Over the last year, Ethiopia has undertaken unprecedented economic and political reforms. The new Ethiopian government, led by Prime Minister (PM) Abiy Ahmed, who was sworn in on April 2, 2018, announced at the outset its plan to democratize the country, reform the economy, and increase private sector participation. Early in his tenure, PM Abiy addressed some of the public’s numerous longstanding grievances, including: ending the State of Emergency imposed by the government prior to his ascension; closing a notorious detention center; releasing thousands of detained individuals; restoring mobile internet throughout the country; retiring members of the political “old guard,” who were perceived as in the way of reform; and, reframing the government’s posture towards opposition parties.
On the economic front, the new administration is working to partially or wholly privatize major state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in the telecom, aviation, power, sugar, railway, and industrial parks sectors. In addition, the Government of Ethiopia (GOE) lifted a restriction on the logistics sector and enacted a law that allows Public Private Partnerships (PPP) to gradually open up some sectors of the economy to foreign investors. Ethiopia’s rapprochement with Eritrea could possibly open up alternative ports for trade. Furthermore, the country recently ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement and eased visa requirements for African Union member countries with the goal of enhancing regional trade and tourism and attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). The GOE announced its commitment to modernize the financial sector, improve the ease of doing business, and enhance macroeconomic and fiscal management.
Ethiopia’s economy is currently in transition. Coming off a decade of double-digit growth, fueled primarily by public infrastructure projects funded through debt, the GOE has tightened its belt, reducing inefficient government expenditures, putting a moratorium on most new government mega-projects, and attempting to get its accounts in order at bloated state-owned enterprises (SOEs). The IMF put the growth of the Ethiopian economy at 7.7 percent for FY2017/18 and is projecting an 8.5 percent annual growth rate for the medium term. Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa after Nigeria, with a population of over 100 million, approximately two-thirds of whom are under age 30. Low-cost labor, a national airline with 105 passenger connections, and growing consumer markets are key elements attracting foreign investment.
Ethiopia’s imports in the last year have experienced a slight decline in large part due to a reduction in public investment programs and a dire foreign exchange shortage. Distressingly, export performance remains weak, declining due to falling primary commodity prices and an overvalued exchange rate. The acute foreign exchange shortage (the Ethiopian birr is not a freely convertible currency) and the absence of capital markets are choking private sector growth. Companies often face long lead-times importing goods and dispatching exports due to logistical bottlenecks, high land-transportation costs, and bureaucratic delays. Ethiopia is not a signatory of major intellectual property rights treaties.
All land in Ethiopia belongs to “the people” and is administered by the government. Private ownership does not exist, but “land-use rights” have been registered in most populated areas. The GOE retains the right to expropriate land for the “common good,” which it defines to include expropriation for commercial farms, industrial zones, and infrastructure development. Successful investors in Ethiopia conduct thorough due diligence on land titles at both the state and federal levels, and undertake consultations with local communities regarding the proposed use of the land. The largest volume of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Ethiopia comes from China, followed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Political instability associated with various ethnic conflicts could negatively impact the investment climate and lower future FDI inflow.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2018||114 of 180||https://www.transparency.org/country/ETH|
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business”||2019||159 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2018||N/A||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/gii-2018-report#|
|U.S. FDI in partner country (M USD, stock positions)||2018||$600||http://www.investethiopia.gov.et/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2017||$740||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
In November 2018, the GOE created a new one page government priority dashboard entitled “Ethiopia: A New Horizon of Hope.” The dashboard, which predominantly focuses on the economy, pinpoints “Key Facts and Challenges” in areas such as “Financial Sector,” “Macro-Economic Management,” and “Export and Revenue Mobilization.” The dashboard proposes push-to-grow manufacturing and emphasizes agriculture, information communication and technology, and tourism as pillars of a productive economy. The plan also sets concrete targets to raise credit available to the private sector by 20 percent per year and encourages increased private sector participation in several sectors, including power generation and logistics. The government is currently undertaking changes in legislation and institutions to implement the economic reforms laid out in the dashboard. In addition, Ethiopia has started implementing a Public Private Partnership (PPP) proclamation, equivalent to a law, which would permit foreign investment and ownership of public infrastructure, with an initial focus on power generation and road construction.
Given the scale of investment required to achieve the goal of becoming a middle income economy by 2025 and the announcement of new economic reforms, the country needs significant inflows of FDI. Tax incentives for investment in the high-priority sectors, such as manufacturing, agribusiness, textiles, sugar, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, minerals, and metal processing, underscore the government’s focus on FDI.
In June 2018, the GOE announced plans to partially privatize Ethiopian Airlines, EthioTelecom, Ethiopian Electric Power, and Ethiopian Shipping and Logistics Service Enterprise, and fully privatize railways, sugar projects, industrial parks and government-owned hotels. The GOE has taken concrete measures to open up closed sectors, including drafting a bill to open the aviation sector, drafting legislation to create a new telecommunications regulator and allow foreign investment in that sector, allow minority stakes in joint-ventures by foreign logistics companies, allowing Ethiopian diaspora to hold shares in private Ethiopian banks, and commissioning a study to advise on how best to open up the financial sector.
While laws and regulations may change relatively quickly under the current dynamic reform period, under the existing code, foreign investment is prohibited in wholesale trade (excluding supply of petroleum and its by-products as well as wholesale trade by foreign investors of their locally-produced products), most import trade, export trade of raw coffee, khat, oilseeds, pulses, the export of live sheep, goats, and cattle not raised or fattened by the investor, construction companies (excluding those designated as grade 1), tanning of hides and skins up to crust level, hotels (excluding star-designated hotels), restaurants and bars (excluding international and specialized restaurants), trade auxiliary and ticket selling services, transport services, bakery products and pastries for the domestic market, grinding mills, hair salons, clothing workshops (except garment factories), building and vehicle maintenance, saw milling and timber production, museums, theaters and cinema hall operations, and printing industries. As part of its ongoing economic reform efforts, the government is in the process of revising the investment code. Foreigners of Ethiopian origin can obtain a resident card from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that allows them to invest in many sectors closed to other foreigners. While foreign firms cannot engage in joint ventures in closed sectors, they are allowed to supply goods and services to Ethiopian firms in these sectors.
The Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC) has the mandate to promote and facilitate investments in Ethiopia and its services including: 1) to promote the country’s investment opportunities; 2) to issue investment permits, business licenses, and construction permits; 3) to issue commercial registration certificates and renewals; 4) to negotiate and sign bilateral investment agreements; and, 5) to issue work permits. In addition, the EIC has the mandate to advise the government on policies to improve the investment climate. At the local level, regional investment agencies facilitate regional investment. Ethiopia’s rank on the 2019 World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index improved from 2018, moving from 161 to 159 out of 190 countries. Progress was primarily in the area of reducing barriers to starting a new business by removing competence certificate for certain businesses; reducing the time it takes to obtain planning consent for construction permits; and, establishing specialized benches to resolve commercial cases addressing contract enforcement. The World Bank also identified areas where Ethiopia’s Ease of Doing Business worsened from 2018 relative to other ranked countries, including getting electricity, registering property, and resolving insolvency. In order to improve the investment climate, attract more FDI, and tackle unemployment challenges, a committee has been formed by the Prime Minister’s Office to systematically examine each indicator on the Doing Business Index, identify factors that inhibit businesses, and envision placing Ethiopia among the top 100 doing business ranking countries.
The American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) works on voicing the concerns of the U.S. businesses in Ethiopia. AmCham has provided a mechanism to compete with investors from India, China, the U.K, and the Netherlands, who meet regularly with government officials through their respective associations to discuss issues that hinder their operation in Ethiopia. The Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce also organizes a monthly business forum, which enables the business community to discuss issues related to the investment climate with government officials by sector.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish, acquire, own, and dispose of most forms of business enterprises. However, there are sectors (mentioned above) that are closed to foreign investors. There is no private ownership of land. All land is owned by the state, but can be leased for up to 99 years. Small-scale rural landholders have indefinite use rights, but cannot lease out holdings for extended periods, except in the Amhara Region. The 2011 Urban Land Lease Proclamation allows the government to determine the value of land in transfers of leasehold rights, in an attempt to curb speculation by investors.
A foreign investor intending to buy an existing private enterprise or buy shares in an existing enterprise needs to obtain prior approval from the EIC. While foreign investors have complained about inconsistent interpretation of the regulations governing investment registration (particularly relating to accounting for in-kind investments), they generally do not face undue screening of FDI, unfavorable tax treatment, denial of licenses, discriminatory import or export policies, or inequitable tariff and non-tariff barriers.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
Over the past four years, the EIC has undertaken an independent review of its investor services in an effort to streamline the investment process. According to the EIC, the Commission has already implemented at least 28 services pertaining to licensing and registration, and duty-free importation of capital goods for investment in manufacturing. The EIC has three Deputy Commissioners, with responsibilities for the following divisions: Investment Operations; Industrial Parks Regulation; and, Policy and Investment Climate Improvement.
The EIC has established a one-stop shop service to cut the time and cost of acquiring investment and business licenses. If all requirements are met, it is now possible to obtain a business license in a single day, although this remains the exception rather than the rule. According to the 2019 World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report, on average, it takes 32 days to start a business in Ethiopia. Meanwhile, the EIC has adopted a Customer or Account Manager system to build lasting relationships and provide post-investment assistance to investors. U.S. investors report that the EIC often fails to meet its own stringent deadlines. The EIC readily admits that many bureaucratic barriers to investment remain, but hopes to eliminate many of these in the future.
Currently, more than 95 percent of Ethiopia’s trade passes through the Port of Djibouti, with residual trade passing through the Somaliland port of Berbera or Port Sudan. In March 2018, Ethiopia concluded an agreement with the Somaliland Ports Authority and DP World to acquire a 19 percent stake in the joint venture developing the Port of Berbera. The agreement will help Ethiopia secure an additional logistical gateway for its increasing import and export trade. Following the July 2018 rapprochement with Eritrea, the Ethiopian government has investigated the opportunity of accessing an alternative port at either Massawa or Asseb.
The Government of Ethiopia is working to improve business facilitation services by making the licensing and registration process easier and faster, by registering foreign Chambers and business associations in Ethiopia to advocate for their respective country businesses. U.S. companies can obtain detailed information for the registration of their business in Ethiopia from an online investment guide to Ethiopia ( ). Though the government is taking positive steps to socially empower women (half of the new cabinet are women), there is no special treatment provided to those who wish to engage in business.
Online business registration is not yet available, but the Ministry of Trade and Industry claims to have plans to migrate the paper-based registration process to a digital system at some unnamed time in the future. In 2016, the government revised its commercial registration and business licensing legislation, which eliminated some cumbersome and duplicative requirements, such as the yearly renewal of business registrations and the 15,000 ETB (approximately USD 680) minimum capital requirements to set up limited liability companies. In 2018 the government removed the need to obtain a certificate of competence for certain types of businesses, made the process of obtaining construction permits faster by reducing the time to obtain planning consent, and made enforcing contracts easier by establishing specialized benches to resolve commercial cases.
There is no outward investment by domestic investors from Ethiopia as citizens/local investors are not allowed to hold foreign accounts.
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
Ethiopia is a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) and it has bilateral investment and protection agreements with Algeria, Austria, China, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, Finland, France, Iran, Israel, Italy, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey and Yemen. Other bilateral investment agreements have been signed but are not in force with Belgium/Luxemburg, Brazil, Equatorial Guinea, India, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates. Ethiopia signed a protection of investment and property acquisition agreement with Djibouti. A Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations, which entered into force in 1953, governs economic and consular relations with the United States.
Ethiopia is a member of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), a regional economic block, which has 21 member countries. The body has introduced a 10 percent tariff reduction on goods imported from member states. However, Ethiopia has not yet joined the COMESA free trade area.
In 2019 Ethiopia ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement, which aims to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, to pave the way for accelerating the establishment of the Continental Customs Union and the African customs union. Ethiopia is the 21st country to sign the agreement, with just one more country needing to ratify to make AfCFTA operational.
There is no double taxation treaty between the United States and Ethiopia. Ethiopia has such taxation treaties with fourteen countries, including Italy, Kuwait, Romania, Russia, Tunisia, Yemen, Israel, South Africa, Sudan, and the United Kingdom.
4. Industrial Policies
The Investment Regulation 270/2012 and the 2014 amendment outline incentives for investors. New investors in manufacturing, agro-processing, and selected agricultural products are entitled to income tax exemption ranging from two to five years depending on the location of the investment. Any investor who produces for export or supplies to an exporter, or who exports at least 60 percent of his products or services, is entitled to an additional two years of income tax exemption.
An investor who establishes a new enterprise in less prosperous areas shall be entitled to an income tax deduction of 30 percent for three consecutive years after the expiry of the regular income tax exemption period. These areas include Gambella, Benshangul/Gumuz, Afar (except in areas within 15 kilometers from each bank of the Awash River), Somali, Guji, Borena Zones of Oromia, South Omo Zone, Segen, Bench Maji Zone, Sheka Zone, Dawro Zone, Kaffa Zone, Konta, and Basketo Special Woredas of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region.
Ethiopian investment laws provide protection and guarantees to local and foreign investors.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
The Industrial Park Proclamation 886/2015 mandates Ethiopian Industrial Parks Corporation to develop and administer industrial parks owned by government. The law designates industrial parks as duty-free zones, and domestic as well as foreign operators in the parks are exempt from income tax for up to 10 years. Investors operating in parks are also exempt from duties and other taxes on the import of capital goods, construction materials, and raw materials for production of export commodities and vehicles.
An investor who operates in a designated Industrial Development Zone in or near Addis Ababa is entitled to two years of income tax exemptions, and four more years income tax exemption if the investment is made in an industrial park in other areas, provided 80 percent or more of production is for export or constitutes input for an exporter.
Industrial Parks can be developed by either government or private developers. In practice, the majority have been developed by the Ethiopian government with Chinese financing. The government has announced plans to construct a total of 17 industrial parks in various locations around the country. As of April 2019, operational industrial parks include Hawassa Industrial Park, Bole Lemi-I, East Industrial Park, George Shoe Park, Meleke Industrial Park, Kombolcha Industrial Park, Adama Industrial Park and Debreberhan Industrial Park.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
Ethiopia does not formally impose performance requirements on foreign investors, though investors in Ethiopia routinely encounter business visa delays and onerous paperwork requirements. In addition, investors are required to allocate a minimum capital of USD 200,000 per project. For joint investments with a domestic partner, the investment requirement is lowered to USD 150,000.
There are no forced localization or data storage requirements for private investors. Local content in terms of hiring, products, and services is strongly encouraged but not required. The Department for Immigration and Nationality Affairs issues residence permits for those with investment permits. The government also provides multiple entry five year visas for investors in industrial parks. An investor can employ qualified expatriate experts necessary to operations, but is responsible for replacing them by local experts within a limited period. Top management positions are exempted from this requirement and ex-patriates can fill these positions indefinitely. Although not a legal requirement, in joint ventures with state-owned enterprises investors report informal requirements of up to 30 percent domestic content in goods and/or technology.
EthioTelecom is the sole telecommunications service provider in Ethiopia. In 2018, the government announced plans to liberalize the sector and open the market to foreign service providers. In February of 2019, the Council of Ministers approved a bill to establish a regulatory agency for communication services that would adequately regulate the telecommunications sector and open it to foreign investment; the bill is awaiting approval by the Parliament. Proclamation No. 808/2013 mandates the Information Network Security Agency (INSA) to control the import and export of information technology, to build an information technology testing and evaluation laboratory center, and to regulate cryptographic products and their transactions.
5. Protection of Property Rights
The constitution recognizes and protects ownership of private property. However, all land in Ethiopia belongs to “the people” and is administered by the government. Private ownership does not exist, but land-use rights have been registered in most populated areas. As land is public property, it cannot be mortgaged. Confusion with respect to the registration of urban land-use rights, particularly in Addis Ababa, is common. Allegations of corruption in the allocation of urban-land to private investors by government agencies are a major source of popular discontent. The government retains the right to expropriate land for the common good, which it defines as including expropriation for commercial farms, industrial zones, and infrastructure development. While the government claims to allocate only sparsely settled or empty land to investors, some people have been resettled. In particular, traditional grazing land has often been defined as empty and expropriated, leading to resentment, protests and, in some cases, conflict. In addition, leasehold regulations vary in form and practice by region. Successful investors in Ethiopia conduct thorough due diligence on land titles at both state and federal levels, and conduct consultations with local communities regarding the proposed use of the land before investing.
We encourage potential investors to ensure their needs are communicated clearly to the host government. It is important for investors to understand who had land-use rights preceding them, and to research the attitude of local communities to an investor’s use of that land, particularly in region of Oromia, where conflict between international investors and local communities has occurred.
The 2019 World Bank Doing Business Report has ranked Ethiopia 144 out of 190 economies in registering property, as it take on average 52 days to register property.
Intellectual Property Rights
The Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office (EIPO) oversees intellectual property rights (IPR) issues. Ethiopia is not yet a signatory to a number of major IPR treaties, such as the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty, the Berne Convention for Literary and Artistic Works, the Madrid System for the International Registration of Marks, or the Patent Cooperation Treaty. The government expressed its intention to accede to the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the Marrakesh Protocol, and the Madrid Protocol. To meet this objective, EIPO is drafting a ratification proclamation. EIPO has been tasked primarily to protect Ethiopian patents and copyrights and to fight pirated software. Generally, EIPO is weak in terms of staff and budget, and it does not have law enforcement authority. Abuse of U.S. trademarks is rampant, particularly in the hospitality and retail sectors. The government does not publicly track counterfeit goods seizures, and no estimates are available. Ethiopia is not included in the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report or Notorious Markets List.
Embassy POC: Economic Officer, Helena Schrader, USEmbassyPolEconExternal@state.gov
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
Credit is tight and banks often require 100 percent collateral, making access to credit one of the greatest hindrances on the Ethiopian economy writ large. A 2011 measure requiring non-government banks to invest the equivalent of 27 percent of their loan disbursement portfolio in National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE) bonds has exacerbated liquidity shortages.
Ethiopia does not have securities markets, and sales/purchases of debt are heavily regulated. The government is drafting legislation to regulate the over-the-counter market for private share companies. In March 2019, Moody’s reaffirmed Ethiopia’s credit worthiness at ‘B1 stable,’ while S&P and Fitch maintained their original rating of ‘B.’ According to Moody’s, Ethiopia’s credit profile reflects its very high levels of economic growth; strong investment in infrastructure, energy, and manufacturing; and, low debt-servicing costs set against challenges that include external vulnerability risks and internal stability problems. Moody’s expects Ethiopia’s economy to grow by approximately 8 percent over the next few years. It puts external vulnerability, geopolitical risk, continued social unrest, and the vulnerability of its relatively small economy to weather cycles and volatility in coffee and gold prices as the key credit challenges going forward. Conversely, successful export diversification, the smooth and timely completion of infrastructure programs, improved business conditions, a structural reduction of external vulnerabilities leading to a steady accumulation of foreign exchange reserves, and a cessation of domestic and regional geopolitical tensions would all improve Ethiopia’s credit profile.
The Ethiopian government has announced, as part of the overall economic reform effort, its intention to liberalize the financial sector, to include introducing capital markets, opening the banking sector to foreign companies, expanding credit available to the private sector, enabling a system of e-commerce, and expanding the monetary policy tools available to the NBE. While most outside observers believe that PM Abiy Ahmed and other key economic officials are sincere in their intentions, entrenched interests, low capacity, and financial constraints will likely delay the full implementation of these goals.
The government offers a limited number of 28-day, 3-month, and 6-month Treasury bills, but prohibits the interest rate from exceeding the bank deposit rate. The government began to offer a one-year Treasury bill in 2011, with yields currently below 3 percent. This market remains unattractive to the private sector and 100 percent of the T-bills are held by public enterprises, primarily the Public Social Security Agency and the Development Bank of Ethiopia. The NBE plans to introduce a market for government securities, corporate bonds, and a stock market.
In December 2014, Ethiopia issued its first eurobond, raising USD 1 billion at a rate of 6.625 percent. The 10-year bond was oversubscribed, indicating continued market interest in high-growth sub-Saharan African markets. According to the Ministry of Finance, the bond proceeds are being used to finance industrial parks, the sugar industry, and power transmission infrastructure. Due to an increasing external debt load, the Ethiopian government has committed to refrain from non-concessional financing for new projects and to shift ongoing projects to concessional financing when possible.
The Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX), launched in 2008, trades commodities such as coffee, sesame seeds, maize, wheat, mung beans, chickpeas, soybeans, and green beans. The government launched ECX to increase transparency in commodity pricing, alleviate food shortages, and encourage the commercialization of agriculture. Critics allege that ECX policies and pricing structures are inefficient compared to direct sales at prevailing market rates, triggering an amendment to the ECX law in July 2017, which eliminated a number of criticized regulations, and permitted the trading of financial instruments at a future date. This amendment paves the way for securities markets in the future using the framework of the commodities exchange.
Money and Banking System
Ethiopia has seventeen commercial banks, two of which are state-owned banks, and fifteen of which are privately owned banks. The Development Bank of Ethiopia, a state-owned bank, provides loans to investors in priority sectors. In September 2011, the NBE raised the minimum paid-up capital required to establish a new bank from ETB 75 million to 500 million, which effectively stopped the entry of most new banks. Foreign banks are not permitted to provide financial services in Ethiopia; however, since April 2007, Ethiopia has allowed some foreign banks to open liaison offices in Addis Ababa to facilitate credit to companies from their countries of origins. Chinese, German, Kenyan, Turkish, and South African banks have opened liaison offices in Ethiopia, but the market remains completely closed to foreign retail banks.
Based on recently made available data, the state-owned Commercial Bank of Ethiopia mobilizes more than 60 percent of total bank deposits, bank loans, and foreign exchange. The NBE controls the bank’s minimum deposit rate, which now stands at 7 percent, while loan interest rates are allowed to float. Real deposit interest rates have been negative in recent years, mainly due to inflation.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
All foreign currency transactions must be approved by the NBE. Ethiopia’s national currency (the Ethiopian birr) is not freely convertible. In September 2018, the GOE removed the limit on holding foreign currency accounts faced by non-resident Ethiopians and non-resident foreign nationals of Ethiopian origin.
Foreign exchange reserves were heavily depleted in 2012 and have remained at critically low levels since then. By June 2018, gross reserves were USD 2.2 billion, covering approximately 1.6 months of imports. According to the IMF, heavy government infrastructure investment, along with debt servicing and a large trade imbalance, have all fueled the intense demand for foreign exchange. In addition, the decrease in foreign exchange reserves has been exacerbated by weaker-than-expected earnings from coffee exports and low international commodity prices for other important exports such as gold and oil seeds. Businesses encounter delays of six months to two years in obtaining foreign exchange, and they must deposit the full equivalent in birr in their account to begin the process to obtain foreign exchange. The foreign exchange crunch has intensified recently, with delays of more than a year reported. Slowdowns in manufacturing due to foreign exchange shortages are common, and high-profile local businesses have closed their doors altogether due to the inability to import required goods in a timely fashion.
Although government policy gives the repatriation of profits “priority,” in reality, due to the foreign exchange shortage, companies have experienced delays of up to two years in the repatriation of larger volumes of profits. Local sourcing of inputs and partnering with export-oriented partners are strategies employed by the private sector to address the foreign exchange shortage, but access to foreign exchange remains a problem that limits growth, interferes with maintenance and spare parts replacement, and inhibits imports of adequate raw materials.
The foreign exchange shortage distorts the economy in a number of other ways: it fuels the contraband trade through Somaliland because birr is an unofficial currency there and can be used for the purchase of products from around the world. Exporters, who have priority access to foreign exchange, sell their allocations to importers at inflated rates, creating a black-market for dollars that is roughly 33 percent over the official rate. Other exporters use their foreign exchange earnings to import consumer goods with high margins rather than re-investing profits in their core business. Meanwhile, the lack of access to foreign exchange impacts the ability of American citizens living in Ethiopia to pay their taxes, or for students to pay school fees abroad.
According to data from NBE, the birr depreciated approximately 98 percent against the U.S. dollar between August 2010 and February 2018, primarily through a series of controlled steps, including a 20 percent devaluation in September 2010 and a 15 percent devaluation in October 2017. As of March 2019, the official exchange rate was approximately 28.40 birr per dollar. The illegal parallel market exchange rate for the same time was approximately 36 per dollar with spikes up to 38 birr per dollar.
Following the 15 percent devaluation of the Ethiopian birr, the NBE increased the minimum saving interest rate from four percent to seven percent, and limited the outstanding loan growth rate in commercial banks to 16.5 percent, which limits their loan provision for businesses other than export and manufacturing sectors. Moreover, banks were instructed to transfer 30 percent of their foreign exchange earnings to the account of NBE so the regulator can use the foreign exchange to meet the strategic needs of the country, including payments to procure petroleum and sugar, as well as to cover transportation costs of imported items.
Ethiopia’s Financial Intelligence Unit monitors suspicious currency transfers, including large transactions exceeding ETB 200,000 (roughly equivalent to U.S. reporting requirements for currency transfers exceeding USD 10,000). Ethiopia citizens are not allowed to hold or open an account in foreign exchange. Ethiopian residents entering the country from abroad should declare their foreign currency in excess of USD 1,000 and non-residents in excess of USD 3,000. Residents are not allowed to hold foreign currency for more than 30 days after acquisition. A maximum of ETB 1000 in cash can be carried out of the country.
Ethiopia’s Investment Proclamation allows all registered foreign investors, whether or not they receive incentives, to remit profits and dividends, principal and interest on foreign loans, and fees related to technology transfer. Foreign investors may remit proceeds from the sale or liquidation of assets, from the transfer of shares or of partial ownership of an enterprise, and funds required for debt servicing or other international payments. The right of expatriate employees to remit their salaries is granted by NBE foreign exchange regulations.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
Ethiopia has no sovereign wealth funds.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
State-owned enterprises (SOEs) dominate major sectors of the economy. There is a state monopoly or state dominance in telecommunications, power, banking, insurance, air transport, shipping, railway, industrial parks, petroleum importing, and sugar sectors. State-owned enterprises have considerable advantages over private firms including priority access to credit and customs clearances. While there are no conclusive reports of credit preference for these entities, there are indications that they receive incentives, such as priority foreign exchange allocation, preferences in government tenders, and marketing assistance. Ethiopia does not publish financial data for most state-owned enterprises, but Ethiopian Airlines and the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia have transparent accounts.
Ethiopia is not a member to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and does not adhere to the guidelines on corporate governance of SOEs. Corporate governance of SOEs is structured and monitored by a board of directors composed of senior government officials and politically-affiliated individuals, but there is a lack of transparency in the structure of SOEs.
In July 2018 the government announced the intention to privatize a minority share of Ethiopian Airlines, EthioTelecom, Ethiopian Shipping and Logistics Service Enterprise, and power generation projects, and to fully privatize sugar projects, railways, and industrial parks. The privatization program will be implemented through public tenders and will be open to local and foreign investors. The background work for the privatization in several sectors is underway, including asset valuation of the enterprises, standardization of the financial reports, and establishment of modernized legal and regulatory frameworks.
The government has sold more than 370 public enterprises since 1995, mainly small companies in the trade and service sectors, which were largely nationalized by the Derg military regime in the 1970s. Currently, twenty two SOEs are under the Public Enterprise, Assets, and Administration Agency.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
Some larger international companies in Ethiopia have introduced corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs; however, most Ethiopian companies do not officially practice CSR, although individual entrepreneurs engage in charity, sometimes on a large scale. There are efforts to develop CSR programs by the Ministry of Industry in collaboration with the World Bank, U.S. Agency for International Development, and other institutions.
The government encourages CSR programs for both local and foreign direct investors but does not maintain specific guidelines for these programs, which are inconsistently applied and not controlled or monitored. In early 2015, the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce & Sectorial Associations published a ‘Model Code of Ethics for Ethiopian Businesses’ that was endorsed by former Ethiopian President Mulatu Teshome as a model for the business community.
Ethiopia was admitted as a candidate-member to the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) in 2014, but has not embraced the need for independent, non-governmental organizations and civil society to be engaged in the process. As a result, full-membership during the next scheduled review in 2019 remains uncertain. Per the Commercial Code, extractive industries and other businesses are expected to conduct statuary audits of their financial statements at the end of each financial year, though the financial statements are not available to the public, only to financial institutions and share companies.
The Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (FEACC) is charged with preventing corruption and is accountable to the Office of the Prime Minister. The Commission is mandated to provide ethics training and education to prevent corruption. The investigation and prosecution of corruption crimes are the mandates of the Federal Police Commission and the Federal Attorney General, respectively.
The Federal Police are mandated to investigate corruption crimes committed by public officials as well as “Public Organizations.” The latter are defined as any organs in the private sector that administer money, property, or any other resources for public purposes. Examples of such organizations include share companies, real estate agencies, banks, insurance companies, cooperatives, labor unions, professional associations, and others.
Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures perceived levels of public sector corruption, rated Ethiopia’s corruption at 34 (the score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of zero to 100, with the former indicating highly corrupt and the latter indicating very clean). Its comparative rank in 2018 was 114 out of 180 countries, compared to 107 out of 180 countries in 2017.
In December, the American Chamber of Commerce in Ethiopia polled its members and asked what the leading business climate challenges were. Transparency and governance ranked as the 4th leading business climate challenge, ahead of licensing and registration and public procurement.
Ethiopian and foreign businesses routinely encounter corruption in tax collection, customs clearance, and land administration. Many past procurement deals for major government contracts, especially in the power generation, telecommunications, and construction sectors were widely viewed as corrupt.
PM Abiy Ahmed has launched a corruption clean-up that has resulted in several hundred arrests. In connection with the embezzlement schemes involving hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars, particularly with government procurement irregularities, the government arrested and charged in September 2018 over 40 mid- and senior-level Metal Engineering Technology Corporation (METEC) officials. In addition, the PM transferred the management of large government projects from METEC (which is widely viewed by the public as corrupt) to other government organizations. Similarly, in April 2019, the government arrested 59 officials and business people suspected of corruption. The officials are primarily from the following government institutions: Public Procurement & Property Disposal Service, Food & Drug Administration Agency, Pharmaceuticals Fund & Supply Agency, and the Ethiopian Water Works Construction Enterprise.
Ethiopia is not a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. Ethiopia is a signatory to the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption. Ethiopia is also member of the East African Association of Anti-Corruption Authorities. In 2003, Ethiopia signed the UN Anticorruption Convention that was ratified in November 2007. It is a criminal offense to give or receive bribes, and bribes are not tax deductible.
Resources to Report Corruption
Contacts at government agency or agencies are responsible for combating corruption:
Federal Police Commission
+251 11 861-9595
Contact at “watchdog” organization:
+251 11 827-9746
10. Political and Security Environment
Ethnic conflict —often sparked by historical grievances or resource competition, including land disputes— has resulted in varying levels of violence that have internally displaced as many as two million people nationwide. Communal conflict between Oromos and Somalis has persisted along their shared border. Remnants of the Oromo Liberation Front, an opposition movement, have battled ethnic neighbors, regional security forces, and the military. In the south, conflict between communities in the Guji and Gedeo zones has been particularly violent and intractable. Disputed territory in the north between the Amhara and Tigray regions is a continuing flash point. Recent violence between Oromos and Amharas has occurred along a main road from Addis Ababa to the north.
Under PM Abiy’s administration, political space in Ethiopia has opened dramatically. Constitutional rights, including freedoms of assembly and expression, are broadly respected. Political prisoners have been released. Opposition parties have been allowed to form or return to the country, and they operate freely. Independent media is re-establishing itself, and laws are being revised to facilitate the rebuilding of civil society. Nationwide elections are scheduled for May of 2020. The electoral and pre-electoral period could represent a potential catalyst for unrest.
PM Abiy has also initiated a process of modernization, de-politicization, professionalization, and civilian accountability in his security services. The past year provides numerous examples where security forces have allowed demonstrators space to operate peacefully. In some instances, though, security forces have failed to stop ethnic violence in a timely fashion. Though foreigners are rarely, if ever, specifically targeted, spillover ethnic violence has occasionally resulted in the deaths of foreign employees.
The new administration has also increased regional autonomy. Successful American investors tell us that understanding the different business climates across the regions—there are different regional taxation regimes, unique ethnic conflicts, varying levels of reception towards profit-making companies, and contrasting approaches to policing and security issues—is key to successfully investing in Ethiopia.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
More than 80 percent of Ethiopia’s 100 million people work in agriculture. The second-most important employer is the government. If the population continues to grow at the current rate of 2.5 percent, Ethiopia will have more than 138 million people by 2030, only 27 percent of whom will live in urban areas. Ethiopia’s youth, between the ages of 15 and 29, account for 30 percent of the population; 70 million Ethiopians are under the age of 30. The youth unemployment rate in urban settings is over 25 percent (CSA, 2018). The gender gap in employment is high; the unemployment rate among young women in urban areas is over 30 percent, compared with 19 percent for young men. Young women are three times more likely to be neither in employment, education, or training (NEET). According to International Labor Organization (ILO) statistics, Ethiopia’s youth NEET accounts for 10.5 percent of the youth population (5.7 percent for men, 15.1 percent for women).
Although labor remains readily available and inexpensive in Ethiopia, skilled manpower is scarce. Approximately 50 percent of Ethiopians over the age of 15 are illiterate according to UNESCO’s definition. Primary school enrollment rate (age 7 to 14), on the other hand, has now reached 94 percent. To increase the skilled labor force, the GOE has undertaken a rapid expansion of the university system in the last 20 years, increasing the number of higher public education institutions from three to 49. It has adopted an education policy that requires 70 percent of public university students to study science, engineering, or technology subjects, but many students are not well-prepared by secondary school to study in those fields.
Ethiopia has ratified all eight core International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions. The Ethiopian Criminal Code outlaws work specified as hazardous by ILO conventions. There is no national minimum wage, and public sector employees – the largest group of wage earners – earned a monthly minimum wage of ETB 420 (approximately USD 19).
Labor unions and confederations are separate entities from the government, and are subject to a great deal of regulation and direct pressure/involvement from the government. The Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU) comprises well over two hundred thousand members in enterprise-based unions in a variety of sectors, but there is no formal requirement for unions to join the CETU. Much of the labor force remains in small scale agriculture/industry and thus is not covered by enterprise unions. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs’ Directorate of Harmonious Industrial Relations provides labor dispute resolution services, although the caseload and the directorate’s capacity are low.
The Constitution and other laws provide workers, except for civil servants and certain categories of workers primarily in the public sector, with the right to form and join unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. Other laws and regulations that explicitly or potentially infringe upon workers’ rights to associate freely and to organize include: the Civil Society and Organizations (CSO) law; Council of Ministers Regulation No. 168/2009 on Charities and Societies to reinforce the CSO law; and, Proclamation No. 652/2009 on Antiterrorism. Parliament recently approved a revised CSO law and the antiterrorism law is in the revision process. Such laws and detailed requirements make legal strike actions difficult to carry out. In practice, labor strikes are rare, but there has been an uptick in the last year. Employers offering contracted employment are required to provide severance pay. The vast majority of employees that work in small scale agriculture and textiles, however, do so without a contract. Large labor surpluses and lax labor law enforcement allow employers to retain employees without contracts that ensure strong worker protections.
The GOE drafted revisions to the Labor Code that will bring Ethiopian labor law into better conformity with international labor standards. The draft law is currently before the Council of Ministers; once approved, it will proceed to the Parliament for approval. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA) claimed that the draft legislation includes language to form a tripartite council to set a national minimum wage and that the ILO has conducted a wage study to help inform the council’s decision. It is unclear what, if any, language is included to address gaps related to the right to organize, bargain collectively, and associate freely.
Although the government actively engages with the international community to combat child labor and human trafficking, which includes forced/coerced labor, both remain widespread in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Parliament ratified ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor in May 2003. While not a pressing issue in the formal economy, child labor is common in the informal sector, including construction, agriculture, textiles, manufacturing, mining, and domestic work. Child labor is present in both urban and rural areas. According to the ILO International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor, more than 50 percent of Ethiopia’s child laborers work in the agriculture sector. Ethiopian traditional woven textiles are included on the U.S. government’s Executive Order 13126 list of goods that have been known to be produced by forced or indentured child labor. Both NGO and Ethiopian government sources concluded that goods produced (in the agricultural sector and traditional weaving industry in particular) via child labor are largely intended for domestic consumption, and not slated for export. Employers are prohibited from hiring children under the age of 14, and for certain types of hazardous work the minimum age is 18. Ethiopia has a National Action Plan (NAP) for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor, which it is currently updating. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs conducts tens of thousands of targeted inspections on occupation safety and standards, although they are not legally empowered to assess fines for infractions and they do not make this data publically available. Due to the shortage of labor inspectors and other enforcement resources, and the fact that inspectors do not inspect informal work sites, most child labor goes unreported.
In 2015, the Ethiopian Parliament ratified an overhaul to its Anti-Human Trafficking and Smuggling criminal code (covered in the 2016 Trafficking in Persons report published by the Department of State). The government also passed an Overseas Labor Proclamation that legalizes and regulates the employment of Ethiopians in foreign countries. The Government of Ethiopia lifted the ban of overseas employment of domestic workers in the Gulf States in January 2018. In 2018 preparations were underway to register employment agencies, develop pre-departure materials and centers, identify government and private vocational enters, and provide skills training for domestic workers. A year later, it is still unclear that lifting the ban will decrease the flow of irregular migration due largely to the lengthy and costly process required for regular migration. Over the past few years, the government has become much more engaged in combatting trafficking in persons, and the number of arrests and prosecutions of traffickers has increased.
12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs
The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) has offered risk insurance and loans to U.S. investors in Ethiopia in the past, but is not currently present in Ethiopia.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
*National Bank of Ethiopia and Ethiopian Investment Commission
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||$8,930||100%||Total Outward***||N/A||N/A|
|“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.|
*The yearly average exchange rate is used for each year from 1992-2017 to convert the amount of FDI from domestic currency into USD.
** EU includes Netherlands, France, Ireland, Germany and UK.
*** Total Outward investment data are not available.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data regarding the equity/debt breakdown of portfolio investment assets are not available for Ethiopia via the IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS) and are not available for external publication from the Government of Ethiopia.
14. Contact for More Information
U.S. Embassy main number is +251 011 130 6000.
Economic Officer, USEmbassyPolEconExternal@state.gov