OJK in order to establish a foreign branch. The OJK granted an exception in 2015 for foreign banks buying two small banks and merging them. To establish a representative office, a foreign bank must be ranked in the top 300 global banks by assets. In 2017, HSBC, which previously registered as a foreign branch, changed its legal status to a Limited Liability Company and merged with a local bank subsidiary which it had purchased in 2008.

On March 16, OJK  issued OJK Regulation Number 12/POJK.03/2020 on commercial bank consolidation. The regulation aims to strengthen the structure, and competitiveness of the national banking industry by increasing bank capital and the encouraging consolidation of banks in Indonesia. This regulation generally consists of two main regulations concerning bank consolidation policies, as well as  increasing minimum core capital for commercial banks and increasing Capital Equivalency Maintained Assets for foreign banks with branch offices by least IDR 3 trillion, by December 31, 2022.

In 2015, OJK eased rules for foreigners to open a bank account in Indonesia. Foreigners can open a bank account with a balance between USD 2,000-50,000 with just their passport. For accounts greater than USD 50,000, foreigners must show a supporting document such as a reference letter from a bank in the foreigner’s country of origin, a local domicile address, a spousal identity document, copies of a contract for a local residence, and/or credit/debit statements.

Growing digitalization of banking services, spurred on by innovative payment technologies in the financial technology (fintech) sector, complements the conventional banking sector. Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending companies recorded a triple-digit increase in 2008 and e-payment services have grown more than six-fold since 2012. Indonesian policymakers are hopeful that these fintech services can reach underserved or unbanked populations and micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), with estimates that in 2020, fintech lending will hit IDR 223 trillion (USD 13.61 billion) in loan disbursements.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The rupiah (IDR), the local currency, is freely convertible. Currently, banks must report all foreign exchange transactions and foreign obligations to the central bank, Bank Indonesia (BI). With respect to the physical movement of currency, any person taking rupiah bank notes into or out of Indonesia in the amount of IDR 100 million (approximately USD 6,600) or more, or the equivalent in another currency, must report the amount to DGCE. The limit for any person or entity to bring foreign currency bank notes into or out of Indonesia is the equivalent of IDR 1 billion (USD 66,000).

Banks on their own behalf or for customers may conduct derivative transactions related to derivatives of foreign currency rates, interest rates, and/or a combination thereof. BI requires borrowers to conduct their foreign currency borrowing through domestic banks registered with BI. The regulations apply to borrowing in cash, non-revolving loan agreements, and debt securities.

Under the 2007 Investment Law, Indonesia gives assurance to investors relating to the transfer and repatriation of funds, in foreign currency, on:

  • capital, profit, interest, dividends and other income;
  • funds required for (i) purchasing raw material, intermediate goods or final goods, and (ii) replacing capital goods for continuation of business operations;
  • additional funds required for investment;
  • funds for debt payment;
  • royalties;
  • income of foreign individuals working on the investment;
  • earnings from the sale or liquidation of the invested company;
  • compensation for losses; and
  • compensation for expropriation.

U.S. firms report no difficulties in obtaining foreign exchange.

BI began in 2012 to require exporters to repatriate their export earnings through domestic banks within three months of the date of the export declaration form. Once repatriated, there are currently no restrictions on re-transferring export earnings abroad. Some companies report this requirement is not enforced.

In 2015, the government announced a regulation requiring the use of the rupiah in domestic transactions. While import and export transactions can still use foreign currency, importers’ transactions with their Indonesian distributors must now use rupiah, which has impacted some U.S. business operations. The central bank may grant a company permission to receive payment in foreign currency upon application, and where the company has invested in a strategic industry.

Remittance Policies

The government places no restrictions or time limitations on investment remittances. However, certain reporting requirements exist. Banks should adopt Know Your Customer (KYC) principles to carefully identify customers’ profile to match transactions. Carrying rupiah bank notes of more than IDR 100 million (approximately USD 6,600) in cash out of Indonesia requires prior approval from BI, as well as verifying the funds with Indonesian Customs upon arrival. Indonesia does not engage in currency manipulation.

As of 2015, Indonesia is no longer subject to the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force (FATF) monitoring process under its on-going global Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing (AML/CTF) compliance process. It continues to work with the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG) to further strengthen its AML/CTF regime. In 2018, Indonesia was granted observer status by FATF, a necessary milestone toward becoming a full FATF member.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

As of mid-2020, Indonesia is still preparing to establish a sovereign wealth fund, despite macroeconomic and budgetary pressures from the pandemic response. When established, it is expected the fund will operate as a state-owned investment fund that will aim to attract foreign capital, including from foreign sovereign wealth funds, and invest that capital in long-term Indonesian assets. According to Indonesian government officials, the fund will consist of a master portfolio with sector-specific sub-funds, such as infrastructure, oil and gas, health, tourism, and digital technologies. The sovereign wealth fund will be authorized by the planned passage of the omnibus bill on job creation, which includes 14 articles to set up the fund and facilitate greater cooperation with foreign partners. This cooperation includes authorizing the fund to be set up in foreign jurisdictions and allowing foreigners as general partners of the fund.

In 2015, the Finance Ministry authorized one of those SOEs, PT Sarana Multi Infrastruktur (SMI) to manage the assets of the Pusat Investasi Pemerintah (PIP), or Government Investment Center (which had previously been seen as a potential sovereign wealth fund). Indonesia does not participate in the IMF’s Working Group on Sovereign Wealth Funds.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Indonesia had 114 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and 28 subsidiaries divided into 12 sectors as of December 2019, 10 of which contributed more than 85 percent of total SOE profit. Of the 114 SOEs, 17 are listed on the Indonesian stock exchange. In addition, 14 are special purpose entities under the SOE Ministry (BUMN), with one SOE, the Indonesian Infrastructure Guarantee Fund, under the Ministry of Finance. Since mid-2016, the Indonesian government has been publicizing plans to consolidate SOEs into six holding companies based on sector of operations. In November 2017, Indonesia announced the creation of a mining holding company, PT Inalum, the first of the six planned SOE-holding companies.

Since his appointment by President Jokowi in November 2019, Minister of SOEs Erick Thohir  has underscored the need to reform SOEs in line with President Jokowi’s second-term economic agenda. Thohir has noted the need to liquidate underperforming SOEs, ensure that SOEs improve their efficiency by focusing on core business operations, and introduce better corporate governance principles. Thohir has spoken publicly about his intent to push SOEs to undertake initial public offerings (IPOs) on the IDX.

Information regarding the SOEs can be found at the SOE Ministry website (http://www.bumn.go.id/ ) (Indonesian language only).

There are also an unknown number of SOEs owned by regional or local governments. SOEs are present in almost all sectors/industries including banking (finance), tourism (travel), agriculture, forestry, mining, construction, fishing, energy, and telecommunications (information and communications).

In the third quarter of 2019 (the most recent data available), SOEs have contributed USD 22 billion of tax payments, non-tax payments, and dividends to the Indonesian state. SOEs also contributed a profit of USD 131 billion, with total assets of 626 billion, liabilties of USD 429 billion, and equities of USD 196 billion.

Indonesia is not a party to the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement. Private enterprises can compete with SOEs under the same terms and conditions with respect to access to markets, credit, and other business operations. However, in reality, many sectors report that SOEs receive strong preference for government projects. SOEs purchase some goods and services from private sector and foreign firms. SOEs publish an annual report and are audited by the Supreme Audit Agency (BPK), the Financial and Development Supervisory Agency (BPKP), and external and internal auditors.

Privatization Program

While some state-owned enterprises have offered shares on the stock market, Indonesia does not have an active privatization program.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Indonesian businesses are required to undertake responsible business conduct (RBC) activities under Law 40/2007 concerning Limited Liability Companies. In addition, sectoral laws and regulations have further specific provisions on RBC. Indonesian companies tend to focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs offering community and economic development, and educational projects and programs. This is at least in part caused by the fact that such projects are often required as part of the environmental impact permits (AMDAL) of resource extraction companies, which undergo a good deal of domestic and international scrutiny of their operations. Because a large proportion of resource extraction activity occurs in remote and rural areas where government services are reported to be limited or absent, these companies face very high community expectations to provide such services themselves. Despite significant investments – especially by large multinational firms – in CSR projects, businesses have noted that there is limited general awareness of those projects, even among government regulators and officials.

The government does not have an overarching strategy to encourage or enforce RBC, but regulates each area through the relevant laws (environment, labor, corruption, etc.). Some companies report that these laws  are not always enforced evenly. In 2017, the National Commission on Human Rights launched a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights in Indonesia, based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

OJK regulates corporate governance issues, but the regulations and enforcement are not yet up to international standards for shareholder protection.

Indonesia does not adhere to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and the government is not known to have encouraged adherence to those guidelines. Many companies claim that the government does not encourage adherence to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas or any other supply chain management due diligence guidance. Indonesia does participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Indonesia was suspended by the EITI Board due to a missed deadline for its first EITI report, but the suspension was lifted following publication of its 2012-2013 EITI Report in 2015.

9. Corruption

President Jokowi was elected in 2014 on a strong good-governance platform. However, corruption remains a serious problem according to some U.S. companies. The Indonesian government has issued detailed directions on combating corruption in targeted ministries and agencies, and the 2018 release of the updated and streamlined National Anti-Corruption Strategy mandates corruption prevention efforts across the government in three focus areas (licenses, state finances, and law enforcement reform). The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) was established in 2002 as the lead government agency to investigate and prosecute corruption.  KPK is one of the most trusted and respected institutions in Indonesia. The KPK has taken steps to encourage companies to establish effective internal controls, ethics, and compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery of public officials. By law, the KPK is authorized to conduct investigations, file indictments, and prosecute corruption cases involving law enforcement officers, government executives, or other parties connected to corrupt acts committed by those entities; attracting the “attention and the dismay” of the general public; and/or involving a loss to the state of at least IDR 1 billion (approximately USD 66,000).  The government began prosecuting companies who engage in public corruption under new corporate criminal liability guidance issued in a 2016 Supreme Court regulation, with the first conviction of a corporate entity in January 2019.  Presidential decree No. 13/2018 issued in March 2018 clarifies the definition of beneficial ownership and outlines annual reporting requirements and sanctions for non-compliance.

Indonesia’s ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index in 2019 improved to 85 out of 180 countries surveyed, compared to 89 out of 180 countries in 2018.  Indonesia’s score of public corruption in the country, according to Transparency International, improved to 40 in 2019 (scale of 0/very corrupt to 100/very clean).  At the beginning of President Jokowi’s term in 2014, Indonesia’s score was  34. Indonesia ranks 4th of the 10 ASEAN countries.

Nonetheless, according to certain reports, corruption remains pervasive despite laws to combat it. Some have noted that KPK leadership, along with the commission’s investigators and prosecutors, are sometimes harassed, intimidated, or attacked due to their anticorruption work. In early 2019, a Molotov cocktail and bomb components were placed outside the homes of two KPK commissioners, and in 2017 unidentified assailants committed an acid attack against a senior KPK investigator. Police have not identified the perpetrators of either attack. The Indonesian National Police and Attorney General’s Office also investigate and prosecute corruption cases; however, neither have the same organizational capacity or track-record of the KPK. Giving or accepting a bribe is a criminal act, with possible fines ranging from USD 3,850 to USD 77,000 and imprisonment up to a maximum of 20 years or life imprisonment, depending on the severity of the charge.

On September 2019, the Indonesia House of Representatives (DPR) passed Law No. 19/2019 on the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) which revised the KPK’s original charter. This revised law introduced several changes relating to the authority and supervision of the KPK, including KPK’s status as a state agency under the authority of the executive branch (it was previously an independent body outside of the judicial, legislative, or executive branches) and establishment of a Supervisory Council to oversee certain KPK activities.  The new law also changed the KPK’s status as a separate law enforcement authority and mandated the KPK to provide performance review reports to the President, the DPR RI, and the supervisory board.  Finally, the KPK’s previous independent authority to terminate corruption investigations and prosecutions, as well as authorize wiretaps, searches, arrests, and asset seizures, has now been transferred to the Supervisory Council.  Many observers view these changes as limiting KPK’s ability to pursue corruption investigations without political interference.

Indonesia ratified the UN Convention against Corruption in September 2006. Indonesia has not yet acceded to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, but attends meetings of the OECD Anti-Corruption Working Group. In 2014, Indonesia chaired the Open Government Partnership, a multilateral platform to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and strengthen governance. Several civil society organizations function as vocal and competent corruption watchdogs, including Transparency International Indonesia and Indonesia Corruption Watch.

Resources to Report Corruption

Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (Anti-Corruption Commission)
Jln. Kuningan Persada Kav 4, Setiabudi
Jakarta Selatan 12950
Email: informasi@kpk.go.id

Indonesia Corruption Watch
Jl. Kalibata Timur IV/D No. 6 Jakarta Selatan 12740
Tel: +6221.7901885 or +6221.7994015
Email: info@antikorupsi.org

10. Political and Security Environment

As in other democracies, politically motivated demonstrations occasionally occur throughout Indonesia, but are not a major or ongoing concern for most foreign investors.

Since the large-scale Bali bombings in 2002 that killed over 200 people, Indonesian authorities have aggressively and successfully continued to pursue terrorist cells throughout the country, disrupting multiple aspirational plots. Despite these successes, violent extremist networks and terrorist cells remain intact and have the capacity to become operational and conduct attacks with little or no warning, as do lone wolf-style ISIS sympathizers.

According to the industry, foreign investors in Papua face certain unique challenges. Indonesian security forces occasionally conduct operations against the Free Papua Movement, a small armed separatist group that is most active in the central highlands region. Low-intensity communal, tribal, and political conflict also exists in Papua and has caused deaths and injuries. Anti-government protests have resulted in deaths and injuries, and violence has been committed against employees and contractors of a U.S. company there, including the death of a New Zealand citizen in an attack on March 30, 2020. Additionally, racially-motivated attacks against ethnic Papuans living in East Java province led to violence in Papua and West Papua in late 2019, including riots in Wamena, Papua that left dozens dead and thousands more displaced.

Travelers to Indonesia can visit the U.S. Department of State travel advisory website for the latest information and travel resources: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/Indonesia.html.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Companies have reported that the Indonesian labor market faces a number of structural barriers, including skills shortages and lagging productivity, restrictions on the use of contract workers, and reduced gaps between minimum wages and average wages. Recent significant increases in the minimum wage for many provinces have made unskilled and semi-skilled labor more costly. In the bellwether Jakarta area, the minimum wage was raised again from IDR 3.6 million (USD 256.6) per month in 2018 to IDR 3.94 million (USD 260) per month in 2019. Unions staged largely peaceful protests across Indonesia in 2018 demanding the government increase the minimum wage, decrease the price for basic needs, and stop companies from outsourcing and employing foreign workers. Under the new wage setting policy adopted as part of the 2018 economic stimulus package, annual minimum wage increases will be indexed directly to inflation and GDP growth. Previously, minimum wage adjustments were subject to negotiations between local governments, industry, and unions, and the changes varied widely from year to year and from region to region.

As only about 7.6 percent of the workforce is unionized, the benefits of union advocacy (including increases in minimum wage) do not always filter down to the rest of the workforce. While restrictions on the use of contract workers remain in place, continued labor protests focusing on this issue suggest that government enforcement continues to be lax. Until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment has remained steady at 4.38 percent. Unemployment tends to be higher than the national average among young people.

Indonesian labor is relatively low-cost by world standards, but inadequate skills training and complicated labor laws combine to make Indonesia’s competitiveness lag behind other Asian competitors. Investors frequently cite high severance payments to dismissed employees, restrictions on outsourcing and contract workers, and limitations on expatriate workers as significant obstacles to new investment in Indonesia.

Employers also note that the skills provided by the education system is lower than that of neighboring countries, and successive Labor Ministers have listed improved vocational training as a top priority. Labor contracts are relatively straightforward to negotiate but are subject to renegotiation, despite the existence of written agreements. Local courts often side with citizens in labor disputes, contracts notwithstanding. On the other hand, some foreign investors view Indonesia’s labor regulatory framework, respect for freedom of association, and the right to unionize as an advantage to investing in the country. Expert local human resources advice is essential for U.S. companies doing business in Indonesia, even those only opening representative offices.

Minimum wages vary throughout the country as provincial governors set an annual minimum wage floor and district heads have the authority to set a higher rate. Indonesia’s highly fractured and historically weak labor movement has gained strength in recent years, evidenced by significant increases in the minimum wage. As noted above, recent changes to the minimum wage setting system may make the process less dependent on political factors and more aligned with actual changes in inflation and GDP growth. Labor unions are independent of the government. The law, with some restrictions, protects the rights of workers to join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. Indonesia has ratified all eight of the core ILO conventions underpinning internationally accepted labor norms. The Ministry of Manpower maintains an inspectorate to monitor labor norms, but enforcement is stronger in the formal than in the informal sector. A revised Social Security Law, which took effect in 2014, requires all formal sector workers to participate. Subject to a wage ceiling, employers must contribute an amount equal to 4 percent of workers’ salaries to this plan. In 2015, Indonesia established the Social Security Organizing Body of Employment (BPJS-Employment), a national agency to support workers in the event of work accident, death, retirement, or old age.

The government has proposed an omnibus bill on labor reforms intended to attract investors, boost economic growth and create jobs.  The bill covers foreign workers, wages, work hours, redundancy and social security.

A proposed revision to Indonesia’s 2003 labor law may establish more stringent restrictions on outsourcing, currently used by many firms to circumvent some formal-sector job benefits.

Additional information on child labor, trafficking in persons, and human rights in Indonesia can be found online through the following references:

12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs

The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and its predecessor, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), have invested USD 2.35 billion across 116 projects in Indonesia since 1974, including in the power generation, financial services, and agricultural sectors. The DFC’s current portfolio is USD 123.8 million across five projects in Indonesia. The bulk of its exposure is in the DFC-financed UPC Renewables Sidrap Bayu wind power plant in South Sulawesi, where a USD 120 million investment supported the construction of Indonesia’s first commercial wind farm. The project demonstrates DFC’s commitment to help eliminate blackouts and diversify Indonesia’s energy supply. On March 12, 2020, DFC approved a USD 190 million loan to Trans Pacific Networks (TPN) to support the world’s longest telecommunications cable. The cable will directly connect Singapore, Indonesia, and the United States and have the capability to serve several markets in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Indonesia is one of the DFC’s priority markets and the DFC remains interested in projects in the transportation, energy, and digital economy sectors. In January 2020, DFC CEO Adam Boehler visited Indonesia as part of his first overseas visit since the DFC’s formal launch. His visit followed other senior visits by DFC officials to identify projects for DFC support, including the first-ever, DFC-led, U.S.-Australia-Japan trilateral infrastructure business development mission in August 2019.

Indonesia has joined the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). MIGA, a part of the World Bank Group, is an investment guarantee agency to insure investors and lenders against losses relating to currency transfer restrictions, expropriation, war and civil disturbance, and breach of contract. In 2018, MIGA provided a guarantee loan to Indonesian state-owned financial institutions and financed a hydroelectric power plant.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)  

2019

$1,118 2018 $1,042 https://data.worldbank.org/
country/Indonesia

*Indonesia Statistic Agency, GDP from the host country website is converted into USD with the exchange rate 14,156 for 2019

Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $989.3 2018 $11,140 https://www.bea.gov/
international/di1usdbal
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2018 $350 https://www.bea.gov/
international/di1fdibal
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 2.5% 2018 22.1% https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

*Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM), January 2020

There is a discrepancy between U.S. FDI recorded by BKPM and BEA due to differing methodologies. While BEA recorded transactions in balance of payments, BKPM relies on company realization reports. BKPM also excludes investments in oil and gas, non-bank financial institutions, and insurance.

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 2018 Outward Direct Investment 2018
Total Inward 224,717 100% Total Outward 72,995 100%
Singapore 55,067 24.5% Singapore 29,823 40.8%
Netherlands 36,990 16.5% China (PR Mainland) 16,971 23.2%
United States 27,271 12.1% France 15,225 20.8%
Japan 23,930 10.6% Cayman Islands 3,399 4.6%
China (PR Hong Kong) 12,735 5.7% China (PR Hong Kong) 711 1%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Source:  IMF Coordinated Direct Investment Survey for inward and outward investment data.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets 2018
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 22,094 100% All Countries 7,180 100% All Countries 14,914 100%
Netherlands 7,036 31.8% United States 2,760 38.4% Netherlands 7,032 47.1%
United States 3,669 16.6% India 1,847 25.7% Luxembourg 1,962 13.1%
Luxembourg 1,963 8.9% China (PR Mainland) 933 13.0% United States 909 6.1%
India 1,857 8.4% China (PR Hong Kong) 644 9.0% Singapore 641 4.3%
China (Mainland) 1,086 4.9% Australia 426 5.9% China (Mainland) 553 3.7%

Source: IMF Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey, 2018. Sources of portfolio investment are not tax havens.
The Bank of Indonesia published comparable data.

Israel

Executive Summary

Israel has an entrepreneurial spirit and a creative, highly educated, skilled, and diverse workforce. It is a leader in innovation in a variety of sectors, and many Israeli start-ups find good partners in U.S. companies. Popularly known as “Start-Up Nation,” Israel invests heavily in education and scientific research. U.S. firms account for nearly two-thirds of the more than 300 research and development (R&D) centers established by multinational companies in Israel. Israel has the third most companies listed on the NASDAQ, after the United States and China. Various Israeli government agencies, led by the Israel Innovation Authority, fund incubators for early stage technology start-ups, and Israel provides extensive support for new ideas and technologies while also seeking to develop traditional industries. Private venture capital funds have flourished in Israel in recent years.

The fundamentals of the Israeli economy are strong, and a 2018 International Monetary Fund (IMF) report said Israel’s economy is thriving, enjoying solid growth and historically low unemployment. With low inflation and fiscal deficits that have usually met targets, most analysts consider Israeli government economic policies as generally sound and supportive of growth. Israel seeks to provide supportive conditions for companies looking to invest in Israel, through laws that encourage capital and industrial R&D investment. Incentives and benefits include grants, reduced tax rates, tax exemptions, and other tax-related benefits.

The U.S.-Israeli bilateral economic and commercial relationship is strong, anchored by two-way trade in goods that reached USD 33.9 billion in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and extensive commercial ties, particularly in high-tech and R&D. The total stock of Israeli foreign direct investment (FDI) in the United States was USD 38.5 billion in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. This year marks the 35th anniversary of the U.S.-Israel Free Trade Agreement (FTA), the United States’ first-ever FTA. Since the signing of the FTA, the Israeli economy has undergone a dramatic transformation, moving from a protected, low-end manufacturing and agriculture-led economy to one that is diverse, open, and led by a cutting-edge high-tech sector.

The Israeli government generally continues to take slow, deliberate actions to remove some trade barriers and encourage capital investment, including foreign investment. The continued existence of trade barriers and monopolies, however, have contributed significantly to the high cost of living and the lack of competition in key sectors. The Israeli government maintains some protective trade policies, usually in favor of domestic producers.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 35 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 35 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 10 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2018 $27.1 billion https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $40,920 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Israel is open to foreign investment and the government actively encourages and supports the inflow of foreign capital.

The Israeli Ministry of Economy and Industry’s ‘Invest in Israel’ office serves as the government’s investment promotion agency facilitating foreign investment. ‘Invest in Israel’ offers a wide range of services including guidance on Israeli laws, regulation, taxes, incentives, and costs, and facilitation of business connections with peer companies and industry leaders for new investors. ‘Invest in Israel’ also organizes familiarization tours for potential investors and employs a team of advisors for each region of the world.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

The Israeli legal system protects the rights of both foreign and domestic entities to establish and own business enterprises, as well as the right to engage in remunerative activity. Private enterprises are free to establish, acquire, and dispose of interests in business enterprises. As part of ongoing privatization efforts, the Israeli government encourages foreign investment in privatizing government-owned entities.

Israel’s policies aim to equalize competition between private and public enterprises, although the existence of monopolies and oligopolies in several sectors stifles competition. In the case of designated monopolies, defined as entities that supply more than 50 percent of the market, the government controls prices.

Israel established a centralized investment screening (approval) mechanism for certain inbound foreign investments in October 2019. Investments in regulated industries (e.g., banking and insurance) require approval by the relevant regulator. Investments in certain sectors may require a government license. Other regulations may apply, usually on a national treatment basis.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization (WTO) conducted its fifth and latest trade policy review of Israel in July 2018. In the past three years, the Israeli government has not conducted any investment policy reviews through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The OECD concluded an Economic Survey of Israel in March 2018.

The 2018 OECD Economic Survey of Israel can be found at http://www.mof.gov.il/Releases/SiteAssets/Pages/OECD18/2018-oecd-economic-survey-Israel.pdf 

Business Facilitation

The Israeli government is fairly open and receptive to companies wishing to register businesses in Israel. Israel ranked 28th in the “Starting a Business” category of the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report, rising seventeen places from its 2019 ranking. Israel continues to institute reforms to make it easier to do business in Israel, but some challenges remain.

The business registration process in Israel is relatively clear and straightforward. Four procedures are required to register a standard private limited company and take 12 days to complete, on average, according to the Ministry of Finance. The foreign investor must obtain company registration documents through a recognized attorney with the Ministry of Justice and obtain a tax identification number for company taxation and for value added taxes (VAT) from the Ministry of Finance. The cost to register a company averages around USD 1,000 depending on attorney and legal fees.

The Israeli Ministry of Economy and Industry’s “Invest in Israel” website provides useful information for companies interested in starting a business or investing in Israel. The website is http://www.investinisrael.gov.il/Pages/default.aspx .

Outward Investment

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Israel promotes open governance and has joined the International Open Government Partnership. The government’s policy is to pursue the goals of transparency and active reporting to the public, public participation, and accountability.

Israel’s regulatory system is transparent. Ministries and regulatory agencies give notice of proposed regulations to the public on a government web site: http://www.knesset.gov.il. The texts of proposed regulations are also published (in Hebrew) on this web site. The government requests comments from the public about proposed regulations.

Israel is a signatory to the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA), which covers most Israeli government entities and government-owned corporations. Most of the country’s open international public tenders are published in the local press. U.S. companies have recently won a limited number of government tenders, notably in the energy and communications sectors. However, government-owned corporations make extensive use of selective tendering procedures. In addition, the lack of transparency in the public procurement process discourages U.S. companies from participating in major projects and disadvantages those that choose to compete. Enforcement of the public procurement laws and regulations is not consistent.

Israel is a member of UNCTAD’s international network of transparent investment procedures. (http://unctad.org/en/pages/home.aspx ). Foreign and national investors can find detailed information on administrative procedures applicable to investment and income generating operations including the number of steps, name and contact details of the entities and persons in charge of procedures, required documents and conditions, costs, processing time, and legal basis justifying the procedures.

International Regulatory Considerations

Israel is not a member of any major economic bloc but maintains strong economic relations with other economic blocs.

Israeli regulatory bodies in the Ministry of Economy (Standards Institute of Israel), Ministry of Health (Food Control Services), and the Ministry of Agriculture (Veterinary Services and the Plant Protection Service) often adopt standards developed by European standards organizations. Israel’s adoption of European standards rather than international standards results in the market exclusion of certain U.S. products and added costs for U.S. exports to Israel.

Israel became a member of the WTO in 1995. The Ministry of Economy and Industry’s Standardization Administration is responsible for notifying the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade, and regularly does so.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Israel has a written and consistently applied commercial law based on the British Companies Act of 1948, as amended. The judiciary is independent, but businesses complain about the length of time required to obtain judgments. The Supreme Court is an appellate court that also functions as the High Court of Justice. Israel does not employ a jury system. Israel established other tribunals to regulate specific issues and disputes in a specific area of law, including labor courts, antitrust issues, and intellectual property related issues.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

There are few restrictions on foreign investors, except for parts of defense or other industries closed to outside investors on national security grounds. Foreign investors are welcome to participate in Israel’s privatization program.

Israeli courts exercise authority in cases within the jurisdiction of Israel. However, if an agreement between involved parties contains an exclusively foreign jurisdiction, the Israeli courts will generally decline to exercise their authority.

Israel’s Ministry of Economy sponsors the web site “Invest in Israel” at www.investinisrael.gov.il

The Investment Promotion Center of the Ministry of Economy seeks to encourage investment in Israel. The Center stresses Israel’s high marks in innovation, entrepreneurship, and Israel’s creative, skilled, and ambitious workforce. The Center also promotes Israel’s strong ties to the United States and Europe.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Israel adopted its comprehensive competition law in 1988. Israel created the Israel Competition Authority (originally called the Israel Antitrust Authority) in 1994 to enforce the competition law.

Expropriation and Compensation

There have been no expropriations of U.S.-owned businesses in Israel in the recent past. Israeli law requires adequate payment, with interest from the day of expropriation until final payment, in cases of expropriation.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Israel is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) of the World Bank and the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. Israel ratified the New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards of 1958 in 1959.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The Israeli government accepts binding international arbitration of investment disputes between foreign investors and the state. Israel’s Arbitration Law of 1968 governs both domestic and international arbitration proceedings in the country. The Israeli Knesset amended the law most recently in 2008. There are no known extrajudicial actions against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Israel formally institutionalized mediation in 1992 with the amendment of the Courts Law of 1984. The amendment granted courts the authority to refer civil disputes to mediation or arbitration with party consent. The Israeli courts tend to uphold and enforce arbitration agreements. Israel’s Arbitration Law predates the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Israeli Bankruptcy Law is based on several layers, some rooted in Common Law, when Palestine was under the British mandate in 1917-1948. Bankruptcy Law in Israel is mostly based on British law enacted in Palestine in 1936 during the British mandate.

Bankruptcy proceedings are based on the bankruptcy ordinance (1980), which replaced the mandatory ordinance enacted in 1936. Therefore, the bankruptcy law in Israel resembles the British law as it was more or less in 1936. Israel ranks 29th in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report’s “resolving insolvency” category.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The State of Israel encourages both local and foreign investment by offering a wide range of incentives and benefits to investors in industry, tourism, and real estate. Israel’s Ministry of Economy places a priority on investments in hi-tech companies and R&D activities.

Most investment incentives available to Israeli citizens are also available to foreign investors. Israel’s Encouragement of Capital Investments Law, 5719-1959, outlines Israel’s investment incentive programs. The Israel Investment Center (IIC) coordinates the country’s investment incentive programs.

For complete information, potential investors should contact:

Investment Promotion Center
Ministry of Economy
5 Bank of Israel Street,
Jerusalem 91036
Tel: +972-2-666-2607
Website: www.investinisrael.gov.il
E-Mail: investinisrael@economy.gov.il

Israel Investment Center
Ministry of Economy
5 Bank of Israel Street,
Jerusalem 91036 490 http://economy.gov.il/English/About/Units/Pages/IsraelInvestmentCenter.aspx
Tel: +972-2-666-2828
Fax: +972-2-666-2905

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Israel has bilateral Qualifying Industrial Zone (QIZ) Agreements with Egypt and Jordan. The QIZ initiative allows Egypt and Jordan to export products to the United States duty-free, as long as these products contain inputs from Israel (8 percent in the Israel-Jordan QIZ agreement, 10.5 percent in the Israel-Egypt QIZ agreement). Products manufactured in QIZs must comply with strict rules of origin. More information is available at the Israeli Ministry of Economy’s Foreign Trade Administration website: http://economy.gov.il/English/InternationalAffairs/ForeignTradeAdministration/Pages/RegionalCooperation.aspx

Israel has one free trade zone, the Red Sea port city of Eilat. More information on the Eilat Free Zone is available at: http://economy.gov.il/English/Industry/DevelopmentZoneIndustryPromotion/ZoneIndustryInfo/Pages/EilatNShachoret.aspx

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

There are no universal performance requirements on investments, but “offset” requirements are often included in sales contracts with the government. In some sectors, there is a requirement that Israelis own a percentage of a company. Israel’s visa and residency requirements are transparent. The Israeli government does not impose preferential policies on exports by foreign investors.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Israel has a modern legal system based on British common law that provides effective means for enforcing property and contractual rights. Courts are independent. Israeli civil procedures provide that judgments of foreign courts may be accepted and enforced by local courts. The Israeli judicial system recognizes and enforces secured interests in property. A reliable system of recording such secured interests exists. The Israeli Land Administration, which manages land in Israel on behalf of the government, registers property transactions. Registering or obtaining land rights is a cumbersome process and Israel currently ranks 75th in “Registering Property” according to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report.

Intellectual Property Rights

The Intellectual Property Law Division and the Israel Patent Office (ILPO), both within the Ministry of Justice, are the principal government authorities overseeing the legal protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPR) in Israel. IPR protection in Israel has undergone many changes in recent decades as the Israeli economy has rapidly transformed into a knowledge-based economy.

In recent years, Israel revised its IPR legal framework several times to comply with newly signed international treaties. Israel took stronger, more comprehensive steps towards protecting IPR, and the government acknowledges that IPR theft costs rights holders millions of dollars per year, reducing tax revenues and slowing economic growth.

The United States removed Israel from the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report in 2014 after Israel passed patent legislation that satisfied the remaining commitments Israel made in a Memorandum of Understanding with the United States in 2010 concerning several longstanding issues regarding Israel’s IPR regime for pharmaceutical products. Israel has not been included in the Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List since.

Israel’s Knesset approved Amendment No. 5 to Israel’s Copyright Law of 2007 on January 1, 2019. The amendment aims to establish measures to combat copyright infringement on the internet while preserving the balance among copyright owners, internet users, and the free flow of information and free speech.

In July 2017, the Israeli Knesset passed the New Designs Bill, replacing Israel’s existing but obsolete ordinance governing industrial design. The bill, which came into force in August 2018, brings Israel into compliance with The Hague System for International Registration of Industrial designs.

Nevertheless, the United States remains concerned with the limitations of Israel’s copyright legislation, particularly related to digital copyright matters and with Israel’s interpretation of its commitment to protect data derived from pharmaceutical testing conducted in anticipation of the future marketing of biological products, also known as biologics.

While Israel has instituted several legislative improvements in recent years, the United States continues to urge Israel to strengthen and improve its IPR enforcement regime. Israel lacks specialized courts, common in other countries with advanced IPR regimes. General civil or administrative courts in Israel typically adjudicate IPR cases.

IPR theft, including trade secret misappropriation, can be common and relatively sophisticated in Israel. The European Commission “closely monitors” IP enforcement in Israel. The EC cites inadequate protection of innovative pharmaceutical products and end-user software piracy as the main issues with IPR enforcement in Israel.

Israel is a member of the WTO and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It is a signatory to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, the Universal Copyright Convention, the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, and the Patent Cooperation Treaty.

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/ 

Resources for Rights Holders

Mr. Peter Mehravari
Intellectual Property Attaché for the Middle East & North Africa
U.S. Embassy Kuwait
Tel: +965 2259 1455
Email: Peter.Mehravari@trade.gov

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Israeli government is supportive of foreign portfolio investment. The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE) is Israel’s only public stock exchange.

Financial institutions in Israel allocate credit on market terms. For many years, banks issued credit to only a handful of individuals and corporate entities, some of whom held controlling interests in banks. However, in recent years, banks significantly reduced their exposure to large borrowers following the introduction of stronger regulatory restrictions on preferential lending practices.

The primary profit center for Israeli banks is consumer-banking fees. Various credit instruments are available to the private sector and foreign investors can receive credit on the local market. Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and conform to international norms, although the prevalence of inflation-adjusted accounting means there are differences from U.S. accounting principles.

In the case of publicly traded firms where ownership is widely dispersed, the practice of “cross-shareholding” and “stable shareholder” arrangements to prevent mergers and acquisitions is common, but not directed particularly at preventing potential foreign investment. Israel has no laws or regulations regarding the adoption by private firms of articles of incorporation or association that limit or prohibit foreign investment, participation, or control.

Money and Banking System

The Bank of Israel (BOI) is Israel’s Central Bank and regulates all banking activity and monetary policy. In general, Israel has a healthy banking system that offers most of the same services as the U.S. banking system. Fees for normal banking transactions are significantly higher in Israel than in the United States and some services do not meet U.S. standards. There are 12 commercial banks and four foreign banks operating in Israel, according to the BOI. Five major banks, led by Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi, the two largest banks, dominate Israel’s banking sector. Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi control nearly 60 percent of Israel’s credit market. The State of Israel holds 6 percent of Bank Leumi’s shares. All of Israel’s other banks are privatized.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Israel completed its foreign exchange liberalization process on January 1, 2003, when it removed the last restrictions on the freedom of institutional investors to invest abroad. The Israeli shekel is a freely convertible currency and there are no foreign currency controls. The BOI maintains the option to intervene in foreign currency trading in the event of movements in the exchange rate not in line with fundamental economic conditions, or if the BOI assesses the foreign exchange market is not functioning appropriately. Israeli citizens can invest without restriction in foreign markets. Foreign investors can open shekel accounts that allow them to invest freely in Israeli companies and securities. These shekel accounts are fully convertible into foreign exchange. Israel’s foreign exchange reserves totaled USD 133.5 billion at the end of April 2020.

Transfers of currency are protected by Article VII of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Articles of Agreement: http://www.imf.org/External/Pubs/FT/AA/index.html#art7

Remittance Policies

Most foreign currency transactions must be carried out through an authorized dealer. An authorized dealer is a banking institution licensed to arrange, inter alia, foreign currency transactions for its clients. The authorized dealer must report large foreign exchange transactions to the Controller of Foreign Currency. There are no limitations or significant delays in the remittance of profits, debt service, or capital gains.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Israel passed legislation to establish the Israel Citizens’ Wealth Fund, a sovereign wealth fund managed by the BOI, in 2014 to offset the effect of natural gas production on the exchange rate. The original date for beginning the fund’s operations was 2018, but has been postponed until late 2021. The law establishing the fund states that it will begin operating a month after the state’s tax revenues from natural gas exceed USD 280 million (1 billion New Israeli Shekels).

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Israel established the Government Companies Authority (GCA) following the passage of the Government Companies Law. The GCA is an auxiliary unit of the Ministry of Finance. It is the administrative agency for state-owned companies in charge of supervision, privatization, and implementation of structural changes. The Israeli state only provides support for commercial SOEs in exceptional cases. The GCA leads the recruitment process for SOE board members. Board appointments are subject to the approval of a committee, which confirms whether candidates meet the minimum board member criteria set forth by law.

The GCA oversees some 100 companies, including commercial and noncommercial companies, government subsidiaries, and companies under mixed government-private ownership. Among these companies are some of the biggest and most complex in the Israeli economy, such as the Israel Electric Corporation, Israel Aerospace Industries, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Israel Postal Company, Mekorot Israel National Water Company, Israel Natural Gas Lines, the Ashdod, Haifa, and Eilat Port Companies, Israel Railways, Petroleum and Energy Infrastructures and the Israel National Roads Company. The GCA does not publish a publicly available list of SOEs.

Israel is party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) of the World Trade Organization.

Privatization Program

In late 2014, Israel’s cabinet approved a privatization plan allowing the government to issue minority stakes of up to 49 percent in state-owned companies on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange over a three-year period, a plan estimated to increase government revenue by USD 4.1 billion. The plan aimed to sell stakes in Israel’s electric company, water provider, railway, post office and some defense-related contractors. The GCA will likely auction minority stakes in a public bidding process without formal restrictions on the participation of foreign investors. Restrictions on foreign investors could be possible in the case of companies deemed to be of strategic significance.

Israel’s interministerial privatization committee approved plans in January 2020 to sell off the Port of Haifa , Israel’s largest shipping hub. The incoming owner will be required to invest approximately USD 280 million (1 billion NIS) in the port, including the cost of upgrading infrastructure and financing the layoff of an estimated 200 workers. That same committee voted to enable private investment in Israel Post in an effort to sell up to 40 percent of the government’s shares in Israel Post.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is awareness of responsible business conduct among enterprises and civil society in Israel. Israel adheres to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and a National Contact Point is operating in the Foreign Trade Administration. Israel is not a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

Israel’s National Contact Point sits in the Responsible Business Conduct unit in the OECD Department of the Foreign Trade Administration in the Ministry of Economy and Industry. An advisory committee, including representatives from the Ministries of Economy, Finance, Foreign Affairs, Justice, and the Environment, assist the National Contact Point. The National Contact Point also works in cooperation with the Manufacturer’s Association of Israel, workers’ organizations, and civil society to promote awareness of the guidelines.

9. Corruption

Bribery and other forms of corruption are illegal under several Israeli laws and Civil Service regulations. Israel became a signatory to the OECD Bribery convention in November 2008 and a full member of the OECD in May 2010. Israel ranks 35 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index, dropping one place from its 2018 ranking. Several Israeli NGOs focus on public sector ethics in Israel and Transparency International has a local chapter.

Israel is a signatory of the OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

The Israeli National Police, state comptroller, Attorney General, and Accountant General are responsible for combating official corruption. These entities operate effectively and independently and are sufficiently resourced. NGOs that focus on anticorruption efforts operate freely without government interference.

The international NGO Transparency International closely monitors corruption in Israel.

Resources to Report Corruption

Ministry of Justice
Office of the Director General
29 Salah a-Din Street Jerusalem
02-6466533, 02-6466534, 02-6466535
mancal@justice.gov.il

Transparency International Israel
Ms. Ifat Zamir
Tel Aviv University, Faculty of Management +972 3 640 9176
+972 3 640 9176
ifat@ti-israel.org

10. Political and Security Environment

For the latest safety and security information regarding Israel and the current travel advisory level, see the Travel Advisory for Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza (https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/israel-west-bank-and-gaza-travel-advisory.html).

The security situation remains complex in Israel and the West Bank, and can change quickly depending on the political environment, recent events, and geographic location. Terrorist groups and lone-wolf terrorists continue plotting possible attacks in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets or shopping malls, and local government facilities. Violence can occur in Jerusalem and the West Bank without warning. Terror attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank have resulted in the deaths and injury of U.S. citizens and others. Hamas, a U.S. government-designated foreign terrorist organization, controls security in Gaza. The security environment within Gaza and on its borders is dangerous and volatile.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The most recent Central Bureau of Statistics data from the first quarter of 2020 indicate there are 4.1 million people active in the Israeli labor force. According to OECD data, 48 percent of Israelis aged between 25 and34 years have a tertiary education. Many university students specialize in fields with high industrial R&D potential, including engineering, computer science, mathematics, physical sciences, and medicine. According to the Investment Promotion Center, there are more than 145 scientists out of every 10,000 workers in Israel, one of the highest rates in the world. The rapid growth of Israel’s high-tech sector in the late 1990s increased the demand for workers with specialized skills.

The unemployment rate among 25-64 year-olds was 3.5 percent at the end of the first quarter of 2020, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics.

According to Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority, at the end of 2019 there were 295,100 non-Israelis employed in Israel.

The national labor federation, the Histadrut, organizes about 17 percent of all Israeli workers. Collective bargaining negotiations in the public sector take place between the Histadrut and representatives from the Ministry of Finance. The number of strikes has declined significantly as the public sector has gotten smaller. However, strikes remain a common and viable negotiating vehicle in many difficult wage negotiations.

Israel strictly observes the Friday afternoon to Saturday afternoon Jewish Sabbath and special permits must be obtained from the government authorizing Sabbath employment. At the age of 18, most Israelis are required to perform 2-3 years of national service in the military or in select civilian institutions. Until their mid-40s, Israeli males are required to perform about a month of military reserve duty annually, during which time they receive compensation from national insurance companies.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $399.8 billion 2018 $370.6 billion www.worldbank.org/en/country ;
https://www.boi.org.il/en/
DataAndStatistics/Lists/
BoiTablesAndGraphs/eng_b04.xls
 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $29,800 2018 $27,100 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $12,000 2018 $13,600 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2018 40% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

* Source for Host Country Data:

Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics released final 2018 FDI data on March 23, 2020. https://www.cbs.gov.il/en/mediarelease/Pages/2020/Foreign-Direct-Investment-in-Israel-and-Direct-Investment-Abroad-by-Industries-and-Countries-2016-2018.aspx 

https://www.cbs.gov.il/en/mediarelease/Pages/2020/Foreign-Direct-Investment-in-Israel-and-Direct-Investment-Abroad-by-Industries-and-Countries-2016-2018.aspx 

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Note: Both the Cayman Islands and The Netherlands are widely considered tax havens.
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 145,345 100% Total Outward 103,506 100%
United States 29,921 21% Netherlands 48,509 47%
Netherlands 12,201 8% United States 11,998 12%
Cayman Islands 9,801 7% Switzerland 3,228 3%
China, P.R.: Mainland 4,260 3% Japan 3,028 3%
Canada 3,373 2% Canada 2,602 3%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 158,400 100% All Countries 88,026 100% All Countries 70,734 100%
United States 81,480 51% United States 49,213 56% United States 32,267 46%
United Kingdom 14,089 9% United Kingdom 11,087 13% United Kingdom 3,002 4%
Luxembourg 8,425 5% Luxembourg 7,829 9% France 2,120 3%
France 6,222 4 France 4,102 5% Germany 1,973 3%
Germany 5,448 3% Germany 3,475 4% The Netherlands 1,612 2%

Kazakhstan

Executive Summary

Since its independence in 1991, Kazakhstan has made significant progress toward creating a market economy and has achieved considerable results in its efforts to attract foreign investment. As of January 1, 2020, the stock of foreign direct investment in Kazakhstan totaled USD 161.2 billion, including USD 36.5 billion from the United States, according to official statistics from the Kazakhstani government.

While Kazakhstan’s vast hydrocarbon and mineral reserves remain the backbone of the economy, the government continues to make incremental progress toward its goal of diversifying the country’s economy by improving the investment climate.  Kazakhstan’s efforts to remove bureaucratic barriers have been moderately successful, and in 2020 Kazakhstan ranked 25 out of 190 in the World Bank’s annual Doing Business Report.

The government maintains an active dialogue with foreign investors, through the President’s Foreign Investors Council and the Prime Minister’s Council for Improvement of the Investment Climate.

Kazakhstan joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2015.  In June 2017 Kazakhstan joined the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Declaration on International Investment and Multinational Enterprises and became an associated member of the OECD Investment Committee.

Despite institutional and legal reforms, concerns remain about corruption, bureaucracy, arbitrary law enforcement, and limited access to a skilled workforce in certain regions.  The government’s tendency to legislate preferences for domestic companies, to favor an import-substitution policy, to challenge contractual rights and the use of foreign labor, and to intervene in companies’ operations continues to concern foreign investors.  Foreign firms cite the need for better rule of law, deeper investment in human capital, improved transport and logistics infrastructure, a more open and flexible trade policy, a more favorable work-permit regime and a more customer-friendly tax administration.

In July 2018 the government of Kazakhstan officially opened the Astana International Financial Center (AIFC), an ambitious project modelled on the Dubai International Financial Center, which aims to offer foreign investors an alternative jurisdiction for operations, with tax holidays, flexible labor rules, a Common Law-based legal system, a separate court and arbitration center, and flexibility to carry out transactions in any currency.  In April 2019 the government announced its intention to use the AIFC as a regional investment hub to attract foreign investment to Kazakhstan.  The government recommended foreign investors use the law of the AIFC as applicable law for contracts with Kazakhstan.

Table 1 : Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 113 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/cpi2019
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2020 25 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 79 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
U.S. FDI in partner country (M USD, stock positions) 2012 $12,512 http://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $8,070 https://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/ny.gnp.pcap.cd

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Kazakhstan has attracted significant foreign investment since independence.  According to official statistics, as of January 1, 2020, the total stock of foreign direct investment (by the directional principle) in Kazakhstan totaled USD 161.2 billion, primarily in the oil and gas sector.  International financial institutions consider Kazakhstan to be an attractive destination for their operations, and international firms have established regional headquarters in Kazakhstan.

In June 2017 Kazakhstan joined the OECD Declaration on International Investment and Multinational Enterprises and became an associate member of the OECD Investment Committee.

In its Strategic Plan of Development for the current period (through 2025), the government stated that raising the living standards of Kazakhstan’s citizens to the level of OECD countries is one of the plan’s strategic goals.

In August 2017 the government adopted a new 2018-2022 National Investment Strategy, developed in cooperation with the World Bank, which outlined new coordinating measures on investment climate improvements, privatization plans, and economic diversification policies.  The strategy aims to increase annual FDI inflows as a percentage of GDP from 13.2 percent in 2018 to 19 percent in 2022.

The government of Kazakhstan has incrementally improved the business climate for foreign investors, and national legislation does not discriminate against foreign investors.  Corruption, lack of rule of law and excessive bureaucracy, however, do remain serious obstacles to foreign investment.

Over the last couple of years, the government has undertaken a number of structural changes aimed at improving how the government attracts foreign investment.  In April 2019 the Prime Minister announced the creation of the Coordination Council for Attracting Foreign Investment, which the Prime Minister will chair.  He will also act as Investment Ombudsman.  In December 2018 the Investment Committee was transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is now in charge of attracting and facilitating activities of foreign investors.  The Investment Committee at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs takes responsibility for investment climate policy issues and works with potential and current investors, while the Ministry of National Economy interacts on investment climate matters with international organizations like the OECD, WTO, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).  Each regional municipality designates a representative to work with investors, and Kazakhstani foreign diplomatic missions are charged with attracting foreign investments.  Specially designated front offices in Kazakhstan’s overseas embassies promote Kazakhstan as a destination for foreign investment.  In addition, the Astana International Financial Center (AIFC, see details in Section 3) operates as a regional investment hub, with tax, legal, and other benefits.  In 2019, the government founded Kazakhstan’s Direct Investment Fund, which is located at the AIFC and expected to attract private investments for diversifying Kazakhstan’s economy.  The state company KazakhInvest is also located in the AIFC and offers investors a single-window for government services.

The government maintains a dialogue with foreign investors through the Foreign Investors’ Council chaired by the President, as well as through the Council for Improving the Investment Climate chaired by the Prime Minister.

The COVID-19 pandemic and unprecedented low oil prices changed the country’s economic development plans.  In March 2020, the government approved a USD 13.7 billion stimulus package, mostly oriented at  income smoothing, supporting local businesses and implementing an import-substitution policy.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

By law, foreign and domestic private firms may establish and own business enterprises.

While no sectors of the economy are legally closed to investors, restrictions on foreign ownership exist, including a 20 percent ceiling on foreign ownership of media outlets, a 49 percent limit on domestic and international air transportation services, and a 49 percent limit on telecommunication services.  The December 2017 Code on Subsoil and Subsoil Use (the Code) mandates the share of the national company Kazatomprom be no less than 51 percent in new uranium producing joint ventures.

As a result of its WTO accession, Kazakhstan formally removed this limit for telecommunication companies, except for the country’s main telecommunications operator, KazakhTeleCom.  Still, to acquire more than 49 percent of shares in a telecommunication company, foreign investors must obtain a government waiver.  No constraints limit the participation of foreign capital in the banking and insurance sectors.  Starting from January 2020 the restriction on opening branches of foreign banks and insurance companies was lifted in compliance with the country’s WTO commitments.  In addition, foreign citizens and companies are restricted from participating in private security businesses.  The law limits the participation of offshore companies in banks and insurance companies and prohibits foreign ownership of pension funds and agricultural land.

Foreign investors have complained about the irregular application of laws and regulations and interpret such behavior as efforts to extract bribes.  The enforcement process, widely viewed as opaque and arbitrary, is not publicly transparent.  Some investors report harassment by the tax authorities via unannounced audits, inspections, and other methods.  The authorities have used criminal charges in civil disputes as a pressure tactic.

Foreign Investment in the Energy & Mining Industries

Despite substantial investment in Kazakhstan’s energy sector, companies remain concerned about the risk of the government legislating or otherwise advocating for preferences for domestic companies, and creating mechanisms for government intervention in foreign companies’ operations, particularly in procurement decisions.  Recent developments range from a major reduction to a full annulment of work permits for some categories of foreign workforce.  (For more details, please see Part 5,  Performance and Data Localization Requirements.)

In April 2008 Kazakhstan introduced a customs duty on crude oil and gas condensate exports.  In general, oil-related revenue in Kazakhstan goes to the National Fund, a sovereign wealth fund that is financed by direct taxes paid by petroleum industry companies, other fees paid by the oil industry, revenues from privatization of mining and manufacturing assets and from the disposal of agricultural land.  In contrast, the customs duty on crude oil and gas condensate exports is an indirect tax that goes to the government’s budget.  Companies that pay taxes on mineral and crude oil exports are exempt from that export duty.  The government adopted a 2016 resolution that pegged the export customs duty to global oil prices – as the global oil price drops and approaches USD 25 per barrel, the duty rate approaches zero.

The Code defines “strategic deposits and areas” and restricts the government’s preemptive right to acquire exploration and production contracts to these areas, which helps to reduce significantly the approvals required for non-strategic objects.  The government approves and publishes the list of strategic deposits on its website.  The list has not changed since its approval on June 28, 2018: http://www.government.kz/ru/postanovleniya/postanovleniya-pravitelstva-rk-za-iyun-2018-goda/1015356-ob-utverzhdenii-perechnya-strategicheskikh-uchastkov-nedr.html.

The Code entitles the government to terminate a contract unilaterally “if actions of a subsoil user with a strategic deposit result in changes to Kazakhstan’s economic interests in a manner that threatens national security.”  The Article does not define “economic interests.”  The Code, if properly implemented, appears to be a step forward in improving the investment climate, including the streamlining of procedures to obtain exploration licenses and to convert exploration licenses into production licenses.  The Code, however, appears to retain burdensome government oversight over mining companies’ operations.

The Ministry of Energy announced in April 2018 that Kazakhstan is ready to launch a CO2 emissions trading system.  It is unclear, however, when actual quota trading will begin.  In January 2018, the government adopted a National Allocation Plan for 2018-2020, and in February 2018 the Ministry of Energy announced the creation of an online CO2 emissions reporting and monitoring system.  The system is not operational, and it is likely to be launched after the new Environmental Code is passed into law; the draft Code is currently in the lower chamber of parliament.  Some companies have expressed concern that Kazakhstan’s trading system will suffer from insufficient liquidity, particularly as power consumption and oil and commodity production levels increase.  The successor of the Energy Ministry for environmental issues, the Ministry of Ecology, Geology, and Natural Resources, started drafting the 2050 National Low Carbon Development Strategy in October 2019.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Kazakhstan announced in 2011 its desire to join the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.  To meet OECD requirements, the government will need to continue to reform its institutions and amend its investment legislation.  The OECD presented its second Investment Policy Review of Kazakhstan in June 2017, available at:  https://www.oecd.org/countries/kazakhstan/oecd-investment-policy-reviews-kazakhstan-2017-9789264269606-en.htm 

The OECD review recommended Kazakhstan undertake corporate governance reforms at state-owned enterprises (SOEs), implement a more efficient tax system, further liberalize its trade policy, and introduce responsible business conduct principles and standards.  OECD also said it is carefully monitoring the country’s privatization program that aims to decrease the SOE share in the economy to 15 percent of GDP by 2020.

In 2019 the OECD and the government launched a two-year project on improving the legal environment for business in Kazakhstan.

Business Facilitation

The 2020 World Bank’s Doing Business Report ranked Kazakhstan 25 out of 190 countries in the “Ease of Doing Business” category, and 22 out of 190 in the “Starting a Business” category.  The report noted Kazakhstan made starting a business easier by registering companies for value added tax at the time of incorporation.  The report noted Kazakhstan’s progress in the categories of dealing with construction permits, registering property, getting credit, and resolving insolvency.  Online registration of any business is possible through the website https://egov.kz/cms/en 

In addition to a standard package of documents required for local businesses, non-residents should submit electronic copies of their IDs and any certification of their companies from the country of origin.  Both documents should be translated and notarized.  Foreign investors also have access to a “single window” service, which simplifies many business procedures.  Investors may learn more about these services here: https://invest.gov.kz/invest-guide/business-starting/registration/ .

According to the World Bank, it takes four procedures and five days to establish a foreign-owned limited liability company (LLC) in Almaty.  This is faster than the average for Eastern Europe and Central Asia and OECD high income countries.  A foreign-owned company registered in Kazakhstan is considered a domestic company for Kazakhstan currency regulation purposes.  Under the Law on Currency Regulation and Currency Control, residents may open bank accounts in foreign currency in Kazakhstani banks without any restrictions.

In 2019-2020, the government undertook some measures facilitating business operations for investors.  The General Prosecutor’s Office adopted an order in January 2020 that would decriminalize the tax errors of prompt taxpayers.  In July 2019 the government adopted the Road Map for further attraction of foreign investments.  In order to facilitate the work of foreign investors, the government recommended using the law of the Astana International Financial Center (AIFC) as the applicable law for investment contracts with Kazakhstan and planned other measures to showcase the AIFC as an investment hub, including tax preferences, liberalization of visa and migration rules, and the creation of additional international transportation and media links.

Outward Investment

The government neither incentivizes nor restricts outward investment.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

The United States-Kazakhstan Bilateral Investment Treaty came into force in 1994, and the United States-Kazakhstan Treaty on the Avoidance of Double Taxation came into force in 1996.

Since independence, Kazakhstan has signed treaties on the avoidance of double taxation with 53 countries at: http://kgd.gov.kz/ru/content/konvencii-ob-izbezhanii-dvoynogo-nalogooblozheniya-i-predotvrashchenii-ukloneniya-ot , and bilateral investment protection agreements with 47 at: http://www.mfa.kz/ru/content-view/soglasenia-o-poosrenii-i-vzaimnoj-zasite-investicij-2 

Kazakhstan is also party to the Eurasian Economic Union Mutual Investment Protection Agreement, which came into force in 2016.  Some foreign investors allege Kazakhstani tax authorities are reluctant to refer double taxation questions to the appropriate resolution bodies. Among other tax issues that concern  U.S. investors is the criminalization of tax errors and VAT refund issues.

Eurasian Economic Integration and WTO

Kazakhstan joined the WTO in November 2015.  Kazakhstan entered into a Customs Union with Russia and Belarus on July 1, 2010 and was a founding member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) created on May 29, 2014 among Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, and Russia.  The EAEU is governed by the Eurasian Economic Commission, a supra-national body headquartered in Moscow, and is expected to integrate further the economies of its member states, and to provide for the free movement of services, capital, and labor within their common territory.

Kazakhstan’s trade policy has been heavily influenced by EAEU regulations.  While Kazakhstan asserts the EAEU agreements comply with WTO standards, since joining the Customs Union Kazakhstan doubled its average import tariff and introduced annual tariff-rate quotas (TRQs) on poultry, beef, and pork.  Per its WTO commitments, Kazakhstan will lower 3,512 import tariff rates to an average of 6.1 percent by December 2020. As a part of this commitment, Kazakhstan applies a lower-than-EAEU tariff rate on food products, automobiles, airplanes, railway wagons, lumber, alcoholic beverages, pharmaceuticals, freezers, and jewelry. After December 2020, Kazakhstan will have a three-year break prior to starting tariff adjustment negotiations with its EAEU partners.

Kazakhstan is a signatory to the Free Trade Agreement with CIS countries, and as a member of the EAEU, is party to the EAEU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement and the Interim Agreement on formation of a free trade zone with Iran.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Kazakhstani law sets out basic principles for fostering competition on a non-discriminatory basis.  Kazakhstan is a unitary state, and national legislation accepted by the Parliament and President are equally effective for all regions of the country.  The government, ministries, and local executive administrations in the regions (“Akimats”) issue regulations and executive acts in compliance and pursuance of laws.  Kazakhstan is a member of the EAEU, and decrees of the Eurasian Economic Commission are mandatory and have preemptive force over national legislation.  Publicly-listed companies indicate that they adhere to international financial reporting standards, but accounting and valuation practices are not always consistent with international best practices.

The government consults on some draft legislation with experts and the business community; draft bills are available for public comment at www.egov.kz  under the Open Government section, however, the comment period is only ten days, and the process occurs without broad notifications.  Some bills are excluded from public comment, and the legal and regulatory process, including with respect to foreign investment, remains opaque.  All laws and decrees of the President and the government are available in Kazakh and Russian on the website of the Ministry of Justice: http://adilet.zan.kz/rus .

Implementation and interpretation of commercial legislation is reported to sometimes create confusion among foreign and domestic businesses alike.  In 2016, the Ministry of Health and Social Development introduced new rules on attracting foreign labor, some of which (including a Kazakh language requirement) created significant problems for foreign investors.  After active intervention by the international investment community through the Prime Minister’s Council for Improving the Investment Climate, the government canceled the most onerous rules.

The non-transparent application of laws remains a major obstacle to expanded trade and investment.  Foreign investors complain of inconsistent standards and corruption.  Although the central government has enacted many progressive laws, local authorities may interpret rules in arbitrary ways for the sake of their own interests.

Many foreign companies say they must defend investments from frequent decrees and legislative changes, most of which do not “grandfather in” existing investments.  Penalties are often assessed for periods prior to the change in policy.  For example, foreign companies report that local and national authorities arbitrarily impose high environmental fines, saying the fines are assessed to generate revenue for local and national authorities rather than for environmental protection.  Government officials have acknowledged the system of environmental fines requires reform.  In response, the government submitted a draft of a new Environmental Code (Eco Code) to Parliament, where it is currently under review in the lower chamber.  Oil companies complain that the emission payment rates for pollutants when emitted from gas flaring are at least 20 times higher than when the same pollutants are emitted from other stationary sources.  In February 2020, the Ecology Minister reported that fines for unauthorized emissions of hazardous substances would be raised tenfold.

In 2015, President Nazarbayev announced five presidential reforms and the implementation of the “100 Steps” Modernization program.  The program calls for the formation of a results-oriented public administration system, a new system of audit and performance evaluation for government agencies, and introduction of an open government system with better public access to information held by state bodies.  Initial implementation of this plan has already improved accountability.  For example, in addition to the Audit Committee that monitors government agencies’ performance, ministers and regional governors now hold annual meetings with local communities.

President Tokayev, elected in June 2019, has affirmed his commitment to the reforms initiated by former President Nazarbayev.

Public financial reporting, including debt obligations, explicit liabilities, are published by the Ministry of Finance on their site: http://www.minfin.gov.kz/ .  However, authorities have indicated that contingent liabilities, such as exposures to state-owned enterprises, their cross -holdings, and exposures to banks, are not fully captured there.

International Regulatory Considerations

Kazakhstan is part of the Eurasian Economic Union, and EAEU regulations and decisions supersede the national regulatory system.  In its economic policy Kazakhstan declares its adherence to both WTO and OECD standards.  Kazakhstan became a member of the WTO in 2015.  It notifies the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade about drafts of national technical regulations (although lapses have been noted).  Kazakhstan ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in May 2016, notified its Category A requirements in March 2016, and requested a five-year transition period for its Category B and C requirements.  Early in 2018, the government established an intra-agency Trade Facilitation Committee to implement its TFA commitments.  By the end of 2018, Kazakhstan notified the WTO Trade Facilitation Committee that it has fulfilled its implementation commitments for Category A at 57 percent, for Category B at 19 percent, and for Category C at 24 percent.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Kazakhstan’s Civil Code establishes general commercial and contract law principles.  Under the constitution, the judicial system is independent of the executive branch, although the government interferes in judiciary matters.  According to Freedom House’s Nations in Transit report for 2018, the executive branch dominates de facto the judicial branch.  Allegedly, pervasive corruption of the courts and the influence of the ruling elites results in low public expectations and trust in the justice system.  Judicial outcomes are perceived as subject to political influence and interference.  Regulations or enforcement actions can be appealed and adjudicated in the national court system.  Monetary judgments are assessed in the domestic currency.

Parties of commercial contracts, including foreign investors, can seek dispute settlement in Kazakhstan’s courts or international arbitration, and Kazakhstani courts will enforce arbitration clauses in contracts.  Any court of original jurisdiction can consider disputes between private firms as well as bankruptcy cases.

The Astana International Financial Center, which opened in July 2018, includes its own arbitration center and court based on British Common Law and is independent of the Kazakhstani judiciary.  The court is led by former Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Harry Woolf, and several other Commonwealth judges have been appointed.  The government advises foreign investors to use the capacities of the AIFC arbitration center and the AIFC court more actively.  Provisions on using the AIFC law as applicable law are recommended for model investment contracts between a foreign investor and the government.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The following legislation affects foreign investment in Kazakhstan: the Entrepreneurial Code; the Civil Code; the Tax Code; the Customs Code of the Eurasian Economic Union; the Customs Code of Kazakhstan; the Law on Government Procurement; and the Law on Currency Regulation and Currency Control.  These laws provide for non-expropriation, currency convertibility, guarantees of legal stability, transparent government procurement, and incentives for priority sectors.  Inconsistent implementation of these laws and regulations at all levels of the government, combined with a tendency for courts to favor the government, have been reported to create significant obstacles to business in Kazakhstan.

The Entrepreneurial Code outlines basic principles of doing business in Kazakhstan and the government’s relations with entrepreneurs.  The Code reinstates a single investment regime for domestic and foreign investors, in principal, codifies non-discrimination for foreign investors.  The Code contains incentives and preferences for government-determined priority sectors, providing customs duty exemptions and in-kind grants detailed in Part 4, Industrial Policies.  The Code also provides for dispute settlement through negotiation, use of Kazakhstan’s judicial process, and international arbitration.  U.S. investors have expressed concern about the Code’s narrow definition of investment disputes and its lack of clear provisions for access to international arbitration.  The government’s single window for foreign investors, providing information to potential investors, business registration, and links to relevant legislation, can be found here: https://invest.gov.kz/invest-guide/ 

A revised Law on Currency Regulation and Currency Control, which came into force July 1, 2019, expands the monitoring of transactions in foreign currency and facilitates the process of de-dollarization.  In particular, the law will treat branches of foreign companies in Kazakhstan as residents and will enable the National Bank of Kazakhstan (NBK) to enhance control over cross-border transactions.  The NBK approved a list of companies that will keep their non-resident status; the majority of these companies are from extractive industries (see also Part 6, Financial Sector).

The legal and regulatory framework offered by the AIFC to businesses registering on that territory differs substantially from that of Kazakhstan, although the Center is quite new, and experience is limited.  A more detailed analysis of the legal and regulatory implications of operating within AIFC can be found here: https://aifc.kz/annual-report/  and http://www.ftseglobalmarkets.com/news/astana-international-financial-center-can-it-become-a-regional-finance-hub.html 

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Entrepreneurial Code regulates competition-related issues such as cartel agreements and unfair competition.  The Committees for Regulating Natural Monopolies and Protection of Competition under the Ministry of National Economy are responsible for reviewing transactions for competition-related concerns.

Expropriation and Compensation

The bilateral investment treaty between the United States and Kazakhstan requires the government to provide compensation in the event of expropriation.  The Entrepreneurial Code allows the state to nationalize or requisition property in emergency cases, but fails to provide clear criteria for expropriation or require prompt and adequate compensation at fair market value.

Post is aware of cases when owners of developed businesses had to sell their businesses to companies affiliated with high-ranking and powerful individuals.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Kazakhstan has been a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) since December 2001 and ratified the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards in 1995.  By law, any international award rendered by the ICSID, a tribunal applying the rules of the UN Commission on International Trade Law Arbitration, Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, London Court of International Arbitration, or Arbitration Commission at the Kazakhstan Chamber of Commerce and Industry is enforceable in Kazakhstan.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The government is a signatory to bilateral investment agreements with 47 countries and 1 multilateral investment agreement with EAEU partners.  These agreements recognize international arbitration of investment disputes.  The United States and Kazakhstan signed a Bilateral Investment Treaty in 1994.

In July 2017, a U.S. investor initiated arbitration proceedings against Kazakhstan under the BIT, accusing the government of indirectly expropriating its ownership stake to explore and develop three hydrocarbon fields.

Kazakhstan does recognize arbitral awards by law.  Four cases against Kazakhstan have been under review by ICSID as of March 2, 2020.  In October 2018, ICSID ordered Kazakhstan to compensate a foreign company for USD 30 million in investments in oil transshipment and storage facilities.  In 2015, this company appealed to ICSID for Kazakhstan’s breach of its bilateral investment treaty and Energy Charter Treaty.  In March 2016, a foreign gold explorer and producer sought compensation for breaches of its BIT and the 1994 Foreign Investment Law of Kazakhstan.  The Entrepreneurial Code defines an investment dispute as “a dispute ensuing from the contractual obligations between investors and state bodies in connection with investment activities of the investor,” and states such disputes may be settled by negotiation, litigation or international arbitration.

Investment disputes between the government and investors fall to the Nur-Sultan City Court; disputes between the government and large investors fall under the competence of a special investment panel at the Supreme Court of Kazakhstan.  The Supreme Court is currently preparing changes to regulation so that any disputes between the government and investors, including large ones, will be in hands of the Nur-Sultan City Court, while the Supreme Court will be a cassational instance.  A number of investment disputes involving foreign companies have arisen in the past several years linked to alleged violations of environmental regulations, tax laws, transfer pricing laws, and investment clauses.  Some disputes relate to alleged illegal extensions of exploration schedules by subsurface users, as production-sharing agreements with the government usually make costs incurred during this period fully reimbursable.  Some disputes involve hundreds of millions of dollars.  Problems arise in the enforcement of judgments, and ample opportunity exists for influencing judicial outcomes given the relative lack of judicial independence.

To encourage foreign investment, the government has developed dispute resolution mechanisms aimed at enabling aggrieved investors to seek redress without requiring them to litigate their claims.  The government established an Investment Ombudsman in 2013, billed as being able to resolve foreign investors’ grievances by intervening in inter-governmental disagreements that affect investors.

Kazakhstani law provides for government compensation for violations of contracts guaranteed by the government.  Yet, where the government has merely approved or confirmed a foreign contract, the government’s responsibility is limited to the performance of administrative acts necessary to facilitate an investment activity (e.g., the issuance of a license or granting of a land plot).  The resolution of disputes arising from such cases may require litigation or arbitration.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Law on Mediation offers alternative (non-litigated) dispute resolutions for two private parties.  The Law on Arbitration defines rules and principles of domestic arbitration.  As of April 2020, Kazakhstan had 17 local arbitration bodies unified under the Arbitration Chamber of Kazakhstan.  Please see: https://palata.org/about/ .  The government noted that the Law on Arbitration brought the national arbitration legislation into compliance with the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law, the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, and the European Convention on International Commercial Arbitration.  Judgements of foreign arbitrations are recognized and enforceable under local courts.  Local courts recognize and enforce court rulings of CIS countries.  Judgement of other foreign state courts are recognized and enforceable by local courts when Kazakhstan has a bilateral agreement on mutual judicial assistance with the respective country or applies a principle of reciprocity.

When SOEs are involved in investment disputes, domestic courts usually find in the SOE’s favor.  By law, investment disputes with private commercial entities, employees, or SOEs are in the jurisdiction of local courts.  According to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s 2014 Judicial Decision Assessment, judges in local courts lacked experience with commercial law and tended to apply general principles of laws and Civil Code provisions with which they are more familiar, rather than the relevant provisions of commercial legislation.

Even when investment disputes are resolved in accordance with contractual conditions, the resolution process can be slow and require considerable time and resources.  Many investors therefore elect to handle investment disputes privately, in an extrajudicial way.  In February 2018, a U.S. company initiated arbitration against the Kazakhstani government for failure to pay approximately USD 75 million for the return of two hydropower plants, operated under a 20-year concession agreement.  In April 2018 the government responded by denying liability and seeking over USD 480 million in counterclaims.  The final evidentiary hearing took place July 22-26, 2019.  As of June, 2020, the parties continue to await the arbitrator’s decision.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Kazakhstan’s 2014 Bankruptcy and Rehabilitation Law (The Bankruptcy Law) protects the rights of creditors during insolvency proceedings, including access to information about the debtor, the right to vote against reorganization plans, and the right to challenge bankruptcy commissions’ decisions affecting their rights.  Bankruptcy is not criminalized, unless the court determines the bankruptcy premeditated.  The Bankruptcy Law improves the insolvency process by permitting accelerated business reorganization proceedings, extending the period for rehabilitation or reorganization, and expanding the powers of (and making more stringent the qualification requirements to become) insolvency administrators.  The law also eases bureaucratic requirements for bankruptcy filings, gives creditors a greater say in continuing operations, introduces a time limit for adopting rehabilitation or reorganization plans, and adds court supervision requirements.  Amendments to the law accepted in 2019 introduced a number of changes.  Among them are a more specific definition of premeditated bankruptcy, the requirement to prove sustained insolvency when filing a bankruptcy claim, the potential for individual entrepreneurs to apply for a rehabilitation procedure to reinstate their solvency, and an option to be liquidated without filing bankruptcy in the absence of income, property, and business operations.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The government’s primary industrial development strategies, such as the Concepts for Industrial and Innovative Development  2020-2025 and the National Investment Strategy for 2018-2022, aim to diversify the economy from its overdependence on extractive industries.  The Entrepreneurial Code and Tax Code provide tax preferences, customs duty exemptions, investment subsidies, and in-kind grants as incentives for foreign and domestic investment in priority sectors.  Priority sectors include agriculture, metallurgy, extraction of metallic ore, chemical and petrochemical industry, oil processing, food production, machine manufacturing, and renewable energy.  Firms in priority sectors receive tax and customs duty waivers, in-kind grants, investment subsidies, and simplified procedures for work permits.  The government’s preference system applies to new and existing enterprises.  The duration and scope of preferences depends on the priority sector and the size of investment.  All information on priority sectors and preferences is available at: https://invest.gov.kz/doing-business-here/regulated-sectors/ .

The Investment Committee at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs makes decisions on each incentive on a case-by-case basis.  The law also allows the government to rescind incentives, collect back payments, and revoke an investor’s operating license if an investor fails to fulfill contractual obligations.

Potential investors can apply for preferences through the government’s single window portal; these are special offices for serving investors, located in the capital and at district service centers in every region of Kazakhstan.  Submission for investment preferences requires a number of documents, including a comprehensive state appraisal of a proposed investment project.  More information is available here:  https://invest.gov.kz/invest-guide/  and at https://irm.invest.gov.kz/en/support/ 

A governmental guarantee or joint government financing are normally used for large infrastructure projects.

To facilitate the work of foreign investors, especially in targeted, non-extractive industries, the government has approved visa-free travel for citizens of 73 countries, including the United States, Germany, Japan, United Arab Emirates, France, Italy, and Spain.  Residents of these countries may stay in Kazakhstan without visas for up to 30 days.  The government has temporary suspended these rules due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since January 2019, foreigners may obtain business, tourist, and medical treatment visas to Kazakhstan online at: www.vmp.gov.kz . Electronic tourist visas are available for citizens of 117 counties; business and medical treatment visas can be issued electronically for citizens of 23 countries.  This system is applicable only for visitors who have letters of invitation and enter Kazakhstan through the Nur-Sultan or Almaty airports.  Businesses registered in the AIFC have a relaxed entry visa regime, allowing them to obtain entry visas upon arrival at the airport and to obtain five-year visas for employees.

Starting from 2020, the government introduced a more liberal regime for visa regulation violations.  Now, foreign visitors are permitted to only pay administrative fines for first and second violations.  The government is currently considering a bill on changes to tax legislation and further improvement of the investment climate.  The bill is expected to introduce new measures to facilitate business activity, including expanded access to investment tax credits, lowered thresholds for tax preferences for investments in the textile industry,  measures designed to stimulate public-private partnership development, and procedures for non-resident foreign investors to register businesses in Kazakhstan remotely.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The Law on Special Economic Zones allows foreign companies to establish enterprises in special economic zones (SEZs), simplifies permit procedures for foreign labor, and establishes a special customs zone regime not governed by Eurasian Economic Union rules.  A system of tax preferences exists for foreign and domestic enterprises engaged in prescribed economic activities in Kazakhstan’s thirteen SEZs.  In April 2019, President Tokayev signed amendments which extend the rights of SEZ managing companies and set up a single center to coordinate the activities of all SEZs and industrial zones in Kazakhstan.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The government requires businesses to employ local labor and use domestic content, though the country’s WTO accession commitments provide for abolition of most local content requirements over time.  In 2015, Kazakhstan adopted legislative amendments to alter existing local content requirements to meet accession requirements.  Pursuant to these amendments, subsoil use contracts concluded after January 1, 2015 no longer contain local content requirements, and any local content requirements in contracts signed before 2015 will phase out on January 1, 2021.

Kazakhstan’s WTO accession terms require that Kazakhstan relax limits on foreign nationals by increasing the “quota” for foreign nationals to 50 percent (from 30 percent for company executives and from 10 percent for engineering and technical personnel) by January 1, 2021.

Despite these commitments, the government, particularly at the regional level, continues to advocate for international businesses to increase their use of local content.  The USD 36.8 billion investment into the Tengiz oilfield by Tengizchevroil includes an agreement that 32 percent of total investment will be used to procure local content.  The Ministry of Energy announced in March 2017 that foreign companies providing services for the oil and gas sector would need to create joint ventures with local companies to continue to receive contracts at the country’s largest oilfields.  Although these recommendations are not legally binding, companies report feeling obliged to abide by them.  Some companies reported these forced joint ventures or consortia led to the creation of domestic monopolies, rather than to the stimulation of a healthy domestic market of oil service providers.  For example, the Ministry of Energy and the Karachaganak Petroleum Operating Consortium reportedly agreed that a Kazakhstani design research company would carry out at least 50 percent of the design work at the Karachaganak expansion project.

The government regulates foreign labor at the macro and micro levels.  Foreign workers must obtain work permits, which have historically been difficult and expensive to obtain.  Amendments to the Expatriate Workforce Quota and Work Permit Rules: (a) eliminate special conditions for obtaining a work permit for foreign labor (e.g. requirements to train local personnel or create additional vacancies); (b) eliminate the requirement that companies conduct a search for candidates on the internal market prior to applying for a work permit; (c) reduce the timeframe for issuance or denial of work permit from 15 to 7 days; (d) eliminate the required permission of local authorities for the appointment of CEOs and deputies of Kazakhstani legal entities that are 100 percent owned by foreign companies; and (e) expand the list of individuals requiring no permission from local authorities (including non-Kazakhstani citizens working in national holding companies as heads of structural divisions and non-Kazakhstani citizens who are members of the board of directors of national holding companies).

The Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Industry and Infrastructure Development, and Sovereign Welfare Fund Samruk-Kazyna monitor firms compliance with local content obligations, and there are various enforcement tools for companies that do not meet performance requirements.

Following the June 2019 violence at Chevron-operated Tengiz oilfield that reportedly resulted from discontent with wage discrepancy between local and foreign workers with similar qualifications, the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection has sought to revisit the definition of administrative liability and administrative violation to make state control over employers with foreign workers more effective.

The foreign labor quota approved by the government for 2020 reduced the number of work permits for employees of category 3 (specialists) by 37 percent and for category 4 (qualified workers) by 23 percent.  The largest decreases are in administration; real estate; wholesale and retail; construction; professional, scientific and technological activities; and accommodation and catering.  To replace the gap in the foreign workforce, the government is introducing an obligation to replace foreign workers with skilled Kazakhstani labor.

Foreign investors may in theory participate in government and quasi-government procurement tenders, however, they should have production facilities in Kazakhstan and should go through a process of being recognized as a pre-qualified bidder.  In 2019, the government enacted new procurement rules by which only pre-qualified suppliers will be allowed to bid for government contracts.  A key requirement for being recognized as pre-qualified bidder is that the company’s product should be made in Kazakhstan and be added to a register of trusted products.  While this requirement is applied to some selected sectors at the government procurement (e.g. construction, IT, textile), it has been practiced since 2016 for procurement at quasi-sovereign companies under the National Welfare Fund Samruk-Kazyna.

In addition, the National Chamber of Entrepreneurs Atameken introduced in 2018 an industrial certificate which serves as an extra (and costly) tool to prove a company’s financial and production capabilities to participate in tenders.  The industrial certificate also acts as an indirect confirmation of a company’s status as a local producer.  Thus, a foreign investor who plans to bid for government and quasi-government contracts should obtain an industrial certificate.

In 2019, the government introduced significant recycling fees on the importation of combines and tractors.  Although major Western brands were granted a waiver for the fees, the government is expected to revisit the exception.  The government has suggested that foreign producers start local production of their equipment and become eligible for preferential treatment.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Private entities, both foreign and domestic, have the right to establish and own business enterprises, buy and sell business interests, and engage in all forms of commercial activity.

Secured interests in property (fixed and non-fixed) are recognized under the Civil Code and the Land Code.  All property and lease rights for real estate must be registered with the Ministry of Justice through its local service centers.  According to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, Kazakhstan ranks 24 out of 190 countries in ease of registering property.

Under Kazakhstan’s constitution, land and other natural resources may be owned or leased by Kazakhstani citizens.  The Land Code: (a) allows citizens and Kazakhstani companies to own agricultural and urban land, including commercial and non-commercial buildings, complexes, and dwellings; (b) permits foreigners to own land to build industrial and non-industrial facilities, including dwellings, with the exception of land located in border zones; (c) authorizes the government to monitor proper use of leased agricultural lands, the results of which may affect the status of land-lease contracts; (d) forbids private ownership of: land used for national defense and national security purposes, specially protected nature reserves, forests, reservoirs, glaciers, swamps, designated public areas within urban or rural settlements, except land plots occupied by private building and premises, main railways and public roads, land reserved for future national parks, subsoil use and power facilities, and social infrastructure.  The government maintains the land inventory and constantly updates its electronic data base, though the inventory data is not exhaustive.  The government has also set up rules for withdrawing land plots that have been improperly or never used.

In 2015, the government proposed Land Code amendments that would allow foreigners to rent agricultural lands for up to 25 years.  Mass protests in the spring of 2016 led the government to introduce a moratorium on these provisions until December 31, 2021.  The moratorium is also effective on other related articles of the Land Code that regulate private ownership rights on agricultural lands.

Intellectual Property Rights

The legal structure for intellectual property rights (IPR) protection is relatively strong; however, enforcement needs further improvement.  Kazakhstan was not  included in the United States Trade Representative (USTR)  Special 301 Report or the  Notorious Markets List.  To facilitate its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and attract foreign investment, Kazakhstan continues to improve its legal regime for protecting IPR.  The Civil Code and various laws protect U.S. IPR.  Kazakhstan has ratified 18 of the 24 treaties endorsed by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO): http://www.wipo.int/members/en/details.jsp?country_id=97 .

The Criminal Code sets out punishments for violations of copyright, rights for inventions, useful models, industrial patterns, select inventions, and integrated circuits topographies.  The law authorizes the government to target internet piracy and shut down websites unlawfully sharing copyrighted material, provided that rights holders had registered their copyrighted material with Kazakhstan’s IPR Committee.  Despite these efforts, U.S. companies and associated business groups have alleged that 73 percent of software used in Kazakhstan is pirated, including in government ministries, and have criticized the government’s enforcement efforts.

To comply with OECD IPR standards, in 2018 Kazakhstan accepted amendments to its IPR legislation that would streamline IPR registration and enforcement.  The law set up a more convenient, one-tier system of IPR registration and provided rights holders the opportunity for pre-trial dispute settlement through the Appeals Council at the Ministry of Justice.  In addition, the law included IPR protection as one of the government procurement principles that should be strictly followed by government organizations.  The Ministry of Justice is working with the World Bank on developing new IPR legislation based on OECD norms, including patent protection of IT products.

Kazakhstani authorities conduct nationwide campaigns called “Counterfeit”, “Hi-Tech” and “Anti-Fraud” that are aimed at detecting and ceasing IPR infringements and increasing public awareness about IP issues.  The Ministry of Justice and law enforcement agencies regularly report the results of their inspections.  In 2019, they conducted 276 inspections and initiated 236 cases on violations of trade mark use, resulting in USD 32,900 in penalties.  In addition, authorities reportedly seized over 44,000 units of counterfeit goods worth around USD 52,570.  Customs officials seized counterfeited goods at border crossing worth around USD 14.4 million.  IPR violations are prosecuted regularly. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported 31 criminal copyright violations in 2019.  Of these 31 cases, three cases were closed, five were resolved by the conciliation of parties, and the rest remain in litigation.

Although Kazakhstan continues to make progress to comply with WTO requirements and OECD standards, foreign companies complain about inadequate IPR protection.  Judges, customs officials, and police officers also lack IPR expertise, which exacerbates weak IPR enforcement.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Kazakhstan maintains a stable macroeconomic framework, although weak banks inhibit the financial sector’s development (described further in next section), valuation and accounting practices are inconsistent, and large state-owned enterprises that dominate the economy face challenges in preparing complete financial reporting.  Capital markets remain underdeveloped and illiquid, with small equity and debt markets dominated by state-owned companies and lacking in retail investors.  Most domestic borrowers obtain credit from Kazakhstani banks, although foreign investors often find margins and collateral requirements onerous, and it is usually cheaper and easier for foreign investors to use retained earnings or borrow from their home country. The government actively seeks to attract foreign direct investment, including portfolio investment.  Foreign clients may only trade via local brokerage companies or after registering at the Kazakhstan Stock Exchange (KASE) or at the AIFC.

KASE, in operation since 1993, trades a variety of instruments, including equities and funds, corporate bonds, sovereign debt, foreign currencies, repurchase agreements (REPO) and derivatives, with 200 listed companies in total.  Most of KASE’s trading is comprised of money market (87 percent) and foreign exchange (10 percent).  As of March 31, 2020, stock market capitalization was USD 37.3 billion, while the corporate bond market was USD 31 billion. The Single Accumulating Pension Fund, the key source of the country’s local currency liquidity, accumulated $26.1 billion as of March 31, 2020.

In 2018, the government launched the Astana International Financial Center (AIFC), a regional financial hub modeled after the Dubai International Financial Center.  The AIFC has its own stock exchange (AIX), regulator, and court (see Part 4).  The AIFC has partnered with the Shanghai Stock Exchange, NASDAQ, Goldman Sachs International, the Silk Road Fund, and others.  AIX currently has 53 listings, including 24 traded on its platform.

Kazakhstan is bound by Article 8 of the International Monetary Fund’s Articles of Agreement, adopted in 1996, which prohibits government restrictions on currency conversions or the repatriation of investment profits.  Money transfers associated with foreign investments, whether inside or outside of the country, are unrestricted; however, Kazakhstan’s currency legislation requires that a currency contract must be presented to the servicing bank if the transfer exceeds USD 10,000.  Money transfers over USD 50,000 require the servicing bank to notify the transaction to the authorities, so the transferring bank may require the transferring parties, whether resident or non-resident, to provide information for that notification.

Money and Banking System

Kazakhstan has 27 commercial banks.  As of March 1, 2019, the five largest banks (Halyk Bank, Sberbank-Kazakhstan, Forte Bank, Kaspi Bank and Bank CenterCredit) held assets of approximately USD 43.6 billion, accounting for 62.2 percent of the total banking sector.

Kazakhstan’s banking system remains impaired by legacy non-performing loans, poor risk management, weak corporate governance practices at some banks and significant related-party exposures.  Over the past several years the government has undertaken a number of measures to strengthen the sector, including capital injections, enhanced oversight, and expanded regulatory authorities.  In 2019, the NBK initiated an asset quality review (AQR) of 14 major banks jointly holding 87 percent of banking assets as of April 1, 2019.  According to NBK officials, the AQR showed sufficient capitalization on average across the 14 banks and set out individual corrective measure plans for each of the banks to improve risk management.  As of March 2020, the ratio of non-performing loans to banking assets was 8.9 percent, down from 31.2 percent in January 2014.  The COVID-19 pandemic and the fall in global oil prices may pose additional risks to Kazakhstan’s banking sector.

Kazakhstan has a central bank system, led by the National Bank of Kazakhstan (NBK).  In January 2020, parliament established the Agency for Regulation and Development after Financial Market (ARDFM), which assumed the NBK’s role as main financial regulator overseeing banks, insurance companies, stock market, microcredit organizations, debt collection agencies, and credit bureaus.  The National Bank of Kazakhstan (NBK) retains its core central bank functions as well as management of the country’s sovereign wealth fund and pension system assets.  The NBK and ARDFM as its successor is committed to move gradually to Basel III regulatory standard.  As of May 2020, Basel III methodology applies to capital and liquidity calculation with required regulatory ratios gradually changing to match the standard.

Currently foreign banks are allowed to operate in the country only through their local subsidiaries.  Starting December 16, 2020, as a part of Kazakhstan’s WTO commitments, foreign banks will be allowed to operate via branches subject to compliance with regulatory norms prescribed by the NBK and ARDFM.

Foreigners may open bank accounts in local banks if they have a local tax registration number.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

There are no restrictions or limitations placed on foreign investors in converting, transferring, or repatriating funds associated with an investment (e.g. remittances of investment capital, earnings, loan or lease payments, or royalties).  Funds associated with any form of investment may be freely converted into any world currency, though local markets may be limited to major world currencies.

As of July 2019, foreign company branches are treated as residents, except for branches of foreign banks and insurance companies or non-financial organizations treated as non-residents based on previously made special agreements with Kazakhstan.  Foreign banks and insurance companies’ branches will be treated as residents from December 2020.  With some exceptions, foreign currency transactions between residents are forbidden.  There are no restrictions on foreign currency operations between residents and non-residents, unless specified otherwise by local foreign currency legislation.  Companies registered with AIFC are not subject to currency and settlement restrictions.

Kazakhstan abandoned its currency peg in favor of a free-floating exchange rate and inflation-targeting monetary regime in August 2015, although the National Bank admits to intervening in foreign exchange markets to combat excess volatility.  Kazakhstan maintains sufficient international reserves according to the IMF.  As of March 2020, international reserves at the National Bank, including foreign currency and gold, and National Fund assets totaled USD 87.4 billion.

Remittance Policies

The U.S. Mission in Kazakhstan is not aware of any concerns about remittance policies or the availability of foreign exchange conversion for the remittance of profits.  Local currency legislation permits non-residents to freely receive and transfer dividends, interest and other income on deposits, securities, loans, and other currency transactions with residents.  However, such remittances would be subject to the reporting requirements described in the “Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment” Section above.  There are no time limitations on remittances; and timelines to remit investment returns depend on internal procedures of the servicing bank. Residents seeking to transfer property or money to a non-resident in excess of USD 500,000 are required to register the contract with the NBK.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The National Fund of the Republic of Kazakhstan was established to support the country’s social and economic development via accumulation of financial and other assets, as well as to reduce the country’s dependence on oil sector and external shocks.  The Fund’s assets are generated from direct taxes and other payments from oil companies, public property privatization, sale of public farm lands, and investment income.  The government, through the Ministry of Finance, controls the National Fund, while the NBK acts as National Fund’s trustee and asset manager. The NBK selects external asset managers from internationally-recognized investment companies or banks to oversee a part of the National Fund’s assets.  Information about external asset managers and assets they manage is confidential.  As of March 2020, the National Fund’s assets were USD 57 billion or around 37 percent of GDP.

The government receives regular transfers from the National Fund for general state budget support, as well as special purpose transfers ordered by the President.  The National Fund is required to retain a minimum balance of no less than 30 percent of GDP.

Kazakhstan is not a member of the IMF-hosted International Working Group of Sovereign Wealth Funds.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

According to the Ministry of Finance, as of January 1, 2020, the government owns 3,661 state-owned enterprises (SOEs), including all forms of SOEs from small veterinary inspection offices, departments on anti-monopoly policy or hospitals in regions to large national companies,  controlling energy, transport,  agricultural finance and product development.

In 2019, President Tokayev introduced a moratorium on establishing new parastatal companies that will be effective until the end of 2021.  A bill on improving the business climate approved  by the Majilis, the lower Chamber of Parliament, in April 2020 makes it more difficult to establish new parastatal companies.  Despite these positive developments, the share of SOEs in the economy is still large.  According to the 2017 OECD Investment Policy Review, SOE assets amount to USD 48-64 billion, approximately 30-40 percent of GDP; their net income was approximately USD 2 billion.  The preferential status of parastatal companies remains unchanged; parastatals enjoy greater access to subsidies and government support.

The lists of SOEs is available at: http://www.minfin.gov.kz/irj/portal/anonymous?NavigationTarget=ROLES://portal_content/mf/kz.ecc.roles/kz.ecc.anonymous/kz.ecc.anonymous/kz.ecc.anonym_activities/activities/statistics_fldr 

The National Welfare Fund Samruk-Kazyna (SK) is Kazakhstan’s largest national holding company, and manages key SOEs in the oil and gas, energy, mining, transportation, and communication sectors.  At the end of 2018, SK had 317 subsidiaries and employed around 300,000 people.  By some estimates, SK controls around half of Kazakhstan’s economy, and is the nation’s largest buyer of goods and services.  In 2018, SK reported USD 74.3 billion in assets and USD 3.3 billion in consolidated net profit.  Created in 2008, SK’s official purpose is to facilitate economic diversification and to increase effective corporate governance.  In 2018, First President Nazarbayev approved SK’s new strategy, which declared the effective management of its companies, restructuring and diversification of assets and investment projects, and compliance with the principles of sustainable development as its priority goals.  To follow this new strategy, early in 2020, SK removed the Prime Minister from the Board and elected four independent directors, one of which became the Chairman of the Board.  Kazakhstani government participation in the Board is limited to three individuals: the Aide to the President, the Minister of National Economy and the CEO of Samruk-Kazyna.  SK Portfolio companies are required to have corporate governance standards and independent boards.  Despite these moves, the government maintains significant influence in SK.  First President Nazarbayev is the life-long Chairman of the Managing Council of SK, and can make decisions on SK activity.  SK has special rights not afforded to other companies, such as the ability to conclude large transactions among members of its holding companies without public notification.  SK has the pre-emptive right to buy strategic facilities and bankrupt assets, and is exempt from government procurement procedures.  Critically, the government can transfer state-owned property to SK, easing the transfer of state property to private owners.  More information is available at http://sk.kz/ .

In addition to SK, the government created the national managing holding company Baiterek in 2013 to provide financial and investment support to non-extractive industries, drive economic diversification, and improve corporate governance in government subsidiaries.  Baiterek is comprised of the Development Bank of Kazakhstan, the Investment Fund of Kazakhstan, the Housing and Construction Savings Bank, the National Mortgage Company, the National Agency for Technological Development, the Distressed Asset Fund, and other financial and development institutions.  Unlike SK, the Prime Minister remains the Chairman of the Board, assisted by several cabinet ministers and independent directors.  In 2019, Baiterek had USD 13.8 billion in assets and earned USD 104.5 million in net profit.  At the end of 2018, Baiterek held a 48 percent share of the country’s market of long-term crediting of the non-extractive sectors.   Please see https://www.baiterek.gov.kz/en 

Other SOEs include KazAgro, which manages state agricultural holdings such as the state wheat purchasing agent National Food Contract Corporation, farm equipment subsidy provider KazAgroFinance, and the Agrarian Credit Corporation, an agricultural insurance company (http://www.kazagro.kz/ ).  The national holding company Zerde is charged with creating modern information and communication infrastructure, using new technologies, and stimulating investments in the communication sector (http://zerde.gov.kz/ ).

Officially, private enterprises compete with public enterprises under the same terms and conditions.  In some cases, SOEs enjoy better access to natural resources, credit, and licenses than private entities.

In its 2017 Investment Review, the OECD recommended Kazakhstani authorities identify new ways to ensure that all corporate governance standards applicable to private companies apply to SOEs.  Samruk-Kazyna adopted a new Corporate Governance Code in 2015.  The Code, which applies to all SK subsidiaries, specified the role of the government as ultimate shareholder, underlined the role of the Board of directors and risk management, and called for transparency and accountability.

Privatization Program

As part of its overall plan to reduce the share of Kazakhstan’s SOEs to the OECD average of 15 percent of the economy, the government is conducting a large-scale privatization campaign.  By law and in practice, foreign investors may participate in privatization projects.  The public bidding process is established in law.  Government reports on this campaign are available at: https://privatization.gosreestr.kz/ 

As of April 2020, 499 out of 873 organizations planned for privatization have been sold for 315.8 billion tenge, or USD 734.5 million. The government sells small, state-owned and municipal enterprises through electronic auctions.

SK plans to offer institutional investors non-controlling shares in following national companies via initial public offerings (IPOs), secondary public offerings (SPO) and sale to strategic investors:  state oil company KazMunayGas, uranium mining company KazAtomProm, national airline Air Astana,  national telecom operator Kazakhtelecom, railway operator Kazakhstan Temir Zholy, KazPost, and Samruk–Energy, Tau-Ken Samruk, and Qazaq Air.  Samruk-Kazyna sold 15 percent of its stake in KazAtomProm in a dual-listed IPO on the London Exchange and the Astana International Stock Exchange in 2018.  Information on privatization of SK assets is available here: https://sk.kz/investors/privatization/information-on-assets-and-facilities/?lang=en 

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Entrepreneurs, the government, and non-governmental organizations are aware of the expectations of responsible business conduct (RBC).  Kazakhstan continues to make steady progress toward meeting the OECD Guidelines for International Investment and Multinational Enterprises, and the government promotes the concept of RBC.  The OECD National Point of Contact is the Ministry of National Economy.

A legal framework for RBC was introduced in 2015.  The Entrepreneurial Code has a special section on social responsibility, which is defined as a voluntary contribution for the development of social, environmental, and other spheres.  The Code says that the state creates conditions for RBC but specifies that it cannot force entrepreneurs to perform socially responsible actions.  The Code considers donations to charity one of the key forms of social responsibility and envisions a tax deduction for charitable giving, though no such rule exists.

In April 2015, the National Tripartite Commission on Social Partnership and Regulation of Social and Labor Relations adopted the National Concept on Social Corporate Responsibility, developed by the National Chamber of Entrepreneurs “Atameken” and the corporate fund Eurasia-Central Asia.  The non-binding document covers human rights, environmental protection, consumer interests, RBC, corporate governance, and community development.

First President Nazarbayev has repeatedly asked foreign investors and local businesses to implement corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects, to provide occupational safety, pay salaries on time, and invest in human capital.  The president presents annual awards for achievements in CSR.  Foreign investors report that local government officials regularly pressure them to provide social investments to achieve local political objectives.  Local officials attempt to exert as much control as possible over the selection and allocation of funding for such projects.

The government has signed on to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).  Kazakhstan produces EITI reports disclosing revenues from the extraction of its natural resources.  Companies disclose what they pay in taxes and other payments, and the government discloses revenue received; these two sets of figures are then compared and reconciled.  Starting in August 2019, the EITI Board has been reviewing whether Kazakhstan has made meaningful progress in implementing EITI standards since its first validation in 2017.  The EITI Board is particularly concerned with disclosure of information by state-owned companies, such as KazMunayGas and its subsidiaries, oil supplies, revenues of Kazakhstan Temir Zholy from transportation of mineral resources, and free access of NGOs to EITI process in Kazakhstan.

Starting in 2019, members of EITI, including Kazakhstan, are required to disclose subsoil use contracts, signed after January 1, 2021.  In June 2019, the Ministry of Industry and Infrastructure Development disclosed for the first time beneficial ownership data on its website.  The data include names of beneficial owners and their level of ownership under new licenses only.

9. Corruption

Kazakhstan’s rating in Transparency International’s (TI) 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index is 34/100, ranking Kazakhstan 113 out of 180 countries rated – a relatively weak score, but the best in Central Asia.  According to the report, corruption remains a serious challenge for Kazakhstan, amplified by the instability of the economy.  In its March 2019 report on the fourth round of monitoring under the Istanbul Action Plan, OECD stated a lack of progress on 9 of 29 recommendations, including: implementation of a holistic anti-corruption policy in the private sector, ensuring independence of the anti-corruption agency, detailed integrity rules for political officials, independence of the judiciary and judges, mandatory anti-corruption screening of all draft laws, bringing the Law on Access to Information in line with international standards, effective and dissuasive liability of legal entities for corruption crimes; and ensuring the effectiveness of investigative and prosecutorial practices to combat corruption crimes.

The 2015-2025 Anti-Corruption Strategy focuses on measures to prevent the conditions that foster corruption, rather than fighting the consequences of corruption.  The Criminal Code imposes tough criminal liability and punishment for corruption, eliminates suspension of sentences for corruption-related crimes, and introduces a lifetime ban on employment in the civil service with mandatory forfeiture of title, rank, grade and state awards.  The Law on Countering Corruption introduces broader definitions of corruption and risks, anticorruption monitoring and analysis, and stronger financial accountability measures.  The Law on Government Procurement prohibits companies, the managers of which are directly related to decision makers of contracting government agencies, from participation in tenders.  The Law on Countering Corruption states that private companies should undertake measures to prevent corruption, while business associations can develop codes of conduct for specific industries.

The Agency for Countering Corruption presents its report on countering corruption annually. Kazakhstan ratified the UN Convention against Corruption in 2008.  It has been a participant of the Istanbul Anti-Corruption Action Plan of the OECD Anti-Corruption Network since 2004, the International Association of Anti-Corruption Agencies since 2009, and the International Counter-Corruption Council of CIS member-states since 2013.  Kazakhstan became a member of the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) in January 2020.  The government and local business entities are aware of the legal restrictions placed on business abroad, such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the UK Bribery Act.

Despite provisions in laws, however, corruption allegations are noted in nearly all sectors, including extractive industries, infrastructure projects, state procurements, and the banking sector.  The International Finance Corporation’s Enterprise Survey that gathers responses from thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises in each of more than 100 countries, finds that respondents indicate corruption as the most severe obstacle to doing business in Kazakhstan.  For more information, please see: http://www.enterprisesurveys.org/data/exploreeconomies/2013/kazakhstan#corruption 

Transparency International Kazakhstan conducted a survey in 2019 to assess the corruption perception of 1,824 representatives of small businesses and individual entrepreneurs.  A total of 76.1 percent of respondents reported that they can develop their business without corruption.

The legal framework controlling corruption has been eased and loopholes exist.  In 2018 the president signed into law a set of criminal legislation amendments  mitigating punishment for acts of corruption by officials, including decriminalizing official inaction, hindrance to business activity, and falsification of documents; significantly reducing the amounts of fines for taking bribes; and reinstituting a statute of limitation for corruption crimes.  The largest loophole surrounds the first president and his family.  The Law on the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan—Leader of the Nation establishes blanket immunity for First President Nazarbayev and members of his family from arrest, detention, search or interrogation.  Journalists and advocates for fiscal transparency are reported to have faced frequent harassment, administrative pressure, and there are reports of disappearances and unaccounted deaths.

Resources to Report Corruption

Under the Law On Countering Corruption, all government, quasi-government entities, and officials are responsible for countering corruption.  Along with the Anti-Corruption Agency, prosecutors, national security agencies, police, tax inspectors, military police, and border guard service members are responsible for the detection, termination, disclosure, investigation, and prevention of corruption crimes, and for holding the perpetrators liable within their competence.

Transparency International maintains a national chapter in Kazakhstan.

Contact at the government agency responsible for combating corruption:

Alik Shpekbayev
Chairman
Agency for Civil Service Affairs and Countering Corruption
37 Seyfullin Street, Astana
+7 (7172) 909002
a.shpekbaev@kyzmet.gov.kz

Contact at a “watchdog” organization:

Olga Shiyan
Executive Director
Civic Foundation “Transparency Kazakhstan”
Office 308/2
89 Dosmuhamedov str,
Business Center Caspi
Almaty 050012
+7 (727) 292 0970; +7 771 589 4507
oshiyantikaz@gmail.com

10. Political and Security Environment

There have been no reported incidents of politically-motivated violence against foreign investment projects, and although small-scale protests do occur, large-scale civil disturbances are infrequent.  In June 2016, individuals described by the government as Salafist militants attacked a gun shop and a military unit, killing 8 and injuring 37 people in the Aktobe region of northwestern Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan generally enjoys good relations with its neighbors. Although the presidential transition in neighboring Uzbekistan has opened the door to greater regional cooperation, including on border issues, Kazakhstan continues to exercise vigilance against possible penetration of its borders by extremist groups.  The government also remains concerned about the potential return of foreign terrorist fighters from Syria and Iraq.

After close to three decades, President Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned as president March 20, 2019, and was succeeded by Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the former Senate Chairman and next in line of constitutional succession.  On April 9, 2019, President Tokayev announced that Kazakhstan would hold early presidential elections June 9, 2019.

In the June 9 election, the first without First President Nazarbayev, President Tokayev was elected to a full term with 71 percent of the vote.  The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) published a preliminary assessment of the election June 10, noting in its press release that “a lack of regard for fundamental rights, including detentions of peaceful protestors, and widespread voting irregularities on election day, showed scant respect for democratic standards.”  In the March 2016 election for the Mazhilis (lower house of Parliament), Kazakhstan’s largest party, Nur-Otan, received 82 percent of the vote, while the business-friendly Ak Zhol party and the Communist People’s party each received 7 percent.  All three parties supported Nazarbayev and his policies.  The OSCE similarly critiqued the March 2016 election for its lack of adherence to OSCE standards for democratic elections.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The July 2017 EBRD Kazakhstan Diagnostic Paper singles out skills mismatches across sectors as the fifth most important constraint that is holding back private sector growth in Kazakhstan.  The gaps create real operational challenges such as high recruitment and training costs, lower productivity and constraints on innovation and new product development, according to the EBRD.  The existing skills mismatches are not a result of lack of access in education, but rather failure to acquire job-relevant skills and competencies, the EBRD report reads.  The 2019 OECD report on Monitoring Skills Development through Occupational Standards in Kazakhstan echoes the EBRD findings – despite improvements in educational attainment and labor market participation, Kazakhstan faces challenges with respect to skill relevance and availability, especially among large and middle-sized companies.  Strengthening vocational education and training is critical, because skilled manual workers, with medium and high qualifications, represent 40 percent of the total workforce need, according to the OECD.

Many large investors rely on foreign workers and engineers to fill the void.  Kazakhstan approved a quota for 29,300 foreign workers for 2020.  As of February 1, 2020, Labor Ministry had issued 19,100 work permits.  Chinese workers received over 27 percent of all permits, with the rest going to foreign workers from Turkey, U.K., India, Uzbekistan, and others.

The Kazakhstani government has made it a priority to ensure that Kazakhstani citizens are well represented in foreign enterprise workforces.  In 2009, the government instituted a comprehensive policy for local content, particularly for companies in extractive industries.  The government is particularly keen to see Kazakhstanis hired into the managerial and executive ranks of foreign enterprises.  In November 2015, the government amended the legislation on migration and employment that resulted in new rules for foreign labor starting January 2017 (please see details in Part 5, Performance and Data Localization Requirements).  U.S. companies are advised to contact Kazakhstan-based law and accounting firms and the U.S. Commercial Service in Almaty for current information on work permits.  AIFC-registered entities may employ a foreign workforce without any work permits.

Kazakhstan joined the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 1993, and has ratified 24 out of 189 ILO conventions, including eight fundamental conventions pertaining to minimum employment age, prohibition on the use of forced labor and the worst forms of child labor, and prohibition on discrimination in employment, as well as conventions on equal pay and collective bargaining.  In March 2019, Kazakhstan’s Federation of Trade Unions proposed that the Kazakhstani government join five more ILO technical conventions on social security (minimum standards), minimum wage fixing, collective bargaining, part-time work, and safety and health in agriculture, but the country has not ratified any new ILO conventions since then.

In September 2017, the ILO expressed concern over Kazakhstan’s compliance with the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention and the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention by calling on the government to amend the relevant legislation in order to: (1) enable workers to form and join trade unions of their own choosing, (2) allow labor unions to benefit from joint projects with international organizations, and (3) allow financial assistance to labor unions from international organizations.  The Constitution and National Labor Code guarantee basic workers’ rights, including occupational safety and health, the right to organize, and the right to strike.  Amendments to the Labor Code since July 2018 leave many labor-related issues, including dismissals and layoffs, to the discretion of employers.  It imposes tighter collective bargaining restrictions on employees involved in labor disputes.  According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, 33.4 percent of all working enterprises have collective agreements.  Kazakhstan’s three independent labor unions – the Federation of Trade Unions of the Republic of Kazakhstan (FTU), Commonwealth of Trade Unions of Kazakhstan Amanat, and Kazakhstan Confederation of Labor (KCL) – had over three million members, or 40 percent of Kazakhstan’s workforce, as of March 1, 2020.

Article 46 of the Labor Code gives the employer the right to change work conditions due to fluctuating market conditions with proper and timely notifications to employees.  Article 52 of the Labor Code gives the employer the right to cancel an employment contract in case of a decline in production that may lead to the deterioration of economic and financial conditions of the company.  Article 131 of the Labor Code allows for severance of payment of average monthly wages for two months in case of layoffs for economic reasons.  The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection is responsible for offering alternative job openings within state programs of the so-called Employment Road Map, alternative professional training, or temporary jobs to workers laid off for economic reasons.  The 2017-2021 Productive Employment and Mass Entrepreneurship National Program, run by the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, aims at connecting workers with permanent jobs.  The program provides micro-loans and grants, and equips workers with basic entrepreneurial skills.

Chapter 15 of the Labor Code describes a mechanism for resolution of individual labor disputes via direct negotiations with an employer, mediation commission, and court.  Chapter 16 of the Labor Code identifies a mechanism for resolution of collective labor disputes via direct negotiations with an employer, mediation commission, labor arbitration, and court.

Labor unrest presents a risk where unemployment is high and where the bargaining power of limited skilled labor is relatively high, but authorities have been quick to intervene with controls and mitigating measures.  In June 2019, a violence broke out at the Chevron-operated Tengiz oilfield, in which large mobs of Kazakh men attacked dozens of their colleagues from countries like Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.  The unrest had ostensibly been triggered by an interpersonal conflict, though it was widely acknowledged that festering resentment about pay and working conditions underlaid the violence.  Another conflict that took place on August 12, 2019, in the Zhairem settlement of the Karaganda region reportedly had similar grounds — fifty Zhairem residents trespassed the site of the Zhairem enrichment plant, owned by KazZinc (i.e. Glencore International AG), and started a brawl with Turkish workers.  The altercation resulted in the minor injuries of six Turkish workers.  The regional police brought charges for hooliganism and property theft against seven Zhairem residents.

In September 2019, several strikes over living standards hit the Chinese-run companies in the Mangystau region.  At least 165 workers of Mobil Service Group Ltd that provides transportation services for Oil Construction Company LLP in the Kalamkas field and Karazhanbasmunai JSC in the Karazhanbas field in the Mangystau region went on strike on September 20, 2019 to demand a 100 percent increase of wages and to complain about getting paid up to ten times less than their western and Chinese colleagues.  The labor dispute was resolved after MSG management agreed to raise wages by 50 percent.

Approximately 24 workers of the Sinopec-run Karakudykmunay and Buzachi Operating companies went on strike on September 23, 2019, demanding a 100 percent wage increase.  Over 150 workers wrote letters to the company’s management and to the ruling Nur Otan party prior to the strike.  Another strike over low wages reportedly took place at Buzachi Operating on October 31, 2019, which was later dismissed by the company’s management, stating that it was a regular staff meeting.

On September 30, 2019, a local newspaper published on its website a video message  (https://www.lada.kz/aktau_news/society/73745-rabochie-esche-odnoy-kompanii-v-mangistau-trebovali-povysheniya-zarabotnoy-platy.html ) to President Tokayev allegedly recorded by Emir Oil workers, requesting a 50 percent increase in wages.  Kazakh-Malaysian oil company, Emir Oil Ltd, dismissed this information, stating that the company had been negotiating with workers and gradually implementing a pay increase since March 2019.

Security workers of KMG-Security, a subsidiary of KazMunayGas National Company (KMG NC), held a strike demanding a wage increase and improved working conditions in the oil town of Zhanaozen in the Mangystau region on January 27, 2020.  Their requests have been addressed by KMG NC.  The government is particularly sensitive to any signs of unrest in Zhanaozen, after a seven-month strike of oil workers in the town culminated in riots that killed 15 and injured over 100 in December 2011.

Workers’ rights to strike are limited by several conditions.  It may take over 40 days to initiate the strike in accordance with the law, representatives of labor unions report.  Workers can strike if all arbitration measures defined by law have been exhausted.  Strike votes must be taken in a meeting where at least half of workers are present, and strikers are required to give five days’ notice to their employer, include a list of complaints, and tell the employer the proposed date, time and place of the strike.  Courts have the power to declare a strike illegal at the request of an employer or the General Prosecutor’s office.  Employers may fire striking workers after a court declares a strike illegal.  The Criminal Code enables the government to target labor organizers whose strikes are deemed illegal.

The Labor Union Law generally restricts workers’ freedom of association.  Under the law, any local (and potentially independent) labor union must be affiliated with larger unions, and the right to freely establish and join independent organizations without prior authorization is restricted.  On the basis of this law, in 2016 authorities did not allow the registration of one independent labor union and ordered its liquidation.  In 2018, the U.S. government initiated a review of Kazakhstan’s compliance with the Generalized System of Preferences following a petition by the AFL-CIO, based on the country’s alleged failure to afford internationally-recognized workers’ rights.  The AFL-CIO petition highlights the Law on Unions and also raises concerns about the use of Article 404 of the Criminal Code, which appears to prohibit unregistered organizations.  The amendments were signed into law by President Tokayev on May 4, 2020.  The law removes the requirement of affiliation with a large labor union for local labor unions.  Other changes include softening restrictions on strikes.  Workers employed in the railway, transport and communications, civil aviation, healthcare, and public utilities sectors may strike, if they maintain minimum services for the population, that is, provided there is no harm caused to other people.  The law also reduces the penalty for calls to continue strikes declared illegal by a court.  If such calls do not result in a material violation of rights and interests of other people, they will be classified as criminal misconduct, and penalty will be limited to fines or hours of community service.  The previous law classified such calls as criminal offences, and the penalties included restriction on freedom of movement or imprisonment.

Please see details at the Human Rights Report at: https://2017-2021.state.gov/reports/2019-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/.

The official unemployment rate in Kazakhstan has regularly been near five percent in recent years.  In 2019, Kazakhstan’s unemployment rate stood at 4.8 percent, and youth unemployment rate was 3.7 percent.

12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the government of Kazakhstan signed an Investment Incentive Agreement in 1992, and OPIC has been active in Kazakhstan since 1994.  In January 2018, OPIC signed a Memorandum of Understanding with KazakhInvest JSC to support U.S. investment in Kazakhstan and improve collaboration between the two countries.  The U.S. Development Finance Corporation (DFC), the successor of OPIC, seeks commercially viable projects in Kazakhstan’s private sector and offers a full range of investment insurance and debt/equity stakes.  Kazakhstan is also a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, which is part of the World Bank Group and provides political risk insurance for foreign investments in developing countries.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (M USD ) 2018 174,675  2018 179,340 https://data.worldbank.org/
country/kazakhstan
 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country (M USD , stock positions) Jan 1, 2020 36,541   2012 12,512 BEA data available at
http://bea.gov/international/
direct_investment_multinational_
companies_comprehensive_data.htm
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States (M USD , stock positions) Jan 1, 2020 177 2016 -3 BEA data available at
http://bea.gov/international/
direct_investment_multinational_
companies_comprehensive_data.htm
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 91.8% 2018 87.5% https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

*The Statistic Committee and The National Bank of Kazakhstan

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data (2018)
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 149,008 100% Total Outward 16,798 100%
 Netherlands 63,219 42% Netherlands 11,002 65%
 United States 31,229 21%  United Kingdom 3,381 20%
 France 13,214 9% Russian Federation 1,320 8%
China P.R: Main land 8,269 6% Bahamas,The 794 5%
 Japan 5,906 4% Cayman Islands 605 4%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD  500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets (Dec 31, 2018)
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 60,675 100% All Countries 10,626 100% All Countries 50,049 100%
United States 30,015 49.5%  United States 5,949 56% United States 24,066 48.1%
France 3,737 6.2%  Japan 843 8% Japan 3,599 7.2%
United Kingdom 3,647 6% United Kingdom 829 7.8% France 3,387 6.7%
Japan 3,599 5.9% Switzerland 357 3.4% South Korea 3,048 6.1%
South Korea 3,049 5% France 350 3.3% United Kingdom 2,818 5.6%

Laos

Executive Summary

Laos, officially the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), is a rapidly growing developing economy at the heart of Southeast Asia, bordered by Burma, Cambodia, China, Thailand, and Vietnam.  Laos’ economic growth over the last decade averaged just below eight percent, placing Laos amongst the fastest growing economies in the world.  According to the World Bank, Laos’ GDP growth fell from 6.3 percent in 2018 to 4.8 percent in 2019 due primarily to natural disasters that affected the agricultural sector.  The COVID-19 outbreak is expected to further intensify the country’s macroeconomic vulnerabilities in 2020, with limited fiscal and foreign currency buffers constraining the ability of the Government of Lao PDR to mitigate the economic impacts of the pandemic.  Over the last 30 years, Laos has made slow but steady progress in implementing reforms and building the institutions necessary for a market economy, culminating in accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in February 2013.  The Lao government’s commitment to WTO accession and the creation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 led to major reforms of economic policies and regulations aimed at improving the business and investment environment.  Nonetheless, within ASEAN Laos ranks only ahead of Burma in the World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business’ rankings.  The Lao government is increasingly tying its economic fortunes to the economic integration of ASEAN and export-led development and is seeking to move toward greener growth and sustainable development.

The exploitation of natural resources and development of hydropower drove the rapid economic growth over the last decade, with both sectors largely led by foreign investors. However, the Lao government recognizes that growth opportunities in these industries are finite and employ few people, and has therefore recently began prioritizing and expanding the development of high-value agriculture, light manufacturing, and tourism, while continuing to develop energy resources and related electrical transmission capacity to export to neighboring countries.

The Lao government hopes to leverage its lengthy land borders with Burma, China, Thailand, and Vietnam to transform Laos from “land-locked” to “land-linked,” thereby further integrating the Lao economy with the larger economies of the countries along its borders. The government hopes to increase exports of agriculture, manufactured goods, and electricity to its more industrialized neighbors, and sees significant growth opportunities resulting from the China-Laos Railway, which will connect Kunming in Yunnan Province with Vientiane, Laos. The railway is expected to be completed and operational by 2021.  Some businesses and international investors are beginning to use Laos as a low-cost export base to sell goods within the region and to the United States and Europe.  The emergence of light manufacturing has begun to help Laos integrate into regional supply chains, and improving infrastructure should facilitate this process, making Laos a legitimate locale for regional manufacturers seeking to diversify from existing production bases in Thailand, Vietnam, and China.  New Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in Vientiane and Savannakhet have attracted major manufacturers from Europe, North America, and Japan.

Economic progress and trade expansion in Laos remain hampered by a shortage of workers with technical skills, weak education and health care systems, and poor—although improving—transportation infrastructure.  Institutions, especially in the justice sector, remain highly underdeveloped and regulatory capacity is low. Despite recent efforts and some improvements, corruption is rampant and is a major obstacle for foreign investors.

Corruption, policy and regulatory ambiguity, and the uneven application of laws remain disincentives to further foreign investment in the country.  The Lao government, under the administration of the new Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith is making efforts to improve the business environment.  Its current five-year plan (2016 – 2020) directs the government to formulate “policies that would attract investments” and to “begin to implement public investment and investment promotion laws.”  The Prime Minister’s publicly-stated goal is to see Laos improve its World Bank Ease of Doing Business ranking, and in February 2018, he issued a Prime Minister order laying out specific steps ministries were to take in order to improve the business environment.  These efforts are having some impact – for example, it now takes to less than 40 days to obtain a business license, whereas just 4 years ago it took 174 days, and other nonessential steps were eliminated.  The current administration remains active against corrupt practices, with the government and National Assembly in 2019 disciplining hundreds of officials for corruption-related offenses.  Despite these efforts, the Laos’ Ease of Doing Business ranking has fallen from 139 in 2016 to 154 in 2019.  Furthermore, the multiple ministries, laws, and regulations affecting foreign investment into Laos create confusion, and thus, require many potential investors engage either local partners or law firms to navigate the confusing bureaucracy, or turn their efforts entirely toward other countries in the region.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 130 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 154 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/
en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 Not Ranked https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 No Data Available https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/factsheet.cfm?Area=615
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $ 2,450 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment

The Lao government officially welcomes both domestic and foreign investment as it seeks to keep growth rates high and graduate from Least Developed Country status by 2024.  The pace of foreign investment has increased over the last several years.  According to Lao government statistics, mining and hydropower account for 95.7 percent of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), and agriculture accounted for only 2 percent of FDI in 2019  China, Thailand, France, Vietnam, and Japan are the largest sources of foreign investment, with China accounting for a significant share of  all FDI in Laos.  The government’s Investment Promotion Department encourages investment through its website www.investlaos.gov.la , and holds an annual dialogue with the private sector and foreign business chambers though the Lao Business Forum process.

The 2009 Law on Investment promotion was amended in November 2016, with 32 new articles introduced and 59 existing articles revised.  Notably, the new law, an English version of which can be found at www.investlaos.gov.la , clarifies investment incentives, transfers responsibility for SEZs from the Prime Minister’s office to the Ministry of Planning and Investment, and removes strict registered capital requirements for opening a business, deferring instead to the relevant ministry.  Foreigners may invest in any sector or business except in cases where the government deems the investment to be detrimental to national security, health, or national traditions, or that have a negative impact on the natural environment.  Nevertheless, even in cases where full foreign ownership is permitted, many foreign companies seek a local partner.  Companies involved in large FDI projects, especially in mining and hydropower, often either find it advantageous or are required to give the government partial ownership.

Foreign investors are typically required to go through several procedural steps prior to commencing operations.  Many foreign business owners and potential investors claim the process is overly complex and regulations are erratically applied, particularly to foreigner investors.  Investors also express confusion about the roles of different ministries, as multiple ministries become involved in the approval process.  In the case of general investment licenses (as opposed to concessionary licenses, which are issued by Ministry of Planning and Investment), foreign investors are required to obtain multiple permits, including an annual business registration from the Ministry of Industry and Commerce (MOIC), a tax registration from the Ministry of Finance, a business logo registration from the Ministry of Public Security, permits from each line ministry related to the investment (i.e., MOIC for manufacturing, and Ministry of Energy and Mines for power sector development), appropriate permits from local authorities, and an import-export license, if applicable.  Obtaining the necessary permits can be challenging and time consuming, especially in areas outside the capital.

There are several possible vehicles for foreign investment.  Foreign partners in a joint venture must contribute at least 30 percent of the company’s registered capital.  Wholly foreign-owned companies may be entirely new or a branch of an existing foreign enterprise.  Equity in medium and large-sized SOEs can be obtained through a joint venture with the Lao government.

Reliable statistics are difficult to obtain, yet with the slowdown of the world economy, there is no question that foreign investment has begun to fluctuate in comparison to previous years.  According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), FDI inflows to Laos decreased 17 percent to USD 1.3 billion in 2018 after peaking in 2017 but still 30 percent higher than 2016.  Laos received around USD 1.07 billion in FDI from China in 2019.  Total FDI stock in Laos has increased from USD 5.7 billion in 2016 to USD 8.6 billion in 2018.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

As discussed above, even though foreigners may invest in most sectors or businesses (subject to previously noted exceptions), many foreign companies seek a local partner in order to navigate byzantine official and unofficial processes.  Companies involved in large FDI projects, especially in mining and hydropower, often either find it advantageous or are required to give the government partial ownership.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The OECD releases its most recent investment policy review of Laos on July 11, 2017.  More details can be found at http://www.oecd.org/daf/inv/investment-policy/oecd-investment-policy-reviews-lao-pdr-2017-9789264276055-en.htm 

Business Facilitation

Laos does not have a central business registration website yet, but the Ministry of Industry and Commerce (MOIC) has improved its online enterprise registration site, http://www.erm.gov.la , to accelerate the registration process. As discussed above, over the last four years the total time for business registration has been reduced significantly. The timelines and the different government agencies involved in the process can still vary considerably, however, depending on locations and the type of business.  As a result, many investors and even locals often hire consultancies or law firms to shepherd the labor-intensive registration process.

The Lao government has attempted to streamline business registration using a one-stop shop model.  For general business activities, this service is in the MOIC, http://www.erm.gov.la.  For activities requiring a government concession, the service is in the Ministry of Planning and Investment.  For SEZs, one-stop registration is run through the Ministry of Planning and Investment or in special one-stop service offices within the SEZs themselves (under the authority of the Ministry of Planning and Investment), as is the case at Savan Seno SEZ.

Business owners give the one-stop shop concept mixed reviews.  Many acknowledge that it is an improvement but describe it as an incomplete reform with several additional steps that must still be taken outside of the single stop.  Businesses also complain that there are often different registration requirements at the central and provincial levels.

Outward Investment

The Lao government does not actively promote, incentivize, or restrict outward investment.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Regulations in Laos can be vague and conflicting, a subject that the private sector raises regularly with the government, including through official fora such as the Lao Business Forum.  The 2013 Law on Making Legislation mandated that all laws be available online at the official gazette website, www.laoofficialgazette.gov.la .  Draft bills are also available for public comment through the official gazette website, although not all bills are posted for comment or in the official gazette, and the provinces seldom post their local legislation.  Though the situation continues to improve, the realities of doing business in Laos can fail to correspond with existing legislation and regulation.  Implementation and enforcement often do not strictly follow the letter of the law, and vague or contradictory clauses in laws and regulations provide for widely varying interpretations.  Regulations at the national and provincial levels can often diverge, overlap, or contradict one another.  Many local firms still complain of informal or gray competition from firms that offer lower costs by flaunting formal registration requirements and operating outside of government regulatory structures.

The nascent legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are not particularly conducive to a transparent, competitive business environment.  International accounting norms apply and major international firms are present in the market, though understanding and adherence to these norms is limited to a small section of the business community.  There are nine companies listed on the Lao stock exchange.  Regulations dictate that companies listed on the exchange must be held to accounting standards, but the government’s capacity to enforce those standards is low.

The government now publicly releases the enacted budget, which includes the total amount of domestic and external debt obligations for the whole country.

International Regulatory Considerations

Laos is a member of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), and is seeking to implement all AEC-agreed standards domestically.  However, the local capacity to develop regulatory standards is weak, while enforcement of technical regulations is weaker still. On the positive side, the Lao government has been diligent at notifying draft technical regulations – such as its new law on standards – to the WTO committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Laos currently has a poorly developed legal sector.  The government aims to become a rule of law state by 2020 and continues to work with many international donors on a comprehensive legal sector reform plan.  From 1975 to 1991, Laos did not have a constitution, and government decrees issued by various ministries and officials only exacerbated the country’s poor legal framework.  While there have been dramatic improvements in the legal system over the last decade, there are relatively few lawyers, many judges lack formal training and experience, and laws often remain vague and subject to broad interpretation.

The existing system incorporates some major elements of the French civil law system, but it is also influenced by legal systems of the former Soviet Union and some of its neighbors in the region.  Court decisions are neither widely published nor do they necessarily affect future decisions.  Despite being bureaucratically independent of the government cabinet, the Lao judiciary is still subject to government and political interference.

Contract law in Laos is lacking in many areas important to trade and commerce.  The law provides for the sanctity of contracts, but in practice, contracts are subject to political interference and patronage.  Businesses report that contracts can be voided if they are found to be disadvantageous to one party, or if they conflict with state or public interests.  Foreign businessmen describe contracts in Laos as being “a framework for negotiation” rather than a binding agreement, and even when faced with a judgment, enforcement is weak and subject to the influence of corruption.  Although a commercial court system exists, most judges adjudicating commercial disputes have little training in commercial law.  Those considering doing business in Laos are strongly urged to contact a reputable law firm for additional advice on contracts.

One positive development from 2019 is that under the leadership of MOIC, Laos became the 92nd State Party to join the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

As discussed above, the 2009 Law on Investment promotion was amended in November 2016. The new law provides more transparency regarding regulations and procedures, and provides greater detail about what specific responsibilities fall under the Ministry of Planning and Investment.  The 2016 Law on Investment Promotion introduced uniform business registration requirements and tax incentives that apply equally to foreign and domestic investors.  As noted above, foreigners may invest in any sector or business except in cases where the government deems the investment to be detrimental to national security, health, or national traditions, or to have a negative impact on the natural environment.  Aside from these sectors, there are no statutory limits on foreign ownership or control of commercial enterprises.  For reasons discussed above, despite changes in the law, many companies continue to seek a local partner.

Most laws of interest to investors are featured on the Lao Trade Portal website, http://www.laotradeportal.gov.la , with many laws and regulations translated into English, or the Lao Official Gazette, http://laoofficialgazette.gov.la , or the official website of the  Ministry of Planning and Investment, www.investlaos.gov.la , or the newly created Lao Law App.

In sum, neither the government’s investment bureaucracy nor the commercial court system is well developed, although the former is improving and reforming.  Investors have experienced government practices that deviate significantly from publicly available law and regulation.  Some investors decry the courts’ limited ability to handle commercial disputes and vulnerability to corruption.  The Lao government has repeatedly underscored its commitment to increasing predictability in the investment environment, but in practice, with some exceptions in the creation and operation of SEZs, and investments by larger companies, foreign investors describe inconsistent application of law and regulation.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

There have been no updates since 2017.  A new competition law was approved in 2015 that applies to both foreign and domestic individuals and entities.  The law was drafted with the assistance of the German government and other donors.  The competition law was one of the Lao government’s policy efforts to implement the ASEAN Economic Community, or AEC, before 2016.  The law established two new government entities, the Business Competition Control (BCC) Commission and the BCC Secretariat.  The BCC Commission is the senior body and its membership is decided by the Prime Minister with the advice of the Minister of Industry and Commerce (MOIC).  According to the legislation, it should include senior officials from multiple ministries as well as business people, economists, and lawyers.  The BCC Commission can draft regulations, approve mergers, levy penalties, and provide overall guidance on government competition policy and regulation.  The BCC Secretariat, a lower-level institution equivalent to a MOIC department or division, can hear complaints, conduct investigations, and conduct research and reporting at the request of the Commission.

Expropriation and Compensation

According to law, foreign assets and investments in Laos are protected against seizure, confiscation, or nationalization except when deemed necessary for a public purpose.  Public purpose can be broadly defined, however, and land grabs are feared by Lao nationals and expatriates alike.  In the event of a government expropriation, the Lao government is supposed to provide fair market compensation.  Nevertheless, a business relying on a specific parcel of land may lose its investment license if the land is in dispute.  Revocation of an investment license cannot be appealed to an independent body, and companies whose licenses are revoked must quickly liquidate their assets.  Small landholdings, land with unclear title, or land on which taxes have not been paid are at particular risk of expropriation.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Laos is not a member state to the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention).  It is, however, a signatory to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

According to the Law on Investment Promotion, resolution of a dispute resolution should occur through the following process: mediation, administrative dispute resolution, dispute resolution by the Committee for Economic Dispute Resolution, and finally, litigation.  However, due to the underdeveloped state of the Lao legal system, foreign investors are generally advised to seek arbitration outside of the country.  There are few publicly available records on international investment disputes.   According to the 2017 investment promotion law, article 96 on Dispute Resolution by the Office for Economic Dispute Resolution in the Lao PDR or international organization to which Lao PDR is a party states: “When there is an investment-related dispute, either party thereto shall have the rights to request the Office for Economic Dispute Resolution for resolution within the Lao PDR or abroad as agreed by the parties of the dispute. The Lao PDR recognizes and enforces the award of foreign or international arbitration subject to certification by people’s court of Lao PDR.”  However, in practice, the Embassy is not aware of this new article being successfully exercised by a foreign investor.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Beyond those listed above, there are no formal Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms provided in Lao law but based on the amended Investment Promotion Law and the law on Investment resolution law dated June 22, 2018, both parties can decide if they would like to have the arbitration in Laos or abroad as mentioned in the contract.  There is no known history of Laos enforcing foreign commercial arbitral decisions.

The 1994 bankruptcy law permits either the business or creditor the right to petition the court for a bankruptcy judgment and allows businesses the right to request mediation.  The law also authorizes liquidation of assets based upon the request of a debtor or creditor.  However, there is no record of a foreign-owned enterprise, whether as debtor or as creditor, petitioning the courts for a bankruptcy judgment.  According to the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report, Laos remains at the very bottom of the global rankings for ease of resolving insolvency.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Laos offers a range of investment incentives depending on the investment vehicle, with particular focus on government concessions and Special Economic Zones.  Many of these incentives can be found at www.investlaos.gov.la  and are generally governed by the Investment Promotion Law.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The new Foreign Investment Law allows for the establishment of Special Economic Zones and Specific Economic Zones (both referred to as SEZs).  Special Economic Zones are intended to support development of new infrastructure and commercial facilities, and include incentives for investment.  Specific Economic Zones are intended for the development of existing infrastructure and facilities, and provide a lower level of incentives and support than Special Economic Zones.  Laos has announced plans to construct as many as 40 special and specific zones, but as of 2020, it has only established 12.  Some, such as Savan Seno SEZ in Savannakhet and Vientiane Industry and Trade Area SEZ, or VITA Park, in Vientiane, have successfully attracted foreign investors.  Others are accused of harboring illegal activities, such as the Golden Triangle SEZ in Bokeo Province that houses the Kings Roman Casino.  The Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control in early 2018 designated the Kings Roman Casino and its owners a Transnational Criminal Organization for engaging in drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, bribery, and wildlife trafficking.  More Chinese-invested SEZs are expected to open in the coming years, especially along the China-Laos Railway line. Thai companies are also exploring new SEZ-style industrial parks in Laos.

Generally, the Lao government places a high priority on trade facilitation measures in international fora, particularly as it relies upon trade across its neighboring countries in order to reach seaports.  Nonetheless, Laos has struggled to harmonize its own internal processes.   For example, customs practices vary widely at different ports of entry.  With assistance from Japan, the Lao government instituted a new system for electronic collection of customs fees at several major border crossings in 2016, which has been a significant improvement, and in early 2019 the Department of Customs introduced electronic customs payments at the Lao – Thai Friendship Bridge for passengers.  On several border crossings with Vietnam, Lao and Vietnamese officials jointly conduct inspections to facilitate movement of goods.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Laos does not have performance requirements.  Requirements relating to foreign hiring are governed by the 2014 Labor Law, but in practice, large investors have been able to extract additional government concessions on use of foreign labor.  Some foreign-owned businesses have criticized labor regulations for strict requirements that foreign employees not travel abroad during the first months of their Lao residency.

Laos does not currently have enacted laws or regulations on domestic data storage or localization requirements.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The government continues to consider changes to its existing land policy, although progress has been slow; and is complicated by sensitive issues including community-held land rights, traditional land rights, slash-and-burn or shifting cultivation, and a history of expropriation for infrastructure, mining, and power projects. A draft revision to the Law on Land Rights has been previewed at multiple National Assembly sessions, but continues to be delayed because of the numerous sensitivities.

Foreign investors are not currently permitted to own land.  However, Article 16 of the 2016 Law on Investment Promotion allows investors to obtain land for use through long-term leases or as concessions, and allows the ownership of leases and the right to transfer and improve leasehold interests.  Government approval is not required to transfer property interests, but the transfer must be registered and a registration fee paid.

Under existing law, a creditor may enforce security rights against a debtor and the concept of a mortgage does exist.  The Lao government is currently engaged in a land parceling and titling project, but it remains difficult to determine if a piece of property is encumbered in Laos.  Enforcement of mortgages is complicated by the legal protection given mortgagees against forfeiture of their sole place of residence.

Laos provides for secured interests in moveable and non-moveable property under the 2005 Law on Secured Transactions and a 2011 implementing decree from the Prime Minister.  In 2013, the State Assets Management Authority at the Ministry of Finance launched a new Secured Transaction Registry (STR), intended to expand access to credit for individuals and smaller firms.  The STR allows for registration of movable assets such as vehicles and equipment so that they may be easily verified by financial institutions and used as collateral for loans.

Outside of urban areas, land rights can be even more complex.  Titles and ownership are not clear, and some areas practice communal titling.

Intellectual Property Rights

Intellectual property protection in Laos is weak, but steadily improving.  The USAID-funded Lao PDR-U.S. International and ASEAN Integration (USAID LUNA II) project assisted the Lao government’s efforts to increase its capacity in the area of intellectual property rights (IPR) and to progress on the IPR-related commitments undertaken as a part of Laos’ 2013 WTO accession package. USAID LUNA II worked with the Ministry of Science and Technology’s Department of Intellectual Property to establish an online portal that provides detailed information regarding the registration of copyrights, trademarks, geographic indicators and plant varieties, https://dip.gov.la . Interested individuals can use the portal to complete the application forms online. The portal officially launched in February 2019. Additionally, USAID LUNA II provided technical support to the Lao government in amending the Law on Intellectual Property.

The Ministry of Science and Technology controls the issuance of patents, copyrights, and trademarks.  Laos is a member of the ASEAN Common Filing System on patents but lacks qualified patent examiners. The bilateral IPR agreement between Thailand and Laos dictates that a patent issued in Thailand also be recognized in Laos.

Laos is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Convention and the Paris Convention on the Protection of Industrial Property but has not yet joined the Berne Convention on Copyrights.

In 2011 the National Assembly passed a comprehensive revision of the Law on Intellectual Property which brings it into compliance with WIPO and Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property standards (TRIPS).  Amendments to the 2011 Law on Intellectual Property were made public in May 2018. The consolidation of responsibility for IPR under the Ministry of Science and Technology is a positive development, but the Ministry lacks enforcement capacity.

Laos is not listed in USTR’s 2020 Special 301 Report and the USTR 2019 Review of Notorious Markets does not list any physical or online markets based in Laos.

For additional information about treaty obligations 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

Laos does not have a well-developed capital market, although government policies increasingly support the formation of capital and free flow of financial resources.  The Lao Securities Exchange (LSX) began operations in 2011 with two stocks listed, both of them state-owned – the Banque Pour l’Commerce Exterieur (BCEL), and the power generation arm of the electrical utility, Electricite du Laos – Generation (EDL-Gen).  In 2012, the Lao government increased the proportion of shares that foreigners can hold on the LSX from 10 to 20 percent.  As of March 2020, there are eleven companies listed on the LSX: BCEL, EDL-Gen, Petroleum Trading Laos (fuel stations), Lao World (property development and management), Souvanny Home Center (home goods retail), Phousy Construction and Development (Construction and real estate development), Lao Cement (LCC), Mahathuen Leasing (leasing), Lao Agrotech (palm oil plantation and extraction factory), Vientiane Center (property development and management), and Lao ASEAN Leasing (LALCO) ( financing and leasing).  News and information about the LSX is available at http://www.lsx.com.la/ .

Businesses report that they are often unable to exchange kip into foreign currencies through central or local banks.  Analysts suggest that concerns about dollar reserves may have led to temporary problems in the convertibility of the national currency.  Private banks allege that the Bank of Lao PDR withholds dollar reserves.  The Bank of Lao PDR alleges that the private banks already hold sizable reserves and have been reluctant to give foreign exchange to their customers in order to maintain unreasonably high reserves.  The tightness in the forex market led to a temporary 5-10 percent divergence between official and gray-market currency rates in late 2019 and early 2020, and since 2017 the Lao kip has depreciated against both the dollar and Thai baht.

Lao and foreign companies alike, and especially small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), note the lack of long-term credit in the domestic market.  Loans repayable over more than five years are very rare, and the choice of credit instruments in the local market is limited.  The Credit Information Bureau, developed to help inject more credit into markets, still has very little information and has not yet succeeded in mitigating lender concerns about risk.

Money and Banking System

The banking system is under the supervision of the Bank of Lao PDR, the nation’s central bank, and includes more than 40 banks, most of them commercial.  Private foreign banks can establish branches in all provinces of Laos.  ATMs have become ubiquitous in urban centers.  Technical assistance to Laos’ financial sector has led to some reforms and significant improvements to Laos’ regulatory regime on anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism, but overall capacity within the financial governance structure remains poor.

The banking system is dominated by large, government-owned banks.  The health of the banking sector is difficult to determine given the lack of reliable data, though banks are widely believed to be poorly regulated and there is broad concern about bad debts and non-performing loans that have yet to be fully reconciled by the state-run banks, in particular.  The IMF and others have encouraged the Bank of Lao PDR to facilitate recapitalization of the state-owned banks to improve the resilience of the sector.

While publicly available data is difficult to find, non-performing loans are widely believed to be a major concern in the financial sector, fueled in part by years of rapid growth in private lending.  The government’s fiscal difficulties in 2013 and 2014 led to non-payment on government infrastructure projects.  The construction companies implementing the projects in turn could not pay back loans for capital used in construction.  Many analysts believe the full effects of the government’s fiscal difficulties have not yet worked their way through the economy.  In recent years Laos is projected to continue running a budget deficit of 4-5 percent, which coupled with rising public or publicly held debt estimated over 60 percent of GDP, add to concerns about Laos’ fiscal outlook.   In 2018 Laos passed a new law on Public Debt Management aimed at reducing the debt-to-GDP ratio in the coming years.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

There are no published, formal restrictions on foreign exchange conversion, though restrictions have previously been reported, and because the market for Lao kip is relatively small, the currency is rarely convertible outside the immediate region.  Laos persistently maintains low levels of foreign reserves, which are estimated to cover only 1.1 months’ worth of total imports.  The reserve buffer is expected to remain relatively low due to structurally weak export growth in the non-resource sector and debt service payments. The decline in reserves was due to a drawdown of government deposits primarily for external debt service payments, some intervention in the foreign exchange market to manage the volatility of the currency (notwithstanding a more flexible currency), and financing the continuing current account deficit. The Bank of the Lao PDR (BOL) occasionally imposes daily limits on converting funds from Lao kip into U.S. dollars and Thai baht, or restricts the sectors able to convert Lao kip into dollars, sometimes leading to difficulties in obtaining foreign exchange in Laos.

In order to facilitate business transactions, foreign investors generally open commercial bank accounts in both local and foreign convertible currency at domestic and foreign banks in Laos.  The Enterprise Accounting Law places no limitations on foreign investors transferring after-tax profits, income from technology transfer, initial capital, interest, wages and salaries, or other remittances to the company’s home country or third countries provided that they request approval from the Lao government.  Foreign enterprises must report on their performance annually and submit annual financial statements to the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI).

According to a recent report from Laos’ National Institute for Economic Research (NIER), the increasing demand for USD and Thai Baht for the import of capital equipment for projects and consumer goods,  coupled with growing demand for foreign currency to pay off foreign debts has resulted in a depreciation of the exchange rate in 2019. The official nominal kip/U.S. dollar reference rate depreciated by 3.59% in 2019, while the kip/Baht exchange rate depreciated by 7.59%.

Remittance Policies

There have been no recent changes to remittance law or policy in Laos.  Formally, all remittances abroad, transfers into Laos, foreign loans, and payments not denominated in Lao kip must be approved by the BOL.  In practice, many remittances are understood to flow into Laos informally, and relatively easily, from a sizeable Lao workforce based in Thailand.  Remittance-related rules can be vague and official practice is reportedly inconsistent.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

There are no known sovereign wealth funds in Laos.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The Lao government maintains ownership stakes in key sectors of the economy such as telecommunications, energy, finance, airlines, and mining.  Where state interests conflict with private ownership, the state is in a position of advantage.

There is no centralized, publicly available list of Lao State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs).  The Lao government’s most recent figures report that there are now more than 187 SOEs in Lao PDR. 133 SOEs are 51 – 100 percent State owned. The registered capital was more than USD 26 billion. At the end of 2017, the total assets of 60 SOEs managed by State Property Management Department of Ministry of Finance was more than USD 13 billion (80.51percent of GDP). The net profit from SOEs was around USD 156 million of which USD 105 million was the Government dividends.  The government occasionally floats the idea of increasing private ownership in SOEs such as Lao Airlines through partial listings on the LSX, or spinning off parts of larger enterprises, such as the state electrical utility, EDL.

The government has not specified a code or policy for its management of SOEs and has not adopted OECD guidelines for Corporate Governance of SOEs.  There is no single government body that oversees SOEs.  Several separate government entities exercise SOE ownership in different industries.  SOE senior management does not uniformly report to a line minister.  Comprehensive information on boards of directors or their independence is not publicly available.  While there is scant evidence one way or the other, private businesses generally assume that court decisions would favor an SOE over another party in an investment dispute.

Privatization Program

There is no formal SOE privatization program, though Prime Minister Thongloun has openly discussed subjecting some SOEs to greater competition and possible privatization, and the government has over the past several years occasionally floated ideas for increasing private ownership in some SOEs through partial listings on the LSX, or through spinning off and privatizing parts of others.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is low general awareness of responsible business conduct (RBC) and corporate social responsibility (CSR).  There is no systematic government or NGO monitoring of RBC.  RBC is not generally included in the government’s investment policy formulations.

9. Corruption

Corruption is a serious problem in Laos that affects all levels of the economy.  The Lao government has developed several anti-corruption laws but enforcement remains weak.   Since assuming office in early 2016, Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith has put a renewed focus on government anti-corruption efforts, and Lao media and the National Assembly now regularly report on corruption challenge and the sacking of disciplining of corrupt officials.  In September 2009, Laos ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

Domestic and international firms have repeatedly identified corruption as a problem in the business environment and a major detractor for international firms exploring investment or business activities in the local market.

The Lao State Inspection and Anti-Corruption Authority (SIAA), an independent, ministry-level body, is charged with analyzing corruption at the national level and serves as a central office for gathering details and evidence of suspected corruption.  Additionally, each ministry and province contains an SIAA office independent from the organization in which it is housed.  These SIAA offices feed into the SIAA’s central system.

According to Lao law, both giving and accepting bribes are criminal acts punishable by fine and/or imprisonment.  Nonetheless, foreign businesses frequently cite corruption as an obstacle to operating in Laos.  Often characterized as a fee for urgent service, officials commonly accept bribes for the purpose of approving or expediting applications.  Laos is not a signatory to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery.

In 2014, an asset declaration regime entered into force for government officials, which required them to declare income, assets and debts for themselves and their family members; this was further strengthened in 2017 and 2018.  Officials are now required to file a declaration of any assets valued over USD 2,500, including land, structures, vehicles and equipment, as well as cash, gold, and financial instruments.  These declarations are reportedly held privately and securely by the government.  If a corruption complaint is made against an official, the SIAA can compare the sealed declaration with the official’s current wealth.  Whether this program has worked or is working remains unclear.

Resources to Report Corruption

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

Mr. Viengkeo PhonAsa,
Director General
Anti-Corruption Department, State Inspection and Anti-Corruption Authority
Sivilay Village, Xaythany District, Vientiane Capital, 13th South Road
Tel: office:, 021 715032; Fax: 021 715006; cell: 020 2222 5432

10. Political and Security Environment

Laos is generally a peaceful and politically stable country.  The risk of political violence directed at foreign enterprises or businesspersons is low.  There was a string of unexplained attacks on vehicles traveling in remote areas of Xaysomboun province in late 2015 and 2016 which caused several diplomatic missions to issue travel warnings to their citizens, but such incidents have not been repeated in recent years.  There has been little-to-no political violence in the last decade, and Laos’ political stability is an attractive feature for foreign investors.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Despite Laos’ young population, approximately 62 percent of which are 30 years of age or younger, the labor market remains tight with employers reporting shortages of labor at all levels, especially skilled labor, reflecting the relatively low level of educational attainment within Laos.  The government enacted a new labor law in late 2014 that established many new protections for workers.  It also contained provisions aimed at increasing the skills of the Lao labor force and established stricter provisions on the hiring of foreign workers.

The new law also authorized independent worker’s groups to elect their own leaders and to represent their interests and engage in collective bargaining on their behalf.  The Lao Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU), which is associated with the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, is the primary representative of labor and represents workers in tripartite processes.  Laos’ National Assembly passed a new Trade Union Law in November 2017 but the impact of the new law on the labor market and foreign investors has yet to be determined.  No official English translations of the final Trade Union Law are publicly available.

Child labor is outlawed except under very strict, limited conditions that ensure no interference with the child’s education or physical wellbeing.  The 2014 law outlaws several forms of employment discrimination and provides standards for work hours.  The minimum wage is set by separate regulation, and in recent years has seen annual increases after a tri-partite negotiation among LFTU, the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, and the Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry.  The 2014 law also established occupational health and safety standards, but inspections remain inconsistent.  An International Labor Organization project undertaken in 2015 and 2016 trained labor inspectors in basic practices, with particular focus on the garment industry.

Foreign investors using a concession as the investment vehicle are reportedly able to negotiate the percentage of foreign labor to be used in the investment.  However, labor standards such as minimum wage and health and safety standards should apply uniformly regardless of investment vehicle or use of a special economic zone.  In 2018, the minimum wage was approximately USD130 per month.

The new labor law authorizes strikes if several steps of dispute resolution fail; however, there is no record of strikes occurring in Laos.  A cultural distaste for open confrontation and the general shortage of labor continue to make strikes highly unlikely.

Employment contracts are required under the labor law, but are rarely used in practice.  In February 2018, the government promulgated a new decree on labor dispute resolution.

Collective bargaining is typically undertaken by representatives of the Lao Federation of Trade Unions, though the 2014 labor law also provides the elected representative of independent worker’s groups the ability to negotiate their own collective bargaining agreements with employers.  Basic and subsistence agriculture, informal businesses, and small family businesses make up the vast majority of employment, thus collective bargaining is relatively rare in the overall economy and unfamiliar to many.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2018 $18,129 2018 $17,954 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A N/A N/A BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A N/A N/A BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2018 51% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Data not available.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

Malaysia

Executive Summary

Since an unexpected political transition in March, Malaysia’s new government under Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has focused its attention on the unprecedented set of challenges facing Malaysia in 2020, including the COVID-19 pandemic and a sharp drop in global oil prices.  In response to the economic damage wrought by COVID-19 restrictions, the Malaysian government has approved over USD 60 billion in stimulus measures designed to protect Malaysian citizens and businesses, and has laid out plans to prioritize the country’s economic recovery following the lockdown period for the remainder of 2020 and into 2021.

The Malaysian government has traditionally encouraged foreign direct investment (FDI), and the Prime Minister and many cabinet ministers have signaled their openness to foreign investment since taking office.  Government officials have called for investments in high technology and research and development, focusing on artificial intelligence, Internet of Things device design and manufacturing, smart cities, electric vehicles, automation of the manufacturing industry, telecommunications infrastructure, and other “catalytic sub-sectors,” such as aerospace.  The government also seeks to further develop traditional sectors such as oil and gas; palm oil and rubber; wholesale and retail operations, including e-commerce; financial services; tourism; electrical and electronics (E&E); business services; communications content and infrastructure; education; agriculture; and health care.

Under the previous administration, inbound FDI had been steady in nominal terms, though Malaysia’s performance in attracting FDI relative to both earlier decades and the rest of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had slowed.  According to the 2013 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Investment Policy Review of Malaysia, FDI to Malaysia began to decline in 1992, and private investment overall started to slide in 1997 following the Asian financial crises.  In the intervening years, domestic demand has increasingly been the source of Malaysia’s economic performance, with foreign investment receding as a driver of GDP growth.  The OECD concluded in its Review that Malaysia’s FDI levels in recent years had reached record high levels in absolute terms but were at low levels as a percentage of GDP.  The current government estimates that GDP will shrink 0.5 percent in 2020.

The business climate in Malaysia is generally conducive to U.S. investment.  Increased transparency and structural reforms that will prevent future corrupt practices could make Malaysia a more attractive destination for FDI in the long run.  The largest U.S. investments are in the oil and gas sector, manufacturing, and financial services.  Firms with significant investment in Malaysia’s oil and gas and petrochemical sectors include ExxonMobil, Caltex, ConocoPhillips, Hess Oil, Halliburton, Dow Chemical and Eastman Chemicals.  Major semiconductor manufacturers, including ON Semiconductor, Texas Instruments, Intel, and others have substantial operations in Malaysia, as do electronics manufacturers Western Digital, Honeywell, St. Jude Medical Operations (medical devices), and Motorola.  In recent years Malaysia has attracted significant investment in the production of solar panels, including from U.S. firms.  Many of the major Japanese consumer electronics firms (Sony, Fuji, Panasonic, Matsushita, etc.) have facilities in Malaysia.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 51 of 183 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 12 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 35 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2018 $13,581 https://www.bea.gov/system/
files/2019-07/fdici0719.pdf
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $10,591 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Historically, the Malaysian government has welcomed FDI as an integral component of its economic development. Over the last decade, the gradual liberalization of the economy and influx of FDI has led to the creation of new jobs and businesses and fueled Malaysia’s export-oriented growth strategy.  The Malaysian economy is highly dependent on trade.  According to World Bank data, the value of Malaysia’s imports and exports of goods and services as a share of GDP held steady at roughly 130 percent in 2018, more than double the global average.

In October 2019, the government introduced measures in its 2020 budget designed to streamline and further incentivize foreign investment, with special emphasis on investments being redirected from China as a result of shifting global supply chains.  The Malaysian government established the China Special Channel for the purpose of attracting these investments, an initiative being managed by InvestKL, an investment promotion agency under the Ministry of International Trade and Industry.  The government also established the National Committee on Investment, an investment approval body jointly chaired by the Minister of Finance and the Minister of International Trade and Industry, to expedite the regulatory process with respect to approving new investments.

Prior to the government transition in March, the previous government had announced plans to overhaul its existing incentive framework, including a revamp of the Promotion of Investments

Act of 1986 and incentives under the Income Tax Act of 1967.  It is unclear whether the new government will continue with this plan.

Malaysia has various national, regional, and municipal investment promotion agencies, including the Malaysian Investment Development Authority (MIDA) and InvestKL.  These agencies can assist with business strategy consultations, area familiarization, talent management programs, networking, and other post-investment services.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity, with some exceptions.  Although Malaysia has taken steps to liberalize policies concerning foreign investment, there continue to exist requirements for local equity participation within specific sectors.  In 2009, Malaysia repealed Foreign Investment Committee (FIC) guidelines that limited transactions for acquisitions of interests, mergers, and takeovers of local companies by foreign parties.  However, certain business sectors, including logistics, industrial training, and distributive trade, are required to limit foreign equity participation when applying for operating licenses, permits and approvals.  Due to residual economic policies, this limitation most commonly manifests as a 70-30 equity split between foreign investors (maximum 70 percent) and Bumiputera (i.e., ethnic Malays and indigenous peoples) entities (minimum 30 percent).

Foreign investment in services, whether in sectors with no foreign equity caps or controlled sub-sectors, remain subject to review and approval by ministries and agencies with jurisdiction over the relevant sectors.  A key function of this review and approval process is to determine whether proposed investments meet the government’s qualifications for the various incentives in place to promote economic development goals.  The Ministerial Functions Act grants relevant ministries broad discretionary powers over the approval of investment projects.  Investors in industries targeted by the Malaysian government can often negotiate favorable terms with the ministries or agencies responsible for regulating that industry.  This can include assistance in navigating a complex web of regulations and policies, some of which can be waived on a case-by-case basis.  Foreign investors in non-targeted industries tend to receive less government assistance in obtaining the necessary approvals from various regulatory bodies and therefore can face greater bureaucratic obstacles.

Finance

Malaysia’s 2011-2020 Financial Sector Blueprint has produced partial liberalization within the financial services sector; however, it does not contain specific market-opening commitments or timelines.  For example, the services liberalization program that started in 2009 raised the limit of foreign ownership in insurance companies to 70 percent.  However, Bank Negara Malaysia, Malaysia’s central bank, would allow a greater foreign ownership stake if the investment is determined to facilitate the consolidation of the industry.  The latest Blueprint helped to codify the case-by-case approach.  Under the Financial Services Act passed in late 2012, issuance of new licenses will be guided by prudential criteria and the “best interests of Malaysia,” which may include consideration of the financial strength, business record, experience, character and integrity of the prospective foreign investor, soundness and feasibility of the business plan for the institution in Malaysia, transparency and complexity of the group structure, and the extent of supervision of the foreign investor in its home country.  In determining the “best interests of Malaysia,” BNM may consider the contribution of the investment in promoting new high value-added economic activities, addressing demand for financial services where there are gaps, enhancing trade and investment linkages, and providing high-skilled employment opportunities.  BNM, however, has never defined criteria for the “best interests of Malaysia” test, and no firms have qualified.

While there has been no policy change in terms of the 70 percent foreign ownership cap for insurance companies, the government did agree to let one foreign owned insurer maintain a 100 percent equity stake after that firm made a contribution to a health insurance scheme aimed at providing health coverage to lower income Malaysians.

BNM currently allows foreign banks to open four additional branches throughout Malaysia, subject to restrictions, which include designating where the branches can be set up (i.e., in market centers, semi-urban areas and non-urban areas).  The policies do not allow foreign banks to set up new branches within 1.5 km of an existing local bank.  BNM also has conditioned foreign banks’ ability to offer certain services on commitments to undertake certain back office activities in Malaysia.

Information & Communication

In 2012, Malaysia authorized up to 100 percent foreign equity participation among application service providers, network service providers, and network facilities providers.  An exception to this is national telecommunications firm Telekom Malaysia, which has an aggregate foreign share cap of 30 percent, or five percent for individual investors.

Manufacturing Industries

Malaysia permits up to 100 percent foreign equity participation for new manufacturing investments by licensed manufacturers.  However, foreign companies can face difficulties obtaining a manufacturing license and often resort to incorporating a local subsidiary for this purpose.

Oil and Gas

Under the terms of the Petroleum Development Act of 1974, the upstream oil and gas industry is controlled by Petroleum Nasional Berhad (PETRONAS), a wholly state-owned company and the sole entity with legal title to Malaysian crude oil and gas deposits.  Foreign participation tends to take the form of production sharing contracts (PSCs).  PETRONAS regularly requires its PSC partners to work with Malaysian firms for many tenders.  Non-Malaysian firms are permitted to participate in oil services in partnership with local firms and are restricted to a 49 percent equity stake if the foreign party is the principal shareholder.  PETRONAS sets the terms of upstream projects with foreign participation on a case-by-case basis.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Malaysia’s most recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) investment review occurred in 2013.  Although the review underscored the generally positive direction of economic reforms and efforts at liberalization, the recommendations emphasized the need for greater service sector liberalization, stronger intellectual property protections, enhanced guidance and support from Malaysia’s Investment Development Authority (MIDA), and continued corporate governance reforms.

Malaysia also conducted a WTO Trade Policy Review in February 2018, which incorporated a general overview of the country’s investment policies.  The WTO’s review noted the Malaysian government’s action to institute incentives to encourage investment as well as a number of agencies to guide prospective investors.  Beyond attracting investment, Malaysia had made measurable progress on reforms to facilitate increased commercial activity. Among the new trade and investment-related laws that entered into force during the review period were: the Companies Act, which introduced provisions to simplify the procedures to start a company, to reduce the cost of doing business, as well as to reform corporate insolvency mechanisms; the introduction of the goods and services tax (GST) to replace the sales tax; the Malaysian Aviation Commission Act, pursuant to which the Malaysian Aviation Commission was established; and various amendments to the Food Regulations.  Since the WTO Trade Policy Review, however, the new government has already eliminated the GST, and has revived the Sales and Services Tax, which was implemented on September 1, 2018.

http://www.oecd.org/investment/countryreviews.htm 

https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp466_e.htm 

Business Facilitation

The principal law governing foreign investors’ entry and practice in the Malaysian economy is the Companies Act of 2016 (CA), which entered into force on January 31, 2017 and replaced the Companies Act of 1965.  Incorporation requirements under the new CA have been further simplified and are the same for domestic and foreign sole proprietorships, partnerships, as well as privately held and publicly traded corporations. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019, Malaysia streamlined the process of obtaining a building permit and made it faster to obtain construction permits; eliminated the site visit requirement for new commercial electricity connections, making getting electricity easier for businesses; implemented an online single window platform to carry out property searches and simplified the property transfer process; and introduced electronic forms and enhanced risk-based inspection system for cross-border trade and improved the infrastructure and port operation system at Port Klang, the largest port in Malaysia, thereby facilitating international trade; and made resolving insolvency easier by introducing the reorganization procedure.  These changes led to a significant improvement of Malaysia’s ranking per the Doing Business Report, from 24 to 15 in one year.

In addition to registering with the Companies Commission of Malaysia, business entities must file: 1) Memorandum and Articles of Association (i.e., company charter); 2) a Declaration of Compliance (i.e., compliance with provisions of the Companies Act); and 3) a Statutory Declaration (i.e., no bankruptcies, no convictions).  The registration and business establishment process takes two weeks to complete, on average. The new government repealed GST and installed a new sales and services tax (SST), which began implementation on September 1, 2018.

Beyond these requirements, foreign investors must obtain licenses.  Under the Industrial Coordination Act of 1975, an investor seeking to engage in manufacturing will need a license if the business claims capital of RM2.5 million (approximately USD 641,000) or employs at least 75 full-time staff.  The Malaysian Government’s guidelines for approving manufacturing investments, and by extension, manufacturing licenses, are generally based on capital-to-employee ratios. Projects below a threshold of RM55,000 (approximately USD 14,100) of capital per employee are deemed labor-intensive and will generally not qualify.  Manufacturing investors seeking to expand or diversify their operations need to apply through MIDA.

Manufacturing investors whose companies have annual revenue below RM50 million (approximately USD12.8 million) or with fewer than 200 full-time employees meet the definition of small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) and will generally be eligible for government SME incentives.  Companies in the services or other sectors that have revenue below RM20 million (approximately USD5.1 million) or fewer than 75 full-time employees also meet the SME definition.

[Reference]

Outward Investment

While the Malaysian government does not promote or incentivize outward investment, a number of Government-Linked companies, pension funds, and investment companies do have investments overseas.  These companies include the sovereign wealth fund of the Government of Malaysia, Khazanah Nasional Berhad; KWAP, Malaysia’s largest public services pension fund; and the Employees’ Provident Fund of Malaysia.  Government owned oil and gas firm Petronas also has investments in several regions outside Asia.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

As a member of ASEAN, Malaysia is a party to trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand; China; India; Japan; and the Republic of Korea. During the review period, the ASEAN-India Agreement was expanded to cover trade in services. Malaysia also has bilateral FTAs with Australia; Chile; India; Japan; New Zealand; Pakistan; and Turkey.

Reference: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/s366_sum_e.pdf 

Malaysia has bilateral investment treaties with 36 countries, but not yet with the United States.  Malaysia does have bilateral “investment guarantee agreements” with over 70 economies, including the United States. The Government reports that 65 of Malaysia’s existing investment agreements contain Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions.  Malaysia has double taxation treaties with over 70 countries, though the double taxation agreement with the U.S. currently is limited to air and sea transportation.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

In July 2013, the Malaysian government accelerated its efforts to modernize the regulatory processes in the country by releasing the National Policy on Development and Implementation of Regulations (NPDIR), a roadmap to achieving Good Regulatory Practice (GRP).  Under the NPDIR, the federal government formalized a comprehensive approach to improve the efficiency and transparency of the country’s regulatory framework.  The benefits to the private sector thus far have included a streamlining of project approval requirements and fees (to the point that Malaysia ranked 2nd in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business report on ease of “dealing with construction permits”), a greater role in the lawmaking process, and improved standardization and transparency in all phases of regulatory proceedings.  The main components of the policy are: 1) the requirement of a Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) (a cost-benefit analysis of all newly proposed regulations) with each new piece of regulation; and 2) the formalization of a public consultation process to take the views of stakeholders into account while formulating new legislation.  Under the NPDIR, the government has committed to reviewing all new regulations every five years to determine which ones need to be adjusted or eliminated.

In furtherance of the NPDIR, the Malaysian government published four circulars in 2013 and 2014 to explain the methodology and implementation of their new strategy.  These four documents laid out a clear framework toward increasing accountability, standardization, and transparency, as well as explaining enforcement and compliance mechanisms to be established.  Throughout its various agencies, the government of Malaysia has taken steps to actualize these circulars.  Ministries and agencies use their respective websites to publish the text and or summaries of proposed regulations prior to enactment, albeit with varying levels of consistency.  Further, Malaysia’s procurement principles include adherence to open and fair competition, public accountability, transparency, and value for money.

Despite these efforts to foster inclusion, fairness, and transparency, considerable room for improvement exists.  The Malaysian government’s 2018 Report on Modernization (sic) of Regulations emphasized the need to “Establish an accountability mechanism for the implementation of regulatory reviews by the government.”  Many foreign investors echo this lack of accountability and criticize the opacity in the government decision-making process.  One major area of concern for foreign investors remains government procurement policy, as non-Malaysian companies claim to have lost bids against Bumiputera-owned (ethnic Malay) companies despite offering better products at lower costs.  Such results are due to the government’s preference policy to facilitate greater Bumiputera participation in the private sector.  This preference policy is manifested through set-aside contracts for Bumiputera suppliers and contractors, and through the use of preferential price margins to increase the competitiveness of Bumiputera bidders.

Malaysia has a three-tiered system of legislation: federal-level (Parliament), State-level, and local-level.   Federal and state-level legislation derive their authority from the Malaysian Constitution, specifically Articles 73-79.  Parliament has the exclusive power to make laws over matters including trade, commerce and industry, and financial matters.  Parliament can delegate its authority to administrative agencies, states, and local bodies through Acts.  States have the power to make laws concerning land, local government, and Islamic courts.  Local legislative bodies derive their authority from Acts promulgated by Parliament, most notably the Local Government Act of 1976.  Local authorities have the ability to issue by-laws concerning local taxation and land use.  For foreign investors, the Parliament is the most relevant legislating body, as it governs issues related to trade, and because Article 75 of the Constitution states that in a conflict of laws between state and federal-level legislatures, the federal laws win out.

It is also important to note the role of the administrative state in the promulgation of new laws and regulations in Malaysia.  Pursuant to the Interpretation Act of 1948 and 1967,

“Any proclamation, rule, regulation, order, notification, bye-law, or other instrument made under any Act, Enactment, Ordinance or other lawful authority and having legislative effect.”  Thus, the various ministries and agencies can be delegated lawmaking authority by an Act of a legislature with the legal right to make laws.

The Malaysian government’s strides toward improving transparency are evident in its embrace of internationally accepted standards in various highly regulated fields, including auditing, accounting, and law.  In that vein, the Malaysian Accounting Standards Board (MASB) introduced the Malaysian Financial Reporting Standards (MFRS) framework, which came into effect on January 1, 2012.  The MFRS framework is fully compliant with the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) framework; this compliance serves to enhance the credibility and transparency of financial reporting in Malaysia.  According to the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Report (the “WEF 2019 Report”), Malaysia ranks 29th out of 141 countries in terms of its strength of auditing and accounting standards.

Specifically regarding auditing, the Malaysian Institute of Accountants (MIA) has the authority to set standards.  The MIA’s Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (AASB) reviews standards and technical pronouncements issued by the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (IAASB), which sets International Standards on Auditing (ISAs) that have been adopted in more than 110 jurisdictions.

Publicly listed companies in Malaysia must comply with standard international reporting requirements.  The IFRS framework converged with the Malaysian auditing framework in 2012, compelling compliance by Malaysian publicly listed companies.  The IFRS framework has obtained force of law through Section 7 of the Financial Reporting Act (FRA) of 1997, which allows the MASB to issue approved accounting standards for application in Malaysia.  The FRA requires that financial statements prepared or lodged with the Central Bank, Securities Commission, or Registrar of Companies are required to comply with the standards issued by MASB.  Thus, the MASB’s adoption of the IFRS framework is legally binding.

In theory, pieces of legislation are to be made available for public comment through a multi-stage system of rulemaking.  The Malaysia Productivity Corporation (MPC) published the Guideline on Public Consultation Procedures in 2014 (the “Guideline”), which expanded upon information contained in the Best Practice Regulation Handbook of 2013 in furtherance of GRP.  The Guideline clarifies the roles of government and stakeholders in the consultation process and provides the guiding principles for Malaysia’s public consultation approach.  Additionally, the Guideline provides robust examples of the information that should be included in consultation papers, furnishes information on enforcement, and details the timeline of the consultation process.  As it pertains to foreign investment, the consultation procedures apply to investment laws and regulations, which usually fall under the purview of the Malaysian Securities Commission (SC), the Bursa Malaysia, or the Malaysian Central Bank.  The SC, for example, keeps public consultation papers on its website, easily accessible by stakeholders.  These papers generally contain the rationale for the proposed regulations, as well as potential impacts, and provide a list of questions for stakeholders to explain their views to regulators.

The public is also engaged in the public consultation process through the increased role of PEMUDAH (the Special Task Force to Facilitate Business), which was founded in 2007 to serve as a bridge between government, businesses, and civil society organizations.  PEMUDAH promotes the understanding of regulatory requirements that impact economic activities, by addressing unfair treatment resulting from inconsistencies in enforcement and implementation.  PEMUDAH plays an advocacy role in various points in the regulatory implementation process; it provides recommendations from the private sector to regulators before new regulations are implemented, and monitors enactment of existing pieces of regulation.

Despite the relative robustness of the Guideline, and despite the significant steps forward Malaysia has taken to reduce the regulatory burden on industry, obstacles remain.  There are frequent inconsistencies between different ministries in their implementation of the public consultation procedures, as well as in their respective interpretations of how regulations are to be applied.  Adding to the difficulty is the complicated relationship between state-level and federal-level legislation, which can overlap on a range of issues and lead to inefficiencies for investors.

There is a non-governmental website that publishes Malaysian bills and amendments from 2013 onward: https://www.cljlaw.com/?page=latestmybill&year=2019.  The site publishes the full text of the documents.  However, to the best of our knowledge, no such government-run clearinghouse of historical regulatory action exists.  However, Malaysia took a large step forward on this front in 2019, as in association with the World Bank, the MPC created a website that contains all ongoing pieces of legislation and allows public comment thereon.  The website, called the Uniform Public Consultation Portal (http://upc.mpc.gov.my/csp/sys/bi/%25cspapp.bi.index.cls?home=1), does not appear to contain legislation that was completed or implemented before 2019, but is a positive move toward standardizing and emphasizing the public consultation process.  The website is user-friendly and allows searching by due date, implementing agency, and phase of consultation.

Malaysia has a multi-faceted approach to ensuring governmental compliance with regulatory requirements.  The most important enforcement mechanism is access to judicial review.  The WEF 2019 Report lists Malaysia as the 12th ranked country in efficiency of the legal framework in challenging regulations.  Through ease in accessing administrative and judicial courts, aggrieved parties in Malaysia are able to compel action by the regulator.  Additionally, PEMUDAH (the Malaysian government’s Special Task Force to Facilitate Business) serves as an advocacy role during the various phases of the consultation process to ensure that the private sector’s voice is being heard.

Throughout the administrative state, various avenues exist through which aggrieved parties may seek recourse.  Different governmental organisms have their own enforcement mechanisms to handle specific issues they face.  For instance, the Central Bank has a dedicated “Complaints Unit,” which deals with consumer complaints against banking institutions.  The Bank lists enforcement options as “a public or private reprimand; an order to comply; an administrative and civic penalty; restitution to customer; or prosecution.  By contrast, the Inland Revenue Board of Malaysia (tax agency) has a an organism called the Special Commissioners of Income Tax, to which taxpayers may file appeals concerning judgments and new regulations.  The Malaysian Companies Commission (which regulates laws relating to companies registered in Malaysia) is also engaged in enforcement proceedings, as is the Malaysian Securities Commission.  On matters of procurement, aggrieved bidders may complain to the Public Complaints Bureau, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the Malaysian Competition Commission, or the National Audit Department.

In addition to the various agency-led enforcement mechanisms, aggrieved parties may also go through administrative courts.  The rulings of these courts have force of law pursuant to various Acts of Parliament, and Malaysia has taken measures to increase their efficacy in order to improve its reputation as an international business hub.  The decisions of these administrative courts are subject to judicial review on grounds of illegality, irrationality, and procedural impropriety.

Reference:

International Regulatory Considerations

Malaysia is one of 10 Member States that constitute the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  On December 31, 2015, the ASEAN Economic Community formally came into existence. ASEAN’s economic policy leaders meet regularly to discuss promoting greater economic integration within the 10-country bloc.  Although already robust, Member States have prioritized steps to facilitate a greater flow of goods, services, and capital.  No regional regulatory system is in place.  As a member of the WTO, Malaysia provides notification of all draft technical regulations to the Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Malaysia’s legal system consists of written laws, such as the federal and state constitutions and laws passed by Parliament and state legislatures, and unwritten laws derived from court cases and local customs. The Contract Law of 1950 still guides the enforcement of contracts and resolution of disputes.  States generally control property laws for residences, although the Malaysian government has recently adopted measures, including high capital gains taxes, to prevent the real estate market from overheating.  Nevertheless, through such programs as the Multimedia Super Corridor, Free Commercial Zones, and Free Industrial Zones, the federal government has substantial reach into a range of geographic areas as a means of encouraging foreign investment and facilitating ownership of commercial and industrial property.

In 2007 the judiciary introduced dedicated intellectual property (IP) courts that consist of 15 “Sessions Courts” that sit in each state, and six ‘High Courts’ that sit in certain states (i.e. Kuala Lumpur, Johor, Perak, Selangor, Sabah and Sarawak).  Malaysia launched the IP courts to deter the use of IP-infringing activity to fund criminal activity and to demonstrate a commitment to IP development in support of the country’s goal to achieve high-income status. These lower courts hear criminal cases, and have the jurisdiction to impose fines for IP infringing acts.  There is no limit to the fines that they can impose. The higher courts are designated for civil cases to provide damages incurred by rights holders once the damages have been quantified post-trial. High courts have the authority to issue injunctions (i.e., to order an immediate cessation of infringing activity) and to award monetary damages.

Labor Courts, which the Ministry of Human Resources describes as “a quasi-judicial system that serves as an alternative to civil claims,” provide a means for workers to seek payment of wages and other financial benefits in arrears.  Proceedings are generally informal but conducted in accordance with civil court principles. The High Court has upheld decisions which Labor Courts have rendered.

Certain foreign judgments are enforceable in Malaysia by virtue of the Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgments Act 1958 (REJA).  However, before a foreign judgment can be enforceable, it has to be registered. The registration of foreign judgments is only possible if the judgment was given by a Superior Court from a country listed in the First Schedule of the REJA: the United Kingdom, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, Singapore, New Zealand, Republic of Sri Lanka, India, and Brunei.  If the judgment is not from a country listed in the First Schedule to the REJA, the only method of enforcement at common law is by securing a Malaysian judgment. This involves suing on the judgment in the local Courts as an action in debt.

To register a foreign judgment under the REJA, the judgment creditor has to apply for the same within six years after the date of the foreign judgment. Any foreign judgment coming under the REJA shall be registered unless it has been wholly satisfied, or it could not be enforced by execution in the country of the original Court.

Post is not aware of instances in which political figures or government authorities have interfered in judiciary proceedings involving commercial matters.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Government of Malaysia established the Malaysia Investment Development Authority (MIDA) to attract foreign investment and to serve as a focal point for legal and regulatory questions.  Organized as part of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), MIDA serves as a guide to foreign investors interested in the manufacturing sector and in many services sectors.  Regional bodies providing support to investors include: Invest Kuala Lumpur, Invest Penang, Invest Selangor, the Sabah Economic Development and Investment Authority (SEDIA), and the Sarawak Economic Development Corporation, among others.

As noted, the Ministerial Functions Act authorizes government ministries to oversee investments under their jurisdiction.  Prospective investors in the services sector will need to follow requirements set by the relevant Malaysian Government ministry or agency over the sector in question.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

On April 21, 2010, the Parliament of Malaysia approved two bills, the Competition Commission Act 2010 and the Competition Act 2010.  The Acts took effect January 1, 2012. The Competition Act prohibits cartels and abuses of a dominant market position but does not create any pre-transaction review of mergers or acquisitions.  Violations are punishable by fines, as well as imprisonment for individual violations. Malaysia’s Competition Commission has responsibility for determining whether a company’s “conduct” constitutes an abuse of dominant market position or otherwise distorts or restricts competition.  As a matter of law, the Competition Commission does not have separate standards for foreign and domestic companies. Commission membership consists of senior officials from the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives, and Consumerism (MDTCC), the Ministry of Finance, and, on a rotating basis, representatives from academia and the private sector.

In addition to the Competition Commission, the Acts established a Competition Appeals Tribunal (CAT) to hear all appeals of Commission decisions.  In the largest case to date, the Commission imposed a fine of RM10 million on Malaysia Airlines and Air Asia in September 2013 for colluding to divide shares of the air transport services market.  The airlines filed an appeal in March 2014. In February 2016, the CAT ruled in favor of the airlines in its first-ever decision and ordered the penalty to be set aside and refunded to both airlines.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Embassy is not aware of any cases of uncompensated expropriation of U.S.-held assets, or confiscatory tax collection practices, by the Malaysian government. The government’s stated policy is that all investors, both foreign and domestic, are entitled to fair compensation in the event that their private property is required for public purposes. Should the investor and the government disagree on the amount of compensation, the issue is then referred to the Malaysian judicial system.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Malaysia signed the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID) on October 22, 1965, coming into force on October 14, 1966.  In addition, it is a contracting state of the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards since November 5, 1985.

Malaysia adopted the following measures to make the two conventions effective in its territory:

The Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes Act, 1966. (Act of Parliament 14 of 1966); the Notification on entry into force of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes Act, 1966. (Notification No. 96 of March 10, 1966); and the Arbitration (Amendment) Act, 1980. (Act A 478 of 1980).

Although the domestic legal system is accessible to foreign investors, filing a case generally requires any non-Malaysian citizen to make a large deposit before pursuing a case in the Malaysian courts.  Post is unaware of any U.S. investors’ recent complaints of political interference in any judicial proceedings.

References:

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Malaysia’s investment agreements contain provisions allowing for international arbitration of investment disputes.  Malaysia does not have a Bilateral Investment Treaty with the United States.

Post has little data concerning the Malaysian Government’s general handling of investment disputes.  In 2004, a U.S. investor filed a case against the directors of the firm, who constituted the majority shareholders.  The case involves allegations by the U.S. investor of embezzlement by the other directors, and its resolution is unknown.

The Malaysian government has been involved in three ICSID cases — in 1994, 1999, and 2005.  The first case was settled out of court. The second, filed under the Malaysia-Belgo-Luxembourg Investment Guarantee Agreement (IGA), was concluded in 2000 in Malaysia’s favor.  The 2005 case, filed under the Malaysia-UK Bilateral Investment Treaty, was concluded in 2007 in favor of the investor. However, the judgment against Malaysia was ultimately dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, namely that ICSID was not the appropriate forum to settle the dispute because the transaction in question was not deemed an investment since it did not materially contribute to Malaysia’s development.  Nevertheless, Malaysian courts recognize arbitral awards issued against the government. There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Malaysia’s Arbitration Act of 2005 applies to both international and domestic arbitration. Although its provisions largely reflect those of the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law, there are some notable differences, including the requirement that parties in domestic arbitration must choose Malaysian law as the applicable law.  Although an arbitration agreement may be concluded by email or fax, it must be in writing: Malaysia does not recognize oral agreements or conduct as constituting binding arbitration agreements.

Many firms choose to include mandatory arbitration clauses in their contracts.  The government actively promotes use of the Kuala Lumpur Regional Center for Arbitration (http://www.rcakl.org.my), established under the auspices of the Asian-African Legal Consultative Committee to offer international arbitration, mediation, and conciliation for trade disputes.  The KLRCA is the only recognized center for arbitration in Malaysia. Arbitration held in a foreign jurisdiction under the rules of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States 1965 or under the United Nations Commission on International trade Law Arbitration Rules 1976 and the Rules of the Regional Centre for Arbitration at Kuala Lumpur can be enforceable in Malaysia.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Malaysia’s Department of Insolvency (MDI) is the lead agency implementing the Insolvency Act of 1967, previously known as the Bankruptcy Act of 1967.  On October 6, 2017, the Bankruptcy Bill 2016 came into force, changing the name of the previous Act, and amending certain terms and conditions. The most significant changes in the amendment include — (1) a social guarantor can no longer be made bankrupt; (2) there is now a stricter requirement for personal service for bankruptcy notice and petition; (3) introduction of the voluntary arrangement as an alternative to bankruptcy; (4) a higher bankruptcy threshold from RM30,000 to RM50,000; (5) introduction of the automatic discharge of bankruptcy; (6) no objection to four categories of bankruptcy for applying a discharge under section 33A (discharge of bankrupt by Certificate of Director General of Insolvency); (7) introduction of single bankruptcy order as a result of the abolishment of the current two-tier order system, i.e. receiving and adjudication orders; (8) creation of the Insolvency Assistance fund.

The distribution of proceeds from the liquidation of a bankrupt company’s assets generally adheres to the “priority matters and persons” identified by the Companies Act of 2016.  After the bankruptcy process legal costs are covered, recipients of proceeds are: employees, secured creditors (i.e., creditors of real assets), unsecured creditors (i.e., creditors of financial instruments), and shareholders.  Bankruptcy is not criminalized in Malaysia. The country ranks 46th on the World Bank Group’s Doing Business Rankings for Ease of Resolving Insolvency.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Malaysian Government has codified the incentives available for investments in qualifying projects in target sectors and regions.  Tax holidays, financing, and special deductions are among the measures generally available for domestic as well as foreign investors in the following sectors and geographic areas: information and communications technologies (ICT); biotechnology; halal products (e.g., food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals); oil and gas storage and trading; Islamic finance; Kuala Lumpur; Labuan Island (off Eastern Malaysia); East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia; Sabah and Sarawak (Eastern Malaysia); Northern Corridor.

The lists of application procedures and incentives available to investors in these sectors and regions can be found at: http://www.mida.gov.my/home/invest-in-malaysia/posts/ .

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The Free Zone Act of 1990 authorized the Minister of Finance to designate any suitable area as either a Free Industrial Zone (FIZ), where manufacturing and assembly takes place, or a Free Commercial Zone (FCZ), generally for warehousing commercial stock.  The Minister of Finance may appoint any federal, state, or local government agency or entity as an authority to administer, maintain and operate any free trade zone.  Currently there are 13 FIZs and 12 FCZs in Malaysia.  In June 2006, the Port Klang Free Zone opened as the nation’s first fully integrated FIZ and FCZ, although the project has been dogged by corruption allegations related to the land acquisition for the site.  The government launched a prosecution in 2009 of the former Transport Minister involved in the land purchase process, though he was later acquitted in October 2013.

The Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ) is an initiative by the Malaysian Government, implemented through MDEC, launched in November 2017 with the participation of China’s Alibaba.  DFTZ aims to facilitate seamless cross-border trading and eCommerce and enable Malaysian SMEs to export their goods internationally. According to the Malaysian government, the DFTZ consists of an eFulfilment Hub to help Malaysian SMEs export their goods with the help of leading fulfilment service providers; and an eServices Platform to efficiently manage cargo clearance and other processes needed for cross-border trade.

For more information, please visit https://mydftz.com 

Raw materials, products and equipment may be imported duty-free into these zones with minimum customs formalities. Companies that export not less than 80 percent of their output and depend on imported goods, raw materials, and components may be located in these FZs.  Ports, shipping and maritime-related services play an important role in Malaysia since 90 percent of its international trade by volume is seaborne.  Malaysia is also a major transshipment center.

Goods sold into the Malaysian economy by companies within the FZs must pay import duties.  If a company wants to enjoy Common External Preferential Tariff (CEPT) rates within the ASEAN Free Trade Area, 40 percent of a product’s content must be ASEAN-sourced.  In addition to the FZs, Malaysia permits the establishment of licensed manufacturing warehouses outside of free zones, which give companies greater freedom of location while allowing them to enjoy privileges similar to firms operating in an FZ. Companies operating in these zones require approval/license for each activity. The time needed to obtain licenses depends on the type of approval and ranges from two to eight weeks.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Fiscal incentives granted to both foreign and domestic investors historically have been subject to performance requirements, usually in the form of export targets, local content requirements and technology transfer requirements.  Performance requirements are usually written into the individual manufacturing licenses of local and foreign investors.

The Malaysian government extends a full tax exemption incentive of fifteen years for firms with “Pioneer Status” (companies promoting products or activities in industries or parts of Malaysia to which the government places a high priority), and ten years for companies with “Investment Tax Allowance” status (those on which the government places a priority, but not as high as Pioneer Status).  However, the government appears to have some flexibility with respect to the expiry of these periods, and some firms reportedly have had their pioneer status renewed. Government priorities generally include the levels of value-added, technology used, and industrial linkages.  If a firm (foreign or domestic) fails to meet the terms of its license, it risks losing any tax benefits it may have been awarded.  Potentially, a firm could lose its manufacturing license.  The New Economic Model stated that in the long term, the government intends gradually to eliminate most of the fiscal incentives now offered to foreign and domestic manufacturing investors.  More information on specific incentives for various sectors can be found at www.mida.gov.my.

Malaysia also seeks to attract foreign investment in the information technology industry, particularly in the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), a government scheme to foster the growth of research, development, and other high technology activities in Malaysia.  However, since July 1, 2018, the Government decided to put on hold the granting of MSC Malaysia Status and its incentives, including extension of income tax exemption period, or adding new MSC Malaysia Qualifying Activities in order to review and amend Malaysia’s tax incentives.  While the MSC Malaysia Status Services Incentive was published on December 31, 2018, the MSC Malaysia Status IP Incentive policy is still under review.  For further details on incentives, see www.mdec.my.  The Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) approves all applications for MSC status.  For more information please visit: https://www.mdec.my/msc-malaysia .

In the services sector, the government’s stated goal is to attract foreign investment in regional distribution centers, international procurement centers, operational headquarter research and development, university and graduate education, integrated market and logistics support services, cold chain facilities, central utility facilities, industrial training, and environmental management.  To date, Malaysia has had some success in attracting regional distribution centers, global shared services offices, and local campuses of foreign universities.  For example, GE and Honeywell maintain regional offices for ASEAN in Malaysia.  In 2016, McDermott moved its regional headquarters to Malaysia and Boston Scientific broke ground on a medical device manufacturing facility.

Malaysia seeks to attract foreign investment in biotechnology but sends a mixed message on agricultural and food biotechnology.  On July 8, 2010, the Malaysian Ministry of Health posted amendments to the Food Regulations 1985 [P.U. (A) 437/1985] that require strict mandatory labeling of food and food ingredients obtained through modern biotechnology.  The amendments also included a requirement that no person shall import, prepare, or advertise for sale, or sell any food or food ingredients obtained through modern biotechnology without the prior written approval of the Director.  There is no ‘threshold’ level on the labeling requirement.  Labeling of “GMO Free” or “Non-GMO” is not permitted.  The labeling requirements only apply to foods and food ingredients obtained through modern biotechnology but not to food produced with GMO feed.  The labeling regulation was supposed to go into force in 2014, but remains to date with no date announced.  A copy of the law and regulations respectively can be found at: http://www.biosafety.nre.gov.my/BiosafetyAct2007.html , and http://www.biosafety.nre.gov.my/BIOSAFETY percent20REGULATIONS percent202010.pdf .

Malaysia has not implemented measures amounting to “forced localization” for data storage.  Bank Negara Malaysia has amended its recent Outsourcing Guidelines to remove the original data localization requirement and shared that it will similarly remove the data localization elements in its upcoming Risk Management in Technology framework.  The government has provided inducements to attract foreign and domestic investors to the Multimedia Super Corridor but does not mandate use of onshore providers.  Companies in the information and communications technology sector are not required to hand over source code.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Land administration is shared among federal, state, and local government.  State governments have their own rules about land ownership, including foreign ownership.  Malaysian law affords strong protections to real property owners. Real property titles are recorded in public records and attorneys review transfer documentation to ensure efficacy of a title transfer.  There is no title insurance available in Malaysia. Malaysian courts protect property ownership rights.  Foreign investors are allowed to borrow using real property as collateral.  Foreign and domestic lenders are able to record mortgages with competent authorities and execute foreclosure in the event of loan default.  Malaysia ranks 29th (ranked 42nd in 2018) in ease of registering property according to the Doing Business 2019 report, right behind Finland and ahead of Hungary, thanks to changes it made to its registration procedures.

[Reference]

http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings 

Intellectual Property Rights

In December 2011, the Malaysian Parliament passed amendments to the copyright law designed to bring the country into compliance with the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performance and Phonogram Treaty, define Internet Service Provider (ISP) liabilities, and prohibit unauthorized recording of motion pictures in theaters.  Malaysia subsequently acceded to the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performance and Phonogram Treaty in September 2012.  In addition, the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives, and Consumerism (MDTCC) took steps to enhance Malaysia’s enforcement regime, including active cooperation with rights holders on matters pertaining to IPR enforcement, ongoing training of prosecutors for specialized IPR courts, and the 2013 reestablishment of a Special Anti-Piracy Taskforce.  On December 27, 2019, Malaysia’s new Trademarks Act came into force bringing Malaysia’s trademark protections in line with the Madrid Protocol for international registration of trademarks, allowing U.S. trademark holders to more easily register their trademarks within Malaysia.

The government, acting through the Property Association of Malaysia (MyIPO), is currently preparing an overhaul of the 1976 Trade Marks Act and revisions to the 1983 Patents Act and 1987 Copyright Act in an effort to bring the country’s IP rules in line with its adoption of the Doha Declaration on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement. While some amendments are expected to bring it in closer adherence to global standards under proposed compulsory license provisions, Malaysian private enterprises would be able to export products produced under a compulsory license to foreign markets that also have compulsory licenses in place.

In response to trends of rising internet piracy, the interagency Special Anti-Piracy Task Force established a Special Internet Forensics Unit (SIFU) within MDTCC. The SIFU team’s responsibilities include monitoring for sites suspected of being, or known as, purveyors of infringing content.  This organization follows MDTCC’s practice of launching investigations based on information and complaints from legitimate host sites and content providers. Capacity building remains a priority for the SIFU.  Coordination with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), which has responsibility for overall regulation of internet content, has been improving according to many rights holders in Malaysia.  The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) is proactively combatting illegal streaming sites which provide content that breaches copyrights and is taking action against owners of non-certified Android TV boxes that are used to stream illegal content.

Despite Malaysia’s success in improving IPR enforcement, key issues remain. There is relatively widespread availability of pirated and counterfeit products in Malaysia and there are concerns that the Royal Malaysian Customs Department (RMC) is not always effectively identifying counterfeit goods in transit.  According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)’s statistics, Malaysia ranked as the ninth largest source country for IPR seizures. Although the $4,647,447 USD worth of items seized during fiscal year 2018 was a significant increase from the previous reporting year, it still only represents a small fraction of total seized counterfeit goods.  Limited interagency cooperation and a lack a knowledge of IPR laws among RMC officers remain impediments to effective enforcement.  The MTDCC’s Enforcement Division effectively targeted counterfeit alcohol, tobacco, and other products sold domestically; however, cases are not always brought to prosecution effectively.

The September 2017 authorization of a compulsory license for U.S. pharmaceutical Gilead Sciences’ sofosbuvir, a medicine used to treat the hepatitis C virus infection, has raised serious concerns among rights holders due to the lack of transparency and due process. While the compulsory license is set to expire in October 2020, the government has not taken proactive steps to end the compulsory license following the expiration of its tender with the foreign company producing Malaysia’s sofosbuvir medication.

USTR conducted an Out-of-Cycle Review of Malaysia in 2019 to consider the extent to which Malaysia is providing adequate and effective IP protection and enforcement, including with respect to patents. During this review, the United States and Malaysia have held numerous consultations to resolve outstanding issues. In 2020, USTR extended the out of cycle review until November 2020.

The United States continues to encourage Malaysia to accede to the WIPO Budapest Treaty on the International Recognition of the Deposit of Microorganisms for the Purposes of Patent Procedure.  Additionally, the United States urges Malaysia to provide effective protection against unfair commercial use and unauthorized disclosure of test or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical products, and an effective system to address patent issues expeditiously in connection with applications to market pharmaceutical products.

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

Foreigners may trade in securities and derivatives.  Malaysia houses one of Asia’s largest corporate bond markets and is the largest sukuk (Islamic bond) market in East Asia.  Both domestic and foreign companies regularly access capital in Malaysia’s bond market.  Malaysia provides tax incentives for foreign companies issuing Islamic bonds and financial instruments in Malaysia.

Malaysia’s stock market (Bursa Malaysia) is open to foreign investment and foreign corporation issuing shares.  However, foreign issuers remain subject to Bumiputera ownership requirements of 12.5 percent if the majority of their operations are in Malaysia.  Listing requirements for foreign companies are similar to that of local companies, although foreign companies must also obtain approval of regulatory authorities of foreign jurisdiction where the company was incorporated and valuation of assets that are standards applied in Malaysia or International Valuation Standards and register with the Registrar of Companies under the Companies Act 1965 or 2016.

Malaysia has taken steps to promote good corporate governance by listed companies.  Publicly listed companies must submit quarterly reports that include a balance sheet and income statement within two months of each financial quarter’s end and audited annual accounts for public scrutiny within four months of each year’s end.  An individual may hold up to 25 corporate directorships.  All public and private company directors are required to attend classes on corporate rules and regulations.

Legislation also regulates equity buybacks, mandates book entry of all securities transfers, and requires that all owners of securities accounts be identified.  A Central Depository System (CDS) for stocks and bonds established in 1991 makes physical possession of certificates unnecessary. All shares traded on the Bursa Malaysia must be deposited in the CDS.  Short selling of stocks is prohibited.

Money and Banking System

International investors generally regard Malaysia’s banking sector as dynamic and well regulated.  Although privately owned banks are competitive with state-owned banks, the state-owned banks dominate the market.  The five largest banks – Maybank, CIMB, Public Bank, RHB, and AmBank – account for an estimated 75 percent of banking sector loans.  According to the World Bank, total banking sector lending for 2017 was 140.27 percent of GDP, and 1.5 percent of the Malaysian banking sector’s loans were non-performing for 2017.

Bank Negara prohibits hostile takeovers of banks, but the Securities Commission has established non-discriminatory rules and disclosure requirements for hostile takeovers of publicly traded companies.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

In December 2016, the central bank, began implementing new foreign exchange management requirements.  Under the policy, exporters are required to convert 75 percent of their export earnings into Malaysian ringgit.  The goal of this policy was to deepen the market for the currency, with the goal of reducing exchange rate volatility.  The policy remains in place, with the Central Bank giving case-by-case exceptions.  All domestic trade in goods and services must be transacted in ringgit only, with no optional settlement in foreign currency.  The Central Bank has demonstrated little flexibility with respect to the ratio of earnings that exporters hold in ringgit.  Post is unaware of any instances where the requirement for exporters to hold their earnings in ringgit has impeded their ability to remit profits to headquarters.

Remittance Policies

Malaysia imposes few investment remittances rules on resident companies.  Incorporated and individual U.S. investors have not raised concerns about their ability to transfer dividend payments, loan payments, royalties or other fees to home offices or U.S.-based accounts.  Tax advisory firms and consultancies have not flagged payments as a significant concern among U.S. or foreign investors in Malaysia.  Foreign exchange administration policies place no foreign currency asset limits on firms that have no ringgit-denominated debt.  Companies that fund their purchases of foreign exchange assets with either onshore or offshore foreign exchange holdings, whether or not such companies have ringgit-denominated debt, face no limits in making remittances.  However, a company with ringgit-denominated debt will need approval from the Central Bank for conversions of RM50 million or more into foreign exchange assets in a calendar year.

The Treasury Department has not identified Malaysia as a currency manipulator.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Malaysian Government established government-linked investment companies (GLICs) as vehicles to harness revenue from commodity-based industries and promote growth in strategic development areas.  Khazanah is the largest of the GLICs, and the company holds equity in a range of domestic firms as well as investments outside Malaysia.  The other GLICs – Armed Forces Retirement Fund (LTAT), National Capital (PNB), Employees Provident Fund (EPF), Pilgrimage Fund (Tabung Haji), Public Employees Retirement Fund (KWAP) – execute similar investments but are structured as savings vehicles for Malaysians.  Khazanah follows the Santiago Principles and participates in the International Forum on Sovereign Wealth Funds.

Khazanah was incorporated in 1993 under the Companies Act of 1965 as a public limited company with a charter to promote growth in strategic industries and national initiatives.  As of December 31, 2018, Khazanah reported a 21 percent drop in its net worth and a decline in its “realizable” assets to RM136 billion (from USUSD 39.3 billion to USUSD 32.9 billion).  Khazanah also recorded a pre-tax loss of RM6.27 billion (USUSD 1.52 billion) compared to a pre-tax profit of RM2.89 billion (USUSD 723 million) the previous year.  The sectors comprising its major holdings include telecommunications and media, airports, banking, real estate, health care, and the national energy utility.  According to its Annual Review 2019 presentation, in 2018, Khazanah’s mandate and objectives were refreshed, and the company will now pursue its two distinct objectives (commercial vs. strategic) through a dual-fund investment structure: (1) an intergenerational wealth fund to meet its commercial objectives (which will include public and private assets); and (2) a strategic fund to meet its strategic objective (which will include strategic assets and developmental ones).

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State-owned enterprises which in Malaysia are called government-linked companies (GLCs), play a very significant role in the Malaysian economy.  Such enterprises have been used to spearhead infrastructure and industrial projects.  A 2017 analysis by the University of Malaya estimated that the government owns approximately 42 percent of the value of firms listed on the Bursa Malaysia through its seven Government-Linked Investment Corporations (GLICs), including a majority stake in a number of companies.  Only a minority portion of stock is available for trading for some of the largest publicly listed local companies.  Khazanah, often considered the government’s sovereign wealth fund, owns stakes in companies competing in many of the country’s major industries including aerospace, construction, energy, finance, information & communication, and marine technologies.  The Prime Minister  chairs Khazanah’s Board of Directors.  PETRONAS, the state-owned oil and gas company, is Malaysia’s only Fortune Global 500 firm.

As part of its Government Linked Companies (GLC) Transformation Program, the Malaysian Government embarked on a two-pronged strategy to reduce its shares across a range of companies and to make those companies more competitive through improved corporate governance.  The Transformation Program pushes for more independent and professionalized board membership, but the OECD noted in 2018 that in practice shareholder oversight is lax an government officials exert influence over corporate boards.

Among the notable divestments of recent years, Khazanah offloaded its stake in the national car company Proton to DRB-Hicom Bhd in 2012.  In 2013, Khazanah divested its holdings in telecommunications services giant Time Engineering Bhd.  Khazanah’s annual report for 2017 noted only that the fund had completed 12 divestments that produced a gain of RM 2.5 billion (USD 625 million).  In 2018, Khazanah partially divested its shares in IHH Healthcare Berhad, saw two successful IPOs, and issued USUSD 321 million in exchangeable sukuk.  However, significant losses at domestic companies including at Axiata, Telekom Malaysia, Tenaga Nasional, IHH Healthcare Berhad, CIMB Bank, and Malaysia Airports led to the pre-tax loss of USD  1.52 billion the company experienced in 2018.  In April 2019, Khazanah sold 1.5 percent of its stake in Tenaga Nasional on Bursa Malaysia, after which Khazanah still owned 27.27 percent of the national electric company.  In its most recent annual review, Khazanah noted a 607% increase in divestment revenue from the prior year with total divestments for 2019 of RM 9.9 billion (USD 2.25 billion).

Reference: https://www.khazanah.com.my/Media-Downloads/Downloads 

GLCs with publicly traded shares must produce audited financial statements every year.  These SOEs must also submit filings related to changes in the organization’s management.  The SOEs that do not offer publicly traded shares are required to submit annual reports to the Companies Commission.  The requirement for publicly reporting the financial standing and scope of activities of SOEs has increased their transparency.  It is also consistent with the OECD’s guideline for Transparency and Disclosure.  Moreover, many SOEs prioritize operations that maximize their earnings.

The close relationships SOEs have with senior government officials, however, blur the line between strictly commercial activity pursued for its own sake and activity that has been directed to advance a policy interest.  For example, Petroliam Nasional Berhad (PETRONAS) is both an SOE in the oil and gas sector and the regulator of the industry.  Malaysia Airlines (MAS), in which the government previously held 70 percent but now holds 100 percent, required periodic infusions of resources from the government to maintain the large numbers of company’s staff and senior executives.  As of April, 2020, the government’s sovereign wealth fund, Khazanah, has shortlisted 4 of 9 bids to acquire the airline.

The Ministry of Finance holds significant minority stakes in five companies including a 50% stake in the financial guarantee insurer Danajamin Nasional Berhad.  The government also holds a golden share in 32 companies from key industries such as aerospace, marine technology, energy industries and ports.  The Ministry of Finance maintains a list of 70 companies directly controlled by the Minister of Finance Incorporated, known as MOF Inc, the largest Government Linked Investment Company (GLIC).  The seven GLICs in Malaysia are also listed.  However, a comprehensive list of the more than 200 GLCs that are controlled by these seven investment companies is not readily available.

https://www1.treasury.gov.my/index.php/en/contactus/faqs/gic.html 

With formal and informal ties between board members and government, Malaysian SOEs (GLCs) may have access to capital and financial protection from bankruptcy as well as reduced pressure to deliver profits to government shareholders.  The legal framework establishing GLCs under Malaysian law specifically seeks economic opportunity for Bumiputera entrepreneurs. There is some empirical evidence, published by the Asian Development Bank, that SOEs crowd out private investment in Malaysia.

Malaysia participates in OECD corporate governance engagements and continues to work on full adherence to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance for SOEs through its Government Linked Companies (GLC) Transformation Program.  The National Resource Governance Institute’s Resource Governance Index rates Malaysia as weak on governance of its oil and gas sector; however, Malaysia also ranks as 27th among 89 rated countries, in the top third.

Privatization Program

In several key sectors, including transportation, agriculture, utilities, financial services, manufacturing, and construction, Government Linked Corporations (GLCs) continue to dominate the market.  However, the Malaysian Government remains publicly committed to the continued, eventual privatization, though it has not set a timeline for the process and faces substantial political pressure to preserve the roles of the GLCs.  The Malaysian Government established the Public-Private Partnership Unit (UKAS) in 2009 to provide guidance and administrative support to businesses interested in privatization projects as well as large-scale government procurement projects.  UKAS, which used to be a part of the Office of the Prime Minister, is now under the Ministry of Finance.  UKAS oversees transactions ranging from contracts and concessions to sales and transfers of ownership from the public sector to the private sector.

Foreign investors may participate in privatization programs, but foreign ownership is limited to 25 percent of the privatized entity’s equity.  The National Development Policy confers preferential treatment to the Bumiputera, which are entitled to at least 30 percent of the privatized entity’s equity.

The privatization process is formally subject to public bidding.  However, the lack of transparency has led to criticism that the government’s decisions tend to favor individuals and businesses with close ties to high-ranking officials.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The development of RBC programs in Malaysia has transformed from a government-led initiative into a concept embraced by the private sector.  Through the efforts of the Bursa Malaysia and other governmental bodies, awareness of corporate responsibility now exists across wide swathes of the private sector in Malaysia.

The government initially viewed RBC through the lens of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and philanthropic activities.  In 2006, the Malaysian Securities Commission published a CSR framework for all publicly listed companies (PLCs), which are required to disclose their CSR programs in their annual financial reports.  In 2007, the Women, Family and Community Ministry launched the Prime Minister’s CSR Awards to encourage the spread of CSR programs, and to honor those companies whose commitment to CSR had made a difference in their respective communities.

In 2011, the Malaysian government began to take a more holistic approach to RBC, using it as a way to facilitate change in Malaysian society.  That year the government launched the 1Malaysia Training Plan (SL1M), an employment incentive program that allows businesses to double the permitted tax deduction for expenses incurred in hiring and training graduates from rural areas and low-income families.  The Business Council for Sustainable Development Malaysia (BCSDM) (formerly known as the Board for Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility Malaysia) also supplanted the Institute for Corporate Responsibility Malaysia as the focal point for the country’s RBC programs.  This was an important development on the road to meeting international norms, as BCSDM is the local affiliate of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and aims to meet the World Bank’s Sustainable Development Goals.  Additionally, BCSDM has laid out its own Vision 2050 plan, which aims to facilitate an improvement in global living standards through the implementation of a series of environmentally responsible steps.

In the arena of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) issues related to RBC, Bursa Malaysia has been the main catalyst in the drive to enhance corporate accountability.  In 2014, Bursa Malaysia launched the FTSE4Good Bursa Malaysia Index, which is composed of companies selected from the top 200 Malaysian stocks in the FTSE Bursa Malaysia EMAS Index.  These companies are screened in accordance with transparent and defined ESG criteria, and the index provides an avenue for investors to make ESG-focused investments and increase ESG exposure in their investment portfolios, thereby putting indirect pressure on companies to behave more responsibly.

In a subsequent step in 2015, Bursa Malaysia launched a Sustainability Framework, which was comprised of amendments to the Listing Requirement (which all PLCs must meet), and the publication of a Sustainability Reporting Guide Toolkit.  As part of their new responsibilities, PLCs were required to disclose sustainability statements in their annual reports, incorporating ESG issues related to their respective businesses.  In 2018 Bursa Malaysia launched a 2nd edition of the Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, which include recommendations for PLCs regarding how to integrate sustainability into their businesses, and how to conduct more extensive reporting on material Economic, Environmental, and Social (EES) risks and opportunities.

Various governmental entities have enacted measures to encourage RBC.  In 2015, SUHAKAM, the Malaysian Human Rights Commission, published a framework for a national plan of action on business and human rights (BHR Framework).  The goal of the BHR Framework was to facilitate the adoption and implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights by both state and non-state actors in Malaysia.  Subsequent to the creation of the BHR Framework, Parliament passed an amended Companies Act in 2016, which included the optional disclosure of a business review, containing information about: (i) environmental matters, including the impact of the company’s business on the environment; (ii) the company’s employees; and (iii) social and community issues.   In the wake of the Companies Act 2016, The Companies Commission of Malaysia similarly sought to push RBC, by developing a best practices circular that promotes adherence to international sustainability reporting standards.  This circular endorses specific international standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

The push toward effectuating RBC by the government has not only involved human rights, but has also addressed environmental concerns.  The Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment & Climate Change (MESTECC) has published multiple roadmaps to that end, including: Green Technology Master Plan Malaysia 2017-2030; Malaysia’s Roadmap towards Zero Single-use Plastics 2018-2030; and National Energy Efficiency Master Plan.  Despite the efforts across multiple ministries to emphasize RBC, there is nothing in Malaysia’s official procurement policy that mentions it as a factor in government contracting.

In September 2019, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a Withhold Release Order (WRO), thereby suspending imports of medical gloves from WRP Asia Pacific, a Malaysian manufacturer, citing widespread reports of the company’s use of forced labor to produce the gloves.  This came on the heels of a December 2018 report by The Guardian accusing WRP and another Malaysian glove manufacturer, Top Glove, of “forced labor, forced overtime, debt bondage, withheld wages and passport confiscation.”  Malaysia is the world’s largest exporter of medical gloves, and the U.S. is its largest export market, so the response from the Malaysian government to the WRO was prompt.   Soon after the WRO, then-Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran vowed to include a chapter on forced labor in the amended  Employment Act  to protect workers’ rights; however, the amendment to the Employment Act has not come before parliament.  Irrespective of the internal steps that the Malaysian government may have taken to codify protection of workers, CBP provided feedback to WRP to adjust its manufacturing and labor practices to ensure they are compliant with U.S. and international labor standards.  In March 2020, CBP revoked the WRO on WRP-produced rubber gloves, citing information “showing the company is no longer producing the rubber gloves under forced labor conditions.”

A 2019 chemical dumping incident paints a blurry picture regarding Malaysia’s ability to effectively and fairly enforce domestic laws on environmental protection.  In the state of Johor in March 2019, a lorry dumped a mixture of toxic chemicals into the Kim Kim River, causing the hospitalization of almost 3,000 individuals.  The overwhelming majority of those hospitalized did not get sick after the initial dumping, but rather days later aided by strong winds.  The authorities did not immediately remove the chemicals from the river due to the costliness of the procedure, leading to a political backlash.  The state government took straightforward legal steps against the responsible parties, and completed its investigation in a thorough and impartial manner.  The Johor government charged the driver of the lorry under the Environmental Quality Act 1974, and charged the owners of the factory responsible for the dumping pursuant to the Environment Quality Regulations (Scheduled Wastes) 2005 and Environmental Quality Regulations (Clean Air) Regulations 2014.

The Malaysian Securities Commission leads issues regarding corporate governance and shareholder protection.  In furtherance of its goal of safeguarding investors, in 2017 the SC released an updated version of the Malaysian Code of Corporate Governance (MCCG).  This -document includes principles on board leadership and effectiveness, audit and risk management, integrity in corporate reporting, and meaningful relationships with stakeholders.  The SC publishes an annual report called the CG Monitor to ascertain which of their suggested best practices in the MCCG are being implemented.  The CG Monitor evaluates issues ranging from executive compensation standards to the quality of disclosures made by PLCs.  The SC also issues policy papers on a range of related issues, including rules on takeovers, mergers, and acquisitions, with an eye on protecting shareholders.

Bursa Malaysia is similarly interested in ensuring shareholder protection, and has a dedicated chapter in its Listing Requirements to corporate governance.  This chapter lays out in detail the requirements for listed companies concerning board composition, rights of directors, and auditing practices.  The Listing Requirements circle back to the MCCG, and require that the board of PLCs disclose which of the best practices annunciated in the MCCG the company is following.

Promotion of RBC in Malaysia has been increasing due to pressure from institutional investors and government-linked investment funds.  In 2014, the Minority Shareholders Watch Group (an independent research organization on corporate governance matters, originally funded by four state-owned investment funds) (MSWG) and the SC worked together to draft the Malaysian Code for Institutional Investors (MCII).  The MCII includes six principles of effective stewardship by institutional investors, as well as guidance to facilitate implementation.   Furthermore, the MCII encourages institutional investors to invest responsibly by taking stock of the RBC and corporate governance standards of the company.  As a response to the MCII, the Institutional Investor Council (IIC) was formed in 2015.  The IIC is an industry-led initiative that represents the common interests of institutional investors in Malaysia, and promotes good governance (including ESG considerations) to PLCs.

The interest in RBC and good governance has taken hold not only in industry, but in governmental funds as well.  The government of Malaysia’s strategic investment fund (Khazanah Nasional Berhad), the government pension fund (KWAP), and the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) are signatories to the UN-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI).  As signatories, they are required to carry out PRI principles, including taking ESG into consideration during the due diligence phase before making a potential investment, and ensuring that ESG best practices are met in companies in which they invest.

Post is not aware of any governmental interference in the efforts of regulators, business associations, and investors to improve responsible business practices amongst Malaysian corporations.

9. Corruption

The Malaysian government established the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in 2008 and the Whistleblower Protection Act in 2010 and considers bribery a criminal act.  Malaysia’s anti-corruption law prohibits bribery of foreign public officials, permits the prosecution of Malaysians for offense committed overseas, prohibits bribes from being deducted from taxes, and provides for the seizure of property.

The MACC conducts investigations, but prosecutorial discretion remains with the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC).  There is no systematic requirement for public officials to disclose their assets and the Whistleblower Protection Act does not provide protection for those who disclose allegations to the media.

The former Pakatan Harapan government prioritized anti-corruption efforts in its campaign manifesto.  After taking office in May 2018, it established Royal Commissions of Inquiry into alleged corruption at the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA), the Council of Trust for the People (MARA), and the Hajj Pilgrims Fund (Tabung Haji), all government or government-linked agencies.  On May 21, 2018 the MACC established a 1MDB taskforce, including the police and central bank.  The government subsequently charged former Prime Minister Najib with 42 counts of money laundering, criminal breach of trust, and abuse of power for his alleged involvement in the 1MDB corruption scandal.  The current Prime Minister Muhyiddin has said to the media that his Perikatan Nasional (PN) government will continue to implement the National Anti-Corruption Plan (NACP) put in place by the previous Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition government.  It remains to be seen how robustly this plan will be implemented.

Resources to Report Corruption

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

Datuk Seri Azam Baki -Chief Commissioner
Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission
Block D6, Complex D, Pusat Pentadbiran
Kerajaan Persekutuan, Peti Surat 6000
62007 Putrajaya
+6-1800-88-6000
Email: info@sprm.gov.my

Contact at a “watchdog” organization:

Cynthia Gabriel, Director
The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4)
C Four Consultancies Sdn Bhd
A-2-10, 8 Avenue
Jalan Sg Jernih 8/1, Seksyen 8, 46050 Petaling Jaya
Selangor, Malaysia
Email: info@c4center.org

10. Political and Security Environment

There have been no significant incidents of political violence since the 1969 national elections.  The May 9, 2018 national election led to the first transition of power between coalitions since independence and was peaceful.  The Pakatan Harapan administration collapsed on February 24, 2020 and was replaced by the Perikatan Nasional coalition led by Muhyiddin Yassin.  In April 2012, the Peaceful Assembly Act took effect, which outlaws street protests and places other significant restrictions on public assemblies.  Following the July 2014 Israeli incursion into Gaza, several Malaysian non-governmental entities organized a boycott of McDonald’s.  Over a several week period, protestors picketed at several McDonalds restaurants, at times taunting and harassing employees.  Periodically, Malaysian groups will organize modest protests against U.S. government policies, usually involving demonstrations outside the U.S. embassy.  To date, these have remained peaceful and localized, with a strong police presence.  Likewise, several non-governmental organizations have organized mass rallies in major cities in peninsular and East Malaysia related to domestic policies that have been peaceful.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Malaysia’s two million documented and 3.9 to 5.5 million undocumented foreign workers make up over 30 percent of the country’s workforce.  The previous government pledged to reduce Malaysia’s reliance on foreign labor while bringing the nation’s laws up to international standards, and had taken steps toward reforming a foreign worker recruitment process plagued by allegations of corruption and debt bondage before being replaced by Prime Minister Muhyiddin’s government in March.

Malaysia’s shortage of skilled labor is the most frequently mentioned impediment to economic growth cited in numerous studies.  Malaysia has an acute shortage of highly qualified professionals, scientists, and academics.  U.S. firms operating in Malaysia have echoed this sentiment, noting that the shortage of skilled labor has resulted in more on-the-job training for new hires.

The Malaysian labor market, traditionally accustomed to operating at or near full employment, has been heavily impacted by the prolonged shutdown as part of the government’s response to the global pandemic.  The unemployment rate reached five percent in April 2020, Malaysia’s highest in over 30 years, with economic observers predicting it will climb higher during the year.

Malaysia is a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO).  Labor relations in Malaysia are generally non-confrontational.  While  a system of government controls strongly discourages strikes and restricts the formation of unions, the new government has created a National Labor Advisory Council – comprised of the Malaysian Trade Unions Congress and Malaysian Employer’s Federation – to increase labor participation in unions.  The government amended its Trade Unions Act and Industrial Relations Act in July 2019 to increase freedom of association in Malaysia.  Some labor disputes are settled through negotiation or arbitration by an industrial court.  Malaysian authorities have pledged to move forward with amendments to the country’s labor laws as a means of boosting the economy’s overall competitiveness and combatting forced labor conditions.  The previous government prohibited outsourcing companies, improved oversight of employment agencies, and brought the Employment Act, Children and Young Persons Act, and Occupational Safety and Health Act in line with ILO principles.

Although national unions are currently proscribed due to sovereignty issues within Malaysia, there are a number of territorial federations of unions (the three territories being Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak).  The government has prevented some trade unions, such as those in the electronics and textile sectors, from forming territorial federations.  Instead of allowing a federation for all of Peninsular Malaysia, the electronics sector is limited to forming four regional federations of unions, while the textile sector is limited to state-based federations of unions, for those states which have a textile industry.  Proposed changes to the Trade Unions Act should address this issue and allow unions to form.  Employers and employees share the costs of the Social Security Organization (SOSCO), which covers an estimated 12.9 million workers and has been expanded to cover foreign workers.  No systematic welfare programs or government unemployment benefits exist; however, the Employee Provident Fund, which employers and employees are required to contribute to, provides retirement benefits for workers in the private sector.  Civil servants receive pensions upon retirement.

The regulation of employment in Malaysia, specifically as it affects the hiring and redundancy of workers, remains a notable impediment to employing workers in Malaysia.  The high cost of terminating employees, even in cases of wrongdoing, is a source of complaint for domestic and foreign employers.  The former prime minister formed an Independent Committee on Foreign Workers to study foreign worker policies.  The Committee submitted 40 recommendations for streamlining the hiring of foreign workers and protecting employees from debt bondage and forced labor conditions.  It is unclear whether or how the new government will act on these recommendations.

Executives at U.S. companies operating in Malaysia have reported that the government monitors the ethnic balance among employees and enforces an ethnic quota system for hiring in certain areas.  Race-based preferences in hiring and promotion are widespread in government, government-owned universities, and government-linked corporations.

The former government increased and standardized the minimum wage across the country to RM 1100 (USD 275), a raise from RM 1,000 (USD 250) in Peninsular Malaysia and RM 920 (USD 230) in East Malaysia.

In 2018, the Department of Labor’s Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) listing of goods produced with child labor and forced labor included Malaysian palm oil (forced and child labor), electronics (forced labor), and garments (forced labor).  Senior officials across the Malaysian interagency have taken this listing seriously and have been working with the private sector and civil society to address concerns relating to the recruitment, hiring, and management of foreign workers in all sectors of the Malaysian economy, including palm oil and electronics.

12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs

Malaysia has a limited investment guarantee agreement with the United States under the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the predecessor agency to the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), for which it has qualified since 1959.  Few investors have sought OPIC insurance in Malaysia.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) N/A N/A 2019 $364,700 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $10,849 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $981 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2019 46.3% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 152,510 100% Total Outward 118,886 100%
Singapore 29,038 19% Singapore 23,388 20%
Japan 18,202 12% Indonesia 11,273 9%
China, P.R.: Hong Kong 17,954 12% Cayman Islands 7,244 6%
The Netherlands 10,345 7% United Kingdom 5,925 5%
United States 9,876 6% Australia 5,731 5%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 95,283 100% All Countries 72,518 100% All Countries 22,765 100%
United States 19,567 21% United States 14,688 20% United States 4,879 21%
Singapore 10,746 11% Singapore 8,768 12% Singapore 1,978 9%
China P.R.: Hong Kong 6,541 7% China, P.R.: Hong Kong 5,679 8% Cayman Islands 1,971 9%
United Kingdom 5,592 6% China, P.R.: Mainland 4,545 6% Australia 1,788 8%
China, P.R. Mainland 5,123 5% United Kingdom 4,485 6% Indonesia 1,425 6%

Pakistan

Executive Summary

Pakistan’s government increased its positive rhetoric regarding foreign investment since it assumed power in August 2018, pledging to improve Pakistan’s economy, restructure tax collection, enhance trade and investment, and eliminate corruption.  However, the government inherited a balance of payments crisis, forcing it to focus on immediate needs to acquire external financing rather than medium to long-term structural reforms.  The government sought and received an IMF Extended Fund Facility in July 2019 and promised to carry out several structural reforms under the IMF program.

Pakistan has made significant progress over the last year in transitioning to a market-determined exchange rate and reversing its large current account deficit, while inflation has decreased each month of 2020.  However, progress has been slow in areas such as broadening the tax base, reforming the taxation system, and privatizing state owned enterprises.  Pakistan ranked 108 out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 rankings, a positive move upwards of 28 places from 2019.  Yet, the ranking demonstrates much room for improvement remains in Pakistan’s efforts to improve its business climate.  The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on Pakistan’s economy.  While the IMF had predicted Pakistan’s GDP growth to be 2.4 percent in FY2020, Pakistan’s economy is now expected to contract by 1.5 percent this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Despite a relatively open foreign investment regime, Pakistan remains a challenging environment for foreign investors.  An improving but unpredictable security situation, difficult business climate, lengthy dispute resolution processes, poor intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement, inconsistent taxation policies, and lack of harmonization of rules across Pakistan’s provinces have contributed to lower Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as compared to regional competitors.  The government is working on a multi-year foreign direct investment (FDI) strategy which aims to gradually increase FDI to USD 7.4 billion by Fiscal Year (FY) 2022-23 from USD 2.8 billion in FY2019-20.

Over the last two decades, the United States has consistently been one of the top five sources of FDI in Pakistan.  In 2019 China was Pakistan’s number one source for FDI, largely due to projects related to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.  Over the past year and a half, U.S. corporations pledged more than USD 1.5 billion in direct investment in Pakistan.  American companies have profitable investments across a range of sectors, notably, but not limited to, fast-moving consumer goods and financial services.  Other sectors attracting U.S. interest include franchising, information and communications technology (ICT), thermal and renewable energy, and healthcare services.  The Karachi-based American Business Council, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has 68 U.S. member companies, most of which are Fortune 500 companies operating in Pakistan across a range of industries.  The Lahore-based American Business Forum – which has 25 founding members and 18 associate members – also assists U.S. investors.  The U.S.-Pakistan Business Council, within the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, supports members in the United States.  In 2003, the United States and Pakistan signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) to serve as a key forum for bilateral trade and investment discussions.  The TIFA seeks to address impediments to greater bilateral trade and investment flows and increase economic linkages between our respective business interests.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 120 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 108 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 105 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2018 USD 386 http://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 USD 1,590 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Pakistan seeks greater foreign direct investment in order to boost its economic growth, particularly in the energy, agriculture, 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.  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.

Incentives introduced through the 2015-18 Strategic Trade Policy Framework (STPF) and Export Enhancement Packages (EEP) remain in place.  These incentives are largely industry-specific and include tax breaks, tax refunds, tariff reductions, the provision of dedicated infrastructure, and investor facilitation services.  A new STPF policy has been approved by the Prime Minister but must be submitted to the Economic Coordination Committee and then the cabinet for final approval.  The new STPF reportedly envisages incentivizing 26 non-traditional sectors to boost exports and plans to improve the tax refund process.

The Foreign Private Investment Promotion and Protection Act, 1976, and the Furtherance and Protection of Economic Reforms Act, 1992, provide legal protection for foreign investors and investment in Pakistan.  The Foreign Private Investment Promotion and Protection Act stipulates that foreign investments will not be subject to higher income taxes than similar investments made by Pakistani citizens.  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.

The specialized investment promotion agency of Pakistan is the Board of Investment (BOI).   BOI is responsible for the promotion of investment, facilitating local and foreign investor implementation of projects, and enhancing Pakistan’s international competitiveness.  BOI assists companies and investors who intend to invest in Pakistan and facilitates the implementation and operation of their projects.  BOI is not a one-stop shop for investors, however.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreigners, except Indian and Israeli citizens/businesses, can establish and own, operate, and dispose of interests in most types of businesses in Pakistan, except 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 private firms to adopt articles of incorporation discriminating against foreign investment.  The 2013 Investment Policy eliminated minimum initial capital investment requirements across sectors so that no minimum investment requirement or upper limit on the share of foreign equity is allowed, with the exception of investments in the airline, banking, agriculture, and media sectors.  Foreign investors in the services sector may retain 100 percent equity, subject to obtaining permission, a no objection certificate, or license from the concerned agency, as well as fulfilling the requirements of the respective sectoral policy.  In the education, health, and infrastructure sectors, 100 percent foreign ownership is allowed, while in the agricultural sector, the threshold is 60 percent, with an exception for corporate agriculture farming, where 100 percent ownership is allowed.  Small-scale mining valued at less than PKR 300 million (roughly USD 2.6 million) is restricted to Pakistani investors.

Foreign banks can establish locally incorporated subsidiaries and branches, provided they have USD 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 USD 100,000 limit on initial franchise investments and a cap on subsequent royalty payments of 5 percent of net sales for five years.  Royalties and technical payments are subject to remittance restrictions listed in Chapter 14, section 12 of the SBP Foreign Exchange Manual (http://www.sbp.org.pk/fe_manual/index.html).

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

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Pakistan has not undergone any third-party investment policy reviews over the last three years.

Business Facilitation

The government works with the World Bank to improve Pakistan’s business climate.  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 improving electronic submissions and processing of trade documents.  Starting a business in Pakistan normally involves 5 procedures and takes at least 16.5 days.  Pakistan ranked 108 out of 190 countries in the World Bank Doing Business 2020 report’s “Starting a Business” category.  Pakistan ranked 28 out of 190 for protecting minority investors.

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

Outward Investment

Pakistan does not promote or incentivize outward investment.  Although the cumbersome government approval process can discourage potential investors, larger Pakistani corporations have made major investments in the United States in recent years.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Pakistan has signed Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) with 49 countries, with only 27 entered into force.  U.S.-Pakistan Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) negotiations began in 2004 and the text closed in 2012; however, the agreement has not been signed.  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).  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.  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.  The World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report notes that companies pay 34 different taxes, compared to an average of 26.8 in other South Asian countries.  On average, calculating these payments requires that businesses spend over 283 hours per year.

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

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

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

Prior to implementation, non-government actors and private sector associations can provide feedback to the government on different laws and policies, but authorities are not bound to collect nor implement their suggestions.  Respective regulatory authorities conduct in-house post-implementation reviews for 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, foreign companies must address provincial, and sometimes local, government laws in addition to national law.  Foreign businesses complain about the inconsistencies in laws and policies from different regulatory authorities.  There are no rules or regulations in place that discriminate specifically against U.S. investors, however.

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

The SECP is empowered to notify accounting standards to companies in Pakistan, however, execution and implementation of the notifications 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 government publishes limited debt obligations in the budget document in two broad categories: capital receipts and public debt, which are published in the “Explanatory Memorandum on Federal Receipts.”  These documents are available at http://www.finance.gov.pk, http://www.fbr.gov.pk, and http://www.sbp.org.pk/edocata.  The government does not 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 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 British law.  Laws governing domestic or personal matters are strongly influenced by Islamic Sharia Law.  Regulations may be appealed within the court system and enforcement actions may also be appealed through the courts.  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 has a written contractual/commercial law with the Contract Act of 1872 as the main source for regulating Pakistani contracts.  British legal decisions, where relevant, are also cited in courts.  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.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Pakistan’s investment and corporate laws permit wholly-owned subsidiaries with 100 percent foreign equity in all sectors of the economy, subject to obtaining relevant permissions.  In the education, health, and infrastructure sectors, 100 percent foreign ownership is allowed.  In the agricultural sector, the threshold is 60 percent, with an exception for corporate agriculture farming, where 100 percent ownership is allowed.

A majority of foreign companies operating in Pakistan are “private limited companies,” which are incorporated with a minimum of two shareholders and two directors registered with the SECP.  While there are no regulatory requirements on the residency status of company directors, the chief executive must reside in Pakistan to conduct day-to-day operations.  If the chief executive is not a Pakistani national, she or he is required to obtain a multiple-entry work visa.  Companies operating in Pakistan are statutorily required to retain full-time audit services and legal representation.  Companies must also register any changes to the name, address, directors, shareholders, CEO, auditors/lawyers, and other pertinent details to the SECP within 15 days of the change.  To address long process delays, in 2013, the SECP introduced the issuance of a provisional “Certificate of Incorporation” prior to the final issuance of a “No Objection Certificate” (NOC).  The Certificate includes a provision noting that company shares will be transferred to another shareholder if the foreign shareholder(s) and/or director(s) fails to obtain a NOC.

There is no “single window” website for investment which provides relevant laws, rules and reporting requirements for investors.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

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

Expropriation and Compensation

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

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Pakistan is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).  Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention) in 2011 under its “Recognition and Enforcement (Arbitration Agreements and Foreign Arbitral Awards) Act.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

In 2008, the Pakistani government instituted a Rental Power Plant (RPP) plan to help alleviate the chronic power shortages throughout the country.  Walters Power International Limited was a participant in three RPP plants and brought power generation equipment into Pakistan to service these plants.  Subsequently, in 2010, the Supreme Court of Pakistan nullified all RPP contracts due to widespread corruption in cash advances made to RPP operators.  Walters Power International Limited settled with the Pakistan National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the Central Power Generation Company Limited by returning advance payments plus interest.  In mid-2012, NAB formally acknowledged that settlement with the Walters Power International Limited had been made, which under Pakistani law released Walters Power International Limited from any further liability, criminal or civil, and should have permitted re-export of equipment.  However, the Government of Pakistan (a) has refused to allow the equipment to be exported so that some salvage value could be obtained, and (b) prevented the plant from operating despite a critical need for power in the country during the disputed period.  Despite repeated efforts by Walters Power International Limited, NAB has declined to instruct the appropriate parties to issue a Notice of Clearance to Pakistan Customs to allow the re-export of the equipment.  Walters Power International Limited alleges that the unreasonable delay in permitting re-export of equipment following settlement constitutes expropriation.  The case is still pending with NAB.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

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.

In 2019 the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes awarded a consortium of foreign companies which had invested in the “Reko Diq” mining project USD 5.84 billion in damages for Pakistan’s breach of contract.  The government is currently in discussions with the consortium to arrive at an out-of-arbitration settlement.

Bankruptcy Regulations

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

Investment Incentives

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 currently does not provide any formal investment incentives such as grants, tax credits or deferrals, access to subsidized loans, or reduced cost of land to individual foreign investors.

In general, the government does not issue guarantees or 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.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Providing unique fiscal and institutional incentives exclusively for export-oriented industries, the government established the first Export Processing Zone (EPZ) in Karachi in 1989.  Subsequently, EPZs were established in Risalpur, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Saindak, Gwadar, Reko Diq, and Duddar; today, only Karachi, Risalpur, Sialkot, and Saindak remain operational.  EPZs offer investors tax and duty exemptions on equipment, machinery, and materials (including components, spare parts, and packing material); indefinite loss carry-forward; and access to the EPZ Authority (EPZA) “Single Window,” which facilitates import and export authorizations.

The 2012 Special Economic Zones Act, amended in 2016, allows both domestically focused and export-oriented enterprises to establish companies and public-private partnerships within SEZs.  According to the country’s 2013 Investment Policy, manufacturers introducing new technologies that are unavailable in Pakistan receive the same incentives available to companies operating in Pakistan’s SEZs.

Pakistan has a total of 23 designated special economic zones (SEZs); 10 of these were recently established by the government.  All potential investors in SEZs are provided with a  basket of incentives, including a ten-year tax holiday, one-time waiver of import duties on plant materials and machinery, and streamlined utilities connections.  Despite offering substantial financial, investor service, and infrastructure benefits to reduce the cost of doing business, Pakistan’s SEZs have struggled to attract investment due to lack of basic infrastructure.  None of the identified SEZs are fully developed, but they have attracted some investment and are available to any company, domestic or foreign.  KP’s Peshawar Economic Zone Office, in an attempt to attract additional foreign investor interest, opened an Industrial Facilitation Center to provide potential investors with timely services and a one-stop shop for existing and new foreign investors.  Pakistan intends to establish nine SEZs under CPEC’s second phase, which is focused on promoting Pakistan’s industrial growth and exports.  The government plans to open the first CPEC SEZs in Rashakai, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP); Faisalabad, Punjab; and Dhabeji, Sindh in 2020.  Most CPEC 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 business officials have struggled to get business visas for travel to Pakistan.  When permitted, business people typically receive single-entry visas with short-duration validity.  Technical and managerial personnel working in sectors that are open to foreign investment are typically not required to obtain special work permits.  In 2019 Pakistan announced updates to its visa and no objection certification (NOC) policies to attract foreign tourists and businesspeople; however, the new visa policies do not apply to U.S. passport holders.  The new NOC policy implemented in May 2019 permits visitor travel throughout Pakistan, though travel near Pakistan’s borders still requires a NOC.

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.  Likewise, 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 obtaining security clearance from the Ministry of Interior.  Such requirements discourage foreign nationals from becoming board members of  Pakistani companies.

Companies operating in Pakistan have not registered complaints with the embassy regarding encryption issues.  Officially, accreditation from the Electronic Certification Accreditation Council (under the Ministry of Information Technology) is required for entities using encryption and cryptography services, though it is not consistently enforced.  The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) initially demanded unfettered access to Research in Motion’s BlackBerry customer information, but the issue was resolved in 2016 when the company agreed to assist law enforcement agencies in the investigation of criminal activities.  PTA and SBP prohibit telecom and financial companies from transferring customer data overseas.  Other data, including emails, can be legally transmitted and stored outside the country.  Recent draft regulations requiring social media companies to maintain local servers in Pakistan received significant criticism in the press and from service providers.  The government subsequently allowed for additional comment and revisions to draft data protection legislation; the comment and revision process remains ongoing.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

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

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

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

Intellectual Property Rights

The Government of Pakistan has identified intellectual property rights (IPR) protection as a key economic reform and has taken concrete steps over the last two decades to strengthen its intellectual property (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).  Although the creation of IPO consolidated policy-making institutions, confusion surrounding enforcement agencies’ roles still constrains performance on IPR enforcement, leaving IP rights holders struggling to identify the right forum to address IPR infringement.  Although IPO established 10  enforcement coordination committees to improve IPR enforcement, and has signed an MOU with the FBR to share information, the agency labors to coordinate disparate bodies under current laws.  IPO has been in discussions with CCP and SECP for more than a year on data sharing and enforcement MOUs that  remain unsigned. Weak penalties and the agencies’ redundancies allow counterfeiters to evade punishment.

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.”  No board meeting was held in 2018 due to the political transition which occurred that year, but two board meetings were held in 2019.  IPO is severely under-resourced in human capital, currently working at only 52 percent of its approved staffing.  New hiring rules await final approval from the Ministry of Law.  IPO aims to start recruiting new staff in the first half of 2020.

IPO is also charged with increasing public awareness of IPR through collaboration with the private sector.  In 2019, in collaboration with various academic institutions and chambers of commerce, IPO conducted over 100 public awareness sessions.  Academics and private attorneys have noted that the creation of the IPO has improved public awareness, albeit slowly.  While difficult to quantify, contacts have also observed increased local demand for IPR protections, including from small businesses and startups.  Private and public sector contacts highlight that the educational system is a “missing link” in IPR awareness and enforcement.  Pakistani educational institutions, including law schools, have rarely included IPR issues in their curricula and do not have a culture of commercializing innovations.  However, the International Islamic University now includes an IPR-specific course in its curriculum and Lahore University of Management Sciences has content-specific courses as part of their MBA program.  IPO officials have expressed interest in collaborating with Pakistani universities to increase IPR awareness.  IPO is working with the Higher Education Commission to offer IPR curricula at other universities but has achieved limited traction.  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 – in Karachi covering Sindh and Balochistan, in Lahore covering Punjab, and in Islamabad covering Islamabad and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.  IPO plans to create two more tribunals, with the proposal awaiting approval from the Ministry of Law.  These tribunals have not been a priority in terms of assigning judges.  They have experienced high turnover, and the assigned judges do not receive any specialized technical training in IP law.

Pakistan’s IPR legal framework remains inadequate as well.  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 unsuccessful attempt 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 in the process of updating Pakistan’s IPR laws to minimize inconsistencies and improve enforcement.

The U.S. Mission in Pakistan, with the support of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the Department of Commerce, and USPTO, has been engaged with the Government of Pakistan over several years seeking resolution of long-standing software licensing and IPR infringements committed by offices within the Government of Pakistan which undermine Pakistan’s credibility with respect to IPR enforcement.

Pakistan is currently on the USTR Special 301 Report Watch List  Pakistan is not included in the Notorious Markets List.

Pakistan does not track and report on its seizures of counterfeit goods.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Foreign portfolio investment halted its decline and increased in the last three months of 2019 and into early 2020 as investor confidence increased due to improvement in Pakistan’s current account deficit, relatively high interest rates, and the initiation of Pakistan’s most recent IMF program, according to the SBP.  Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, indicators had pointed to improved inflows of foreign investment.  The full impact of COVID-19 on foreign portfolio investment remains to be seen.

Pakistan’s three stock exchanges (Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi) merged to form the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSE) in January 2016.  As a member of the Federation of Euro-Asian Stock Exchanges and the South Asian Federation of Exchanges, PSE is also an affiliated member of the World Federation of Exchanges and the International Organization of Securities Commissions.  Per the Foreign Exchange Regulations, foreign investors can invest in shares and securities listed on the PSE and can repatriate profits, dividends, or disinvestment proceeds.  The investor must open a Special Convertible Rupee Account with any bank in Pakistan in order to make portfolio investments.  In 2017, the government modified the capital gains tax and imposed 15 percent on stocks held for less than 12 months, 12.5 percent on stocks held for more than 12 but less than 24 months, and 7.5 percent on stocks held for more than 24 months. The 2012 Capital Gains Tax Ordinance appointed the National Clearing Company of Pakistan Limited to compute, determine, collect, and deposit the capital gains tax.

The free flow of financial resources for domestic and foreign investors is supported by financial sector policies, with the SBP and SECP providing regulatory oversight of financial and capital markets.  Interest rates depend on the reverse repo rate (also called the policy rate).  Interest rates reached a high of 13.25 percent in July 2019 but by May 2020 had decreased to eight percent.

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 banks’ equity with effect from December 2013.  Foreign-controlled (minimum 51 percent equity stake) semi-manufacturing concerns (i.e., those producing goods that require additional processing for consumer marketing) are permitted to borrow up to 75 percent of paid-up capital, including reserves.  For non-manufacturing concerns, local borrowing caps are set at 50 percent of paid-up capital. While there are no restrictions on private sector access to credit instruments, few alternative instruments are available beyond commercial bank lending.  Pakistan’s domestic corporate bond, commercial paper and derivative markets remain in 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, 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; women are financially excluded at higher rates than men.  The remaining 53 percent of the adult population do not utilize formal financial services.

Pakistan’s financial sector has been recognized by international banks and lenders for performing well in recent years.  According to the latest review of the banking sector conducted by SBP in December 2018, improving asset quality, stable liquidity, robust solvency and slow pick-up in private sector advances were noted.  The asset base of the banking sector expanded by 11.7 percent during 2019.  The five largest banks, one of which is state-owned, control 50.4 percent of all banking sector assets.  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 recorded at 8.6 percent at the end of December 2019.  In 2019, total assets of the banking industry were estimated at USD 140.1 billion.  As of December 2019, net non-performing bank loans totaled approximately USD 900.3 million – 1.7 percent of net total loans.

The penetration of foreign banks in Pakistan is low, having minimal contribution to the local banking industry and the overall economy.  According to a study conducted by the World Bank Group in 2018, the share of foreign bank assets to GDP stood at 3.5 percent while private credit by deposit to GDP stood at 15.4 percent.  Foreign banks operating in Pakistan include Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank, Samba Bank, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Bank of Tokyo, and the newly established Bank of China.  International banks are 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 that foreign banks hold at minimum $300 million in capital reserves at their Pakistan flagship location, and maintain at least an eight percent capital adequacy ratio.  In addition, foreign banks are required to maintain the following minimum capital requirements, which vary based on the number of branches they are operating:

1 to 5 branches: USD 28 million in assigned capital;

6 to 50 branches: USD 56 million in assigned capital;

Over 50 branches: USD 94 million in assigned capital.

Foreigners require proof of residency – a work visa, company sponsorship letter, and valid passport – to establish a bank account in Pakistan.  There are no other restrictions to prevent foreigners from opening and operating a bank account.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

As a prior action of its July 2019 IMF program, Pakistan agreed to 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.  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 are allowed to physically carry a maximum of $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 opts for an ad-hoc approach on a case-by-case basis.

Remittance Policies

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

Sovereign Wealth Funds

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

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The second round of the Government of Pakistan’s extensive 15-year privatization campaign came to an abrupt halt after 2006 when the Supreme Court reversed a proposed deal for the privatization of Pakistan Steel Mills, setting a precedent for future offerings.  As a result, large and inefficient state-owned enterprises (SOEs) retain monopolistic powers in a few key sectors, requiring the government to provide annual subsidies to cover SOE losses.  There are 197 SOEs in the power, oil and gas, banking and finance, insurance, and transportation sectors.  Some are profitable; others are loss-making.  They provide stable employment and other benefits for more than 420,000 workers.  According to the IMF, in 2019, Pakistan’s total debts and liabilities for SOEs exceeded USD 7 billion, or 2.3 percent of GDP – a 22 percent increase since 2016, but roughly the same since 2017.  Some SOEs have governing boards, but they are not effective.

Three of the country’s largest SOEs include:  Pakistan Railways (PR), Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), and Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM).  According to the IMF, the total debt of SOEs now amounts to 2.3 percent of GDP – just over USD 7 billion in 2019.  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 USD 8.2 billion in CPEC loans and grants to modernize its mail rail lines.  PR relies on monthly government subsidies of approximately USD 2.8 million to cover its ongoing obligations.  In 2019, government payments to PR totaled approximately USD 248 million.  In 2019, the Government of Pakistan extended bailout packages worth USD 89 million to PIA.  Established to avoid importing foreign steel, PSM has accumulated losses of approximately USD 3.77 billion per annum.  The company loses USD 5 million a week, and has not produced steel since June 2015, when the national gas company cut its power supplies due to over USD 340 million in outstanding bills.

SOEs competing in the domestic market receive non-market based advantages from the host government.  Two examples include PIA and PSM, which operate at a loss but continue to receive financial bailout packages from the government.  Post is not aware of any negative impact to U.S firms in this regard.

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.

Privatization Program

Terms to purchase public shares of SOEs and financial institutions for both foreign and local investors are the same.  The government announced plans to carry out a privatization program but postponed plans due to 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 that the government retain 51 percent equity in the airline in the event it is privatized, reducing the attractiveness of the company to potential investors.  The Privatization Commission claims the privatization process to be transparent, easy to understand, and non-discriminatory.  The privatization process is a 17-step process available on the Commission’s website under this link http://privatisation.gov.pk/?page_id=88 .

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

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is no unified set of standards defining responsible business conduct in Pakistan.  Though large companies, especially multi-national corporations, have an awareness of RBC standards, there is a lack of wider awareness.  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.

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

9. Corruption

Pakistan ranked 120 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index.  The organization noted that corruption problems persist due to the lack of accountability and enforcement of penalties, followed by the lack of merit-based promotion, and relatively low salaries.

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

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Pakistan’s anti-corruption organization, suffers from insufficient funding and staffing and is viewed by political opposition as a tool for score-settling by the government in power.  Like NAB, the CCP’s mandate also includes anti-corruption authorities, but its effectiveness is also hindered by resource constraints.

Resources to Report Corruption 

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

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

10. Political and Security Environment

Despite improvements to the security situation in recent years, the presence of foreign and domestic terrorist groups within Pakistan continues to pose some threat to U.S. interests and citizens.  Terrorist groups commit occasional attacks in Pakistan, though the number of such attacks has declined steadily over the last decade.  Terrorists have in the past targeted transportation hubs, markets, shopping malls, military installations, airports, universities, tourist locations, schools, hospitals, places of worship, and government facilities.  Many multinational companies operating in Pakistan employ private security and risk management firms to mitigate the significant threats to their business operations.  There are greater security resources and infrastructure in the major cities, particularly Islamabad, and security forces in these areas may be more readily able to respond to an emergency compared to other areas of the country.

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

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

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

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Pakistan has a complex system of labor laws.  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, and the provinces are at different stages of labor law development.

In the Islamabad Capital Territory and provinces of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan, the minimum wage for unskilled workers is PKR 17,500 per month (USD 109).  In Sindh, it is PKR 17,000 per month (USD 106).  Legal protections for laborers are uneven across provinces, and implementation of labor laws is weak nationwide.  Lahore inspectorates have inadequate resources, which lead to inadequate frequency and quality of labor inspections.  Some labor courts are reportedly corrupt and biased in favor of employers.  On January 23, 2019 the Punjab Provincial Assembly passed the Punjab Domestic Workers Act 2019.  The law prohibits the employment of children under age 15 as domestic workers, and stipulates that children between 15 and 18 may only perform part-time, non-hazardous household work.  The law also mandates a series of protections and benefits, including limits to the number of hours worked weekly, and paid sick and holiday leave.  On January 25, 2017 the Sindh Provincial Assembly passed the Sindh Prohibition of Employment of Children Act, 2017.   In August 2019, the Balochistan Assembly adopted a resolution to eradicate child labor in coal mines.

The Senate passed the Domestic Workers (Employment Rights) Act in March 2016 (http://www.senate.gov.pk/uploads/documents/1390294147_766.pdf), but the bill has not progressed in the National Assembly.  An amendment to the federal Employment of Children Act, 1991, which would raise the minimum age of employment to sixteen, has been pending in the National Assembly since January 2016.

According to Pakistan’s most recent labor force survey (conducted 2017-2018), the civilian workforce consists of approximately 65.5 million workers.  Women are extremely under-represented in the 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.  In 2018, the UN Population Fund estimated that 29 percent of Pakistan’s population was between the ages of 10 and 24 and according to 2017-18 labor force survey estimates unemployment for 15 to 24 year old was 10.5 percent.

Pakistan is a labor exporter, particularly to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.  According to Pakistan’s Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment’s 2018 “Export of Manpower Analysis,” the bureau had registered more than 11.11 million Pakistanis going abroad for employment since 1971, with more than 96 percent traveling to GCC countries.  Pakistanis working overseas sent more than USD 19 billion in remittances each year since 2015.

Pakistani government sector contacts say their workforce is insufficiently skilled.  Federal and provincial government initiatives such as the National Vocational and Technical Training Commission and the Punjab government’s Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority aim to increase the employability of the Pakistani workforce.  However, the ILO’s 2016-2020 Pakistan Decent Work Country Program notes that, “Neither a comprehensive national policy nor coherent provincial policies for skills and entrepreneurship development are being 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 2014 Decent Work Country Profile states that in 2013, only 9.4 percent of the economically active population – excluding public sector employees – were contributing to formal social security systems such as old age, survivors’, and disability pensions.

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

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

Pakistan is a GSP beneficiary, which requires labor standards to be upheld.

12. U.S. International Development Fina