1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Foreign investment in New Zealand is generally encouraged without discrimination. New Zealand has an open and transparent economy, where businesses and investors can generally make commercial transactions with ease. Successive governments accept that foreign investment is an important source of financing for New Zealand and a means to gain access to foreign technology, expertise, and global markets. Some restrictions do apply in a few areas of critical interest including certain types of land, significant business assets, and fishing quotas. These restrictions are facilitated by a screening process conducted by the Overseas Investment Office (OIO), described in the next section.
New Zealand has a rapidly expanding network of bilateral investment treaties and free trade agreements that include investment components. New Zealand also has a well-developed legal framework and regulatory system, and the judicial system is generally effective in enforcing property and contractual rights. Investment disputes are rare, and there have been no major disputes in recent years involving U.S. companies.
The Labour Party-led government has embarked on a program of tighter screening of some forms of foreign investment. It has also focused on different aspects of trade agreement negotiation compared with the previous government, such as an aversion to investor-state dispute settlement provisions, and moved to restrict the availability of permits for oil and gas exploration. This will be discussed below in a later section.
Crown entity New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) is New Zealand’s primary investment promotion agency. In addition to its New Zealand central and regional presence, it has 40 international locations, including four offices in the United States. Approximately half of the NZTE staff is based overseas. The NZTE offers to help investors develop their plans, access opportunities, and facilitate connections with New Zealand-based private sector advisors: https://www.nzte.govt.nz/investment-and-funding/how-we-help. Once investors independently complete their negotiations, due diligence, and receive confirmation of their investment, the NZTE offers aftercare advice. The NZTE works to channel investment into regional areas of New Zealand to build capability and to promote opportunities outside of the country’s main cities.
In recent years new visa categories were created for investors and for entrepreneurs, and measures introduced to allow foreign investors – under certain circumstances – to bid alongside New Zealand businesses for contestable government funding for research and innovation grants. Most of the programs which are operated by NZTE, the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE), and Callaghan Innovation, provide support through skills and knowledge, or supporting innovative business ventures. Grants are available, but many are co-funded, requiring some investment by the business owner, and extra conditions apply to non-resident applicants. For more see: https://www.business.govt.nz/how-to-grow/getting-government-grants/what-can-i-get-help-with/
The New Zealand-United States Council, established in 2001, is a non-partisan organization funded by business and the government. It fosters a strong and mutually beneficial relationship between New Zealand and the United States through both government-to-government contacts, and business-to-business links. The American Chamber of Commerce in Auckland provides a platform for New Zealand and U.S. businesses to network among themselves and with government agencies.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
The New Zealand government does not discriminate against U.S. or other foreign investors in their rights to establish and own business enterprises. It has placed separate limitations on foreign ownership of airline Air New Zealand and telecommunications provider Spark New Zealand (Spark).
Air New Zealand’s constitution requires that no person who is not a New Zealand national hold 10 percent or more of the voting rights without the consent of the Minister of Transport. There must be between five and eight board directors, at least three of which must reside in New Zealand. In 2013 the government sold a partial stake in Air New Zealand reducing its equity interest from 73 percent to 53 percent.
Spark’s constitution requires at least half of its Board be New Zealand citizens, and at least one director must live in New Zealand. It requires no person shall have a relevant interest in 10 percent or more of the voting shares without the consent of the Minister of Finance and the Spark Board, and no person who is not a New Zealand national can purchase a relevant interest in more than 49.9 percent of the total voting shares without approval from the Minister of Finance. This telecommunications service obligation (TSO) – formerly known as the “Kiwishare obligation” – has been in operation since Spark’s privatization in 1990, and was motivated in part because of the vital emergency call service it provides. There are TSOs for charge-free local calling (provided by Spark and supported by Chorus), and for the services for deaf, hearing impaired, and speech impaired people (provided by Sprint International).
The establishment of telecommunications infrastructure provider Chorus resulted from a demerger of Spark in 2011. Chorus owns most of the telephone infrastructure in New Zealand, and provides wholesale services to telecommunications retailers, including Spark. The demerger freed Spark from the TSO, but obligated Chorus as a natural monopoly and infrastructure provider. To date the New Zealand government has granted approval to two private companies – in April 2012 and December 2017 – to exceed the 10 percent threshold, and increase their interest in Chorus up to 15 percent.
[National Security: TICSA]
New Zealand screens overseas investment mainly for economic reasons, but has legislation that outlines a framework to protect the national security of telecommunication networks. The Telecommunications (Interception and Security) Act 2013 (TICSA) sets out the process for network operators to work with the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) – in accordance with – to prevent, sufficiently mitigate, or remove security risks arising from the design, build, or operation of public telecommunications networks; and interconnections to or between public telecommunications networks in New Zealand or with networks overseas. In April 2019 the government signaled it would be considering a “national interest” restriction on foreign investment, when it issued a document for .
[Economic Security: OIO]
New Zealand otherwise screens overseas investment to ensure quality investments are made that benefit New Zealand. Failure to obtain consent before purchase can lead to significant financial penalties. The Overseas Investment Office (OIO) is responsible for screening foreign investment that falls within certain criteria specified in the Overseas Investment Act 2005.
The OIO requires consent be obtained by overseas persons wishing to acquire or invest in significant business assets, sensitive land, farm land, or fishing quota, as defined below.
A “significant business asset” includes: acquiring 25 percent or more ownership or controlling interest in a New Zealand company with assets exceeding NZD 100 million (USD 68 million); establishing a business in New Zealand that will be operational more than 90 days per year and expected costs of establishing the business exceeds NZD 100 million; or acquiring business assets in New Zealand that exceed NZD 100 million.
OIO consent is required for overseas investors to purchase “sensitive land” either directly or acquiring a controlling interest of 25 percent or more in a person who owns the land. Non-residential sensitive land includes land that: is non-urban and exceeds five hectares (12.35 acres); is part of or adjoins the foreshore or seabed; exceeds 0.4 hectares (1 acre) and falls under of the Conservation Act of 1987 or it is land proposed for a reserve or public park; is subject to a Heritage Order, or is a historic or wahi tapu area (sacred Maori land); or is considered “special land” that is defined as including the foreshore, seabed, riverbed, or lakebed and must first be offered to the Crown. If the Crown accepts the offer, the Crown can only acquire the part of the “sensitive land” that is “special land,” and can acquire it only if the overseas person completes the process for acquisition of the sensitive land.
The Waitangi Tribunal was established by the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975 to hear Maori claims relating to the loss of land and resources as a result of historical breaches by the Crown of the Treaty of Waitangi signed in 1840. Maori land claims may not be lodged relating to privately owned land and affect only land owned by the Crown. Some private land titles are noted with a memorial recording that the land, when Crown land, would be subject to a claim and therefore repurchased by the Crown for market value at some future time. No land in New Zealand has to date been the subject of a repurchase decision.
Where a proposed acquisition involves “farm land” (land used principally for agricultural, horticultural, or pastoral purposes, or for the keeping of bees, poultry, or livestock), the OIO can only grant approval if the land is first advertised and offered on the open market in New Zealand to citizens and residents. The Crown can waive this requirement in special circumstances at the discretion of the relevant Minister.
Commercial fishing in New Zealand is controlled by the Fisheries Act, which sets out a quota management system that prohibits commercial fishing of certain species without the ownership of a fishing quota which specifies the quantity of fish that may be taken. OIO legislation together with the Fisheries Act, requires consent from the relevant Ministers in order for an overseas person to obtain an interest in a fishing quota, or an interest of 25 percent or more in a business that owns or controls a fishing quota.
For investments that require OIO screening, the investor must demonstrate in their application they meet the criteria for the “Investor Test” and the “Benefit to New Zealand test.” The former requires the investor to display the necessary business experience and acumen to manage the investment, demonstrate financial commitment to the investment, and be of “good character” meaning a person who would be eligible for a permit under New Zealand immigration law.
The “Benefit to New Zealand test” requires the OIO assess the investment against 21 factors, which are set out in the OIO Act and Regulations. The OIO applies a counterfactual analysis to those benefit factors that are capable of having a counterfactual applied, the onus is upon the investor to consider the likely counterfactual if the overseas investment does not proceed. Economic factors are given weighting, particularly if the investment will create new job opportunities, retain existing jobs, and lead to greater efficiency or productivity domestically.
For all four categories the threshold is higher for Australian investors. Australian non-government investors are screened at NZD 530 million (USD 360 million) and Australian government investors at NZD 111 million (USD 75 million) for 2019, with both amounts reviewed each year in accordance with the 2013 Protocol on Investment to the New Zealand-Australia Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement. Separately, non-government investors from CPTPP countries face a screening threshold of NZD 200 million (USD 136 million).
The OIO Regulations set out the fee schedule for lodging new applications which can be costly, currently ranging between NZD 13,000 (USD 8,800) to NZD 54,000 (USD 36,700). The Overseas Investment Act does not prescribe timeframes within which the OIO must make a decision on any consent applications, and current processing times regularly exceed six months. In recent years some investors have abandoned their applications, and have been vocal in their frustration with costs and time frames involved in obtaining OIO consent.
The OIO monitors foreign investments after approval. All consents are granted with reporting conditions, which are generally standard in nature. Investors must report regularly on their compliance with the terms of the consent. Offenses include: defeating, evading, or circumventing the OIO Act; failure to comply with notices, requirements, or conditions; and making false or misleading statements or omissions. If an offense has been committed under the Act, the High Court has the power to impose penalties, including monetary fines, ordering compliance, and ordering the disposal of the investor’s New Zealand holdings.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
New Zealand has not conducted an Investment Policy Review through the OECD or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in the past three years. New Zealand’s last Trade Policy Review was in 2015 and the next will take place in 2021: .
The New Zealand government has shown a strong commitment to continue efforts to streamline business facilitation. According to the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business 2019 report New Zealand is ranked first in “Starting a Business,” “Registering Property,” “Getting Credit,” and is ranked second for “Protecting Minority Investors.”
There are no restrictions on the movement of funds into or out of New Zealand, or on the repatriation of profits. No additional performance measures are imposed on foreign-owned enterprises, other than those that require OIO approval. Overseas investors must adhere to the normal legislative business framework for New Zealand-based companies, which includes the Commerce Act 1986, the Companies Act 1993, the Financial Markets Conduct Act 2013, the Financial Reporting Act 2013, and the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act 2009 (AML/CFT). The Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017 was passed to modernize and consolidate existing legislation underpinning contracts and commercial transactions.
The tightening of anti-money laundering laws has impacted the cross-border movement of remittance orders from New Zealanders and migrant workers to the Pacific Islands. Banks, non-bank institutions, and people in occupations that typically handle large amounts of cash, are required to collect additional information about their customers and report any suspicious transactions to the New Zealand Police. If an entity is unable to comply with the AML/CFT in its dealings with a customer, it must not do business with that person. For banks this would mean not processing certain transactions, withdrawing the banking products and services it offers, and choosing not to have that person as a customer. This has resulted in some banks charging higher fees for remittance services in order to reduce their exposure to risks, which has led to the forced closing of accounts held by some money transfer operators. Phase 1 sectors which include financial institutions, remitters, trust and company service providers, casinos, payment providers, and lenders have had to comply with the AML/CFT since 2013. Under Phase 2 the AML/CFT was extended to lawyers, conveyancers from July 2018, accountants, and bookkeepers from October 2018, and realtors from January 2019.
In order to combat the increasing use of New Zealand shell companies for illegal activities, the Companies Amendment Act 2014 and the Limited Partnerships Amendment Act 2014 introduced new requirements for companies registering in New Zealand. Companies must have at least one director that either lives in New Zealand, or lives in Australia and is a director of a company incorporated in Australia. New companies incorporated must provide the date and place of birth of all directors, and provide details of any ultimate holding company. The Acts introduced offences for serious misconduct by directors that results in serious losses to the company or its creditors, and aligns the company reconstruction provisions in the Companies Act with the Takeovers Act 1993 and the Takeovers Code Approval Order 2000.
The Companies Office holds an overseas business-related register, and provides that information to persons in New Zealand who intend to deal with the company or to creditors in New Zealand. The information provided includes where and when the company was incorporated, if there is any restriction on its ability to trade contained in its constitutional documents, names of the directors, its principal place of business in New Zealand, and where and on whom documents can be served in New Zealand. For further information on how overseas companies can register in New Zealand:
The New Zealand Business Number (NZBN) Act 2016 allows the allocation of unique identifiers to eligible entities to enable them to conduct business more efficiently, interact more easily with the government, and to protect the entity’s security and confidentiality of information. All companies registered in New Zealand have had NZBNs since 2013, and are also available to other types of businesses such as sole traders and partnerships.
Tax registration is recommended when the investor incorporates the company with the Companies Office, but is required if the company is registering as an employer and if it intends to register for New Zealand’s consumption tax, the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which is currently 15 percent. Companies importing into New Zealand or exporting to other countries which have a turnover exceeding NZD 60,000 (USD 40,800) over a 12-month period, or expect to pass NZD 60,000 in the next 12 months, must register for GST. Non-resident businesses that conduct a taxable activity supplying goods or services in New Zealand and make taxable supplies in New Zealand, must register for GST: https://www.ird.govt.nz/index/all-tasks. From 2014, non-resident businesses that do not make taxable supplies in New Zealand have been able to claim GST if they meet certain .
To comply with GST registration, overseas companies need two pieces of evidence to prove their customer is a resident in New Zealand, such as their billing address or IP address, and a GST return must be filed every quarter even if the company does not make any sales.
In 2016 mandatory GST registration was extended to non-resident suppliers of “remote services” to New Zealand customers, if they meet the NZD 60,000 annual sales threshold. In 2018, the government introduced legislation that if enacted, will require non-resident suppliers of low-value import goods to register for GST, if they meet the NZD 60,000 annual sales threshold. Both are discussed in a later section.
The New Zealand government does not place restrictions on domestic investors to invest abroad.
NZTE is the government’s international business development agency. It promotes outward investment and provides resources and services for New Zealand businesses to prepare for export and advice on how to grow internationally. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and Customs New Zealand each operates business outreach programs that advise businesses on how to maximize the benefit from FTAs to improve the competitiveness of their goods offshore, and provides information on how to meet requirements such as rules of origin.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
* Host country statistics differ from USG and international sources due to calculation methodologies, and timing of exchange rate conversions. Almost a third of inbound foreign direct investment in New Zealand is in the financial and insurance services sector. Foreign direct investment data for 2017 was released in July 2018. Statistics New Zealand data available at
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
|Direct Investment From/in Counterpart Economy Data (2017)|
|From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)|
|Inward Direct Investment||Outward Direct Investment|
|Total Inward||$76,028||100%||Total Outward||$17,159||100%|
|United States||$5,585||7%||United States||$2,435||14%|
|China, P.R.: Hong Kong||$5,095||7%||China, P.R.: Hong Kong||$1,560||9%|
|United Kingdom||$3,334||4%||United Kingdom||$951||6%|
|“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.|
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
|Portfolio Investment Assets (June 2018)|
|Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)|
|Total||Equity Securities||Total Debt Securities|
|All Countries||$100,825||100%||All Countries||$68,040||100%||All Countries||$32,785||100%|