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Australia

Executive Summary

Australia is generally welcoming to foreign investment, which is widely considered to be an essential contributor to Australia’s economic growth and productivity. The United States is by far the largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI) for Australia. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the stock of U.S. FDI totaled USD 162 billion in January 2020. The Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement, which entered into force in 2005, establishes higher thresholds for screening U.S. investment for most classes of direct investment.

While welcoming toward FDI, Australia does apply a “national interest” test to qualifying investment through its Foreign Investment Review Board screening process. Various changes to Australia’s foreign investment rules, primarily aimed at strengthening national security, have been made in recent years. This continued in 2020 with the passage of the Foreign Investment Reform (Protecting Australia’s National Security) Act 2020, which broadens the classes of foreign investments that require screening, with a particular focus on defense and national security supply chains. All foreign investments in these industries will now require screening, regardless of their value or national origin. The legislation also provides the Treasurer with new powers to require certain investments to be scrutinized even if they do not fall within existing guidelines. Additionally, in March 2020 the Australian government announced all foreign direct investment would be reviewed over the course of the COVID-19 crisis, a period which ceased when the Foreign Investment Reform legislation commenced in January 2021. Despite the increased focus on foreign investment screening, the rejection rate for proposed investments has remained low and there have been no cases of investment from the United States having been rejected in recent years.

In response to a perceived lack of fairness, the Australian government has tightened anti-tax avoidance legislation targeting multi-national corporations with operations in multiple tax jurisdictions. While some laws have been complementary to international efforts to address tax avoidance schemes and the use of low-tax countries or tax havens, Australia has also gone further than the international community in some areas.

Australia has a strong legal system grounded in procedural fairness, judicial precedent, and the independence of the judiciary. Property rights are well established and enforceable. The establishment of government regulations typically requires consultation with impacted stakeholders and requires approval by a central regulatory oversight body before progressing to the legislative phase. Anti-bribery and anti-corruption laws exist, and Australia performs well in measures of transparency. Australia’s business environment is generally conducive to foreign companies operating in the country, and the country ranks fourteenth overall in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index.

The Australian government is strongly focused on economic recovery from the COVID-driven recession Australia experienced in 2020, the country’s first in three decades. In addition to direct stimulus and business investment incentives, it has announced investment attraction incentives across a range of priority industries, including food and beverage manufacturing, medical products, clean energy, defense, space, and critical minerals processing. U.S. involvement and investment in these fields is welcomed.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 11 of 179 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 14 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 23 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 162 billion http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 55,100 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Australia is generally welcoming to foreign direct investment (FDI), with foreign investment widely considered to be an essential contributor to Australia’s economic growth. Other than certain required review and approval procedures for designated types of foreign investment described below, there are no laws that discriminate against foreign investors.

A number of investment promotion agencies operate in Australia. The Australian Trade Commission (often referred to as Austrade) is the Commonwealth Government’s national “gateway” agency to support investment into Australia. Austrade provides coordinated government assistance to promote, attract, and facilitate FDI, supports Australian companies to grow their business in international markets, and delivers advice to the Australian Government on its trade, tourism, international education and training, and investment policy agendas. Austrade operates through a number of international offices, with U.S. offices primarily focused on attracting foreign direct investment into Australia and promoting the Australian education sector in the United States. Austrade in the United States operates from offices in Boston, Chicago, Houston, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. In addition, state and territory investment promotion agencies also support international investment at the state level and in key sectors.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Within Australia, foreign and domestic private entities may establish and own business enterprises and may engage in all forms of remunerative activity in accordance with national legislative and regulatory practices. See Section 4: Legal Regime – Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment below for information on Australia’s investment screening mechanism for inbound foreign investment.

Other than the screening process described in Section 4, there are few limits or restrictions on foreign investment in Australia. Foreign purchases of agricultural land greater than AUD 15 million (USD 11 million) are subject to screening. This threshold applies to the cumulative value of agricultural land owned by the foreign investor, including the proposed purchase. However, the agricultural land screening threshold does not affect investments made under the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA). The current threshold remains AUD 1.216 billion (USD 940 million) for U.S. non-government investors. Investments made by U.S. non-government investors are subject to inclusion on the foreign ownership register of agricultural land and to Australian Tax Office (ATO) information gathering activities on new foreign investment.

The Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB), which advises Australia’s Treasurer, may impose conditions when approving foreign investments. These conditions can be diverse and may include: retention of a minimum proportion of Australian directors; certain requirements on business activities, such as the requirement not to divest certain assets; and certain taxation requirements. Such conditions are in keeping with Australia’s policy of ensuring foreign investments are in the national interest.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Australia has not conducted an investment policy review in the last three years through either the OECD or UNCTAD system. The WTO reviewed Australia’s trade policies and practices in 2019, and the final report can be found at: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp496_e.htm .

The Australian Trade Commission compiles an annual “Why Australia Benchmark Report” that presents comparative data on investing in Australia in the areas of Growth, Innovation, Talent, Location, and Business. The report also compares Australia’s investment credentials with other countries and provides a general snapshot on Australia’s investment climate. See: http://www.austrade.gov.au/International/Invest/Resources/Benchmark-Report .

Business Facilitation

Business registration in Australia is relatively straightforward and is facilitated through a number of government websites. The government’s business.gov.au website provides an online resource and is intended as a “whole-of-government” service providing essential information on planning, starting, and growing a business. Foreign entities intending to conduct business in Australia as a foreign company must be registered with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). As Australia’s corporate, markets, and financial services regulator, ASIC’s website provides information and guides on starting and managing a business or company in the country.

In registering a business, individuals and entities are required to register as a company with ASIC, which then gives the company an Australian Company Number, registers the company, and issues a Certificate of Registration. According to the World Bank “Starting a Business” indicator, registering a business in Australia takes two days, and Australia ranks 7th globally on this indicator.

Outward Investment

Australia generally looks positively towards outward investment as a way to grow its economy. There are no restrictions on investing abroad. Austrade, Export Finance Australia (EFA), and various other government agencies offer assistance to Australian businesses looking to invest abroad, and some sector-specific export and investment programs exist. The United States is the top destination, by far, for Australian investment overseas.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Australian Government utilizes transparent policies and effective laws to foster national competition and is consultative in its policy making process. The government generally allows for public comment of draft legislation and publishes legislation once it enters into force. Details of the Australian government’s approach to regulation and regulatory impact analysis can be found on the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s website: https://www.pmc.gov.au/regulation 

Regulations drafted by Australian Government agencies must be accompanied by a Regulation Impact Statement when submitted to the final decision maker (which may be the Cabinet, a Minister, or another decision maker appointed by legislation.) All Regulation Impact Statements must first be approved by the Office of Best Practice Regulation (OBPR) which sits within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, prior to being provided to the relevant decision maker. They are required to demonstrate the need for regulation, the alternative options available (including non-regulatory options), feedback from stakeholders, and a full cost-benefit analysis. Regulations are subsequently required to be reviewed periodically. All Regulation Impact Statements, second reading speeches, explanatory memoranda, and associated legislation are made publicly available on Government websites. Australia’s state and territory governments have similar processes when making new regulations.

The Australian Government has tended to prefer self-regulatory options where industry can demonstrate that the size of the risks are manageable and that there are mechanisms for industry to agree on, and comply with, self-regulatory options that will resolve the identified problem. This manifests in various ways across industries, including voluntary codes of conduct and similar agreements between industry players.

The Australian Government has recognized the impost of regulations and has undertaken a range of initiatives to reduce red tape. This has included specific red tape reduction targets for government agencies and various deregulatory groups within government agencies. In 2019, the Australian Government established a Deregulation Taskforce within its Treasury Department, stating its goal was to “drive improvements to the design, administration and effectiveness of the stock of government regulation to ensure it is fit for purpose.”

Australian accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are transparent and consistent with international standards. Accounting standards are formulated by the Australian Accounting Standards Board (AASB), an Australian Government agency under the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act 2001. Under that Act, the statutory functions of the AASB are to develop a conceptual framework for the purpose of evaluating proposed standards; make accounting standards under section 334 of the Corporations Act 2001, and advance and promote the main objects of Part 12 of the ASIC Act, which include reducing the cost of capital, enabling Australian entities to compete effectively overseas and maintaining investor confidence in the Australian economy. The Australian Government conducts regular reviews of proposed measures and legislative changes and holds public hearings into such matters.

Australian government financing arrangements are transparent and well governed. Legislation governing the type of financial arrangements the government and its agencies may enter into is publicly available and adhered to. Updates on the Government’s financial position are regularly posted on the Department of Finance and Treasury websites. Issuance of government debt is managed by the Australian Office of Financial Management, which holds regular tenders for the sale of government debt and the outcomes of these tenders are publicly available. The Australian Government also publishes and adheres to strict procurement guidelines. Australia formally joined the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement in 2019.

International Regulatory Considerations

Australia is a member of the WTO, G20, OECD, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and became the first Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) Dialogue Partner in 1974. While not a regional economic block, Australia’s free trade agreement with New Zealand provides for a high level of integration between the two economies with the ultimate goal of a single economic market. Details of Australia’s involvement in these international organizations can be found on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s website: https://www.dfat.gov.au/trade/organisations/Pages/wto-g20-oecd-apec 

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Australian legal system is firmly grounded on the principles of equal treatment before the law, procedural fairness, judicial precedent, and the independence of the judiciary. Strong safeguards exist to ensure that people are not treated arbitrarily or unfairly by governments or officials. Property and contractual rights are enforced through the Australian court system, which is based on English Common Law. Australia’s judicial system is fully independent and separate from the executive branch of government.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Information regarding investing in Australia can be found in Austrade’s “Guide to Investing” at http://www.austrade.gov.au/International/Invest/Investor-guide . The guide is designed to help international investors and businesses navigate investing and operating in Australia.

Foreign investment in Australia is regulated by the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975 and Australia’s Foreign Investment Policy. The Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) is a non-statutory body, comprising independent board members advised by a division within the Treasury Department, established to advise the Treasurer on Australia’s foreign investment policy and its administration. The FIRB screens potential foreign investments in Australia above threshold values, and based on advice from the FIRB, the Treasurer may deny or place conditions on the approval of particular investments above that threshold on national interest grounds. In March 2020 the Treasurer announced thresholds would be reduced to zero for the period covering the COVID-19 crisis. In effect, this meant that all foreign investment would be screening over this period. This lower threshold ended with the introduction in January 2021 of new legislation, the Foreign Investment Reform (Protecting Australia’s National Security) Act 2020, which tightened Australia’s investment screening rules with respect to investments in sensitive national security businesses.

The Australian Government applies a “national interest” consideration in reviewing foreign investment applications. “National interest” covers a broader set of considerations than national security alone, and may include tax or competition implications of an investment. Further information on foreign investment screening, including screening thresholds for certain sectors and countries, can be found at FIRB’s website: https://firb.gov.au/ . Under the AUSFTA agreement, all U.S. greenfield investments are exempt from FIRB screening.

Australia has recently taken steps to increase the analysis of national security implications of foreign investment in certain sectors, particularly critical infrastructure and investments in defense or other national security supply chains. The new Foreign Investment Reform (Protecting Australia’s National Security) Act 2020 introduced the concept of a “national security business” and “national security land,” the acquisition of either triggering a FIRB review. The legislation also allows the Treasurer to “call in” any investment for FIRB review, meaning any investment can be screened regardless of whether it meets the criteria for a mandatory review.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) enforces the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 and a range of additional legislation, promotes competition, and fair trading, and regulates national infrastructure for the benefit of all Australians. The ACCC plays a key role in assessing mergers to determine whether they will lead to a substantial lessening of competition in any market. The ACCC also engages in consumer protection enforcement and has, in recent years, been given expanded responsibilities to monitor energy assets, the national gas market, and digital industries.

Expropriation and Compensation

Private property can be expropriated for public purposes in accordance with Australia’s constitution and established principles of international law. Property owners are entitled to compensation based on “just terms” for expropriated property. There is little history of expropriation in Australia.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Australia is a member of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) and the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. The International Arbitration Act 1974 governs international arbitration and the enforcement of awards.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) is included in 11 of Australia’s 13 FTAs and 18 of its 21 BITs. AUSFTA establishes a dispute settlement mechanism for investment disputes arising under the Agreement. However, AUSFTA does not contain an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism that would allow individual investors to bring a case against the Australian government. Regardless of the presence or absence of ISDS mechanisms, there is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors in Australia.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Australia has an established legal and court system for the conduct or supervision of litigation and arbitration, as well as alternate dispute resolutions. Australia is a leader in the development and provision of non-court dispute resolution mechanisms. It is a signatory to all the major international dispute resolution conventions and has organizations that provide international dispute resolution processes.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Bankruptcy is a legal status conferred under the Bankruptcy Act 1966 and operates in all of Australia’s states and territories. Only individuals can be made bankrupt, not businesses or companies. Where there is a partnership or person trading under a business name, it is the individual or individuals who make up that firm that are made bankrupt. Companies cannot become bankrupt under the Bankruptcy Act though similar provisions (called “administration and winding up”) exist under the Corporations Act 2001. Bankruptcy is not a criminal offense in Australia.

Creditor rights are established under the Bankruptcy Act 1966, the Corporations Act 2001, and the more recent Insolvency Law Reform Act 2016. The latter legislation commenced in two tranches over 2017 and aims to increase the efficiency of insolvency administrations, improve communications between parties, increase the corporate regulator’s oversight of the insolvency market, and “improve overall consumer confidence in the professionalism and competence of insolvency practitioners.” Under the combined legislation, creditors have the right to: request information during the administration process; give direction to a liquidator or trustee; appoint a liquidator to review the current appointee’s remuneration; and remove a liquidator and appoint a replacement.

The Australian parliament passed the Corporations Amendment (Corporation Insolvency Reforms) Act 2020 in December 2020. The legislation is a response to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and is designed to both assist viable businesses remain solvent and simplify the liquidation process for insolvent businesses. The new insolvency process under this legislation came into effect in January 2021.

Australia ranks 20th globally on the World Bank’s Doing Business Report “resolving insolvency” measure.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Commonwealth Government and state and territory governments provide a range of measures to assist investors with setting up and running a business and undertaking investment. Types of assistance available vary by location, industry, and the nature of the business activity. Austrade provides coordinated government assistance to attracting FDI and is intended to serve as the national point-of-contact for investment inquiries. State and territory governments similarly offer a suite of financial and non-financial incentives.

The Commonwealth Government also provides incentives for companies engaging in research and development (R&D) and delivers a tax offset for expenditure on eligible R&D activities undertaken during the year. R&D activities conducted overseas are also eligible under certain circumstances, and the program is jointly administered by government’s AusIndustry program and the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). The Australian Government typically does not offer guarantees on, or jointly finance projects with, foreign investors.

The Australian government announced a new USD 1.1 billion Modern Manufacturing Strategy in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Strategy is primarily grants-based and provides funding to businesses to commercialize ideas and scale-up production in six target industries: resources technology and critical minerals processing; food and beverage; medical products; clean energy; defense; and space industry. Further details of the Strategy can be found on the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources’ website: https://www.industry.gov.au/data-and-publications/make-it-happen-the-australian-governments-modern-manufacturing-strategy/our-modern-manufacturing-strategy 

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Australia does not have any free trade zones or free ports.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

As a general rule, foreign firms establishing themselves in Australia are not subject to local employment or forced localization requirements, performance requirements and incentives, including to senior management and board of directors. Proprietary companies must have at least one director resident in Australia, while public companies are required to have a minimum of two resident directors. See Section 12 below for further information on rules pertaining to the hiring of foreign labor.

Under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2015, telecommunications service providers are required to: retain and secure, for two years, telecommunications data (not including content); protect retained data through encryption; and prevent unauthorized interference and access. The Bill limits the range of agencies allowed to access telecommunications data and stored communications, and establishes a “journalist information warrants regime.” Australia’s Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Act prohibits the transfer of health data out of Australia in some situations.

The Australian parliament passed legislation in December 2018 that would require encrypted messaging services to provide decrypted communications to the government for selected national security purposes (the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018). Companies relying on or manufacturing secure encryption technologies have expressed concern about the impacts of this legislation on the security of the products and the lack of sufficient judicial oversight in reviewing government requests for access to encrypted data.

Australia has a strong framework for the protection of intellectual property (IP), including software source code. Foreign providers are not required to provide source code to the government in exchange for operating in Australia. In February 2021, the Australian parliament passed the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021, which among other things requires designated digital platforms to notify media companies of significant changes to their algorithms with at least 14-days’ notice of such changes. However, technology companies are not required to provide source code for algorithms, or any other such IP, to the government for any purpose.

Companies are generally not restricted in terms of how they store or transmit data within their operations. The exception to this is the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Act (2012) which does require that certain personal health information is stored in Australia. The Privacy Act (1988) and associated legislation place restrictions on the communication of personal information between and within entities. The requirements placed on international companies, and the transmission of data outside of Australia, are not treated differently under this legislation. The Australian Attorney-General’s Department is the responsible agency for most legislation relating to data and storage requirements.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Strong legal frameworks protect property rights in Australia and operate to police corruption. Mortgages are commercially available, and foreigners are allowed to buy real property subject to certain registration and approval requirements. Property lending may be securitized, and Australia has one of the most highly developed securitization sectors in the world. Beyond the private sector property market, securitization products are being developed to assist local and state government financing. Australia has no legislation specifically relating to securitization, although issuers are governed by a range of other financial sector legislation and disclosure requirements.

Intellectual Property Rights

Australia generally provides strong intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and enforcement through legislation that, among other things, criminalizes copyright piracy and trademark counterfeiting. Australia is not listed in USTR’s Special 301 report or on USTR’s Notorious Markets report.

Enforcement of counterfeit goods is overseen by the Australian Department of Home Affairs through the Notice of Objection Scheme, which allows the Australian Border Force to seize goods suspected of being counterfeit. Penalties for sale or importation of counterfeit goods include fines and up to five years imprisonment. The Australia Border Force reported seizing 190,000 individual items of counterfeit and pirated goods, worth approximately AUD 16.9 million (USD 11.8 million), during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, which is the last available year for which this data is provided.

IP Australia is the responsible agency for administering Australia’s responsibilities and treaties under the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Australia is a member of a range of international treaties developed through WIPO. Australia does not have specific legislation relating to trade secrets, however common law governs information protected through such means as confidentiality agreements or other means of illegally obtaining confidential or proprietary information.

Australia was an active participant in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) negotiations and signed ACTA in October 2011. It has not yet ratified the agreement. ACTA would establish an international framework to assist Parties in their efforts to effectively combat the infringement of intellectual property rights, in particular the proliferation of counterfeiting and piracy.

Under the AUSFTA, Australia must notify the holder of a pharmaceutical patent of a request for marketing approval by a third party for a product claimed by that patent. U.S. and Australian pharmaceutical companies have raised concerns that unnecessary delays in this notification process restrict their options for action against third parties that would infringe their patents if granted marketing approval by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). In March 2020 the government recommended changes to the notification process whereby generic product owners must notify the patent holder of an intent to market a new product at the point they lodge an application for evaluation with the TGA. These changes have not been legislated at the time of writing, however.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Australian Government takes a favorable stance towards foreign portfolio investment with no restrictions on inward flows of debt or equity. Indeed, access to foreign capital markets is crucial to the Australian economy given its relatively small domestic savings. Australian capital markets are generally efficient and able to provide financing options to businesses. While the Australian equity market is one of the largest and most liquid in the world, non-financial firms face a number of barriers in accessing the corporate bond market. Large firms are more likely to use public equity, and smaller firms are more likely to use retained earnings and debt from banks and intermediaries. Australia’s corporate bond market is relatively small, driving many Australian companies to issue debt instruments in the U.S. market. Foreign investors are able to obtain credit from domestic institutions on market terms. Australia’s stock market is the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX).

Money and Banking System

Australia’s banking system is robust, highly evolved, and international in focus. Bank profitability is strong and has been supported by further improvements in asset performance. Total assets of Australian banks at the end of 2020 was USD4.1 trillion and the sector has delivered an annual average return on equity of around 10 percent.

According to Australia’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), the ratio of non-performing assets to total loans was approximately one percent at the end of 2020, having remained at around that level for the last five years after falling from highs of nearly two percent following the Global Financial Crisis. The RBA is responsible for monitoring and reporting on the stability of the financial sector, while the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) monitors individual institutions. The RBA is also responsible for monitoring and regulating payments systems in Australia.

Further details on the size and performance of Australia’s banking sector are available on the websites of the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) and the RBA:  https://www.apra.gov.au/statistics  https://www.rba.gov.au/chart-pack/banking-indicators.html 

Foreign banks are allowed to operate as a branch or a subsidiary in Australia. Australia has generally taken an open approach to allowing foreign companies to operate in the financial sector, largely to ensure sufficient competition in an otherwise small domestic market.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Commonwealth Government formulates exchange control policies with the advice of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) and the Treasury. The RBA, charged with protecting the national currency, has the authority to implement exchange controls, although there are currently none in place.

The Australian dollar is a fully convertible and floating currency. The Commonwealth Government does not maintain currency controls or limit remittances. Such payments are processed through standard commercial channels, without governmental interference or delay.

Remittance Policies

Australia does not limit investment remittances.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Australia’s main sovereign wealth fund, the Future Fund, is a financial asset investment fund owned by the Australian Government. The Fund’s objective is to enhance the ability of future Australian Governments to discharge unfunded superannuation (pension) liabilities. As a founding member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds (IFSWF), the Future Fund’s structure, governance, and investment approach is in full alignment with the Generally Accepted Principles and Practices for Sovereign Wealth Funds (the “Santiago principles”).

The Future Fund’s investment mandate is to achieve a long-term return of at least inflation plus 4-5 percent per annum. As of December 2020, the Fund’s portfolio consists of: 29 percent global equities, 7 percent Australian equities, 28 percent private equity (including 7 percent in infrastructure), and the remaining 36 percent in debt, cash, and alternative investments.

In addition to the Future Fund, the Australian Government manages five other specific-purpose funds: the DisabilityCare Australia Fund; the Medical Research Future Fund; the Emergency Response Fund; the Future Drought Fund; and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land and Sea Future Fund. In total, these five funds have assets of AUD 47 billion (USD 37 billion), while the main Future Fund has assets of AUD 171 billion (USD 132 billion) as of December 31, 2020.

Further details of these funds are available at: https://www.futurefund.gov.au/ 

7. State-Owned Enterprises

In Australia, the term used for a Commonwealth Government State-Owned Enterprise (SOE) is “government business enterprise” (GBE). According to the Department of Finance, there are nine GBEs: two corporate Commonwealth entities and seven Commonwealth companies. (See: https://www.finance.gov.au/resource-management/governance/gbe/ ) Private enterprises are generally allowed to compete with public enterprises under the same terms and conditions with respect to markets, credit, and other business operations, such as licenses and supplies. Public enterprises are not generally accorded material advantages in Australia. Remaining GBEs do not exercise power in a manner that discriminates against or unfairly burdens foreign investors or foreign-owned enterprises.

Privatization Program

Australia does not have a formal and explicit national privatization program. Individual state and territory governments may have their own privatization programs. Foreign investors are welcome to participate in any privatization programs subject to the rules and approvals governing foreign investment.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is general business awareness and promotion of responsible business conduct (RBC) in Australia. The Commonwealth Government states that companies operating in Australia and Australian companies operating overseas are expected to act in accordance with the principles set out in the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and to perform to the standards they suggest. In seeking to promote the OECD Guidelines, the Commonwealth Government maintains a National Contact Point (NCP), the current NCP being currently the General Manager of the Foreign Investment and Trade Policy Division at the Commonwealth Treasury, who is able to draw on expertise from other government agencies through an informal inter-governmental network. An NCP Web site links to the “OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas” noting that the objective is to help companies respect human rights and avoid contributing to conflict through their mineral sourcing practices. The Commonwealth Government’s export credit agency, EFA, also promotes the OECD Guidelines as the key set of recommendations on responsible business conduct addressed by governments to multinational enterprises operating in or from adhering countries.

Australian companies have very few instances of human rights or labor rights abuses and domestic law prohibits such actions. In 2018 the Australian parliament passed the Modern Slavery Act, new legislation requiring large companies to assess risks of modern slavery in their supply chains and take action to limit these risks.

Australia began implementing the principles of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in 2016.

Australia has ratified the Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies, and was a founding member of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers Association.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Australia maintains a comprehensive system of laws and regulations designed to counter corruption. In addition, the government procurement system is generally transparent and well regulated. Corruption has not been a factor cited by U.S. businesses as a disincentive to investing in Australia, nor to exporting goods and services to Australia. Non-governmental organizations interested in monitoring the global development or anti-corruption measures, including Transparency International, operate freely in Australia, and Australia is perceived internationally as having low corruption levels.

Australia is an active participant in international efforts to end the bribery of foreign officials. Legislation exists to give effect to the anti-bribery convention stemming from the OECD 1996 Ministerial Commitment to Criminalize Transnational Bribery. Legislation explicitly disallows tax deductions for bribes of foreign officials. At the Commonwealth level, enforcement of anti-corruption laws and regulations is the responsibility of the Attorney General’s Department.

The Attorney-General’s Department plays an active role in combating corruption through developing domestic policy on anti-corruption and engagement in a range of international anti-corruption forums. These include the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group, APEC Anti-Corruption and Transparency Working Group, and the United Nations Convention against Corruption Working Groups. Australia is a member of the OECD Working Group on Bribery and a party to the key international conventions concerned with combating foreign bribery, including the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions (Anti-Bribery Convention).

The legislation covering bribery of foreign officials is the Criminal Code Act 1995. Under Australian law, it is an offense to bribe a foreign public official, even if a bribe may be seen to be customary, necessary, or required. The maximum penalty for an individual is 10 years imprisonment and/or a fine of AUD 1.8 million (approximately USD 1.4 million). For a corporate entity, the maximum penalty is the greatest of: 1) AUD 18 million (approximately USD 14.0 million); 2) three times the value of the benefits obtained; or 3) 10 percent of the previous 12-month turnover of the company concerned.

A number of national and state-level agencies exist to combat corruption of public officials and ensure transparency and probity in government systems. The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) has the mandate to prevent, detect, and investigate serious and systemic corruption issues in the Australian Crime Commission, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Center, the CrimTrac Agency, and prescribed aspects of the Department of Agriculture.

Various independent commissions exist at the state level to investigate instances of corruption. Details of these bodies are provided below.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

Australia has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption and is a signatory to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

Resources to Report Corruption

Western Australia – Corruption and Crime Commission
86 St Georges Terrace
Perth, Western Australia
Tel. +61 8 9215 4888
https://www.ccc.wa.gov.au/ 

Queensland – Corruption and Crime Commission
Level 2, North Tower Green Square
515 St Pauls Terrace
Fortitude Valley, Queensland
Tel. +61 7 3360 6060
https://www.ccc.qld.gov.au/ 

Victoria – Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission
Level 1, North Tower, 459 Collins Street
Melbourne, Victoria
Tel. +61 1300 735 135
https://ibac.vic.gov.au 

New South Wales – Independent Commission against Corruption
Level 7, 255 Elizabeth Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Tel. +61 2 8281 5999
https://www.icac.nsw.gov.au/ 

South Australia – Independent Commission against Corruption
Level 1, 55 Currie Street
Adelaide, South Australia
Tel. +61 8 8463 5173
https://icac.sa.gov.au 

10. Political and Security Environment

Political protests (including rallies, demonstrations, marches, public conflicts between competing interests) form an integral, though generally minor, part of Australian cultural life. Such protests rarely degenerate into violence.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Australia’s unemployment rate peaked at 7.5 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic and had fallen below 6 percent by early 2021. Average weekly earnings for full-time workers in Australia were AUD 1,767 (approximately USD 1,360) as of November 2020. The minimum wage is set annually and is significantly higher than that of the United States, currently sitting at AUD 19.50 (USD 15.20). Overall wage growth has been low in recent years, growing only slightly above the rate of inflation.

The Australian Government and its state and territory counterparts are active in assessing and forecasting labor skills gaps across industries. Tertiary education is subsidized by both levels of governments, and these subsidies are based in part on an assessment of the skills needed by industry. These assessments also inform immigration policy through the various working visas and associated skilled occupation lists. Occupations on these lists are updated annually based on assessment of the skills most needed by industry.

Immigration has always been an important source for skilled labor in Australia. The Department of Home Affairs publishes an annual list of occupations with skill shortages to be used by potential applicants seeking to work in Australia. The visas available to applicants, and length of stay allowed for, differ by occupation. The main working visa is the Temporary Skills Shortage visa (subclass 482). Applicants must have a nominated occupation when they apply which is applicable to their circumstances, and applications are subject to local labor market testing rules. These rules preference the hiring of Australian labor over foreign workers so long as local workers can be found to fill the advertised job. Immigration to Australia is currently not possible under COVID-19 border closures.

Most Australian workplaces are governed by a system created by the Fair Work Act 2009. Enterprise bargaining takes place through collective agreements made at an enterprise level covering terms and conditions of employment. Such agreements are widely used in Australia. A Fair Work Ombudsman assists employees, employers, contractors, and the community to understand and comply with the system. The Fair Work Act 2009 establishes a set of clear rules and obligations about how this process is to occur, including rules about bargaining, the content of enterprise agreements, and how an agreement is made and approved. Unfair dismissal laws also exist to protect workers who have been unfairly fired from a job. Australia is a founding member of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and has ratified 58 of the ILO’s conventions.

Chapter 18 of the AUSFTA agreement deals with labor market issues. The chapter sets out the responsibilities of each party, including the commitment of each country to uphold its obligations as a member of the ILO and the associated ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up (1998).

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) 2020 $1.50 trillion 2019 $1.39 trillion www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $158 billion 2019 $162 billion BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $112 billion 2019 $81 billion BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 53% 2019 51% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html  
 

* Source for Host Country Data: Australian Bureau of Statistics

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 714,250 100% Total Outward 579,259 100%
USA 143,737 20% USA 102,160 18%
UK 89,061 12% UK 100,509 17%
Japan 81,341 11% New Zealand 58,576 10%
Netherlands 38,384 5% Canada 24,588 4%
Canada 33,007 5% Singapore 19,695 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 912,160 100% All Countries 621,379 100% All Countries 299,781 100%
United States 387,323 42% United States 298,353 48% United States 88,971 30%
United Kingdom 80,348 9% United Kingdom 44,312 7% United Kingdom 36,037 12%
Japan 50,190 5% Cayman Islands 32,567 5% Germany 20,219 7%
Cayman Islands 43,167 5% Japan 30,395 5% Japan 19,795 7%
Germany 31,475 3% France 18,586 3% Netherlands 15,307 5%

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Counselor Doug Sonnek
U.S. Embassy Canberra
21 Moonah Place, Yarralumla, ACT
+61 2 6214 5759
SonnekDE@state.gov 

China

Executive Summary

In 2020, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) became the top global Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) destination. As the world’s second-largest economy, with a large consumer base and integrated supply chains, China’s economic recovery following COVID-19 reassured investors and contributed to higher FDI and portfolio investments. In 2020, China took significant steps toward implementing commitments made to the United States on a wide range of IP issues and made some modest openings in its financial sector. China also concluded key trade agreements and implemented important legislation, including the Foreign Investment Law (FIL).

China remains, however, a relatively restrictive investment environment for foreign investors due to restrictions in key economic sectors. Obstacles to investment include ownership caps and requirements to form joint venture partnerships with local Chinese firms, industrial policies such as Made in China 2025 (MIC 2025) that target development of indigenous capacity, as well as pressure on U.S. firms to transfer technology as a prerequisite to gaining market access. PRC COVID-19 visa and travel restrictions significantly affected foreign businesses operations increasing their labor and input costs. Moreover, an increasingly assertive Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and emphasis on national companies and self-reliance has heightened foreign investors’ concerns about the pace of economic reforms.

Key investment announcements and new developments in 2020 included:

On January 1, the FIL went into effect and effectively replaced previous laws governing foreign investment.

On January 15, the U.S. and China concluded the Economic and Trade Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the People’s Republic of China (the Phase One agreement). Under the agreement, China committed to reforms in its intellectual property regime, prohibit forced transfer technology as a condition for market access, and made some openings in the financial and energy sector. China also concluded the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement on November 15 and reached a political agreement with the EU on the China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) on December 30.

In mid-May, PRC leader Xi Jinping announced China’s “dual circulation” strategy, intended to make China less export-oriented and more focused on the domestic market.

On June 23, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) announced new investment “negative lists” to guide foreign FDI.

Market openings were coupled, however, with restrictions on investment, such as the Rules on Security Reviews on Foreign InvestmentsChina’s revised investment screening mechanism.

While Chinese pronouncements of greater market access and fair treatment of foreign investment are welcome, details and effective implementation are still needed to ensure foreign investors truly experience equitable treatment.

 

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

 

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 78 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 31 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 14 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 USD 116.2 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 USD 10,410 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

One of China’s WTO accession commitments was to establish an official journal dedicated to the publication of laws, regulations, and other measures pertaining to or affecting trade in goods, services, trade related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS), and the control of foreign exchange.  Despite mandatory 30-day public comment periods, Chinese ministries continue to post only some draft administrative regulations and departmental rules online, often with a public comment period of less than 30 days. As part of the Phase One Agreement, China committed to providing at least 45 days for public comment on all proposed laws, regulations, and other measures implementing the Phase One Agreement. While China has made some progress, U.S. businesses operating in China consistently cite arbitrary legal enforcement and the lack of regulatory transparency among the top challenges of doing business in China.

In China’s state-dominated economic system, the relationships are often blurred between the CCP, the Chinese government, Chinese business (state- and private-owned), and other Chinese stakeholders.  Foreign-invested enterprises (FIEs) perceive that China prioritizes political goals, industrial policies, and a desire to protect social stability at the expense of foreign investors, fairness, and the rule of law.  The World Bank   Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance gave China a composite score of 1.75 out 5 points, attributing China’s relatively low score to stakeholders not having easily accessible and updated laws and regulations; the lack of impact assessments conducted prior to issuing new laws; and other concerns about transparency.

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

International Regulatory Considerations

As part of its WTO accession agreement, China agreed to notify the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) of all draft technical regulations.  However, China continues to issue draft technical regulations without proper notification to the TBT Committee.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Chinese legal system borrows heavily from continental European legal systems, but with “Chinese characteristics.”  The rules governing commercial activities are found in various laws, regulations, administrative rules, and Supreme People’s Court (SPC) judicial interpretations, among other sources. While China does not have specialized commercial courts, it has created specialized courts and tribunals for the hearing of intellectual property disputes (IP), including in Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Hainan.  In 2020, the original IP Courts continued to be popular destinations for both Chinese and foreign-related IP civil and administrative litigation, with the IP court in Shanghai experiencing a year-on-year increase of above 100 percent. China’s constitution and laws, however, are clear that Chinese courts cannot exercise power independent of the Party.  Further, in practice, influential businesses, local governments, and regulators routinely influence courts.  U.S. companies may hesitate in challenging administrative decisions or bringing commercial disputes before local courts due to perceptions of futility or fear of government retaliation.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

China’s new investment law, the FIL, came into force on January 1, 2020, replacing China’s previous foreign investment framework. The FIL provides a five-year transition period for foreign enterprises established under previous foreign investment laws, after which all foreign enterprises will be subject to the same domestic laws as Chinese companies, such as the Company Law. The FIL standardized the regulatory regimes for foreign investment by including the negative list management system, a foreign investment information reporting system, and a foreign investment security review system all under one document. The FIL also seeks to address foreign investors complaints by explicitly banning forced technology transfers, promising better IPR, and the establishment of a complaint mechanism for investors to report administrative abuses. However, foreign investors remain concerned that the FIL and its implementing regulations provide Chinese ministries and local officials significant regulatory discretion, including the ability to retaliate against foreign companies.

In December 2020, China also issued a revised investment screening mechanism under the Rules on Security Reviews on Foreign Investments without any period for public comment or prior consultation with the business community. Foreign investors complained that China’s new rules on investment screening were expansive in scope, lacked an investment threshold to trigger a review, and included green field investments – unlike most other countries. Moreover, new guidance on Neutralizing Extra-Territorial Application of Unjustified Foreign Legislation Measures, a measure often compared to “blocking statutes” from other markets, added to foreign investors’ concerns over the legal challenges they would face in trying to abide by both their host-country’s regulations and China’s. Foreign investors complained that market access in China was increasingly undermined by national security-related legislation. In 2020, the State Council and various central and local government agencies issued over 1000 substantive administrative regulations and departmental/local rules on foreign investment. While not comprehensive, a list of published and official Chinese laws and regulations is available here .

FDI Requirements for Investment Approvals

Foreign investments in industries and economic sectors that are not explicitly restricted on China’s negative lists do not require MOFCOM pre-approval.  However, investors have complained that in practice, investing in an industry not on the negative list does not guarantee a foreign investor “national treatment,” or treatment no less favorable than treatment accorded to a similarly situated domestic investor.  Foreign investors must still comply with other steps and approvals such as receiving land rights, business licenses, and other necessary permits.  When a foreign investment needs ratification from the NDRC or a local development and reform commission, that administrative body is in charge of assessing the project’s compliance with a panoply of Chinese laws and regulations.  In some cases, NDRC also solicits the opinions of relevant Chinese industrial regulators and consulting agencies acting on behalf of Chinese domestic firms, creating potential conflicts of interest disadvantageous to foreign firms.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

To attract foreign investment, different provinces and municipalities offer preferential packages like a temporary reduction in taxes, import/export duties, land use, research and development subsidies, and funding for initial startups.  Often, these packages stipulate that foreign investors must meet certain benchmarks for exports, local content, technology transfer, and other requirements.  However, many economic sectors that China deems sensitive due to broadly defined national or economic security concerns remain closed to foreign investment.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

In 2013, the State Council announced the Shanghai pilot FTZ to provide open and high-standard trade and investment services to foreign companies. China gradually scaled up its FTZ pilot program to a total of 20 FTZs and one Free Trade Port.  China’s FTZs are in: Shanghai, Tianjin, Guangdong, Fujian, Chongqing, Hainan, Henan, Hubei, Liaoning, Shaanxi, Sichuan, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Shandong, Hebei, Heilongjiang, Guangxi, Yunnan provinces, Beijing, Shanghai FTZ Lingang Special Area and Hainan Free Trade Port.  The goal of China’s FTZs/FTP is to provide a trial ground for trade and investment liberalization measures and to introduce service sector reforms, especially in financial services, that China expects to eventually introduce in other parts of the domestic economy. The FTZs promise foreign investors “national treatment” investment in industries and sectors not listed on China’s negative lists.  However, the 2020 FTZ negative list lacked substantive changes, and many foreign firms report that in practice, the degree of liberalization in FTZs is comparable to opportunities in other parts of China.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Chinese state owns all urban land, and only the state can issue long-term land leases to individuals and companies, including foreigners, subject to many restrictions.  Chinese property law stipulates that residential property rights renew automatically, while commercial and industrial grants renew if it does not conflict with other public interest claims. Several foreign investors have reported revocation of land use rights so that Chinese developers could pursue government-designated building projects.  Investors often complain about insufficient compensation in these cases.  In rural China, the registration system suffers from unclear ownership lines and disputed border claims, often at the expense of local farmers whom village leaders exclude in favor of “handshake deals” with commercial interests.  China’s Securities Law defines debtor and guarantor rights, including rights to mortgage certain types of property and other tangible assets, including long-term leases.  Chinese law does not prohibit foreigners from buying non-performing debt, but it must be acquired through state-owned asset management firms, and it is difficult to liquidate.

Intellectual Property Rights

China remained on the USTR Special 301 Report Priority Watch List in 2020 and was subject to continued Section 306 monitoring. Multiple Chinese physical and online markets were included in the 2020 USTR Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy. Of note, in 2020, China did take significant steps toward addressing long-standing U.S. concerns on a wide range of IP issues, from patents, to trademarks, to copyrights and trade secrets. The reforms addressed the granting and protection of IP rights as well as their enforcement, and included changes made in support of the Phase One Trade Agreement. In April 2020, China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA) issued the 2020-2021 Plan for Implementing the Opinions on Strengthening IP Protection which contained 133 specific “steps” that CNIPA and other Chinese government entities intended to take in 2020 and 2021 – to strengthen IP protection and implement China’s IP-related commitments under Phase One. The 2020-2021 Implementing Plan, together with the work plans of the SPC’s and IP-related administrative organs, portended a year of aggressive IP reforms in China. The Chinese legislative, administrative, and judicial organs issued over 60 new and amended measures related to IP protection and enforcement, in both draft and final form, including amendments to core IP laws, such as the Copyright Law, the Patent Law, and the Criminal Law. Updates also included administrative measures addressing trademark and patent protection and enforcement, as well as enforcement of copyright and trade secrets.

Despite these reforms, IP rights remain subject to Chinese government policy objectives, which appear to have intensified in 2020. For U.S. companies in China, infringement remained both rampant and a low-risk “business strategy” for bad-faith actors. Further enforcement and regulatory authorities continue to signal to U.S. rights holders that application of China’s IP system remains subject to the discretion of the PRC government and its policy goals. High-level remarks by PRC leader Xi Jinping and senior leaders signaled China’s commitment to cracking down on IP infringement in the years ahead. However, they also reflected China’s vision of the IP system as an important tool for eliminating foreign ownership of critical technology and ensuring national security. While on paper China’s IP protection and enforcement mechanisms have inched closer to near parity with other foreign markets, in practice, fair, transparent, and non-discriminatory treatment will very likely continue to be denied to U.S. rights holders whose IP ownership and exploitation impede PRC industrial policy goals.

For detailed information on China’s environment for IPR protection and enforcement, please see the following reports:

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

China’s leadership has stated that it seeks to build a modern, highly developed, and multi-tiered capital market.  Since their founding over three decades ago, the Shanghai and Shenzhen Exchanges, combined, are ranked the third largest stock market in the world with over USD11 trillion in assets, according to statistics from World Federation of Exchanges.  China’s bond market has similarly expanded significantly to become the second largest worldwide, totaling approximately USD17 trillion.  In 2020, China fulfilled its promises to open certain financial sectors such as securities, asset management, and life insurance. Direct investment by private equity and venture capital firms has increased but has also faced setbacks due to China’s capital controls, which obfuscate the repatriation of returns. As of 2020, 54 sovereign entities and private sector firms, including BMW and Xiaomi Corporation, have since issued roughly USD41 billion in “Panda Bonds,” Chinese renminbi (RMB)-denominated debt issued by foreign entities in China.  China’s private sector can also access credit via bank loans, bond issuance, trust products, and wealth management. However, the vast majority of bank credit is disbursed to state-owned firms, largely due to distortions in China’s banking sector that have incentivized lending to state-affiliated entities over their private sector counterparts.  China has been an IMF Article VIII member since 1996 and generally refrains from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.  However, the government has used administrative and preferential policies to encourage credit allocation towards national priorities, such as infrastructure investments.

Money and Banking System

China’s monetary policy is run by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), China’s central bank.  The PBOC has traditionally deployed various policy tools, such as open market operations, reserve requirement ratios, benchmark rates and medium-term lending facilities, to control credit growth.  The PBOC had previously also set quotas on how much banks could lend but ended the practice in 1998.  As part of its efforts to shift towards a more market-based system, the PBOC announced in 2019 that it will reform its one-year loan prime rate (LPR), which would serve as an anchor reference for other loans.  The one-year LPR is based on the interest rate that 18 banks offer to their best customers and serves as the benchmark for rates provided for other loans.  In 2020, the PBOC requested financial institutions to shift towards use of the one-year LPR for their outstanding floating-rate loan contracts from March to August. Despite these measures to move towards more market-based lending, China’s financial regulators still influence the volume and destination of Chinese bank loans through “window guidance” – unofficial directives delivered verbally – as well as through mandated lending targets for key economic groups, such as small and medium sized enterprises. In 2020, the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) also began issuing laws to regulate online lending by banks including internet companies such as Ant Financial and Tencent, which had previously not been subject to banking regulations.

The CBIRC oversees China’s 4,607 lending institutions, about USD49 trillion in total assets.  China’s “Big Five” – Agricultural Bank of China, Bank of China, Bank of Communications, China Construction Bank, and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China – dominate the sector and are largely stable, but over the past year, China has experienced regional pockets of banking stress, especially among smaller lenders.  Reflecting the level of weakness among these banks, in November 2020, the PBOC announced in “China Financial Stability Report 2020” that 12.4 percent of the 4400 banking financial institutions received a “fail” rating (high risk) following an industry-wide review in 2019.  The assessment deemed 378 firms, all small and medium sized rural financial institutions, “extremely risky.”  The official rate of non-performing loans among China’s banks is relatively low: 1.92 percent as of the end of 2020.  However, analysts believed the actual figure may be significantly higher.  Bank loans continue to provide the majority of credit options (reportedly around 60.2 percent in 2020) for Chinese companies, although other sources of capital, such as corporate bonds, equity financing, and private equity are quickly expanding in scope, reach, and sophistication in China.

As part of a broad campaign to reduce debt and financial risk, Chinese regulators have implemented measures to rein in the rapid growth of China’s “shadow banking” sector, which includes wealth management and trust products.  These measures have achieved positive results. In December 2020, CBIRC published the first “Shadow Banking Report,” and claimed that the size of China’s shadow banking had shrunk sharply since 2017 when China started tightening the sector. By the end of 2019, the size of China’s shadow banking by broad measurement dropped to 84.8 trillion yuan from the peak of 100.4 trillion yuan in early 2017. Shadow banking to GDP ratio had also dropped to 86 percent at the end of 2019, yet the report did not provide statistics beyond 2019. Foreign owned banks can now establish wholly-owned banks and branches in China, however, onerous licensing requirements and an industry dominated by local players, have limited foreign banks market penetration. Foreigners are eligible to open a bank account in China but are required to present a passport and/or Chinese government issued identification.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

While the central bank’s official position is that companies with proper documentation should be able to freely conduct business, in practice, companies have reported challenges and delays in obtaining approvals for foreign currency transactions by sub-national regulatory branches. Chinese authorities instituted strict capital control measures in 2016, when China recorded a surge in capital flight.  China has since announced that it would gradually reduce those controls, but market analysts expect they would be re-imposed if capital outflows accelerate again. Chinese foreign exchange rules cap the maximum amount of RMB individuals are allowed to convert into other currencies at approximately USD50,000 each year and restrict them from directly transferring RMB abroad without prior approval from the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE).  SAFE has not reduced the USD50,000 quota, but during periods of higher-than-normal capital outflows, banks are reportedly instructed by SAFE to increase scrutiny over individuals’ requests for foreign currency and to require additional paperwork clarifying the intended use of the funds, with the intent of slowing capital outflows. China’s exchange rate regime is managed within a band that allows the currency to rise or fall by 2 percent per day from the “reference rate” set each morning.

Remittance Policies

According to China’s FIL, as of January 1, 2020, funds associated with any forms of investment, including profits, capital gains, returns from asset disposal, IPR loyalties, compensation, and liquidation proceeds, may be freely converted into any world currency for remittance. Based on the “2020 Guidance for Foreign Exchange Business under the Current Account” released by SAFE in August, firms do not need any supportive documents or proof that it is under USD50,000. For remittances over USD50,000, firms need to submit supportive documents and taxation records.  Under Chinese law, FIEs do not need pre-approval to open foreign exchange accounts and are allowed to retain income as foreign exchange or convert it into RMB without quota requirements. The remittance of profits and dividends by FIEs is not subject to time limitations, but FIEs need to submit a series of documents to designated banks for review and approval.  The review period is not fixed and is frequently completed within one or two working days of the submission of complete documents.  For remittance of interest and principal on private foreign debt, firms must submit an application, a foreign debt agreement, and the notice on repayment of the principal and interest.  Banks will then check if the repayment volume is within the repayable principal.  There are no specific rules on the remittance of royalties and management fees. Based on guidance for remittance of royalties and management fees, firms shall submit relevant contracts and invoice.  In October 2020, SAFE cut the reserve requirement for foreign currency transactions from 20 percent to zero, reducing the cost of foreign currency transactions as well as easing Renminbi appreciation pressure.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

China officially has only one sovereign wealth fund (SWF), the China Investment Corporation (CIC), which was launched in 2007 to help diversify China’s foreign exchange reserves. CIC is ranked the second largest SWF by total assets by Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute (SWFI). With USD200 billion in initial registered capital, CIC manages over USD1.04 trillion in assets as of 2020 and invests on a 10-year time horizon.  CIC has since evolved into three subsidiaries:

  • CIC International was established in September 2011 with a mandate to invest in and manage overseas assets.  It conducts public market equity and bond investments, hedge fund, real estate, private equity, and minority investments as a financial investor.
  • CIC Capital was incorporated in January 2015 with a mandate to specialize in making direct investments to enhance CIC’s investments in long-term assets.
  • Central Huijin makes equity investments in Chinese state-owned financial institutions.

China also operates other funds that function in part like sovereign wealth funds, including: China’s National Social Security Fund, with an estimated USD372 billion in assets; the China-Africa Development Fund (solely funded by the China Development Bank), with an estimated USD10 billion in assets; the SAFE Investment Company, with an estimated USD417.8 billion in assets; and China’s state-owned Silk Road Fund, established in December 2014 with USD40 billion in assets to foster investment in BRI partner countries.  Chinese state-run funds do not report the percentage of their assets that are invested domestically.  However, Chinese state-run funds follow the voluntary code of good practices known as the Santiago Principles and participate in the IMF-hosted International Working Group on SWFs. While CIC affirms that they do not have any formal government guidance to invest funds consistent with industrial policies or designated projects, CIC is still expected to pursue government objectives.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

China has approximately 150,000 wholly-owned SOEs, of which 50,000 are owned by the central government, and the remainder by local or provincial governments.  SOEs, both central and local, account for 30 to 40 percent of total gross domestic product (GDP) and about 20 percent of China’s total employment.  Non-financial SOE assets totaled roughly USD30 trillion.  SOEs can be found in all sectors of the economy, from tourism to heavy industries.  State funds are spread throughout the economy and the state may also be the majority or controlling shareholder in an ostensibly private enterprise.  China’s leading SOEs benefit from preferential government policies aimed at developing bigger and stronger “national champions.” SOEs enjoy favored access to essential economic inputs (land, hydrocarbons, finance, telecoms, and electricity) and exercise considerable power in markets like steel and minerals.  SOEs have long enjoyed preferential access to credit and the ability to issue publicly traded equity and debt.  A comprehensive, published list of all Chinese SOEs does not exist.

PRC officials have indicated China intends to utilize OECD guidelines to improve the SOEs independence and professionalism, including relying on Boards of Directors that are free from political influence.  Other recent reforms have included salary caps, limits on employee benefits, and attempts to create stock incentive programs for managers who have produced mixed results.  However, analysts believe minor reforms will be ineffective if SOE administration and government policy remain intertwined, and Chinese officials make minimal progress in primarily changing the regulation and business conduct of SOEs.  SOEs continue to hold dominant shares in their respective industries, regardless of whether they are strategic, which may further restrain private investment in the economy.  Among central SOEs managed by the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), senior management positions are mainly filled by senior party members who report directly to the CCP, and double as the company’s party secretary.  SOE executives often outrank regulators in the CCP rank structure, which minimizes the effectiveness of regulators in implementing reforms.  The lack of management independence and the controlling ownership interest of the state make SOEs de facto arms of the government, subject to government direction and interference.  SOEs are rarely the defendant in legal disputes, and when they are, they almost always prevail.  U.S. companies often complain about the lack of transparency and objectivity in commercial disputes with SOEs.

Privatization Program

Since 2013, the PRC government has periodically announced reforms to SOEs that included selling SOE shares to outside investors or a mixed ownership model, in which private companies invest in SOEs and outside managers are hired.  The government has tried these approaches to improve SOE management structures, emphasize the use of financial benchmarks, and gradually infuse private capital into some sectors traditionally monopolized by SOEs like energy, finance, and telecommunications.  In practice, however, reforms have been gradual, as the PRC government has struggled to implement its SOE reform vision and often preferred to utilize a SOE consolidation approach.  Recently, Xi and other senior leaders have increasingly focused reform efforts on strengthening the role of the state as an investor or owner of capital, instead of the old SOE model in which the state was more directly involved in managing operations.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Additional Resources

 

Department of State

Department of Labor

Since 2016, China established an RBC platform but general awareness of RBC standards (including environmental, social, and governance issues) is a relatively new concept, especially for companies that exclusively operate in China’s domestic market.  Chinese laws that regulate business conduct use voluntary compliance, are often limited in scope, and are frequently cast aside when other economic priorities supersede RBC priorities.  In addition, China lacks mature and independent non-governmental organizations (NGOs), investment funds, independent worker unions, and other business associations that promote RBC, further contributing to the general lack of awareness.  The Foreign NGO Law remains a concern for U.S. organizations, including those looking to promote RBC and corporate social responsibility (CSR) best practices, due to restrictions the Law places on their operations in China.  For U.S. investors looking to partner with a Chinese firm or expand operations, finding partners that meet internationally recognized standards in areas like labor rights, environmental protection, and manufacturing best practices can be a significant challenge.  However, the Chinese government has placed greater emphasis on protecting the environment and elevating sustainability as a key priority, resulting in more Chinese companies adding environmental concerns to their CSR initiatives.  As part of these efforts, Chinese ministries have signed several memoranda of understanding with international organizations such as the OECD to cooperate on RBC initiatives.

9. Corruption

Since 2012, China has undergone a large-scale anti-corruption campaign, with investigations reaching into all sectors of the government, military, and economy.  CCP General Secretary Xi labeled endemic corruption an “existential threat” to the very survival of the Party.  In 2018, the CCP restructured its Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) to become a state organ, calling the new body the National Supervisory Commission-Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (NSC-CCDI). The NSC-CCDI wields the power to investigate any public official.  From 2012 to 2020, the NSC-CCDI claimed it investigated 3.4 million cases. In 2020, the NSC-CCDI investigated 618,000 cases and disciplined 522,000 individuals, of whom 41 were at or above the provincial or ministerial level. Since 2014, the PRC’s overseas fugitive-hunting campaign, called “Operation Skynet,” has led to the capture of more than 8,350 fugitives suspected of corruption who were living in other countries, including over 2,200 CCP members and government employees. In most cases, the PRC did not notify host countries of these operations.  In 2020, the government reported apprehending 1,421 alleged fugitives and recovering approximately USD457 million through this program.

In June 2020 the CCP passed a law on Administrative Discipline for Public Officials, continuing their effort to strengthen supervision over individuals working in the public sector. The law further enumerates targeted illicit activities such as bribery and misuse of public funds or assets for personal gain. The CCP also issued Amendment 11 to the Criminal Law, which increased the maximum punishment for acts of corruption committed by private entities to life imprisonment, from the previous maximum of 15-year imprisonment. Anecdotal information suggests the PRC’s anti-corruption crackdown is inconsistently and discretionarily applied, raising concerns among foreign companies in China.  For example, to fight rampant commercial corruption in the medical/pharmaceutical sector, the PRC’s health authority issued “blacklists” of firms and agents involved in commercial bribery, including several foreign companies. While central government leadership has welcomed increased public participation in reporting suspected corruption at lower levels, direct criticism of central government leadership or policies remains off-limits and is seen as an existential threat to China’s political and social stability.  China ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2005 and participates in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and OECD anti-corruption initiatives. China has not signed the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery, although Chinese officials have expressed interest in participating in the OECD Working Group on Bribery meetings as an observer.

 

Resources to Report Corruption

The following government organization receives public reports of corruption:   Anti-Corruption Reporting Center of the CCP Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and the Ministry of Supervision, Telephone Number:  +86 10 12388.   10. Political and Security Environment

10. Political and Security Environment

Foreign companies operating in China face a low risk of political violence.  However, the ongoing PRC crackdown on virtually all opposition voices in Hong Kong and continued attempts by PRC organs to intimidate Hong Kong’s judges threatens the judicial independence of Hong Kong’s courts – a fundamental pillar for Hong Kong’s status as an international hub for investment into and out of China.  The CCP also punished companies that expressed support for Hong Kong protesters – most notably, a Chinese boycott of the U.S. National Basketball Association after one team’s general manager expressed his personal view supporting Hong Kong protesters. Apart from Hong Kong, the PRC government has also previously encouraged protests or boycotts of products from countries like the United States, South Korea, Japan, Norway, Canada, and the Philippines, in retaliation for unrelated policy decisions such as the boycott campaigns against Korean retailer Lotte in 2016 and 2017 in response to the South Korean government’s decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD); and the PRC’s retaliation against Canadian companies and citizens for Canada’s arrest of Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou. PRC authorities also have broad authority to prohibit travelers from leaving China and have imposed “exit bans” to compel U.S. citizens to resolve business disputes, force settlement of court orders, or facilitate PRC investigations. U.S. citizens, including children, not directly involved in legal proceedings or wrongdoing have also been subject to lengthy exit bans in order to compel family members or colleagues to cooperate with Chinese courts or investigations. Exit bans are often issued without notification to the foreign citizen or without clear legal recourse to appeal the exit ban decision.     11. Labor Policies and Practices

11. Labor Policies and Practices

For U.S. companies operating in China, finding, developing, and retaining domestic talent at the management and skilled technical staff levels remain challenging for foreign firms, especially as labor costs, including salaries and inputs continue to rise. Foreign companies also complain of difficulty navigating China’s labor and social insurance laws, including local implementation guidelines. Compounding the complexity, due to ineffective enforcement of labor laws, Chinese domestic employers often hire local employees without contracts, putting foreign firms at a disadvantage.  Without written contracts, workers struggle to prove employment, thus losing basic protections such as severance if terminated.  The All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) is the only union recognized under PRC law.  Establishing independent trade unions is illegal.  The law allows for “collective bargaining,” but in practice, focuses solely on collective wage negotiations.  The Trade Union Law gives the ACFTU, a CCP organ chaired by a member of the Politburo, control over all union organizations and activities, including enterprise-level unions.  ACFTU enterprise unions require employers to pay mandatory fees, often through the local tax bureau, equaling a negotiated minimum of 0.5 percent to a standard two percent of total payroll.  While labor laws do not protect the right to strike, “spontaneous” worker protests and work stoppages occur.  Official forums for mediation, arbitration, and other similar mechanisms of alternative dispute resolution often are ineffective in resolving labor disputes.  Even when an arbitration award or legal judgment is obtained, getting local authorities to enforce judgments is problematic.

The PRC has not ratified the International Labor Organization conventions on freedom of association, collective bargaining, or forced labor, but it has ratified conventions prohibiting child labor and employment discrimination. Uyghurs and members of other minority groups are subjected to forced labor in Xinjiang and throughout China via PRC government-facilitated labor transfer programs. In 2020, the U.S. government took additional actions to prevent the importation of products produced by forced labor into the United States, including by issuing a Xinjiang supply chain business advisory that outlined the legal, economic, and reputational risks of forced labor exposure in China-based supply chains. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection bureau issued multiple Withhold Release Orders  barring importation into the United States of products produced in Xinjiang, which were determined to be produced with prison or forced labor in violation of U.S. import laws.  The Commerce Department added Chinese commercial and government entities to its Entity List for their complicity in human rights abuses and the Department of Treasury sanctioned the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps to hold human rights abusers accountable in Xinjiang. Some PRC firms continued to employ North Korean workers in violation of UN Security Council sanctions.

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) 2020 $14,724,435 2019 $14,343,000 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $87,880 2019 $116,200 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $7,721,700 2019 $37,700 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020 $16.5% 2019 12.4% UNCTAD data available at https://unctadstat.unctad.org/wds/TableViewer/tableView.aspx  https://unctadstat.unctad.org/CountryProfile/GeneralProfile/en-GB/156/index.html 

* Source for Host Country Data:

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $2,938,482 100% Total Outward $2,198,881 100%
China, P.R., Hong Kong $1,430,303 48.7% China, P.C., Hong Kong $1,132,549 51.5%
British Virgin Islands $316,836 10.8% Cayman Islands $259,614 11.8%
Japan $147,881 5.0% British Virgin Islands $127,297 5.8%
Singapore $102,458 3.5% United States $67,855 3.1%
Germany $67,879 2.3% Singapore $38,105 1.7%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Destinations (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $645,981 100% All Countries $373,780 100% All Countries $272,201 100%
China, P. R.: Hong Kong $226,426 35% China, P. R.: Hong Kong $166,070 44% United States $68,875 25%
United States $162,830 25% United States $93,955 25% China, P. R.: Hong Kong $60,356 22%
Cayman Islands $55,086 9% Cayman Islands $36,192 10% British Virgin Islands $43,486 16%
British Virgin Islands $45,883 7% United Kingdom $11,226 3% Cayman Islands $18,894 7%
United Kingdom $21,805 3% Luxembourg $9,092 2% United Kingdom $10,579 4%

14. Contact for More Information

U.S.  Embassy Beijing Economic Section

55 Anjialou Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, P.R.  China  +86 10 8531 3000

+86 10 8531 3000

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 (NSL) on June 30, 2020 undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy and introduced heightened uncertainty for foreign and local firms operating in Hong Kong.  As a result, the U.S. Government has taken measures to eliminate or suspend Hong Kong’s preferential treatment and special trade status, including suspension of most export control waivers, revocation of reciprocal shipping income tax exemption treatments, establishment of a new marking rule requiring goods made in Hong Kong to be labeled “Made in China,”  and imposition of sanctions against former and current Hong Kong government officials.

On July 16, 2021, the Department of State, along with the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Homeland Security, issued an advisory to U.S. businesses regarding potential risks to their operations and activities in Hong Kong.

 

Since the enactment of the NSL in Hong Kong, 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.

On economic issues, 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.

Despite the imposition of the NSL by Beijing, significant curtailments in individual freedoms, and the end of Hong Kong’s ability to exercise the degree of autonomy it enjoyed in the past, Hong Kong remains a popular destination for U.S. investment and trade.  Even with a population of less than eight million, Hong Kong is the United States’ twelfth-largest export market, thirteenth 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 bolstered by its competitive financial and professional services, trading, logistics, and tourism sectors, although tourism suffered steep drops in 2020 due to COVID-19.  The service sector accounted for more than 90 percent of Hong Kong’s nearly USD 348 billion gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020.  Hong Kong hosts a large number of regional headquarters and regional offices.  Approximately 1,300 U.S. companies are based in Hong Kong, according to Hong Kong’s 2020 census data, 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 in Hong Kong.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 11 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 3 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 11 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 81,883 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 50,800 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 second-largest recipient of foreign direct investment (FDI), according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) World Investment Report 2020, with a significant amount bound for mainland China.  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, or other similar regulations.

According to HKG statistics, 3,983 overseas companies had regional operations registered in Hong Kong in 2020.  The United States has the largest number with 690.  Hong Kong is working to attract more start-ups as it works to develop its technology sector, and about 26 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 virtually all land in Hong Kong, which the HKG administers by granting long-term leases without transferring title.  Foreign residents 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 2019 (based on most recent data available).

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Hong Kong has bilateral investment agreements with Australia, Austria, the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  It has concluded but not yet signed agreements with Bahrain, Myanmar, and Maldives.  Hong Kong has also signed an investment agreement with Mexico, but it is not yet in force.  The HKG is currently negotiating agreements with Iran, Turkey, and Russia.  All such agreements are based on a model text approved by mainland China through the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group.  U.S. firms are generally not at a competitive or legal disadvantage.

Hong Kong has a free trade agreement (FTA) with mainland China, the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA), which provides tariff-free export to mainland China of Hong Kong-origin goods and preferential access for specific services.  CEPA has gradually expanded since its signing in 2003.  Under the CEPA framework, Hong Kong enjoys liberalized trade in services using a “negative list” covering 134 service sectors for Hong Kong and grants national treatment to Hong Kong’s 62 service industries.  Hong Kong also enjoys most-favored nation treatment, with liberalization measures included in FTAs signed by mainland China and other countries automatically extended to Hong Kong.  Hong Kong and mainland China have also signed an investment agreement and an economic and technical cooperation agreement.  The investment agreement includes provision of national treatment and non-services investment using a negative list approach.

Hong Kong also has FTAs with New Zealand, member states of the European Free Trade Association, Chile, Macau, ASEAN, Georgia, the Maldives, and Australia.  These agreements are consistent with the provisions of the WTO.  Hong Kong is exploring FTAs with the Pacific Alliance (Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru) and the United Kingdom.  Hong Kong is keenly interested in joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

The United States does not have a bilateral treaty on the avoidance of double taxation with Hong Kong, but has a Tax Information Exchange Agreement and an Inter-Government Agreement on the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act with Hong Kong.  As of April 2020, the HKG had Comprehensive Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreements (CDTAs) with 43 tax jurisdictions, and negotiations with 14 tax jurisdictions are underway.  The HKG targets to bring the total number of CDTAs to 50 by the end of 2022.  In September 2018, the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters signed by mainland China entered into force for Hong Kong.  Effective January 2021, the number of reportable jurisdictions increased from 75 to 126.

Under the President’s Executive Order on Hong Kong Normalization, which directs the suspension or elimination of special and preferential treatment for Hong Kong, the United States notified the Hong Kong authorities in August 2020 of its suspension of the Reciprocal Tax Exemptions on Income Derived from the International Operation of Ships Agreement.

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.

On March 29, 2021, the Hong Kong Financial Services and Treasury Bureau submitted to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council plans to restrict the public from accessing certain information about executives in the Company Registry.  If passed, companies will be allowed immediately to withhold information on the residential addresses and identification numbers of directors and secretaries.  Corporate governance and financial experts warned that the proposal could enable fraud and further hurt the city’s status as a transparent financial hub.   Media organizations criticized the plan for undermining transparency and freedom of information.

International Regulatory Considerations

Hong Kong is an independent member of the 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.

The imposition of the NSL and pressure from the PRC authorities raised serious concerns about the longevity of Hong Kong’s judicial independence.  The NSL authorizes the mainland China judicial system, which lacks judicial independence and has a 99 percent conviction rate, to take over any national security-related case at the request of the Hong Kong government or the Office of Safeguarding National Security.  Under the NSL, the Hong Kong Chief Executive is required to establish a list of judges to handle all cases concerning national security-related offenses.  Although Hong Kong’s judiciary selects the specific judge(s) who will hear any individual case, some commentators argued that this unprecedented involvement of the Chief Executive weakens Hong Kong’s judicial independence.

Media outlets controlled by the PRC central government in both Hong Kong and mainland China repeatedly accused Hong Kong judges of bias following the acquittals of protesters accused of rioting and other crimes.  Some Hong Kong and PRC central government officials questioned the existence of the “separation of powers” in Hong Kong, including some statements that judicial independence is not enshrined in Hong Kong law and that judges should follow “guidance” from the government.

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 accurate and up to date information about significant controllers.

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 Antitrust Laws

The independent Competition Commission (CC) investigates anti-competitive conduct that prevents, restricts, or distorts competition in Hong Kong.  In December 2020, the CC filed Hong Kong’s first abuse of substantial market power case in the Competition Tribunal against Linde HKO and its Germany-based parent company Linde GmbH for leveraging substantial market power in the production and supply of medical oxygen, medical nitrous oxide, Entonox, and medical air to maintain a stranglehold over the downstream maintenance market.

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, and 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 a Memorandum of Understanding with mainland China 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 inside 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 based on 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 as of February 2021 is still 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 offenses 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.

In February 2009, HKD 20 billion (USD 2.6 billion) was  earmarked for the Research Endowment Fund, which provides research grants to academics and universities.  In February 2018, another HKD 10 billion (USD 1.3 billion) was 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.  In February 2018, another HKD 20 billion (USD 2.6 billion) was 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.

The Technology Talent Admission Scheme 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 Postdoctoral Hub Program 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 have a doctoral degree in a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics-related discipline from either a local university or a well-recognized non-local institution.

In July 2020, the HKG launched a USD 256.4 million Re-industrialization Funding Scheme to subsidize manufacturers, on a matching basis, setting up smart production lines in Hong Kong.

The Pilot Bond Grant Scheme launched by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) in May 2018 is aimed at improving Hong Kong’s competitiveness in the international bond market by enhanced tax concessions for qualifying debt instruments.  The HKG supports first-time issues with a grant of up to 50 percent of the eligible issuance expenses, with a cap of HKD 2.5 million (USD 320,500) for issues with a credit rating from a credit rating agency recognized by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), or a cap of HKD 1.25 million (USD 160,200) for issues that do not have a credit rating and where neither the issuer nor the issue’s guarantor have a credit rating.

In October 2020, the HKG launched a USD 38 million pilot subsidy scheme to encourage the logistics industry to enhance productivity through the application of technology.

Starting from December 2020, a USD 25.6 million Green Tech Fund (GTF) is open for applications.  The GTF provides funding supports to R&D projects which can help Hong Kong decarbonize and enhance environmental protection.  The amount of funding for each project ranges from USD 320,500 to USD 3.9 million, and each project may last up to five years.

In February 2021, the HKG announced a proposal to strengthen Hong Kong’s position as an asset management center.  The HKG planned to introduce in the second quarter of 2021 new legislation to facilitate the re-domicile of foreign investment funds to Hong Kong for registration as Open-ended Fund Companies (OFCs).  The HKG would provide subsidies to cover 70 percent of the expenses (capped at HKD 1 million or USD 125,000) paid to local professional service providers for OFCs set up in or re-domiciled to Hong Kong in the coming three years.

In February 2021, the HKG announced it would consolidate the Pilot Bond Grant Scheme and the Green Bond Grant Scheme into a Green and Sustainable Finance Grant Scheme to subsidize eligible bond issuers and loan borrowers to cover their expenses on bond issuance and external review services.

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 show 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, though the imposition of the NSL created certain limits on freedom of expression and content, especially those that may be viewed as politically-sensitive such as advocating for Hong Kong’s independence from mainland China.  The freedom and privacy of communication is enshrined in Basic Law Article 30.  The HKG has no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and does not interfere with data center operations.  However, the NSL introduced a heightened risk of PRC and Hong Kong authorities using expanded legal authorities to collect data from businesses and individuals in Hong Kong for actions that may violate “national security.” For more information, please refer to the Hong Kong business advisory released jointly by the Department of State, along with the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Homeland Security on July 16, 2021.

The NSL grants Hong Kong police broad authorities to conduct wiretaps or electronic surveillance without warrants in national security-related cases.  The NSL also empowers police to conduct searches, including of electronic devices, for evidence in national security cases.  Police can also require Internet service providers to provide or delete information relevant to these cases.  In January 2021, the organizer of an online platform alleged that local Internet providers have made the site inaccessible for users in Hong Kong following requests from the Hong Kong government.  One ISP subsequently confirmed that they it blocked a website “in compliance with the requirement issued under the National Security Law.”

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.

In January 2020, the HKG introduced a discussion paper to the LegCo and proposed certain changes to the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance with the aim of strengthening data protection in Hong Kong.  One of the amendments proposed was to require data users to formulate a clear data retention policy which specified a retention period for the personal data collected.  Feedback from the LegCo on this discussion paper formed the basis of further consultations with stakeholders and more concrete legislative amendment proposals.  There is no indication on the timeline of any legislative amendments to the Ordinance.

In December 2020, Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) required licensed corporations in Hong Kong to seek the SFC’s approval before using the following for storing regulatory records: 1) premises controlled exclusively by an external data storage provider(s) located inside or outside Hong Kong, such as cloud service providers like Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure or Amazon AWS; or 2) server(s) for data storage at data centers located inside or outside Hong Kong.

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 strong 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, and 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.

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 to 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 .  The Ordinance also provides rental rights for sound recordings, computer programs, films, and comic books and includes 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 June 2020, an amendment bill to implement the Marrakesh Treaty came into effect.

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 2021, 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 137 infringing websites in the portal.  In addition, 27 HKG agencies have been assigned with an individual password for checking with the IWLS before 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.  Hong Kong’s Original Grant Patent system, which came into operation in December 2019, takes into account the patent systems generally established in regional and international patent treaties, while maintaining the 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 June 2020, Hong Kong implemented the Madrid Protocol.  The HKG will liaise with mainland China 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 during trade.

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.

Assets and wealth managed in Hong Kong posted a record high of USD 3.7 trillion in 2019 (the latest figure available), with two-thirds of that coming from overseas investors.  To enhance the competitiveness of Hong Kong’s fund industry, OFCs 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 the 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 February 2021, there were 165 authorized insurance companies in Hong Kong, 70 of them foreign or mainland Chinese companies.

The Hong Kong Stock Exchange’s total market capitalization surged by 24.0 percent to USD 6.1 trillion in 2020, with 2,538 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 (SFC), 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 2020, a total of 291 Chinese enterprises had “H” share listings on the stock exchange, with combined market capitalization of USD 906 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.” However, China approved two cross-listings of ETFs between Shanghai Stock exchange and the Tokyo Stock Exchange in June 2019, and between Shenzhen Stock Exchange and Hong Kong Stock Exchange in October 2020.

By the end of 2020, 50 mainland mutual funds and 29 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, Thailand, 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 292 billion by the end of 2020.  As of November 2020, RMB 1,203.5 billion (USD 180.5 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.  In the first eight months of 2020, the Northbound trading of Bond Connect accounted for 52 percent of foreign investors’ total turnover in the China Interbank Bond Market.  In December 2020, the HKMA and the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) set up a working group to drive the initiative of Southbound trading, with the target of launching it within 2021.

In June 2020, the PBoC, the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, the China Securities Regulatory Commission, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, the HKMA and the Monetary Authority of Macau announced that they decided to implement a cross-boundary Wealth Management Connect pilot scheme in the Greater Bay Area (GBA), an initiative to economically integrate Hong Kong and Macau with nine cities in Guangdong Province.  Under the scheme, residents in the GBA can carry out cross-boundary investment in wealth management products distributed by banks in the GBA.  These authorities are still working on the implementation details for the scheme.

In December 2020, the SFC concluded its consultation on proposed customer due diligence requirements for OFCs.  The new requirements will enhance the anti-money laundering and counter-financing of terrorism measures with respect to OFCs and better align the requirements for different investment vehicles for funds in Hong Kong.  Upon the completion of the legislative process, the new requirements will come into effect after a six-month transition period.

In February 2021, the HKG announced it would issue green bonds regularly and expand the scale of the Government Green Bond Program to USD 22.5 billion within the next five years.

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 September of 2020, the net asset values of MPF funds amounted to USD 131 billion.

Money and Banking System

Hong Kong has a three-tier system of deposit-taking institutions: licensed banks (161), restricted license banks (17), and deposit-taking companies (12).  HSBC is Hong Kong’s largest banking group.  With its majority-owned subsidiary Hang Seng Bank, HSBC controls more than 50.9 percent of Hong Kong Dollar (HKD) deposits.  The Bank of China (Hong Kong) is the second-largest banking group, with 15.4 percent of HKD deposits throughout 200 branches.  In total, the five largest banks in Hong Kong had more than USD 2 trillion in total assets at the end of 2019.  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 counterterrorist financing controls, including the adoption of more stringent customer due diligence (CDD) process for existing and new customers.  The HKMA stressed that “CDD measures adopted by banks must be proportionate to the risk level and banks are not required to implement overly stringent CDD processes.”

In November 2020, the HKG launched a three-month public consultation on its proposed amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing Ordinance.  Among other proposed changes, the HKG suggested introducing a licensing regime for virtual asset services providers and a two-tier registration regime for precious assets dealers.  The HKG will analyze feedback from the public before introducing a draft bill to the LegCo.

The NSL granted police authority to freeze assets related to national security-related crimes.  In October 2020, the HKMA advised banks in Hong Kong to report any transactions suspected of violating the NSL, following the same procedures as for money laundering.  Hong Kong authorities reportedly asked financial institutions to freeze bank accounts of former lawmakers, civil society groups, and other political targets who appear to be under investigation for their pro-democracy activities.

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 the end of January 2021.

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 bank 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 Brazil, Dubai, France, Poland, Singapore, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, 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, which is called the Hong Kong Growth Portfolio (HKGP), focusing on domestic investments to lift the city’s competitiveness in financial services, commerce, aviation, logistics and innovation.  Between December 2020 and January 2021, the HKMA conducted a market survey to better understand the profiles of private equity firms with interest to become a general partner for the HKGP.

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, the Hospital Authority, the Airport Authority, the 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 policymaker.  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 has implemented proposals from the consultation process since 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.  Hong Kong is not a signatory of the Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies.  Under the Security Bureau, the Security and Guarding Services Industry Authority is responsible for formulating issuing criteria and conditions for security company licenses and security personnel permits and determining applications for security company licenses.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

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.  Offenses 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 Peh, 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

Beijing’s imposition of the National Security Law (NSL) on June 30, 2020 has introduced heightened uncertainties for companies operating in Hong Kong.  As a result, U.S. citizens traveling through 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.

As of March 2021, police have carried out at least 100 arrests of opposition politicians and activists under the NSL, including one U.S. citizen, in an effort to suppress all pro-democracy views and political activity in the city.  Police have also reportedly issued arrest warrants under the NSL for approximately thirty individuals residing abroad, including U.S. citizens.  Since June 2019, police have arrested over 10,000 people on various charges in connection with largely peaceful protests against government policies.

Please see the July 16, 2021 business advisory issued by the Department of State, along with the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Homeland Security.

The Department of State assesses that Hong Kong does not maintain a sufficient degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework to justify continued special treatment by the United States for bilateral agreements and programs per the Hong Kong Policy Act.  As a result of Hong Kong’s lack of autonomy from China, the Department of Commerce ended Hong Kong’s treatment as a separate trade entity from China, including the removal of many of Department of Commerce’s License Exceptions.  U.S. Customs and Borders Protection (CBP) requires goods produced in Hong Kong to be marked to show China, rather than Hong Kong, as their country of origin.  This requirement took effect November 9, 2020.  It does not affect country of origin determinations for purposes of assessing ordinary duties or temporary or additional duties.  Hong Kong has requested World Trade Organization dispute consultations to examine the issue.  As of March 2021, the Department of Treasury has sanctioned 35 former and current Hong Kong and mainland Chinese government officials and 44 Chinese-military companies identified by the Department of Defense.

The PRC government does not recognize dual nationality.  In January 2021, the Hong Kong government moved to enforce existing provisions of the Nationality Law of the People’s Republic of China in place since 1997, effectively ending its longstanding recognition of dual citizenship in Hong Kong.  The action ended consular access to two detained U.S. citizens as of March 2021 and potentially removed consular protection from about half of the estimated 85,000 U.S. citizens in Hong Kong.  U.S.-PRC, U.S.-Hong Kong and U.S. citizens of Chinese heritage may be subject to additional scrutiny and harassment, and the PRC government may prevent the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate from providing consular services.

Hong Kong financial regulators have conducted outreach to stress the importance of robust anti-money laundering (AML) controls and highlight potential criminal sanctions implications for failure to fulfill legal obligations under local AML laws.  However, Hong Kong has a low number of prosecutions and convictions compared to the number of cases investigated.

Under the President’s Executive Order on Hong Kong Normalization, which directs the suspension or elimination of special and preferential treatment for Hong Kong, the United States notified the Hong Kong authorities in August 2020 of its suspension of the Surrender of Fugitive Offenders Agreement and the Transfer of Sentenced Persons Agreement.  The Reciprocal Tax Exemptions on Income Derived from the International Operation of Ships Agreement was also suspended.  In response, the Hong Kong government suspended the Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Hong Kong on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Affairs, which entered into force in 2000.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Hong Kong’s unemployment rate stood at 6.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020, with the unemployment rate of youth aged 15-19 rising to 17.6 percent.  In 2020, skilled personnel working as administrators, managers, professionals, and associate professionals accounted for 40.6 percent of the total working population.  At the end of 2019, there were about 399,320 foreign domestic helpers working in Hong Kong.  In 2020, about 8,842 foreign professionals came to work in the city, more than 10,089 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 offense.

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 start 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 2019, Hong Kong’s 866 registered unions had 923,239 members, a participation rate of about 25.7 percent.  In 2020, 491 new worker unions formed to improve chances of winning seats in the legislature.  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 offense if he/she willfully and without reasonable excuse fails to pay the additional sum.

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

Starting from December 2020,  the statutory maternity leave increases to 14 weeks from ten weeks.

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

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.

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

As a developed economy, there is little potential for the DFC to operate in Hong Kong.  However, there is scope for cooperation between companies based in Hong Kong with regional operations to work with the DFC.  Hong Kong is a member of the World Bank Group’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency.

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) 2020 $347,529 2019 $365,712 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $44,974 2019 $81,883 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $14,679 2019 $14,110 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 507.5% 2019 506.5% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/
handbook/EconomicTrends/Fdi.html

* 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 1,732,495 100% Total Outward 1,763,164 100%
British Virgin Islands 606,804 35% China, P.R.: Mainland 800,640 45%
China, P.R.: Mainland 475,641 27% British Virgin Islands 579,860 33%
Cayman Islands 152,048 9% Cayman Islands 70,492 4%
United Kingdom 139,120 8% Bermuda 55,091 3%
Bermuda 99,514 6% United Kingdom 53,858 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 1,830,229 100% All Countries 1,167,955 100% All Countries 662,274 100%
Cayman Islands 635,236 35% Cayman Islands 608,914 52% United States 156,543 24%
China, P.R.: Mainland 352,531 19% China, P.R.: Mainland 206,829 18% China, P.R.: Mainland 145,702 22%
United States 204,360 11% Bermuda 109,838 9% Japan 51,682 8%
Bermuda 112,021 6% United Kingdom 60,483 5% Luxembourg 42,742 6%
United Kingdom 85,496 5% United States 47,817 4% Australia 37,143 6%

14. Contact for More Information

Eveline Tseng, Consul, Economic Affairs
U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong and Macau
26 Garden Road, Central

Mexico

Executive Summary

In 2020, Mexico became the United States’ third largest trading partner in goods and services and second largest in goods only.  It remains one of our most important investment partners.  Bilateral trade grew 482.2 percent from 1993-2020, and Mexico is the United States’ second largest export market.  The United States is Mexico’s top source of foreign direct investment (FDI) with USD 100.9 billion (2019 total per the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis), or 39.1 percent of all inflows (stock) to Mexico, according to Mexico’s Secretariat of Economy.

The Mexican economy averaged 2 percent GDP growth from 1994-2020, but contracted 8.5 percent in 2020.  The economic downturn due to the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic was the major reason behind the contraction, with FDI decreasing 11.7 percent.  The austere fiscal policy in Mexico resulted in primary surplus of 0.1 percent in 2020.  The government has upheld the central bank’s (Bank of Mexico) independence.  Inflation remained at 3.4 percent in 2020, within the Bank of Mexico’s target of 3 percent ± 1 percent.  The administration maintained its commitment to reducing bureaucratic spending in order to fund an ambitious social spending agenda and priority infrastructure projects, including the Dos Bocas Refinery and Maya Train.  President Lopez Obrador leaned on these initiatives as it devised a government response to the economic crisis caused by COVID-19.

Mexico approved the amended United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) protocol in December 2019, the United States in December 2019, and Canada in March 2020, providing a boost in confidence to investors hoping for continued and deepening regional economic integration.  The USMCA entered into force July 1, 2020.  President Lopez Obrador has expressed optimism it will buoy the Mexican economy.

Still, investors report sudden regulatory changes and policy reversals, the shaky financial health of the state oil company Pemex, and a perceived weak fiscal response to the COVID-19 economic crisis have contributed to ongoing uncertainties.  In the first and second quarters of 2020, the three major ratings agencies (Fitch, Moody’s, and Standard and Poor’s) downgraded both Mexico’s sovereign credit rating (by one notch to BBB-, Baa1, and BBB, respectively) and Pemex’s credit rating (to junk status).  The Bank of Mexico revised upward Mexico’s GDP growth expectations for 2021, from 3.3 to 4.8 percent, as did the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to 5 percent from the previous 4.3 percent estimate in January.  Still, IMF analysts anticipate an economic recovery to pre-pandemic levels could take five years.  Moreover, uncertainty about contract enforcement, insecurity, informality, and corruption continue to hinder sustained Mexican economic growth.  Recent efforts to reverse the 2014 energy reforms, including the March 2021 electricity reform law prioritizing generation from the state-owned electric utility CFE, further increase uncertainty.  These factors raise the cost of doing business in Mexico.

Table 1:  Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 124 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi#
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 60 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 55 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $100,888 https://apps.bea.gov/international/di1usdbal
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $9,480 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Mexico is open to foreign direct investment (FDI) in the vast majority of economic sectors and has consistently been one of the largest emerging market recipients of FDI.  Mexico’s proximity to the United States and preferential access to the U.S. market, macroeconomic stability, large domestic market, growing consumer base, and increasingly skilled yet cheap labor combine to attract foreign investors.  The COVID-19 economic crisis showed how linked North American supply chains are and highlighted new opportunities for partnership and investment.  Still, recent policy and regulatory changes have created doubts about the investment climate, particularly in the energy and the formal employment pensions management sectors.

Historically, the United States has been one of the largest sources of FDI in Mexico.  According to Mexico’s Secretariat of Economy, FDI flows for 2020 totaled USD 29.1 billion, a decrease of 11.7 percent compared to the preliminary information for 2019 (USD 32.9 billion), and a 14.7 percent decline compared to revised numbers.  The Secretariat cited COVID’s impact on global economic activity as the main reason for the decline.  From January to December 2020, 22 percent of FDI came from new investment.  New investment in 2020 (USD 6.4 billion) was only approximately half of the new investments received in 2019 (USD 12.8 billion), and 55.4 percent came from capital reinvestment while 24.9 percent from parent company accounts.  The automotive, aerospace, telecommunications, financial services, and electronics sectors typically receive large amounts of FDI.

Most foreign investment flows to northern states near the U.S. border, where most maquiladoras (export-oriented manufacturing and assembly plants) are located, or to Mexico City and the nearby “El Bajio” (e.g. Guanajuato, Queretaro, etc.) region.  In the past, foreign investors have overlooked Mexico’s southern states, although the administration is focused on attracting investment to the region, including through large infrastructure projects such as the Maya Train, the Dos Bocas refinery, and the trans-isthmus rail project.

The 1993 Foreign Investment Law, last updated in March 2017, governs foreign investment in Mexico, including which business sectors are open to foreign investors and to what extent.  It provides national treatment, eliminates performance requirements for most foreign investment projects, and liberalizes criteria for automatic approval of foreign investment.  Mexico is also a party to several Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) agreements covering foreign investment, notably the Codes of Liberalization of Capital Movements and the National Treatment Instrument.

The administration has integrated components of the government’s investment agency into other ministries and offices.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Mexico reserves certain sectors, in whole or in part, for the State, including:  petroleum and other hydrocarbons; control of the national electric system, radioactive materials, telegraphic and postal services; nuclear energy generation; coinage and printing of money; and control, supervision, and surveillance of ports of entry.  Certain professional and technical services, development banks, and the land transportation of passengers, tourists, and cargo (not including courier and parcel services) are reserved entirely for Mexican nationals.  See section six for restrictions on foreign ownership of certain real estate.

Reforms in the energy, power generation, telecommunications, and retail fuel sales sectors have liberalized access for foreign investors.  While reforms have not led to the privatization of state-owned enterprises such as Pemex or the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), they have allowed private firms to participate.  Still, the Lopez Obrador administration has made significant regulatory and policy changes that favor Pemex and CFE over private participants.  The changes have led private companies to file lawsuits in Mexican courts and several are considering international arbitration.

Hydrocarbons:  Private companies participate in hydrocarbon exploration and extraction activities through contracts with the government under four categories:  competitive contracts, joint ventures, profit sharing agreements, and license contracts.  All contracts must include a clause stating subsoil hydrocarbons are owned by the State.  The government has held nine auctions allowing private companies to bid on exploration and development rights to oil and gas resources in blocks around the country.  Between 2015 and 2018, Mexico auctioned more than 100 land, shallow, and deep-water blocks with significant interest from international oil companies.  The administration has since postponed further auctions but committed to respecting the existing contracts awarded under the previous administration.  Still, foreign players were discouraged when Pemex sought to take operatorship of a major shallow water oil discovery made by a U.S. company-led consortium.  The private consortium had invested more than USD 200 million in making the discovery and the outcome of this dispute has yet to be decided.

Telecommunications:  Mexican law states telecommunications and broadcasting activities are public services and the government will at all times maintain ownership of the radio spectrum.  In January 2021, President Lopez Obrador proposed incorporating the independent Federal Telecommunication Institute (IFT) into the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation (SCT), in an attempt to save government funds and avoid duplication.  Non-governmental organizations and private sector companies said such a move would potentially violate the USMCA, which mandates signatories to maintain independent telecommunications regulators.  As of March 2021, the proposal remains pending.  Mexico’s Secretary of Economy Tatiana Clouthier underscored in public statements that President López Obrador is committed to respecting Mexico’s obligations under the USMCA, including maintaining an autonomous telecommunications regulator.

Aviation:  The Foreign Investment Law limited foreign ownership of national air transportation to 25 percent until March 2017, when the limit was increased to 49 percent.

The USMCA, which entered into force July 1, 2020, maintained several NAFTA provisions, granting U.S. and Canadian investors national and most-favored-nation treatment in setting up operations or acquiring firms in Mexico.  Exceptions exist for investments restricted under the USMCA.  Currently, the United States, Canada, and Mexico have the right to settle any legacy disputes or claims under NAFTA through international arbitration for a sunset period of three years following the end of NAFTA.  Only the United States and Mexico are party to an international arbitration agreement under the USMCA, though access is restricted as the USMCA distinguishes between investors with covered government contracts and those without.  Most U.S. companies investing in Mexico will have access to fewer remedies under the USMCA than under NAFTA, as they will have to meet certain criteria to qualify for arbitration.  Local Mexican governments must also accord national treatment to investors from USMCA countries.

Approximately 95 percent of all foreign investment transactions do not require government approval.  Foreign investments that require government authorization and do not exceed USD 165 million are automatically approved, unless the proposed investment is in a legally reserved sector.

The National Foreign Investment Commission under the Secretariat of the Economy is the government authority that determines whether an investment in restricted sectors may move forward.  The Commission has 45 business days after submission of an investment request to make a decision.  Criteria for approval include employment and training considerations, and contributions to technology, productivity, and competitiveness.  The Commission may reject applications to acquire Mexican companies for national security reasons.  The Secretariat of Foreign Relations (SRE) must issue a permit for foreigners to establish or change the nature of Mexican companies.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

There has not been an update to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) trade policy review of Mexico since June 2017 covering the period to year-end 2016.

Business Facilitation

According to the World Bank, on average registering a foreign-owned company in Mexico requires 11 procedures and 31 days.  Mexico ranked 60 out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s ease of doing business report in 2020.  In 2016, then-President Pena Nieto signed a law creating a new category of simplified businesses called Sociedad for Acciones Simplificadas (SAS).  Owners of SASs are supposed to be able to register a new company online in 24 hours.  Still, it can take between 66 and 90 days to start a new business in Mexico, according to the World Bank.  The Government of Mexico maintains a business registration website:  www.tuempresa.gob.mx.  Companies operating in Mexico must register with the tax authority (Servicio de Administration y Tributaria or SAT), the Secretariat of the Economy, and the Public Registry.  Additionally, companies engaging in international trade must register with the Registry of Importers, while foreign-owned companies must register with the National Registry of Foreign Investments.

Since October 2019, SAT has launched dozens of tax audits against major international and domestic corporations, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax assessments, penalties, and late fees.  Multinational and Mexican firms have reported audits based on diverse aspects of the tax code, including adjustments on tax payments made, waivers received, and deductions reported during the Enrique Peña Nieto administration.

Changes to ten-digit tariff lines conducted by the Secretariat of Economy in 2020 created trade disruptions with many shipments held at the border, stemming from lack of clear communication between government agencies that resulted in different interpretation by SAT.

Outward Investment

Various offices at the Secretariat of Economy and the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs handle promoting Mexican outward investment and assistance to Mexican firms acquiring or establishing joint ventures with foreign firms.  Mexico does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Bilateral Investment Treaties

The USMCA entered into force on July 1, 2020, containing an investment chapter.

Mexico has signed 13 FTAs covering 50 countries and 32 Reciprocal Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements covering 33 countries.  Mexico is a member of Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which entered into force December 30, 2018.  Mexico currently has 29 Bilateral Investment Treaties in force.  Mexico and the European Union finalized a FTA in May 2020, but it still must undergo legal scrub and translation.  Mexico and the United Kingdom (UK) also signed an agreement to continue trading under existing terms following the UK’s exit from the European Union in December 2020.

Bilateral Taxation Treaties

The United States-Mexico Income Tax Convention, which came into effect January 1, 1994, governs bilateral taxation between the two nations.  Mexico has negotiated double taxation agreements with 55 countries.  Recent reductions in U.S. corporate tax rates may drive a future change to the Mexican fiscal code, but there is no formal legislation under consideration.

In 2019, the administration approved a value-added tax (VAT) on digital services.  Since June 30, 2020, foreign digital companies are required to register with SAT and to collect VAT on the majority of goods and services customers purchase online and remit the VAT and sales reports to SAT.  SAT is authorized to block a foreign digital company’s internet protocol (IP) address in Mexico for non-compliance with tax requirements until the company complies.  The administration also introduced a series of fiscal measures in 2019 to combat tax evasion and fraud.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The National Commission on Regulatory Improvement (CONAMER), within the Secretariat of Economy, is the agency responsible for streamlining federal and sub-national regulation and reducing the regulatory burden on business.  Mexican law requires secretariats and regulatory agencies to conduct impact assessments of proposed regulations.  Assessments are made available for public comment via CONAMER’s website:  https://www.gob.mx/conamer.  The official gazette of state and federal laws currently in force in Mexico is publicly available via:  http://www.ordenjuridico.gob.mx/.  Mexican law provides for a 20-day public consultation period for most proposed regulations.  Any interested stakeholder has the opportunity to comment on draft regulations and the supporting justification, including regulatory impact assessments.  Certain measures are not subject to a mandatory public consultation period.  These include measures concerning taxation, responsibilities of public servants, the public prosecutor’s office executing its constitutional functions, and the Secretariats of National Defense (SEDENA) and the Navy (SEMAR).

The National Quality Infrastructure Program (PNIC) is the official document used to plan, inform, and coordinate standardization activities, both public and private.  The PNIC is published annually by the Secretariat of Economy in Mexico’s Official Gazette.  The PNIC describes Mexico’s plans for new voluntary standards (Normas Mexicanas; NMXs) and mandatory technical regulations (Normas Oficiales Mexicanas; NOMs) as well as proposed changes to existing standards and technical regulations.  Interested stakeholders have the opportunity to request the creation, modification, or cancelation of NMXs and NOMs as well as participate in the working groups that develop and modify these standards and technical regulations.  Mexico’s antitrust agency, the Federal Commission for Economic Competition (COFECE), plays a key role protecting, promoting, and ensuring a competitive free market in Mexico as well as protecting consumers.  COFECE is responsible for eliminating barriers both to competition and free market entry across the economy (except for the telecommunications sector, which is governed by its own competition authority) and for identifying and regulating access to essential production inputs.

In addition to COFECE, the Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE) and National Hydrocarbon Commission (CNH) are both technical-oriented independent agencies that play important roles in regulating the energy and hydrocarbons sectors.  CRE regulates national electricity generation, coverage, distribution, and commercialization, as well as the transportation, distribution, and storage of oil, gas, and biofuels.  CNH supervises and regulates oil and gas exploration and production and issues oil and gas upstream (exploration/production) concessions.

Mexico has seen a shift in the public procurement process since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Government entities are increasingly awarding contracts either as direct awards or by invitation-only procurements.  In addition, there have been recent tenders that favor European standards over North American standards.

International Regulatory Considerations

Generally speaking, the Mexican government has established legal, regulatory, and accounting  systems that are transparent and consistent with international norms.  Still, the Lopez Obrador administration has eroded the autonomy and publicly questioned the value of specific antitrust and energy regulators and has proposed dissolving some of them in order to cut costs.  Furthermore, corruption continues to affect equal enforcement of some regulations.  The Lopez Obrador administration rolled out an ambitious plan to centralize government procurement in an effort to root out corruption and generate efficiencies.  The administration estimated it could save up to USD 25 billion annually by consolidating government purchases in the Secretariat of Finance.  Still, the expedited rollout and lack of planning for supply chain contingencies led to several sole-source purchases.  The Mexican government’s budget is published online and readily available.  The Bank of Mexico also publishes and maintains data about the country’s finances and debt obligations.

Investors are increasingly concerned the administration is undermining confidence in the “rules of the game,” particularly in the energy sector, by weakening the political autonomy of COFECE, CNH, and CRE.  Still, COFECE has successfully challenged regulatory changes in the electricity sector that favor state-owned enterprises over maintaining competitive prices for the consumer.  The administration has appointed five of seven CRE commissioners over the Senate’s objections, which voted twice to reject the nominees in part due to concerns their appointments would erode the CRE’s autonomy.  The administration’s budget cuts resulted in significant layoffs, which has reportedly hampered agencies’ ability to carry out their work, a key factor in investment decisions.  The independence of the CRE and CNH was further undermined by a memo from the government to both bodies instructing them to use their regulatory powers to favor state-owned Pemex and CFE.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Since the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, Mexico has had an inquisitorial system adopted from Europe in which proceedings were largely carried out in writing and sealed from public view.  Mexico amended its Constitution in 2008 to facilitate change to an oral accusatorial criminal justice system to better combat corruption, encourage transparency and efficiency, while ensuring respect for the fundamental rights of both the victim and the accused.  An ensuing National Code of Criminal Procedure passed in 2014 and is applicable to all 32 states.  The national procedural code is coupled with each state’s criminal code to provide the legal framework for the new accusatorial system, which allows for oral, public trials with the right of the defendant to face his/her accuser and challenge evidence presented against him/her, right to counsel, due process, and other guarantees.  Mexico fully adopted the new accusatorial criminal justice system at the state and federal levels in June 2016.

Mexico’s Commercial Code, which dates back to 1889, was most recently updated in 2014.  All commercial activities must abide by this code and other applicable mercantile laws, including commercial contracts and commercial dispute settlement measures.  Mexico has multiple specialized courts regarding fiscal, labor, economic competition, broadcasting, telecommunications, and agrarian law.

The judicial branch and Prosecutor General’s office (FGR) are constitutionally independent from each other and the executive.  The Prosecutor General is nominated by the president and approved by a two-thirds majority in the Senate for a nine-year term, effectively de-coupling the Prosecutor General from the political cycle of elections every six years.  With the historic 2019 labor reform, Mexico also created an independent labor court system run by the judicial branch (formerly this was an executive branch function).  The labor courts are being brought on line in a phased process by state with the final phase completed on May 1, 2022.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Mexico’s Foreign Investment Law sets the rules governing foreign investment into the country.  The National Commission for Foreign Investments, formed by several cabinet-level ministries including Interior (SEGOB), Foreign Relations (SRE), Finance (Hacienda), and Economy (SE) establishes the criteria for administering investment rules.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

Mexico has two constitutionally autonomous regulators to govern matters of competition – the Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT) and the Federal Commission for Economic Competition (COFECE).  IFT governs broadcasting and telecommunications, while COFECE regulates all other sectors.  For more information on competition issues in Mexico, please visit COFECE’s bilingual website at: www.cofece.mx.  As mentioned above, Lopez Obrador has publicly questioned the value of COFECE and his party unsucessfully introduced a proposal last year which would have dramatically reduced its resources and merged COFECE and other regulators into a less-independent structure.  COFECE requires a quorum of at least three commissioners in order to act and currently has four out of seven commissioner seats filled.  The current chairwoman of the agency’s term as chair will expire in September, which raises questions about whether leadership will change and whether, given the hostility to the agency, the president will nominate new commissioners.

Expropriation and Compensation

USMCA (and NAFTA) contain clauses stating Mexico may not directly nor indirectly expropriate property, except for public purpose and on a non-discriminatory basis.  Expropriations are governed by international law and require rapid fair market value compensation, including accrued interest.  Investors have the right to international arbitration. The USMCA contains an annex regarding U.S.-Mexico investment disputes and those related to covered government contracts.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Mexico ratified the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention) in 1971 and has codified this into domestic law.  Mexico is also a signatory to the Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (1975 Panama Convention) and the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States.  Mexico is not a member of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of other States (ICSID Convention), even though many of the investment agreements signed by Mexico include ICSID arbitration as a dispute settlement option.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The USMCA covers investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) between the United States and Mexico in chapter 31.  Canada is not party to USMCA ISDS provisions as access to dispute resolution will be possible under the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (the “CPTPP”).  U.S. and Mexican investors will have access to a very similar regime under the USMCA available under NAFTA.  Foreign investors who are “part[ies] to a covered government contract” and belong to five “covered sectors”: (i) oil and gas; (ii) power generation; (iii) telecommunications; (iv) transportation; and (v) infrastructure will have access to ISDS per USMCA provisions but only after first defending their claims in local courts before initiating arbitration. A less favorable regime will apply to all other foreign investors under the USMCA, who can only access the USMCA’s ISDS system to enforce a limited number of claims and must first defend their claims in local courts before initiating arbitration.  Investors will be able to file new NAFTA claims before July 1, 2023, provided that the dispute arises out of investments made when NAFTA was still in force and remained “in existence” on July 1, 2020.

Since NAFTA’s inception, there have been 13 cases filed against Mexico by U.S. and Canadian investors who allege expropriation and/or other violations of Mexico’s NAFTA obligations.  For more details on the cases, please visit: https://icsid.worldbank.org/en/Pages/cases/searchcases.aspx

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Arbitration Center of Mexico (CAM) is a specialized, private institution administering commercial arbitration as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism.  The average duration of a CAM-conducted arbitration process conducted is 14 months.  The Commercial Code dictates an arbitral award, regardless of the country where it originated, must be recognized as binding.  The award must be enforced after presenting a formal written petition to a judge.

The internal laws of both Pemex and CFE state all national disputes of any nature will have to be resolved by federal courts.  State-owned Enterprises (SOEs) and their productive subsidiaries may opt for alternative dispute settlement mechanisms under applicable commercial legislation and international treaties of which Mexico is a signatory.  When contracts are executed in a foreign country, Pemex and CFE have the option to follow procedures governed by non-Mexican law, to use foreign courts, or to participate in arbitration.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Mexico’s Reorganization and Bankruptcy Law (Ley de Concursos Mercantiles) governs bankruptcy and insolvency.  Congress approved modifications in 2014 to shorten procedural filing times and convey greater juridical certainty to all parties, including creditors.  Declaring bankruptcy is legal in Mexico and it may be granted to a private citizen, a business, or an individual business partner.  Debtors, creditors, or the Attorney General can file a bankruptcy claim.  Mexico ranked 33 out of 190 countries for resolving insolvency in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business report.  The average bankruptcy filing takes 1.8 years to be resolved and recovers 63.9 cents per USD, which compares favorably to average recovery in Latin America and the Caribbean of just 31.2 cents per USD.  The “Buró de Crédito” is Mexico’s main credit bureau.  More information on credit reports and ratings can be found at:  http://www.burodecredito.com.mx/ .

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Land grants or discounts, tax deductions, and technology, innovation, and workforce development funding are commonly used incentives.  Additional federal foreign trade incentives include: (1) IMMEX:  a promotion which allows manufacturing sector companies to temporarily import inputs without paying general import tax and value added tax; (2) Import tax rebates on goods incorporated into products destined for export; and (3) Sectoral promotion programs allowing for preferential ad-valorem tariffs on imports of selected inputs.  Industries typically receiving sectoral promotion benefits are footwear, mining, chemicals, steel, textiles, apparel, and electronics.  Manufacturing and other companies report it is becoming increasingly difficult to request and receive reimbursements of value-added tax (VAT) paid on inputs for the export sector.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The administration renewed until December 31, 2024 a program launched in January 2019 that established a border economic zone (BEZ) in 43 municipalities in six northern border states within 15.5 miles from the U.S. border.  The BEZ program entails: 1) a fiscal stimulus decree reducing the Value Added Tax (VAT) from 16 percent to 8 percent and the Income Tax (ISR) from 30 percent to 20 percent; 2) a minimum wage increase to MXN 176.72 (USD 8.75) per day; and 3) the gradual harmonization of gasoline, diesel, natural gas, and electricity rates with neighboring U.S. states.  The purpose of the BEZ program was to boost investment, promote productivity, and create more jobs in the region.  Sectors excluded from the preferential ISR rate include financial institutions, the agricultural sector, and export manufacturing companies (maquilas).

On December 30, 2020, President Lopez Obrador launched a similar program for 22 municipalities in Mexico’s southern states of Campeche, Tabasco, and Chiapas, reducing the  VAT from 16 to 8 percent and ISR from 30 to 20 percent and harmonizing excise taxes on fuel with neighboring states in Central America.  Chetumal in Quintana Roo will also enjoy duty-free status.  The benefits extend from January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2024.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Mexican labor law requires at least 90 percent of a company’s employees be Mexican nationals.  Employers can hire foreign workers in specialized positions as long as foreigners do not exceed 10 percent of all workers in that specialized category.  Mexico does not follow a “forced localization” policy—foreign investors are not required by law to use domestic content in goods or technology.  However, investors intending to produce goods in Mexico for export to the United States should take note of the rules of origin prescriptions contained within USMCA if they wish to benefit from USMCA treatment.  Chapter four of the USMCA introduce new rules of origin and labor content rules, which entered into force on July 1, 2020.

In 2020, the Mexican central bank (Bank of Mexico or Banxico) and the National Banking and Securities Commissions (CNBV – Mexico’s principal bank regulator) drafted regulations mandating the largest financial technology companies operating in Mexico to either host data on a back-up server outside of the United States—if their primary is in the United States—or in physical servers in Mexico.  The draft regulations remain pending public comment and the financial services industry is concerned they could violate provisions of the USMCA financial services chapter prohibiting data localization.

Other Industrial Policy Aspects

Mexico’s government is increasingly choosing its military for the construction and management of economic infrastructure.  In the past two years, the government entrusted the Army (SEDENA) with building the new airport in Mexico City, and sections 6, 7, and part of section 5 of the Maya Train railway project in Yucatan state.  The government announced plans to give to the Navy (SEMAR) the rights for construction, management, and operations of the Trans-Isthmic Train project to connect the ports of Coatzacoalcos in Veracruz state with the Salina Cruz port in Oaxaca state.  The government is also in the process of transferring responsibilities for managing land and sea ports from the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation (SCT) to SEDENA and SEMAR respectively.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Mexico ranked 105 out of 190 countries for ease of registering property in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business report, falling two places from its 2019 report.  Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution guarantees the inviolable right to private property.  Expropriation can only occur for public use and with due compensation.  Mexico has four categories of land tenure:  private ownership, communal tenure (ejido), publicly owned, and ineligible for sale or transfer.

Mexico prohibits foreigners from acquiring title to residential real estate in so-called “restricted zones” within 50 kilometers (approximately 30 miles) of the nation’s coast and 100 kilometers (approximately 60 miles) of the borders.  “Restricted zones” cover roughly 40 percent of Mexico’s territory.  Foreigners may acquire the effective use of residential property in “restricted zones” through the establishment of an extendable trust (fideicomiso) arranged through a Mexican financial institution.  Under this trust, the foreign investor obtains all property use rights, including the right to develop, sell, and transfer the property.  Real estate investors should be careful in performing due diligence to ensure that there are no other claimants to the property being purchased.  In some cases, fideicomiso arrangements have led to legal challenges.  U.S.-issued title insurance is available in Mexico and U.S. title insurers operate here.

Additionally, U.S. lending institutions have begun issuing mortgages to U.S. citizens purchasing real estate in Mexico.  The Public Register for Business and Property (Registro Publico de la Propiedad y de Comercio) maintains publicly available information online regarding land ownership, liens, mortgages, restrictions, etc.

Tenants and squatters are protected under Mexican law.  Property owners who encounter problems with tenants or squatters are advised to seek professional legal advice, as the legal process of eviction is complex.

Mexico has a nascent but growing financial securitization market for real estate and infrastructure investments, which investors can access via the purchase/sale of Fideicomisos de Infraestructura y Bienes Raíces (FIBRAs) and Certificates of Capital Development (CKDs) listed on Mexico’s BMV stock exchange.

Intellectual Property Rights

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) in Mexico are covered by the the Mexican Federal Law for Protection of Industrial Property (Ley Federal de Protección a la Propiedad Industrial) and the Federal Copyright Law (Ley Federal del Derecho de Autor).  Responsibility for the protection of IPR is spread across several government authorities.  The Prosecutor General’s Office (Fiscalia General de la Republica or FGR) oversees a specialized unit that prosecutes intellectual property (IP)  crimes.  The Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI), the equivalent to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, administers patent and trademark registrations, and handles administrative enforcement cases of IPR infringement.  The National Institute of Copyright (INDAUTOR) handles copyright registrations and mediates certain types of copyright disputes, while the Federal Commission for the Prevention from Sanitary Risks (COFEPRIS) regulates pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and processed foods.  The Mexican Customs Service’s mandate includes ensuring illegal goods do not cross Mexico’s borders.

The process for trademark registration in Mexico normally takes six to eight months.  The registration process begins by filing an application with IMPI, which is published in the Official Gazette.  IMPI first undertakes a formalities examination, followed by a substantive examination to determine if the application and supporting documentation fulfills the requirements established by law and regulation to grant the trademark registration.  Once the determination is made, IMPI then publishes the registration in the Official Gazette.  A trademark registration in Mexico is valid for 10 years from the date of registration and is renewable for 10-year periods.  Any party can challenge a trademark registration through an opposition system, or post-grant through a cancellation proceeding.  IMPI employs the following administrative procedures:  nullity, expiration, opposition, cancellation, trademark, patent and copyright infringement.  Once IMPI issues a decision, the affected party may challenge it through an internal reconsideration process or go directly to the Specialized IP Court for a nullity trial.  An aggrieved party can then file an appeal with a Federal Appeal Court based on the Specialized IP Court’s decision.  In cases with an identifiable constitutional challenge, the plaintiff may file an appeal before the Supreme Court.

To improve efficiency, in 2020 IMPI partnered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to launch the Parallel Patent Grant (PPG) initiative.  Under this new work-sharing arrangement, IMPI will expedite the grant of a Mexican patent for businesses and individuals already granted a corresponding U.S. patent.  This arrangement allows for the efficient reutilization of USPTO work by IMPI.  The USPTO also has a Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) agreement with IMPI.  Under the PPH, an applicant receiving a ruling from either IMPI or the USPTO that at least one claim in an application is patentable may request that the other office expedite examination of the corresponding application.  The PPH leverages fast-track patent examination procedures already available in both offices to allow applicants in both countries to obtain corresponding patents faster and more efficiently.

Mexico has undertaken significant legislative reform over the past year to comply with the USMCA.  The Mexican Federal Law for Protection of Industrial Property (Ley Federal de Protección a la Propiedad Industrial) went into effect November 5, 2020.  The decree issuing this law was published in the Official Gazette on July 1, 2020, in response to the USMCA and the CPTPP.  This new law replaced the Mexican Industrial Property Law (Ley de la Propiedad Industrial), substantially strengthening IPR across a variety of disciplines.  Mexico amended its Federal Copyright Law and its Federal Criminal Code to comply with the USMCA.  The amendments went into effect July 2, 2020.  These amendments should significantly strengthen copyright law in Mexico.  Still, there are concerns that constitutional challenges filed against notice and takedown provisions as well as TPMs in the amendments may weaken these. provisions.

Still, Mexico has widespread commercial-scale infringement that results in significant losses to Mexican, U.S., and other IPR owners.  There are many issues that have made it difficult to improve IPR enforcement in Mexico, including legislative loopholes; lack of coordination between federal, state, and municipal authorities; a cumbersome and lengthy judicial process; relatively widespread acceptance of piracy and counterfeiting, and lack of resources dedicated to enforcement.  In addition, the involvement of transnational criminal organizations (TCOs), which control the piracy and counterfeiting markets in parts of Mexico and engage in trade-based money laundering by importing counterfeit goods, continue to impede federal government efforts to improve IPR enforcement.  TCO involvement has further illustrated the link between IPR crimes and illicit trafficking of other contraband, including arms and drugs.

Mexico remained on the Watch List in the 2021 Special 301 report published by the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).  Obstacles to U.S. trade include the wide availability of pirated and counterfeit goods in both physical and virtual notorious markets.  The  for Piracy and Counterfeiting listed several Mexican markets:  Tepito in Mexico City, La Pulga Rio in Monterrey, and Mercado San Juan de Dios in Guadalajara.  Mexico is a signatory to numerous international IP treaties, including the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, and the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

Resources for Rights Holders

Intellectual Property Rights Attaché for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean
U.S. Trade Center Liverpool No. 31 Col. Juárez
C.P. 06600 Mexico City
Tel: (52) 55 5080 2189

National Institute of Copyright (INDAUTOR)
Puebla No. 143
Col. Roma, Del. Cuauhtémoc
06700 México, D.F.
Tel: (52) 55 3601 8270
Fax: (52) 55 3601 8214
Web: http://www.indautor.gob.mx/

Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI)
Periférico Sur No. 3106
Piso 9, Col. Jardines del Pedregal
Mexico, D.F., C.P. 01900
Tel: (52 55) 56 24 04 01 / 04
(52 55) 53 34 07 00
Fax: (52 55) 56 24 04 06
Web: http://www.impi.gob.mx/

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Mexican government is generally open to foreign portfolio investments, and foreign investors trade actively in various public and private asset classes.  Foreign entities may freely invest in federal government securities.  The Foreign Investment Law establishes foreign investors may hold 100 percent of the capital stock of any Mexican corporation or partnership, except in those few areas expressly subject to limitations under that law.  Foreign investors may also purchase non-voting shares through mutual funds, trusts, offshore funds, and American Depositary Receipts.

They also have the right to buy directly limited or nonvoting shares as well as free subscription shares, or “B” shares, which carry voting rights.  Foreigners may purchase an interest in “A” shares, which are normally reserved for Mexican citizens, through a neutral fund operated by one of Mexico’s six development banks.  Finally, Mexico offers federal, state, and local governments bonds that are rated by international credit rating agencies.  The market for these securities has expanded rapidly in past years and foreign investors hold a significant stake of total federal issuances.  However, foreigners are limited in their ability to purchase sub-sovereign state and municipal debt.  Liquidity across asset classes is relatively deep.

Mexico established a fiscally transparent trust structure known as a FICAP in 2006 to allow venture and private equity funds to incorporate locally.  The Securities Market Law (Ley de Mercado de Valores) established the creation of three special investment vehicles which can provide more corporate and economic rights to shareholders than a normal corporation.  These categories are: (1) Investment Promotion Corporation (Sociedad Anonima de Promotora de Inversion or SAPI); (2) Stock Exchange Investment Promotion Corporation (Sociedad Anonima Promotora de Inversion Bursatil or SAPIB); and (3) Stock Exchange Corporation (Sociedad Anonima Bursatil or SAB).  Mexico also has a growing real estate investment trust market, locally referred to as Fideicomisos de Infraestructura y Bienes Raíces (FIBRAS) as well as FIBRAS-E, which allow for investment in non-real estate investment projects.  FIBRAS are regulated under Articles 187 and 188 of Mexican Federal Income Tax Law.

Money and Banking System

Financial sector reforms signed into law in 2014 have improved regulation and supervision of financial intermediaries and have fostered greater competition between financial services providers.  While access to financial services – particularly personal credit for formal sector workers – has expanded in the past four years, bank and credit penetration in Mexico remains low compared to OECD and emerging market peers.  Coupled with sound macroeconomic fundamentals, reforms have created a positive environment for the financial sector and capital markets.  According to the National Banking and Stock Commission (CNBV), the banking system remains healthy and well capitalized.  Non-performing loans have fallen 60 percent since 2001 and now account for 2.1 percent of all loans.

Mexico’s banking sector is heavily concentrated and majority foreign-owned:  the seven largest banks control 85 percent of system assets and foreign-owned institutions control 70 percent of total assets.  The USMCA maintains national treatment guarantees.  U.S. securities firms and investment funds, acting through local subsidiaries, have the right to engage in the full range of activities permitted in Mexico.

The Bank of Mexico (Banxico), Mexico’s central bank, maintains independence in operations and management by constitutional mandate.  Its main function is to provide domestic currency to the Mexican economy and to safeguard the Mexican Peso’s purchasing power by gearing monetary policy toward meeting a 3 percent inflation target over the medium term.

Mexico’s Financial Technology (FinTech) law came into effect in March 2018 and administration released secondary regulations in 2019, creating a broad rubric for the development and regulation of innovative financial technologies.  The law covers both cryptocurrencies and a regulatory “sandbox” for start-ups to test the viability of products, placing Mexico among the FinTech policy vanguard.  The reforms have already attracted significant investment to lending fintech companies and mobile payment companies.  Six fintechs have been authorized to operate in the Mexican market and CNBV is reviewing other applications.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Government of Mexico maintains a free-floating exchange rate.

Mexico maintains open conversion and transfer policies.  In general, capital and investment transactions, remittance of profits, dividends, royalties, technical service fees, and travel expenses are handled at market-determined exchange rates.  Mexican Peso (MXN)/USD exchange is available on same day, 24- and 48-hour settlement bases.  In order to prevent money-laundering transactions, Mexico imposes limits on USD cash deposits.  Businesses in designated border and tourism zones may deposit more than USD 14,000 per month subject to reporting rules and providing justification for their need to conduct USD cash transactions.  Individual account holders are subject to a USD 4,000 per month USD cash deposit limit.  In 2016, Banxico launched a central clearing house to allow for USD clearing services wholly within Mexico to improve clearing services for domestic companies with USD income.

Remittance Policies

There have been no recent changes in Mexico’s remittance policies.  Mexico continues to maintain open conversion and transfer policies.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Mexican Petroleum Fund for Stability and Development (FMP) was created as part of 2013 budgetary reforms.  Housed in Banxico, the fund distributes oil revenues to the national budget and a long-term savings account.  The FMP incorporates the Santiago Principles for transparency, placing it among the most transparent Sovereign Wealth Funds in the world.  Both Banxico and Mexico’s Supreme Federal Auditor regularly audit the fund.  Mexico is also a member of the International Working Group of Sovereign Wealth Funds.  The Fund received  MXN 197.3 billion (approximately USD 9.9 billion) in income in 2020.  The FMP is required to publish quarterly and annual reports, which can be found at www.fmped.org.mx .

7. State-Owned Enterprises

There are two main SOEs in Mexico, both in the energy sector.  Pemex operates the hydrocarbons (oil and gas) sector, which includes upstream, mid-stream, and downstream operations.  Pemex historically contributed one-third of the Mexican government’s budget but falling output and global oil prices alongside improved revenue collection from other sources have diminished this amount over the past decade to about 8 percent.  The Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) operates the electricity sector.  While the Mexican government maintains state ownership, the latest constitutional reforms granted Pemex and CFE management and budget autonomy and greater flexibility to engage in private contracting.

Pemex

As a result of Mexico’s historic energy reform, the private sector is now able to compete with Pemex or enter into competitive contracts, joint ventures, profit sharing agreements, and license contracts with Pemex for hydrocarbon exploration and extraction.  Liberalization of the retail fuel sales market, which Mexico completed in 2017, created significant opportunities for foreign businesses.  Given Pemex frequently raises debt in international markets, its financial statements are regularly audited.  The Natural Resource Governance Institute considers Pemex to be the second most transparent state-owned oil company after Norway’s Statoil.  Pemex’s ten-person Board of Directors contains five government ministers and five independent councilors.  The administration has identified increasing Pemex’s oil, natural gas, and refined fuels production as its chief priority for Mexico’s hydrocarbon sector.

CFE

Changes to the Mexican constitution in 2013 and 2014 opened power generation and commercial supply to the private sector, allowing companies to compete with CFE.  Mexico has held three long-term power auctions since the reforms, in which over 40 contracts were awarded for 7,451 megawatts of energy supply and clean energy certificates.  CFE will remain the sole provider of distribution services and will own all distribution assets.  The 2014 energy reform separated CFE from the National Energy Control Center (CENACE), which now controls the national wholesale electricity market and ensures non-discriminatory access to the grid for competitors.  Still, legal and regulatory changes adopted by the Mexican government attempt to modify the rules governing the electricity dispatch order to favor CFE.  Dozens of private companies and non-governmental organizations have successfully sought injunctions against the measures, which they argue discriminate against private participants in the electricity sector.  Independent power generators were authorized to operate in 1992 but were required to sell their output to CFE or use it to self-supply.  Those legacy self-supply contracts have recently come under criticism with an electricity reform law giving the government the ability to cancel contracts it deems fraudulent.  Under the reform, private power generators may now install and manage interconnections with CFE’s existing state-owned distribution infrastructure.  The reform also requires the government to implement a National Program for the Sustainable Use of Energy as a transition strategy to encourage clean technology and fuel development and reduce pollutant emissions.  The administration has identified increasing CFE-owned power generation as its top priority for the utility, breaking from the firm’s recent practice of contracting private firms to build, own, and operate generation facilities.  CFE forced several foreign and domestic companies to renegotiate previously executed gas supply contracts, which raised significant concerns among investors about contract sanctity.

The main non-market-based advantage CFE and Pemex receive vis-a-vis private businesses in Mexico is related to access to capital.  In addition to receiving direct budget support from the Secretariat of Finance, both entities also receive implicit credit guarantees from the federal government.  As such, both are able to borrow funds on public markets at below the market rate their corporate risk profiles would normally suggest.  In addition to budgetary support, the CRE and SENER have delayed or halted necessary permits for new private sector gas stations, fuel terminals, and power plants, providing an additional non-market-based advantage to CFE and Pemex.

Privatization Program

Mexico’s 2014 energy reforms liberalized access to these sectors but did not privatize state-owned enterprises.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Mexico’s private and public sectors have worked to promote and develop corporate social responsibility (CSR) during the past decade.  CSR in Mexico began as a philanthropic effort.  It has evolved gradually to a more holistic approach, trying to match international standards such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the United Nations Global Compact.

Responsible business conduct reporting has made progress in the last few years with more companies developing a corporate responsibility strategy.  The government has also made an effort to implement CSR in state-owned companies such as Pemex, which has published corporate responsibility reports since 1999.  Recognizing the importance of CSR issues, the Mexican Stock Exchange (Bolsa Mexicana de Valores) launched a sustainable companies index, which allows investors to specifically invest in those companies deemed to meet internationally accepted criteria for good corporate governance.

In October 2017, Mexico became the 53rd member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which represents an important milestone in its Pemex effort to establish transparency and public trust in its energy sector.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Corruption exists in many forms in Mexican government and society, including corruption in the public sector (e.g., demand for bribes or kickbacks by government officials) and private sector (e.g., fraud, falsifying claims, etc.), as well as conflict of interest issues, which are not well defined in the Mexican legal framework.

Complicity of government and law enforcement officials with criminal elements is a significant concern.  Collaboration of government actors with criminal organizations (often due to intimidation and threats) poses serious challenges for the rule of law.  Some of the most common reports of official corruption involve government officials stealing from public coffers or demanding bribes in exchange for awarding public contracts.  The current administration supported anti-corruption reforms (detailed below) and judicial proceedings in several high-profile corruption cases, including former governors.  However, Mexican civil society asserts that the government must take more effective and frequent action to address corruption.

Mexico adopted a constitutional reform in 2014 to transform the current Office of the Attorney General into an Independent Prosecutor General’s office in order to shore up its independence.  President Lopez Obrador’s choice for Prosecutor General was confirmed by the Mexican Senate January 18, 2019.  In 2015, Mexico passed a constitutional reform creating the National Anti-Corruption System (SNA) with an anti-corruption prosecutor and a citizens’ participation committee to oversee efforts.  The system is designed to provide a comprehensive framework for the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of corruption cases, including delineating acts of corruption considered criminal acts under the law.  The legal framework establishes a basis for holding private actors and private firms legally liable for acts of corruption involving public officials and encourages private firms to develop internal codes of conduct.  The implementation status of the mandatory state-level anti-corruption legislation varies.

The new laws mandate a redesign of the Secretariat of Public Administration to give it additional auditing and investigative functions and capacities in combatting public sector corruption.  Congress approved legislation to change economic institutions, assigning new responsibilities and in some instances creating new entities.  Reforms to the federal government’s structure included the creation of a General Coordination of Development Programs to manage the newly created federal state coordinators (“superdelegates”) in charge of federal programs in each state.  The law also created the Secretariat of Public Security and Citizen Protection, and significantly expanded the power of the president’s Legal Advisory Office (Consejería Jurídica) to name and remove each federal agency’s legal advisor and clear all executive branch legal reforms before their submission to Congress.  The law eliminated financial units from ministries, with the exception of the Secretariat of Finance, the army (SEDENA), and the navy (SEMAR), and transferred control of contracting offices in other ministries to the Hacienda.  Separately, the law replaced the previous Secretariat of Social Development (SEDESOL) with a Welfare Secretariat in charge of coordinating social policies, including those developed by other agencies such as health, education, and culture.  The Labor Secretariat gained additional tools to foster collective bargaining, union democracy, and to meet International Labor Organization (ILO) obligations.

Mexico ratified the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery and passed its implementing legislation in May 1999.  The legislation includes provisions making it a criminal offense to bribe foreign officials. Mexico is also a party to the Organization of American States (OAS) Convention against Corruption and has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption.  The government has enacted or proposed strict laws attacking corruption and bribery, with average penalties of five to 10 years in prison.

Mexico is a member of the Open Government Partnership and enacted a Transparency and Access to Public Information Act in 2015, which revised the existing legal framework to expand national access to information.  Transparency in public administration at the federal level improved noticeably but expanding access to information at the state and local level has been slow.  According to Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index, Mexico ranked 124 of 180 nations.  Civil society organizations focused on fighting corruption are increasingly influential at the federal level but are few in number and less powerful at the state and local levels.

Business representatives, including from U.S. firms, believe public funds are often diverted to private companies and individuals due to corruption and perceive favoritism to be widespread among government procurement officials.  The GAN Business Anti-Corruption Portal states compliance with procurement regulations by state bodies in Mexico is unreliable and that corruption is extensive, despite laws covering conflicts of interest, competitive bidding, and company blacklisting procedures.

The U.S. Embassy has engaged in a broad-based effort to work with Mexican agencies and civil society organizations in developing mechanisms to fight corruption and increase transparency and fair play in government procurement.  Efforts with specific business impact include government procurement best practices training and technical assistance under the U.S. Trade and Development Agency’s Global Procurement Initiative.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

Mexico ratified the UN Convention Against Corruption in 2004.  It ratified the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in 1999.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency:

Secretariat of Public Administration
Miguel Laurent 235, Mexico City
52-55-2000-1060

Contact at “watchdog” organization:

Transparencia Mexicana
Dulce Olivia 73, Mexico City
52-55-5659-4714
Email: info@tm.org.mx

10. Political and Security Environment

Mass demonstrations are common in the larger metropolitan areas and in the southern Mexican states of Guerrero and Oaxaca.  While political violence is rare, drug and organized crime-related violence has increased significantly in recent years.  Political violence is also likely to accelerate in the run-up to the June 2021 elections as criminal actors seek to promote election of their preferred candidates.  The national homicide rate remained stable at 29 homicides per 100,000 residents, although the number of homicides fell slightly from 35,618 to 35,498.  For complete security information, please see the Safety and Security section in the Consular Country Information page at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/Mexico.html.  Conditions vary widely by state.  For a state-by-state assessment please see the Consular Travel Advisory at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/mexico-travel-advisory.html.

Companies have reported general security concerns remain an issue for those looking to invest in the country.  The American Chamber of Commerce in Mexico estimates in a biannual report that security expenses cost business as much as 5 percent of their operating budgets.  Many companies choose to take extra precautions for the protection of their executives.  They also report increasing security costs for shipments of goods.  The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) monitors and reports on regional security for U.S. businesses operating overseas.  OSAC constituency is available to any U.S.-owned, not-for-profit organization, or any enterprise incorporated in the United States (parent company, not subsidiaries or divisions) doing business overseas (https://www.osac.gov/Country/Mexico/Detail ).

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Mexico’s 54.1. percent rate of informality remains higher than countries with similar GDP per capita levels.  High informality, defined as those working in unregistered firms or without social security protection, distorts labor market dynamics, contributes to persistent wage depression, drags overall productivity, and slows economic growth.  In the formal economy, there exist large labor shortages due to a system that incentivizes informality.  Manufacturing companies, particularly along the U.S.-Mexico border and in the states of Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, Jalisco, and Querétaro, report labor shortages and an inability to retain staff due to wages sometimes being less that what can be earned in the informal economy.  These shortages are particularly acute for skilled workers and engineers.

On May 1, 2019, Lopez Obrador signed into law a sweeping reform of Mexico’s labor law, implementing a constitutional change and focusing on the labor justice system.  The reform replaces tripartite dispute resolution entities (Conciliation and Arbitration Boards) with independent judicial bodies and conciliation centers.  In terms of labor dispute resolution mechanisms, the Conciliation and Arbitration Boards (CABs) previously adjudicated all individual and collective labor conflicts.  Under the reform, collective bargaining agreements will now be adjudicated by federal labor conciliation centers and federal labor courts.

Labor experts predict the labor reform will result in a greater level of labor action stemming from more inter-union and intra-union competition.  The Secretariat of Labor, working closely with Mexico’s federal judiciary, as well as state governments and courts, created an ambitious state-by-state implementation agenda for the reforms, which started November 18, 2020, and will end May 1, 2022.  On November 18, 2020 the first phase of the labor reform implementation began in eight states:  Durango, State of Mexico, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas, Campeche, Chiapas, Tabasco, and Hidalgo.  On December 11, 2020 the Secretariat of Labor commenced preparations for the second phase in 14 additional states beginning in October 2021.  Further details on labor reform implementation can be found at: www.reformalaboral.stps.gob.mx

Mexico’s labor relations system has been widely criticized as skewed to represent the interests of employers and the government at the expense of workers.  Mexico’s legal framework governing collective bargaining created the possibility of negotiation and registration of initial collective bargaining agreements without the support or knowledge of the covered workers.  These agreements are commonly known as protection contracts and constitute a gap in practice with international labor standards regarding freedom of association.  The percentage of the economy covered by collective bargaining agreements is between five and 10 percent, of which more than half are believed to be protection contracts.  As of March 23, 2021, 600 collective bargaining contracts have been legitimized, according to the Secretariat of Labor.

The reform requires all collective bargaining agreements must now be submitted to a free, fair, and secret vote every two years with the objective of getting existing protectionist contracts voted out.  The increasingly permissive political and legal environment for independent unions is already changing the way established unions manage disputes with employers, prompting more authentic collective bargaining.  As independent unions compete with corporatist unions to represent worker interests, workers are likely to be further emboldened in demanding higher wages.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), government enforcement was reasonably effective in enforcing labor laws in large and medium-sized companies, especially in factories run by U.S. companies and in other industries under federal jurisdiction.  Enforcement was inadequate in many small companies and in the agriculture and construction sectors, and it was nearly absent in the informal sector.  Workers organizations have made numerous complaints of poor working conditions in maquiladoras and in the agricultural production industry.  Low wages, poor labor conditions, long work hours, unjustified dismissals, lack of social security benefits and safety in the workplace, and lack of freedom of association were among the most common complaints.

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) ($M USD) 2020 MXN 23,122 billion 2019 USD 18,465 billion https://www.inegi.org.mx/
https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WEO
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($billion USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 USD 100.9 billion BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 USD 21.5 billion BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020 2.7% 2019 2.6% https://www.inegi.org.mx/
UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html
Table 3:  Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data* 2019
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 567,747 100% Total Outward 172,419 100%
United States 190,505 34% United States 74,854 43%
Netherlands 115,224 20% Netherlands 25,219 15%
Spain 96,146 17% Spain 13,171 8%
Canada 39,025 7% United Kingdom 12,729 7%
United Kingdom 23,648 4% Brazil 8,064 5%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

* data from the IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey

Table 4:  Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets, as of June 2020*
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 61,361 100% All Countries 42,877 100% All Countries 18,484 100%
United States 19,356 32% Ireland 8,256 19% United States 12,829 69%
Ireland 8,263 13% United States 6,528 15 Brazil 1,506 8%
Brazil 1,514 2% Luxembourg 781 2% Chile 65 0.4%
Luxembourg 793 0.5% Spain 266 0.6% Netherlands 62 0.3%
United Kingdom 109 0.2% China 91 0.2% United Kingdom 55 0.3%

* data from the IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS)

14. Contact for More Information

William Ayala
Economic Officer
AyalaWM@State.gov
U.S. Embassy Mexico City