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Ecuador

Executive Summary

The Government of Ecuador under President Moreno has taken a distinct path from the policies of his predecessor, focusing on reducing the size of the public sector and its influence on the economy and seeking instead private sector investment to drive economic growth. Facing serious budget deficits, the Moreno Administration is rationalizing the size of government, merging ministries, and planning a reduction in the number of state-owned enterprises. Other cost cutting measures include reducing fuel subsidies and mandatory reductions in the number of public employees. Still, Ecuador is saddled with a very large public sector, and Moreno has committed to continue government spending on social welfare programs. To fund these programs and continue reforms, the Ecuadorian government reached in March 2019 an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and international financial institutions for financial assistance totaling USD 10.2 billion over three years. The IMF program is in line with the government’s efforts to correct fiscal imbalances and to improve transparency and efficiency in public finance. While the March 2019 IMF program has been cancelled, the Moreno administration has opened negotiations with the IMF for a new agreement, expected to be reached in August 2020.

To increase private sector engagement in the economy and attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), the Ecuadorian government passed a Productive Development Law in 2018 to spur investment, has in recent years changed tax and regulatory policies for mining, and seeks to develop a Public-Private Partnership law to increase private investment in infrastructure projects. Ecuador is a dollarized economy that has few limits on foreign investment or repatriation of profits, with the exception of a five percent capital exit tax, and is actively seeking foreign investors. It has a population that views the United States positively, and the Moreno Administration has expanded bilateral ties and significantly increased cooperation with the United States on a broad range of economic, security, political, and cultural issues.

Despite these efforts, FDI inflow to Ecuador has remained very low compared to other countries in the region, due to a number of problems, most notably corruption. Ecuador is ranked in the bottom third of countries surveyed for Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Two high-profile cases of official corruption involving the state-owned petroleum company PetroEcuador and Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht exemplify challenges that confront investors. Numerous officials have been charged for corruption related offenses, and several have been convicted, including former Vice President Jorge Glas, who was sentenced to six years in prison in December 2017. In addition, economic, commercial, and investment policies are subject to frequent changes and can increase the risks and costs of doing business in Ecuador.

Sectors of Interest to Foreign Investors

Petroleum: Per the 2008 Constitution, all subsurface resources belong to the state, and the petroleum sector is controlled by two state-owned enterprises (SOEs) that cannot be privatized. To improve efficiencies, the government may offer concessions of its refineries and is seeking ways to better target fuel subsidies. An effort to eliminate subsidies in October 2019 sparked violent civil unrest that forced the government to walk back the measure. The Ecuadorian government held a successful public tender for oil production sharing contracts (Intracampos I) in 2019 and reportedly plans to move to production sharing contracts as the standard for future tenders.

Mining: The Ecuadorian government has reduced taxes in the mining sector to attract FDI. Presidential Decree 475, published in October 2014, made minor reductions to the windfall tax and sovereign adjustment calculations. The Organic Law for Production Incentives and Tax Fraud Prevention, passed in December 2014, included provisions to improve tax stability and lower the income tax rate in the mining sector. The previous Correa administration also developed mining sector incentives such as fiscal stability agreements, limited VAT reimbursements, remittance tax exceptions, and mechanisms for companies to recover their investments before certain taxes are applied.

Electricity: The government is seeking to offer concessions to develop wind, solar, hydro and gas fired electrical generation plants to further diversify the energy matrix, as well as improve the electrical transmission connection with Peru. Non-hydro renewable energy projects in Ecuador are eligible for U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) financing.

Telecommunications: The government seeks to increase national coverage of the 4G network, as well as eventually introduce 5G into Ecuador. It plans to offer a concession of the state-owned telecommunications company CNT, as well as diversify its hardware away from Chinese vendors.

ECommerce: ECommerce sales comprise approximately one percent of Ecuadorian GDP but are a fast growing market. While many Ecuadorians are interested in purchasing online, they are limited in their ability to receive international shipments due to logistics and customs problems upon arrival in Ecuador.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 93 of 198 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 129 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/
en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 99 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $898 http://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $6,110 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Ecuador is open to FDI in most sectors. The 2008 Constitution established that the state reserves the right to manage strategic sectors through state-owned or controlled companies. The sectors identified are energy, telecommunications, non-renewable natural resources, transportation, hydrocarbon refining, water, biodiversity, and genetic patrimony. Although in recent years Ecuador took steps to attract FDI, its overall investment climate remains challenging as economic, commercial, and investment policies are subject to frequent change. In 2019, total flows of FDI in Ecuador fell to USD 966 million from USD 1.4 billion in 2018. FDI continues to be very low compared to other countries in the region.

There are no laws or practices that discriminate against foreign investors, but the legal complexity resulting from the inconsistent application and interpretation of existing laws and regulations increases the risks and costs of doing business in Ecuador. Under the prior Correa administration disputes involving U.S. companies were politicized, especially in sensitive areas such as the energy sector. This resulted in a number of high-profile international investment dispute cases, with several companies awarded damages in international arbitration rulings against Ecuador in the last several years. In addition, several cases are pending final arbitration rulings.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities are allowed to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity, with limitations in strategic sectors as enumerated in the Constitution. There are no investment screening mechanisms for inbound investment, and the Ecuadorian government actively seeks international investors. One hundred percent foreign equity ownership is allowed.

For license and franchise transactions, no limits exist on royalties that may be remitted, although financial outflows are subject to a five percent capital exit tax. All license and franchise agreements must be registered with the National Service for Intellectual Property Rights (SENADI). In addition to registering with the Superintendence of Companies, Securities, and Insurance, foreign investors must register investments with Ecuador’s Central Bank for statistical purposes.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Ecuador conducted a trade policy review with the World Trade Organization in March 2019; information can be found at https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp483_e.htm 

In the past three years, Ecuador has not conducted an investment policy review with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Business Facilitation

In 2018 Ecuador folded ProEcuador (https://www.proecuador.gob.ec/ ), the entity that is responsible for promoting economic development through exports, imports, and investment in Ecuador, into the Ministry of Production, Foreign Trade, Investments and Fisheries (MPCIEP). ProEcuador is now a Vice Ministry within MPCIEP and has 29 offices in 26 countries, including four in the United States. Ecuador is ranked 129th out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report for 2019, with particularly low rankings for Starting a Business (177), Resolving Insolvency (160) and Paying Taxes (147).

A newly created company will at a minimum be required to register with the Superintendence of Companies, Securities, and Insurance (http://www.supercias.gob.ec/.), the municipal government, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Social Security Institute. The registry with the Superintendence of Companies is a completely online process as of April 2019.

Outward Investment

Ecuador does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad. ProEcuador (see above) is responsible for promotion of outward investment from Ecuador. Foreign investments are subject to a capital exit tax of five percent.

In February 2017, voters passed a government-backed referendum prohibiting elected officials and public servants from having financial dealings in tax havens and other suspect jurisdictions. The list includes several U.S. states and territories that do not have state income taxes. The prohibition entered into effect in September 2017.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

While there is a focus within the Moreno administration to improve transparency and government accountability, progress has been slow. Economic, commercial, and investment policies are subject to frequent changes and can increase the risks and costs of doing business in Ecuador. National and municipal level regulations can conflict with each other. Regulatory agencies are not required to publish proposed regulations before enactment and rulemaking bodies are not required to solicit public comments on proposed regulations, although there has been some movement towards prior consultation processes. Government ministries generally consult with relevant national actors when drafting regulations, but not always.

The Government of Ecuador publishes regulatory actions in the Official Registry and posts them online at https://www.registroficial.gob.ec/. Publicly listed companies generally adhere to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). While there are some transparency enforcement mechanisms within the government, they tend to be weak and rarely enforced.

There are no identified informal regulatory processes led by private sector associations or nongovernmental organizations.

International Regulatory Considerations

Ecuador is a member of the Andean Community of Nations (CAN) along with Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. Ecuador is an associate member of the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR). Ecuador is a member of the WTO and notifies draft regulations to the WTO TBT Committee. Ecuador ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement on October 16, 2018.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Ecuador has a civil codified legal system. Systemic weakness in the judicial system and its susceptibility to political and economic pressures constitute challenges faced by U.S. companies investing in Ecuador. While Ecuador updated its Commercial Code in May 2019, enforcement of contract rights, equal treatment under the law, intellectual property protections, and unstable regulatory regimes continue to be concerns for foreign investors.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Ecuador does not have laws specifically on FDI, but several have effects on overall investment. The Organic Law for Production Incentives and Tax Fraud Prevention, passed in December 2014, includes provisions to improve tax stability and lower the income tax rate in the mining sector. The Organic Law of Incentives for Public-Private Associations and Foreign Investment from 2015 includes provisions to improve legal stability, reduce red tape, and exempt public private partnerships from paying income and capital exit taxes under certain conditions. The Productive Development Law of 2018 enumerates tax incentives for new investments and investments in rural or border areas. ProEcuador’s website https://www.proecuador.gob.ec/  provides a guide for investors in English and Spanish and highlights the procedures to register a company, types of incentives for investors, and relevant taxes related to investing in Ecuador.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Superintendence of Control of Market Power reviews transactions for competition-related concerns. Ecuador’s 2011 Organic Law for Regulation and Control of Market Power includes mechanisms to control and sanction market power abuses, restrictive market practices, market concentration, and unfair competition. The Superintendence of Control of Market Power can fine companies found to be in violation of the law up to 12 percent of gross revenue.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Constitution establishes that the state is in charge of managing the use and access to land, while recognizing and guaranteeing the right to private property. It also provides for the redistribution of land if it has not been in active use for more than two years. The 2015 Telecommunications Law allows expropriation of private land in accordance with the rules and procedures of the law when necessary for the installation of network infrastructure. The prior Correa administration’s use of a 99 percent excess profits tax on some investments was determined by international arbitration panels to be an indirect expropriation.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Ecuador withdrew from the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) in 2010. Ecuador is a signatory to the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Ecuador’s National Assembly voted on May 3, 2017 to terminate 12 of its bilateral investment treaties, including its agreement with the United States. The Government of Ecuador notified the U.S. government of its withdrawal from the BIT on May 18, 2017, with the effective date of May 18, 2018. The treaty further specifies that all U.S. investments in place at the date of termination enjoy the protections of the treaty for the subsequent ten years. There have been numerous claims against Ecuador under the BIT that have gone to international arbitration. There are two active cases awaiting a final decision.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

A number of U.S. companies operating in Ecuador, most notably in the petroleum sector, have filed for international arbitration due to investment claims. The Government of Ecuador has in the past treated these disputes as a political issue, speaking negatively about investors involved in these cases. Payment of arbitration awards has taken more than a year, though the Government of Ecuador has paid all final awards. Ecuador’s 2008 Constitution limited investor-state arbitration to regional arbitration entities, and was the primary driver of the 2017 termination of BITs.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Ecuador is ranked 160 out of 190 in the category of Ease of Resolving Insolvency in the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Report. With the goal of protecting consumers and preventing a real estate bubble, the National Assembly approved in June 2012 a law that allows homeowners to default on their first home and car loan without penalty if they forfeit the asset. The provisions do not apply to homes with a market value of more than 500 times the basic monthly salary (currently USD 200,000) or vehicles worth more than 100 times the basic monthly salary (currently USD 40,000).

In cases of foreclosure, the average time for banks to collect on debts is 5.3 years, usually taking 4.5 years for courts to approve the initiation of foreclosures. After the appointment and acceptance of an auctioneer, it would take about six months for the auction to take place. World Bank’s Doing Business Report estimates that the foreclosure proceedings would result in costs equal to about 18% of the value of the estate in question, and a recovery rate of 18.3 cents on the dollar.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

In August 2018 the National Assembly approved the Productive Development Law that provides income tax exemptions and VAT exemptions to attract investments, good for 12 years in all areas except the cities of Quito and Guayaquil, where it is 8 years, and 20 years in border regions. In December 2015, Ecuador’s National Assembly approved a Public-Private Partnership law intended to attract investment. The law offers incentives, including the reduction of the income tax, value added tax, and capital exit tax, for investors in certain projects. It designates Latin American arbitration bodies as the dispute resolution mechanism. The law came into effect upon publication in the Official Registry on December 18, 2015. The Organic Law of Production Incentives and Tax Fraud Prevention, which took effect on December 30, 2014, provides tax incentives related to depreciation calculations and income tax rates, which could benefit some foreign investors. The Ecuadorian government is moving to a Public-Private Partnership model to attract investments particularly in the energy and transportation sectors, but does not yet offer sovereign guarantees or joint finance on those projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The 2010 Production Code authorized the creation of Special Economic Development Zones (ZEDEs) that are subject to reduced taxes and tariffs. The government considers the extent to which projects promote technology transfer, innovation, and industrial diversification when granting ZEDE status; foreign owned firms have the same investment opportunities as national firms.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Nationally the government does not mandate local employment, however the Organic Law of the Amazon, approved by the National Assembly on May 21, 2018, mandates that any company, national or foreign, operating within the area covered by the law (the Amazon Basin) must hire at least 70% of their staff locally, unless they cannot find qualified labor from that area.

There are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption. Companies can transmit data freely into and out of Ecuador, and there are no requirements to store data within the country. A draft Data Protection Law has been presented to the National Assembly, but it does not contain provisions that would affect foreign investors any more than local investors.

On October 11, 2016, Ecuador’s National Assembly passed the Code of the Social Economy of Knowledge, Creativity, and Innovation, covering a wide range of intellectual property matters. Article 148 of the Code establishes that agencies must give preference to open source software with content developed in Ecuador when procuring software for government use. Executive Decree 1073 of June 2020 mandated an order of preference when procuring software for the government: 1) Open Source; 2) Ecuadorian Developed 3) Software with Some Ecuadorian Content and 4) Internationally Developed.

Visa and residency requirements are relatively relaxed and do not inhibit foreign investment.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Ecuador ranks 73rd out of 190 in the 2018 World Bank’s Doing Business Report’s category for Ease of Registering Property. Foreign citizens are allowed to own land. Mortgages are available and the recording system is generally reliable.

Intellectual Property Rights

Enforcement against intellectual property rights (IPR) infringement remains a problem in Ecuador. In April 2016, the United States Trade Representative moved Ecuador from Priority Watch List to Watch List in its annual Special 301 Report on intellectual property, and Ecuador has remained on the Watch List since then. The government has drafted implementing regulations for the 2016 Code of the Social Economy of Knowledge, Creativity, and Innovation, which is the legislation that covers Intellectual Property Rights, and allowed for public input into the regulations. However those regulations have not yet been approved. The Ecuadorian government plans to revise the Code but with no date for completion.

Ecuador is on the Notorious Markets List. Piracy of computer software and counterfeit activity in brand name apparel is widespread, and enforcement is weak. Pirated CDs and DVDs are readily available on many streets and in shopping malls, and copyright enforcement remains a significant problem. A lack of ex-officio authority for the Ecuadorian Customs Service limits its scope of action to seize IPR infringing products, and there have been few enforcement actions to protect IPR. The National Service for Intellectual Rights (SENADI – formerly Ecuadorian Intellectual Property Institute (IEPI)) was established in January 1999 to handle patent, trademark, and copyright registrations. SENADI reports information on its activities on its website at http://www.propiedadintelectual.gob.ec/ .

Ecuador is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). 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 2014 Law to Strengthen and Optimize Business Partnerships and Stock Markets created the Securities Market Regulation Board to oversee the stock markets. Investment options on the Quito and Guayaquil stock exchanges are very limited. Sufficient liquidity to enter and exit sizeable positions does not exist in the local markets. The five percent capital exit tax also inhibits free flow of financial resources into the product and factor markets. Foreigners are able to access credit on the local market but interest rates are high and the number of credit instruments is limited.

Money and Banking System

Ecuador is a dollarized economy, and its banking sector is healthy. According to the Banking Association (ASOBANCA), approximately 51 percent of the population has access to a bank account. Ecuador’s banks hold in total USD 43.7 billion in assets, with the largest banks being Banco Pichincha with about USD 11.4 billion in assets, Banco Pacifico with about USD 6.1 billion, Banco Guayaquil with about USD 5.1 billion, and Banco Produbanco with about USD 4.9 billion. ASOBANCA estimates 3.4% of loans are non-performing. Foreigners require residency to open checking accounts in Ecuador.

Ecuador’s Superintendence of Banks regulates the financial sector. Between 2012 and 2013, the financial sector was the target of numerous new restrictions. By 2012, most banks had sold off their brokerage firms, mutual funds, and insurance companies to comply with Constitutional changes following a May 2010 referendum. The amendment to Article 312 of the Constitution required banks and their senior managers and shareholders with more than six percent equity in financial entities to divest entirely from any interest in all non-financial companies by July 2012. These provisions were incorporated into the Anti-Monopoly Law passed in September 2011.

The Organic Monetary and Financial Code, published in the Official Registry September 12, 2014, created a five-person Monetary and Financial Policy and Regulation Board of presidential appointees to regulate the banking sector. The law gives the Monetary and Financial Policy and Regulation Board the ability to prioritize certain sectors for lending from private banks. The Code also established that finance companies had to become banks, merge, or close their operations by 2017. Of the 10 finance companies in Ecuador, two became banks; six closed their operations or are in the process of closing; and two were absorbed by other financial institutions.

Electronic currency appeared in 2014 with the approval of the Organic Monetary and Financial Code, which established the exclusive management of the system by Ecuador’s Central Bank. In 2017, with the approval of the Law for the Reactivation of the Economy, Strengthening of Dollarization and Modernization of Financial Management, electronic currency management was transferred to private banks. The Central Bank issued Regulation 29 in July 2012 requiring all financial transfers (inflows and outflows) to be channeled through the Central Bank’s accounts. In principle the regulation increases monetary authorities’ oversight and prevents banks from netting their inflows and outflows to avoid paying the five percent capital exit tax.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Ecuador adopted the U.S. dollar as the official currency in 2000. Foreign investors may remit 100 percent of net profits and capital, subject to a five percent capital exit tax. There are no restrictions placed on foreign investors in transferring or repatriating funds associated with an investment.

Remittance Policies

Resolution 107-2015-F from Ecuador’s Monetary and Finance Board issued in July 2015 exempted some payments to foreign lenders from the capital exit tax. Among other requirements, the duration of the loan must be more than 360 days, the loan must be registered with the Central Bank, and the resources must be destined for specific purposes such as to fund small businesses or social housing.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) announced October 23, 2015 that it had removed Ecuador from the list of countries with strategic deficiencies in anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regimes. Ecuador will undergo its next FATF mutual evaluation in 2021.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Government of Ecuador does not maintain a Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF). Public Finance reforms under debate at the time of writing this report included the establishment of sovereign funds to invest revenue from extractive industries and hedge against oil and metals price fluctuations.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The SOEs in Ecuador are concentrated primarily in the petroleum, electricity, and telecommunications sectors and combined have approximately 30,000 employees. The government owns an airline, a railroad company, a cement company, and a university. As part of the government’s austerity measures to deal with the COVID-19-related economic crisis, the government announced in May 2020 the liquidation of the airline and the closing of the railroad company. Two SOEs, Petroamazonas and Petroecuador, control the petroleum sector. The government has an optimization plan for some of these entities, reducing the total from an original of 22 to 15 by merging some and dissolving others. Ecuador’s Coordinator of Public Companies maintains a list of SOEs at http://www.emco.gob.ec/Emco2/empresas-publicas-2/ .

The 2009 Organic Law of Public Enterprises regulates state-owned enterprises (SOEs). SOEs are most active in areas designated by the 2008 Constitution as strategic sectors. SOEs follow a special procurement regime with greater flexibility and limited oversight. The Law of Public Enterprises requires SOEs to follow generally accepted accounting principles; however, SOEs are not required to follow the same accounting practices as the central government, nor do they have to participate in the electronic financial management system used in most of the public sector for budget and accounting management. SOEs are eligible for government guarantees, and face lower tax burdens than private companies.

Ecuador is not party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) within the framework of the World Trade Organization.

Privatization Program

The Ecuadorian Constitution prohibits privatization of state-owned enterprises, but the Ecuadorian government is seeking to offer long term concessions to operate some of its assets, such as the Sopladora hydroelectric plant. In addition, the Ministry of Production, Trade, Investment and Fisheries is proposing a number of projects to be developed as potential public private partnerships.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Article 66 of the 2008 Constitution guarantees the right to pursue economic activities in a manner that is socially and environmentally responsible. NGOs such as the Institute of Corporate Social Responsibility and the Ecuadorian Consortium for Social Responsibility promote responsible business conduct. Many Ecuadorian companies have programs to further responsible business conduct within their organizations. The GOE committed in March 2018 to implement the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), and has set up a multi-stakeholder group and developed an EITI work plan, but has not yet fully adhered to the initiative.

9. Corruption

Corruption is a serious problem in Ecuador, and one that the government is confronting. Numerous cases of corruption have recently been tried, resulting in convictions of high-level officials, including former Vice President Jorge Glas. U.S. companies have cited corruption as an obstacle to investment, with concerns related specifically to non-transparent public tenders, dispute resolution and payment of arbitration awards.

Ecuadorian law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials, but the government has not implemented the law effectively, and officials have engaged in corrupt practices. Ecuador ranked 93 out of 198 countries surveyed for Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index and received a score of 38 out of 100. High-profile cases of alleged official corruption involving state-owned petroleum company PetroEcuador and Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht illustrate the significant challenges that confront Ecuador with regards to corruption.

Illicit payments for official favors and theft of public funds reportedly take place frequently. Dispute settlement procedures are complicated by the lack of transparency and inefficiency in the judicial system. Offering or accepting a bribe is illegal and punishable by imprisonment for up to five years. The Controller General is responsible for the oversight of public funds and there are frequent investigations and occasional prosecutions for irregularities.

Ecuador ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention in September 2005. Ecuador is not a signatory to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery. The 2008 Constitution created the Transparency and Social Control (CPCCS) branch of government, tasked with preventing and combating corruption, among other things. The 2018 national referendum converted the CPCCS from an appointed to a popularly elected body. In December 2008, President Correa issued a decree that created the National Secretariat for Transparency (SNTG) to investigate and denounce acts of corruption in the public sector. The SNTG became an undersecretariat and was merged with the National Secretariat of Public Administration June 2013. President Moreno established the Anticorruption Secretariat within the Presidency in February 2019 but disbanded it in May 2020 for allegedly intervening in corruption investigations conducted by the Office of the Prosecutor General. The CPCCS can receive complaints and conduct investigations into alleged acts of corruption. Responsibility for prosecution remains with the Office of the Prosecutor General.

Resources to Report Corruption

Through the Function of Transparency and Social Control, alleged acts of corruption can be reported by dialing 159 within Ecuador. The Council for Citizen Participation and Social Control also maintains a web portal for reporting alleged acts of corruption: http://www.cpccs.gob.ec . The Attorney General’s Office actively pursues corruption cases and receives reports of corruption as well.

10. Political and Security Environment

Popular protests in 1997, 2000, and 2005 contributed to the removal of three elected presidents before the end of their terms. Large-scale but peaceful demonstrations against the Correa government occurred in June 2015. Some indigenous communities opposed to natural resource development have blocked access by petroleum and mining companies. Nationwide violent protests erupted in October 2019 to oppose the government’s decision to remove fuel subsidies, paralyzing the country for ten days and causing significant property damage. A dialogue between the government and indigenous protest leaders, mediated by the United Nations and the Catholic Church, led to the government’s decision to restore the fuel subsidies. Security along the border with Colombia deteriorated significantly in late 2017 and early 2018, when dissident FARC narcoguerrilla groups attacked police and military units and kidnapped civilians, resulting in several deaths. Military and police increased their presence in the zone and violence in the northern border area calmed in 2019, although illicit activities continue.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

While Ecuador’s Statistics Institute shows 65 percent workforce participation, and an unemployment rate of 3.8 percent, the official underemployment rate is 17.8 percent, and it is estimated that up to 60 percent of workers are in the informal sector. Semi-skilled and unskilled workers are relatively abundant at low wages. The supply of available workers is high due to layoffs in sectors affected by Ecuador’s flat economic growth since 2014. The COVID-19 economic crisis is estimated to have resulted in the loss of 200,000 jobs in the formal sector. In addition, first Colombian and now Venezuelan migrants have added to the labor pool. The National Wages Council and Ministry of Labor Relations set minimum compensation levels for private sector employees annually. The minimum basic monthly salary for 2020 is USD 400 per month.

Ecuador’s Production Code requires that workers be paid a dignified wage, defined as an amount that would enable a family of four with 1.6 wage earners to be able to afford basic necessities. The cost and the products that are considered basic necessities are determined by Ecuador’s Statistics Institute (INEC). In December 2019, the cost of basic necessities was USD 717.08, while the official family wage level is at USD 735.47. As of December 2019, INEC estimated 38.8 percent of workers had adequate employment. INEC defines adequate employment as earning at least the minimum basic salary working 40 hours per week.

Ecuador’s National Assembly approved in June 2020 limited labor reforms in an emergency law valid for two years to address the economic impacts of COVID-19. These reforms allowed for the reduction of working hours up to 50 percent and salary up to 45 percent; ability to modify a labor contract with mutual agreement between employer and employee; new temporary contracts for new investments that can be changed to permanent contracts at the end of the temporary period; and layoffs without severance payments only when the company closes entirely.

Ecuador’s National Assembly passed a labor reform law in March 2016 intended to promote youth employment, support unemployed workers, and introduce greater labor flexibility for companies suffering from reduced revenue. The law established a new unemployment insurance program, a subsidized youth employment scheme, temporary reductions in workers’ hours for financially strapped companies, and nine months of unpaid maternity or paternity leave.

The Law for Labor Justice and Recognition of Work in the Home, which included several changes related to labor and social security, took effect in April 2015. The law limits the yearly bonus paid to employees, which is equal to 15 percent of companies’ profits and is required by law, to 24 times the minimum wage. Any surplus profits are to be handed over to IESS. The law also mandates that employees’ thirteenth and fourteenth month bonuses, which are required by law, be paid in installments throughout the year instead of in lump sums. Employees have the option to opt out of this change and continue to receive the payments in lump sums. The law eliminates fixed-term employee contracts and replaced them with indefinite contracts, which shortens the allowable trial period for employees to 90 days. The law also allows participation in social security pensions for non-paid work at home.

The Labor Code provides for a 40-hour work week, 15 calendar days of annual paid vacation, restrictions and sanctions for those who employ child labor, general protection of worker health and safety, minimum wages and bonuses, maternity leave, and employer-provided benefits. The 2008 Constitution bans child labor, requires hiring workers with disabilities, and prohibits strikes in most of the public sector. Unpaid internships are not permitted in Ecuador.

Most workers in the private sector and at SOEs have the constitutional right to form trade unions and local law allows for unionization of any company with more than 30 employees. Private employers are required to engage in collective bargaining with recognized unions. The Labor Code provides for resolution of conflicts through a tripartite arbitration and conciliation board process. The Code also prohibits discrimination against union members and requires that employers provide space for union activities.

Workers fired for organizing a labor union are entitled to limited financial indemnification, but the law does not mandate reinstatement. The Public Service Law enacted in October 2010 prohibits the vast majority of public sector workers from joining unions, exercising collective bargaining rights, or paralyzing public services in general. The Constitution lists health; environmental sanitation; education; justice; fire brigade; social security; electrical energy; drinking water and sewerage; hydrocarbon production; processing, transport, and distribution of fuel; public transport; and post and telecommunications as strategic sectors. Public workers who are not under the Public Service Law may join a union and bargain collectively since they are governed by the provisions under the Labor Code.

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

DFC operates in Ecuador under a pre-existing OPIC agreement and has signed several loan agreements aimed at increasing local bank lending to small and medium enterprises and female entrepreneurs. DFC is also looking at possible loans to infrastructure projects in the energy sector. Ecuador is a signatory to the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agreement.

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) ($B USD) 2018 $107.4 2018 $108.4 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2018 $898 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2018 $30 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2018 17.4% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

* Source for Host Country Data: Central Bank of Ecuador. The Central Bank publishes FDI calculated as net flows only. Outward Direct Investment statistics are not published by the Central Bank.

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 $966.2 100% Total Outward Amount 100%
Canada $237.9 25% N/A N/A
Spain $149.6 15% N/A N/A
Netherlands $110.9 11% N/A N/A
United States $75.6 7% N/A N/A
Germany $45.1 5% N/A N/A
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Source: Ecuador Central Bank, no Information available on the IMF’s CDIS website, and there is no information available on Outward Direct Investment

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

Egypt

Executive Summary

The Egyptian government continues to make progress on economic reforms, and while many challenges remain, Egypt’s investment climate is improving.  The country has undertaken a number of structural reforms since the flotation of the Egyptian Pound (EGP) in November 2016, and after a strong track record of successfully completing a three-year, $12 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF)-backed economic reform program, Egypt was one of the fastest growing emerging markets prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.  Increased investor confidence and the reactivation of Egypt’s interbank foreign exchange (FX) market have attracted foreign portfolio investment and grown foreign reserves.  The Government of Egypt (GoE) also understands that attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) is key to addressing many of its economic challenges and has stated its intention to create a more conducive environment for FDI.  FDI inflows grew 11 percent between 2018 and 2019, from $8.1 to $9 billion, according to data from the Central Bank of Egypt.  The United Nations Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has ranked Egypt as the top FDI destination in Africa between 2015 and 2019.

Egypt has implemented a number of regulatory reforms, including a new investment law in 2017; a new companies law and a bankruptcy law in 2018; and a new customs law in 2020.  These laws aim to improve Egypt’s investment and business climate and help the economy realize its full potential.  The 2017 Investment Law is designed to attract new investment and provides a framework for the government to offer investors more incentives, consolidate investment-related rules, and streamline procedures.  The 2020 Customs Law is likewise meant to streamline aspects of import and export procedures, including a single window system, electronic payments, and expedited clearances for authorized companies.

The government also hopes to attract investment in several “mega projects,” including the construction of a new national administrative capital, and to promote mineral extraction opportunities.  Egypt intends to capitalize on its location bridging the Middle East, Africa, and Europe to become a regional trade and investment gateway and energy hub, and hopes to attract information and communications technology (ICT) sector investments for its digital transformation program.

Egypt is a party to more than 100 bilateral investment treaties, including with the United States.  It is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), and the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA).  In many sectors, there is no legal difference between foreign and domestic investors. Special requirements exist for foreign investment in certain sectors, such as upstream oil and gas as well as real estate, where joint ventures are required.

Several challenges persist for investors.  Dispute resolution is slow, with the time to adjudicate a case to completion averaging three to five years.  Other obstacles to investment include excessive bureaucracy, regulatory complexity, a mismatch between job skills and labor market demand, slow and cumbersome customs procedures, and various non-tariff trade barriers.  Inadequate protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) remains a significant hurdle in certain sectors and Egypt remains on the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 Watch List. Nevertheless, Egypt’s reform story is noteworthy, and if the steady pace of implementation for structural reforms continues, and excessive bureaucracy reduces over time, then the investment climate should continue to look more favorable to U.S. investors.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 106 of 198 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 114 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/
en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 96 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 11,000 http://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 2,690 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Egypt’s completion of the most recent three-year, $13 billion IMF Extended Fund Facility and its associated reform package helped stabilize Egypt’s macroeconomy, introduced important subsidy and social spending reforms, and helped restore investor confidence in the Egyptian economy.  The flotation of the Egyptian Pound (EGP) in November 2016 and the restart of Egypt’s interbank foreign exchange (FX) market as part of this program was the first major step in restoring investor confidence that immediately led to increased portfolio investment and should lead to increased FDI over the long term.  Other important reforms have included a new investment law and an industrial licensing law in 2017, a new bankruptcy law in 2018, and other reforms aimed at reducing regulatory overhang and improving the ease of doing business. Egypt’s government has announced plans to further improve its business climate through investment promotion, facilitation, more efficient business services, and the implementation of investor-friendly policies.

With a few exceptions, Egypt does not legally discriminate between Egyptian nationals and foreigners in the formation and operation of private companies. The 1997 Investment Incentives Law was designed to encourage domestic and foreign investment in targeted economic sectors and to promote decentralization of industry away from the Nile Valley. The law allows 100 percent foreign ownership of investment projects and guarantees the right to remit income earned in Egypt and to repatriate capital.

The Tenders Law (Law 89 of 1998) requires the government to consider both price and best value in awarding contracts and to issue an explanation for refusal of a bid. However, the law contains preferences for Egyptian domestic contractors, who are accorded priority if their bids do not exceed the lowest foreign bid by more than 15 percent.

The Capital Markets Law (Law 95 of 1992) and its amendments, including the most recent in February 2018, and regulations govern Egypt’s capital markets.  Foreign investors are able to buy shares on the Egyptian Stock Exchange on the same basis as local investors.

The General Authority for Investment and Free Zones (GAFI, http://gafi.gov.eg) is the principal government body that regulates and facilitates foreign investment in Egypt, and reports directly to the Prime Minister.  Prior to December 2019, GAFI had been a component of the Ministry of Investment and International Cooperation.

”The Investor Service Center (ISC)” is an administrative unit established within GAFI that provides ”one-stop-shop” services, easing the way for global investors looking for opportunities presented by Egypt’s domestic economy and the nation’s competitive advantages as an export hub for Europe, the Arab world and Africa. This is in addition to promoting Egypt’s investment opportunities in various sectors.

ISC provides a full start-to-end service to the investor, including assistance related to company incorporation, establishment of company branches, approval of minutes of Board of Directors and General Assemblies, increase of capital, change of activity, liquidation procedures, and other corporate-related matters. The Center also aims to issue licenses, approvals, and permits required for investment activities, within 60 days from the date of request submissions. Other services GAFI provides include:

Advice and support to help in the evaluation of Egypt as a potential investment location;

Identification of suitable locations and site selection options within Egypt;

Assistance in identifying suitable Egyptian partners;

Aftercare and dispute settlement services.​

ISC Branches are expected to be established in all Egypt’s Governorates.  Egypt maintains ongoing communication with investors through formal business roundtables, investment promotion events (conferences and seminars), and one-on-one investment meetings.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

The Egyptian Companies Law does not set any limitation on the number of foreigners, neither as shareholders nor as managers/board members, except for Limited Liability Companies where the only restriction is that one of the managers should be an Egyptian national. In addition, companies are required to obtain a commercial and tax license, and pass a security clearance process.  Companies are able to operate while undergoing the often lengthy security screening process.  However, if the firm is rejected, it must cease operations and undergo a lengthy appeals process.  Businesses have cited instances where Egyptian clients were hesitant to conclude long term business contracts with foreign businesses that have yet to receive a security clearance. They have also expressed concern about seemingly arbitrary refusals, a lack of explanation when a security clearance is not issued, and the lengthy appeals process. Although the Government of Egypt has made progress streamlining the business registration process at GAFI, inconsistent treatment by banks and other government officials has in some cases led to registration delays.

Sector-specific limitations to investment include restrictions on foreign shareholding of companies owning lands in the Sinai Peninsula. Likewise, the Import-Export Law requires companies wishing to register in the Import Registry to be 51 percent owned and managed by Egyptians. In 2016, the Ministry of Trade prepared an amendment to the law allowing the registration of importing companies owned by foreign shareholders, but the law has not yet been submitted to Parliament. Nevertheless, the new Investment Law does allow wholly foreign companies which are invested in Egypt to import goods and materials.

Land/Real Estate Law 15 of 1963 explicitly prohibits foreign individual or corporation ownership of agricultural land (defined as traditional agricultural land in the Nile Valley, Delta and Oases). The ownership of land by foreigners is governed by three laws: Law No. 15 of 1963, Law No. 143 of 1981, and Law No. 230 of 1996. Law No. 15 stipulates that no foreigners, whether natural or juristic persons, may acquire agricultural land.  Law No. 143 governs the acquisition and ownership of desert land. Certain limits are placed on the number of feddans (one feddan is equal to approximately one hectare) that may be owned by individuals, families, cooperatives, partnerships and corporations. Partnerships are permitted to own 10,000 feddans. Joint stock companies are permitted to own 50,000 feddans.

Under Law No. 230 non-Egyptians are allowed to own real estate (vacant or built) only under the following conditions:

  • Ownership is limited to two real estate properties in Egypt that serve as accommodation for the owner and his family (spouses and minors) in addition to the right to own real estate needed for activities licensed by the Egyptian Government.
  • The area of each real estate property does not exceed 4,000 m².
  • The real estate is not considered a historical site.

Exemption from the first and second conditions is subject to the approval of the Prime Minister. Ownership in tourist areas and new communities is subject to conditions established by the Cabinet of Ministers. Non-Egyptians owning vacant real estate in Egypt must build within a period of five years from the date their ownership is registered by a notary public. Non-Egyptians cannot sell their real estate for five years after registration of ownership, unless the consent of the Prime Minister for an exemption is obtained.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) signed a declaration with Egypt on International Investment and Multinational Enterprises on July 11, 2007, at which time Egypt became the first Arab and African country to sign the OECD Declaration, marking a new stage in Egypt’s drive to attract more foreign direct investment (FDI).  On July 8, 2020, the OECD released an Investment Policy Review for Egypt which highlighted the government’s progress implementing a proactive reform agenda to improve the business climate, attract more foreign and domestic investment, and reap the benefits of openness to FDI and participation in global value chains.

https://www.oecd.org/countries/egypt/egypt-continues-to-strengthen-its-institutional-and-legal-framework-for-investment.htm 

In January 2018 the World Trade Organization (WTO) published a comprehensive review of the Egyptian Government’s trade policies, including details of the 2017 Investment Law’s main provisions.

https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/s367_e.pdf 

The United Nations Conference on Trade Development (UNCTAD) published an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Policy Review for Egypt in 2017, in which it highlighted the potential for investments in the ICT sector to help drive economic growth and recommended specific reforms aimed at strengthening Egypt’s performance in key ICT policy areas.  https://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/dtlstict2017d3_en.pdf   UNCTAD published its last comprehensive Investment Policy Review for Egypt in 1999, and an implementation report in 2006.

Business Facilitation

GAFI’s new ISC (https://gafi.gov.eg/English/Howcanwehelp/OneStopShop/Pages/default.aspx ) was launched in February 2018 and provides a full start-to-end service to the investor as described above.  The new Investment Law also introduces ”Ratification Offices” to facilitate obtaining necessary approvals, permits, and licenses within 10 days of issuing a Ratification Certificate.

Investors may fulfill the technical requirements of obtaining the required licenses through these Ratification Offices, directly through the concerned authority, or through its representatives at the Investment Window at GAFI.  The Investor Service Center is required to issue licenses within 60 days from submission. Companies can also register online.  GAFI has also launched e-establishment, e-signature, and e-payment services to facilitate establishing companies.

Outward Investment

Egypt promotes and incentivizes outward investment. According to the Egyptian government’s FDI Markets database for the period from January 2003 to May 2020, outward investment featured the following:

  • Egyptian companies implemented 270 Egyptian FDI projects. Estimated total value of the projects, which employed about 50,000 workers, was $25.6 billion.
  • The following countries respectively received the largest amount of Egyptian outward investment in terms of total project value: UAE, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Kenya, Jordan, Ethiopia, Germany, Libya, Morocco and Sudan. The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Algeria accounted for about 28 percent of the total amount.

Elsewedy Electric was the largest Egyptian company investing abroad, implementing 20 projects with a total investment estimated to be $2.1 billion.

Egypt does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Egypt has signed 115 Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs), out of which 74 BITs have entered into force. The full list can be found at http://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/IIA .

The U.S.-Egypt Bilateral Investment Treaty provides for fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory treatment for investors of both nations. The treaty includes provisions for international legal standards on expropriation and compensation; free financial transfers; and procedures for the settlement of investment disputes, including international arbitration.

In addition to BITs, Egypt is also a signatory to a wide variety of other agreements covering trade issues. Egypt joined the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) in June 1998, and in 2019 deposited its instrument of ratification for the 2018 African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).  In July 1999, Egypt and the United States signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA). In June 2001, Egypt signed an Association Agreement with the European Union (EU), which entered into force on June 1, 2004. The agreement provided immediate duty free access of Egyptian products into EU markets, while duty free access for EU products into the Egyptian market was phased in over a 12-year period ending in 2016.  In 2010, Egypt and the EU completed an agricultural annex to their agreement, liberalizing trade in over 90 percent of agricultural goods.

Egypt is also a member of the Greater Arab Free Trade Agreement (GAFTA), and a member of the Agadir Agreement with Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia, which relaxes rules of origin requirements on products jointly manufactured by the countries for export to Europe. Egypt also has an FTA with Turkey, in force since March 2007, and an FTA with the Mercosur bloc of Latin American nations.

In 2004, Egypt and Israel signed an agreement to take advantage of the U.S. Government’s Qualifying Industrial Zone (QIZ) program. The purpose of the QIZ program is to promote stronger ties between the region’s peace partners, as well as to generate employment and higher incomes, by granting duty-free access to goods produced in QIZs in Egypt using a specified percentage of Israeli and local input. Under Egypt’s QIZ agreement, Egypt’s exports to the United States produced in certain industrial areas are eligible for duty-free treatment if they contain a minimum 10.5 percent Israeli content.

The industrial areas currently included in the QIZ program are Alexandria, areas in Greater Cairo such as Sixth of October, Tenth of Ramadan, Fifteenth of May, South of Giza, Shobra El-Khema, Nasr City, and Obour, areas in the Delta governorates such as Dakahleya, Damietta, Monofeya and Gharbeya, and areas in the Suez Canal such as Suez, Ismailia, Port Said, and other specified areas in Upper Egypt. Egyptian exports to the United States through the QIZ program have mostly been ready-made garments and processed foods. The value of the Egyptian QIZ exports to the United States was approximately $752 million in 2017.

Egypt has a bilateral tax treaty with the United States. Egypt also has tax agreements with 59 other countries, including UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Mauritius, Bahrain, and Morocco.

The Egyptian Parliament passed and the government implemented a value added tax (VAT) in late 2016, which took the place of the General Sales Tax, as part of the IMF loan and economic reform program.  However, the government decided to postpone the “Stock Market Capital Gains Tax” for three years as of early 2017. In 2016, there were a number of tax disputes between foreign investors and the government, but most of them were resolved through the Tax Department and the Economic Court.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Egyptian government has made efforts to improve the transparency of government policy and to support a fair, competitive marketplace.  Nevertheless, improving government transparency and consistency has proven difficult and reformers have faced strong resistance from entrenched bureaucratic and private interests.  Significant obstacles continue to hinder private investment, including the reportedly arbitrary imposition of bureaucratic impediments and the length of time needed to resolve them.  Nevertheless, the impetus for positive change driven by the government reform agenda augurs well for improvement in policy implementation and transparency.

Enactment of laws is the purview of the Parliament, while executive regulations are the domain of line ministries.  Under the Constitution, draft legislation can be presented by the president, the cabinet, and any member of parliament.  After submission, parliamentary committees review and approve, including any amendments.  Upon parliamentary approval, a judicial body reviews the constitutionality of any legislation before referring it to the president for his approval.  Although notice and full drafts of legislation are typically printed in the Official Gazette (similar to the Federal Register in the United States), in practice consultation with the public is limited.  In recent years, the Ministry of Trade and other government bodies have circulated draft legislation among concerned parties, including business associations and labor unions. This has been a welcome change from previous practice, but is not yet institutionalized across the government.

While Egyptian parliaments have historically held “social dialogue” sessions with concerned parties and private or civic organizations to discuss proposed legislation, it is unclear to what degree the current Parliament will adopt a more inclusive approach to social dialogue.  Many aspects of the 2016 IMF program and related economic reforms stimulated parliament to engage more broadly with the public, marking some progress in this respect.

Accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are transparent and consistent with international norms.  The Financial Regulatory Authority (FRA) supervises and regulates all non-banking financial markets and instruments, including capital markets, futures exchanges, insurance activities, mortgage finance, financial leasing, factoring, securitization, and microfinance.  It issues rules that facilitate market efficiency and transparency. FRA has issued legislation and regulatory decisions on non-banking financial laws which govern FRA’s work and the entities under its supervision. (http://www.fra.gov.eg/jtags/efsa_en/index_en.jsp )

The criteria for awarding government contracts and licenses are made available when bid rounds are announced.  The process actually used to award contracts is broadly consistent with the procedural requirements set forth by law.  Further, set-aside requirements for small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) participation in GoE procurement are increasingly highlighted. FRA maintains a centralized website where key regulations and laws are published: http://www.fra.gov.eg/content/efsa_en/efsa_pages_en/laws_efsa_en.htm 

The Parliament and the independent “Administrative Control Authority” both ensure the government’s commitment to follow administrative processes at all levels of government.  Egypt does not have an online equivalent of the U.S. Federal Register and there is no centralized online location for key regulatory actions or their summaries.

The cabinet develops and submits proposed regulations to the president following discussion and consultation with the relevant ministry and informal consultation with other interest groups. Based on the recommendations provided in the proposal, including recommendations by the presidential advisors, the president issues “Presidential Decrees” that function as implementing regulations.  Presidential decrees are published in the “Official Gazette” for enforcement.

The specific government agency or entity responsible for enforcing the regulation works with other departments for implementation across the government.  Not all issued regulations are announced online. Theoretically, the enforcement process is legally reviewable.

Before a government regulation is implemented, there is an attempt to properly analyze and thoroughly debate proposed legislation and rules using appropriate available data.  But there are no laws requiring scientific studies or quantitative analysis of impacts of regulations. Not all public comments received by regulators are made public.

The government made its budget documents widely and easily accessible to the general public, including online.  Budget documents did not include allocations to military state-owned enterprises, nor allocations to and earnings from state-owned enterprises.  Information on government debt obligations was publicly available online, but up-to-date and clear information on state-owned enterprise debt guaranteed by the government was not available.  According to information the Central Bank has provided to the World Bank, the lack of information available about publicly guaranteed private sector debt meant that this debt was generally recorded as private sector non-guaranteed debt thus potentially obscuring some contingent debt liabilities.

International Regulatory Considerations

In general, international standards are the main reference for Egyptian standards.  According to the Egyptian Organization for Standardization and Quality Control, approximately 7,000 national standards are aligned with international standards in various sectors.  In the absence of international standards, Egypt uses other references which are referred to in Ministerial decrees No. 180//1996 and No. 291//2003, which stipulate that in the absence of Egyptian standards, the producers and importers may use the following:

European standards (EN)
U.S. standards (ANSI)
Japanese standards (JIS)

Egypt is a member of the WTO, participates actively in various committees, and notifies technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade.  Egypt ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) on June 22, 2017 by a vote of Parliament and issuance of presidential decree No. 149/2017, and deposited its formal notification to the WTO on June 24, 2019.  Egypt notified indicative and definitive dates for implementing Category B and C commitments on June 20, 2019, but to date has not notified dates for implementing Category A commitments.  In August 2020 the Egyptian Parliament passed a new Customs Law that includes provisions for key TFA reforms, including advance rulings, separation of release, a Single Window system, expedited customs procedures for authorized economic operators, post-clearance audits, and e-payments.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Egypt’s legal system is a civil codified law system based on the French model.  If contractual disputes arise, claimants can sue for remedies through the court system or seek resolution through arbitration.  Egypt has written commercial and contractual laws. The country has a system of economic courts, specializing in private sector disputes, which have jurisdiction over cases related to economic and commercial matters, including intellectual property disputes.  The judiciary is set up as an independent branch of the government.

Regulations and enforcement actions can be appealed through Egypt’s courts, though appellants often complain about the very lengthy judicial process, which can often take years.  To enforce judgments of foreign courts in Egypt, the party seeking to enforce the judgment must obtain an exequatur (a legal document issued by governments allowing judgements to be enforced).  To apply for an exequatur, the normal procedures for initiating a lawsuit in Egypt must be satisfied. Moreover, several other conditions must be satisfied, including ensuring reciprocity between the Egyptian and foreign country’s courts, and verifying the competence of the court rendering the judgment.

Judges in Egypt are said to enjoy a high degree of public trust and are the designated monitors for general elections.  The Judiciary is proud of its independence and can point to a number of cases where a judge has made surprising decisions that run counter to the desires of the regime.  The judge’s ability to loosely interpret the law can sometimes lead to an uneven application of justice.  The system’s slowness and dependence on paper processes hurts its overall competence and reliability.  The executive branch claims to have no influence over the judiciary, but in practice political pressures seem to influence the courts on a case by case basis.  In the experience of the Embassy, judicial decisions are highly appealable at the national level and this appeal process is regularly used by litigants.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

No specialized court exists for foreign investments.

The 2017 Investment Law, as well as other FDI-related laws and regulations, are published on GAFI’s website, https://gafi.gov.eg/English/StartaBusiness/Laws-and-Regulations/Pages/default.aspx .

In 2017 the Parliament also passed the Industrial Permits Act, which reduced the time it takes to license a new factory by mandating that the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) respond to a request for a license within 30 days of the request being filed.  As of February 2020, new regulations allow IDA regional branch directors or their designees to grant conditional licenses to industrial investors until other registration requirements are complete.

In 2016, the Import-Export Law was revised to allow companies wishing to register in the Import Registry to be 51 percent owned and managed by Egyptians; formerly the law required 100 percent Egyptian ownership and management.  In November 2016, the inter-ministerial Supreme Investment Council also announced seventeen presidential decrees designed to spur investment or resolve longstanding issues. These include:

  • Forming a “National Payments Council” that will work to restrict the handling of FX outside the banking sector;
  • A decision to postpone for three years the capital gains taxon stock market transactions;
  • Producers of agricultural crops that Egypt imports or exports will get tax exemptions;
  • Five-year tax exemptions for manufacturers of “strategic” goodsthat Egypt imports or exports;
  • Five-year tax exemptionsfor agriculture and industrial investments in Upper Egypt;
  • Begin tendering land with utilities for industry in Upper Egypt for free as outlined by the Industrial Development Authority.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Investment Incentives Law provides guarantees against nationalization or confiscation of investment projects under the law’s domain. The law also provides guarantees against seizure, requisition, blocking, and placing of assets under custody or sequestration.  It offers guarantees against full or partial expropriation of real estate and investment project property. The U.S.-Egypt Bilateral Investment Treaty also provides protection against expropriation. Private firms are able to take cases of alleged expropriation to court, but the judicial system can take several years to resolve a case.

Expropriation and Compensation

Egypt’s Investment Incentives Law provides guarantees against nationalization or confiscation of investment projects under the law’s domain.  The law also provides guarantees against seizure, requisition, blocking, and placing of assets under custody or sequestration.  It offers guarantees against full or partial expropriation of real estate and investment project property.  The U.S.-Egypt Bilateral Investment Treaty also provides protection against expropriation.  Private firms are able to take cases of alleged expropriation to court, but the judicial system can take several years to resolve a case.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Egypt acceded to the International Convention for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in 1971 and is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, which provides a framework for the arbitration of investment disputes between the government and foreign investors from another member state, provided the parties agree to such arbitration. Without prejudice to Egyptian courts, the Investment Incentives Law recognizes the right of investors to settle disputes within the framework of bilateral agreements, the ICSID or through arbitration before the Regional Center for International Commercial Arbitration in Cairo, which applies the rules of the United Nations Commissions on International Trade Law.

Egypt adheres to the 1958 New York Convention on the Enforcement of Arbitral Awards; the 1965 Washington Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and the Nationals of Other States; and the 1974 Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between the Arab States and Nationals of Other States.  An award issued pursuant to arbitration that took place outside Egypt may be enforced in Egypt if it is either covered by one of the international conventions to which Egypt is party or it satisfies the conditions set out in Egypt’s Dispute Settlement Law 27 of 1994, which provides for the arbitration of domestic and international commercial disputes and limited challenges of arbitration awards in the Egyptian judicial system.  The Dispute Settlement Law was amended in 1997 to include disputes between public enterprises and the private sector.

To enforce judgments of foreign courts in Egypt, the party seeking to enforce the judgment must obtain an exequatur.  To apply for an exequatur, the normal procedures for initiating a lawsuit in Egypt, and several other conditions must be satisfied, including ensuring reciprocity between the Egyptian and foreign country’s courts and verifying the competence of the court rendering the judgment.

Egypt has a system of economic courts specializing in private sector disputes that have jurisdiction over cases related to economic and commercial matters, including intellectual property disputes. Despite these provisions, business and investors in Egypt’s renewable energy projects have reported significant problems resolving disputes with the Government of Egypt.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The U.S.-Egypt Bilateral Investment Treaty allows an investor to take a dispute directly to binding third-party arbitration. The Egyptian courts generally endorse international arbitration clauses in commercial contracts. For example, the Court of Cassation has, on a number of occasions, confirmed the validity of arbitration clauses included in contracts between Egyptian and foreign parties.

A new mechanism for simplified settlement of investment disputes aimed at avoiding the court system altogether has been established. In particular, the law established a Ministerial Committee on Investment Contract Disputes, responsible for the settlement of disputes arising from investment contracts to which the State, or a public or private body affiliated therewith, is a party. This is in addition to establishing a Complaint Committee to consider challenges connected to the implementation of Egypt’s Investment Law. Finally, the decree established a Committee for Resolution of Investment Disputes, which will review complaints or disputes between investors and the government related to the implementation of the Investment Law.  In practice, Egypt’s dispute resolution mechanisms are time-consuming but broadly effective.  Businesses have, however, reported difficulty collecting payment from the government when awarded a monetary settlement.

Over the past 10 years, there have been several investment disputes involving both U.S. persons and foreign investors.  Most of the cases have been settled, though no definitive number is available. Local courts in Egypt recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government.  There are no known extrajudicial actions against foreign investors in Egypt during the period of this report.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Egypt allows mediation as a mechanism for alternative dispute resolution (ADR), a structured negotiation process in which an independent person known as a mediator assists the parties to identify and assess options, and negotiate an agreement to resolve their dispute.  GAFI has an Investment Disputes Settlement Center, which uses mediation as an ADR.

The Economic Court recognizes and enforces arbitral awards.  Judgments of foreign courts may be recognized and enforceable under local courts under limited conditions.

In most cases, domestic courts have found in favor of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) involved in investment disputes.  In such disputes, non-government parties have often complained about the delays and discrimination in court processes.

It is recommended that U.S. companies employ contractual clauses that specify binding international (not local) arbitration of disputes in their commercial agreements.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Egypt passed a new bankruptcy law in January 2018, which should speed up the restructuring and settlement of troubled companies.  It also replaces the threat of imprisonment with fines in cases of bankruptcy.  As of July, 2020, the Egyptian government was considering but had not yet implemented amendments to the 2018 law that would allow debtors to file for bankruptcy protection, and would give creditors the ability to determine whether debtors could continue operating, be placed under administrative control, or forced to liquidate their assets.

In practice, the paperwork involved in liquidating a business remains convoluted and extremely protracted; starting a business is much easier than shutting one down.  Bankruptcy is frowned upon in Egyptian culture and many businesspeople still believe they may be found criminally liable if they declare bankruptcy.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Investment Law 72/2017 gives multiple incentives to investors as described below.  In August 2019, President Sisi ratified amendments to the Investment Law that allow its incentives programs to apply to expansions of existing investment projects in addition to new investments.

General Incentives:

  • All investment projects subject to the provisions of the new law enjoy the general incentives provided by it.
  • Investors are exempted from the stamp tax, fees of the notarization, registration of the Memorandum of Incorporation of the companies, credit facilities, and mortgage contracts associated with their business for five years from the date of registration in the Commercial Registry, in addition to the registration contracts of the lands required for a company’s establishment.
  • If the establishment is under the provisions of the new investment law, it will benefit from a two percent unified custom tax over all imported machinery, equipment, and devices required for the set-up of such a company.

Special Incentive Programs:

  • Investment projects established within three years of the date of the issuance of the Investment Law will enjoy a deduction from their net profit, subject to the income tax:
    • 50 percent of the investment costs for geographical region (A) (the regions the most in need of development as well as designated projects in Suez Canal Special Economic Zone and the “Golden Triangle” along the Red Sea between the cities of Safaga, Qena and El Quseer);
    • 30 percent of the investment costs to geographical region (B) (which represents the rest of the republic).
  • Provided that such deduction shall not exceed 80 percent of the paid-up capital of the company, the incentive could be utilized over a maximum of seven years.

Additional Incentive Program:

The Cabinet of Ministers may decide to grant additional incentives for investment projects in accordance with specific rules and regulations as follows:

  • The establishment of special customs ports for exports and imports of the investment projects.
  • The state may incur part of the costs of the technical training for workers.
  • Free allocation of land for a few strategic activities may apply.
  • The government may bear in full or in part the costs incurred by the investor to invest in utility connections for the investment project.
  • The government may refund half the price of the land allocated to industrial projects in the event of starting production within two years from receiving the land.

Other Incentives related to Free Zones according to Investment Law 72/2017:

  • Exemption from all taxes and customs duties.
  • Exemption from all import/export regulations.
  • The option to sell a certain percentage of production domestically if customs duties are paid.
  • Limited exemptions from labor provisions.
  • All equipment, machinery, and essential means of transport (excluding sedan cars) necessary for business operations are exempted from all customs, import duties, and sales taxes.
  • All licensing procedures are handled by GAFI. To remain eligible for benefits, investors operating inside the free zones must export more than 50 percent of their total production.
  • Manufacturing or assembly projects pay an annual charge of one percent of the total value of their products
  • Excluding all raw materials. Storage facilities are to pay one percent of the value of goods entering the free zones while service projects pay one percent of total annual revenue.
  • Goods in transit to specific destinations are exempt from any charges.

Other Incentives related to the Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCZone):

  • 100 percent foreign ownership of companies.
  • 100 percent foreign control of import/​export activities.
  • Imports are exempted from customs duties and sales tax.
  • Customs duties on exports to Egypt imposed on imported components only, not the final product.
  • Fast-track visa services.
  • A full service one-stop shop for registration and licensing.
  • Allowing enterprises access to the domestic market; duties on sales to domestic market will be assessed on the value of imported inputs only.

The Tenders Law (Law 89/1998) requires the government to consider both price and best value in awarding contracts and to issue an explanation for refusal of a bid. However, the law contains preferences for Egyptian domestic contractors, who are accorded priority if their bids do not exceed the lowest foreign bid by more than 15 percent.

The Ministry of Industry & Foreign Trade and the Ministry of Finance’s Decree No. 719/2007 provides incentives for industrial projects in the governorates of Upper Egypt (Upper Egypt refers to governorates in southern Egypt). The decree provides an incentive of LE 15,000 (approx. $850) for each job opportunity created by the project, on the condition that the investment costs of the project exceed LE 15 million (approx. $850,000). The decree can be implemented on both new and ongoing projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Public and private free trade zones are authorized under GAFI’s Investment Incentive Law. Free zones are located within the national territory, but are considered to be outside Egypt’s customs boundaries, granting firms doing business within them more freedom on transactions and exchanges. Companies producing largely for export (normally 80 percent or more of total production) may be established in free trade zones and operate using foreign currency. Free trade zones are open to investment by foreign or domestic investors. Companies operating in free trade zones are exempted from sales taxes or taxes and fees on capital assets and intermediate goods. The Legislative Package for the Stimulation of Investment, issued in 2015, stipulated a one percent duty paid on the value of commodities upon entry for storage projects and a one percent duty upon exit for manufacturing and assembly projects.

There are currently 9 public free trade zones in operation in the following locations: Alexandria, Damietta Ismailia, Qeft, Media Production City, Nasr City, Port Said, Shebin el Kom, and Suez. Private free trade zones may also be established with a decree by GAFI but are usually limited to a single project. Export-oriented industrial projects are given priority.  There is no restriction on foreign ownership of capital in private free zones.

The Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Law 83/2002 allows establishment of special zones for industrial, agricultural, or service activities designed specifically with the export market in mind.  The law allows firms operating in these zones to import capital equipment, raw materials, and intermediate goods duty free. Companies established in the SEZs are also exempt from sales and indirect taxes and can operate under more flexible labor regulations. The first SEZ was established in the northwest Gulf of Suez.

Law 19/2007 authorized creation of investment zones, which require Prime Ministerial approval for establishment. The government regulates these zones through a board of directors, but the zones are established, built, and operated by the private sector. The government does not provide any infrastructure or utilities in these zones. Investment zones enjoy the same benefits as free zones in terms of facilitation of license-issuance, ease of dealing with other agencies, etc., but are not granted the incentives and tax/custom exemptions enjoyed in free zones. Projects in investment zones pay the same tax/customs duties applied throughout Egypt. The aim of the law is to assist the private sector in diversifying its economic activities.

The Suez Canal Economic Zone, a major industrial and logistics services hub announced in 2014, includes upgrades and renovations to ports located along the Suez Canal corridor, including West and East Port Said, Ismailia, Suez, Adabiya, and Ain Sokhna. The Egyptian government has invited foreign investors to take part in the projects, which are expected to be built in several stages, the first of which was scheduled to be completed by mid-2020. Reported areas for investment include maritime services like ship repair services, bunkering, vessel scrapping and recycling; industrial projects, including pharmaceuticals, food processing, automotive production, consumer electronics, textiles, and petrochemicals; IT services such as research and development and software development; renewable energy; and mixed use, residential, logistics, and commercial developments. Website for the Suez Canal Development Project: http://www.sczone.com.eg/English/Pages/default.aspx 

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Egypt has rules on national percentages of employment and difficult visa and work permit procedures.  The application of these provisions that restrict access to foreign worker visas has been inconsistent.  The government plans to phase out visas for unskilled workers, but as yet has not done so. For most other jobs, employers may hire foreign workers on a temporary six-month basis, but must also hire two Egyptians to be trained to do the job during that period.  Only jobs where it is not possible for Egyptians to acquire the requisite skills will remain open to foreign workers. The application of these regulations is inconsistent. The Labor Law allows Ministers to set the maximum percentage of foreign workers that may work in companies in a given sector.  There are no such sector-wide maximums for the oil and gas industry, but individual concession agreements may contain language establishing limits or procedures regarding the proportion of foreign and local employees.

No performance requirements are specified in the Investment Incentives Law, and the ability to fulfill local content requirements is not a prerequisite for approval to set up assembly projects.  In many cases, however, assembly industries still must meet a minimum local content requirement in order to benefit from customs tariff reductions on imported industrial inputs.

Decree 184/2013 allows for the reduction of customs tariffs on intermediate goods if the final product has a certain percentage of input from local manufacturers, beginning at 30 percent local content.  As the percentage of local content rises, so does the tariff reduction, reaching up to 90 percent if the amount of local input is 60 percent or above. In certain cases, a minister can grant tariff reductions of up to 40 percent in advance to certain companies without waiting to reach a corresponding percentage of local content.  In 2010, Egypt revised its export rebate system to provide exporters with additional subsidies if they used a greater portion of local raw materials.

Manufacturers wishing to export under trade agreements between Egypt and other countries must complete certificates of origin and local content requirements contained therein.  Oil and gas exploration concessions, which do not fall under the Investment Incentives Law, do have performance standards, which are specified in each individual agreement and which generally include the drilling of a specific number of wells in each phase of the exploration period stipulated in the agreement.

Egypt does not impose localization barriers on ICT firms.  Egypt’s Data Protection Act, signed into law in July, 2020, will require licenses for cross-border data transfers but does not impose any data localization requirements.  Similarly, Egypt does not make local production a requirement for market access, does not have local content requirements, and does not impose forced technology or intellectual property transfers as a condition of market access.  But there are exceptions where the government has attempted to impose controls by requesting access to a company’s servers located offshore, or request servers to be located in Egypt and thus under the government’s control.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Egyptian legal system provides protection for real and personal property.  Laws on real estate ownership are complex and titles to real property may be difficult to establish and trace.  According to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report, Egypt ranks 130 of 190 for ease of registering property.

The National Title Registration Program introduced by the Ministry of State for Administrative Development has been implemented in nine areas within Cairo.  This program is intended to simplify property registration and facilitate easier mortgage financing. Real estate registration fees, long considered a major impediment to development of the real estate sector, are capped at no more than EGP 2000 (USD 110), irrespective of the property value.  In November 2012, the government postponed implementation of an enacted overhaul to the real estate tax and as of April 2017 no action has been taken.

Foreigners are limited to ownership of two residences in Egypt and specific procedures are required for purchasing real estate in certain geographical areas.

The mortgage market is still undeveloped in Egypt, and in practice most purchases are still conducted in cash.  Real Estate Finance Law 148//2001 authorized both banks and non-bank mortgage companies to issue mortgages. The law provides procedures for foreclosure on property of defaulting debtors, and amendments passed in 2004 allow for the issuance of mortgage-backed securities.  According to the regulations, banks can offer financing in foreign currency of up to 80 percent of the value of a property.

Presidential Decree 17//2015 permitted the government to provide land free of charge, in certain regions only, to investors meeting certain technical and financial requirements.  This provision expires on April 1, 2020 and the company must provide cash collateral for five years following commencement of either production (for industrial projects) or operation (for all other projects).

The ownership of land by foreigners is governed by three laws: Law 15//1963, Law 143//1981, and Law 230//1996.  Law 15//1963 stipulates that no foreigners, whether natural or juristic persons, may acquire agricultural land.  Law 143//1981 governs the acquisition and ownership of desert land. Certain limits are placed on the number of feddans (one feddan is equal to approximately one hectare) that may be owned by individuals, families, cooperatives, partnerships and corporations.  Partnerships are permitted to own up to 10,000 feddans. Joint stock companies are permitted to own up to 50,000 feddans.

Partnerships and joint stock companies may own desert land within these limits, even if foreign partners or shareholders are involved, provided that at least 51 percent of the capital is owned by Egyptians.  Upon liquidation of the company, however, the land must revert to Egyptian ownership. Law 143 defines desert land as the land lying two kilometers outside city borders. Furthermore, non-Egyptians owning non-improved real estate in Egypt must build within a period of five years from the date their ownership is registered by a notary public.  Non-Egyptians may only sell their real estate five years after registration of ownership, unless the consent of the Prime Minister for an exemption is obtained.

Intellectual Property Rights

Egypt remains on the Special 301 Watch List in 2020.  Egypt’s IPR legislation generally meets international standards, and the government has made progress enforcing those laws, reducing patent application backlogs, and in 2019 shut down a number of online illegal streaming websites.  It has also made progress establishing protection against the unfair commercial use, as well as unauthorized disclosure, of undisclosed test or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical products.  Stakeholders note continued challenges with widespread counterfeiting and piracy, biotechnology patentability criteria, patent and trademark examination criteria, and pharmaceutical-related IP issues.

Multinational pharmaceutical companies complain that local generic drug-producing companies infringe on their patents.  Delays and inefficiencies in processing patent applications by the Egyptian Patent Office compound the difficulties pharmaceutical companies face in introducing new drugs to the local market.  The government views patent linkage as “a legal violation” against the concept of separation of authorities between institutions such as the Egyptian Drug Authority, the Ministry of Health, and the Egyptian Patent Office. As a result, permits for the sale of pharmaceuticals are generally issued without first cross-checking patent filings.

Decree 251/2020, issued in January, 2020, established a ministerial committee to address compulsory patent licensing.  According to Egypt’s 2002 IPR Law, which allows for compulsory patent licenses in some cases, the committee will have the power to issue compulsory patent licenses according to a number of criteria set forth in the law; to determine financial renumeration for the original patent owners; and to approve the expropriation of the patents.

Book, music, and entertainment software piracy is prevalent in Egypt, and a significant portion of the piracy takes place online.  American film studios represented by the Motion Pictures Association of America are concerned about the illegal distribution of American movies on regional satellite channels.

Eight GoE ministries have the responsibility to oversee IPR concerns: Supply and Internal Trade for trademarks, Higher Education and Research for patents, Culture for copyrights, Agriculture for plants, Communications and Information Technology for copyright of computer programs, Interior for combatting IPR violations, Customs for border enforcement, and Trade and Industry for standards and technical regulations.  Article 69 of Egypt’s 2014 Constitution mandates the establishment of a “specialized agency to uphold [IPR] rights and their legal protection.” A National Committee on IPR was established to address IPR matters until a permanent body is established. All IPR stakeholders are represented in the committee, and members meet every two months to discuss issues. The National Committee on IPR is chaired by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and reports directly to the Prime Minister.

The Egyptian Customs Authority (ECA) handles IPR enforcement at the national border and the Ministry of Interior’s Department of Investigation handles domestic cases of illegal production. The ECA cannot act unless the trademark owner files a complaint.  Moreover, Egypt’s Economic Courts often take years to reach a decision on IPR infringement cases.

ECA’s customs enforcement also tends to focus on protecting Egyptian goods and trademarks. The ECA is taking steps to adopt the World Customs Organization’s (WCO) Interface Public-Members platform, which allows customs officers to detect counterfeit goods by scanning a product’s barcode and checking the WCO trademark database system.

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

IPR Contact at Embassy Cairo:
Christopher Leslie
Trade & Investment Officer
20-2-2797-2735
LeslieCG@state.gov

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

To date, high returns on Egyptian government debt have crowded out Egyptian investment in productive capacity.  Consistently positive and relatively high real interest rates have attracted large foreign capital inflows since 2017, most of which has been volatile portfolio capital.  Returns on Egyptian government debt have begun to come down, which could presage investment by Egyptian capital in the real economy.

The Egyptian Stock Exchange (EGX) is Egypt’s registered securities exchange.  About 246 companies were listed on the EGX, including Nilex, as of April 2020.  There were more than 500,000 investors registered to trade on the exchange in 2019 as the Egyptian market attracted 32,000 new investors.  Stock ownership is open to foreign and domestic individuals and entities.  The Government of Egypt issues dollar-denominated and Egyptian pound-denominated debt instruments.  Ownership is open to foreign and domestic individuals and entities.  The government has developed a positive outlook toward foreign portfolio investment, recognizing the need to attract foreign capital to help develop the Egyptian economy.  During 2019 foreign investors’ percentage of total transactions on the EGX reached 33 percent versus Egyptian investors’ percentage of 67 percent.

The Capital Market Law 95/1992, along with the Banking Law 88/2003, constitutes the primary regulatory frameworks for the financial sector. The law grants foreigners full access to capital markets, and authorizes establishment of Egyptian and foreign companies to provide underwriting of subscriptions, brokerage services, securities and mutual funds management, clearance and settlement of security transactions, and venture capital activities. The law specifies mechanisms for arbitration and legal dispute resolution and prohibits unfair market practices.  Law 10//2009 created the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority (EFSA) and brought the regulation of all non-banking financial services under its authority.  In 2017, EFSA became the Financial Regulatory Authority (FRA).

Settlement of transactions takes one day for treasury bonds and two days for stocks. Although Egyptian law and regulations allow companies to adopt bylaws limiting or prohibiting foreign ownership of shares, virtually no listed stocks have such restrictions. A significant number of the companies listed on the exchange are family-owned or dominated conglomerates, and free trading of shares in many of these ventures, while increasing, remains limited.  Companies are de-listed from the exchange if not traded for six months.

The Higher Investment Council extended the suspension of capital gains tax for three years, until 2020 as part of efforts to draw investors back. In March 2017, the government announced plans to impose a stamp duty on all stock transactions with a duty of 0.125 percent on all buyers and sellers starting in May 2017, followed by an increase to 0.150 percent in the second year and 0.175 percent thereafter. Egypt’s provisional stamp duty on stock exchange transactions includes for the first time a 0.3 percent levy for investors acquiring more than a third of a company’s stocks. I n May 2019 the government decided to keep the stamp duty at 0.15% without further increase, then in March 2020 the government decided to reduce the stamp tax to 0.125% for non-residents and to 0.05% for non-residents and to push back the introduction of the capital gain tax till January 2022.  Foreign investors will be exempted from the tax.

Foreign investors can access Egypt’s banking system by opening accounts with local banks and buying and selling all marketable securities with brokerages. The government has repeatedly emphasized its commitment to maintaining the profit repatriation system to encourage foreign investment in Egypt, especially since the pound floatation and implementation of the IMF loan program in November 2016. The current system for profit repatriation by foreign firms requires sub-custodian banks to open foreign and local currency accounts for foreign investors (global custodians), which are exclusively maintained for stock exchange transactions. The two accounts serve as a channel through which foreign investors process their sales, purchases, dividend collections, and profit repatriation transactions using the bank’s posted daily exchange rates. The system is designed to allow for settlement of transactions in fewer than two days, though in practice some firms have reported significant delays in repatriating profits due to problems with availability.  Foreign firms and individuals continue to report delays in repatriating funds and problems accessing hard currency for the purpose of repatriating profits.

The Egyptian credit market, open to foreigners, is vibrant and active. Repatriation of investment profits has become much easier, as there is enough available hard currency to execute FX trades. Since the floatation of the Pound in November 2016 FX trading is considered straightforward, given the re-establishment of the interbank foreign currency trading system.

Money and Banking System

Benefitting from the nation’s increasing economic stability over the past two years, Egypt’s banks have enjoyed both ratings upgrades and continued profitability.  Thanks to economic reforms, a new floating exchange system, and a new Investment Law passed in 2017, the project finance pipeline is increasing after a period of lower activity.  Banking competition is improving to serve a largely untapped retail segment and the nation’s challenging, but potentially rewarding, small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) segment.  The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) has mandated that 20 percent of bank loans go to SMEs within the next three years (four years from 2016).  In December 2019, the Central Bank launched a 100 billion initiative to spur domestic manufacturing through subsidized loans.  Also, with only about a quarter of Egypt’s adult population owning or sharing an account at a formal financial institution (according press and comments from contacts), the banking sector has potential for growth and higher inclusion, which the government and banks discuss frequently.  A low median income plays a part in modest banking penetration.   But the CBE has taken steps to work with banks and technology companies to expand financial inclusion.  The employees of the government, one of the largest employers, must now have bank accounts because salary payment is through direct deposit.

Egypt’s banking sector is generally regarded as healthy and well-capitalized, due in part to its deposit-based funding structure and ample liquidity, especially since the floatation and restoration of the interbank market.  The CBE declared that 4.1 percent of the banking sector’s loans were non-performing in June 2020.  However, since 2011, a high level of exposure to government debt, accounting for over 40 percent of banking system assets, at the expense of private sector lending, has reduced the diversity of bank balance sheets and crowded out domestic investment.  Given the floatation of the Egyptian Pound and restart of the interbank trading system, Moody’s and S&P have upgraded the outlook of Egypt’s banking system to stable from negative to reflect improving macroeconomic conditions and ongoing commitment to reform.  In April 2019 Moody’s upgraded Egypt’s government issuer rating to B2 with stable outlook from B3 positive and affirmed this rating in April 2020 while also changing Egypt’s Macro Profile to “weak-” from “very weak”.

Thirty-eight banks operate in Egypt, including several foreign banks. The CBE has not issued a new commercial banking license since 1979.  The only way for a new commercial bank, whether foreign or domestic, to enter the market (except as a representative office) is to purchase an existing bank.  To this end, in 2013, QNB Group acquired National Société Générale Bank Egypt (NSGB).  That same year, Emirates NBD, Dubai’s largest bank, bought the Egypt unit of BNP Paribas.  In 2015, Citibank sold its retail banking division to CIB Bank.  In 2017, Barclays Bank PLC transferred its entire shareholding to Attijariwafa Bank Group.  In 2016 and 2017, Egypt indicated a desire to partially (less than 35 percent) privatize at least one state-owned banks and a total of 23 firms through either expanded or new listings on the Egypt Stock Exchange.  As of April 2020 the only steps towards implementing this privatization program were offering 4.5 percent of the shares of state-owned Eastern Tobacco Company on the stock market.  The state owned Banque De Caire was planning to IPO some of its shares on the EGX in April but postponed due to the novel coronavirus.

According to the CBE, banks operating in Egypt held nearly EGP 6 trillion ($379 billion) in total assets as of February 2020, with the five largest banks holding EGP 3.9 trillion ($247 billion) at the end of 2019.  Egypt’s three state-owned banks (Banque Misr, Banque du Caire, and National Bank of Egypt) control nearly 40 percent of banking sector assets.

The chairman of the EGX recently stated that Egypt is allowing exploration of the use of blockchain technologies across the banking community.  The FRA will review the development and most likely regulate how the banking system adopts the fast-developing blockchain systems into banks’ back-end and customer-facing processing and transactions. Seminars and discussions are beginning around Cairo, including visitors from Silicon Valley, in which leaders and experts are still forming a path forward.  While not outright banning cryptocurrencies, which is distinguished from blockchain technologies, authorities caution against speculation in unknown asset classes.

Alternative financial services in Egypt are extensive, given the large informal economy, estimated to be from 30 to 50 percent of the GDP.  Informal lending is prevalent, but the total capitalization, number of loans, and types of terms in private finance is less well known.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

There had been significant progress in accessing hard currency since the floatation of the Pound and re-establishment of the interbank currency trading system in November 2016.  While the immediate aftermath saw some lingering difficulty of accessing currency, as of 2017 most businesses operating in Egypt reported having little difficulty obtaining hard currency for business purposes, such as importing inputs and repatriating profits.   In 2016 the Central Bank lifted dollar deposit limits on households and firms importing priority goods which had been in place since early 2015.  Into 2016, businesses, including foreign-owned firms, which were not operating in priority sectors, encountered difficulty accessing currency, including importers.  But 2017 has seen an elimination of the backlog for demand for foreign currency.  With net foreign reserves of $37 billion as of April 2020, Egypt’s foreign reserves appeared to be well capitalized.

Funds associated with investment can be freely converted into any world currency, depending on the availability of that currency in the local market.  Some firms and individuals report the process taking some time.  But the interbank trading system works in general and currency is available as the foreign exchange markets continue to react positively to the government’s commitment to macro and structural reform.

The stabilized exchange rate operates on the principle of market supply and demand: the exchange rate is dictated by availability of currency and demand by firms and individuals.  While there is some reported informal Central Bank window guidance, the rate generally fluctuates depending on market conditions, without direct market intervention by authorities.  In general, the EGP has stabilized within an acceptable exchange rate range, which has increased the foreign exchange market’s liquidity.  Since the early days following the floatation, there has been very low exchange rate volatility.

Remittance Policies

The 1992 U.S.-Egypt Bilateral Investment Treaty provides for free transfer of dividends, royalties, compensation for expropriation, payments arising out of an investment dispute, contract payments, and proceeds from sales.  Prior to reform implementation throughout 2016 and 2017, large corporations had been unable to repatriate local earnings for months at a time, but given the current record net foreign reserves, repatriation is no longer an issue that companies complain about.

The Investment Incentives Law stipulates that non-Egyptian employees hired by projects established under the law are entitled to transfer their earnings abroad.  Conversion and transfer of royalty payments are permitted when a patent, trademark, or other licensing agreement has been approved under the Investment Incentives Law.

Banking Law 88//2003 regulates the repatriation of profits and capital.  The current system for profit repatriation by foreign firms requires sub-custodian banks to open foreign and local currency accounts for foreign investors (global custodians), which are exclusively maintained for stock exchange transactions.  The two accounts serve as a channel through which foreign investors process their sales, purchases, dividend collections, and profit repatriation transactions using the bank’s posted daily exchange rates.  The system is designed to allow for settlement of transactions in fewer than two days, though in practice some firms have reported short delays in repatriating profits, no longer due to availability but more due to processing steps.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Egypt’s sovereign wealth fund (SWF), approved by the Cabinet and launched in late 2018, holds 200 billion EGP ($12.7 billion) in authorized capital.  The SWF aims to invest state funds locally and abroad across asset classes and manage underutilized government assets.  The SWF focuses on sectors considered vital to the Egyptian economy, particularly industry, energy, and tourism. The SWF participates in the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds.  The government is currently in talks with regional and European institutions to take part in forming the fund’s sector-specific units.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State and military-owned companies compete directly with private companies in many sectors of the Egyptian economy. According to Public Sector Law 203/1991, state-owned enterprises should not receive preferential treatment from the government, nor should they be accorded any exemption from legal requirements applicable to private companies.  In addition to the state-owned enterprises groups above, 40 percent of the banking sector’s assets are controlled by three state-owned banks (Banque Misr, Banque du Caire, and National Bank of Egypt).   The 226 SOEs in Egypt subject to Law 203/1991 are affiliated with 10 ministries and employ 450,000 workers. The Ministry of Public Sector Enterprises controls 118 companies operating under eight holding companies that employ 209,000 workers.  The most profitable sectors include tourism, real estate, and transportation.  The ministry publishes a list of its SOEs on its website, http://www.mpbs.gov.eg/Arabic/Affiliates/HoldingCompanies/Pages/default.aspx  and http://www.mpbs.gov.eg/Arabic/Affiliates/AffiliateCompanies/Pages/default.aspx .

In an attempt to encourage growth of the private sector, privatization of state-owned enterprises and state-owned banks accelerated under an economic reform program that took place from 1991 to 2008.  Following the 2011 revolution, third parties have brought cases in court to reverse privatization deals, and in a number of these cases, Egyptian courts have ruled to reverse the privatization of several former public companies. Most of these cases are still under appeal.

The state-owned telephone company, Telecom Egypt, lost its legal monopoly on the local, long-distance, and international telecommunication sectors in 2005.  Nevertheless, Telecom Egypt held a de facto monopoly until late 2016 because the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA) had not issued additional licenses to compete in these sectors.  In October 2016, NTRA, however, implemented a unified license regime that allows companies to offer both fixed line and mobile networks.  The agreement allows Telecom Egypt to enter the mobile market and the three existing mobile companies to enter the fixed line market.  The introduction of Telecom Egypt as a new mobile operator in the Egyptian market will increase competition among operators, which will benefit users by raising the bar on quality of services as well as improving prices.  Egypt is not a party to the World Trade Organization’s Government Procurement Agreement.

OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of SOEs 

SOEs in Egypt are structured as individual companies controlled by boards of directors and grouped under government holding companies that are arranged by industry, including Petroleum Products & Gas, Spinning & Weaving; Metallurgical Industries; Chemical Industries; Pharmaceuticals; Food Industries; Building & Construction; Tourism, Hotels & Cinema; Maritime & Inland Transport; Aviation; and Insurance.  The holding companies are headed by boards of directors appointed by the Prime Minister with input from the relevant Minister.

Privatization Program

The Egyptian government’s most recent plans to privatize stakes in SOEs began in March 2018 with the successful public offering of a minority stake in the Eastern Tobacco Company.  Since then plans for privatizing stakes in 22 other SOEs, including up to 30 percent of the shares of Banque du Caire, have been delayed due to adverse market conditions and increased global volatility.  Egypt’s privatization program is based on Public Enterprise Law 203//1991, which permits the sale of SOEs to foreign entities.  In 1991, Egypt began a privatization program for the sale of several hundred wholly or partially SOEs and all public shares of at least 660 joint venture companies (joint venture is defined as mixed state and private ownership, whether foreign or domestic).  Bidding criteria for privatizations were generally clear and transparent.

In 2014, President Sisi signed a law limiting appeal rights on state-concluded contracts to reduce third-party challenges to prior government privatization deals.  The law was intended to reassure investors concerned by legal challenges brought against privatization deals and land sales dating back to the pre-2008 period.  Ongoing court cases had put many of these now-private firms, many of which are foreign-owned, in legal limbo over concerns that they may be returned to state ownership.  In early 2018, the Egyptian government announced that it would begin selling off stakes in some of its state-owned enterprises over the next few years through Egypt’s stock exchange.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) programs have grown in popularity in Egypt over the last ten years.   Most programs are limited to multinational and larger domestic companies as well as the banking sector and take the form of funding and sponsorship for initiatives supporting entrepreneurship and education and other social activities.  Environmental and technology programs are also garnering greater participation.  The Ministry of Trade has engaged constructively with corporations promoting RBC programs, supporting corporate social responsibility conferences and providing Cabinet-level representation as a sign of support to businesses promoting RBC programming.

A number of organizations and corporations work to foster the development of RBC in Egypt.  The American Chamber of Commerce has an active corporate social responsibility committee.  Several U.S. pharmaceutical companies are actively engaged in RBC programs related to Egypt’s hepatitis-C epidemic.  The Egyptian Corporate Responsibility Center, which is the UN Global Compact local network focal point in Egypt, aims to empower businesses to develop sustainable business models as well as improve the national capacity to design, apply, and monitor sustainable responsible business conduct policies.  In March 2010, Egypt launched an environmental, social, and governance (ESG) index, the second of its kind in the world after India’s, with training and technical assistance from Standard and Poor’s.  Egypt does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.  Public information about Egypt’s extractive industry remains limited to the government’s annual budget.

9. Corruption

Egypt has a set of laws to combat corruption by public officials, including an Anti-Bribery Law (which is contained within the Penal Code), an Illicit Gains Law, and a Governmental Accounting Law, among others. Countering corruption remains a long-term focus.  There have been cases involving public figures and entities, including the arrests of Alexandria’s deputy governor and the secretary general of Suez on several corruption charges and the investigation into five members of parliament alleged to have sold Hajj visas.  However, corruption laws have not been consistently enforced.  Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Egypt 117 out of 180 in its 2017 survey, a drop of 9 places from its rank of 108 in 2016.  Transparency International also found that approximately 50 percent of Egyptians reported paying a bribe in order to obtain a public service.

Some private companies use internal controls, ethics, and compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery of government officials.  There is no government requirement for private companies to establish internal codes of conduct to prohibit bribery.

Egypt ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in February 2005.  It has not acceded to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery or any other regional anti-corruption conventions.

While NGOs are active in encouraging anti-corruption activities, dialogue between the government and civil society on this issue is almost non-existent, the OECD found in 2009 and a trend that continues today.  While government officials publicly asserted they shared civil society organizations’ goals, they rarely cooperated with NGOs, and applied relevant laws in a highly restrictive manner against NGOs critical of government practices.  Media was also limited in its ability to report on corruption, with Article 188 of the Penal Code mandating heavy fines and penalties for unsubstantiated corruption allegations.

U.S. firms have identified corruption as an obstacle to FDI in Egypt.  Companies might encounter corruption in the public sector in the form of requests for bribes, using bribes to facilitate required government approvals or licenses, embezzlement, and tampering with official documents.  Corruption and bribery are reported in dealing with public services, customs (import license and import duties), public utilities (water and electrical connection), construction permits, and procurement, as well as in the private sector.  Businesses have described a dual system of payment for services, with one formal payment and a secondary, unofficial payment required for services to be rendered.

Resources to Report Corruption

Several agencies within the Egyptian government share responsibility for addressing corruption.   Egypt’s primary anticorruption body is the Administrative Control Authority (ACA), which has jurisdiction over state administrative bodies, state-owned enterprises, public associations and institutions, private companies undertaking public work, and organizations to which the state contributes in any form.  In October 2017, Parliament approved and passed amendments to the ACA law, which grants the organization full technical, financial, and administrative authority to investigate corruption within the public sector (with the exception of military personnel/entities).  The law is viewed as strengthening an institution which was established in 1964.  The ACA appears well funded and well trained when compared with other Egyptian law enforcement organizations.  Strong funding and the current ACA leadership’s close relationship with President Sisi reflect the importance of this organization and its mission.  It is too small for its mission (roughly 300 agents) and is routinely over-tasked with work that would not normally be conducted by a law enforcement agency.

The ACA periodically engages with civil society.  For example, it has met with the American Chamber of Commerce and other organizations to encourage them to seek it out when corruption issues arise.

In addition to the ACA, the Central Auditing Authority (CAA) acts as an anti-corruption body, stationing monitors at state-owned companies to report corrupt practices.  The Ministry of Justice’s Illicit Gains Authority is charged with referring cases in which public officials have used their office for private gain.  The Public Prosecution Office’s Public Funds Prosecution Department and the Ministry of Interior’s Public Funds Investigations Office likewise share responsibility for addressing corruption in public expenditures.

Resources to Report Corruption

Minister of Interior
General Directorate of Investigation of Public Funds
Telephone: 02-2792-1395 / 02-2792 1396
Fax: 02-2792-2389

10. Political and Security Environment

Stability and economic development remain Egypt’s priorities.  The Egyptian government has taken measures to eliminate politically motivated violence while also limiting peaceful protests and political expression.  Political protests are rare, with the last known demonstrations occurring on September 20, 2019.  Egypt’s presidential elections in March 2018 and senatorial elections in August 2020 proceeded without incident.  A number of small-scale terrorist attacks against security and civilian targets in Cairo and elsewhere in the Nile Valley occurred in 2019.  An attack against a tourist bus in May 2019 injured over a dozen people, and a car bombing outside the National Cancer Institute in Cairo in August 2019 killed 22 people.  Militant groups also committed attacks in the Western Desert and Sinai.  The government has been conducting a comprehensive counterterrorism offensive in the Sinai since early 2018 in response to terrorist attacks against military installations and personnel by ISIS-affiliated militant groups.  In February 2020, ISIS-affiliated militants claimed responsibility for an attack against a domestic gas pipeline in the northern Sinai.  Although the group claimed that the attack targeted the recently-opened natural gas pipeline connecting Egypt and Israel, the pipeline itself was undamaged and the flow of natural gas was not interrupted.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Official statistics put Egypt’s labor force at approximately 29 million, with an official unemployment rate of 9.6 percent as of July 2020.  Prior to the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Egypt’s official unemployment rate had been steadily decreasing, reaching a low of 7.5 percent in July 2019.  Women accounted for 25 percent of those unemployed as of May 2020, according to statistics from Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS).  Accurate figures are difficult to determine and verify given Egypt’s large informal economy in which some 62 percent of the non-agricultural workforce is engaged, according to ILO estimates.

The government bureaucracy and public sector enterprises are substantially over-staffed compared to the private sector and other international norms.  According to the World Bank, Egypt has the highest number of government workers per capita in the world.  Businesses highlight a mismatch between labor skills and market demand, despite high numbers of university graduates in a variety of fields.  Foreign companies frequently pay internationally competitive salaries to attract workers with valuable skills.

The Unified Labor Law 12//2003 provides comprehensive guidelines on labor relations, including hiring, working hours, termination of employees, training, health, and safety.  The law grants a qualified right for employees to strike, as well as rules and guidelines governing mediation, arbitration, and collective bargaining between employees and employers.   Non-discrimination clauses are included, and the law complies with labor-related International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions regulating the employment and training of women and eligible children. Egypt ratified ILO Convention 182 on combating the Worst Forms of Child Labor in April 2002. On July 2018, Egypt launched the first National Action Plan on combating the Worst Forms of Child Labor. The law also created a national committee to formulate general labor policies and the National Council of Wages, whose mandate is to discuss wage-related issues and national minimum-wage policy, but it has rarely convened and a minimum wage has rarely been enforced in the private sector. .

Parliament adopted a new Trade Unions Law in late 2017, replacing a 1976 law, which experts said was out of compliance with Egypt’s commitments to ILO conventions.  After a March 2016 Ministry of Manpower and Migration (MOMM) directive not to recognize documentation from any trade union without a stamp from the government-affiliated Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), the new law established procedures for registering independent trade unions, but some of the unions noted that the directorates of the Ministry of Manpower didn’t implement the law and placed restrictions on freedoms of association and organizing for trade union elections.  Executive regulations for trade union elections stipulate a very tight deadline of three months for trade union organizations to legalize their status, and one month to hold elections, which, critics said, restricted the ability of unions to legalize their status or to campaign.  On April 3, 2018, the government registered its first independent trade union in more than two years.

In July 2019 the Egyptian Parliament passed a series of amendments to the Trade Unions Law that reduced the minimum membership required to form a trade union and abolished prison sentences for violations of the law.  The amendments reduced the minimum number of workers required to form a trade union committee from 150 to 50, the number of trade union committees to form a general union from 15 to 10 committees, and the number of workers in a general union from 20,000 to 15,000.  The amendments also decreased the number of unions necessary to establish a trade union federation from 10 to 7 and the number of workers in a trade union from 200,000 to 150,000.  Under the new law, a trade union or workers’ committee may be formed if 150 employees in an entity express a desire to organize.

Based on the new amendments to the Trade Unions Law and a request from the Egyptian government for assistance implementing them and meeting international labor standards, the International Labor Organization’s and International Finance Corporation’s joint Better Work Program launched in Egypt in March 2020.

The Trade Unions law explicitly bans compulsory membership or the collection of union dues without written consent of the worker and allows members to quit unions.  Each union, general union, or federation is registered as an independent legal entity, thereby enabling any such entity to exit any higher-level entity.

The 2014 Constitution stipulated in Article 76 that “establishing unions and federations is a right that is guaranteed by the law.”  Only courts are allowed to dissolve unions.  The 2014 Constitution maintained past practice in stipulating that “one syndicate is allowed per profession.”   The Egyptian constitutional legislation differentiates between white-collar syndicates (e.g. doctors, lawyers, journalists) and blue-collar workers (e.g. transportation, food, mining workers).  Workers in Egypt have the right to strike peacefully, but strikers are legally obliged to notify the employer and concerned administrative officials of the reasons and time frame of the strike 10 days in advance.  In addition, strike actions are not permitted to take place outside the property of businesses.  The law prohibits strikes in strategic or vital establishments in which the interruption of work could result in disturbing national security or basic services provided to citizens.  In practice, however, workers strike in all sectors, without following these procedures, but at risk of prosecution by the government.

Collective negotiation is allowed between trade union organizations and private sector employers or their organizations.  Agreements reached through negotiations are recorded in collective agreements regulated by the Unified Labor law and usually registered at MOMM.  Collective bargaining is technically not permitted in the public sector, though it exists in practice.  The government often intervenes to limit or manage collective bargaining negotiations in all sectors.

MOMM sets worker health and safety standards, which also apply in public and private free zones and the Special Economic Zones (see below).  Enforcement and inspection, however, are uneven.  The Unified Labor Law prohibits employers from maintaining hazardous working conditions, and workers have the right to remove themselves from hazardous conditions without risking loss of employment.

Egyptian labor laws allow employers to close or downsize operations for economic reasons.  The government, however, has taken steps to halt downsizing in specific cases.  The Unemployment Insurance Law, also known as the Emergency Subsidy Fund Law 156//2002, sets a fund to compensate employees whose wages are suspended due to partial or complete closure of their firm or due to its downsizing.  The Fund allocates financial resources that will come from a 1 percent deduction from the base salaries of public and private sector employees.  According to foreign investors, certain aspects of Egypt’s labor laws and policies are significant business impediments, particularly the difficulty of dismissing employees.  To overcome these difficulties, companies often hire workers on temporary contracts; some employees remain on a series of one-year contracts for more than 10 years.  Employers sometimes also require applicants to sign a “Form 6,” an undated voluntary resignation form which the employer can use at any time, as a condition of their employment. Negotiations on drafting a new Labor Law, which has been under consideration in the Parliament for two years, have included discussion of requiring employers to offer permanent employee status after a certain number of years with the company and declaring Form 6 or any letter of resignation null and void if signed prior to the date of termination.

Egypt has a dispute resolution mechanism for workers.  If a dispute concerning work conditions, terms, or employment provisions arises, both the employer and the worker have the right to ask the competent administrative authorities to initiate informal negotiations to settle the dispute. This right can be exercised only within seven days of the beginning of the dispute. If a solution is not found within 10 days from the time administrative authorities were requested, both the employer and the worker can resort to a judicial committee within 45 days of the dispute.  This committee is comprised of two judges, a representative of MOMM and representatives from the trade union, and one of the employers’ associations.  The decision of this committee is provided within 60 days. If the decision of the judicial committee concerns discharging a permanent employee, the sentence is delivered within 15 days.  When the committee decides against an employer’s decision to fire, the employer must reintegrate the latter in his/her job and pay all due salaries.  If the employer does not respect the sentence, the employee is entitled to receive compensation for unlawful dismissal.

Labor Law 12//2003 sought to make it easier to terminate an employment contract in the event of “difficult economic conditions.”  The Law allows an employer to close his establishment totally or partially or to reduce its size of activity for economic reasons, following approval from a committee designated by the Prime Minister.  In addition, the employer must pay former employees a sum equal to one month of the employee’s total salary for each of his first five years of service and one and a half months of salary for each year of service over and above the first five years.  Workers who have been dismissed have the right to appeal.  Workers in the public sector enjoy lifelong job security as contracts cannot be terminated in this fashion; however, government salaries have eroded as inflation has outpaced increases.

Egypt has regulations restricting access for foreigners to Egyptian worker visas, though application of these provisions has been inconsistent.  The government plans to phase out visas for unskilled workers, but as yet has not done so. For most other jobs, employers may hire foreign workers on a temporary six-month basis, but must also hire two Egyptians to be trained to do the job during that period.  Only jobs where it is not possible for Egyptians to acquire the requisite skills will remain open to foreign workers. Application of these regulations is inconsistent.

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

The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) is operating in Egypt to provide the capital and risk mitigation tools that investors need to overcome the barriers faced in this region. In 2012, DFC’s predecessor, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), launched the USD 250 million Egypt Loan Guaranty Facility (ELGF), in partnership with USAID, to support bank lending and stimulate job creation.  The ELGF’s main objective is to help SMEs access finance for growth and development, by providing creditors the needed guarantees to help them mitigate loan risks.  This objective goes hand-in-hand with the Central Bank of Egypt’s initiative to support SMEs.  The ELGF expands lending to SMEs by supporting local partner banks as they lend to the target segment and increase access to credit for SMEs.  The result is the promotion of jobs and private sector development in Egypt.  The ELGF and partner banks sign a Guarantee Facility Agreement (GFA) to outline main terms and conditions of credit guarantee.  The two bank partners are Commercial International Bank (CIB) and the National Bank of Kuwait (NBK).  USAID has collaborated with OPIC/ELGF and the CIB to provide training to SME owners and managers on the basics of accounting and finance, banking and loan processes, business registration, and other topics that will help SMEs access financing for business growth.

As of March, 2020, the DFC’s financing tools provide $1.25 billion in financial and insurance support to 12 renewable energy, oil and gas, water supply, and health sector projects in Egypt in addition to the ELGF.  Apache Corporation, the largest U.S. investor in Egypt, has supported its natural gas investment with OPIC and DFC risk insurance since 2004.  In December 2018, the OPIC Board approved a project to provide $430 million in political risk insurance to Noble Energy, Inc. to support the restoration, operation, and maintenance of a natural gas pipeline in Egypt and the supply of natural gas through a pipeline from Israel.  In June 2019, OPIC’s Board approved an $87 million loan guarantee for the development, construction, and operation of the 252 megawatt Lekela Egypt Wind Power project.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $335,780 2019 $303,175 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $2,244 2019 $11,000 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $1 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2019 41.9% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/
DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 
 

* Sources for Host Country Data: Central Bank of Egypt; CAPMAS; GAFI

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Data not available.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars, 2019)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 985 100% All Countries 377 100% All Countries 608 100%
United States 242 25% International Organizations 216 57% United States 233 38%
International Organizations 216 22% Saudi Arabia 27 7% Saudi Arabia 92 15%
Saudi Arabia 120 12% Italy 23 6% United Arab Emirates 56 9%
United Arab Emirates 59 6% Switzerland 17 5% United Kingdom 46 8%
United Kingdom 50 5% Singapore 16 4% China 40 7%

El Salvador

Executive Summary

On June 1, 2019, President Nayib Bukele assumed office. His administration immediately pledged to eliminate cumbersome bureaucracy and improve security conditions to attract investment and create jobs. Early accomplishments included increased dialogue with the private sector and reduced homicide rates, which increased business confidence. El Salvador and the United States signed a Growth in the Americas memorandum of understanding in January 2020 to promote private investment. The COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately complicated implementation of reforms and dampened investment.

Commonly cited challenges to doing business in El Salvador include the discretionary application of laws and regulations, lengthy and unpredictable permitting procedures, as well as customs delays. In recent years, El Salvador has lagged its regional peers in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). The sectors with the largest investment have historically been textiles and retail establishments, though investment in energy has increased in recent years.

The Bukele administration has proposed several large infrastructure projects, which could provide opportunities for U.S. investment. Project proposals include enhancing road connectivity and logistics, expanding airport capacity and improving access to water and energy, as well as sanitation. Having inherited a large public debt from the previous administration, the Bukele administration has begun pursuing Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) to execute infrastructure projects. El Salvador launched its first PPP in September 2019 to expand the cargo terminal at the international airport. It launched a second PPP to install highway lighting and video surveillance in January 2020. With these two PPPs, the Bukele administration delivered on its commitment under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact, which is due to close in September 2020. More information about the MCC Compact is available at https://www.mcc.gov/where-we-work/program/el-salvador-investment-compact.

As a small energy-dependent country with no Atlantic coast, El Salvador relies on free trade. It is a member of the Central American Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) and the United States is El Salvador’s top trading partner. Proximity to the U.S. market is a competitive advantage for El Salvador. As most Salvadoran exports travel by land to Guatemalan and Honduran ports, regional integration is crucial for competitiveness. Although El Salvador officially joined the Customs Union established by Guatemala and Honduras in 2018, the Bukele administration announced in January 2020 that it would prioritize bilateral trade facilitation with Guatemala.

The Bukele administration has taken initial steps to facilitate trade – a major priority of the textile, retail, and other U.S. companies invested in El Salvador. In July 2019, the government of El Salvador (GOES) relaunched the National Trade Facilitation Committee (NTFC), which had not met since its creation in 2017. The NTFC produced the first jointly developed private-public action plan to reduce trade barriers. The plan contains 60 strategic measures focused on simplifying procedures, reducing trade costs, and improving connectivity and border infrastructure. Companies are hopeful the plan would help reduce costs and make El Salvador more attractive for further investment.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 113 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2019 91 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 108 of 129 http://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
content/page/data-analysis
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 3,037 http://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 3,820 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment

The GOES recognizes that attracting FDI is crucial to improving the economy. El Salvador does not have laws or practices that discriminate against foreign investors. The GOES does not screen or prohibit FDI. However, FDI levels are still paltry and lag behind regional neighbors, except for Nicaragua. The Central Bank reported net FDI inflows of $437.7 million at the end of September 2019.

The Exports and Investment Promotion Agency of El Salvador (PROESA) supports investment in eight main sectors: textiles and apparel; business services; tourism; aeronautics; agro-industry; light manufacturing; logistic and infrastructure networks; and healthcare services. PROESA provides information for potential investors about applicable laws, regulations, procedures, and available incentives for doing business in El Salvador. Website: http://www.proesa.gob.sv/investment/sector-opportunities 

The National Association of Private Enterprise (ANEP), El Salvador’s umbrella business/private sector organization, has established an ongoing dialogue with relevant GOES ministries. http://www.anep.org.sv/ 

In June 2019, the GOES created the Secretariat of Commerce and Investment, a position within the President’s Office responsible for the formulation of trade and investment policies, as well as coordinating the Economic Cabinet.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign citizens and private companies can freely establish businesses in El Salvador.

No single natural or legal person – whether national or foreign – can own more than 245 hectares (605 acres) of land. The Salvadoran Constitution stipulates there is no restriction on foreign ownership of rural land in El Salvador, unless Salvadoran nationals face restrictions in the corresponding country. Rural land to be used for industrial purposes is not subject to the reciprocity requirement.

The 1999 Investments Law grants equal treatment to foreign and domestic investors. With the exception of limitations imposed on micro businesses, which are defined as having 10 or fewer employees and yearly sales of $121,319.40 or less, foreign investors may freely establish any type of domestic business. Investors who begin operations with 10 or fewer employees must present plans to increase employment to the Ministry of Economy’s National Investment Office.

The Investment Law provides that any extractive resource is the exclusive property of the state. The GOES may grant private concessions for resource extraction, though there have been no new permits issued in recent years.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

El Salvador has been a World Trade Organization (WTO) member since 1995. The latest trade policy review performed by the WTO was published in 2016 (document: WT/TPR/S/226/Rev.1). https://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/FE_Search/FE_S_S006.aspx?Query=(@Symbol=%20wt/tpr/s/*)%20and%20((%20@Title=%20el%20salvador%20)%20or%20(@CountryConcerned=%20el%20salvador))&Language=ENGLISH&Context=FomerScriptedSearch&languageUIChanged=true# 

https://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/FE_Search/FE_S_S006.aspx?Query=(@Symbol=%20wt/tpr/s/*)%20and%20((%20@Title=%20el%20salvador%20)%20or%20(@CountryConcerned=%20el%20salvador))&Language=ENGLISH&Context=FomerScriptedSearch&languageUIChanged=true# 

The latest investment policy review performed by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was in 2010. http://unctad.org/en/Docs/diaepcb200920_en.pdf 

Business Facilitation

El Salvador has various laws that promote and protect investments, as well as providing benefits to local and foreign investors. These include: the Investments Law, the International Services Law; the Free Trade Zones Law; the Tourism Law, the Renewable Energy Incentives Law; the Law on Public Private Partnerships; the Special Law for Streamlining Procedures for the Promotion of Construction Projects; and the Legal Stability Law for Investments.

Business Registration

Per the World Bank, registering a new business in El Salvador requires nine steps taking an average of 16.5 days. According to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report, El Salvador ranks 148 in the “Starting a Business” indicator. El Salvador launched an online business registration portal in 2017 designed to give entrepreneurs a one-stop shop for registering new companies. Specifically, the online business registration website allows new businesses the ability to formalize registration within three days and conduct administrative operations through the online platform. The portal (https://miempresa.gob.sv/ ) is available to all, though services are available only in Spanish.

The GOES’ Business Services Office (Oficina de Atención Empresarial) caters to entrepreneurs and investors. The office has two divisions: “Growing Your Business” (Crecemos Tu Empresa) and the National Investment Office (Dirección Nacional de Inversiones, DNI). “Growing Your Businesses” provides business advice, especially for micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises. The DNI administers investment incentives and facilitates business registration.

Contact information:

Business Services Office
Telephone: (503) 2590-9000
Address: Alameda Juan Pablo II y Calle Guadalupe, Edificio C1 y C2, Centro de Gobierno, San Salvador. Schedule: Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Crecemos Tu Empresa
E-mail: crecemostuempresa@minec.gob.sv
Website: http://www.minec.gob.sv/ 

The National Investment Office:

Ana Luisa Valiente, National Director of Investments, lvaliente@minec.gob.sv;
Roberto Salguero, Deputy Director of Business Development, rsalguero@minec.gob.sv
Special Investments; Christel Schulz, Business Climate Deputy, cdearce@minec.gob.sv
Laura Rosales de Valiente, Deputy Director of Investment Facilitation, lrosales@minec.gob.sv
Telephone: (503) 2590-5106/ (503) 2590-5264.

The Directorate for Coordination of Productive Policies at the Ministry of Economy focuses on five areas: Productive Development, Capacity Building, Trade Facilitation, Taxation, and Export Promotion. Website: http://www.minec.gob.sv 

The Productive Development Fund (FONDEPRO) provides grants to small enterprises to strengthen competitiveness. Website: http://www.fondepro.gob.sv/ 

The National Commission for Micro and Small Businesses (CONAMYPE) supports micro and small businesses by providing training, technical assistance, financing, venture capital, and loan guarantee programs. CONAMYPE also provides assistance on market access and export promotion, marketing, business registration, and the promotion of business ventures led by women and youth. Website: https://www.conamype.gob.sv/ 

The Micro and Small Businesses Promotion Law defines a microenterprise as a natural or legal person with annual gross sales up to 482 minimum monthly wages, equivalent to $146,609.94 and up to ten workers. A small business is defined as a natural or legal person with annual gross sales between 482 minimum monthly wages ($146,609.94) and 4,817 minimum monthly wages ($1,465,186.89) and up to 50 employees. To facilitate credit to small businesses, Salvadoran law allows for inventories, receivables, intellectual property rights, consumables, or any good with economic value to be used as collateral for loans.

El Salvador provides equitable treatment for women and under-represented minorities. The GOES does not provide targeted assistance to under-represented minorities. CONAMYPE provides specialized counseling to female entrepreneurs and women-owned small businesses.

Outward Investment

While the government encourages Salvadoran investors to invest in El Salvador, it neither promotes nor restricts investment abroad.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The laws and regulations of El Salvador are relatively transparent and generally foster competition. Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms. However, the discretionary application of rules can complicate routine transactions, such as customs clearances and permitting applications. Regulatory agencies are often understaffed and inexperienced in dealing with complex issues. New foreign investors should review the regulatory environment carefully. In addition to applicable national laws and regulations, localities may impose permitting requirements on investors.

Companies have noted that the GOES has enacted laws and regulations without following required notice and comment procedures. The Regulatory Improvement Law, which entered into force, in April 2019, requires government agencies to publish online the list of laws and regulations they plan to approve, reform, or repeal each year. Institutions cannot adopt or modify regulations and laws not included in that list. Prior to adopting or amending laws or regulations, the Simplified Administrative Procedures Law requires the GOES to perform a Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) based on a standardized methodology. Proposed legislation and regulations, as well as RIAs, must be made available for public comment. In practice, the Legislative Assembly does not publish draft legislation on its website and does not solicit comments on pending legislation. The GOES does not yet require the use of a centralized online portal to publish regulatory actions. The implications of the reforms are still not apparent, as the reforms have not been fully implemented. However, private sector stakeholders have expressed support for the measures.

El Salvador began implementing the Simplified Administrative Procedures Law in February 2019. This law seeks to streamline and consolidate administrative processes among GOES entities to facilitate investment. In 2016, El Salvador adopted the Electronic Signature Law to facilitate e-commerce and trade but is still working on the design, policies and procedures for implementation, as well as construction of data centers and acquisition of hardware and software.

In 2018, El Salvador enacted the Law on the Elimination of Bureaucratic Barriers, which created a specialized tribunal to verify that regulations and procedures are implemented in compliance with the law and sanction public officials who impose administrative requirements not contemplated in the law. However, the law is pending implementation until members of the tribunal are appointed.

The GOES controls the price of some goods and services, including electricity, liquid propane gas, gasoline, public transport fares, and medicines. The government also directly subsidizes water services and residential electricity rates.

The Superintendent of Electricity and Telecommunications (SIGET) oversees electricity rates, telecommunications, and distribution of electromagnetic frequencies. The Salvadoran government subsidizes residential consumers for electricity use of up to 100 kWh monthly. The electricity subsidy costs the government between $50 million to $64 million annually.

El Salvador’s public finances are relatively transparent. Budget documents, including the executive budget proposal, enacted budget, and end-of-year reports, as well as information on debt obligations are accessible to the public at: http://www.transparenciafiscal.gob.sv/ptf/es/PTF2-Index.html  An independent institution, the Court of Accounts, audits the financial statements, economic performance, cash flow statements, and budget execution of all GOES ministries and agencies. The results of these audits are publicly available online. However, the Office of the President does not provide detailed information of the budget of the Intelligence Agency (OIE) and does not subject the OIE to audits.

International Regulatory Considerations

El Salvador belongs to the Central American Common Market and the Central American Integration System (SICA), organizations which are working on regional integration, (e.g., harmonization of tariffs and customs procedures). El Salvador commonly incorporates international standards, such as the Pan-American Standards Commission (Spanish acronym COPANT), into its regulatory system.

El Salvador is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), adheres to the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement), and has adopted the Code of Good Practice annexed to the TBT Agreement. El Salvador is also a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and has notified its Categories A, B, and C commitments. El Salvador has established a National Trade Facilitation Committee (NTFC) as required by the TFA, which was reactivated in July 2019 as it had not met since 2017.

El Salvador is a member of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development’s international network of transparent investment procedures: http://tramites.gob.sv . Investors can find information on administrative procedures applicable to investment and income-generating operations including the name and contact details for those in charge of procedures, required documents and conditions, costs, processing time, and legal bases for the procedures.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

El Salvador’s legal system is codified law. Commercial law is based on the Commercial Code and the corresponding Commercial and Civil Code of Procedures. There are specialized commercial courts that resolve disputes.

Although foreign investors may seek redress for commercial disputes through Salvadoran courts, many investors report the legal system to be slow, costly, and unproductive. Local investment and commercial dispute resolution proceedings routinely last many years. The judicial system is independent of the executive branch, but may be subject to manipulation by diverse interests. Final judgments are at times difficult to enforce. The Embassy recommends that potential investors carry out proper due diligence by hiring competent local legal counsel.

A substantial ruling against a foreign bank in 2019 caused widespread concern in the private sector due to perceived irregularities. The case is pending consideration by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Miempresa is the Ministry of Economy’s website for new businesses in El Salvador. At Miempresa, investors can register new companies with the Ministry of Labor (MOL), Social Security Institute, pension fund administrators, and certain municipalities; request a tax identification number/card; and perform certain administrative functions. Website: https://www.miempresa.gob.sv/ 

The country’s eRegulations site provides information on procedures, costs, entities, and regulations involved in setting up a new business in El Salvador. Website: http://tramites.gob.sv/ 

The Exports and Investment Promoting Agency of El Salvador (PROESA) is responsible for attracting domestic and foreign private investment, promoting exports of goods and services, evaluating and monitoring the business climate, and driving investment and export policies. PROESA provides direct technical assistance to investors interested in starting up operations in El Salvador, regardless of the size of the investment or number of employees. Website: http://www.proesa.gob.sv/ 

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Office of the Superintendent of Competition reviews transactions for competition concerns. The OECD and the Inter-American Development Bank have indicated that the Superintendent employs enforcement standards that are consistent with global best practices and has appropriate authority to enforce the Competition Law effectively. Superintendent decisions may be appealed directly to the Supreme Court, the country´s highest court. Website: http://www.sc.gob.sv/home/ 

Expropriation and Compensation

The Constitution allows the government to expropriate private property for reasons of public utility or social interest. Indemnification can take place either before or after the fact. There are no recent cases of expropriation. In 1980, a rural/agricultural land reform established that no single natural or legal person could own more than 245 hectares (605 acres) of land, and the government expropriated the land of some large landholders. In 1980, private banks were nationalized, but were subsequently returned to private ownership in 1989-90. A 2003 amendment to the Electricity Law requires energy generating companies to obtain government approval before removing fixed capital from the country.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

El Salvador is a member state to the ICSID Convention. ICSID is included in a number of El Salvador’s investment treaties as the forum available to foreign investors.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

In 2016, ICSID ruled in favor of El Salvador on a case brought by an international mining company that sought to force government acceptance of a gold-mining project.  Following the ruling, El Salvador banned the exploration and extraction of metal mining in the country.

The rights of investors from CAFTA-DR countries are protected under the trade agreement’s dispute settlement procedures. There have been no successful claims by U.S. investors under CAFTA-DR. There are currently no pending claims by U.S. investors.

For foreign investors from a country without a trade agreement with El Salvador, amended Article 15 of the 1999 Investment Law limits access to international dispute resolution and may obligate them to use national courts. Submissions to national dispute panels and panel hearings are open to the public. Interested third parties have the opportunity to be heard.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

A 2002 law allows private sector organizations to establish arbitration centers for the resolution of commercial disputes, including those involving foreign investors. In 2009, El Salvador modified its arbitration law to allow parties to appeal a ruling to the Salvadoran courts. Investors have complained that the modification dilutes the efficacy of arbitration as an alternative method of resolving disputes. Arbitrations takes place at the Arbitration and Mediation Center, a branch of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of El Salvador. Website: http://www.mediacionyarbitraje.com.sv/ 

El Salvador is a signatory to the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention) and the Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (The Panama Convention). Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards and court judgments, but the process can be lengthy and difficult.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Commercial Code, the Commercial Code of Procedures, and the Banking Law all contain sections that deal with the process for declaring bankruptcy. However, there is no separate bankruptcy law or court. According to data collected by the 2020 World Bank’s Doing Business report, resolving insolvency in El Salvador takes 3.5 years on average and costs 12 percent of the debtor’s estate, with the most likely outcome being that the company will be sold piecemeal. The average recovery rate is 32.5 percent. Globally, El Salvador ranks 89 out of 190 on Ease of Resolving Insolvency. Website: http://www.doingbusiness.org/~/media/WBG/DoingBusiness/Documents/Profiles/Country/SLV.pdf 

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The International Services Law, approved in 2007, established service parks and centers with incentives similar to those received by El Salvador’s free trade zones. Service park developers are exempted from income tax for 15 years, municipal taxes for ten years, and real estate transfer taxes. Service park administrators are exempted from income tax for 15 years and municipal taxes for ten years.

Firms located in the service parks/service centers may receive the following permanent incentives:

Tariff exemption for the import of capital goods, machinery, equipment, tools, supplies, accessories, furniture, and other goods needed for the development of the service activities;

Full exemption from income tax and municipal taxes on company assets.

Service firms operating under the existing Free Trade Zone Law are also eligible for the incentives. Firms providing services to the Salvadoran market cannot receive the incentives. Eligible services include: international distribution, logistical international operations, call centers, information technology, research and development, marine vessels repair and maintenance, aircraft repair and maintenance, entrepreneurial processes (e.g., business process outsourcing), hospital-medical services, international financial services, container repair and maintenance, technology equipment repair, elderly and convalescent care, telemedicine, cinematography postproduction services, including subtitling and translation, and specialized services for aircraft (e.g., supply of beverages and prepared food, laundry services and management of inventory).

The Tourism Law establishes tax incentives for those who invest a minimum of $25,000 in tourism-related projects in El Salvador, including: value-added tax exemption for the acquisition of real estate; import tariffs waiver for construction materials, goods, equipment (subject to limitation); and, a ten-year income tax waiver. The investor also benefits from a five-year exemption from land acquisition taxes and a 50 percent reduction of municipal taxes. To take advantage of these incentives, the enterprise must contribute five percent of its profits during the exemption period to a government-administered Tourism Promotion Fund. More information about tax incentives for tourism, please visit: http://www.mitur.gob.sv/ii-aspectos-legales-en-beneficio-de-la-inversion-contemplados-en-la-ley-de-turismo/ 

The Renewable Energy Incentives Law promotes investment projects that use renewable energy sources. In 2015, the Legislative Assembly approved amendments to the Law to encourage the use of renewable energy sources and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. These reforms extended the incentives to power generation using renewable energy sources, such as hydro, geothermal, wind, solar, marine, biogas, and biomass. The incentives include a 10-year exemption from customs duties on the importation of machinery, equipment, materials, and supplies used for the construction and expansion of substations, transmission or sub-transmission lines. Revenues directly derived from power generation based on renewable sources enjoy full exemption from income tax for a period of five years in case of projects above 10 MW and 10 years for smaller projects. The Law also provides a tax exemption on income derived directly from the sale of certified emission reductions (CERs) under the Mechanism for Clean Development of the Kyoto Protocol, or carbon markets (CDM).

El Salvador does not issue guarantees or directly co-finance foreign direct investment projects. However, El Salvador has a Public-Private Partnerships Law that allows private investment in the development of infrastructure projects, including in areas of health, education, and security. Under the second MCC Compact, El Salvador launched international tenders for two Public-Private Partnerships projects. The first PPP tender, published on September 11, 2019, is for the financing, design, expansion, construction, maintenance, and operation of expanded cargo operations of El Salvador’s primary international airport.  The project consists of two phases: improvements to the existing air cargo terminal and construction of a new air cargo terminal.  The estimated budget for the entire PPP is $55 million. The second PPP tender, released on January 31, 2020, is for the design, financing, installation, equipment, operation and maintenance of a public lighting and video surveillance systems on approximately 143 kilometers of roads in San Salvador, La Libertad and La Paz departments.  The estimated investment for the project is $17 million.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The 1998 Free Trade Zone Law is designed to attract investment in a wide range of activities, although the vast majority of the businesses in free trade zones are textile plants. A Salvadoran partner is not needed to operate in a free trade zone, and some textile operations are completely foreign-owned.

There are 17 free trade zones in El Salvador. They host 153 companies in sectors, including textiles, distribution, call centers, business process outsourcing, agribusiness, agriculture, electronics, and metallurgy. Owned primarily by Salvadoran, U.S., Taiwanese, and Korean investors, free trade zone firms employ more than 78,000 people. The point of contact is the Chamber of Textile, Apparel and Free Trade Zones of El Salvador (CAMTEX) at: https://www.camtex.com.sv/site/ .

The 1998 law established rules for free trade zones and bonded areas. The free trade zones are outside the nation’s customs jurisdiction while the bonded areas are within its jurisdiction, but subject to special treatment. Local and foreign companies can establish themselves in a free trade zone to produce goods or services for export or to provide services linked to international trade. The regulations for the bonded areas are similar.

Qualifying firms located in the free trade zones and bonded areas may enjoy the following benefits:

  • Exemption from all duties and taxes on imports of raw materials and the machinery and equipment needed to produce for export;
  • Exemption from taxes for fuels and lubricants used for producing exports if they not domestically produced;
  • Exemption from income tax, municipal taxes on company assets and property for either 15 years (if the company is located in the metropolitan area of San Salvador) or 20 years (if the company is located outside of the metropolitan area of San Salvador); and
  • Exemption from taxes on certain real estate transfers, e.g., the acquisition of goods to be employed in the authorized activity.

Companies in the free trade zones are also allowed to sell goods or services in the Salvadoran market if they pay applicable taxes on the proportion sold locally. Additional rules apply to textile and apparel products.

Regulations allow a WTO-complaint “drawback” to refund custom duties paid on imported inputs and intermediate goods exclusively used in the production of goods exported outside of the Central American region. Regulations also included the creation of a Business Production Promotion Committee with the participation of the private and public sector to work on policies to strengthen the export sector, and the creation of an Export and Import Center.

All import and export procedures are handled by the Import and Export Center (Centro de Trámites de Importaciones y Exportaciones – CIEX El Salvador). More information about the procedures can be found at: http://www.ciexelsalvador.gob.sv/registroSIMP/ 

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

El Salvador’s Investment Law does not require investors to meet export targets, transfer technology, incorporate a specific percentage of local content, turn over source code or provide access to surveillance, or fulfill other performance criteria. Business-related data may be freely transferred outside of El Salvador.

Labor laws require that 90 percent of the workforce in plants and in clerical positions be Salvadoran citizens. Nationality restrictions are more lax for professional and technical jobs.

Foreign investors and domestic firms are eligible for the same incentives. Exports of goods and services are exempt from value-added tax.

A new Immigration Law, enacted in May 2019, introduces the investment, business, or commercial representation visa for foreign nationals of countries with a visa requirement who want to conduct temporary business-related activities in El Salvador. This visa can be issued for a single entry or multiple entries with a duration of up to two years. Eligible nationals can enter El Salvador for business purposes without a visa for up to 90 days, extendable once for an additional 90 days, for a total maximum stay of 180 days.  The law institutes the Frequent Traveler Card for foreign nationals who frequently visit El Salvador for business. This card can be issued for up to three years and allows multiple entries for stays of up to 90 days per entry.

However, investors who plan to live and work in El Salvador for an extended period need to obtain temporary residency, which may be renewed periodically. Under Article 11 of the Investment Law, foreigners with investments totaling more than $1 million may obtain Investor’s Residency status, which allows them to work and remain in the country. This residency may be requested within 30 days of registering the investment. It allows residency for the investor and family members for a period of two years and may be extended thereafter.

It is customary for companies to hire local attorneys to manage the process of obtaining residency. The American Chamber of Commerce in El Salvador can also provide information regarding the process. Website: http://amchamsal.com/ 

The International Services Law establishes tax benefits for businesses that invest at least $150,000 during the first year of operations, including working capital and fixed assets, hire no fewer than 10 permanent employees, and have at least a one-year contract. For hospital/medical services to qualify, the minimum capital investment must be $10 million, if surgical services are provided, or a minimum of $3 million, if surgical services are not provided. Hospitals or clinics must be located outside of major metropolitan areas, and medical services must be provided only to patients with insurance.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Private property, both non-real estate and real estate, is recognized and protected in El Salvador. Mortgages and real property liens exist. Companies that plan to buy land or other real estate are advised to hire competent local legal counsel to guide them on the property’s title prior to purchase.

Per the Constitution, no single natural or legal person–whether national or foreign–can own more than 245 hectares (605 acres) of land. Reciprocity applies to the ownership of rural land, i.e., El Salvador does not restrict the ownership of rural land by foreigners, unless Salvadoran citizens are restricted in the corresponding states. The restriction on rural land does not apply if used for industrial purposes.

Real property can be transferred without government authorization. For title transfer to be valid regarding third parties, however, it needs to be properly registered. Laws regarding rental property tend to favor the interests of tenants. For instance, tenants may remain on property after their lease expires, provided they continue to pay rent. Likewise, the law limits the permissible rent and makes eviction processes extremely difficult.

Squatters occupying private property in “good faith” can eventually acquire title. If the owner of the property is unknown, squatters can acquire title after 20 years of good faith possession through a judicial procedure; if the owner is known, squatters can acquire title after 30 years.

Squatters may never acquire title to public land, although municipalities often grant the right of use to the squatter.

Zoning is regulated by municipal rules. Municipalities have broad power regarding the use of property within their jurisdiction. Zoning maps, if they exist, are generally not available to the public.

The perceived ineffectiveness of the judicial system discourages investments in real estate and makes execution of real estate guarantees difficult. Securitization of real estate guarantees or titles is legally permissible but does not occur frequently in practice.

El Salvador ranks 79th of 190 economies on the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report in the Ease of Registering Property category. According to the collected data, registering a property takes an average of six steps over a period of 31 days, and costs 3.8 percent of the reported value of the property.

Intellectual Property Rights

El Salvador’s intellectual property rights (IPR) legal framework is strong. El Salvador revised several laws to comply with CAFTA-DR’s provisions on IPR, such as extending the copyright term to 70 years. The Intellectual Property Promotion and Protection Law (1993, revised in 2005), Law of Trademarks and Other Distinctive Signs (2002, revised in 2005), and Penal Code establish the legal framework to protect IPR. Investors can register trademarks, patents, copyrights, and other forms of intellectual property with the National Registry Center’s Intellectual Property Office. In 2008, the government enacted test data exclusivity regulations for pharmaceuticals (for five years) and agrochemicals (for 10 years) and ratified an international agreement extending protection to satellite signals.

El Salvador’s enforcement of IPR protections falls short of its written policies. Salvadoran authorities have limited resources to dedicate to enforcement of IPR laws. The National Civil Police (PNC) has an Intellectual Property Section with seven investigators, while the Attorney General’s Office (FGR) has 13 prosecutors in its Private Property division that also has responsibility for other property crimes including cases of extortion. According to ASPI, the PNC section coordinates well with other government and private entities. Nevertheless, the PNC admits that a lack of resources and expertise (e.g., regarding information technology) hinders its effectiveness in combatting IPR crimes.

The National Directorate of Medicines (NDM) has 60 products registered for data protection , including 13 in 2018 and four in 2019. The NDM protects the confidentiality of relevant test data and the list of such protected medications is available at the NDM’s website: https: https://www.medicamentos.gob.sv/index.php/es/servicios-m/informes/unidad-de-registro-y-visado/listado-de-productos-farmaceuticos-con-proteccion-de-datos-de-prueba 

The Salvadoran Intellectual Property Association (ASPI – Asociacion Salvadoreña de Propiedad Intelectual) notes that piracy is common in El Salvador because the police focus on investigating criminal networks rather than points of sale. Trade in counterfeit medicines and pirated software is common.

In 2019, the PNC arrested 29 individuals for copyright and trademark infringement. In 2019, the PNC also conducted 49 inspections and 25 raids, where it seized pirated optical media discs (CDs and DVDs) and fake products, including clothing, cosmetics, footwear, toys, parts for sewing machines, and mobile phones. Additionally, in an operation at El Salvador’s central market, the PNC and DNM confiscated tens of thousands of packages of counterfeit pharmaceuticals in violation of IPR laws. Customs officials have identified some counterfeit products arriving directly from China through the Salvadoran seaport of Acajutla.

Contraband and counterfeit products, especially cigarettes, liquor, toothpaste and cooking oil, remain widespread. According to the GOES and private sector contacts, most unlicensed or counterfeit products are imported to El Salvador. The Distributors Association of El Salvador (ADES) estimated in 2017 that around 50 percent of the liquor consumed in El Salvador is smuggled. Most contraband cigarettes come in from China, Panama, and Paraguay and undercut legitimately-imported cigarettes, which are subject to a 39 percent tariff. According to ADES, most contraband cigarettes are smuggled in by gangs, with the complicity of Salvadoran authorities. A 2017 study by CID Gallup Latin America, noting the link between contraband cigarettes and gang finances, estimated that 32 percent of the 940 million cigarettes consumed annually in El Salvador are contraband. Gallup estimated that the GOES lost USD $15 million in tax revenue due to cigarette smuggling in 2014.

The national Intellectual Property Registry has 22 registered geographical indications for El Salvador. In 2018, the GOES registered four new geographic indications involving Denominations of Origin for “Jocote Barón Rojo San Lorenzo” (a sour fruit), “Pupusa de Olocuilta” (a variant of El Salvador’s traditional food), “Camarones de la Bahía de Jiquilisco” (shrimp from the Jiquilisco Bay), and “Loroco San Lorenzo” (flower used in Salvadoran cuisine). Existing geographic indications include “Balsamo de El Salvador” (balm for medical, cosmetic, and gastronomic uses – since 1935), “Café Ilamatepec” (coffee – since 2010), and “Chaparro” (Salvadoran hard liquor- since 2016).

El Salvador is not listed in the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.. There are no IPR-related laws pending.

El Salvador is a signatory of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works; the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property; the Geneva Convention for the Protection of Producers of Phonograms Against Unauthorized Duplication; the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty; the WIPO Performance and Phonograms Treaty; the Rome Convention for the Protection of Performers, Phonogram Producers, and Broadcasting Organizations; and the Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances (2012), which grants performing artists certain economic rights (such as rights over broadcast, reproduction, and distribution) of live and recorded works.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Superintendent of the Financial System supervises individual and consolidated activities of banks and non-bank financial intermediaries, financial conglomerates, stock market participants, insurance companies, and pension fund administrators. Foreign investors may obtain credit in the local financial market under the same conditions as local investors. Interest rates are determined by market forces, with the interest rate for credit cards and loans capped at 1.6 times the weighted average effective rate established by the Central Bank. The maximum interest rate varies according to the loan amount and type of loan (consumption, credit cards, mortgages, home repair/remodeling, business, and microcredits).

In January 2019, El Salvador eliminated a Financial Transactions Tax (FTT), which was enacted in 2014 and greatly opposed by banks.

The 1994 Securities Market Law established the present framework for the Salvadoran securities exchange. Stocks, government and private bonds, and other financial instruments are traded on the exchange, which is regulated by the Superintendent of the Financial System.

Foreigners may buy stocks, bonds, and other instruments sold on the exchange and may have their own securities listed, once approved by the Superintendent. Companies interested in listing must first register with the National Registry Center’s Registry of Commerce. In 2019, the exchange traded $4.1 billon, with average daily volumes between $12 million and $24 million. Government-regulated private pension funds, Salvadoran insurance companies, and local banks are the largest buyers on the Salvadoran securities exchange. For more information, visit: https://www.bolsadevalores.com.sv/ 

Money and Banking System

The banking system’s total assets as of December 2019 were $19.4 billion. Under Salvadoran banking law, there is no difference in regulations between foreign and domestic banks and foreign banks can offer all the same services as domestic banks.

The Non-Bank Financial Intermediaries Law regulates the organization, operation, and activities of financial institutions, such as cooperative savings associations, non-governmental organizations, and other microfinance institutions. The Money Laundering Law requires financial institutions to report suspicious transactions to the Attorney General. However, there is no regulatory scheme in place to supervise the filing of reports by Non-Bank Financial Intermediaries. As such, these entities, although designated filers under the law, rarely file suspicious activity reports.

The Insurance Companies Law regulates the operation of both local and foreign insurance firms. Foreign firms, including U.S., Colombian, Dominican, Honduran, Panamanian, Mexican, and Spanish companies, have invested in Salvadoran insurers.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

There are no restrictions on transferring investment-related funds out of the country. Foreign businesses can freely remit or reinvest profits, repatriate capital, and bring in capital for additional investment. The 1999 Investment Law allows unrestricted remittance of royalties and fees from the use of foreign patents, trademarks, technical assistance, and other services. Tax reforms introduced in 2011, however, levy a five percent tax on national or foreign shareholders’ profits. Moreover, shareholders domiciled in a state, country or territory that is considered a tax haven or has low or no taxes, are subject to a tax of twenty-five percent.

The Monetary Integration Law dollarized El Salvador in 2001. The U.S. dollar accounts for nearly all currency in circulation and can be used in all transactions. Salvadoran banks, in accordance with the law, must keep all accounts in U.S. dollars. Dollarization is supported by remittances – almost all from workers in the United States – that totaled $5.65 billion in 2019.

Remittance Policies

There are no restrictions placed on investment remittances. The Caribbean Financial Action Task Force’s Ninth Follow-Up report on El Salvador (https://www.cfatf-gafic.org/index.php/member-countries/el-salvador ) noted that El Salvador has strengthened its remittances regimen, prohibiting anonymous accounts and limiting suspicious transactions. In 2015, the Legislature approved reforms to the Law of Supervision and Regulation of the Financial System so that any entity sending or receiving systematic or substantial amounts of money by any means, at the national and international level, falls under the jurisdiction of the Superintendence of the Financial System.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

El Salvador does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

El Salvador has successfully liberalized many sectors, though it maintains state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in energy production, water supply and sanitation, ports and airports, and the national lottery (see chart below).

SOE 2020 Budgeted Revenue Number of Employees
National Lottery $ 51,653,500.00 150
State-run Electricity Company (CEL) $ 345,516,675.00 891
Water Authority (ANDA) $ 210,102,165.00 4,320
Port Authority (CEPA) $ 151,663,094.00 2,532

Although the GOES privatized energy distribution in 1999, it maintains significant energy production facilities through state-owned Rio Lempa Executive Hydroelectric Commission (CEL), a significant producer of hydroelectric and geothermal energy. The primary water service provider is the National Water and Sewer Administration (ANDA), which provides services to 96 percent of urban areas and 77 percent of rural areas in El Salvador. As an umbrella institution, ANDA defines policies, regulates and provides services. The Autonomous Executive Port Commission (CEPA) operates both the seaports and the airports. CEL, ANDA, and CEPA Board Chairs hold Minister-level rank and report directly to the President.

The Law on Public Administration Procurement and Contracting (LACAP) covers all procurement of goods and services by all Salvadoran public institutions, including the municipalities. Exceptions to LACAP include: procurement and contracting financed with funds coming from other countries (bilateral agreements) or international bodies; agreements between state institutions; and the contracting of personal services by public institutions under the provisions of the Law on Salaries, Contracts and Day Work. The government publishes tenders by government institutions at: https://www.comprasal.gob.sv/comprasal_web/ .

Alba Petroleos is a joint venture between a consortium of mayors from the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party and a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). As majority PDVSA owned, Alba Petroleos has been subject to Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctions since January 2019. Alba Petroleos operates a diminishing number of gasoline service stations and businesses in other industries, including energy production, food production, medicines, micro-lending, supermarkets, and bus transportation. Alba Petroleos has been surrounded by allegations of mismanagement, corruption, and money laundering. Critics charged that the conglomerate received preferential treatment during FMLN governments and that its commercial practices, including financial reporting, are non-transparent. In May 2019, the Attorney General’s Office initiated an investigation against Alba Petroleos and its affiliated businesses for money laundering. Alba Petroleos’ assets are frozen by court order and some of its gasoline service stations are being managed by the National Council for Asset Administration (CONAB). The conglomerate is at risk of insolvency.

Privatization Program

El Salvador is not engaged in a privatization program and has not announced plans to privatize.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The private sector in El Salvador, including several prominent U.S. companies, has embraced the concept of responsible business conduct (RBC). Many companies have donated to COVID-19 relief efforts in 2020. Several local foundations promote RBC practices, entrepreneurial values, and philanthropic initiatives. El Salvador is also a member of international institutions such as Forum Empresa (an alliance of RBC institutions in the Western Hemisphere), AccountAbility (UK), and the InterAmerican Corporate Social Responsibility Network. Businesses have created RBC programs to provide education and training, transportation, lunch programs, and childcare. In addition, RBC programs have included inclusive hiring practices and assistance to communities in areas such as health, education, senior housing, and HIV/AIDS awareness. Organizations monitoring RBC are able to work freely.

Following a reorganization under the Bukele administration which eliminated the Secretariat of Transparency and Corruption, the Legal Secretariat is responsible for developing strategies and actions to promote transparency and accountability of government agencies, as well as fostering citizen participation in government. The watchdog organization Transparency International is represented in-country by the Salvadoran Foundation for Development (FUNDE).

El Salvador does not waive or weaken labor laws, consumer protection, or environmental regulations to attract foreign investment. El Salvador’s ability to effectively and fairly enforce domestic laws is limited by a lack of resources. El Salvador does not allow metal mining activity.

9. Corruption

U.S. companies operating in El Salvador are subject to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Corruption can be a challenge to investment in El Salvador. El Salvador ranks 113 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index. While El Salvador has laws, regulations, and penalties to combat corruption, their effectiveness is at times questionable. Soliciting, offering, or accepting a bribe is a criminal act in El Salvador. The Attorney General’s Anticorruption and Anti-Impunity Unit handles allegations of corruption against public officials. The Constitution establishes a Court of Accounts that is charged with investigating public officials and entities and, when necessary, passing such cases to the Attorney General for prosecution. Executive-branch employees are subject to a code of ethics, including administrative enforcement mechanisms, and the government established an Ethics Tribunal in 2006.

In September 2019, El Salvador signed an agreement with the Organization of American States (OAS) for the establishment of the International Commission Against Impunity and Corruption (CICIES), which was followed by a November agreement to determine CICIES objectives and competences. The CICIES will run for four years as an independent entity outside the GOES and underneath the OAS. OAS has signed Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with the Attorney General’s Office, the Supreme Court of Justice, and the Ministry of Justice and Public Security codifying the role of the CICIES with each entity. CICIES will assist in instituting policies to combat corruption and impunity, support investigations conducted by the Attorney General‘s Office and the National Civil Police, and capacity building to strengthen institutions actively involved in the fight against corruption.

Corruption scandals at the federal, legislative, and municipal levels are commonplace and there have been credible allegations of judicial corruption. Three of the past four presidents have been indicted for corruption, a former Attorney General is in prison on corruption-related charges, and a former president of the Legislative Assembly, who also served as president of PROESA, the investment promotion agency during the prior administration, is being prosecuted for embezzlement, fraud, and money laundering. The law provides criminal penalties for corruption, but implementation is generally perceived as ineffective. In 2017, a civil court found former president Mauricio Funes guilty of illicit enrichment and ordered him to repay over $200,000. In 2018, the Attorney General brought additional embezzlement and money laundering charges against Funes, who fled to Nicaragua in 2017. In March 2019, the Supreme Court unanimously approved the Attorney General’s 2018 petition to request Funes’ extradition. In June 2019, Nicaragua granted Funes citizenship, and he cannot be extradited because the Nicaraguan Constitution prohibits the extradition of nationals. In 2018, former president Elias Antonio (Tony) Saca pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $300 million in public funds. The court sentenced him to 10 years in prison and ordered him to repay $260 million.

The NGO Social Initiative for Democracy stated that officials, particularly in the judicial system, often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Long-standing government practices in El Salvador, including cash payments to officials, shielded budgetary accounts, and diversion of government funds, facilitate corruption and impede accountability.  For example, the accepted practice of ensuring party loyalty through off-the-books cash payments to public officials (i.e., sobresueldos) persisted across five presidential administrations. However, President Bukele eliminated these cash payments to public officials and the “reserved spending account,” nominally for state intelligence funding. At his direction, in July 2019, the Court of Accounts began auditing reserve spending of the Sanchez Ceren administration

El Salvador has an active, free press that reports on corruption. In 2015, the Probity Section of the Supreme Court began investigating allegations of illicit enrichment of public officials. In 2017, Supreme Court Justices ordered its Probity Section to audit legislators and their alternates. In January 2019, in observance of the Constitution, the Supreme Court instructed the Probity Section to focus its investigations only on public officials who left office within ten years. The illicit enrichment law requires appointed and elected officials to declare their assets to the Probity Section. The declarations are not available to the public, and the law only sanctions noncompliance with fines of up to $500.

The law provides for the right of access to government information, but authorities have not always effectively implemented the law. The law gives a narrow list of exceptions that outline the grounds for nondisclosure and provide for a reasonably short timeline for the relevant authority to respond, no processing fees, and administrative sanctions for non-compliance.

In 2011, El Salvador approved the Law on Access to Public Information and joined the Open Government Partnership. The Open Government Partnership promotes government commitments made jointly with civil society on transparency, accountability, citizen participation and use of new technologies (http://www.opengovpartnership.org/country/el-salvador ).

El Salvador is not a signatory to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. El Salvador is a signatory to the UN Anticorruption Convention and the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Convention against Corruption.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency or agencies are responsible for combating corruption:

Doctor Jose Nestor Castaneda Soto, President of the Court of Government Ethics
Court of Government Ethics (Tribunal de Etica Gubernamental)
87 Avenida Sur, No.7, Colonia Escalón, San Salvador
(503) 2565-9403
Email: n.castaneda@teg.gob.sv
http://www.teg.gob.sv/ 

Licenciado Raúl Ernesto Melara Morán
Fiscalia General de La Republica (Attorney General’s Office)
Edificio Farmavida, Calle Cortéz Blanco
Boulevard y Colonia Santa Elena
(503) 2593-7400
(503) 2593-7172
Email: xvpocasangre@fgr.gob.sv
http://www.fiscalia.gob.sv/ 

Chief Justice
Oscar Armando Pineda Navas
Avenida Juan Pablo II y 17 Avenida Norte
Centro de Gobierno
(503) 2271-8743
Email: conchita.presidenciacsj@gmail.com
http://www.csj.gob.sv 

Contact at “watchdog” organization (international, regional, local or nongovernmental organization operating in the country/economy that monitors corruption, such as Transparency International):

Roberto Rubio-Fabián
Executive Director
National Development Foundation (Fundación Nacional para el Desarrollo – FUNDE)
Calle Arturo Ambrogi #411, entre 103 y 105 Avenida Norte, Colonia Escalón, San Salvador
(503) 2209-5300
Email: direccion@funde.org

Resources to request government information

Access to Public Information Institute (IAIP for its initials in Spanish)
Silvia Cristina Pérez
Acting Commissioner President of the IAIP
Prolongación Ave. Alberto Masferrer y
Calle al Volcán, Edif. Oca Chang # 88
(503) 2205-3801
Email: sperez@iaip.gob.sv
https://www.iaip.gob.sv/ 

10. Political and Security Environment

El Salvador’s 12-year civil war ended in 1992. Since then, there has been no political violence aimed at foreign investors.

In October 2019, the State Department adjusted the U.S. travel advisory for El Salvador from Level 3 (Reconsider Travel) to Level 2 (Exercise Increased Caution) as a result of the government’s efforts to improve security and reduce the number of homicides.  However, crime in El Salvador remains high. A majority of serious crimes in El Salvador are never solved. El Salvador lacks sufficient resources to properly investigate and prosecute cases and to deter crime.  For more information, visit: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/ElSalvador.html

El Salvador has thousands of known gang members from several gangs, including Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and 18th Street (M18). Gang members engage in violence or use deadly force if resisted. These “maras” concentrate on extortion, violent street crime, car-jacking, narcotics and arms trafficking, and murder for hire. Extortion is a common crime in El Salvador. U.S. citizens who visit El Salvador for extended periods are at higher risk for extortion demands. Bus companies and distributors often must pay extortion fees to operate within gang territories, and these costs are passed on to paying customers. The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Index reported that costs due to organized crime for businesses in El Salvador are the highest among 141 countries.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, to strike, and to bargain collectively. The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination, although it does not require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Military personnel, national police, judges, and high-level public officers may not form or join unions. Workers who are representatives of the employer or in “positions of trust” also may not serve on a union’s board of directors. Only Salvadoran citizens may serve on unions’ executive committees. The labor code also bars individuals from holding membership in more than one trade union.

Unions must meet complex requirements to register, including having a minimum membership of 35 individuals. If the Ministry of Labor (MOL) denies registration, the law prohibits any attempt to organize for up to six months following the denial. Collective bargaining is obligatory only if the union represents the majority of workers.

The law contains cumbersome and complex procedures for conducting a legal strike. The law does not recognize the right to strike for public and municipal employees or for workers in essential services. The law does not specify which services meet this definition, and courts therefore interpret this provision on a case-by-case basis. The law requires that 30 percent of all workers in an enterprise must support a strike for it to be legal and that 51 percent must support the strike before all workers are bound by the decision to strike. Unions may strike only to obtain or modify a collective bargaining agreement or to protect the common professional interests of the workers. They must also engage in negotiation, mediation, and arbitration processes before striking, although many unions often skip or expedite these steps. The law prohibits workers from appealing a government decision declaring a strike illegal.

The government did not effectively enforce the laws on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Penalties remained insufficient to deter violations. Judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. According to union representatives, the government inconsistently enforced labor rights for public workers, maquiladora/textile workers, food manufacturing workers, subcontracted workers in the construction industry, security guards, informal-sector workers, and migrant workers. In 2019, the ministry received dozens of claims of violations for labor discrimination.

As of August 15, 2019, the inspector general of the MOL had reported 124 alleged violations of the right of freedom of association, including 72 such violations against members of labor unions and 39 resulting complaints of discrimination.

Unions functioned independently from the government and political parties, although many generally were aligned with the traditional political parties of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) and the FMLN. Workers at times engaged in strikes regardless of whether the strikes met legal requirements. In June 2019, the International Labor Organization Conference Committee on the Application of Standards discussed, for the fifth consecutive year, the nonfunctioning of the country’s tripartite Higher Labor Council. In September 2019, the MOL reactivated the council.

Employers are free to hire union or non-union labor. Closed shops are illegal. Labor laws are generally in accordance with internationally-recognized standards, but are not enforced consistently by government authorities. Although El Salvador has improved labor rights since the CAFTA-DR entered into force and the law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, there remains room for better implementation and enforcement.

The MOL is responsible for enforcing the law. The government proved more effective in enforcing the minimum wage law in the formal sector than in the informal sector. Unions reported the ministry failed to enforce the law for subcontracted workers hired for public reconstruction contracts. The government provided its inspectors updated training in both occupational safety and labor standards and conducted thousands of inspections in 2019.

The law sets a maximum normal workweek of 44 hours, limited to no more than six days and to no more than eight hours per day, but allows overtime, which is to be paid at a rate of double the usual hourly wage.  The law mandates that full-time employees receive pay for an eight-hour day of rest in addition to the 44-hour normal workweek. The law provides that employers must pay double time for work on designated annual holidays, a Christmas bonus based on the time of service of the employee, and 15 days of paid annual leave. The law prohibits compulsory overtime. The law states that domestic employees are obligated to work on holidays if their employer makes this request, but they are entitled to double pay in these instances. The government does not adequately enforce these laws.

There is no national minimum wage; the minimum wage is determined by sector. In 2018, a minimum wage increase went into effect that included increases of nearly 40 percent for apparel assembly workers and more than 100 percent for workers in coffee and sugar harvesting. All of these wage rates were above poverty income levels. As of June 2019, the MOL had registered three complaints of noncompliance with the minimum wage. 12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs

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

On January 30, 2020, El Salvador signed a Growth in the Americas (America Crece) memorandum of understanding, a framework agreement to catalyze private investment in infrastructure and energy, including through DFC financing. Currently, DFC has more than $500 million invested in energy, clean water, and inclusive financial services in El Salvador.

The Bukele administration has expressed its intention to pursue Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) to develop large infrastructure projects, mostly focused on transportation and logistics, water and sanitation, as well as energy. Even though infrastructure projects are still in the initial phase of design and feasibility, these potential PPPs will provide opportunities for DFC financing.

DFC inherited an Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) agreement with El Salvador that requires governmental approval on each project application.

El Salvador uses the U.S. dollar, so full inconvertibility insurance is unnecessary. El Salvador is a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). 13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2018 $26,056. 94 2018 $26,057 https://data.worldank.org/
country/el-salvador
 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $2,413.61 2018 $3,277 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/factsheet.cfm?Area=209
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 N/A 2018 $17.0 BEA data available at
http://bea.gov/international/
direct_investment_multinational_
companies_comprehensive_data.htm
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 9.3% 2018 126%

* Central Bank, El Salvador. In 2018, the Central Bank released GDP estimates using the new national accounts system from 2008 and using 2005 as the base year.

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data (2018)*
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 9,705 100% Total Outward 2 100%
Panama 2,899 29.9% Guatemala 1 34%
United States 2,414 24.9% Nicaragua 1 44%
Mexico 895 9.2% Costa Rica 0 4%
Spain 833 8.6% Honduras 0 6%
Colombia 759 7.8%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

*Coordinated Direct Investment Survey, International Monetary Fund

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

Equatorial Guinea

Executive Summary

The Republic of Equatorial Guinea is endowed with oil and gas resources that attracted billions of dollars in direct U.S. investment instrumental to extracting those resources. Discovery of oil in the 1990s resulted in rapid economic growth by the late 2000s. According to certain businesses, however, corruption, perceptions of a biased judiciary and a burdensome, inefficient bureaucracy undermine the general investment climate in the country. Growth has slowed as several operational oil fields have matured and are now in decline. International watchdog organizations give Equatorial Guinea one of the world’s lowest rankings in various global indices, including those for corruption, transparency, and ease of doing business. Companies have reported that these ratings underscore the challenging and opaque environment in which both local and foreign businesses must operate. The government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea is seeking investment in several sectors: agribusiness; fishing; energy and mining; petrochemicals, plastics and composites; travel and tourism; and finance. Most of these sectors are undeveloped. The Equatoguinean domestic market is small, with an estimated population of one million, although the country is a member of the Central African Monetary and Economic Union (CEMAC) sub-region, comprising more than 50 million people. The zone has a central bank and a common currency – the CFA franc, which is pegged to the euro. Equatorial Guinea graduated from “Least Developed Country” (LCD) status in 2017 and recently reactivated its efforts to accede to the World Trade Organization. Equatorial Guinea became a full member of Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 2017 and is a member of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF).

The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea has worked with international partners, including the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), since March 2014 to analyze ways to improve the business climate. The government implemented some recommendations, launched a one-stop shop for investors and entrepreneurs in January 2019 and instituted certain tax exemptions and other incentives to attract investment.

Equatorial Guinea has made significant advances on the country’s Horizon 2020 social development plan, specifically in construction of infrastructure, electrification, and access to water, healthcare, and education. Equatorial Guinea expresses pride in having some of the region’s best roads and other essential infrastructure, including development of its ports and pending completion of a new airport terminal. After oil prices started dropping in 2014, the government began extending timelines for completing infrastructure projects and put many on hold as the country slumped into a recession that continued through 2019. The steep drop in oil prices in early 2020 combined with the coronavirus pandemic is expected to shrink the economy by nearly 9 percent. Investors have reported that past commercial disputes have involved delayed payment, or non-payment, by the Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea to foreign firms for delivered goods and services; and that certain companies exited the country with millions in unpaid bills. Some claim that much work remains, especially on diversifying the economy and improving healthcare and education.

Equatorial Guinea does not require visas for U.S. citizens. Visas may be difficult to obtain for third-country nationals, although the government created new visa categories in 2019 in an effort to speed the process. Residency and work permits can be similarly difficult to obtain or renew. In March 2018, to ease the conditions of entry and residence in the country, the government reduced the cost of permits by half. Residency and work permits were not issued regularly between 2017 and 2019, requiring expatriates to leave the country every 90 days.

Despite various challenges, U.S. businesses have mainly had success in the hydrocarbons sector. Some U.S. businesses have profited in other sectors such as technology and computer services. Various international companies continued to enter the market in 2019 and 2020 in response to new licensing rounds in the hydrocarbons and mining sectors. U.S. businesses may invest in new sectors such as telecommunications, infrastructure, agriculture, mining, and transportation.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 173 of 198 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 178 of 190 https://www.doingbusiness.org/en/data/
exploreeconomies/equatorial-guinea
Global Innovation Index 2019 N/A https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2018 $908 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $6,650 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea is actively soliciting foreign investments. The government announced in August 2018 that 2019 would be the “Year of Energy;” with new licensing rounds for hydrocarbons fields and various events to encourage investment. This has continued in the 2020 “Year of Investment,” focusing on hydrocarbons, mining exploration, and petrochemicals. In 2017, the Government started the donor facilitation initiative with the World Bank, as part of a strategy towards membership in the World Trade Organization. The government also passed a law to establish a “one-stop shop” for investors and simplify the process to register a business, which launched in Malabo in January 2019. The government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea equipped facilities for processing applications and has trained staff. The second office was expected to open in Bata in 2020.

Statutorily, the Minister of Economy, Finance, and Planning approves investment permits. A new state entity, Holdings Equatorial Guinea 2020, was created to help guide diversification efforts. This entity was expected to serve as a hub for foreign investors. For now, however, investors still work with the relevant government ministries to negotiate contracts.

The government, including at the highest levels, has regular meetings and conferences with business leaders and investors, though we are unaware of any formal business roundtable. For example, in November 2018 the World Bank and the Singapore Cooperation Programs led a conference in Equatorial Guinea on improving the business climate.

COVID-19 has slowed global trade, but Equatorial Guinea is not relenting its drive for investment and downstream diversification, said the country’s Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons, Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima. Equatorial Guinea’s Year of Investment 2020 campaign continues to move ahead with multiple deals signed in the first half of 2020. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on oil prices and African economies, the Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons signed a Ministerial Order granting oil and gas companies a two-year extension on their exploration programs. The Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons (MMH) will also ensure flexibility on the work programs of producing companies to ensure growth and stability in the market. The measure reflects broader efforts to drive global investment into Equatorial Guinea in line with its 2020 Year of Investment campaign, which still includes plans to host the Africa Oil & Investment Forum & Exhibition in Malabo from November 25-26, 2020. The extension of time and resources may particularly aid U.S. companies, which represent the majority of investment in Equatorial Guinea’s energy sector and are currently in the early stages of exploration and seismic interpretation of several new offshore blocks. The Year of Investment, planned to last throughout 2020 and include several in-country conferences and a global investment roadshow, is adapting to the new restrictions under COVID-19. Webinars and video conferencing are just one way technology is keeping the country connected with investors. The Africa Oil & Investment Forum aims to attract regional and international investors to Malabo, as the country continues to engage at the regional and international level. Investors work with the relevant government ministries to negotiate contracts.

The government also took several other steps to support small and medium enterprises suffering during the pandemic, such as delaying and lowering tax payments, temporarily reducing the cost of electricity, and providing some small grants for micro-enterprises.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

The government is generally supportive of Foreign Direct Investment. The Foreign Investment Law (Decree 72/2018 of April 2018) modified the provisions of decree 127/2004 stipulating that shareholder capital firms and companies operating in the petroleum sector must have Equatoguinean shareholders. The government requires that Equatoguinean partners hold at least 35 percent of share capital of foreign companies or companies created by foreigners in the hydrocarbons sector only. Equatoguinean partners must also account for one third of the representatives on the Board of Directors. Apart from the hydrocarbons sector, investments must not be part of public-private partnerships with a government entity. The Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons generally approves any major deal in the hydrocarbons sector. Decisions regarding larger investment deals may rise to the presidential level. U.S. investors may reach out to the Equatoguinean Embassy in the United States for guidance regarding connection to the appropriate ministry for outreach efforts.

The Hydrocarbons Law and the National Content Regulation establish various requirements for international oil and gas companies that wish to operate in Equatorial Guinea. These include a minority partner stake for either the state oil company (GE Petrol) or the state gas company (Sonagas). In addition, there are national content requirements, many established in 2014 by the then-Ministry of Mines, Industry, and Energy, which apply to both producers and service companies, including that 70 percent of staff must be Equatoguinean, 50-100 percent of services (depending on category) must be procured from national company partners, and a percentage of the company’s revenue must be allocated to corporate social responsibility projects approved by the Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons. (Note: The Ministry was divided into two in 2017, including a separate Ministry of Industry and Energy. End note.) Ministerial Order 1/2020 (April 2020) established that companies can employ foreign laborers in the oil and gas sector for a maximum period of three years, though companies may apply for extensions in exceptional cases, with compliance overseen by the Ministry’s Director General of National Content. Minister of Mines Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima was quoted as saying, “With the release of this new order, the Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons intends to enhance the capacity of local service companies while guaranteeing the creation of local jobs for our trained and educated youth.” While Equatorial Guinea continues to seek foreign direct investment in several of its capital-intensive energy and petrochemicals projects through its 2020 Year of Investment campaign, the country is simultaneously prioritizing the procurement of local goods and services and the stimulation of local jobs. The legislation follows the completion of capacity building and training programs, particularly at the gas and oil industry-supported National Technological Institute for Hydrocarbons in Mongomo. Given the generally low quality of education in the country, international companies complain about the difficulty of recruiting qualified locals.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In the past three years, the Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea has not conducted an investment policy review through any institutions, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Trade Organization, or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. In October 2019, the World Bank presented its Diagnostic Trade Integration Study (DTIS) that analyzed various sectors of the economy and prospects for increased economic development and trade.

Business Facilitation

According to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020, starting a business in Equatorial Guinea requires 16 procedures and usually takes 33 days, the same as in 2019. Equatorial Guinea was ranked 183 of 190 in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 for ease of “starting a business.” In 2017, the Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea passed Decree No. 67/2017, published in September 2017, to establish a “one-stop shop” or “single window” to simplify the process to register a business and speed the process to seven business days. The “single window” was launched in January 2019, after the Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea equipped facilities for processing applications, and trained staff. There is a webpage with information, https://www.ventanillaempresarialge.com/en/welcome/ , but businesses cannot yet register online. Generally, business must register with various agencies at the national level and some local offices. The one-stop shop does not eliminate steps but it does consolidate visits to five offices into one. The below chart illustrates the steps that an entrepreneur can complete at the one-stop-shop:

BEFORE NOW
Public Notary one-stop shop
Trade register one-stop shop
Ministry of Economy, Finance, and Planning one-stop shop
Ministry of Commerce – General Direction of Commerce one-stop shop
Ministry of Commerce – Department of Business Promotion one-stop shop
Ministry of Labor Ministry of Labor
Social Security Administration (INSESO) Social Security Administration (INSESO)
Chamber of Commerce Chamber of Commerce
City Hall City Hall
Sectoral Ministries according to the activity of the company Sectoral Ministries according to the activity of the company

The country does not have a business facilitation mechanism for equitable treatment of women and underrepresented minorities in the economy. There are laws that make it illegal to discriminate against women. There is an ongoing effort from the government to include people with disabilities in public administration, including with internship programs and contracts.

By presidential Decree No 45/2020 from April 24, the government have reduced the paid-in minimum capital requirement, for Limited Liability Companies from 1,000,000 XAF to only 100,000 XAF for business to operate within the country.

Outward Investment

Although Equatoguinean citizens may legally invest outside the country, the government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea does not promote any outward investment. Equatoguineans owning businesses abroad are not praised or showcased in the news. There are no known restrictions on domestic investors who seek to invest abroad. Some individuals and companies have faced delays, however, when transferring money overseas or converting local currency into foreign exchange, which has been exacerbated by new rules enacted by the CEMAC Central Bank in 2019.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea publicly publishes labor laws; however, officials do not consistently apply laws or regulations. Officials expect foreign companies to follow every detail of the labor law or face penalties. Some companies report less strict enforcement of compliance with the labor laws by national companies. U.S. businesses have complained that bureaucratic procedures are neither streamlined nor transparent and can be extremely slow for those without the proper political or familial connections. Many regulations are created within ministries, while others are the result of laws passed by the legislature. Although most regulations are created at the national level, some decisions may be taken at the municipal level (such as decisions about permits for construction).

Proposed laws and regulations are not published in draft form for public comment, but there have been reports of informal sharing with representatives of specific industries for comment. Regulations and laws are generally not published online but are available in hardcopy for a fee.

Private industry representatives report that accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are generally neither transparent nor consistent with international norms.

According to the 2019 Fiscal Transparency Report, Equatorial Guinea does not meet the minimum requirements of fiscal transparency. More information is available at: https://www.state.gov/2019-fiscal-transparency-report/

The government recently made some progress on transparency of its public finances and debt obligations. Although not available to the public several months until after the start of the fiscal year, the 2018 budget included information on debt obligations for the first time in several years, including both public and private debt obligations. The 2019 budget also included debt obligations. The government has been working on fiscal transparency as part of its International Monetary Fund (IMF) program and another program with the African Development Bank that began in 2019. The Ministry of Economy, Finance, and Planning announced plans to move customs to an electronic system to improve transparency and prevent corruption. The Automated Customs System (Sistema Aduanero Automatizado or SIDUNEAWorld) was implemented on April 30, 2020, upon the Ministry’s announcement. By late May 2020, it had already registered 49 shipping manifests via http://siduneage.com .

In April 2020, the Ministry of Economy, Finance, and Planning issued an official communication on restructuring internal arrears. An internal arrears audit was conducted to evaluate the government’s obligations to construction companies. The African Legal Support Facility financed the process of regulating those arrears, which was carried out by McKinsey law firm. As stated in the memorandum of understanding, adopted by Decree No 136/2019, the next step includes the process of securitization to be conducted by an international financial agency.

International Regulatory Considerations

Equatorial Guinea is a member of the Central African Monetary and Economic Union (CEMAC), which includes a regional central bank (the Bank of Central African States, or BEAC) and various regulations including lower tariffs on intra-regional trade.

Equatorial Guinea is not a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and is listed as an observer government. The General Council of the WTO established a Working Party to examine the country’s application to join in February 2008, but the country never submitted a Memorandum on the Foreign Trade Regime (MFTR). The government is working on its application. According to the WTO’s 2019 Report, published February 20, 2020, Equatorial Guinea’s accession process is likely to become active, with the first meeting of its working party in 2020. At the request of the Government of Equatorial Guinea, the WTO Secretariat undertook a technical assistance mission to Malabo in March 2019 to assist in preparing the MFTR and to enhance the negotiating team’s understanding of the WTO Agreements, with a strong focus on the accession process. Equatorial Guinea participated in regional WTO dialogues as recently as February 2020.

Equatorial Guinea is not a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Equatorial Guinea’s legal system is a mix of civil and customary law. Law No. 7/1992 states that disputes that cannot be resolved through direct negotiation by the involved parties shall be referred to Equatoguinean courts. Either party can also submit the dispute to international arbitration. Foreign investors are asked to declare their desired international arbitration venue in their initial application to invest in the country. Arbitration must take place in a neutral location and Spanish will be the official language of the arbitration.

Equatorial Guinea was ranked 105 of 190 in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 for “enforcing contracts.”

Labor law is meant to protect workers, including a requirement for written contracts and regulation of labor by minors. Labor courts exist for matters related to employment. Several companies have complained that cases are rarely decided on the merits and penalties are excessive. Appeals generally proceed to the supreme or constitutional court. The court system and staff are generally considered under-resourced and unprepared, according to companies and public statements by President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mbasogo. Both the Labor Law and the Penal Code were set to be updated in 2020, with drafts submitted to the Legislature, which was suspended amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The judicial system is not independent of the executive branch as the president is officially the head of the court system, with the power to appoint or remove judges at will.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Most investment is focused in the extractive industries and infrastructure development. Laws No. 7/1992 and 2/1994 and Decrees No. 54/1994 and 127/2004 regulate foreign investment. Certain industries have additional regulations. The enforcement of laws and judicial decisions has not been reliable nor consistent, according to investors. The executive branch heavily influences the judicial branch, as the president is also the chief magistrate of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea. While the government has made efforts to streamline foreign investment procedures and simplify business registration processes, these processes have not all been implemented. Decree No. 72/2018 of April 2018 revised No. 127/2014 of September 2014 and eliminated mandatory 35 percent national participation in foreign companies, except for in the hydrocarbons sector. The implementation of the “one-stop shop” for business registration in January 2019 simplified the registration process and reportedly reduced the time to complete it to seven business days, according to the government. The centralized one-stop shop clarifies the rates to be paid and the procedures to follow. The Ministries of Economy, Finance, and Planning and Commerce plan to evaluate the system in 2020 to determine its effectiveness. There is a webpage with information (https://www.ventanillaempresarialge.com/en/welcome/ ) but businesses cannot yet register online. Investors work with the relevant government ministries to negotiate contracts.

The government published Decree 45/2020 in April 2020, reducing the minimum capital needed to register a limited-liability company from 1 million XAF (USD 1713) to 100,000 XAF (USD 171).

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Equatorial Guinea does not have an agency that actively enforces any competition laws. Equatorial Guinea became a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Laws in Africa (OHADA) in 1999, and any OHADA competition laws should apply in Equatorial Guinea.

Expropriation and Compensation

Law No. 7/1992 states that the government will not expropriate foreign investments except when acting in the public interest with fair, just, and proper compensation. The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea does not generally nationalize or expropriate foreign investments, although a Spanish investor had his property confiscated in 2013. The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea does have an extensive record of expropriating locally owned property, frequently offering little or no compensation. The government has also withdrawn blocks for hydrocarbons exploration when companies failed to invest within an allotted period, though this generally appears to follow the terms of published tenders.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Equatorial Guinea is not a party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention — also known as the Washington Convention), although Law No. 7/1992 states that international arbitration may utilize ICSID as the basis of procedure. Equatorial Guinea is not a party to the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

In October 2018, Equatorial Guinea announced the resolution of litigation begun in 2014 over Orange Group’s ownership stake in the incumbent fixed line and mobile operator Guinea Ecuatorial de Telecomunicaciones Sociedad Anonima (Getesa). Agence Ecofin cited a statement from the Embassy of Equatorial Guinea in France, confirming that on September 26, 2018, the government signed an agreement with Orange Middle East & Africa under which it paid EUR 50 million (USD 57.5 million) to the French-based telecoms giant in return for relinquishing Getesa shares. The final payment followed Equatorial Guinea’s initial share payment to Orange of EUR 45 million in October 2016, thereby settling the balance of an agreed EUR 95 million-redemption price for Orange’s 40 percent stake. TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database says that Equatorial Guinea’s government lost a Paris Court of Appeal case against a fine imposed in July 2014 by the International Court of Arbitration for reneging on a 2011 agreement to buy Orange’s Getesa stake in the event of a new entrant launching (a clause it failed to honor after the 2012 launch of majority state-owned cellular company GECOMSA). In October 2016, the government agreed to pay EUR 150 million, including interest, to Orange.

A Spanish businessperson signed a joint venture agreement with President Obiang in 2009 to build 36,000 homes in Equatorial Guinea. President Obiang allegedly pulled support for the project at the last minute, leaving the Spanish citizen bankrupted. In March 2012, the Spanish businessperson submitted a claim before the International Centre for Investment Dispute Settlements (ICSID), which ruled in favor of Equatorial Guinea in 2015. In August 2017, Madrid’s provincial court ordained a magistrate to revise the claim, acknowledging the Spanish competency to rule the case because of the bilateral investment treaty between the countries. The case was ongoing at the start of 2020, but it is unclear if it will continue as the claimant died of COVID-19 in April 2020.

In at least one case in late 2018, a company that had not been paid by a state-owned enterprise for over a year was able to make an alternate arrangement to receive payment. This required an amendment to the contract rather than a judicial solution.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Organization for the Harmonization of Corporate Law in Africa (OHADA) Uniform Act on Arbitration rules would apply where the Court has its seat in Abidjan, but it may sit in any one of the seventeen Member States of the Organization. The Court has already held hearings in several OHADA member states in recent years. As of March 2019, the Common Court of Justice and Arbitration of the OHADA included an Equatoguinean lawyer on the list of arbitrators of its Arbitration Center of the Common Court of Justice and Arbitration. This lawyer is the first Equatoguinean added to the OHADA list.

Law No. 7/1992 states that disputes that cannot be resolved through direct negotiation by the involved parties shall be referred to Equatoguinean courts. Either party can also submit the dispute to international arbitration. In their initial application to invest in the country, foreigners must declare their desired international arbitration venue. Arbitration must take place in a neutral location with Spanish as the official language.

Firms have alleged that court actions are sometimes discriminatory, not transparent, tending to favor local parties rather than foreigners or foreign companies.

In 2015, the government closed a microfinance institution founded by a member of an opposition party. He reportedly appealed to the CEMAC court, which recommended arbitration. We have no information on the outcome.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea adopted the business laws of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Laws of Africa (OHADA), including that pertaining to bankruptcy.

The Republic of Equatorial Guinea is tied for last place in the World Banks’s 2020 Doing Business Report’s ranking of “Resolving Insolvency.” The Republic of Equatorial Guinea received the World Bank’s “no practice mark” due to the lack of cases over the past five years involving judicial reorganization, judicial liquidation, or debt enforcement. This suggests that creditors are unlikely to recover their money through a formal legal process.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Law No. 2/1994 of June 6, 1994 offers investment incentives in the form of deductions from taxable income: 50 percent of the amount paid to Equatoguinean staff in wages and 200 percent of the cost of training Equatoguinean staff. It also extends/maintains previous license exemptions for imports and exports, allows conversion of sales into foreign currency, and permits transfers abroad of company profits. Decree No. 67/2017 of September 2017 created the “one-stop shop” business portal to promote investment and economic activity by significantly reducing the time needed to register a new company. According to the government, registering a company through the one-stop shop – launched in January 2019 — takes approximately seven (7) days. Decree n° 72/2018 of April 2018 revised decree 127/2014 of September 2014 to foster foreign direct investments. The revised investment law eliminated the need to have a local business partner in foreign companies, except for the hydrocarbons sector. The government sometimes jointly finances foreign direct investment projects, such as construction of social housing.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

There are currently no known laws, policies, or practices for any areas designated as Free Trade or Duty Free Zones. Three entities have tax-free status: Luba Freeport, the Port of Bata, and the K5 Freeport Oil Centre.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea used to require a minimum percentage of employees and subcontractors to be Equatoguinean, ranging from 70 to 90 percent. Presidential Decree 72/2018 of April 18, 2018 revised Presidential Decree 127/2014 of September 14, 2014, eliminating this requirement, except for the hydrocarbons sector. The decree requires that Equatoguineans hold certain management positions in the hydrocarbons sector. Foreign investors in the hydrocarbons sector are required to have a significant percentage of domestic content in goods and technology. Companies are supposed to send vacancies to the Ministry of Labor, Employment Promotion, and Social Security. If the Ministry is unable to find a qualified candidate within 30 days, the company may hire an ex-patriate worker.

Equatorial Guinea does not require U.S. citizens to obtain visas, which can be difficult for third-country nationals to obtain and generally requires a government-approved letter of invitation, which can take months to obtain. Residency and work permits can be similarly difficult to obtain and renew. In March 2018, as part of an overall effort to improve transparency and ease the conditions of entry and residence in the country, the cost of a residency permits from USD 700 to USD 343 per year. In December 2019, the government agreed to lower the cost of residency permits to conform with the cost of a business visa (H1B) to the United States (USD 160). Some companies have reported delays in the residency permit process. Work permits, often a pre-requisite for a residency permit, are also difficult and time consuming to obtain. Some businesses report that they have been unable to obtain the annual permits for over five years. There are some reports that certain officials have asked for “expediting” fees that are beyond established government fees and occasionally ask for bribes directly. This is especially problematic at the airport and at customs, according to various accounts.

The Ministries of Mines and Hydrocarbons and of Labor, Employment Promotion, and Social Security, among others, make regular inspections of companies and may apply fines. The Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons has fined, suspended, and expelled companies that it perceived did not comply with regulations or laws, especially on local content.

The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea requires internet service providers, whether local or foreign, to turn over source code or provide access to surveillance. According to article 15 of the Telecommunication law (Law 7, dated November 7, 2015), Equatoguinean government offices are supposed to report to the Regulating Organ of Telecommunications (ORTEL) any information concerning official communications lines and networks. The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea has no requirements pertaining to maintaining data storage within the country. The Ministry of Transports, Telecommunications, and Mail reduced the cost of internet in 2019 and 2020 as part of a strategy towards openness and increased access, and both the Telecommunications Regulator (ORTEL) and the Telecommunications Infrastructure Administrator (GITGE) are promoting implementation of the new strategy. The government had announced that internet would be available in all public places, such as airports, banks, and cultural centers, by 2020, though this will likely be delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is already available in some locations, such as the new boardwalk (Paseo Maritimo) in Malabo. Although the government claims that 95 percent of municipalities have access to a fiber optic network, according to the International Telecommunication Union, only 26.2 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea selectively enforces property rights. While the government has laws on the books regarding the rights of property owners, the government can use the judicial system to seize land in the interest of the country with little to no due process. Mortgages exist under a “Social Housing Program” in which payments are made to the government via the commercial CCEI Bank. The mortgage length varies and can be more than 20 years. Interest rates are high, ranging from 12 to 18 percent. Non-payment for six months results in the foreclosure of the property. According the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report, registering property in Equatorial Guinea required six procedures and usually took 23 days. Equatorial Guinea was ranked 163 of 190 in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 for “registering property.”

Intellectual Property Rights

Equatorial Guinea is a member of the African Intellectual Property Organization (AIPO) and joined the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in 1997. Intellectual property rights (IPR) protections fall under the Council of Scientific and Technological Research of Equatorial Guinea. Equatorial Guinea does not report on seizures of counterfeit goods. Legal structures are weak, and IPR protection and enforcement are rare to non-existent. The government does not maintain publicly available statistics on law enforcement or judicial actions. Equatorial Guinea is not included in the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The banking sector provides limited financing to businesses. The government reports that two microfinance institutions operate in country and the government has started a microcredit program for SMEs. The country does not have its own stock market. According to investors, capital markets are non-existent. Credit is available but interest rates are high, ranging from 12 to 18 percent for mortgages and about 15 percent for personal loans. Business loans generally require significant collateral, limiting opportunities for entrepreneurs, and may have rates of 20 percent or greater. It is unclear if foreigners could obtain credit on the local market.

Money and Banking System

While there are banks throughout the country, they are concentrated in urban centers. There is little information available about assets and the health of the banking system. The Equatorial Guinea National Bank (BANGE) has 29 branches throughout the country. According to a November 2017 article, BANGE had over 80,000 clients, approximately 10 percent of the population. CCEI/CCIW Bank de Guinea Ecuatorial has four branches in the largest cities and is a subsidiary of First Bank Afriland (Cameroon). BGFI Bank Guinée Equatoriale operates as a subsidiary of BGFI Holding Corporation (Gabon). Pan-African EcoBank (Togo) and Societe Générale (France) also operate in Equatorial Guinea. According to the United Nations, in 2016 approximately 20 percent of the population had deposits in commercial banks. If a bank does not have a branch in the location where an individual wants to do business, they would not have access their funds there. ATMs are in limited locations.

The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea is a member of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central African States (CEMAC) and shares a regional Central Bank with other CEMAC members. Members have ceded regulatory authority over their banks to CEMAC, but also are entitled to national BEAC Branches. Evinayong, Bata and Malabo each have a branch. The government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea is also a member of the Banking Commission of Central African States within CEMAC.

Foreigners must provide proof of residency to establish a bank account.

The country’s economy is an almost entirely cash based, with credit cards available but not widely used in the general population. Primarily visitors or wealthy citizens use credit cards at international hotels, international airlines, and major supermarkets. In April 2020, partly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government encouraged banks to increase electronic payment mechanisms. The Ministry of Economy, Finance, and Planning also continued to expand electronic payments for government employees. In May 2020, the Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea endorsed the guiding principles of the United Nations’ “Better than Cash” Alliance, a partnership of governments, companies and international organizations to accelerate the transition from cash to digital payments as part of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. The Alliance has 75 members committed to digitizing payments to boost efficiency, transparency, and women’s economic participation and financial inclusion to make economies more digital and inclusive.

The banking sector is affected by relatively lengthy bureaucratic procedures and a lack of computerized record keeping. Customers have reported that currency is not always available on demand, and delays making transfers or exchanging local currency into foreign exchange have increased since the BEAC instituted new banking and foreign currency regulations in 2019.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Decree No. 54/1994 provides the right to freely transfer convertible currency abroad at the end of each fiscal year, but in practice many businesses report that limited financial services create barriers to successfully executing international transfers. On April 1, 2019, the CEMAC Central Bank published a regulation to enforce an existing requirement to maintain bank accounts in Central African francs (CFA) rather than foreign exchange, with a six-month moratorium until October 1, 2019. Account holders are theoretically able to convert funds to foreign exchange through an administrative process, but it is unclear if this applies to all accounts in the region. The moratorium was extended through 2020 for the extractives sector (hydrocarbons and mining). Many other businesses and individuals have reported lengthy delays to convert currency and make international bank transfers under the new rules.

Foreign currency is not widely available in the Central African Franc zone but can be relatively easily obtained in the Republic of Equatorial Guinea in small quantities.

Equatorial Guinea does not engage in currency manipulation as the CFA franc currently has a fixed exchange rate to the euro: 100 CFA francs = 1 former French (nouveau) franc = 0.152449 euro or 1 euro = 655.957 CFA francs exactly. Thus, the exchange rate of the currency fluctuates according to the value of the euro.

Remittance Policies

On April 1, 2019, the CEMAC Central Bank published a regulation to enforce an existing requirement to maintain bank accounts in CFA rather than foreign exchange, with a six-month moratorium until October 1, 2019. Account holders are theoretically able to convert funds to foreign exchange through an administrative process. It is unclear if this applies to all accounts in the region. Companies in the hydrocarbons sector received an exemption on implementation through 2020.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea established a sovereign wealth fund, the Fund for Future Generations, in 2002. According to investors, the fund has little transparency regarding its management or value. A 2017 press report estimated the fund to have USD 413 million, or 1.6 percent of Equatorial Guinea’s GDP. The Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute estimates assets under management of USD 165.5 million. There is no publicly available information on its allocations.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The Republic of Guinea Equatorial has at least eight State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) in the energy, housing, fishing, aerospace and defense, and information and communication sectors. Sonagas is the national natural gas company and GEPetrol is the national oil company. The energy SOEs report to the Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons and hold monopolies in their respective sectors. SEGESA is the national electricity company. GECOMSA and GETESA are the national telecommunication service providers. SONAPESCA focusses on the promotion of fishing and reports to the Minister of Fisheries and Water Resources. ENPIGE is the SOE that oversees the government’s affordable housing program. Ceiba Intercontinental is the main airline and a joint venture between the government and Ethiopian Airlines. The budget includes allocations to and earnings from SOEs. Large SOEs lacked publicly available audits. According to some companies, there is little evidence of oversight of SOEs. A requirement of the IMF’s 2018 staff monitored program, however, is that the government contract an internationally reputable firm to audit the accounts of the state-owned oil (GEPetrol) and gas (Sonagas) companies, which the government hired at the start of 2019. (The audits were still ongoing in early 2020.) All oil and gas projects must include a partnership with state-owned companies GEPetrol or Sonagas.

Equatorial Guinea’s oil and gas sector scored 22 of 100 points in the 2017 Resource Governance Index (RGI), ranking 85th among 89 assessments. Its overall failing performance can be attributed to the enabling environment component, which scores 17 of 100 points and ranks 79th among 89 assessments, along with an equally low score for revenue management. For more information, see https://resourcegovernance.org/.

Privatization Program

The Ministry of Economy, Finance, and Planning discussed plans to involve the private sector in the management of state-owned assets, including through privatization. The initiative was a recommendation from the Third National Economic Conference (April-May 2019), which included discussion of options to improve management of state assets. The government envisages three paths: (i) restructuring autonomous agencies and state-owned enterprises; (ii) concession of assets to the private sector; and (iii) sale of public assets to private operators (privatization). The authorities also plan to open to competition sectors where public enterprises operate, with the aim of limiting monopolistic practices and passing on efficiency gains to the rest of the economy. The Ministry will present a substantive list of state assets to be privatized, as well as a list of entities that will be restructured or placed under a concession regime with the private sector for the approval of the Council of Ministers (structural benchmark, end of June 2020). Once the Council of Ministers approves this plan, the authorities will present an action program for privatization (planned for the second half of 2020). To generate revenue, they plan to prioritize privatization, with the proceeds going to pay down validated domestic arrears and rebuild EG’s foreign currency reserves at the BEAC. Sales and concessions will be carried out through open, international tenders. The sale of the listed assets may be delayed so that their prices are not negatively affected by the current global slowdown. Information is likely to be announced on the Ministry’s website: https://www.minhacienda.gob.gq/. 

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Many U.S. firms operating in Equatorial Guinea have well-developed corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. The Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons has established industry-specific regulations that mandate minimum rates of CSR contributions. The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea is considering a regulation that would increase those rates. U.S. and UK oil and gas companies tend to exceed those rates. Most firms from other countries have limited CSR programs. The government has expressed their appreciation for the U.S. companies’ efforts and recognized the positive role of U.S. firms. CSR projects have included support for various initiatives, including conservation, education, health, and awareness campaigns on sensitive subjects like trafficking in persons. The government approves all CSR programs, offering explicit support, and occasionally also provides additional in kind or financial support. There are several non-governmental organizations operating in the country that work in fields in which CSR takes place, often as partners with the companies, but they do not fulfill a monitoring role.

Equatorial Guinea submitted an application in 2019 to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), after being delisted in 2010 for missing its validation deadline during its first attempt to join. This was a condition of the IMF staff monitored program. A decision was still pending from the EITI Board in June 2020.

9. Corruption

There is no publicly designated contact at a government agency responsible for combating corruption. Various ministries, including the office of the Prime Minister, nominally have responsibility for combatting corruption either within their own ministry or in the government at large. A commission to combat corruption was formed in 2019 but there has not been a public announcement of its results or projects. There are no “watchdog” organizations operating in country.

The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea has laws and regulations against corruption, but many businesses have complained that they are not often enforced, and as a result, corruption is very common. There are no specific laws about conflict of interest or nepotism. Numerous foreign investigations continued into high-level official corruption. For example, on September 14, 2018, Brazilian authorities seized two suitcases with USD 1.4 million in cash and another suitcase containing approximately 20 watches valued at USD 15 million from Vice President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo upon landing in Sao Paulo on an unofficial visit. The press reported on October 10, 2018, that Brazilian officials launched an investigation because they believed the undeclared cash and luxury watches, along with apartments and cars owned by the vice president in Brazil, might have been part of an effort to launder money embezzled from Equatorial Guinea’s government. Separately, one government official within the Ministry of Transport, Telecommunications, and Mail was fired and reportedly arrested in April 2019, and was expected to be charged with corruption. A military court sentenced a former Army Chief of Staff to 18 years in prison in October 2019 for embezzlement of public funds. He was also ordered to reimburse the 38 million CFA francs (USD 65,000).

U.S. companies operating in Equatorial Guinea are required to adhere to the rules of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Some U.S. firms report that they are concerned about corruption related to government procurement, award of licenses and concessions, customs, and dispute settlement. Major U.S. firms have internal controls, ethics, and compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery of government officials. It is unclear what controls exist at smaller companies and other foreign and domestic firms.

The country’s greatest concerns in terms of money laundering and terrorism financing are cross-border currency transactions and the illegal international transfer of money by companies or corrupt individuals. Some report that widespread corruption, at times involving members of the government, is a primary catalyst for money laundering and other financial crimes. Certain businesses have noted that diversion of public funds and corruption are widespread in both commerce and government, particularly as regards the use of proceeds from the extractive industries, including oil, gas, and timber, and infrastructure projects.

Equatorial Guinea became a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Corruption on May 30, 2018. Equatorial Guinea is a member of the Task Force against Money Laundering in Central Africa, an entity in the process of becoming a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. The country is not a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

Resources to Report Corruption

N/A

10. Political and Security Environment

There is not a history of civil unrest in Equatorial Guinea. Some report this is due to a severe limitation of political opposition and civil society, including freedom of assembly and expression. There have been, however, examples of politically-motivated violence. On October 27, 2018, four individuals detained and beat civil society leader and human rights activist of the CEIDGE. Initial reports suggested that security force members might have carried out the attack, mistaking the activist for his brother, a leader of an opposition party.

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has been in power since 1979. Equatorial Guinea does not have an established record of democratic transfer of power. In the week leading up to President Obiang’s re-election on April 24, 2016, there were reports that government security forces forcibly entered the headquarters of political opposition party Citizens for Innovation (CI) and seriously injured several opposition party members. Political activists who were arrested prior to the election have been subsequently released, although some remained in jail for over a year. Opposition members continue to report arrest, torture, and harassment, despite President Obiang securing another seven years in office.

In 2017, Equatoguinean authorities detained a large group of over one hundred CI opposition party members in the cities of Bata, Akonibe, and Malabo during the campaign period for municipal and legislative elections; thirty-one of them were sentenced to 41 years in prison in February 2018. They were subsequently released by a Presidential pardon in October 2018. A well-known Equatoguinean cartoonist and political activist was also detained in Malabo for six months until he was released from prison on March 8, 2018, after being acquitted of counterfeiting and money laundering due to false testimony by a police officer. An alleged foiled coup plot led to a campaign of massive arrests from December 2017 to March 2018 in the country and a trial of 117 individuals in the mainland city Bata between March and May 2019. The ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) announced on November 3, 2018, that it had expelled 42 members for alleged involvement in the coup. Security forces often used excessive force when implementing government restrictions designed to combat COVID-19 in 2020.

Government officials and members of the private sector have noted an increase in crime, including drug use and violent robberies, as the country’s recession continues. Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea also increased from 2018-2020, including within Equatorial Guinea’s territorial waters.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Equatorial Guinea has a consistent shortage of skilled labor. Unskilled labor is readily available. Youth unemployment is considered widespread but statistics are scarce. According to the government’s 2015 census, which was released in 2018, about 40 percent of the population were not formally working and about 16 percent were unemployed. Officials estimate that close to 50 percent of the country’s workforce participates in the informal economy. Foreign laborers make up an important segment of all sectors of the economy, but generally dominate skilled labor positions, including engineers, pilots, and doctors. Labor laws apply to both foreign and domestic laborers, though in practice rulings tend to favor locals over foreigners when resolving disputes.

The oil and gas industry claims to have a shortage of trained individuals. Companies in the oil and gas sector sponsor training programs, and the government sponsors a limited number of students for short- and long-term international training and academic programs. The industry and the government also run a National Technological Institute of Hydrocarbons, which has 50 students per cohort in a three-year program. The government and companies inaugurated a new building in Mongomo in 2019, after various years in Malabo and Bata.

The agriculture and fishing sectors have shrunk in past decades as the rural population declined 42 percent from 2001 to 2015, according to the government census, and some businesses claim to have a shortage of laborers. Cattle ranchers have brought in migrant workers from the Sahel region of Africa to work with imported cattle.

Despite challenges in finding skilled labor, various laws require hiring nationals. The National Content Law of Equatorial Guinea requires that oil companies hire seventy percent of nationals. Officials of the Ministry of Labor explained that according to the Labor Law (last updated in 2012 and under review for an update), the final target of the government is that 90 percent of workers should be nationals. They also underlined that for companies to fill a position there is a process through the Ministry. If no suitable domestic applicant is found in 30 days, then the company is free to hire a foreigner. Employers must make extensive severance payments even when employment demands fluctuate due to market conditions. Currently there is neither unemployment insurance nor other social safety net programs for workers laid off for economic reasons, though this has been a goal of the government for several years.

Compared to the United States, labor laws in the Republic of Equatorial Guinea are generally favorable toward the employee. Labor disputes may be heard by the congress or in the courts, and the decisions typically favor the employee. Aside from a union of small farmers and the taxi association, the Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea does not recognize any labor unions. Small collectives and associations are allowed to register with the government but do not carry out labor advocacy efforts. Collective bargaining is not common. There have not been any strikes during the last year that posed an investment risk and the government typically restricts the occurrence of strikes or protests.

Labor laws include provisions such as regulating industries in which minors may work, as well as requiring written contracts. Short-term contracts are limited to 24 months. Local government enforcement of labor laws is mostly focused on preventing companies from employing and exploiting unauthorized migrants. The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea has regulations to monitor health and safety standards and an inspection force, but some have criticized the effectiveness of their enforcement.

Labor laws differentiate between layoffs and firing (with severance). Unemployment insurance or other social safety net programs do not exist for workers laid off for economic reasons.

There are gaps in compliance in both law and practice with international labor standards. Although the Republic of Equatorial Guinea does not actively enforce internationally recognized labor rights, employees are generally not subjected to abusive work conditions. The government has been ranked Tier 3 in the annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report from 2011-2019, however, and has struggled to identify and combat forced and child labor. The government increased efforts to combat TIP in 2018 and 2019, including the creation of a national action plan and an online portal and hotline for people to anonymously report abuses. Despite this, businesses have noted that the government does not have an adequate labor inspectorate system to identify and remediate labor violations and hold violators accountable, investigate and prosecute unfair labor practices, such as harassment and/or dismissal of union members; nor to investigate and prosecute instances of forced and/or child labor. Reports indicate that violators are rarely held accountable, with both corruption and political patronage used to prevent enforcement of laws and regulations. The law prohibits certain kinds of discrimination, but many gaps are still recorded. The International Labor Organization (ILO) noted in 2018 “with deep concern that, for the last 12 years, the reports due on ratified Conventions have not been received” from the Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea. The ILO also offered technical assistance to complete the reports and respond to comments.

In 2020, a new labor law was being drafted, but there was no public information as of May 2020.

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

There currently are no Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) or Development Finance Corporation (DFC) programs in Equatorial Guinea. There is an OPIC agreement between Equatorial Guinea and the United States. OPIC financed a hundred million dollars for a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in 2000. There could be potential for DFC programs to support investments in infrastructure (including water and power), petrochemicals, and other industries.

There is significant investment financing or insurance for firms from China, and possibly Egypt and Morocco.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) N/A N/A 2018 $13,278 https://data.worldbank.org/
country/equatorial-guinea
 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2018 $908 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2018 -$3 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2018 102.7% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Data not available.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

Estonia

Executive Summary

Estonia is a safe and dynamic country for investment, with a business climate very similar to the United States. As a member of the EU, the Government of Estonia (GOE) maintains liberal policies in order to attract investments and export-oriented companies. Creating favorable conditions for foreign direct investment (FDI) and openness to foreign trade has been the foundation of Estonia’s economic strategy. The overall freedom to conduct business in Estonia is well protected under a transparent regulatory environment.

  • Estonia is among the leading countries in Eastern and Central Europe regarding FDI per capita. At the end of 2019, Estonia had attracted in total USD 27 billion (stock) of investment, of which 34 percent was made into the financial sector, 17.7 percent into real estate, 12 percent into manufacturing and 11 percent into wholesale and retail trade.
  • Estonia’s government has not yet set limitations on foreign ownership and foreign investors are treated on an equal footing with local investors, but the government is currently developing a framework to screen FDI. There are no investment incentives available to foreign investors.
  • While some corruption exists, it has not been a major problem faced by foreign investors.
  • The Estonian income tax system, with its flat rate of 21 percent, is considered one of the simplest tax regimes in the world. Deferral of corporate taxation payment shifts the time of taxation from the moment of earning the profits to that of their distribution. Undistributed profits are not subject to income taxation, regardless of whether these are reinvested or merely retained.
  • Estonia offers key opportunities for businesses in a number of economic sectors like information and communication technology (ICT), chemicals, wood processing, and biotechnology. Estonia has strong trade ties with Finland, Sweden and Germany.
  • Estonia suffers a shortage of labor, both skilled and unskilled.
Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 18 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2019 18 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 24 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in Partner Country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $393 https://statistika.eestipank.ee/
#/en/p/146/r/2293/2122
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $21,140 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Estonia is currently open for FDI and foreign investors are treated on an equal footing with local investors, though the government is developing a screening mechanism to adhere to the EU Foreign Investment Screening Regulation (Regulation 2019/452 ) entered into force on 10 April 2019. This new regulation will be applicable from 11 October 2020 and creates an information-sharing mechanism between Member States and allows Member States and the European Commission to comment on foreign investments foreseen in other Member States.

The Estonian Investment Agency (EIA), a part of Enterprise Estonia, is a government agency promoting foreign investments in Estonia and assisting international companies in finding business opportunities in Estonia. EIA offers comprehensive, one-stop investment consultancy services, free of charge. The agency’s goal is to increase awareness of business opportunities in Estonia and promote the image of Estonia as an attractive country for investments. More info: http://www.investinestonia.com/en/estonian-investment-agency/about-the-agency 

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Estonia’s government has not set limitations on foreign ownership. Licenses are required for foreign investors to enter the following sectors: mining, energy, gas and water supply, railroad and transport, waterways, ports, dams and other water-related structures and telecommunications and communication networks. The Estonian Financial Supervision Authority issues licenses for foreign interests seeking to invest in or establish a bank. Additionally, the Estonian Competition Authority reviews transactions for anti-competition concerns. Government review and licensing have proven to be routine and non-discriminatory.

As a member of the EU, the Government of Estonia (GOE) maintains liberal policies in order to attract investment and export-oriented companies. Creating favorable conditions for FDI and openness to foreign trade has been the foundation of Estonia’s economic strategy. Existing requirements are not intended to restrict foreign ownership but rather to regulate it and establish clear ownership responsibilities.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In 2019 the government had a third-party investment policy review (IPR) through the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).  The outcome showed Estonia’s economy is performing well and public finances are in excellent shape, yet growth is softening and spending pressures from infrastructure needs and an ageing population are mounting. The report said efforts should now focus on improving income equality and well-being, greening growth and accelerating the country’s digital transformation. Full report: http://www.oecd.org/economy/estonia-economic-snapshot.

Business Facilitation

The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report ranks Estonia in 18th place out of 190 countries on the ease of Starting a Business. Economic freedom, ease of doing business, per capita investments, the record-low national debt, euro zone membership, and low corruption scores – all these factors play a role in fostering a good climate for business facilitation.

In Estonia there are two ways to register your business:

  • Electronic registration via the e-Commercial Register’s Company Registration Portal (takes between 5 minutes and 1 business day)
  • Through a notary (takes 2-3 business days)

Access to the Register: https://www.eesti.ee/en/doing-business/establishing-a-company/comparison-of-each-form-of-business/ 

On July 1, 2014, an amended Taxation Act establishing the employment register entered into force, requiring all natural and legal employers to register the persons employed by them with the Estonian Tax and Customs Board.  The company must register itself as a value-added tax payer if the taxable turnover of the company, excluding imports of goods, exceeds EUR 40,000 as calculated from the beginning of the calendar year.

There are certain areas of activity (like construction, electrical works, fire safety, financial services, security services, etc.) in which business operation requires an additional registration in the Register of Economic Activities (MTR), but this can be done after registration of the company in the Commercial Register: https://mtr.mkm.ee/ 

International institutions and organizations give Estonia’s economic policies high marks. The Wall Street Journal/Heritage Foundation’s 2020 Index of Economic Freedom ranked Estonia 10th in the world. The index is a composite of scores in monetary policy, banking and finance, open markets, wages and prices. Full report: https://www.heritage.org/index/country/estonia  Estonia scores highly on this scale for investment freedom, fiscal freedom, financial freedom, property rights, business freedom, and monetary freedom.

The World Bank DB 2019 Starting a Business Score also ranks Estonia 18th in the world.  https://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings

Outward Investment

Estonia does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad nor does it promote outward investment. Estonia companies have invested abroad about USD 10 billion, mostly into EU countries. The main sectors for outward investments are services, manufacturing, real estate and financial.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Estonian BITs with third countries are available at the following link:

http://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/IIA/CountryBits/66#iiaInnerMenu 

A Bilateral Taxation Treaty with the U.S. came into force on January 1, 2000. The United States and Estonia signed a Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) agreement in April 2014.

List of agreements with the United States can be found at: http://www.vm.ee/en/countries/united-states-america?display=relations#agreements 

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Government of Estonia has set transparent policies and effective laws to foster competition and establish “clear rules of the game.” Despite these measures, due to the small size of Estonia’s commercial community, instances of favoritism are not uncommon.

Accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are transparent and consistent with international norms. Financial statements should be prepared in accordance with either:

  • accounting principles generally accepted in Estonia; or
  • International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) as adopted by the EU.

Listed companies and financial institutions are required to prepare financial statements in accordance with IFRS as adopted by the EU.

The Estonian Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) are written by the Estonian Accounting Standards Board (EASB).  Estonian GAAP, effective since 2013, is based on IFRS for Small and Medium-sized Entities (IFRS for SMEs) with limited differences from IFRS for SMEs with regard to accounting policies as well as disclosure requirements. More info: https://investinestonia.com/business-in-estonia/establishing-company/accounting-requirements/ 

The Minister of Justice has responsibility for promoting regulatory reform. The Legislative Quality Division of the Ministry of Justice provides an oversight and coordination function for Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) and evaluations with regards to primary legislation. For government strategies, EU negotiations and subordinate regulations, oversight responsibilities lie within the Government Office.

The government of Estonia has placed a strong focus on accessibility and transparency of regulatory policy by making use of online tools. There is an up-to-date database of all primary and subordinate regulations (https://www.riigiteataja.ee/en/ ) in an easily searchable format. An online information system tracks all legislative developments, and makes available RIAs and documents of legislative intent (http://eelnoud.valitsus.ee/main ). Estonia also established the website www.osale.ee , an interactive website of all ongoing consultations where every member of the public can submit comments and review comments made by others. Regulations are reviewed on the basis of scientific and data-driven assessments.

Estonia, an OECD member country, has committed at the highest political level to an explicit whole-of-government policy for regulatory quality and has established sufficient regulatory oversight. Estonia scores the same as the United States on the World Bank`s Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance on whether governments publish or consult with public about proposed regulations: http://rulemaking.worldbank.org/en/data/explorecountries/estonia   Estonia’s widely-praised “e-governance” solutions and other bureaucratic procedures are generally far more streamlined and transparent than those of other countries in the region and are among the easiest to use globally. In addition, Estonia’s budget and debt obligations are widely and easily accessible to the general public on the Ministry of Finance website.

International Regulatory Considerations

Estonia is a member of the EU.  An EU regulation is a legal act of the European Union that becomes immediately enforceable as law in all member states simultaneously. Regulations can be distinguished from directives which, at least in principle, need to be transposed into national law. Regulations can be adopted by means of a variety of legislative procedures depending on their subject matter. European Standards are under the responsibility of the European Standardization Organizations (CEN, CENELEC, ETSI) and can be used to support EU legislation and policies.

Estonia has been a member of WTO since 13 November 1999. Estonia is a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) since 2015.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Estonia’s judiciary is independent and insulated from government influence. The legal system in Estonia is based on the Continental European civil law model and has been influenced by the German legal system.  In contrast to common law countries, Estonia has detailed codifications.

Estonian law is divided into private and public law. Generally, private law consists of civil law and commercial law.  Public law consists of international law, constitutional law, administrative law, criminal law, financial law and procedural law.

Estonian arbitral tribunals can decide in cases of civil matters that have not previously been settled in court. More on Estonian court system: https://www.riigikohus.ee/en .  Arbitration is usually employed because it is less time consuming and cheaper than court settlements. The following disputes can be settled in arbitral tribunals:

–        Labor disputes;

–        Lease disputes;

–        Consumer complaints arguments;

–        Insurance conflicts;

–        Public procurement disputes;

–        Commercial and industrial disputes.

The Court of Arbitration of the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry serves as a permanent arbitration court to settle disputes arising from private law relationships, including foreign trade and other international business relations. More info: https://www.koda.ee/en/about-chamber/court-arbitration 

Recognition of court rulings of EU Member States is regulated by EU legislation. More: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2015/509988/IPOL_STU(2015)509988_EN.pdf 

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Estonia is part of the Continental European legal system (civil law system). The most important sources of law are legal instruments such as the Constitution, European Union law, international agreements and Acts and Regulations. Major laws affecting incoming foreign investment include: the Commercial Code, Taxation Act, Income Tax Act, Value Added Tax Act, Social Tax Act, Unemployment Insurance Payment Act. More information is available at https://www.riigiteataja.ee/en/ .  An overview of the investment-related regulations can be found: http://www.investinestonia.com/en/investment-guide/legal-framework 

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Estonian Competition Authority reviews transactions for anti-competition concerns. Government review and licensing have proven to be routine and non-discriminatory.

More info on specific competition cases: https://www.konkurentsiamet.ee/en

Expropriation and Compensation

Private property rights are observed in Estonia. The government has the right to expropriate for public interest related to policing the borders, public ports and airports, public streets and roads, supply to public water catchments, etc. Compensation is offered based on market value. Cases of expropriation are extremely rare in Estonia, and the Embassy is not aware of any expropriation cases involving discrimination against foreign owners.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Estonia has been a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) since 1992 and a member of the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards since 1993, meaning local courts are obliged to enforce international arbitration awards that meet certain criteria

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The Embassy is not aware of any claims under Estonia’s Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with the United States. Investment disputes concerning U.S. or other foreign investors in Estonia are rare.

In October 2014, AS Tallinna Vesi and its shareholder United Utilities (Tallinn) B.V., registered in the Kingdom of The Netherlands, commenced international arbitration proceedings against the Republic of Estonia for breach of the Agreement on the Encouragement and Reciprocal Protection of Investments between the Kingdom of The Netherlands and the Republic of Estonia. In June 2019 a majority of the arbitration tribunal decided to dismiss AS Tallinna Vesi´s and United Utilities (Tallinn) B.V.’s claims against the Republic of Estonia.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Arbitration Court of the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is a permanent arbitration court which settles disputes arising from contractual and other civil law relationships, including foreign trade and other international economic relations. More info: http://www.lawyersestonia.com/arbitration-in-estonia 

Recognition of court rulings of EU Member States is regulated by EU legislation. More: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2015/509988/IPOL_STU(2015)509988_EN.pdf 

Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards. The Embassy is not aware of any investment disputes involving SOEs.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Bankruptcy is not criminalized in Estonia.  Bankruptcy procedures in Estonia fall under the regulations of Bankruptcy Act that came into force in February 1997. The Estonian Bankruptcy Act focuses on the protection of the debtors and creditors’ rights. According to the Act, bankruptcy proceedings in Estonia can be compulsory, in which case a court will decide to commence the procedures for debt collection, or voluntarily by company reorganization. More info on bankruptcy procedures: http://www.lawyersestonia.com/bankruptcy-procedures-in-estonia 

The detailed information about the creditor’s rights: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/en/eli/ee/Riigikogu/act/504072016002/consolide 

More info from World Bank’s Doing Business Report on Estonian ranking for ease of “resolving insolvency” http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/estonia#resolving-insolvency 

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Estonia is open for FDI and foreign investors are treated on an equal footing with local investors. There are no investment incentives or government guarantees available to foreign investors.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Estonia’s Customs Act permits the government to establish free trade zones. Goods in a free trade zone are considered to be outside the customs territory. Value-added tax, excise, import and export duties (as well as possible fees for customs services) do not have to be paid on goods brought into free trade zones for later re-export.

In Estonia, there are four free trade zones: Muuga port (near Tallinn), Sillamae port (northeast Estonia), Paldiski north port (northwest Estonia) and in Valga (southern Estonia). All free trade zones are open for FDI on the same terms as Estonian investments.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

There are no specific performance requirements for foreign investments that differ from those required of domestic investments. The Estonian government does not mandate local employment or follow “forced localization” in which foreign investors must use domestic content in goods or technology.

Estonia continues to refine its immigration policies and practices. More info on work permits, visas, residence permits in Estonia: https://www.politsei.ee/en 

U.S. citizens are exempt from the quota regulating the number of immigration and residence permits issued, as are citizens of the EU and Switzerland.

There are no requirements for foreign IT service providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to surveillance (e.g., backdoors into hardware and software or turning over keys for encryption) or to maintain a certain amount of data storage in Estonia. There is no general requirement to register data processing activities in Estonia. Registration is required only if the data processor handles sensitive personal data.

The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) entered into force on May 25, 2018, with the goal of harmonizing the already existing data protection laws across Europe. The Estonian Personal Data Protection Act came into force on January 15, 2019.  More info: https://e-estonia.com/how-to-be-compliant-gdpr-5-steps/ 

Restrictions on transfer of data offshore:

Information on data transfer is available at: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/en/eli/523012019001/consolide  or by contacting

Estonian Data Protection Inspectorate
39 Tatari St., 10134 Tallinn
Tel: (+372) 627 4135.
https://www.aki.ee/en 

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Secured interests in property are recognized and enforced. Mortgages are quite common for both residential and commercial property and leasing as a means of financing is widespread and efficient.

The legal system protects and facilitates acquisition and disposition of all property rights, including land, buildings, and mortgages. As of 1 October 2011, land reform in Estonia was almost complete.  Restitution and privatization of lands commenced in 1991, but in almost every municipality there remain several complicated cases to be settled.  In total, less than 4 percent of the Estonian territory (waterbodies included) lacks a clear title.

Foreign individuals and companies are allowed to acquire real estate with the permission of the local authorities. There are legal restrictions on acquiring agricultural and woodland of 10 hectares or more, and permission from the county governor is needed.  Foreign individuals are not allowed to acquire land located on smaller islands, or listed territories adjacent to the Russian border.

Property may be taken from the owner without the owner`s consent only in the public interest, pursuant to a procedure provided by law, and for fair and immediate compensation. Everyone whose property has been taken from them without consent has the right to bring an action in the courts to contest the taking of the property, the compensation, or the amount of the compensation.

More info: http://www.globalpropertyguide.com/Europe/Estonia/Buying-Guide 

http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/data/exploreeconomies/estonia/registering-property#DB_rp 

http://www.lawyersestonia.com/purchase-a-property-in-estonia 

Intellectual Property Rights

Estonia maintains a robust intellectual property rights (IPR) regime. The quality of IP protection in legal structures is strong, enforcement is good, and infringement and theft are uncommon. Estonia adheres to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the Rome Convention, the Geneva Convention, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).  Estonian legislation fully complies with EU directives granting protection to authors, performing artists, record producers, and broadcasting organizations.  Equal protection against unauthorized use is provided via international conventions and treaties to foreign and Estonian authors.

Companies should recognize that IPR is protected differently in Estonia than in the United States, and U.S. laws do not protect IPR in Estonia.  Registration of patents and trademarks in Estonia is on a first-in-time, first-in-right basis, so companies should consider applying for trademark and patent protection before selling products or services in the Estonian market. IPR is primarily a private right, and the U.S. government generally cannot enforce rights for private individuals in Estonia.  It is the responsibility of the rights’ holders to register, protect, and enforce their rights where relevant, retaining their own counsel and advisors.  Companies may wish to seek advice from local attorneys or IPR consultants.

Estonia is not included in USTR’s Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.

Estonian Customs tracks and reports periodically on seizures of counterfeit goods.  In 2019, the Estonian Tax and Customs Board processed 249 cases involving counterfeit goods resulting in seizures of 10,013,641 items.  Most of the infringed goods were detected in mail, and the volume of goods seized per case was small.  The largest trademark-infringing commodity groups were footwear, clothes, accessories, toys, and electronics.  In Estonia, IPR crimes are prosecuted.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Estonia is a member of the Euro zone. Estonia’s financial sector is modern and efficient. Credit is allocated on market terms and foreign investors are able to obtain credit on the local market. The private sector has access to an expanding range of credit instruments similar in variety to those offered by banks in Estonia’s Nordic neighbors Finland and Sweden.

Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms. The Estonian capital markets are rather inactive as both stock and bond market liquidity has been in a downward trend for the past ten years.

The Security Market Law complies with EU requirements and enables EU securities brokerage firms to deal in the market without establishing a local subsidiary. The NASDAQ OMX stock exchanges in Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius form the Baltic Market, which facilitates cross-border trading and attracting more investments to the region. This includes sharing the same trading system and harmonizing rules and market practices, all with the aim of reducing the costs of cross-border trading in the Baltic region.

Certain investment services and products may be limited to U.S. persons in Estonia due to financial institutions’ response to the U.S. Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank).

Estonian financial services market overview:  https://www.fi.ee/en?id=12737 

IMF report on Estonia: https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/CR/Issues/2020/01/21/Republic-of-Estonia-2019-Article-IV-Consultation-Press-Release-Staff-Report-and-Statement-by-48963 

Money and Banking System

Estonia’s banking system has consolidated rapidly. Total assets of the commercial banks were approximately EUR 32 billion in early 2020. The banking sector is dominated by two major commercial banks, Swedbank and SEB, both owned by Swedish banking groups. These two banks control approximately 65 percent of the financial services market. The third largest bank is Luminor Bank. There are no state-owned commercial banks or other credit institutions.

More information is available at: http://statistika.eestipank.ee/#/en/p/FINANTSSEKTOR/147/645 

The Scandinavian-dominated Estonian banking system is modern and efficient. Local and international banks in Estonia provide both domestic and international services (including internet and mobile banking) at competitive rates, as well as a full range of financial, insurance, accounting, and legal services. Estonia has a highly advanced internet banking system: currently 98 percent of banking transactions are conducted via the internet.

The Bank of Estonia (Eesti Pank) is the independent central bank. As Estonia is part of the Euro zone, the core tasks of the Bank are to help to define the monetary policy of the European Community and to implement the monetary policy of the European Central Bank, including the circulation of cash in Estonia. Eesti Pank is also responsible for holding and managing Estonian official foreign exchange reserves as well as supervising overall financial stability and maintaining reliable and well-functioning payment systems. The Central Bank and the government hold no shares in the banking sector.

EU legislation requires Estonia to make its AML regime compliant with EU directives. Due to strict anti-money laundering (AML) regulations and bank compliance practices, it can be difficult for non-residents to open a bank account. More info on opening a bank account for investors: https://transferwise.com/gb/blog/opening-a-bank-account-in-estonia   Changes in local AML regulations and oversight are evolving following some large-scale money laundering cases through branches of Nordic banks uncovered in Estonia.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange Policies

Estonia has been a member of the euro currency area since 2011. There are no restrictions on currency transfers or conversion.

Remittance Policies

There are no restrictions, limitations or delays involved in converting or transferring funds associated with an investment (including remittances of investment capital, earnings, loan repayments, or lease payments) into other currencies at market rates. There is no limit on dividend distributions as long as they correspond to a company’s official earnings records. If a foreign company ceases to operate in Estonia, all its assets may be repatriated without restriction. These policies are long-standing; there is no indication that they will be altered in the future. Foreign exchange is readily available for any purpose.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

There are no sovereign wealth funds or state owned investment funds in Estonia.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

In Estonia SOEs are primarily engaged in the provision of services of strategic importance.

In early 2019, the Republic of Estonia held an interest in 29 companies of which 27 were solely owned by the state. The largest SOE`s are Eesti Energia (electricity production), Elering (electricity TSO), Estonian Railways, Tallinn Airport, and the Port of Tallinn.

The full list of SOEs is available at: https://www.eesti.ee/eng/contacts/riigi_osalusega_ariuhingud_1/riigi_osalusega_ariuhingud_2 

SOEs have assets worth about 6.6 billion euros, and they employ about 13,000 people.

Public enterprises operate on the same legal basis as private enterprises. Until recently SOEs had politically-appointed boards but today board members are appointed by an independent committee. SOEs are governed by the different ministries.

Competition and public procurement of SOEs is subject to EU law.  All SOEs have audited accounts. Large SOEs’ audits are publicly available on their websites.  The activities of the SOEs are also audited by the National Audit Office of Estonia, which conducts assessments and provides recommendations directly to the Parliament.

Privatization Program

Estonia’s privatization program is largely complete. Only a small number of enterprises remain wholly state-owned. There have been recent discussions on the political level about the possible listing of additional SOEs, such as Port of Tallinn and part of Eesti Energia.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The majority of OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises are incorporated into Estonian legislation. The non-profit organization, Responsible Business Forum in Estonia, aims to further corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Estonia, and is a partner in the CSR360 Global Partner Network. CSR360 (www.csr360gpn.org) is a network of independent organizations, which work as the interface of business and society to mobilize business towards socially responsible aims.

The Estonian Ministry of Economy and Communication works closely with CSR on educating private businesses and SOEs on responsible business conduct, recognizing best practices, and factoring RBC policies or practices into its procurement decisions. The American Chamber of Commerce in Estonia also maintains a Corporate Social Responsibility committee.

Government in general enforces the labor, human rights, employment rights, consumer protection, and environmental protection related laws effectively and these requirements cannot be waived to attract foreign investment. Estonia has adhered to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises since 2001. The National Contact Point can be accessed here:

https://www.mkm.ee/en/objectives-activities/economic-development/oecd-guidelines-and-surveillance%20 

Natural resource extraction related revenues, including mining licenses, are less than 0.6 percent of government budget revenues and less than 0.3 percent of the GDP.  The revenues are reflected in the national budget.

Here you can find a summary of the strength of minority shareholder protections against misuse of corporate assets by directors for their personal gain:  http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/estonia/protecting-minority-investors/ 

9. Corruption

Estonia has laws, regulations, and penalties to combat corruption, and while corruption is not unknown, it has generally not been reported to pose a major problem for foreign investors. Both offering and taking bribes are criminal offenses which can bring imprisonment of up to five years. While “payments” that exceed the services rendered are not unknown, and “conflict of interest” is not a well-understood issue, surveys of American and other non-Estonian businesses have shown the issue of corruption is not a serious concern.

In 2019, Transparency International (TI) ranked Estonia 18th out of 180 countries on its Corruption Perceptions Index.

Anti-corruption policy and implementation are coordinated by the Ministry of Justice and the strategy is implemented by all ministries and local governments.  The Internal Security Service is effective in investigating corruption offences and criminal misconduct, leading to the conviction of several high-ranking state officials. Until recently corruption was most commonly associated with public sector activities. Recently the government initiated efforts to educate private sector businesses about the risks of business-to-business corruption, for example within procurement activities.

Estonia cooperates in fighting corruption at the international level and is a member of GRECO (Group of States Against Corruption). Estonia is a party to both the Council of Europe (CoE) Criminal Law Convention on Corruption and the Civil Law Convention. The Criminal Law Convention requires criminalization of a wide range of national and transnational conduct, including bribery, money-laundering, and accounting offenses. It also incorporates provisions on liability of legal persons and witness protection. The Civil Law Convention includes provisions on compensation for damage relating to corrupt acts, whistleblower protection, and validity of contracts, inter alia.

More info on the corruption level in different sectors in Estonia can be found at: https://www.business-anti-corruption.com/country-profiles/estonia/

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

The UN Anticorruption Convention entered into force in Estonia in 2010. Estonia has been a full participant in the OECD Working Group on Bribery in International Business since 2004; the underlying Convention entered into force in Estonia in 2005. The Convention obligates Parties to criminalize bribery of foreign public officials in the conduct of international business.

The United States meets its international obligations under the OECD Anti-bribery Convention through the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Resources to Report Corruption

Government agency contacts responsible for combating corruption:

+372 6123657 Central Criminal Police corruption hotline

Or e-mail: korruptsioonivihje@politsei.ee

Transparency International in Estonia: http://www.transparency.org/whoweare/contact/org/nc_estonia 

10. Political and Security Environment

Civil unrest generally is not a problem in Estonia, and there have been no incidents of terrorism. Public gatherings and demonstrations may occur on occasion in response to political issues, but these have proceeded, with very few exceptions, without incidence of violence in the past.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Estonia has a small population – 1.31 million people. The average monthly Estonian salary at the end of 2019 was about USD 1,700. About 75 percent of the workforce is employed in the services sector. With an aging population and a negative birth rate, Estonia, like many other countries of Central and Eastern Europe, faces demographic challenges affecting its long-term supply of labor. Improving labor efficiency is a key focus for Estonia in the short-to-mid-term.  At the end of 2019, the unemployment rate was 4.4 percent but it is expected to increase significantly in 2020 due to the Covid-19 crisis.  More on the labor market: http://www.eestipank.ee/en/publications/series/labour-market-review 

The Law of Obligations Act, the Individual Labor Dispute Resolution Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act address employment and labor issues.  Labor laws may not be waived in order to attract or retain investment. Labor laws are generally strict, and the principle of employee protection is applied in which the worker is considered the economically weaker party. Upon termination of an employment contract due to a lay-off, an employer must pay an employee compensation in the amount of one month’s average wage. In addition, an insurance benefit shall be paid to an employee by the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund depending on the length of service. More info: https://www.oecd.org/els/emp/Estonia.pdf 

Trade union membership remains low compared to most countries in the EU. Estonia has ratified all eight ILO Core Conventions.

Estonian labor regulations on labor abuses, health and safety standards, labor disputes etc. are effectively monitored by the Estonian Labor Inspectorate: http://www.ti.ee/en/ 

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

Estonia has a bilateral agreement with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the predecessor agency to the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC).

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical Source USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $31,150 2019 $30,900 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in Partner Country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $393 2018 $76 www.bea.gov 
Host Country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $205 2018 N/A www.bea.gov 
Total Inbound Stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 88% 2019 80.3% https://unctad.org/sections/dite_dir/
docs/wir2019/wir19_fs_ee_en.pdf
 
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 $27,393 100% Total Outward $10,763 100%
Sweden $6,542 24% Lithuania $2,860 26.6%
Finland $6,330 23% Latvia $2,362 22%
Netherlands $1,741 6.4% Cyprus $1,255 12%
Luxembourg $1,378 5% Finland $824 7.7%
Lithuania $1,174 4.3% Ukraine $309 2.9%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 15,519 100% All Countries 4,441 100% All Countries 11,078 100%
International Organizations 5,726 37% Luxembourg 1,239 28% International Organizations 5,726 52%
Luxembourg 2,374 15% U.S. 667 15% Luxembourg 1,135 10%
U.S 996 6.4% Ireland 740 16.7% Lithuania 595 5%
Ireland 802 5% Finland 368 8.3% Germany 423 4%
Finland 685 4.4% Sweden 203 4.5% France 329 3%

Source: Bank of Estonia, IMF http://data.imf.org/regular.aspx?key=60587804 

Eswatini

Executive Summary

Eswatini is a landlocked kingdom in Southern Africa. Although the official government policy is to encourage foreign investment as a means to drive economic growth, the pace of reforming investment policies is slow. Following a September 2018 general election, a new Prime Minister and cabinet (including several former CEOs and others with significant private sector experience) took office and assumed the task of turning around Eswatini’s economy. The Eswatini Investment Promotion Authority (EIPA) advocates for foreign investors and facilitates regulatory approval but lacks the political clout to achieve its core functions. Recent positive developments include the country’s January 2018 reinstatement under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the enactment of the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act and updated intellectual property legislation, and improvements in the 2019 Ease of Doing Business rankings.

The Swati government has prioritized the energy sector, particularly renewable energy, and developed a Grid Code and Renewable Energy and Independent Power Producer (RE&IPP) Policy to create a transparent regulatory regime and attract investment. Eswatini generally imports 80 percent of its power from South Africa and Mozambique. With both South Africa and Mozambique experiencing electricity shortages, Eswatini is working to increase its own energy generation using renewable sources. To that end, the country has launched a small handful of new photovoltaic projects. Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) is also an emerging sector, which Eswatini has tried to support through initiatives such as e-governance and the Royal Science and Technology Park. The digital migration program of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) presents ICT opportunities in the country.

Incentives to invest in Eswatini include repatriation of profits, fully serviced industrial sites, purpose-built factory shells at competitive rates, and duty exemptions on raw materials for manufacture of goods to be exported outside the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). Financial incentives for all investors include tax allowances and deductions for new enterprises, including a 10-year exemption from withholding tax on dividends and a low corporate tax rate of 10 percent for approved investment projects. New investors also enjoy duty-free import of machinery and equipment. SEZ investors may benefit from a 20-year exemption from all corporate taxation (followed by taxation at 5 percent); full refunds of customs duties, value-added tax, and other taxes payable on goods purchased for use as raw material, equipment, machinery, and manufacturing; unrestricted repatriation of profits; and full exemption from foreign exchange controls for all operations conducted within the SEZ.

Royal family involvement in the mining sector has discouraged potential investors in that sector. Eswatini’s land tenure system, where the majority of rural land is “held in trust for the Swati nation,” has discouraged long-term investment in commercial real estate and agriculture.

Recent legislative reforms such as the enactment of the new Public Order Act and Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence Act have meaningfully improved the country’s legal framework. After requalifying as an AGOA beneficiary in January 2018, Eswatini turned its attention to trying to qualify for Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) support. To advance these efforts, the country has launched an effort to improve its relatively poor rankings on MCC indicators such as political rights, civil liberties, and business start-up.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 113 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 121 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 Eswatini not included https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) N/A N/A https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $3,930 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini (GKoE) regards foreign direct investment (FDI) as one of the five pillars of its Sustainable Development and Inclusive Growth (SDIG) Program, and a means to drive the country’s economic growth, obtain access to foreign markets for its exports, and improve international competitiveness. While the government has strongly encouraged foreign investment over the past 15 years, it only recently adopted a formal strategy for achieving measurable progress. Eswatini does not have a unified policy on investment. Instead, individual ministries have their own investment facilitation policies, which include policies on Small and Medium Enterprises (SME), agriculture, energy, transportation, mining, education, and telecommunications. Calls for more concerted action on these policies have intensified in the last few years as Eswatini has suffered from drought, fiscal challenges, and general economic recession.

The Swati constitution states, generally, that non-citizens and/or companies with a majority of non-citizen shareholders may not own land unless they were vested in their ownership rights before the constitution entered into force in 2006. On the other hand, the constitution’s general prohibition “may not be used to undermine or frustrate an existing or new legitimate business undertaking of which land is a significant factor or base.” Furthermore, non-citizens and non-citizen majority-owned companies may hold long-term (up to 99 years) leases on Title and Swati Nation Land. Besides land ownership laws, there are no laws that discriminate against foreign investors. In 2019, the government listed some of its title deed land to make it available for long-term leasing for commercial purposes.

In practice, most successful foreign investors associate local partners to navigate Eswatini’s complex bureaucracy. Most of the country’s land is Swati Nation Land held by the king “in trust for the Swati Nation” and cannot be purchased by foreign investors. Foreign investors that require significant land for their enterprise must engage the Land Management Board to negotiate long-term leases.

The Eswatini Investment Promotion Authority (EIPA) is the state-owned enterprise (SOE) charged with designing and implementing strategies for attracting desired foreign investors.

Eswatini’s Investment Policy and policies that support the business environment are online at https://investeswatini.org.sz/legal-and-regulatory-framework/  (EIPA is currently functional and helpful, but it is not yet a one-stop-shop for foreign investors. EIPA services include: – Attract and promote local and foreign direct investments

  • Attract and promote local and foreign direct investments
  • Identify and disseminate trade and investment opportunities
  • Provide investor facilitation and aftercare services
  • Promote internal and external trade
  • Undertake research and policy analysis
  • Facilitate company registration and business licenses/permits
  • Facilitate work permits and visas for investors
  • Provide a one stop shop information and support facility for businesses
  • Export product development
  • Facilitation of participation in external trade fairs
  • BuyerSeller Missions

The GKoE continues its attempts to improve the ease of doing business in the country through the Investor Roadmap Unit (IRU). The IRU engages with businesses and government to review and report on the progress and implementation of the investor roadmap reforms.

EIPA has an aftercare division for purposes of investment retention, which is a direct avenue for investors to communicate concerns they may have. Most investors who stay beyond the initial period during which the GKoE offers investment incentives have opted to remain long-term.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Both foreign and domestic private entities have a right to establish businesses and acquire and dispose of interest in business enterprises. Foreign investors own several of Eswatini’s largest private businesses, either fully or with minority participation by Swati institutions.

There are no general limits on foreign ownership and control of companies, which can be 100 percent foreign owned and controlled. The only exceptions on foreign ownership and control are in the mining sector and in relation to land ownership. The Mines and Minerals Act of 2011 requires that the King (in trust for the Swati Nation) be granted a 25-percent equity stake in all mining ventures, with another 25 percent equity stake granted to the GKoE. There are also sector-specific trade exclusions that prohibit foreign control, which include business dealings in firearms, radioactive material, explosives, hazardous waste, and security printing.

Foreign investments are screened only through standard background and credit checks. Under the Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism (Prevention) Act of 2011, investors must submit certain documents including proof of residence and source of income for deposits. EIPA also conducts general screening of FDI monies through credit bureau checks and Interpol. This screening is not a barrier to investing in Eswatini. There are no discriminatory mechanisms applied against US foreign direct investors.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In 2015, the WTO performed a Trade Policy Review of the Southern African Customs Union, which included Namibia, Botswana, Eswatini, South Africa, and Lesotho. In 2016, the Trade facilitation agreement was ratified Eswatini’s portion of that review is available online: https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/archive_e/country_arc_e.htm?country1=SWZ 

Business Facilitation

Eswatini does not have a single overarching business facilitation policy. Policies that address business facilitation are spread across the spectrum of relevant ministries. The IRMU is the public entity responsible for the review and monitoring of business environment reforms. EIPA facilitates foreign and domestic investment opportunities and has a fairly modern, up-to-date website: https://investeswatini.org.sz / . Certain GKoE application forms are available online at the EIPA website. Recent developments in the business facilitation space include the online registration of companies via the link www.online.gov.sz . However, some of the steps (payment of statutory fees and registration fee) still must be completed offline. According to the Doing Business Report, the process of registering a company in Eswatini takes approximately 10 days. In practice, the process can take much longer for foreign investors.

The main organization representing the private sector is Business Eswatini (www.business-eswatini.co.sz ), which represents more than 80 percent of large businesses in Eswatini, works on a wide range of issues of interest to the private sector, and seeks to build partnerships with the government to promote commercial development. Through Business Eswatini, the private sector is represented in a number of national working committees, including the National Trade Negotiations Team (NTNT).

Outward Investment

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

In general, the laws of the country are transparent, including laws to foster competition. The Swaziland Competition Act came into force in 2007, and the Competition Commission Regulations came into effect in 2011. The Swaziland Competition Commission (SCC) is a statutory body charged with the administration and enforcement of the Competition Act of 2007. The legal and regulatory environment is underdeveloped, but currently growing as the GKoE has recently established additional regulatory bodies in the financial, energy, communications, and construction procurement sectors. These bodies generally attempt to emulate the regulatory practices of South Africa or Britain.

Eswatini’s rule-making and regulatory authority lies with the central government and may be delegated by the relevant line ministry to a department, parastatal, or board. The primary custodian of policy and regulation is the minister responsible for the relevant law. All laws, regulations, and policies are applied at a national level. There are no regulatory processes managed by nongovernmental organizations or private sector associations. Regulatory enforcement actions can be reviewed through the court system, and court rulings are publicly available.

Adherence to the International Financial Reporting Standard (IFRS) is required for listed companies, financial institutions, and government-owned companies. It remains optional for small and medium enterprises.

Proposed laws and regulations are published in the government Gazette and have a public comment period of thirty days prior to a bill’s presentation to parliament. Ministries sometimes consult with selected members of the public and private sectors through stakeholder meetings. Most draft regulations are not available online, but can be acquired in hard copy through the government printing office for a fee. Regulations are generally developed and reviewed through various stakeholder consultations. The use of science and data to inform regulatory reform is not widespread.

Foreign investors coming into the country can join Business Eswatini on equal footing with Eswatini nationals. Business Eswatini often serves as the link between the private sector and the government. There are no informal regulatory processes that apply to foreign investors.

Eswatini public finance and debt obligations are published online through the budget estimates book as well as the Central Bank of Eswatini’s annual report.

International Regulatory Considerations

Eswatini is part of four distinct economic blocks: the Common Monetary Area (CMA), the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). The standards of membership in these blocks are primarily based on British law and have been domesticated accordingly into each context.

Eswatini is a member of the WTO and notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade. Eswatini signed and ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in 2016 and has begun implementing its requisites. The TFA entered into force in February 2017 and requires prompt and transparent publication of trade-related information. Eswatini developed a trade portal in partnership with the World Bank to make reliable trade-related information accessible to the private sector. The GKoE approved the portal, which now is at the data collection stage.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Eswatini has a dual legal system consisting of a set of courts that follow Roman-Dutch law and a set of national courts that follow Swati law and custom. The former consists of a Court of Appeals (Supreme Court) and a High Court, in addition to magistrate’s courts in each of the four districts. The traditional courts deal with minor offenses and violations of traditional Swati law and custom. Sentences in traditional courts are subject to appeal and review at the Court of Appeals and High Court. The western-style court system enforces contracts and property rights.

The country has various written commercial and contractual laws. Commercial and contractual disputes are handled in the magistrate court or High Court depending on the amount in controversy. There are currently no specialized commercial courts; however, the government is in the process of establishing a Small Claims Bench. Specialized Industrial Courts hear industrial relations matters.

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the courts are generally independent of executive control or influence in nonpolitical criminal and civil cases not involving the royal family or government officials. The current judicial process is procedurally competent, fair, and reliable, although the capacity of the judiciary to handle cases in a timely manner is extremely limited, creating significant case backlogs.

Enforcement of laws and regulations is appealable up to the Supreme Court.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Swaziland Investment Promotion Act of 1998 established EIPA and provides for the freedom of investment, protection of investment, and non-discrimination on the part of the government with respect to investors. The Competition Act of 2007 proscribes anti-competitive trade practices and specifies requirements for mergers and acquisitions, and protection of consumer welfare. The new economic recovery strategy (Revised National Development Strategy) has emphasized the need to promote further reforms in order to facilitate investment.

In February 2018, the GKoE enacted the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act in an effort to attract foreign direct investment. The benefits for an SEZ investor include: a 20-year exemption from all corporate taxation, followed by taxation at the rate of 5 percent; full refunds of customs duties, value-added tax, and all other taxes payable in respect of goods purchased for use as raw material, equipment, machinery, and manufacturing; unrestricted repatriation of profits; and full exemption from foreign exchange controls for all operations conducted within the SEZ.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Swaziland Competition Commission (SCC) was established in 2007 to encourage competition in Eswatini’s economy by controlling anti-competitive trade practices, mergers, and acquisitions; protecting consumer welfare; and providing an institutional mechanism for implementing these objectives. The Swaziland Competition Act (http://www.compco.co.sz/documents/Competition%20Act%202007%20scanned18%20Februry%202010.pdf ) and Competition Commission Regulations (http://www.compco.co.sz/documents/Competition%20Commission%20Regulations%20Notice%202010.pdf ) are available online. All entities must submit their merger and acquisition plans to the SCC for prior approval. The SCC has the power to not only investigate and regulate, but also to issue administrative decisions relating to mergers, competition, and anti-trust. There have been no rulings against foreign investors since the establishment of the Swaziland Competition Commission.

Expropriation and Compensation

The law prohibits expropriation and nationalization. The Swati constitution narrowly limits the GKoE’s powers to deprive a landowner of “property or any interest in or right over property,” except where “necessary,” conducted pursuant to a court order, and compensated by the “prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation.” Anyone whose property interests are threatened by expropriation is also expressly granted due process rights under the constitution. There have been no recent cases of foreign-owned businesses being expropriated, and, when disputes have arisen in the past, there has been due process through Swati institutions and/or international tribunals.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Eswatini is a member state of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention). It is not a signatory to the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. There is no specific legislation providing for enforcement of awards under international conventions, but the Swati legal system has effectively enforced court decisions and international arbitration awards in the past.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Eswatini is a member state of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). Eswatini, as a member of SACU, signed a Trade, Investment and Development Cooperative Agreement in 2008 with the United States. There have been no claims under this agreement.

There have been at least two major investment disputes involving foreign investors in the past ten years, but none involving U.S. citizens.

The Eswatini government accepts binding international arbitration of investment disputes between foreign investors and the state. All government agreements with international investors/parties include venue and choice of law provisions. Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government, but do not have jurisdiction against the king, who is constitutionally protected.

Eswatini has not had any reported incidents of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The only alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanism available to settle disputes between two private parties is in the labor sector. The Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration Commission (CMAC), which is governed by the Industrial Relations Act of 2000, resolves employer-employee disputes. Eswatini does not have a domestic arbitration body to deal with investment or commercial disputes.

Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards and judgments of foreign courts.

SOEs are rarely involved in investment disputes. In the last 10 years, there has been only one such dispute involving an SOE (telecommunications), and it was a trade restraint matter in which the SOE lost the case. There have not been any complaints about the court processes, and court records are available online for public scrutiny at: https://www.swazilii.org/ .

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Insolvency Act of 1955 is the law that governs bankruptcy in Eswatini. The insolvent debtor or his agent petitions the court for the acceptance of the surrender of the debtor’s estate for the benefit of his creditors. Creditors need to petition with the court and provide documents supporting their claim. Bankruptcy is only criminalized if the debtor, trustee, or sole owner does not comply with the requirements of the creditor. For example, if he/she fails to submit documents or declare assets, or if he/she obstructs or hinders a liquidator appointed under the Act in the performance of his functions, then he/she could be found guilty of an offense.

The most widely used credit bureau in Eswatini is Transunion.

In the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report, Eswatini ranks 121 out of 190 economies for ease of resolving insolvency.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

SEZ investors have access to numerous investment incentives more fully described above in “Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment” and below in “Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation.” For non-SEZ investors, the Minister of Finance has the discretion to apply a reduced tax rate of 10 percent for the first ten-year period of operation, which is available for businesses that qualify under the Development Approval Order. Capital goods imported into the country for productive investments are exempt from import duties. Raw materials imported into the country to manufacture products to be exported outside the SACU area are also exempt from import duties. The law allows for repatriation of profits and dividends including salaries for expatriate staff and capital repayments. The Central Bank of Eswatini guarantees loans raised by investors for export markets. There is also provision of loss cover that a company can carry over in case it incurs a loss in the year of assessment. Eswatini has a human resources training rebate that offers a tax credit for 150 percent of the cost of training.

The GKoE issues guarantees for key sectors like transportation and energy. There have been no reports of government jointly financing FDI projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

In February 2018, the GKoE enacted the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act in an effort to attract foreign direct investment. The Act establishes two designated SEZs: the Royal Science and Technology Park and King Mswati III International Airport. According to the Act, investors may establish additional SEZs outside of these designated areas by satisfying the minimum requirements and submitting an application to the Minister of Commerce. Under the Act, foreign-owned firms have the same investment opportunities as Swati entities.

To operate within an SEZ, a beneficiary company must meet the following minimum requirements (among others): at least 90 percent of its employees must be paid at or above the threshold for income taxation (approximately USD 330/month); at least two thirds of its employees must be Swati citizens; and the minimum capital investment must be E30 million (USD 2.1 million) for sole companies and E70 million (USD 5 million) for joint ventures. The benefits for an SEZ investor include: a 20-year exemption from all corporate taxation, followed by taxation at the rate of 5 percent; full refunds of customs duties, value-added tax, and all other taxes payable in respect of goods purchased for use as raw material, equipment, machinery, and manufacturing; unrestricted repatriation of profits; and full exemption from foreign exchange controls for all operations conducted within the SEZ.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security’s Training and Localization Unit requires the hiring of qualified Swati workers where possible, even at executive positions. The mandate of the Unit is to ensure the maximum utilization of local manpower resources and to formulate training plans in conjunction with industries so as to maximize employment. It also facilitates and provides information on the process of obtaining work permits. Foreign investors are required to apply for residence and work permits. Although they are generally awarded, business people complain that the process is cumbersome.

There are no government-imposed conditions on permission to invest. The government does not follow a “forced localization” policy. However, in the manufacturing sector, if a company plans to label a product for export as “Made in Eswatini,” the government requires that the local content of such export be at least 25 percent.

There are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code or provide access to encryption. The technology industry in Eswatini is still in its infancy.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

There are two major categories of land tenure: Swati Nation Land (SNL) and Title Deed Land (TDL), each subject to different rules and procedures. More than 60 percent of Eswatini’s territory is SNL, governed by the country’s traditional structures. SNL is “held in trust for the Swati people” by the King, who appoints chiefs to oversee its use. The chiefs keep records of who “owns” or resides on land in their chiefdom. For TDL, the Eswatini government recognizes and enforces secured interest in property and there is a reliable system of recording security interests. The Constitution protects the right to own property, but most rural land is SNL and is not covered by this constitutional protection. Most urban property, on the other hand, is TDL. The law allows for eminent domain in limited circumstances, but requires prompt payment of adequate compensation.

In the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report, Eswatini ranks 104 out of 190 economies for ease of registering property. This ranking refers to property in periurban areas, where TDL is widely available. SNL is not titled, and lending institutions are reluctant to use it as collateral. Though foreign or non-resident individuals generally may not own land (with some exceptions), foreign-owned businesses are able to own or lease land. Legally purchased property cannot revert to other owners (must be “willing buyer, willing seller”).

Intellectual Property Rights

Protection for patents, trademarks, and copyrights is currently inadequate under Swati law. Patents are currently protected under a 1936 act that automatically extends patent protection, upon proper application, to products that have been patented in either South Africa or Great Britain. Trademark protection is addressed in the Trademarks Act of 1981. Copyright protections are addressed under four statutes, dated 1912, 1918, 1933, and 1936.

Laws enacted in 2018 have updated Eswatini’s intellectual property legal framework. The Copyright and Neighboring Rights Act of 2014 (replacing the Copyright Act of 1912) protects literary, musical, artistic, audio-visual, sound recordings, broadcasts, and published editions. It also criminalizes illicit recording and false representation of someone else’s work. The Act also gives the duration of copyright among other things. The Swaziland Intellectual Property Tribunal Act of 2015 establishes an Intellectual Property Tribunal, which will be responsible for hearing all matters and disputes involving intellectual property in Eswatini.

The Trademarks (Amendment) Act of 2015 brings the (1981) Trademarks Act into compliance with provisions of the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), the Madrid Agreement concerning International Registration of Marks, and the Banjul Protocol on Trademarks.

Eswatini does not track and report on seizures of counterfeit goods. Eswatini is not listed on theUnited States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.. For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Eswatini’s capital markets are closely tied to those of South Africa and operate under conditions generally similar to the conditions in that market. In 2010, the GKoE passed the Securities Act to strengthen the regulation of portfolio investments. The Act was primarily intended to facilitate and develop an orderly, fair, and efficient capital market in the country.

Eswatini has a small stock exchange with only a handful of companies currently trading. In 2010, the Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA) was established. This institution governs non-bank financial institutions including capital markets, insurance firms, retirement funds, building societies, micro-finance institutions, and savings and credit cooperatives. The royal wealth fund and national pension fund invest in the private equity market, but otherwise there are few professional investors.

Existing policies neither inhibit nor facilitate the free flow of financial resources. The demand is simply not present. The Central Bank respects International Monetary Fund (IMF) Article VIII. Credit is allocated on market terms. Foreign investors are able to get credit and equity from the local market. A variety of credit instruments are available to the private sector including Central Bank of Eswatini loan guarantees for the export markets and for small businesses.

Money and Banking System

54 percent of the Swati adult population is banked. Despite a slow rate of economic growth, the Swati banking sector remains stable and financially sound. Asset quality improved as the ratio of non-performing loans (NPLs) to gross loans, moved from 8.2 percent in 2017 to 7.7 percent in 2018.

54 percent of the Swati adult population is banked. Despite a slow rate of economic growth, the Swati banking sector remains stable and financially sound. Asset quality improved as the ratio of non-performing loans (NPLs) to gross loans, moved from 8.2 percent in 2017 to 7.7 percent in 2018.

The estimated total assets for the country’s banks is estimated at E19.4 billion (USD 1.4 billion) as at June 2018, up from E17.9 billion (USD 1.3 billion) in March 2017. Eswatini has a central bank system. Eswatini’s banks are primarily subsidiaries of South African banks. Standard Bank is the largest bank by capital assets and employs about 400 workers. In 2018, the Central Bank of Eswatini under the Financial Institutions Act of 2005 awarded a new commercial banking license to Farmer’s Bank.

Eswatini’s financial sector is liberalized and allows foreign banks or branches to operate under the supervision of the Central Bank’s laws and regulations (http://www.centralbank.org.sz/financialregulation/banksupervision/index.php ). Foreigners may establish a bank account in Eswatini if they have residency in one of the CMA countries (Eswatini, South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia).

There have been no bank closures or banks in jeopardy in the last three years. Hostile takeovers are uncommon.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

There are no limitations on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances. Dividends derived from current trading profits are freely transferable on submission of appropriate documentation to the Central Bank, subject to provision for the non-resident shareholder tax of 15 percent. Local credit facilities may not be utilized for paying dividends. Eswatini is part of the Common Monetary Area (CMA), which also includes South Africa, Namibia, and Lesotho. All capital transfers into Eswatini from outside the CMA require prior approval of the Central Bank to avoid problems in the subsequent repatriation of interest, dividends, profits, and other income accrued. Otherwise, there are no restrictions placed on the transfers.

Eswatini mainly deals with three international currencies: the U.S. Dollar, the Euro, and the British Pound. The Swati Lilangeni is pegged 1:1 to the South African Rand, which is accepted as legal tender throughout Eswatini. To obtain foreign currency other than Rand, one must apply through an authorized dealer, and a resident who acquires foreign currency must sell it to an authorized dealer for the local currency within ninety days. No person is permitted to hold or deal in foreign currency other than authorized dealers, namely, First National Bank (FNB), Nedbank, Standard Bank, or Swazi Bank.

Because the Lilangeni is pegged to the Rand, its value is determined by the monetary policy of the CMA, which is heavily influenced by the South African Reserve Bank.

Remittance Policies

There have been no recent changes to investment remittance policies. There are no specified time limitations on remittances. Once documentation is complete (e.g., latest company financial statements) and relevant taxes paid, SWIFT transfers require an average of one week, and other electronic transfers can take less than a week (SWIPPS offers real-time transactions).

SWIPSS, Eswatini’s Real Time Gross Settlement System, is an advanced interbank electronic payment system that facilitates the efficient, safe, secure and real-time transmission of high-value funds in the banking sector. Direct access to SWIPSS is limited to only the four commercial banks, and these banks act as intermediaries for other financial institutions.

As part of the government policy to attract foreign investment, dividends derived from current trading profits are freely transferable on submission of documentation (including latest annual financial statements of the company concerned) subject to provision for non-resident shareholders tax. The Eswatini government does not issue dollar-denominated bonds. Otherwise, there are no limitations on the inflow and outflow of funds for remittances of profits or revenue.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

In 1968, the late King Sobhuza II created a Royal Charter that governs the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) in Eswatini, Tibiyo TakaNgwane. This fund is not subject to government or parliamentary oversight and does not provide information on assets or financial performance to the public. Tibiyo TakaNgwane publishes an annual report with financials, but it is not required by law to do so as it is not registered under the Companies Act of 1912. The annual reports are not made public or submitted to any other state organ for debate or review. The SWF obtains independent audits at the discretion of its Board of Directors.

Tibiyo TakaNgwane states in its objectives that it supports the government in fostering economic independence and self-sufficiency. It widely invests in the economy and holds shares in most major industries, e.g., sugar, real estate, beverages, dairy, hotels, and transportation. For its social responsibility practices, it provides some scholarships to students. The SWF and the government co-invest to exercise majority control in many instances. Tibiyo TakaNgwane invests entirely in the local economy and local subsidiaries of foreign companies. It has shares in a number of private companies. Sometimes foreign companies can form partnerships with Tibiyo, especially if the foreign company wants to raise capital and can manage the project on its own.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Eswatini has over 30 SOEs, which are active in agribusiness, information and communication, energy, automotive and ground transportation, health, housing, travel and tourism, building education, business development, finance, environment, and publishing, media, and entertainment .

The Swati government defines SOEs as private enterprises, separated into two categories. Category A represents SOEs that are wholly owned by government. Category B represents SOEs in which government has a minority interest, or which monitor other financial institutions or a local government authority. These categories are further broken down into profit-making SOEs with a social responsibility focus, those that are profit-making and developmental, those that are regulatory, and those that are regulatory but developmental. SOEs purchase and supply goods and services to and from the private sector including foreign firms. Those in which government is a minority shareholder are subject to the same tax burden and tax rebate policies as the private sector. The Public Enterprise Act governs SOEs. The Boards of the respective SOEs review their budgets before tabling them to the relevant line ministry, which, in turn, tables them to Parliament for scrutiny by the Public Accounts Committee. The Ministry of Finance’s Public Enterprise Unit (PEU) maintains a published list of SOEs, available on request from the PEU. SOEs do not receive non-market based advantages from government.

Eswatini SOEs generally conform to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance for SOEs. Senior managers of SOEs report to the board and, in turn, the board reports to a line minister. The minister then works with the Standing Committee on Public Enterprise (SCOPE), which is composed of cabinet ministers. SOEs are governed by the Public Enterprises Act, which requires audits of the SOEs and public annual reports. Government is not involved in the day-to-day management of SOEs. Boards of SOEs exercise their independence and responsibility. The Public Enterprise Unit provides regular monitoring of SOEs. The line minister of the SOE appoints the board and, in some cases, the appointments are politically motivated. In some cases, the king appoints his own representative as well. Generally, court processes are nondiscriminatory in relation to SOEs.

A published list of SOEs can be found on: http://www.gov.sz/index.php/component/content/article/141-test/1995-swaziland-enterprise-parastatals?Itemid=799 

Eswatini SOEs operate primarily in the domestic market.

Privatization Program

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has long advised the Eswatini government to privatize SOEs, particularly in the telecommunications sector and the electricity sector. In response, the government has passed several laws, and privatization efforts have begun to advance. The past two years have seen the launch of several private telecommunications companies such as Swazi Mobile, which has lowered prices and improved mobile and data offerings in the country.

Sectors and timelines have not been prioritized for future privatization, although it is likely that some SOEs following the public launch of the Revised National Development Strategy.

The government is working to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign electricity by promoting renewable energy production. Eswatini imports the bulk of its electricity from South Africa and Mozambique, reaching 100 percent importation during a recent drought, since domestic production comes predominantly from hydropower. With assistance from USAID’s Southern Africa Energy Program (SAEP), the government has developed a National Grid Code and a Renewable Energy and Independent Power Producer (RE&IPP) Policy to provide a framework for the sector and incentivize investors. SAEP is currently providing technical assistance on a 10-megawatt photovoltaic projects that are projected to integrate into the grid by late 2020.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The Swati government encourages foreign and local enterprises to follow generally accepted responsible business conduct (RBC) principles. Multinational enterprises in the country have robust standards for RBC, and consumers often recognize their efforts; however, smaller domestic companies are less likely to have RBC programs. The Development Approval Order, which is part of the income tax law, allows a company to receive a tax rate discounted by up to 10 percent if it makes significant RBC investments. Government enforcement is sporadic, but generally does not vary based on whether a company is domestic or foreign. Requirements are not waived to attract foreign investment. The government does not have corporate governance, accounting, and executive compensation standards to protect shareholders. There are no independent NGOs monitoring RBC.

The local courts are responsible for ensuring human rights, labor rights, consumer protection, environmental protections, and other laws/regulations intended to protect individuals from adverse business impacts. The courts have not demonstrated a bias against foreign-owned corporations.

The mining sector of Eswatini does not have enough economic significance to warrant special consideration by the government. It is treated consistently with other sectors of similar size.

9. Corruption

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government does not implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engage in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption continues to be a problem, most often involving personal relationships and bribes being used to secure government contracts on large capital projects.

The Prevention of Corruption Act and the Swaziland Public Procurement Act are the two laws that combat corruption by all persons, including public officials. The Public Procurement Act prohibits public sector workers and politicians from supplying the government with goods or services; however, this prohibition does not extend to family members of officials. The Eswatini Public Procurement Agency (ESPPRA) conducted capacity building exercises nationwide with both public and private companies to increase knowledge and encourage adoption of universally practiced purchasing systems. According to Section 27 of the Public Procurement Regulations, suppliers are prohibited from offering gifts or hospitality, directly or indirectly, to staff of a procuring entity, members of the tender board, and members of the ESPPRA. While avoiding conflict of interest and establishing codes of conduct are policies that are encouraged, they are not effectively enforced. Some companies use internal controls and audit compliance programs to try to track and prevent bribery.

Eswatini is a signatory to the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption and Related Offenses and the SADC Protocol against Corruption. Eswatini has signed and ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention, but it is not party to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is legally allowed to investigate corruption, and does so. The ACC does not provide protection to NGOs involved in investigating corruption. Given the Commission’s current capacity, “government procurement” is the most likely area to find corruption in Eswatini. The global competitiveness report ranks Swaziland 79 of 140 countries on incidence of corruption. Transparency International reports Eswatini as the 14th least corrupt country in Africa

Though no US firms have cited corruption, the 2015 Africa Competitiveness report found that 12.8% of business owners saw corruption as a hurdle to doing business in Eswatini, impacting profits, contracts, and investment decisions for their companies. There is a public perception of corruption in the executive and legislative branches of government and a consensus that the government does little to combat it. There have been credible reports that a person’s relationship with government officials influenced the awarding of government contracts; the appointment, employment, and promotion of officials; recruitment into the security services; and school admissions. Authorities rarely took action on reported incidents of nepotism.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency responsible for combating corruption:

Dan Dlamini
Commissioner
Eswatini Anti-Corruption Commission
3rd Floor, Mbandzeni House, Mbabane +268-2404-3179/0761
+268-2404-3179/0761
anticorruption@realnet.co.sz

10. Political and Security Environment

There are few incidents of politically motivated violence. In 2017, the Swati government enacted a new Public Order Act and amendments to the Suppression of Terrorism Act that have dramatically reduced restrictions on assembly, association, and expression. Through April 2020, the GKoE has done a fairly good job of honoring the newly expanded legal freedoms. There are no examples from the past ten years of damage to projects or installations. Overall, Eswatini has a long record of political stability with sporadic nonviolent protest; however, poor living and working conditions, widespread poverty, income inequality, and a large and growing youth population continue to yield a political environment conducive to unrest.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The structure of the labor market and economic fundamentals in Eswatini are better developed than in many other Sub-Saharan African countries. For example, GDP per capita is higher, the informal sector is smaller, exports are more diversified, the overall education level is higher, and the labor pool is predominantly domestic. Nevertheless, although Eswatini is considered a middle-income country, it has many characteristics of a low-income country. The minimum wage is low, inequality is high (0.51 Gini coefficient), poverty is widespread, the middle class is small, overall unemployment (especially youth unemployment) is high, and female representation is low.

Eswatini has a shortage of technically skilled labor. The government has identified several sectors as priorities in terms of building skilled labor capacity: agricultural engineering, ICT, medicine, medical imaging, and occupational health. Other priority fields that the government may sponsor include physiotherapy, paramedic studies, forestry, special education, clinical and dental science, and pharmacy.

The law requires that employers give first preference to Swati nationals unless they cannot find candidates with the necessary qualifications.

The Employment Act states that if an employer contemplates adjusting employment to respond to fluctuating market conditions, the employer must give no less than one month’s notice to the Labor Commissioner and the trade union. The employer must provide the number of employees to be affected, their occupations and remuneration, the reasons for the adjustment, the effective date, financial statements and audited accounts of the company, and options that have been considered to avert the situation. Section 34 of the Employment Act says if the services of an employee are terminated other than being fired, a severance allowance amounting to ten working days’ wages for each completed year in excess of one year continuously employed by that employer is due. Layoffs are defined as temporary absences from work that are necessitated by the employer facing certain difficulties that are temporary in nature, while firing refers to the sacking of an employee. There are no social safety net programs for workers who are laid off.

Labor laws are not waived in order to attract or retain investment. In 2018, Eswatini enacted the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act in an effort to attract foreign direct investment. In order to operate within an SEZ, a beneficiary company must meet the following minimum requirements (among others): at least 90 percent of its employees must be paid at or above the threshold for income taxation (approximately USD 330/month); at least two thirds of its employees must be Swati citizens; and the minimum capital investment must be E30 million (USD 2.1 million) for sole companies and E70 million (USD 5.0 million) for joint ventures.

The law provides that workers, except for those in essential services, have the right to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. Labor unions practice collective bargaining, but there are few industry associations and bargaining is conducted largely with individual employers in the private sector. Collective bargaining is common in the financial and textile sectors.

The Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration Commission (CMAC) serves as Eswatini’s labor dispute resolution mechanism. Labor disputes generally start at CMAC with mediation and arbitration. Either party can refuse arbitration and bring the case to the Industrial Court; however, due to severe backlogs at the court, the matter may not be heard for several years. According to the Industrial Relations Act, workers can engage in a strike action if there is an unresolved dispute.

Although the law permits strikes, the right to strike is strictly regulated, and the administrative requirements to register a legal strike made striking difficult. Strikes and lockouts are prohibited in essential services, and the minister’s power to modify the list of these essential services provides for broad prohibition of strikes in nonessential sectors, including postal services, telephone, telegraph, radio, and teaching. The procedure for announcing a strike action requires advance notice of at least seven days. The law details the steps to be followed when disputes arise and provides penalties for employers who conduct unauthorized lockouts. When disputes arise with civil servant unions, the government often intervenes to reduce the chances of a strike action, which may not be called legally until all avenues of negotiation are exhausted and a secret ballot of union members conducted.

Eswatini has ratified the eight core ILO conventions; however, compliance gaps with international labor standards continue to remain in both law and practice. The law provides that workers, except for those in essential services, have the right to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law provides for the registration of unions and federations but grants far-reaching powers to the labor commissioner with respect to determining eligibility for registration. Unions must represent at least 50 percent of employees in a workplace and submit their constitutions to be automatically recognized. The law also gives employers discretion to recognize a union as a collective employee representative if it has less than 50 percent membership, and furthermore, allows employers to set conditions for such recognition. The Department of Labor has inspectors who verify whether companies adhere to labor regulations, health and safety standards, and wage laws. The Minister of Labor sets minimum wages through the Wages Councils.

In 2018, Eswatini enacted a new Public Order Act that substantially loosened restrictions on public gatherings, including eliminating the requirement for prior consent for gatherings of fewer than 50 persons and completely removing restrictions on private gatherings. A gathering no longer requires permission, but instead only requires notice that provides basic information as to time, place, date, and logistics. Demonstrators no longer have to provide information as to the content of their planned speech.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2018 $59.285Billion 2018 $4.711 Billion www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
No detailed information is available on the IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS) website and no information is available on outward direct investment from Eswatini.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
No detailed information is available on the IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS) website and no information is available on outward direct investment from Eswatini.

Ethiopia

Executive Summary

Ethiopia’s economy is in transition. Coming off a decade of double-digit growth, fueled primarily by public infrastructure projects funded through debt, the Government of Ethiopia (GOE) has tightened its belt, reducing inefficient government expenditures and attempting to get its accounts in order at bloated state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Just in the last year, the GOE has also introduced a new and more liberal investment code, started the privatization process for the telecommunications monopoly, and eliminated numerous burdensome regulations. The IMF put the growth of the Ethiopian economy at 9 percent for FY2018/19, driven by manufacturing and services. While recent growth estimates have been revised downward due to the COVID-19 pandemic, growth prospects for Ethiopia remain better than those for most Sub-Saharan African nations. Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa after Nigeria, with a population of over 110 million, approximately two-thirds of whom are under age 30. Low-cost labor, a national airline with well over 100 passenger connections, and growing consumer markets are key elements attracting foreign investment.

The Government of Ethiopia (GOE) in September of 2019 unveiled its “Homegrown Economic Reform Plan” as a codified roadmap to implement sweeping macro, structural, and sectoral reform, with a focus on enhancing the role of the private sector in the economy and attracting more foreign direct investment. The ambitious three-year plan prioritizes growth in five sectors, namely mining, ICT, agriculture, tourism, and manufacturing. In December of 2019, the IMF approved a three-year, 2.9 billion U.S. dollar program to support the reform agenda. The program seeks to reduce public sector borrowing, rein in inflation, and reform the exchange rate regime.

The challenges remain vast. Ethiopia’s imports in the last three years have experienced a slight decline in large part due to a reduction in public investment programs and a dire foreign exchange shortage. 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 is administered by the government and private ownership does not exist. “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 regional 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.

Table 1
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 96 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/
country/ETH
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2020 159 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 111 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
gii-2018-report#
U.S. FDI in partner country (M USD, stock positions) 2018 $676 http://www.investethiopia.gov.et/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $790 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies towards Foreign Direct Investment

Ethiopia needs significant inflows of FDI to meet its ambitious growth goals. Over the past year, to attract more foreign investment, the government has passed a new investment law, ratified the New York Convention on Arbitration, and streamlined commercial registration and business licensing laws. The government has also started implementing the Public Private Partnership (PPP) proclamation (law), to allow for private investment in the power generation and road construction sectors.

The Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC) has the mandate to promote and facilitate foreign investments in Ethiopia. To accomplish this task, the EIC is charged with 1) promoting the country’s investment opportunities to attract and retain investment; 2) issuing investment permits, business licenses, and construction permits; 3) issuing commercial registration certificates and renewals; 4) negotiating and signing bilateral investment agreements; 5) issuing work permits; and 6) registering technology transfer agreements. In addition, the EIC has the mandate to advise the government on policies to improve the investment climate and hold regular and structured public-private dialogue with investors and their associations. At the local level, regional investment agencies facilitate regional investment. Though Ethiopia has shown relative progress in two doing business indicators, specifically the ease of obtaining construction permits and registering property, its overall rank on the 2020 World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index was 159 out of 190 countries, which is the exact same ranking from 2018 and 2019. In order to improve the investment climate, attract more FDI, and tackle unemployment challenges, the Prime Minister’s Office formed a committee to systematically examine each indicator on the Doing Business Index and identify factors that inhibit businesses.

The American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) works on voicing the concerns of U.S. businesses in Ethiopia. AmCham provides a mechanism for coordination among American companies and also facilitates regular meetings with government officials to discuss issues that hinder operations in Ethiopia. The Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce also organizes a monthly business forum that 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. A new Investment Proclamation, approved in early 2020, outlines the areas of investment reserved for government and local investors. There is no private ownership of land in Ethiopia. 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 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 three years, the government has not undertaken any third party investment policy review by a multilateral or non-governmental organization. The government has worked closely with some international stakeholders, however, such as the International Finance Corporation, in its recent attempts to modernize and streamline its investment regulations.

Business Facilitation

The EIC has attempted to establish itself as a “one-stop shop” for foreign investors by acting as a centralized location where investors can obtain the visas, permits, and paperwork they need, thereby reducing the time and cost of investing and acquiring business licenses. The EIC has worked with international consultants to modernize its operations, and as part of its work plan has adopted a customer manager system to build lasting relationships and provide post-investment assistance to investors. Despite progress, the EIC readily admits that many bureaucratic barriers to investment remain. In particular, U.S. investors report that the EIC, as a federal organization, has little influence at regional and local levels. According to the 2020 World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report, on average, it takes 32 days to start a business in Ethiopia.

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. Ethiopia concluded an agreement in March of 2018 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 Assab.

The Government of Ethiopia is working to improve business facilitation services by making the licensing and registration of businesses easier and faster, though online registration is not yet available. An amended commercial registration and licensing law eliminates the requirement to publicize business registrations in local newspapers, allows business registration without a physical address, and reduces some other paperwork burdens associated with business registration. U.S. companies can obtain detailed information for the registration of their business in Ethiopia from an online investment guide to Ethiopia: (https://www.theiguides.org/public-docs/guides/ethiopia ). Though the government is taking positive steps to socially empower women (approximately half of cabinet members are women), there is no special treatment provided to women who wish to engage in business.

The full Doing Business Report is available here: http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/ethiopia 

http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/ethiopia  http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/data/exploreeconomies/ethiopia#DB_sb 

http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/data/exploreeconomies/ethiopia#DB_sb 

Outward Investment

There is no officially recorded 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.

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.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Ethiopia’s regulatory system is generally considered fair, though there are instances in which burdensome regulatory or licensing requirements have prevented the local sale of U.S. exports, particularly health-related products. Investment decisions can involve multiple government ministries, lengthening the registration and investment process.

The Constitution is the highest law of the country. The Parliament enacts proclamations, which are followed by regulations that are passed by the Council of Ministers, and implementing directives that are passed by ministries or agencies. The government increasingly engages the public for feedback before passage of draft legislation through public meetings, and regulatory agencies request comments on proposed regulations from stakeholders. Ministries or regulatory agencies do neither impact assessments for proposed regulations nor ex-post reviews. Parties that are affected by an adopted regulation can request reconsideration or appeal to the relevant administrative agency or court. There is no requirement to periodically review regulations to determine whether they are still relevant or should be revised.

All proclamations and regulations in Ethiopia are published in official gazettes and most of them are available online: http://www.hopr.gov.et/web/guest/122  and https://chilot.me/federal-laws/2/ 

Legal matters related to the federal government are entertained by Federal Courts, while state matters go to state courts. To ensure consistency of legal interpretation and to promote predictability of the courts, the Federal Supreme Court Cassation Division is empowered to give binding legal interpretation on all federal and state matters. Though there are no publicly listed companies in Ethiopia, all banks and insurance companies are obliged to adhere to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).

Regulations related to human health and environmental pollution are often enforced. In January 2019, the Oromia Region Environment, Forest and Climate Change Commission shut down three tanneries in Oromia Region for what was said to be repeated environmental pollution offenses. The government also suspended the business license of MIDROC Gold Mine in May 2018 following weeks of protests by local communities who accused the company of causing health and environmental hazards in the Oromia Region. The Ethiopian Parliament in February of 2019 passed a bill entitled ‘Food and Medicine Administration Proclamation,’ which bans smoking in all indoor workplaces, public spaces, and means of public transport and prohibits alcohol promotion on broadcasting media.

Ethiopia published on April 7 the Administrative Procedure Proclamation (APP) in the federal gazette, the final step for a law to come into force. The APP’s main aim is to allow ordinary citizens who seek administrative redress to file suits in federal courts against government institutions. Potential redress includes financial restitution. The APP’s passage will require government institutions to set up offices that will handle such complaints. Complainants are required to follow an administrative appeal process, and only after exhausting administrative remedies will a person be allowed to file a suit in federal court. Four government institutions are exempt from the APP: the Federal Attorney General’s Office; the Ethiopian Federal Police; the Ethiopian Defense Forces and the intelligence agencies. The enactment of the APP is widely viewed as a positive step in increasing confidence in the public sector and addressing the need for governmental institutions to adhere to the rule of law.

Ethiopia is a member of UNCTAD’s international network of transparent investment procedures . Foreign and national investors can find detailed information from the investment commission website http://www.investethiopia.gov.et/investment-process  and https://www.theiguides.org/public-docs/guides/ethiopia  on administrative procedures applicable to investment and income generating operations. These details include the number of steps; name and contact details of the entities and persons in charge of procedures; required documents and conditions; costs; processing times; and legal bases justifying the procedures.

The government released its five-year public finance administration strategic plan (2018-2022) in March 2018, mapping out reforms in government revenue and expenditure forecasting, government accounts management, internal auditing, public procurement administration, public debt management, and public financial transparency and accountability. In support of this initiative, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) issued a directive on Public Financial Transparency and Accountability in October 2018. The directive mandates that all public institutions report their budgetary performance and financial accounts in platforms that are accessible to the wider public in a timely manner. It also makes the MOF responsible for disseminating a regular and detailed physical and financial performance evaluation of large publicly-funded projects. The directive further outlines a clear timeline for the publication of each major piece of budgetary information, such as the pre-budget macroeconomic and fiscal framework, the enacted budget, quarterly execution reports, annual execution reports, and the annual audit report.

International Regulatory Considerations

Ethiopia ratified the AfCFTA on March 21, 2019. The AfCFTA aims to create a single, continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments. Ethiopia is also a member of Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), a regional economic block, which has 21 member countries and has introduced a 10 percent tariff reduction on goods imported from member states. Ethiopia has not yet joined the COMESA free trade area, however. Ethiopia resumed its World Trade Organization (WTO) accession process in 2018, which it originally began in 2003, but which later stagnated.

Ethiopian standards have a national scope and applicability and some of them, particularly those related to human health and environmental protection, are mandatory. The Ethiopian Standards Agency is the national standards body of Ethiopia.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Ethiopia has codified criminal and civil laws, including commercial and contractual law. According to the contractual law, a contract agreement is binding between contracting parties. Disputes between the parties can be taken to court. There are, however, no specialized courts for commercial law cases, although there are specialized benches at both the federal and state courts.

While there have been allegations of executive branch interference in judiciary cases with political implications, there is no evidence of widespread interference in purely commercial disputes. The country has a procedural code for civil and criminal court, but the practice is minimal. Enforcement actions are appealable and there are at least three appeal processes from the lower courts to the Supreme Court. The Criminal Procedure Code follows the inquisitorial system of adjudication.

Companies that operate businesses in Ethiopia assert that courts lack adequate experience and staffing, particularly with respect to commercial disputes. While property and contractual rights are recognized, judges often lack understanding of commercial matters, including bankruptcy and contractual disputes. In addition, cases often face extended scheduling delays. Contract enforcement remains weak, though Ethiopian courts will at times reject spurious litigation aimed at contesting legitimate tenders.

Ethiopia is in the process of reforming its Commercial Code to bring it in line with international best practices. The draft legislation appears to address many concerns raised by the business community, including the creation of a commercial court under the regular court system to improve the expertise of judges as well as to increase the speed with which commercial disputes are resolved. The new Commercial Code should also include regulations covering e-commerce and digital businesses.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Investment Proclamation 1180/2020 is Ethiopia’s main legal regime related to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). This law instituted the opening of new economic sectors to foreign investment, enumerated the requirements for FDI registration, and outlined the incentives that are available to investors.

The 2020 investment law allows foreign investors to invest in any investment area except those that are clearly reserved for domestic investors. A few specified investment areas are possible for foreign investors only as part of a joint venture with domestic investors or the government. The Investment Proclamation has introduced an Investment Council, chaired by the Prime Minister, to accelerate implementation of the new law and to address coordination challenges investors face at the federal and regional levels. Further, the new law expanded the mandate of the EIC by allowing it to provide approvals to foreign investors proposing to buy existing enterprises. The EIC now also delivers “one stop shop” services by consolidating investor services provided by other ministries and agencies. Still, the EIC delegates licensing of investments in some areas: air transport services (the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority), energy generation and transmission (the Ethiopian Energy Authority), and telecommunication services (the Ethiopian Communications Authority).

The EIC’s website  (http://www.investethiopia.gov.et/ ) provides information on the government’s policy and priorities, registration processes, and regulatory details. In addition, the Ethiopian Investment Guide website (https://www.theiguides.org/public-docs/guides/ethiopia ) provides relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Ethiopia’s Trade Practice and Consumers Protection Authority (TPCPA), operating under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, is tasked with promoting a competitive business environment by regulating anti-competitive, unethical, and unfair trade practices to enhance economic efficiency and social welfare. It has an administrative tribunal with a jurisdiction on matters pertaining to market competition and consumer protection. The authority also annually entertains many cases associated with consumer protection and unfair trade practices.

The EIC reviews investment transactions for compliance with FDI requirements and restrictions as outlined by the Investment Proclamation. Nonetheless, companies have complained that SOEs receive favorable treatment in the government tender process. The public sector’s heavy involvement in economic development means that SOEs often obtain a sizeable portion of open tenders.

Expropriation and Compensation

Per the 2020 Investment Proclamation, no investment by a domestic or foreign investor or enterprise can be expropriated or nationalized, wholly or partially, except when required by public interest in compliance with the law and provided adequate compensatory payment.

The former Derg military regime nationalized many properties in the 1970s. The current government’s position is that property seized lawfully by the Derg (by court order or government proclamation published in the official gazette) remains the property of the state. In most cases, property seized by oral order or other informal means is gradually being returned to the rightful owners or their heirs through a lengthy bureaucratic process. Claimants are required to pay for improvements made by the government during the time it controlled the property. The Public Enterprises, Assets, and Administration Agency stopped accepting requests from owners for return of expropriated properties in July of 2008.

According to local and foreign businesses operating in the Oromia Region, there have been a number of isolated incidents threatening investors in that region. Various pretexts have been used to close legitimate operations. False charges have been filed with regional courts, property has been confiscated, and bank accounts have been frozen, all in the name of “returning the land” to the “rightful owners” or “creating job opportunities” for the youth. Regional officials, however, deny any systematic attack on investors and have repeatedly provided assurance that all legitimate investors will be protected. Meanwhile, other investors who have invested heavily in government and community relations and actively engaged local and regional officials have prospered. The experience of investors is overall uneven and clear trends are not evident.

Dispute Settlement

  • ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Since 1965, Ethiopia has been a non-signatory member state to the International Centre for Settlement of Disputes (ICSID) Convention. In 2020 the Parliament ratified the Convention on The Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (commonly known as the New York Convention).

  • Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The constitution and the investment law both guarantee the right of any investor to lodge complaints related to his/her investment with the appropriate investment agency. If he/she has a grievance against a legal or regulatory decision, he/she can appeal to the investment board or to the respective regional agency, as appropriate. According to the new investment law, the investment dispute between the state and foreign investor can be resolved either through the courts or via arbitration, with the precondition of government agreement for resolution via the latter. Additionally, a dispute that arises between a foreign investor and the state may be settled based on the relevant bilateral investment treaty.

Due to an overloaded court system, dispute resolution can last for years. According to the 2020 World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report, it takes on average 530 days to enforce contracts through the courts.

  • International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Arbitration has become a widely used means of dispute settlement among the business community as the Ethiopian civil code recognizes Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms as a means of dispute resolution. The Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce has an Arbitration Center to assist with arbitration. Subsequent to Ethiopia’s ratification of the New York Convention, local courts now must automatically recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards from a New York Convention member state country. There are no publicly available statistics that indicate a bias in the courts towards state-owned enterprises (SOEs) as pertains to investment/commercial disputes.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Ethiopian Commercial Code (Book V) outlines bankruptcy provisions and proceedings and establishes a court system that has jurisdiction over bankruptcy proceedings. The primary purpose of the law is to protect creditors, equity shareholders, and other contractors. Bankruptcy is not criminalized. In practice, there is limited application of bankruptcy procedures due to lack of knowledge on the part of the private sector.

According to the 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report, Ethiopia stands at 149 in the ranking of 190 economies with respect to resolving insolvency. Ethiopia’s score on the strength of insolvency framework index is 5.0. (Note: The index ranges from zero to 16, with higher values indicating insolvency legislation that is better designed for rehabilitating viable firms and liquidating nonviable ones.)

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Ethiopia is currently drafting updated investment regulations that are expected to outline detailed incentives for investors. According to the Investment Regulation 270/2012 and the 2014 amendment, however, new investors in manufacturing, agro-processing, and selected agricultural products are entitled to income tax exemptions 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 Region; Benishangul/Gumuz Region; Afar Region (except in areas within 15 kilometers from each bank of the Awash River); Somali Region; Guji and Borena Zones of Oromia; South Omo Zone, Segen Zone, Bench Maji Zone, Sheka Zone, Dawro Zone, Kaffa Zone, Basketo Woreda, and Konta Special Woreda, all of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The Industrial Park Proclamation 886/2015 mandates that the Ethiopian Industrial Parks Corporation develop and administer industrial parks under the auspices of government ownership. 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 of 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, operational industrial parks include Hawassa Industrial Park, Bole Lemi Indusrtial Park, Eastern Industrial Zone, George Shoe Ethiopia, Mekele Industrial Park, Kombolcha Industrial Park, Adama Industrial Park, and Debre Berhan Industrial Park. The government also has plans for four agro-industrial processing parks to be located at strategic sites across the country, though none have yet been completed.

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 of 200,000 U.S. dollars per investment project, with the requirement being lowered to 100,000 U.S. dollars for architectural or engineering projects. For most joint investments with a domestic partner, the investment requirement is lowered to 150,000 U.S. dollars.

The minimum capital requirement is waived if the foreign investor reinvests profits or dividends generated from an existing enterprise in any investment area open for foreign investors; and if a foreign investor purchases a portion or the entirety of an existing enterprise owned by another foreign investor. 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 EIC, in collaboration with the Immigration, Nationality and Vital Events Agency, facilitates visas and work permits for investors and expatriate workers. The government typically issues three to five year multiple entry visas for foreign investors, senior management, and board members.

In the absence of qualified local personnel, an investor can employ foreigners in positions of higher management (chief executive officer, chief operation officer, and chief financial officer), supervisor, trainers, and other technical professionals. While the investor is in theory supposed to replace expatriates with Ethiopian employees within a limited period of time, in practice many qualified expatriates have worked in Ethiopia for years. 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. The government in 2018 announced plans to liberalize the telecommunications sector and open the market to foreign service providers and foreign telecom infrastructure companies. Ethiopia approved a bill in August of 2019 which established a regulatory agency for communication services that will regulate the telecommunications sector and develop rules and guidelines for foreign investment. The communications regulator has also released three of 12 planned telecommunications directives, which provide detailed regulatory guidance for the liberalization. Proclamation No. 808/2013 mandates that the Information Network Security Agency (INSA) control the import and export of information technology, build an information technology testing and evaluation laboratory center, and regulate cryptographic products and their transactions.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

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 regional 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 the region of Oromia, where conflict between international investors and local communities has occurred.

The 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report has ranked Ethiopia 142 out of 190 economies in registering property, as it takes on average 52 days to register property.

Intellectual Property Rights

The Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office (EIPO) oversees intellectual property rights (IPR) issues. Ethiopia is has not completed its WTO accession and consequently is not party to the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). 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. Ethiopia recently ratified the Marrakesh Treaty to facilitate access to published works for persons who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise print disabled. The government has expressed its intention to accede to the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, and the Madrid Protocol. EIPO is primarily tasked with protecting Ethiopian patents and copyrights and fighting software piracy. Historically, however, the EIPO has struggled with a lack of qualified staff and small budgets; further, the institution 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.

EIPO contact and office information is available at http://www.eipo.gov.et/ 

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles  from this page: http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/details.jsp?country_code=ET 

http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/details.jsp?country_code=ET 

Embassy POC: Economic Officer, USEmbassyPolEconExternal@state.gov

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Ethiopia has a limited and undeveloped financial sector, and investment is largely closed off to foreign firms. Liquidity at many banks is limited, and commercial banks often require 100 percent collateral, making access to credit one of the greatest hindrances to growth in the country. Ethiopia has the largest economy in Africa without a securities market, and sales/purchases of debt are heavily regulated.

The IMF, as part of its Extended Credit Facility and Extended Fund Facility, in December of 2019 approved a three-year, 2.9 billion U.S. dollar program to support Ethiopia’s economic reform agenda. The program seeks to reduce public sector borrowing, rein in inflation, and reform the exchange rate regime. In preparation for the program, Ethiopia rescheduled much of its external debt with significant bilateral lenders.

The Ethiopian government has announced, as part of its overall economic reform effort, its intention to liberalize the financial sector. The government has already made good progress by allowing non-financial Ethiopian firms to participate in mobile money activities, introducing Treasury-bill auctions with market pricing, and reducing forced lending to the government on the part of the commercial banks. Still, the creation of a stock market and the fuller participation of foreign financial firms in the sector likely remain years away.

The NBE began offering, in December of 2019, a limited number of 28-day and 91-day Treasury bills at market-determined interest rates. The move was part of an effort to expand the NBE’s monetary policy tools and finance the government in a more sustainable way. Previously, the NBE had only sold Treasury bills at below-market interest rates, and the only buyers were public sector enterprises, primarily the Public Social Security Agency and the Development Bank of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia issued its first Eurobond in December of 2014, raising 1 billion U.S. dollars 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 its increasing external debt load and the terms of its IMF program, 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 that eliminated a number of criticized regulations, and permitted the trading of financial instruments at a future date.

Money and Banking System

Ethiopia has 18 commercial banks, two of which are state-owned banks, and 16 of which are privately owned banks. The Development Bank of Ethiopia, a state-owned bank, provides loans to investors in priority sectors, notably agriculture and manufacturing. By regional standards, the 16 private commercial banks are not large (either by total assets or total lending), and their service offerings are not sophisticated. Mobile money and digital finance, for instance, remain limited in Ethiopia. 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. Foreigners of Ethiopian origin are now allowed to hold shares in financial institutions.

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. The government of Ethiopia in November of 2019 rescinded the so-called “27 percent Rule,” which mandated forced, below inflation rate lending by the commercial banks to the NBE.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

All foreign currency transactions must be approved by the NBE. Ethiopia’s national currency (the Ethiopian birr) is not freely convertible. The GOE removed in September 2018 the limit on holding foreign currency accounts faced by non-resident Ethiopians and non-resident foreign nationals of Ethiopian origin.

Foreign exchange reserves started to become depleted in 2012 and have remained at critically low levels since then. At present, gross reserves stand at about 4 billion U.S. dollars, covering approximately 2 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 oil seeds. Businesses encounter delays of six months to two years in obtaining foreign exchange, and they must deposit the full equivalent in Ethiopian birr in their accounts to begin the process to obtain foreign exchange. 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.

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 the Ethiopian 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 30 to 40 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 businesses. 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.

The Ethiopian birr has depreciated significantly against the U.S. dollar over the past ten years, primarily through a series of controlled steps, including a 20 percent devaluation in September 2010 and a 15 percent devaluation in October 2017. The NBE increased the devaluation rate of the Ethiopian birr starting in November of 2019, and it has continued to be devalued at a more rapid rate since that time, as per the terms of the IMF program. The official exchange rate was approximately 33.60 Ethiopian birr per dollar as of May 2020. The illegal parallel market exchange rate for the same time was approximately 42 Ethiopian 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 those in the 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, wheat, 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 200,000 Ethiopian birr (roughly equivalent to U.S. reporting requirements for currency transfers exceeding 10,000 U.S. dollars). 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 1,000 U.S. dollars and non-residents in excess of 3,000 U.S. dollars. Residents are not allowed to hold foreign currency for more than 30 days after acquisition. A maximum of 1000 Ethiopian birr in cash can be carried out of the country.

Remittance Policies

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. In practice, however, foreign companies and individuals have experienced difficulties obtaining foreign currency to remit dividends, profits, or salaries.

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, and petroleum importing. 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.

Privatization Program

The government in July of 2018 announced its 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 government has prioritized privatizations in the telecommunications and sugar sectors, and in those sectors has begun asset valuations of the enterprises, standardization of the financial reports, and establishment of modernized legal and regulatory frameworks. The GOE has also reached out to potential investors and has begun creating tender and bidding documents that will guide the privatizations. To broaden the role and participation of the private sector in the economy, and to implement the privatization program in an open and transparent manner, in December 2019, the Council of Ministers approved a new privatization law, which is awaiting approval by the parliament.

The government has sold more than 370 public enterprises since 1995, mainly small companies in the trade and service sectors, most of which were 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. Most Ethiopian companies, however, do not officially practice CSR, though 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. According to Ethiopia’s 2019 EITI work plan, to become a fully compliant member the country needs to revamp legal frameworks, improve revenue collection in the sector, and improve stakeholder oversight. 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.

9. Corruption

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 provides ethics training and education to prevent corruption. The Federal Police Commission is responsible for investigating corruption crimes and the Federal Attorney General handles corruption prosecutions.

The Attorney General’s Office opened in February a new and consolidated Anti-Corruption Directorate to recover stolen assets and fight corruption. The Directorate is empowered to enter into mutual legal assistance treaties (MLAT’s) and otherwise coordinate with foreign nations to fight corruption.

The Federal Police is mandated with investigating corruption crimes committed by public officials as well as “Public Organizations.” The latter are defined as any organ in the private sector that administers 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 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures perceived levels of public sector corruption, rated Ethiopia’s corruption at 37 (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 2019 was 96 out of 180 countries, an improvement from its rank of 114 out of 180 countries in 2018. The American Chamber of Commerce in Ethiopia recently 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, the government arrested 59 officials and business people suspected of corruption in April of 2019. 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. A former Communications Minister was charged with corruption and mismanagement of public companies in May; he was sentenced to six years in jail.

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. Ethiopia signed the UN Anticorruption Convention in 2003, which was eventually 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
Addis Ababa +251 11 861-9595
+251 11 861-9595

Contact at “watchdog” organization:

Transparency Ethiopia
Addis Ababa +251 11 827-9746
+251 11 827-9746
Email: TiratEthiopia@gmail.com

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 across Ethiopia. According to surveys and research conducted by the International Organization for Migration, the number of internally displaced persons has dropped from its peak last year of 3.2 million, but remains at 1.8 million people nationwide. 1.17 million of those are displaced due to conflict, with the remainder being displaced due to climactic reasons. Insecurity, often driven by ethnic tensions, persists in many areas, notably Gedeo, West Guji, and other areas of southern and western Oromia and eastern SNNP, and in the Hararges on the border of the Somali Region. In the four Wellega Zones in Western Oromia, the Oromo Liberation Army and other illegal armed groups continue to execute attacks on the public and local government officials, violence which occasionally spills over into other parts of Oromia. Regional security forces and the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) have been engaged in combatting these groups. In Amhara Region, there have been incidents of violence along a main road between Gondar and Bahir Dar. In early April, the government deployed the ENDF to the area around Gondar in Amhara Region to control the activities of what the Gondar City Administration identified as an illegal armed group in the area. Disputed territory in the north between the Amhara and Tigray regions is a continuing flash point.

Under PM Abiy’s administration, political space in Ethiopia has opened dramatically. Constitutional rights, including freedoms of assembly and expression, are now widely supported at the level of the federal government, though the protection of these rights remains uneven at regional and local levels. Most political prisoners have been released, though there have been some concerning reports of short-term detentions. Opposition parties usually operate freely, although regional and local authorities have occasionally employed politically-motivated procedural roadblocks to hinder opposition parties’ efforts to hold meetings or other party activities. The media has become significantly more free following reforms instituted by PM Abiy Ahmed. Still, journalism in the country remains undeveloped, social media is often rife with unfounded rumors, and government officials occasionally react with heavy-handedness, especially to news they feel might spur social unrest. The Parliament is currently considering potential dates in 2021 for the national and regional parliamentary elections, originally scheduled for May of 2020, which were delayed due to technical challenges and the COVID-19 pandemic. The electoral and pre-electoral period may represent a potential catalyst for unrest.

PM Abiy has also initiated a process of modernization, de-politicization, professionalization, and civilian accountability in the security services. Still, there are certain geographic areas where the security situation remains fraught due to clashes between illegal armed groups and security forces. Though foreigners are rarely targeted, spillover ethnic violence has occasionally resulted in the death of foreigners.

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.

The Ethiopian Parliament on April 10 approved a five-month long State of Emergency (SOE) focused on COVID-19 mitigation. Actions mandated under the SOE include discontinuation of meetings involving more than four people; closure of entertainment and sports centers; requirements that restaurants distance tables and seating; and limitations on the number of passengers in public transport vehicles.  Social distancing is required, facemasks are mandatory in public, and handshakes are prohibited.  Other restrictions included limitations on prison visits (except to deliver food) and land border closures, with the exception of cargo transportation.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

More than 80 percent of Ethiopians 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. The 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 and the 2019 Labor Proclamation both outlaw 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 420 Ethiopian birr (approximately 19 U.S. dollars).

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, but the caseload and the directorate’s capacity are low.

Employers offering contracted employment are required to provide severance pay. The vast majority of employees that work in small-scale agriculture and in many micro and small enterprises, 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.

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 15, and the minimum age is 18 for certain types of hazardous work. 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 occupational safety and standards, although they are not legally empowered to assess fines for infractions and they do not make this data publicly 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 April 2020, the Ethiopian Parliament approved and published in the federal gazette the new Anti-Human Trafficking and Smuggling Criminal Proclamation 909/2019. The new legislation breaks down silos between stakeholder agencies, provides clear guidelines regarding how anti-trafficking efforts are funded, and provides clear, commensurate penalties for those involved in trafficking.

The Overseas Labor Proclamation legalizes and regulates the employment of Ethiopians in foreign countries. The law does not disallow Ethiopians from migrating to other countries to seek work, but it imposes requirements that are lengthy and expensive, making irregular migration more attractive for many. The main driver for irregular migration is economic incentives. Although trafficking remains problematic, experts report that the GOE has increasingly shown the political will to address this issue.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (M USD) 2018/19 $93.3 B 2018 $84.36B 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 $676 2018 N/A http://www.investethiopia.gov.et/ 
Host country’s FDI in the United States (M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A N/A N/A http://bea.gov/international/
direct_investment_multinational_
companies_comprehensive_
data.htm
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018/19 11.3% 2018 26.4% www.worldbank.org/en/country 

*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 $10,496 100% Total Outward*** N/A N/A
China $3,266 31% N/A N/A N/A
Saudi Arabia $1,443 14% N/A N/A N/A
Turkey $849 8% N/A N/A N/A
United States $676 7% N/A N/A N/A
India $589 6% N/A N/A N/A
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Data regarding inward direct investment are not available for Ethiopia via IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS) site (http://data.imf.org/CDIS) , the above data is from the Ethiopian Investment Commission. *The yearly average exchange rate is used for each year from 1992-2018 to convert the amount of FDI from domestic currency into U.S. dollars.

*The yearly average exchange rate is used for each year from 1992-2018 to convert the amount of FDI from domestic currency into U.S. dollars. *** Total Outward investment data are not available.

*** 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.

Fiji

Executive Summary

The Republic of Fiji is an economic, transportation, and academic hub of the South Pacific islands, making it an attractive trade and investment option for businesses looking to establish a presence in the region. While the population is just short of one million, Fiji is an upper middle-income country that boasts a well-developed tourism infrastructure that attracted 894,389 tourists in 2019. Fiji welcomes foreign investment and has undertaken economic reforms purported to improve the investment climate. The government’s investment promotion office, Investment Fiji, is responsible for the promotion, regulation, and control of foreign investment. Its online single window clearance system simplifies the registration process and enables online investment license applications.

Although the government has made some progress to improve the investment climate, transparency remains a concern, with foreign investors encountering lengthy and costly bureaucratic delays. The land ownership regulations in Fiji are complex and the Land Sales Act restricts ownership of freehold land inside city or town council boundaries to Fijian citizens. Delays from the Fiji Revenue and Customs Service can slow the remittance of profits and dividends because the tax authority must certify all taxes were paid before money is transferred overseas.

Fiji’s Reserve Bank (RBF) predicts the economy will contract well below its projected 1.7 percent growth in 2020 as a result of the negative impact of COVID-19. In 2019 the economy grew one percent, recording 10 consecutive years of economic expansion. Growth in 2019 was driven by growth in the tourism industry and remittances. Growth in tourism, Fiji’s largest foreign exchange earner, remained strong in 2019. Total visitor arrivals reached 894,389 in 2019, and earnings are estimated to have increased three percent over 2018 levels. The number of U.S. visitors increased by 13 percent, with arrivals reaching 96,968 in 2019 and accounting for ten percent of total visitors. The country’s liberal visa requirements allow nationals of over 100 countries to enter Fiji without acquiring a visa in advance. Remittances from Fijians working abroad, a second pillar of the economy, grew by 5.8 percent and totaled USD 265.4 million (FJD 564 million) in 2018. The sugar industry, although a major employer, struggles to modernize since preferential sugar quotas from the European Union ended in 2017. Mineral water, exported mainly to the United States, is Fiji’s largest domestic export. U.S. exports to Fiji declined by 1.7 percent in 2019. Two-way trade between the United States and Fiji totaled approximately USD 349.5 million in 2019.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 N/A http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 102 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/
en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 NA https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $148 https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2017 $9,090 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Business Facilitation

Investment Fiji is responsible for the promotion, regulation, and control of foreign investment in the interest of national development. Its Online Single Window Clearance System simplifies the registration process and enables online applications for a FIRC and payment of the requisite application fee of USD 1,170 (FJD 2,725). Information on the registration procedures, regulations, and registration requirements for foreign investment is available at the Investment Fiji website: http://www.investmentfiji.org.fj.

Investors need to meet the requirements listed under the Foreign Investment Act (FIA) and the 2009 Foreign Investment Regulation as well as ensure that the investment activity does not fall under the reserved and restricted activities lists. The following documents must accompany the FIRC application: if a company is being listed as a shareholder, then a certified copy of the certificate of incorporation and name(s) of those associated with the shareholding company; if local equity contribution is required, a copy of the shareholders agreement and a copy of the declaration of shareholders, witnessed or certified by a Justice of the Peace, lawyer and/or chartered accountant; certified copies of the passport bio-data pages, together with recent color passport-size photos of all those associated with the business; a police clearance report from the country of residence in the last 12 months or more; and proof of company registration abroad (if applicable). A business plan including a budget/cash flow forecast of the project is required. The approval process for investment applications takes at least five working days and sometimes longer if the paperwork is incomplete.

Investors are also required to obtain the necessary permits and licenses from other relevant authorities and should be prepared for delays. The 2020 World Bank Doing Business survey estimated that it took 11 procedures and a total of 40 days to get a business registered in Fiji. There are no special services or preferences to facilitate investment and business operations by micro, small and medium sized enterprises, or by women. The World Bank survey shows that the number of processes or the duration to acquire the necessary permits for businesses operated by men or women is the same.

Contact: The Chief Executive, Investment Fiji, P.O. Box 2303, Government Buildings, Suva; Telephone: (679) 3315 988; Fax: (679) 3301 783; Email: info@investmentfiji.org.fj; Website: http://www.investmentfiji.org.fj/. 

Outward Investment

The Reserve Bank of Fiji lifted its suspension of offshore investments by Fiji residents. However, the offshore investment allowance by Fiji residents is capped at USD 10,741 (FJD 25,000) per annum.  For companies, including the Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF), the amount of offshore investment is determined by the Reserve Bank of Fiji.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The lack of consultation with the private sector and other stakeholders on proposed laws and regulations remains an area of concern. The business community has complained that the government enacts new regulations with little prior notice or publicity. There is a perception among foreign investors that there is a lack of transparency in government procurement and approval processes. Some foreign investors considering investment in Fiji have encountered lengthy and costly bureaucratic delays, shuffling of permits among government ministries, inconsistent and changing procedures, lack of technical capacity, costly penalties due to the interpretation of tax regulations by the Fiji Revenue and Customs Service (FRCS), and slow decision-making. The Biosecurity Authority of Fiji (BAF) regulates all food and animal products entering Fiji and has stringent and costly point-of-origin inspection and quarantine requirements for foreign goods. Some importers have had import permits denied for categories of food or animal products which were previously allowed, with little or no explanation for the change.

Fiji’s constitution provides for public access to government information and for the correction or deletion of false or misleading information. Although the constitution requires that a freedom of information law be enacted, there is no such law yet. The parliamentary website (http://www.parliament.gov.fj/ ) is a centralized online location that publishes laws and regulations passed in parliament.

International Regulatory Considerations

Fiji has been a member of the WTO since January 1996. According to Fiji’s trade profile on the WTO website, there are no records of disputes. Fiji ratified the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement in 2017.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The legal system in Fiji developed from British law. Fiji maintains a judiciary consisting of a Supreme Court, a Court of Appeal, a High Court, and magistrate courts. The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal.

Both companies and individuals have recourse to legal treatment through the system of local and superior courts. A foreign investor theoretically has the right of recourse to the courts and tribunals of Fiji with respect to the settlement of disputes, but government decrees have been used to block foreign investors from legal recourse in investment takeovers, tax increases, or write-offs of interest to the government.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Foreign Investment Act (FIA) and the 2009 Foreign Investment Regulation regulate foreign investment in Fiji. All businesses with a foreign-investment component in their ownership are required to register and obtain a Foreign Investment Registration Certificate (FIRC) from Investment Fiji. Information on the registration procedures, regulations, and registration requirements for foreign investment is available at the Investment Fiji website: http://www.investmentfiji.org.fj . Amendments to the FIA also require that foreign investors seek approval prior to any changes in the ownership structure of the business, with penalties incurred for non-compliance.

Investment Fiji’s online Single Window Clearance System enables online business registration, application for a FIRC, and application fee payment. Information on the registration procedures, regulations, and registration requirements for foreign investment is available at the Investment Fiji website: http://www.investmentfiji.org.fj. However, the most up to date reporting requirements may not be available on the website.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Fiji Commerce Commission (FCC), established under the 2010 Commerce Commission Decree, regulates monopolies, promotes competition, and controls prices of selected hardware, basic food items, and utilities, in order to ensure a fair, competitive, and equitable market.

Expropriation and Compensation

Expropriation has not historically been a common phenomenon in Fiji. A foreign investor theoretically has the same right of recourse as a Fijian enterprise to the courts and other tribunals of Fiji to settle disputes. In practice, the government has acted to assert its interests with laws affecting foreign investors.

In 2013, the government amended the Foreign Investment Decree with provisions to permit the forfeiture of foreign investments as well as significant fines for breaches of compliance with foreign investment registration conditions.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Fiji acceded to the New York Convention in September 2010. Fiji has been a member of the ICSID since September 1977. However, there are no legislative or other measures adopted to make the convention effective.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The government has sometimes opted to penalize foreign investors in lieu of dispute settlement by deportation but there have been no new cases since 2016.

Past investment disputes have often focused on land issues, particularly in the mining, timber and tourism sectors. Such disputes have been resolved through labor-management dialogue, government intervention, referral to compulsory arbitration, or through the courts. In some instances, the investors have withdrawn from Fiji when a resolution could not be found. Fiji is a party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes Between States and Nationals of Other States.

The World Bank Doing Business 2020 survey ranked Fiji 101 out of 190 on the efficiency of the judicial system to resolve a commercial dispute. According to the survey, Fiji took 397 calendar days to complete procedures at a cost of 42.6 percent of the value of the claim.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Fiji is a party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes Between States and Nationals of Other States. Fiji acceded to the New York Convention in September 2010. In 2017, Fiji enacted the International Arbitration Act to improve the framework governing international commercial arbitration. With the support from the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNICTRAL), Fiji has adopted a version of the UNICTRAL model law on arbitration. In 2016, Fiji setup the Fiji Mediation Center (FMC), an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, with local and international mediators accredited by the Center in collaboration with Singapore. The FMC services include family, commercial, and small case mediation, and as of March 2019, has mediated over 190 cases, with 67 percent of the mediated cases settled, and 84 percent of cases settled within one working day.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Fiji’s Companies Act 2015 has provisions relating to solvency and negative solvency. According to the 2020 World Bank Doing Business survey, in terms of resolving insolvency, Fiji was ranked 98 out of 190 countries. The survey estimated that it took 1.8 years at a cost of ten percent of the estate to complete the process, with an estimated recovery rate of 46.5 percent of value.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Fiji offers incentives to encourage investment in multi-story residential housing development, and retirement village/ aged care facilities. For residential housing developments, incentives include income tax exemptions on developer profits for the entire project, while incentives for retirement villages include tax holidays between 5-13 years, dependent on the level of capital investment. Incentives to encourage investment in the setting up of electric vehicle charging stations include a seven year tax holiday, subsidies ranging from five to seven percent of the total capital outlay incurred in the development of charging stations for investments between USD 1.3-4.7 million (FJD 3-10 million), and loss carried forward for eight years. Other environmental incentives are available for investments in bio-fuel production and renewable energy projects.

Tourism incentives include tax-related investment allowances for approved expenditures on tourist boats/ships and approved building and expansion projects. The tourism incentive package provides a ten-year tax holiday for approved large tourism development projects with capital investments of more than USD 3.0 million (FJD 7 million) to be completed within two years from the date when the provisional approval was granted. Filmmaking and audio-visual incentives include a 47 percent tax rebate on production costs spent in Fiji up to USD 12 million, which is a maximum allowable tax rebate of USD 5.64 million. There are various incentives to encourage investment in the agriculture, fisheries, and forestry industry including zero-rated fiscal duty on imported agricultural machineries, equipment and inputs, and specialized equipment and machinery for forestry and fisheries. The benefits, which can include up to a ten-year tax holiday, vary by industry and nature of the investment.

The income of any business setting up private hospitals with a minimum capital investment of USD 3.0 million (FJD 7 million), is exempt from taxation for a period of ten years. A 60 percent investment allowance applies for refurbishments, renovations and extensions with a minimum capital investment of USD 0.43million (FJD 1 million). The income of any business setting up ancillary medical services such as pathology lab, MRI, or other diagnostics is exempt from taxation for a period of four years with a minimum capital investment level of USD 0.86 million (FJD 2 million). A 60 percent investment allowance applies for refurbishments, renovations and extensions with a minimum capital investment of USD 214,826 (FJD 500,000). There is a duty concession (free fiscal duty, free import excise and free VAT) on medical, hospital, surgical, and dental goods that are used and imported by the business. Recipients of provisional approvals for setting up private hospitals should complete the project within two years from the date the provisional approval was granted. Losses on private hospitals may be carried forward for eight years.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The northern and selected maritime regions of Fiji have been declared Tax Free Regions (TFR) to encourage development in these isolated outposts. The specific areas include Vanua Levu, Rotuma, Kadavu, Levuka, Lomaiviti, Lau, and the Korovou-Tailevu area in the east of Viti Levu. Businesses established in these regions which meet the prescribed requirements enjoy a corporate tax holiday for up to 13 years and import duty exemption on raw materials, machinery, and equipment.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Many jobs are reserved for Fijian citizens, and work permit applications for expatriate employees may face delays or denials. Potential employers and employees should consult Fiji Immigration for further information prior to making any binding commitments as it can be difficult to secure employment visas for non-Fijians.

To support the implementation of newly approved investments, Investment Fiji established a monitoring system to assist companies in obtaining necessary approvals to commence operations. The investing firm must ensure that commercial production begins within 12 months for investments under USD 1.1 million (FJD 2.5 million) or within 18 months of the date of approval of the project for investments above USD 1.1 million (FJD 2.5 million).

The U.S. Embassy is unaware of any policies regulating data storage or requiring foreign IT providers to turn over source code or provide access to surveillance.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Land tenure and usage in Fiji is a highly complex and sensitive issue. Fiji’s Land Sales Act of 2014 restricts ownership of freehold land inside a city or town council boundaries areas to Fijian citizens. There are exceptions to allow foreigners to purchase strata title land, which is defined as ownership in part of a property including multi-level apartments or subdivisions. Foreigners are still allowed to purchase, sell, or lease freehold land for industrial or commercial purposes, residential purposes within an integrated tourism development, or for the operation of a hotel licensed under the Hotel and Guest Houses Act. The Land Sales Act also requires foreign land owners who purchase approved land to build a dwelling valued at a minimum of USD 10,741 (FJD 250,000) on the land within two years, or face an annual tax of 20 percent of the land value (applied as ten percent every six months). Freehold land currently owned by a non-Fijian can pass to the owners’ heirs and will not be deemed a sale.

Foreign land owners criticized the government of Fiji for the speed at which the act was passed and the perceived lack of consultation with land owners and developers. The application of the Land Sales Act continues to create uncertainty among foreign investors. The Fiji government has yet to provide full clarification of the act, such as defining what constitutes an integrated tourism development. The limited capacity of construction and architecture firms, makes it difficult to comply with the two-year time frame for building a dwelling before tax penalties set in.

According to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report, registering property took a total of 69 days and involved four main processes, including conducting title searches at the Titles Office, presenting transfer documents for stamping at the Stamp Duty office, obtaining tax clearance on capital gains tax, and settlement at the Registrar of Titles Office.

Ethnic Fijians communally hold approximately 87 percent of all land. Crown land owned by the government accounts for four percent while the remainder is freehold land, which private individuals or companies hold. All land owned by ethnic Fijians, commonly referred to as iTaukei land, is held in a statutory trust by the iTaukei Land Trust Board (TLTB) for the benefit of indigenous landholding units.

To improve access to land, the government established a land bank in the Ministry of Lands under the land use decree for the purpose of leasing land from indigenous landowning units (collections of households; under the indigenous communal landowning system, land is not owned by individuals) through the TLTB and subleasing the land to individual tenants for lease periods of up to 99 years.

The constitution includes other new provisions protecting land leases and land tenancies, but observers noted that the provisions had unintended consequences, including weakening the overall legal structure governing leases.

The availability of Crown land for leasing is usually advertised. This does not, however, preclude consideration given to individual applications in cases where land is required for special purposes. Government leases for industrial purposes can last up to 99 years with rents reassessed every ten years. TLTB leases for land nearer to urban locations are normally for 50-75 years. Annual rent is reassessed every five years. The maximum rent that can be levied in both cases is six percent of unimproved capital value. Leases also usually carry development conditions that require lessees to effect improvements within a specified time.

Apart from the requirements of the TLTB and Lands Department, town planning, conservation, and other requirements specified by central and local government authorities affect the use of land. Investors are urged to seek local legal advice in all transactions involving land.

Intellectual Property Rights

Fiji’s copyright laws are in conformity with World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) provisions. Copyright laws adhere to international laws, and while there are provisions for companies to register a trademark or petition for a patent in Fiji through the Office of the Attorney General, trademark and patent laws are outdated. Furthermore, the enforcement of these laws remains inadequate. There is no protection for designs or trade secrets.

Illegal materials and reproductions of films, sound recordings, and computer programs are widely available throughout Fiji. The government is reviewing trademark and patent laws, but capacity is a challenge.

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

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The capital market is regulated and supervised by the Reserve Bank of Fiji. Nineteen companies were listed on the Suva-based South Pacific Stock Exchange (SPSE) in 2017. At the end of September 2019, market capitalization was USD 1.5 billion (FJD 3.4 billion), an annual increase of 26 percent compared to September 2019. To promote greater activity in the capital market, the government lowered corporate tax rates for listed companies to ten percent and exempted income earned from the trading of shares in the SPSE from income tax and capital gains tax.

Money and Banking System

Fiji has a well-developed banking system supervised by the Reserve Bank of Fiji (RBF). The RBF regulates the Fiji monetary and banking systems, manages the issuance of currency notes, administers exchange controls, and provides banking and other services to the government. In addition, it provides lender-of-last-resort facilities and regulates trading bank liquidity.

There are six trading banks with established operations in Fiji: ANZ Bank, Bank of Baroda, Bank of South Pacific, Bred Bank, Home Finance Corporation, and Westpac Banking Corporation. Non-banking financial institutions also provide financial assistance and borrowing facilities to the commercial community and to consumers. These institutions include the Fiji Development Bank, Credit Corporation, Kontiki Finance, Merchant Finance, and insurance companies. As of December 2019, total assets of commercial banks amounted to USD 4.72 billion (FJD 10.6 billion). The RBF reported that liquidity reachedUSD 259.2 million (FJD 603.7 million) in December 2019 were sufficient and did not pose a risk to bank solvency.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Reserve Bank of Fiji (RBF) relaxed a number of foreign exchange controls, including increasing delegated limits for commercial banks and authorizing foreign exchange dealers to process some payments. The Fiji dollar remains fully convertible. The Fiji dollar is pegged to a basket of currencies of Fiji’s principal trading partners, chiefly Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the European Union, and Japan.

Although no limits were placed on non-residents borrowing locally for some specified investment activities, the RBF placed a credit ceiling on lending by commercial banks to non-resident controlled business entities.

Remittance Policies

Tax compliance may restrict foreign investors’ repatriation of investment profits and capital. Prior clearance of withholding tax payments on profit and dividend remittances is required from the Fiji Revenue and Customs Service. Profit and dividend remittances above USD 0.43 million (FJD 1 million) per company per annum and large payments require RBF approval. Provided all required documentation is submitted, the processing time for remittance applications is approximately three working days.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

There is no sovereign wealth fund or asset management bureau in Fiji. The country’s pension fund scheme, the Fiji National Provident Fund, which manages and invests members’ retirement savings, accounts for a third of Fiji’s financial sector assets. The fund invests in equities, bonds, commercial paper, mortgages, real estate and various offshore investments.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State-owned enterprises (SOEs) in Fiji are concentrated in utilities and key services and industries including aerospace (Fiji Airways, Airports Fiji Limited); agribusiness (Fiji Pine Ltd); energy (Energy Fiji Limited); food processing (Fiji Sugar Corporation, Pacific Fishing Company); information and communication (Amalgamated Telecom Holdings); and media (Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Ltd). There are ten Government Commercial Companies which operate commercially and are fully owned by the government, five Commercial Statutory Authorities (CSA) which have regulatory functions and charge nominal fees for their services, seven Majority Owned Companies, and two Minority Owned Companies with some government equity. The SOEs that provide essential utilities, such as energy and water, also have social responsibility and non-commercial obligations.

Aside from the CSAs, SOEs do not exercise delegated governmental powers. SOEs benefit from economies of scale and may be favored in certain sectors. The Fiji Broadcasting Company Ltd (FBCL) is exempt from the Media Decree, which governs private media organizations and exposes private media to criminal libel lawsuits. In some sectors, the government has pursued a policy of opening up or deregulating various sectors of the economy.

Privatization Program

In 2019, government partially divested its ownership in theEnergy Fiji Limited (EFL), selling 20 percent to Fiji’s pension fund, the Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF). The government also intends to divest a further 24 percent of EFL In 2018, the government signed the first public private partnership agreement in the medical sector with an Australian company to develop, upgrade, and operate the Ba and Lautoka hospitals, the country’s two major hospitals in the western region. To encourage more private sector participation, the government continues to support the partial divestment of shares in certain government companies as well as the sale of some of its assets in aviation infrastructure and energy. Foreign investors are increasingly participating in public-private sector partnership arrangements in the energy, health, and maritime port sectors. Information on these programs and opportunities is published in the local newspapers and the Ministry of Economy’s website (http://www.economy.gov.fj/ ).

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) is increasingly promoted, with both multi-national companies and large local companies practicing RBC through charitable foundations. Major companies’ advertising often promotes the company’s social benefits or charity sponsorships. There is no official favoring of RBC-friendly businesses, and consumers tend to seek value for money. The government has included a social responsibility component for SOEs that provide essential utilities.

9. Corruption

The legal code provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government does not implement the law effectively. The government established the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC), which has broad powers of investigation. FICAC’s public service announcements encouraging citizens to report corrupt government activities have had some effect on systemic corruption. The media publishes articles on FICAC investigations into abuse of office, and anonymous blogs report on government corruption. However, Fiji’s relatively small population and limited circles of power often lead to personal relationships playing a major role in business and government decisions.

Resources to Report Corruption

NAME: Mr. Rashmi Aslam
TITLE: Acting Deputy Commissioner
ORGANISATION: Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC)
ADDRESS: P.O. Box 2335, Government Buildings, Suva, FIJI
TELEPHONE NUMBER: (679) 3310290
EMAIL ADDRESS: info@ficac.org.fj

10. Political and Security Environment

The country held general elections in November 2018. International observers deemed elections credible and that the result “reflected the will of the people.” The Public Order Act restricts freedoms of speech, assembly, and movement to preserve public order. The new Online Safety Act has had a chilling effect on free speech in the digital space. Civil unrest is uncommon.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that Fiji’s labor force in 2019 was 359,713. Education is compulsory until age 17, with male and female students in Fiji achieving largely the same level of education. According to ILO estimates, the labor force participation rate was estimated at 60.4 percent in 2019. National unemployment in 2019 stood around 4.2 percent, although the rates for youth and women were higher, at 14.5 percent and 5.3 percent respectively.

Fiji continues to face acute labor shortages in a broad range of fields, including the medical, management, engineering, and financial sectors, and to a lesser extent, for competent trade-skilled people in the construction and tourism industries.

The Ministry of Employment, Productivity, and Industrial Relations has responsibility for the administration of labor laws and the encouragement of good labor relations. The Employment Relations (Amendment) Act of 2016 restored the 2007 Employment Relations Promulgation (ERP) as the primary basis for the right of workers to join trade unions.

Trade unions are independent of the government. The ERP prohibits forced labor, discrimination in employment based on ethnicity, gender, and other prohibited grounds, and stipulates equal remuneration for work of equal value. There are workplace safety laws and regulations, and safety standards apply equally to both citizens and foreign workers. The national minimum wage rate is USD 1.15 (FJD 2.68).

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2018 $5,061.2 2018 $5,536 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2018 $170 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A N/A N/A BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2018 34.5 UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
No detailed information is available on the IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS) website and no information is available on outward direct investment from Fiji.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
No detailed information is available on the IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS) website and no information is available on outward direct investment from Fiji.

Finland

Executive Summary

Finland is a Nordic country located north of the Baltic States bordering Russia, Sweden, and Norway, possessing a stable and modern economy, including a world-class investment climate. It is a member of the European Union and part of the euro area. The country has a highly skilled, educated and multilingual labor force, with strong expertise in Information Communications Technology (ICT), shipbuilding, forestry, and renewable energy.

Key challenges for foreign investors include a rigid labor market and bureaucratic red tape in starting certain businesses, although in June 2016 the Government enacted a Competitiveness Pact that aims to reduce labor costs, increase hours worked, and introduce more flexibility into the wage bargaining system. An aging population and the shrinking working-age population are the most pressing issues that could limit growth opportunities for Finland.

At the end of 2018, the value of foreign direct investment (FDI) totaled USD 71 billion, of which equity accounted for USD 64.6 billion and the value of debt capital for USD 6.5 billion. Sweden accounts for 32 percent of Finland’s FDI; Luxembourg – 19 percent; the Netherlands – 17 percent; Denmark – 5 percent; and Germany – 4 percent. Approximately 90 percent of Finland’s FDI is from EU member states.

According to Ernst & Young’s Nordics Attractiveness Survey 2019, Finland secured a record high of 194 FDI projects; more projects than all the other Nordic countries combined in 2018. The 2019 survey was Finland’s seventh consecutive as the Nordic leader in new FDI projects – the largest category being Sweden-based businesses (53), followed by UK-based – 19; the United States – 18; Germany – 15; Norway – 13; and China – 13.

To attract investment over the years, the Government of Finland (GOF) cut the corporate tax rate in 2014 from 24.5 percent to 20 percent, simplified its residence permit procedures for foreign specialists, and created a one-stop-shop for foreign investors called Business Finland.

The U.S. Embassy in Helsinki, through the Foreign Commercial Service and Political/Economic Sections, is a strong partner for U.S. businesses that wish to connect to the Finnish market. Finland has vibrant telecommunication, energy, and biotech sectors, as well as Arctic expertise. With excellent transportation links to the Nordic-Baltic region and Russia, Finland is a developing transportation hub.

On January 1, 2018, Finpro, the Finnish trade promotion organization, and Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation, united to become Business Finland, which is now the single operator working to facilitate foreign direct investment in Finland. Business Finland is the Finnish government organization for innovation funding and trade, travel and investment promotion. Business Finland’s 600 experts work in 40 offices abroad and in 16 offices in Finland.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 3 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 20 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/
en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 6 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2017 USD 3,318 https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/factsheet.cfm?Area=306
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 USD 48,280 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Finnish government is open to foreign direct investment. There are no general regulatory limitations relating to acquisitions. A mixture of domestic and EU competition rules govern mergers and acquisitions. Finland does not preclude foreign investment, but some tax policies may make it unattractive to investors. Finnish tax authorities treat the movement of ownership of shares from a Finnish company to a foreign company as a taxable event, though Finland complies with EU directives that require it to allow such transactions based in other EU member states without taxing them.

Finland does not grant foreign-owned firms preferential treatment like tax holidays or other subsidies not available to all firms. Instead, Finland relies on policies that seek to offer both domestic and international firms better operating conditions, an educated labor force, and well-functioning infrastructure. Companies benefit from preferential trade arrangements through Finland’s membership in the EU and the World Trade Organization (WTO), in addition to the protection offered by Finland’s bilateral investment treaties with sixty-seven countries. The corporate income tax rate is 20 percent.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

The Regulation of the European Parliament and the Council on establishing a framework for the national security screening of high-risk foreign investments into the Union entered into force on April 10, 2019. At the moment, 14 Member States, including Finland, have national screening systems in place.

The law governing foreign investments is the Act on the Monitoring of Foreign Corporate Acquisitions in Finland (172/2012). The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment (TEM) monitors and confirms foreign corporate acquisitions. TEM decides whether an acquisition conflicts with “vital national interests” including securing national defense, as well as safeguarding public order and security. If TEM finds that a key national interest is jeopardized, it must refer the matter to the Council of State, which may refuse to approve the acquisition.

Amendments to national legislation (Act on the Screening of Foreign Corporate Acquisitions in Finland) are under review in a working group chaired by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, the Act is amended to meet EU FDI Screening Regulation which entered into force in March 2019. The amendments to the Act are expected to enter into force in October 2020.

In the civilian sector, TEM primarily monitors transactions related to Finnish enterprises considered critical to maintaining functions fundamental to society, such as energy, communications, or food supply. Monitoring only applies to foreign owners domiciled outside the EU and European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

For defense acquisitions, monitoring applies to all foreign owners, who must apply for prior approval. “Defense” includes all entities that supply or have supplied goods or services to the Finnish Ministry of Defense, the Finnish Defense Forces, the Finnish Border Guard, as well as entities dealing in dual-use goods. The substantive elements in evaluating the application are identical to those applied to other corporate acquisitions.

On February 26, 2019, the Finnish Parliament approved a law (HE 253/2018) that requires non-EU/ETA foreign individuals or entities to receive Defense Ministry permission before they purchase land in Finland. Even companies registered in Finland, but whose decision-making bodies are at least of one-tenth non-EU/ETA origin will have to seek a permit. The law, which took effect in the beginning of 2020, states that non-EU/ETA property purchasers can still buy residential housing and condominiums without restrictions.

Private ownership is normal in Finland, and in most fields of business participation by foreign companies or individuals is unrestricted. When the government privatizes state-owned enterprises, both private and foreign participation is allowed except in enterprises operating in sectors related to national security.

TEM is the authority responsible for monitoring and confirming corporate acquisitions. Filing an application/notification is voluntary, but the Ministry may request information connected to a foreigner’s corporate acquisition. The law does not specify a time limit for filing, and a foreign owner may file either before or after the transaction. A transaction is considered approved if the Ministry does not request additional information, initiate further proceedings within six weeks, or refuse to confirm the transaction within three months. The Ministry cannot render opinions before an application is filed. It is, however, possible for investors to contact the Ministry for guidance beforehand. There is no official template for the notification, but it must include information on the monitored entity’s pre-and post-transaction ownership structure and the acquiring entity’s ownership structure. If known, an acquiring entity must also state its intentions relating to the monitored entity. There are no fees.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Finland has been a member of the WTO and the EU since 1995. The WTO conducted its Trade Policy Review of the European Union (including Finland) in May 2017: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp457_e.htm .

The Research Institute of the Finnish Economy (ETLA) regularly publishes reviews of different sectors and factors that may affect investment: https://www.etla.fi/en/publication/dp1267-en .

Business Facilitation

All businesses in Finland must be publicly registered at the Finnish Trade Register. Businesses must also notify the Register of any changes to registration information and most must submit their financial statements (annual accounts) to the register. The website is: https://www.prh.fi/en/kaupparekisteri.html . The Business Information System BIS (“YTJ” in Finnish, https://www.prh.fi/en/kaupparekisteri/rekisterointipalvelut/ytj.html ) is an online service enabling investors to start a business or organization, report changes, close down a business, or conduct searches.

Permits, licenses, and notifications required depend on whether the foreign entrepreneur originates from a Nordic country, the European Union, or elsewhere. The type of company also affects the permits required, which can include the registration of the right to residency, residence permits for an employee or self-employed person, and registration in the Finnish Population Information System. A foreigner may need a permit from the Finnish Patent and Registration Office to serve as a partner in a partnership or administrative body of a company. For more information: https://www.suomi.fi/company/responsibilities-and-obligations/permits-and-obligations . Improvements made in 2016 to the residence permit system for foreign specialists, defined as those with a specific field of expertise, a university degree, and who earn at least EUR 3,000 gross per month, should help attract experts to Finland. An online permit application (https://enterfinland.fi/eServices ) available since November 2016 has made it easier for family members to acquire a residence permit. In 2019, media reported that the average processing times for foreign specialist residency permits more than doubled (52 days) and in some instances even longer.

The practice of some trades in Finland requires only notification or registration with the authorities. Other trades, however, require a separate license; companies should confirm requirements with Finnish authorities. Entrepreneurs must take out pension insurance for their employees, and certain fields obligate additional insurance. All businesses have a statutory obligation to maintain financial accounts, and, with the exception of small companies, businesses must appoint an external auditor.

Finland ranks 20th according to the World Bank Group’s 2020 Doing Business Index; it ranked 31st on “Starting a Business” (http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/finland ). According to a 2016 study (FDI Attractiveness Scoreboard) by the European Commission, Finland is the most attractive EU country for FDI in terms of the political, regulatory and legal environment.

Gender inequality is low in Finland, which ranks third in the 2020 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index. The employment gap between men and women aged 15-64 is the third lowest in the OECD. Finland is currently one of the top-ranked countries that have reached parity in educational attainment.

Outward Investment

Business Finland, part of the Team Finland network, helps Finnish SMEs go international, encourages foreign direct investment in Finland, and promotes tourism. Business Finland has a staff of around 600 persons and nearly 40 offices abroad. It operates16 regional offices in Finland and focuses on agricultural technology, clean technology, connectivity, e-commerce, education, ICT and digitalization, mining, and mobility as a service. While many of Business Finland’s programs are export-oriented, they also seek to offer business and network opportunities. More info here: https://www.businessfinland.fi/en/do-business-with-finland/home /. In 2018, the Ministry of Education and Culture launched the Team Finland Knowledge network to enhance international education and research cooperation and the export of Finnish educational expertise.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Securities Market Act (SMA) contains regulations on corporate disclosure procedures and requirements, responsibility for flagging share ownership, insider regulations and offenses, the issuing and marketing of securities, and trading. The clearing of securities trades is subject to licensing and is supervised by the Financial Supervision Authority. The SMA is at https://www.finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/2012/en20120746_20130258.pdf .

See the Financial Supervisory Authority’s overview of regulations for listed companies here: https://www.finanssivalvonta.fi/en/capital-markets/issuers-and-investors/regulation-of-listed-companies/ . Finland is currently not a member of the UNCTAD Business Facilitation Program https://businessfacilitation.org/ .

The Act on the Openness of Public Documents establishes the openness of all records in the possession of officials of the state, municipalities, registered religious communities, and corporations that perform legally mandated public duties, such as pension funds and public utilities. Exceptions can only be made by law or by an executive order for reasons such as national security. For more information, see the Ministry of Justice’s page on Openness: https://oikeusministerio.fi/en/act-on-the-openness-of-government-activities . The Act on the Openness of Government Activities can be found here: https://www.finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/1999/en19990621 .

Finland ranks third on The World Justice Project (WJP) Rule of Law Index (2020) regarding constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice and criminal justice. For more, see: https://worldjusticeproject.org/our-work/research-and-data/wjp-rule-law-index-2020 . Finland ranks fourth on World Bank’s Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance: http://rulemaking.worldbank.org/en/data/explorecountries/finland .

Availability of official information in Finland is the best in the EU, according to a report by the Center for Data Information (2017).

Finland joined the Open Government Partnership Initiative (OGP) in April 2013. The global OGP-initiative aims at promoting more transparent, effective and accountable public administration. The goal is to develop dialogue between citizens and administration and to enhance citizen engagement. The OGP aims at concrete commitments from participating countries to promote transparency, to fight corruption, to citizen participation and to the use of new technologies. Finland’s 4th national Open Government Action Plan for 2019–2023 was published in September 2019.

International Regulatory Considerations

Finland respects EU common rules and expects other Member States to do the same. The Government seeks to constructively combine national and joint European interests in Finland’s EU policy and seeks better and lighter regulation that incorporates flexibility for SMEs. The Government will not increase burdens detrimental to competitiveness during its national implementation of EU acts.

Finland, as a member of the WTO, is required under the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement) to report to the WTO all proposed technical regulations that could affect trade with other Member countries. In 2019, Finland submitted 23 notifications of technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures to the WTO and has submitted 100 notifications since 1995. Finland is a signatory to the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), which entered into force on February 22, 2017.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Finland has a civil law system. European Community (EC) law is directly applicable in Finland and takes precedence over national legislation. The Market Court is a special court for rulings in commercial law, competition, and public procurement cases, and may issue injunctions and penalties against the illegal restriction of competition. It also governs mergers and acquisitions and may overturn public procurement decisions and require compensatory payments. The Court has jurisdiction over disputes regarding whether goods or services have been marketed unfairly. The Court also hears industrial and civil IPR cases.

Amendments to the Finnish Competition Act (948/2011) entered into force on June 17, 2019, and on January 1, 2020. The amendments include, most notably, changes to the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority FCCA’s dawn raid practices, information exchange practices between national authorities and the calculation of merger control deadlines, which are now calculated in working days, rather than calendar days.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

A non-European Economic Area (EEA) resident (persons or companies) operating in Finland must obtain a license or a notification when starting a business in a regulated industry. A comprehensive list of regulated industries can be found at: https://www.suomi.fi/company/responsibilities-and-obligations/permits-and-obligations .

See also the Ministry of Employment and the Economy’s Regulated Trade guidelines: https://tem.fi/en/regulation-of-business-operations . The autonomously governed Aland Islands, however are an exception. Right of domicile is acquired at birth if it is possessed by either parent. Property ownership and the right to conduct business are limited to those with the right of domicile in the Aland Islands. The Aland Government can occasionally, grant exemptions from the requirement of right of domicile for those wishing to acquire real property or conduct a business in Aland. This does not prevent people from settling in, or trading with, the Aland Islands. Provided they are Finnish citizens, immigrants who have lived in Aland for five years and have adequate Swedish may apply for domicile and the Aland Government can grant exemptions.

The Competition Act allows the government to block mergers where the result would harm market competition. The Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority (FCCA) issued guidelines in 2011: https://www.kkv.fi/en/facts-and-advice/competition-affairs/merger-control/ .

EnterpriseFinland/Suomi.fi (https://www.suomi.fi/company/ ) is a free online service offering information and services for starting, growing and developing a company. Users may also ask for advice through the My Enterprise Finland website: https://oma.yrityssuomi.fi/en. Finnish legislation is available in the free online databank Finlex in Finnish, where some English translations can also be found: https://www.finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/ .

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority FCCA protects competition by intervening in cases regarding restrictive practices, such as cartels and abuse of dominant position, and violations of the Competition Act and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). Investigations occur on the FCCA’s initiative and on the basis of complaints. Where necessary, the FCCA makes proposals to the Market Court regarding penalties. In international competition matters, the FCCA’s key stakeholders are the European Commission (DG Competition), the OECD Competition Committee, the Nordic competition authorities and the International Competition Network (ICN). FCCA rulings and decisions can be found in the archive in Finnish. More information at: https://www.kkv.fi/en/facts-and-advice/competition-affairs/ .

Expropriation and Compensation

Finnish law protects private property rights. Citizen property is protected by the Constitution which includes basic provisions in the event of expropriation. Private property is only expropriated for public purposes (eminent domain), in a non-discriminatory manner, with reasonable compensation, and in accordance with established international law. Expropriation is usually based on a permit given by the government or on a confirmed plan and is performed by the District Survey Office. Compensation is awarded at full market price, but may exclude the rise in value due only to planning decisions.

Besides normal expropriation according to the Expropriation Act, a municipality or the State has the right to expropriate land for planning purposes. Expropriation is mainly for acquiring land for common needs, such as street areas, parks and civic buildings. The method is rarely used: less than one percent of land acquired by the municipalities is expropriated. Credendo Group ranks Finland’s expropriation risk as low (1), on a scale from 1 to 7: https://www.credendo.com/country-risk/finland .

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

In 1969, Finland became a member state to the World Bank-based International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID; Washington Convention). Finland is a signatory to the Convention of the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The Finnish Arbitration Act (967/1992) is applied without distinction to both domestic and international arbitration. Sections 1 to 50 apply to arbitration in Finland and Sections 51 to 55 to arbitration agreements providing for arbitration abroad and the recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards in Finland. Of 186 parties in 2019, the majority (92 percent) were from Finland. There have been no reported investment disputes in Finland in recent years.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Finland has a long tradition of institutional arbitration and its legal framework dates back to 1928. Today, arbitration procedures are governed by the 1992 Arbitration Act (as amended), which largely mirrors the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration of 1985 (with amendments, as adopted in 2006). The UNCITRAL Model law has not yet, however, been incorporated into Finnish Law. In August 2019, the Finland Chamber of Commerce sent a statement to the Justice Ministry urging Finland to revise the 1992 Arbitration Act to be fully consistent with the Model Law, arguing it would increase Finland’s attractiveness as a venue for international arbitration. In response to the Finland Chamber of Commerce’s request that the government adopt the Model Law, the Ministry of Justice has appointed a monitoring group to begin the process of reviewing what the new legislation should address. Finland’s Act on Mediation in Civil Disputes and Certification of Settlements by Courts (394/2011) aims to facilitate alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and promote amicable settlements by encouraging mediation, and applies to settlements concluded in other EU member states: https://www.finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/2011/en20110394.pdf . In June 2016, the Finland Chamber of Commerce launched its Mediation Rules under which FAI, the Institute of the Finland Chamber of Commerce, will administer mediations: https://arbitration.fi/mediation/mediation_rules/ .

Any dispute in a civil or commercial matter, international or domestic, which can be settled by agreement may be referred to arbitration. Arbitration is frequently used to settle commercial disputes and is usually faster than court proceedings. An arbitration award is final and binding. FAI promotes the settlement of disputes through arbitration, commonly using the “FAI Rules”: https://arbitration.fi/arbitration/rules/ .

Revised arbitration rules of the Finland Chamber of Commerce entered into force January 1, 2020. A 2020 Guide to the Finnish Arbitration FAI Rules has been published: https://arbitration.fi/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2019/12/arbitration-rules-of-the-finland-chamber-of-commerce-2020.pdf  The Institute appoints arbitrators both to domestic and international arbitration proceedings, and administers domestic and international arbitrations governed by its rules. It also appoints arbitrators in ad hoc cases when the arbitration agreement so provides, and acts as appointing authority under the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules. The Finnish Arbitration Act (967/1992) states that foreign nationals can act as arbitrators. For more information see: https://arbitration.fi/arbitration/ 

Finland signed the UN Convention on Transparency in Treaty-based Investor-State Arbitration (“Mauritius Convention”) in March 2015. Under the new rules, all documents and hearings are open to the public, interested parties may submit statements, and protection for confidential information has been strengthened.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Finnish Bankruptcy Act was amended and the amendments took effect on July 1, 2019. The main objectives of these amendments were to simplify, digitize and speed-up bankruptcy proceedings. The amended Bankruptcy Act allows administrators to send notices and invitations to creditor addresses registered in the Trade Register. This will improve accessibility for foreign companies that have established a branch in Finland. Administrators of bankruptcy and restructuring proceedings must upload data and documentation to the bankruptcy and restructuring proceedings case management system (KOSTI). KOSTI is available only for creditors located in Finland due to the strong ID requirements.

The Reorganization of Enterprises Act (1993/47), https://www.finlex.fi/fi/laki/kaannokset/1993/en19930047 , establishes a legal framework for reorganization with the aim to provide an alternative to bankruptcy proceedings. The Act excludes credit and insurance institutions and certain other financial institutions. Recognition of restructuring or insolvency processes initiated outside of the EU requires an exequatur from a Finnish court.

The bankruptcy ombudsman, https://www.konkurssiasiamies.fi/en/index.html , supervises the administration of bankruptcy estates in Finland. The Act on the Supervision of the Administration of Bankruptcy Estates dictates related Finnish law: https://www.konkurssiasiamies.fi/material/attachments/konkurssiasiamies/konkurssiasiamiehentoimistonliitteet/6JZrLGPN1/Act_on_the_Supervision_of_the_Administration_of_Bankruptcy_Estates.pdf .

Finland can be considered creditor-friendly; enforcement of liabilities through bankruptcy proceedings as well as execution outside bankruptcy proceedings are both effective. Bankruptcy proceedings are creditor-driven, with no formal powers granted to the debtor and its shareholders. The rights of a secured creditor are also quite extensive. According to the 2019 World Bank’s Doing Business Report, Finland ranks second out of 190 countries for the ease of resolving insolvency: http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploretopics/resolving-insolvency .

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Foreign-owned companies are eligible for government incentives on an equal footing with Finnish-owned companies. Support is given in the form of grants, loans, tax benefits, equity participation, guarantees, and employee training. Assistance is administered through one of Finland’s Centers for Economic Development, Transport, and the Environment (ELY) that provide advisory, training, and expert services as well as grant funding for investment and development projects. Investment aid can be granted to companies in the regional development areas, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Large companies may also qualify if they have a major employment impact in the region. Aid to business development can be granted to improve or facilitate the company’s establishment and operation, know-how, internationalization, product development or process enhancement. Subsidies for start-up companies are available for establishing and expanding business operations during the first 24 months. Transport aid may be granted for deliveries of goods produced to sparsely populated areas. Energy subsidies can be granted to companies for investments in energy efficiency and conservation. http://www.ely-keskus.fi/en/web/ely-en/business-and-industry;jsessionid=0B09A1B237B74FAC485AAD7C8E068DBF .

Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, provides low-interest loans and grants to challenging and innovative projects potentially leading to global success stories. The organization offers funding for research and development work carried out by companies, research organizations, and public sector service providers in Finland. Besides funding technological breakthroughs, Tekes emphasizes also service-related, design, business, and social innovations. Startups and both SMEs and large companies can benefit from Tekes incentives.

A company can use guarantees from the state-owned financing company Finnvera: https://www.finnvera.fi/eng/start/applying-for-financing/when-setting-up-a-business?source=3165 . Finnvera offers services to businesses in most sectors and is also Finland’s official Export Credit Agency (ECA). Business Finland helps foreign investors set up a business in Finland. Its services are free of charge, and range from data collection and matchmaking to location management: https://www.investinfinland.fi/our-services . Support for innovative business ventures can also be obtained from the Foundation for Finnish Inventions: http://www.wipo.int/sme/en/best_practices/finland.htm .

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Free trade zone area regulations have been harmonized in the EU by the Community Customs Code. The European Union Customs Code UCC, its Delegated Act and Implementing Act entered into force on May 1, 2016, and will be implemented gradually; the free zone of control type II was abolished and the operator authorizations were changed into customs warehouse authorizations on Customs’ initiative. The Code also allows the processing of non-Union goods without import duties and other charges. New regulations for customs declarations have been applied to customs warehousing since June 1, 2019. According to the current schedule, new declarations will be introduced for import and temporary storage at the end of 2020, and for export and transit in 2021–2023.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

There are no performance requirements or commitments imposed on foreign investment in Finland. However, to conduct business in Finland, some residency requirements must be met. The Limited Liability Companies (LLC) Act of Finland is at: http://finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/2006/en20060624 . A LLC must be reported for registration within three months from the signing of the memorandum of association: https://www.prh.fi/en/kaupparekisteri/yrityksen_perustaminen/osakeyhtio.html . There is no forced localization policy for foreign investments in Finland.

Finland participates actively in the development of the EU’s Digital Single Market and, aside from privacy issues, encourages a light regulatory approach in this area. Since May 2018, data transfers from Finland to non-EU countries must abide by EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (EU) 2016/679. Finland supports the EU Commission’s view on promoting European digitalization and creating a single market for data. In March 2020, the Ministry of Transport and Communications appointed a data economy implementation and monitoring group, with task of continue exerting influence and to coordinate the work of different administrative sectors. The working group is also tasked with exerting influence both internationally and at the EU level. The objective is for Finland’s view on the principles and development of the data economy will be noted internationally.

Personal data may be transferred across borders per the Finnish Personal Data Act (PDA, at: http://finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/1999/en19990523 ), which states that personal data may be transferred outside the European Union or the European Economic Area only if the country in question guarantees an adequate level of data protection. Office of the Data Protection Ombudsman legislation is at: https://tietosuoja.fi/en/organisations .

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Finnish legal system protects and enforces property rights and secured interests in property, both movable and real. Finland ranked first of 131 countries in the Property Rights Alliance 2019 International Property Rights Index (IPRI) which concentrates on a country’s legal and political environment, physical property rights, and intellectual property rights (IPR).

Mortgages exist in Finland and can be applied to both owned and rented real estate. Finland ranks 20th out of 190 countries in the ease of Registering Property according to the World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Report. In Finland, real property formation, development, land consolidation, cadastral mapping, registration of real properties, ownership and legal rights, real property valuation, and taxation are all combined within one basic cadastral system (real estate register) maintained by the National Land Survey: https://www.maanmittauslaitos.fi/en/real-property .

Intellectual Property Rights

The Finnish legal system protects intellectual property rights (IPR), and Finland adheres to numerous related international agreements. Finland is a member of the World International Property Organization (WIPO) and party to a number of its treaties, including the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. One of Prime Minister Marin’s goals is to draft a National IPR Strategy for Finland.

The Finnish Copyright Act can be found at: https://wipolex.wipo.int/en/text/397616 . Guidelines applicable for international use were published in 2016 and can be found at: https://www.cupore.fi/en/publications/cupore-s-publications/assessing-the-operation-of-copyright-and-related-rights-systems-141052-14122016 .

The new Finnish Trademarks Act entered into force on May 1, 2019. With the new Act, Finland implements the revised EU Trademark Directive, enforces the Singapore Treaty on the Law of Trademarks, and brings the 1964 trademark regulations up to date. Provisions concerning collective marks and control marks are included in the new Act, which nullified the Act on Collective Marks. The Act also includes amendments to related legislation such as the Finnish Company Names Act, the Criminal Code, and relevant procedural acts. Trademark applicants or proprietors not domiciled in Finland are required to have a representative resident in the European Economic Area.

In August 2018, Finland adopted a new Trade Secrets Act to incorporate the provisions of the EU Directive 2016/943 on Trade Secrets . The new Act replaces the Unfair Business Practices Act and provides harmonized definitions at the EU level for trade secrets, their lawful and unlawful acquisition, and their use and disclosure. The Act also includes a whistleblower provision according to which a person (e.g. an employee) is allowed to disclose a trade secret in order to reveal malpractice or illegal activity, so long as it is done to protect the public interest and the person has significant reasons to reveal the information. The Trade Secrets Act can be found at: https://www.finlex.fi/fi/laki/alkup/2018/20180595  (available only in Finnish and Swedish).

Patent rights in Finland are consistent with international standards, and a granted patent is valid for 20 years. The regulatory framework for process patents filed before 1995, and pending in 1996, denied adequate protection to many of the top-selling U.S. pharmaceutical products currently on the Finnish market. For this reason, Finland was placed on the Special 301 Report Watch List in 2009, but it was removed from the list in 2015 when the term for relevant patents expired.

Finnish Customs officers have ex-officio authority to seize and destroy counterfeit goods. IPR enforcement in Finland is based on EU Regulation 608/2013. In 2019, according to Finnish Customs statistics, Finnish authorities inspected 797 suspected counterfeit goods . The number and value of counterfeit goods detained by Finnish Customs have been in decline since 2013. The number and value of counterfeit goods decreased significantly (99 percent) in 2019 compared to 2018. The long-term trend indicates a decline in counterfeit goods detected in large volume shipments. However, due to increased online purchases, small volume shipments via postal and express freight traffic have increased in number, and these are more difficult to screen for counterfeits. Finland is mentioned in the 2019 Notorious Markets List for reportedly hosting servers associated with infringing activity.

The link to WIPO’s list of IPR legislation can be found at: https://wipolex.wipo.int/en/legislation/profile/FI .

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles here: https://www.wipo.int/directory/en/details.jsp?country_code=FI .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Finland is open to foreign portfolio investment and has an effective regulatory system. According to the Bank of Finland, in January 2020 Finland had USD 11.4 billion worth of official reserve assets, mainly in foreign currency reserves and securities. Credit is allocated on market terms and is made available to foreign investors in a non-discriminatory manner, and private sector companies have access to a variety of credit instruments. Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms.

The Helsinki Stock Exchange is part of OMX, referred to as NASDAQ OMX Helsinki (OMXH). NASDAQ OMX Helsinki is part of the NASDAQ OMX Nordic division, together with the Stockholm, Copenhagen, Iceland, and Baltic (Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius) stock exchanges.

Finland accepts the obligations under IMF Article VIII, Sections 2(a), 3, and 4 of the Fund’s Articles of Agreement. It maintains an exchange system free of restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions, except for those measures imposed for security reasons in accordance with Regulations of the Council of the European Union.

Money and Banking System

Banking is open to foreign competition. At the end of 2018, there were 255 credit institutions operating in Finland and total assets of the domestic banking groups and branches of foreign banks operating in Finland amounted to USD 945 billion. For more information see: https://www.finanssiala.fi/en/material/FFI-Finnish-Banking-in-2018.pdf 

Foreign nationals can in principle open bank accounts in the same manner as Finns. However, banks must identify customers and this may prove more difficult for foreign nationals. In addition to personal and address data, the bank often needs to know the person’s identifier code (i.e. social security number), and a number of banks require a work permit, a certificate of studies, or a letter of recommendation from a trustworthy bank, and details regarding the nature of transactions to be made with the account. All authorized deposit-taking banks are members of the Deposit Guarantee Fund, which guarantees customers’ deposits to a maximum of EUR 100,000 per depositor.

In 2018 the capital adequacy ratio of the Finnish banking sector was 20.9 percent, above the EU average. Measured in Core Tier 1 Capital, the ratio was 17.2 percent. The average CET1 ratio in the EU banking sector was 14.4 percent at the end of 2018. The Finnish banking sector’s return on equity (ROE) was 8.5 percent, well above the average ROE for all EU banking sectors (6.2 percent). Standard & Poor’s in March 2020 reaffirmed Finland’s AA+ credit rating and stable outlook while Fitch kept Finland’s credit rating at AA+ in February 2020. Moody’s kept Finland’s credit rating unchanged at Aa1 in January 2020. The Finnish banking sector is dominated by four major banks (OP Pohjola, Nordea, Municipality Finance and Danske Bank), which together hold 81 percent of the market.

Nordea, which relocated its headquarters from Sweden to Finland in 2018, has the leading market position among household and corporate customers in Finland. The relocation increased the Finnish banking sector to over three times the size of Finland’s GDP. Nordea is the world’s 20th largest bank (2018) in terms of balance sheet. Consequently, Finland’s banking sector is one of Europe’s largest relative to the size of the national economy.

Nordea became a member of the “we.trade” consortium in November 2017, a blockchain based trade platform for customers of the European wide consortium of banks signed up for the platform. “we.trade” makes domestic and cross-border commerce easier for European companies by harnessing the power of distributed ledger and block chain technology.

The Act on Virtual Currency providers (572/2019) entered into force in May, 2019. The Financial Supervisory Authority (FIN-FSA) acts as the registration authority for virtual currency providers. The primary objective of the Act is to introduce virtual currency providers into the scope of anti-money laundering regulation. Only virtual currency providers meeting statutory requirements are able to carry on their activities in Finland.

The Finnish Tax Administration released guidelines on the taxation of cryptocurrency in May 2018, updates were made in October 2019, and new guidelines were released in January 2020 , (so far only in Finnish): https://www.vero.fi/en/detailed-guidance/guidance/48411/taxation-of-virtual-currencies3/  The October 2019 guidelines are at: https://www.vero.fi/en/detailed-guidance/guidance/48411/taxation-of-virtual-currencies2/ .

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Finland adopted the Euro as its official currency in January 1999. Finland maintains an exchange system free of restrictions on the making of payments and transfers for international transactions, except for those measures imposed for security reasons.

Remittance Policies

There are no legal obstacles to direct foreign investment in Finnish securities or exchange controls regarding payments into and out of Finland. Banks must identify their customers and report suspected cases of money laundering or the financing of terrorism. Banks and credit institutions must also report single payments or transfers of EUR 15,000 or more. If the origin of funds is suspect, banks must immediately inform the National Bureau of Investigation. There are no restrictions on current transfers or repatriation of profits. Residents and non-residents may hold foreign exchange accounts. There is no limit on dividend distributions as long as they correspond to a company’s official earnings records.

Travelers carrying more than EUR 10,000 must make a declaration upon entering or leaving the EU. As a Financial Action Task Force (FATF) member, Finland observes most of FATF’s 40 recommendations. In its Mutual Evaluation Report of Finland, released April 16, 2019, FATF concluded that Finland’s measures to combat money laundering and terrorist financing are delivering good results, but that Finland needs to improve supervision to ensure that financial and non-financial institutions are properly implementing effective AML/CFT controls. To improve supervision, a money laundering supervision register of the State Administrative Agency (AVI) and a register of beneficial owners controlled by the Finnish Patent and Registration Office were set up on July 1, 2019. In addition, the responsibility of preparing amendments to the Act on Preventing Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing was transferred to the Ministry of Finance (in charge of national FATF coordination) on January 1, 2019. FATF’s Mutual Evaluation Report of Finland, April 2019: http://www.fatf-gafi.org/countries/d-i/finland/documents/mer-finland-2019.html .

In Finland, the Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive was implemented, among other things, by means of the Act on the Bank and Payment Accounts Control System, which entered into force on May 1, 2019. Its provisions on the bank and payment account data retrieval system and on the bank and payment account registry will apply from September 1, 2020. The Ministry of the Interior has set up a legislative project to implement the EU directive on access to financial information at national level. The directive contains rules to facilitate the use of information held in bank account registries by the authorities for the purpose of preventing, detecting, investigating or prosecuting certain offences. The government proposal drafted is scheduled to be submitted to Parliament in September 2020.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Solidium is a holding company that is fully owned by the State of Finland. Although it is not explicitly a sovereign wealth fund, Solidium’s mission is to manage and increase the long-term value of the listed shareholdings of the Finnish State. Solidium is a minority owner in 13 listed companies; the market value of Solidium’s equity holdings is approximately USD 96.4 billion (April 2020), https://www.solidium.fi/en/holdings/holdings/) .

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) in Finland are active in chemicals, petrochemicals, plastics and composites; energy and mining; environmental technologies; food processing and packaging; industrial equipment and supplies; marine technology; media and entertainment; metal manufacturing and products; services; and travel. The Ownership Steering Act (1368/2007) regulates the administration of state-owned companies: https://www.finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/2007/en20071368 .

In general, SOEs are open to competition except where they have a monopoly position, namely in alcohol retail and gambling. The Ownership Steering Department in the Prime Minister’s Office has ownership steering responsibility for Finnish SOEs, and is responsible for Solidium, a holding company wholly owned by the State of Finland and a minority owner in nationally important listed companies.

The GOF, directly or through Solidium, is a significant owner in 17 companies listed on the Helsinki stock exchange. The market value of all State shareholdings was approximately USD 25 billion as of April 2020. More info can be found here: https://vnk.fi/en/value-of-state-holdings . The GOF has majority ownership of shares in two listed companies (Finnair and Fortum) and owns shares in 36 commercial companies: https://vnk.fi/en/state-shareholdings-and-parliamentary-authorisations  (April 2020). The Finnish State development company Vake was established in 2016 and became fully operational in 2018. Vake’s role is to manage the State shareholdings under its control and to create conditions for reform. More information can be found here: https://vake.fi/enhome .

Finnish state ownership steering complies with the OECD Principles of Corporate Governance.

The Parliamentary Advisory Council in the Prime Minister’s Office serves in an advisory capacity regarding SOE policy; it does not make recommendations regarding the actual business in which the individual companies are engaged. The government has proposed changing its ownership levels in several companies and increasing the number of companies steered by the Prime Minister’s Office. Parliament decides the companies in which the State may relinquish its sole ownership (100 percent), its control of ownership (50.1 percent) or minority ownership (33.4 percent of votes). For more see https://vnk.fi/en/legislation-and-corporate-governance 

In April 2020, the Government issued a new resolution on ownership policy, which will guide state-owned companies for the duration of the government term (until spring 2023). The Government Resolution on ownership policy will continue to pursue a predictable, forward-looking ownership policy that safeguards the strategic interests of the state. State ownership will be assessed from the perspectives of overall benefit to the national economy, development of the operations and value of companies, and the efficient distribution of resources. The new Government Resolution on ownership policy strongly emphasizes the fight against climate change, the use of digitalization and issues of corporate social responsibility.

Finland opened domestic rail freight to competition in early 2007, and in July 2016, Fenniarail Oy, the first private rail operator on the Finnish market, began operations. Passenger rail transport services will be opened to competition in stages, starting with local rail services in southern Finland. Based on an agreement between Finnish State Railways (VR) and the Ministry of Transport and Communications, VR has exclusive rights to provide passenger transport rail services in Finland until the end of 2024. The exclusive right applies to all passenger rail transport in Finland, excluding the commuter train transport services, provided by the Helsinki Regional Transport Agency (HSL). HSL put its commuter train transport services out for tender in February 2020, VR won the tender and will continue provide passenger rail service for the next ten years. The value of southern Finland commuter train services is USD 67 million per year, with 200 000 daily passengers. Three wholly state-owned enterprises will be separated from Finnish State Railways (VR) to create a level playing field for all operators: a rolling stock company, a maintenance company, and a real estate company. Cross-border transportation between Finland and Russia was opened to competition in December 2016. Trains to and from Russia can be operated by any railroad with permission to operate in the EU. This was earlier VR’s exclusive domain. Fenniarail Oy has an agreement with VR regarding information exchange between authorities in Finland and Russia, approvals of rail wagons on the Finnish rail network and the safety of rail wagons. The agreement was signed in January 2017 for an initial trial period.

Privatization Program

Parliament makes all decisions identifying the companies in which the State may relinquish sole ownership (100 percent of the votes) or control (minimum of 50.1 percent of the votes), while the Government decides on the actual sale. The State has privatized companies by selling shares to Finnish and foreign institutional investors, through both public offerings and directly to employees. Sales of direct holdings of the State totaled USD 1.72 billion from 2010 to 2019. Solidium’s share sales totaled some USD 6.33 billion from June 2010 – February 2020. According to the present Government Program, the proceeds from the sale of state assets are primarily to be used for the repayment of central government debt. Up to 25%, but no more than USD 168 million of any annual revenues exceeding USD 448 million, may be used for projects designed to strengthen the economy and promote growth.

The Government issued a new resolution on state-ownership policy in May 2016, seeking to ensure that corporate assets held by the State are put to more efficient use to boost economic growth and employment.

More info about state ownership can be found here : https://vnk.fi/en/government-ownership-steering .

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The Government promotes Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) through the Ministry of Employment and the Economy CSR Guidelines (https://tem.fi/en/key-guidelines-on-csr ). The Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility acts as the Finnish National Contact Point (NCP) for the effective implementation of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (MNEs), together with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment: https://tem.fi/en/handling-specific-instances-of-the-oecd-guidelines-for-multinational-enterprises .

The government’s SOE policy establishes CSR as a core value of SOEs. Finnish companies perceive that the central component of responsible business conduct or corporate responsibility is to conduct due diligence to ensure compliance with law and regulations. There are no national codes for CSR in Finland; rather, Finnish companies and public authorities have promoted global CSR codes, such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises; the UN Global Compact for Business and Human Rights; ILO principles; EMAS; ISO standards; and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).

The Directive of the European Parliament and the Council on the disclosure of non-financial information has been implemented via amendments to the Finnish Accounting Act, requiring affected organizations to make the first report in 2018. The obligation to report non-financial information and corporate responsibility reports will apply to large public interest entities with more than 500 employees. There are 150 Finnish companies that publish annual CSR reports that were not previously obligated to do so.

Importing tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold from conflict zones into the EU requires new procedures from businesses as of January 2021. Tukes, the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency, is the competent authority to carry out checks to ensure compliance with the requirements relating to the import of conflict minerals in Finland. The checks will begin in 2022. For more information: https://tukes.fi/en/industry/conflict-minerals .

Finland is committed to the implementation of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, and the tripartite declaration of principles concerning multinational enterprises and social policy by the ILO.

Finland has joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which supports improved governance in resource-rich countries. Finland is not a member of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights Initiative.

In October 2019, The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment commissioned a judicial analysis of regulation and legislation on corporate social responsibility. An analysis will be prepared of ways in which human rights and environmental due diligence could be incorporated into legislation affecting companies. The analysis will focus on establishing a method for nationally implementing corporate social responsibility legislation based on a due diligence obligation.

Labor and environmental laws and regulations are not waived to attract or retain investments and the Government published a guide to socially responsible public procurement in November 2017: http://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/handle/10024/160318 .

The Corporate Responsibility Network (FiBS) is the leading corporate responsibility network in Finland and has more than 300 members: https://www.fibsry.fi/briefly-in-english/ . The Human Rights Center (HRC), administratively linked to the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman, encourages foreign and local enterprises to follow the most important international norms: https://www.humanrightscentre.fi/monitoring/ .

The Securities Market Association, https://cgfinland.fi/en/ , developed and updated (2019) the Finnish Corporate Governance Code for companies listed on the Helsinki Stock Exchange: ﷟ https://business.nasdaq.com/list/Rules-and-Regulations/European-rules/nasdaq-helsinki/index.html .

9. Corruption

The National Risk Assessment of 2018 does not list corruption as a risk in Finland, nor does the 2017 Security Strategy for Society and there is no dedicated national anti-corruption strategy. In April 2020, the Ministry of Justice appointed an anti-corruption working group to draft Finland’s Anti-Corruption Strategy 2020-2023. The term of the working group ends in March 2023.

Over the past decade, Finland has ranked in the top three on Transparency International’s (TI) Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). In 2019, Finland was ranked third on the CPI.

Corruption in Finland is covered by the Criminal Code and penalties range from fines to imprisonment of up to four years. Both giving and accepting a bribe is considered criminal and Finland has statutory tax rules concerning non-deductibility of bribes. Finland does not have an authority specifically charged to prevent corruption. The Ministry of Justice coordinates anti-corruption matters, but Finland’s EU anti-corruption contact is the Ministry of the Interior. The National Bureau of Investigation also monitors corruption, while the tax administration has guidelines obliging tax officials to report suspected offences, including foreign bribery, and the Ministry of Finance has guidelines on hospitality, benefits, and gifts. The Ministry of Justice describes its anti-corruption efforts at https://oikeusministerio.fi/en/anti-corruption-activities .

The Ministry of Justice is maintaining an Anti-Corruption.fi website, https://korruptiontorjunta.fi/en/home , providing both ordinary citizens and professional operators with impartial and fact-based information on corruption and its prevention in Finland. The goal is a transparent, impartial and corruption-free culture and society.

The Act on a Candidate’s Election Funding (273/2009) delineates election funding and disclosure rules. The Act requires presidential candidates, Members of Parliament, and Deputy Members to declare total campaign financing, the financial value of each contribution, and donor names for donations exceeding EUR 1,500: https://www.finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/2009/en20090273.pdf . The Act on Political Parties (10/1969) concerning the funding of political parties is at: https://www.finlex.fi/fi/laki/kaannokset/1969/en19690010.pdf . The National Audit Office of Finland keeps a register containing election-funding disclosures at: http://www.vaalirahoitusvalvonta.fi  (available in Finnish and Swedish). Election funding disclosures must be filed with the National Audit Office of Finland within two months of election results being confirmed.

Finland does not regulate lobbying; there is no requirement for lobbyists to register or report contact with public officials. However, in March 2019, a parliamentary working group headed by the Speaker urged the establishment of a lobbying register to improve transparency regarding possible interest groups influences on members of Parliament. The working group said the registry would initially cover national-level decision making, later being extended to municipal and regional decision-making organs. The group is calling for the registry — already in use in the European Parliament — to be implemented during this government term. In accordance with the Government Program of Prime Minister Marin, an Act on a Transparency Register will be enacted in Finland on the basis of parliamentary preparation and in consultation with civil society. The purpose of the act is to improve the transparency of decision-making and, by doing this, to prevent undue influence and reinforce public confidence.

The ethical Guidelines of the Finnish Prosecution Service can be found from a new website that was opened on October 1, 2019. https://syyttajalaitos.fi/en/the-ethical-guidelines .

The following are ratified or in force in Finland: the Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime; the Council of Europe Civil Law Convention on Corruption; the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption; the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime; and, the UN Anticorruption Convention. Finland is a member of the European Partners against Corruption (EPAC).

Finland is a signatory to the OECD Convention on Anti-Bribery, but Transparency International released a progress report in September 2018 rating Finland as having “little to no enforcement” and opining that the most significant deterioration of the level of enforcement had taken place in Finland: https://www.transparency.org/exporting_corruption/Finland .

In March 2019, the OECD Working Group on Bribery noted that Finland has shown limited progress in addressing the Working Group’s concerns. In 2017 the Working Group stated that Finland still faces issues related to “old-boys’ networks,” and noted several conflict of interest scandals in 2017 that involved issues concerning blurred lines between public and private interests, and public office holders who had not recused themselves from decisions affecting them. Nonetheless, in the latest report the Working Group notes that Finland has taken steps to amend its Criminal Code on sanctions and to develop guidance specifically targeting SMEs.

Other reforms are also ongoing and seem to be pointing to the right direction, including in relation to institutional arrangements: http://www.oecd.org/corruption/Finland-phase-4-follow-up-report-ENG.pdf .

In March 2018, in its fifth evaluation round the Council of Europe’s anticorruption body GRECO (Group of States against Corruption) issued recommendations to Finland for preventing corruption among ministers, senior government officials and members of law enforcement agencies (the police and the Border Guard). The report recommended that Finland adopt and implement a national anticorruption strategy and pay special attention to the risks related to privatization in the planned health, social services and regional government reform.

The National Bureau of Investigation is responsible for the investigation of organized and international crimes, including economic crime and corruption, and operates an anti-corruption unit to detect economic offences. The Ministry of Justice has set up a specialist network, the anti-corruption cooperation network, which meets a few times a year to discuss and exchange information. The committee drafted an anti-corruption strategy for Finland and submitted it to the Ministry of Justice in 2017. The government has not yet adopted the strategy. Finnish Defense Forces, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Finnish Center for Integrity in Sports joined the anti-corruption network in 2020.

In November 2018, the City of Helsinki announced plans for a new whistleblower hotline service to anonymously inform authorities about suspected corruption.

At the beginning of 2017, a new Public Procurement Act based on the new EU directives on public procurement entered into force. Under the new law, a foreign bribery conviction remains mandatory grounds for exclusion from public contracts.

Resources to Report Corruption

Markku Ranta-Aho
Head of Financial Crime Division
National Board of Investigation
P.O. Box 285, 01310 Vantaa, Finland
markku.ranta-aho@poliisi.fi

Jaakko Korhonen
Chairperson
Transparency Finland
info@transparency.fi

10. Political and Security Environment

While instances of political violence in Finland are rare, extremism exists, and anti-immigration and anti-Semitic incidents do occur. In 2019, 15 anti-Semitic acts of vandalism against the Israeli Embassy over an 18-month period prompted an official demarche. The neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) is banned in Finland, as is its Facebook page, however the NRM website is accessible and features new content almost daily.

It is illegal in Finland to share violent content such as footage of Christchurch massacre, but it is still being disseminated and no one has been prosecuted. In August 2017, a stabbing attack took place in central Turku, in southwest Finland in which two pedestrians were killed and eight injured. Finnish authorities considered the attack a terrorist act and its perpetrator was convicted on terrorism charges, making it the first incident of its kind in Finland since the end of World War II.

The Fund for Peace (FFP) ranked Finland as the most stable country in the world again in 2019 based on political, social, and economic indicators including public services, income distribution, human rights, and the rule of law. Marsh’s Political Risk Map 2020, exploring the changing risk environment, highlighting the implications for firms operating globally, rates Finland as a broadly stable country, scoring 78.8 (out of 100) in its Short-Term Political Risk Index (STPRI). Finland scores particularly well in the ‘security and external threats’ and ‘social stability’ sub-components of the scores, but its ‘policy-making process’ and ‘policy continuity’ scores are somewhat suppressed by the unwieldy nature of the five-party coalition that was formed after the April 2019 parliamentary elections.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Finland has a long tradition of trade unions. The country has a unionization rate of 71 percent, and approximately 90 percent of employees in Finland participate in the collective bargaining system. Extensive tripartite cooperation between the government, employer’s groups, and trade unions characterize the country’s labor market system. Any trade union and employers’ association may make collective agreements, and the Ministry decides on the validity of the agreement. The Act on Employment Contracts regulates employment relationships regarding working hours, annual leave, and safety conditions, although minimum wages, actual working hours, and working conditions are determined to a large extent through collective agreements instead of parliamentary legislation. Collective bargaining and collective labor agreements are generally binding. In recent years, local labor market partners have been given more flexibility to enforce the collective agreements.

Finland adheres to most ILO conventions; enforcement of worker rights is effective. Freedom of association and collective bargaining are guaranteed by law, which provides for the right to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law prohibits anti-union discrimination and any obstruction of these rights. The National Conciliator under the Ministry of Employment and the Economy assists negotiating partners with labor disputes. The arbitration system is based on the Act on Mediation in Labor Disputes and the Labor Court is the highest body for settlement. The ILO’s Finland Country profile can be found here: http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=1000:11110:0::NO:11110:P11110_COUNTRY_ID:102625 .

The Ministry of Employment and the Economy is responsible for drafting labor legislation and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is responsible for enforcing labor laws and regulations via the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) authorities of the OSH Divisions at the Regional State Administrative Agencies, which operate under the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. Finnish authorities adequately enforce contract, wage, and overtime laws. New legislation concerning the hiring of foreign workers in Finland entered into force on June 18, 2016. Its objective is to intensify monitoring and to ensure improved compliance with the terms of employment in Finland. Finland allows the free movement of EU citizen workers. During 2018, there were 166 strikes in Finland, compared to 103 in 2017.

In November 2018, Statistics Finland estimated that the working age population is expected to decrease by 57,000 persons by 2030, from 3.431 million people at the end of 2018. In March 2020, Statistics Finland reported that the number of persons aged at least 70 in Finland at the end of 2019 was 874 000 (or 16% of the population). The number of persons aged 70 or more has grown by 100,000 in three years.

The government reformed social protection and unemployment security to encourage people to accept job offers, shorten unemployment periods, reduce structural unemployment and save public resources. The unemployed are granted a labor market subsidy, which, if linked to earnings as is the case for about 60 percent of the unemployed, guarantees moderate income for a period up to 400 working days. Those without jobs after the 400-day period need to demonstrate that they are actively pursuing employment to continue receiving benefits. The period of eligibility was shortened from 500 days to 400 days starting on January 1, 2017, except for those with a work history shorter than three years (reduced to 300 days), and for those aged over 58 (remains 500 days).

On January 1, 2017, Finnish authorities started a two-year, universal basic income trial. The goal was to determine whether a basic income, received without conditions, incentivizes recipients to seek paid work. The government concluded that the basic income experiment did not increase the employment of participants during the first trial year. The primary income recipients, during the first trial year, did not succeed in the open labor market better or worse than the people outside the trial did. The results for the latter trial year will be published in 2020. Based on the survey, those who received the basic income felt their well-being at the end of the experiment was better than those outside the trial.

In 2017, the center-right government of Juha Sipila introduced the “Activation Model” (AM), which mimicked the Danish unemployment insurance system. The AM became effective on January 1, 2018 and was applied to basic (flat-rate) unemployment benefits (paid by the Social Insurance Institution, Kela) and income-related schemes (paid by unemployment funds). The aim of the AM was to tighten the conditions for benefit eligibility, in order to encourage activation of the unemployed, reduce the duration of periods in unemployment and increase the employment rate. AM experiences were mixed, and union opposed the action vigorously. Ministry of Social Affairs and Health abolished the activation model for unemployment security starting January 1, 2020. 12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs

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

The U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and Finnvera (the former Finnish Guarantee Board) share an agreement to encourage joint U.S.-Finnish private investments in Russia and the Baltic States. For more information see: https://www.finnvera.fi/eng/export/export-credit-guarantee-operations/export-credit-guarantee-operations . Finland is a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Please note that the following tables include FDI statistics from three different sources, and therefore will not be identical. Table 2 uses BEA data when available, which measures the stock of FDI by the market value of the investment in the year the investment was made (often referred to as historical value). This approach tends to undervalue the present value of FDI stock because it does not account for inflation. BEA data is not available for all countries, particularly if only a few US firms have direct investments in a country. In such cases, Table 2 uses other sources that typically measure FDI stock in current value (or, historical values adjusted for inflation). Even when Table 2 uses BEA data, Table 3 uses the IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS) to determine the top five sources of FDI in the country. The CDIS measures FDI stock in current value, which means that if the U.S. is one of the top five sources of inward investment, U.S. FDI into the country will be listed in this table. That value will come from the CDIS and therefore will not match the BEA data.

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $268,000 2018 $276,743 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $2.0 2017 $3,318 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $5,338 2018 $13,409 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 26.7% 2018 24.5% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

* 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 71,504 100% Total Outward 127,878 100%
Sweden 22,946 32.1% The Netherlands 33,503 26.2%
Luxembourg 13,237 18.5% Sweden 26,167 20.5%
The Netherlands 12,014 16.8% Ireland 12,813 10.0%
Denmark 3,902 5.5% Denmark 8,265 6.5%
Germany 2,530 3.5% Norway 5,513 4.3%
“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 379,092 100% All Countries 224,457 100% All Countries 154,637 100%
United States 64,543 17.0% United States 49,011 21.8% Sweden 22,267 14.4%
Ireland 54,592 14.4% Ireland 48,945 21.8% Denmark 16,237 10.5%
Luxembourg 48,615 12.8% Luxembourg 43,194 19.2% Germany 13,744 8.9%
Sweden 33,972 9.0% Cayman Islands 16,763 7.5% France 13,085 8.5%
Denmark 23,001 6.0% United Kingdom 12,173 5.4% Netherlands 11,235 7.3 %

France and Monaco

Executive Summary

France welcomes foreign investment and has a stable business climate that attracts investors from around the world. The French government devotes significant resources to attracting foreign investment through policy incentives, marketing, overseas trade promotion offices, and investor support mechanisms. France has an educated population, first-rate universities, and a talented workforce. It has a modern business culture, sophisticated financial markets, a strong intellectual property rights regime, and innovative business leaders. The country is known for its world-class infrastructure, including high-speed passenger rail, maritime ports, extensive roadway networks, public transportation, and efficient intermodal connections. High-speed (3G/4G) telephony is nearly ubiquitous.

In 2019, the United States was the leading foreign investor in France with a stock of foreign direct investment (FDI) totaling over $87 billion. More than 4,500 U.S. firms operate in France, supporting nearly 500,000 jobs. The United States exported $59.6 billion of goods and services to France in 2019.

Following the election of French President Emmanuel Macron in May 2017, the French government implemented significant labor market and tax reforms. By relaxing the rules on companies to hire and fire employees and by offering investment incentives, Macron has buoyed ease of doing business in France. However, Macron will likely delay or abandon the second phase of his envisioned reforms for unemployment benefits and pensions due to more pressing concerns related to the COVID-19 crisis.

Business France, the government investment promotion agency, recently unveiled a website in English to help prospective businesses that are considering investments in the French market (https://www.businessfrance.fr/en/invest-in-France).

Recent reforms have extended the investigative and decision-making powers of France’s Competition Authority. France implemented the European Competition Network or ECN Directive on April 11, 2019, allowing the French Competition Authority to impose heftier fines (above €3 million / $3.3 million) and temporary measures to prevent an infringement that may cause harm.

On December 31, 2019 the government issued a national security decree that lowered the threshold for State vetting of foreign investment from outside Europe from 33 to 25 percent and enhanced government-imposed conditions and penalties in cases of non-compliance. The decree further introduced a mechanism to coordinate the national security review of foreign direct investments with the European Union (EU Regulation 2019/452). The new rules entered into force on April 1, 2020. The list of strategic sectors was also expanded to include the following activities listed in the EU Regulation 2019/452: agricultural products, when such products contribute to national food supply security; the editing, printing, or distribution of press publications related to politics or general matters; and R&D activities relating to quantum technologies and energy storage technologies.

Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced on April 29, 2020 that France would further reinforce its control over foreign investments by including biotechnologies in the strategic sectors subject to FDI screening, effective on May 1, 2020 and through the end of the year. This includesloweringfrom 25 to 10 percent the threshold for government approval of non-European investment in French companies, which was implemented in response to the COVID-19 crisis to limit predatory acquisitions of distressed assets and is valid at least until the end of 2020.

In 2019 France passed a digital services tax. The 2019 tax law reduces corporate tax on profits over €500,000 ($550,000) to 31 percent for 2019, 28 percent in 2020, 26.5 percent in 2021 and 25 percent in 2022.

In 2020, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on France’s macroeconomic outlook will be severe. GDP shrank 5.8 percent in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the previous quarter, the sharpest economic contraction since 1949. France’s official statistical agency INSEE attributed this fall to the government’s restrictions on economic activity due to the pandemic. However, the GDP figure incorporates only two weeks of France’s confinement, which began March 17, leading economists to predict that second quarter figures will be significantly worse. The Q1 figure marks the second consecutive quarter of economic contraction, after shrinking 0.1 percent in Q4 of 2019, meaning France has officially fallen into a technical recession. Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced in April 2020 that he expects economic activity to decline by 8 percent in 2020, the public deficit to increase to 9 percent of GDP, and debt to rise to 115 percent of GDP.

In response to the economic impact of the pandemic, the government launched a €410 billion ($447 billion) emergency fiscal package in March 2020. The bulk of the package aims to support businesses through loan guarantees and deferrals on tax and social security payments. The remainder is allocated to stabilizing households and demand, largely through its €24 billion ($26 billion) temporary unemployment scheme that allows workers to stay home while continuing to collect a portion of their wages.

Although France’s emergency fund is sizeable at 16 percent of GDP, it is not sufficient to fully absorb the economic impact of the pandemic. Key issues to watch in 2020 include: 1) the degree to which COVID-19 continues to agitate the macroeconomic environment; and 2) the size and scope of recovery measures, including additional fiscal support from the government of France, a broader EU rescue package, and the monetary response from the European Central Bank.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings  
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 23 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 32 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/
en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 16 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2018 USD 86,863 http://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 USD 41,080 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

France welcomes foreign investment. In the current economic climate, the French government sees foreign investment as a means to create additional jobs and stimulate growth. Investment regulations are simple, and a range of financial incentives are available to foreign investors, who report they find France’s skilled and productive labor force, good infrastructure, technology, and central location in Europe attractive. France’s membership in the European Union (EU) and the Eurozone facilitates the efficient movement of people, services, capital, and goods. However, notwithstanding French efforts at economic and tax reform, market liberalization, and attracting foreign investment, perceived disincentives to investing in France include the relatively high tax environment. Labor market fluidity is improving due to labor market reforms but is still rigid compared to some OECD economies.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

France is among the least restrictive countries for foreign investment. With a few exceptions in certain specified sectors, there are no statutory limits on foreign ownership of companies. Foreign entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity.

France maintains a national security review mechanism to screen high-risk investments. French law stipulates that control by acquisition of a domiciled company or subsidiary operating in certain sectors deemed crucial to France’s national interests relating to public order, public security and national defense are subject to prior notification, review, and approval by the Economy and Finance Minister. Other sectors requiring approval include energy infrastructure; transportation networks; public water supplies; electronic communication networks; public health protection; and installations vital to national security. In 2018, four additional categories – semiconductors, data storage, artificial intelligence and robotics – were added to the list requiring a national security review. For all listed sectors, France can block foreign takeovers of French companies according to the provisions of the Montebourg Decree.

On December 31, 2019 the government issued a decree that lowered the threshold for State vetting of foreign investment from outside Europe from 33 to 25 percent and enhanced government-imposed conditions and penalties in cases of non-compliance. The decree further introduced a mechanism to coordinate the national security review of foreign direct investments with the European Union (EU Regulation 2019/452). The new rules entered into force on April 1, 2020. The list of strategic sectors was also expanded to include the following activities listed in the EU Regulation 2019/452: agricultural products, when such products contribute to national food supply security; the editing, printing, or distribution of press publications related to politics or general matters; and R&D activities relating to quantum technologies and energy storage technologies.

Procedurally, the Minister of Economy and Finance has 30 business days following the receipt of a request for authorization to either: 1) declare that the investor is not required to obtain such authorization; 2) grant its authorization without conditions; or 3) declare that an additional review is required to determine whether a conditional authorization is sufficient to protect national interests. If an additional review is required, the Minister has an additional 45 business days to either clear the transaction (possibly subject to conditions) or prohibit it. The Minister is further allowed to deny clearance based on the investor’s ties with a foreign government or public authority. The absence of a decision within the applicable timeframe is a de facto rejection of the authorization.

The government has also expanded the breadth of information required in the approval request. For example, a foreign investor must now disclose any financial relationship with or significant financial support from a State or public entity; a list of French and foreign competitors of the investor and of the target; or a signed statement that the investor has not, over the past five years, been subject to any sanctions for non-compliance with French FDI regulations.

Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced on April 29, 2020 that France would further reinforce its control over foreign investments by including biotechnologies in the strategic sectors subject to FDI screening, effective on May 1, 2020 and through the end of the year. This includes lowering from 25 to 10 percent the threshold for government approval of non-European investment in French companies, which was implemented in response to the COVID-19 crisis to limit predatory acquisitions of distressed assets and is valid at least until the end of 2020.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

France has not recently been the subject of international organizations’ investment policy reviews. The OECD Economic Survey for France (April 2019) can be found here: http://www.oecd.org/economy/france-economic-forecast-summary.htm .

Business Facilitation

Business France is a government agency established with the purpose of promoting new foreign investment, expansion, technology partnerships, and financial investment. Business France provides services to help investors understand regulatory, tax, and employment policies as well as state and local investment incentives and government support programs. Business France also helps companies find project financing and equity capital. Business France recently unveiled a website in English to help prospective businesses that are considering investments in the French market (https://www.businessfrance.fr/en/invest-in-France ).

In addition, France’s public investment bank, Bpifrance, assists foreign businesses to find local investors when setting up a subsidiary in France. It also supports foreign startups in France through the government’s French Tech Ticket program, which provides them with funding, a resident’s permit, and incubation facilities. Both business facilitation mechanisms provide for equitable treatment of women and minorities.

President Macron has made innovation one of his priorities with a €10 billion ($11 billion) fund that is being financed through privatizations of State-owned enterprises. France’s priority sectors for investment include:  aeronautics, agro-foods, digital, nuclear, rail, auto, chemicals and materials, forestry, eco-industries, shipbuilding, health, luxury, and extractive industries. In the near-term, the French government intends to focus on driverless vehicles, batteries, the high-speed train of the future, nano-electronics, renewable energy, and health industries.

Business France and Bpifrance are particularly interested in attracting foreign investment in the tech sector. The French government has developed the “French Tech” initiative to promote France as a location for start-ups and high-growth digital companies. In addition to 17 French cities, French Tech offices have been established in 100 cities around the world, including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Moscow, and Berlin. French Tech has special programs to provide support to startups at various stages of their development. The latest effort has been the creation of the French Tech 120 Program, which provides financial and administrative support to some 123 most promising tech companies. In 2019, €5 billion ($5.5 billion) in venture funding was raised by French startups, an increase of nearly threefold since 2015. In September 2019, President Emmanuel Macron convinced major asset managers such as AXA and Natixis to invest €5 billion ($5.5 billion) into French tech companies over the next three years. He also announced the creation of a listing of France’s top 40 startups “Next 40” with the highest potential to grow into unicorns.

The website Guichet Enterprises (https://www.guichet-entreprises.fr/fr/ ) is designed to be a one-stop website for registering a business. The site is available in both French and English although some fact sheets on regulated industries are only available in French on the website.

Outward Investment

French firms invest more in the United States than in any other country and support approximately 728,500 American jobs. Total French investment in the United States reached $326.4 billion in 2018. France was our ninth largest trading partner with approximately $136 billion in bilateral trade in 2019. The business promotion agency Business France also assists French firms with outward investment, which it does not restrict.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The French government has made considerable progress in the last decade on the transparency and accessibility of its regulatory system.  The government generally engages in industry and public consultation before drafting legislation or rulemaking through a regular but variable process directed by the relevant ministry.  However, the text of draft legislation is not always publicly available before parliamentary approval.  U.S. firms may also find it useful to become members of industry associations, which can play an influential role in developing government policies.  Even “observer” status can offer insight into new investment opportunities and greater access to government-sponsored projects.

To increase transparency in the legislative process, all ministries are required to attach an impact assessment to their draft bills.  The Prime Minister’s Secretariat General (SGG for Secretariat General du Gouvernement) is responsible for ensuring that impact studies are undertaken in the early stages of the drafting process.  The State Council (Conseil d’Etat), which must be consulted on all draft laws and regulations, may reject a draft bill if the impact assessment is inadequate.

After experimenting with new online consultations, the Macron Administration is regularly using this means to achieve consensus on its major reform bills.  These consultations are often open to professionals as well as citizens at large.  Another Macron innovation is to impose regular impact assessments after a bill has been implemented to ensure its maximum efficiency, revising, as necessary, provisions that do not work in favor of those that do.  Finally, the Macron Administration aims to make all regulations and laws available online by 2022.

Over past decades, major reforms have extended the investigative and decision-making powers of France’s Competition Authority.  On April 11, 2019, France implemented the European Competition Network (ECN) Directive, which widens the powers of all European national competition authorities to impose larger fines and temporary measures. The Authority publishes its methodology for calculating fines imposed on companies charged with abuse of a dominant position.  It issues specific guidance on competition law compliance, and government ministers, companies, consumer organizations, and trade associations now have the right to petition the authority to investigate anti-competitive practices.  While the Authority alone examines the impact of mergers on competition, the Minister of the Economy retains the power to request a new investigation or reverse a merger transaction decision for reasons of industrial development, competitiveness, or saving jobs.

France’s budget documents are comprehensive and cover all expenditures of the central government.  An annex to the budget also provides estimates of cost sharing contributions, though these are not included in the budget estimates.  In its spring report each year, the National Economic Commission outlines the deficits for the two previous years, the current year, and the year ahead, including consolidated figures on taxes, debt, and expenditures.  Since 1999, the budget accounts have also included contingent liabilities from government guarantees and pension liabilities.  The government publishes its debt data promptly on the French Treasury’s website and in other documents.  Data on nonnegotiable debt is available 15 days after the end of the month, and data on negotiable debt is available 35 days after the end of the month.  Annual data on debt guaranteed by the state is published in summary in the CGAF Report and in detail in the Compte de la dette publique.  More information can be found at: https://www.imf.org/external/np/rosc/fra/fiscal.htm 

International Regulatory Considerations

France is a founding member of the European Union, created in 1957.  As such, France incorporates EU laws and regulatory norms into its domestic law.  France has been a World Trade Organization (WTO) member since 1995 and a member of GATT since 1948.  While developing new draft regulations, the French government submits a copy to the WTO for review to ensure the prospective legislation is consistent with its WTO obligations.  France ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement in October 2015 and has implemented all of its TFA commitments.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

French law is codified into what is sometimes referred to as the Napoleonic Code, but is officially the Code Civil des Francais, or French Civil Code.  Private law governs interactions between individuals (e.g., civil, commercial, and employment law) and public law governs the relationship between the government and the people (e.g., criminal, administrative, and constitutional law).

France has an administrative court system to challenge a decision by local governments and the national government; the State Council (Conseil d’Etat) is the appellate court.  France enforces foreign legal decisions such as judgments, rulings, and arbitral awards through the procedure of exequatur introduced before the Tribunal de Grande Instance (TGI), which is the court of original jurisdiction in the French legal system.

France’s Commercial Tribunal (Tribunal de Commerce or TDC) specializes in commercial litigation.  Magistrates of the commercial tribunals are lay judges, who are well known in the business community and have experience in the sectors they represent.  Decisions by the commercial courts can be appealed before the Court of Appeals. France’s judicial system is procedurally competent, fair, and reliable and is independent of the government.

The judiciary – although its members are state employees – is independent of the executive branch.  The judicial process in France is known to be competent, fair, thorough, and time-consuming.  There is a right of appeal.  The Appellate Court (cour d’appel) re-examines judgments rendered in civil, commercial, employment or criminal law cases.  It re-examines the legal basis of judgments, checking for errors in due process and reexamines case facts.  It may either confirm or set aside the judgment of the lower court, in whole or in part. Decisions of the Appellate Court may be appealed to the Highest Court in France (cour de cassation).

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all sorts of remunerative activities.  U.S. investment in France is subject to the provisions of the Convention of Establishment between the United States of America and France, which was signed in 1959 and remains in force.  The rights it provides U.S. nationals and companies include:  rights equivalent to those of French nationals in all commercial activities (excluding communications, air transportation, water transportation, banking, the exploitation of natural resources, the production of electricity, and professions of a scientific, literary, artistic, and educational nature, as well as certain regulated professions like doctors and lawyers).  Treatment equivalent to that of French or third-country nationals is provided with respect to transfer of funds between France and the United States.  Property is protected from expropriation except for public purposes; in that case it is accompanied by payment that is just, realizable and prompt.

Potential investors can find relevant investment information and links to laws and investment regulations at http://www.businessfrance.fr/ .

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Major reforms have extended the investigative and decision-making powers of France’s Competition Authority.  France implemented the European Competition Network or ECN Directive on April 11, 2019, allowing the French Competition Authority to impose heftier fines (above €3 million / $3.3 million) and temporary measures to prevent an infringement that may cause harm.  The Authority issues decisions and opinions mostly on antitrust issues, but its influence on competition issues is growing.  For example, following a complaint in November 2019 by several French, European, and international associations of press publishers against Google over the use of their content online without compensation, the Authority ordered the U.S. company to start negotiating in good faith with news publishers over the use of their content online.  On December 20, 2019, Google was fined €150 million ($162 million) for abuse of dominant position.  Following an in-depth review of the online ad sector, the Competition Authority found Google Ads to be “opaque and difficult to understand” and applied in “an unfair and random manner.”

The Competition Authority launches regular in-depth investigations into various sectors of the economy, which may lead to formal investigations and fines. The Authority publishes its methodology for calculating fines imposed on companies charged with abuse of a dominant position.  It issues specific guidance on competition law compliance.  Government ministers, companies, consumer organizations and trade associations have the right to petition the authority to investigate anti-competitive practices.  While the Authority alone examines the impact of mergers on competition, the Minister of the Economy retains the power to request a new investigation or reverse a merger transaction decision for reasons of industrial development, competitiveness, or saving jobs.

A new law on Economic Growth, Activity and Equal Opportunities (known as the “Macron Law”), adopted in August 2016, vested the Competition Authority with the power to review mergers and alliances between retailers ex-ante (beforehand).  The law provides that all contracts binding a retail business to a distribution network shall expire at the same time.  This enables the retailer to switch to another distribution network more easily.  Furthermore, distributors are prohibited from restricting a retailer’s commercial activity via post-contract terms.  The civil fine incurred for restrictive practices can now amount to up to five percent of the business’s revenue earned in France

Expropriation and Compensation

In accordance with international law, the national or local governments cannot legally expropriate property to build public infrastructure without fair market compensation. There have been no expropriations of note during the reporting period.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

France is a member of the World Bank-based International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) Convention and a signatory to the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention) which means local courts are obligated to enforce international arbitral awards under this system. The International Chamber of Commerce’s International Court of Arbitration (ICA) has been based in Paris since 1923.

France was one of the first countries to enact a modern arbitration law in 1980-1981. In 2011, the French Ministry of Justice issued Decree 2011-48, which introduced further international best practices into French arbitration procedural law. As a result, parties are free to agree orally to settle their disputes through arbitration, subject to standards of due process and a newly enacted principle of procedural efficiency and fairness.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The President of the Tribunal de Grande Instance (High Civil Court of First Instance) of Paris has the authority to issue orders related to ad-hoc international arbitration. Paris is the seat of the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Court of Arbitration, composed of representatives from 90 countries, that handles investment as well as commercial disputes.

France does not have a bilateral investment treaty with the United States.   The European Commission directly negotiates on behalf of the EU on foreign direct investment since it is part of the EU Common Commercial Policy.  In 2015, the EU agreed to pursue an investment court approach to investor-State dispute settlement.  While this model is included in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada and the EU-Vietnam FTA, no actual court has yet been established in any form or context; no disputes have been brought under these post-2015 treaties.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

French law provides conditions for the recognition and the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards in relation to the New York Convention.  The provisions of French law are contained in the Code of Civil Procedure and the Code of Civil Enforcement Procedures.  The French Civil Code envisions several mechanisms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) including out-of-court arbitration and conciliation where a judicial conciliator puts an end to a dispute. France is a member of UNCITRAL.  Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards as mentioned above.  The recognition of judgments of foreign courts by French courts is possible, but judgements must be accompanied by the issuance of an exequatur – a legal document issued by a sovereign authority that permits the exercise or enforcement of a foreign judgement.

Bankruptcy Regulations

France has extensive and detailed bankruptcy laws and regulations.  Any creditor, regardless of the amount owed, may file suit in bankruptcy court against a debtor.  Foreign creditors, equity shareholders and foreign contract holders have the same rights as their French counterparts.  Monetary judgments by French courts on firms established in France are generally made in euros.  Not bankruptcy itself, but bankruptcy fraud – the misstatement by a debtor of his financial position in the context of a bankruptcy – is criminalized.  Under France’s bankruptcy code managers and other entities responsible for the bankruptcy of a French company are prevented from escaping liability by shielding their assets (Law 2012-346).  France has adopted a law that enables debtors to implement a restructuring plan with financial creditors only, without affecting trade creditors.  France’s Commercial Code incorporates European Directive 2014/59/EU establishing a framework for the recovery and resolution of claims on insolvent credit institutions and investment firms.  In the World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Index, France was ranked 28th of 190 on ease of resolving insolvency.

The Bank of France, the country’s only credit monitor, maintains files on persons having written unfunded checks, having declared bankruptcy, or having participated in fraudulent activities. Commercial credit reporting agencies do not exist in France.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

France offers financial incentives, generally equally available to both French and foreign investors.  The government provides incentives for capital investment in small companies. For instance, a French company or a subsidiary of a foreign firm that would invest in a minority shareholding (less than 20 percent) of a small, innovative SME would benefit from a five-year, linear amortization of their investment.  To qualify, SMEs must allocate at least 15 percent of their spending on research.

Incentivizing research and development (R&D) and innovation is a high priority for the French government.  Business France, the country’s export and investment promotion agency, reported that R&D operations accounted for 10 percent of foreign investment projects in 2018 and created or maintained 2,793 jobs, up 23 percent from the prior year.  The United States is the leading foreign investor in R&D in France, accounting for 26 percent of 2018 investment decisions. International companies may join France’s 71 innovation clusters, increasing access to both production inputs and technical benefits of geographical proximity. Other components of this policy include: the Innovative New Company (Jeune Enterprise Innovante) and the French Young Entrepreneurs Initiative.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the government implemented an emergency fiscal package on March 24, 2020 totaling €410 billion ($447 billion), comprised of: 1) Loan guarantees: €300 billion ($330 billion); 2) Deferral of corporate tax and social security payments: €50 billion ($55 billion); 3) Partial unemployment scheme to avoid layoffs: €24 billion ($26 billion); 4) Recapitalizations, bailouts, or nationalizations if needed: €20 billion ($22 billion); 5) Solidarity Fund for very small companies, the self-employed and micro-entrepreneurs: €7 billion ($7.6 billion); 6) system of repayable advances of €500 million ($546 million) for SMEs to purchase inputs; 7) Late penalties cancelled for all State and local government procurement contracts.  The purpose of the emergency package is to fiscally absorb the economic impact of COVID-19.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

France is subject to all EU free trade zone regulations.  These allow member countries to designate portions of their customs’ territory as duty-free, where value-added activity is limited.  France has several duty-free zones, which benefit from exemptions on customs for storage of goods coming from outside of the European Union.  The French Customs Service administers them and provides details on its website (http://www.douane.gouv.fr ).  French legal texts are published online at http://legifrance.gouv.fr .

In September 2018, President Macron announced the extension of 44 Urban Free Zones (ZFU) in low-income neighborhoods and municipalities with at least 10,000 residents.  The program provides incentives for employers, who have created 600 new jobs since 2016.  Incentives include exemption from payment of payroll taxes and certain social contributions for five years, financed by €15 million  ($16.5 million) a year in State funds.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

While there are no mandatory performance requirements established by law, the French government will generally require commitments regarding employment or R&D from both foreign and domestic investors seeking government financial incentives.  Incentives like PAT regional planning grants (Prime d’Amenagement du Territoire pour l’Industrie et les Services) and related R&D subsidies are based on the number of jobs created, and authorities have occasionally sought commitments as part of the approval process for acquisitions by foreign investors.

The French government imposes the same conditions on domestic and foreign investors in cultural industries:  all purveyors of movies and television programs (i.e., television broadcasters, telecoms operators, internet service providers and video services) must contribute a percentage of their revenues toward French film and television productions.  They must also abide by broadcasting cultural content quotas (minimum 40 percent French, 20 percent EU).

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Real property rights are regulated by the French civil code and are uniformly enforced. The World Bank’s Doing Business Index ranks France 32nd of 190 on registering property. French civil-law notaries (notaires) – highly specialized lawyers in private practice appointed as public officers by the Justice Ministry – handle residential and commercial conveyance and registration, contract drafting, company formation, successions, and estate planning. The official system of land registration (cadastre) is maintained by the French public land registry under the auspices of the French tax authority (Direction Generale des Finances Publiques or DGFiP), available online at http://www.cadastre.gouv.fr . Mortgages are widely available, usually for a 15-year period.

Intellectual Property Rights

France is a strong defender of intellectual property rights (IPR).  Under the French system, patents and trademarks protect industrial property, while copyrights protect literary/artistic property. By virtue of the Paris Convention , U.S. nationals have a priority period following filing of an application for a U.S. patent or trademark in which to file a corresponding application in France:  twelve months for patents and six months for trademarks.

Counterfeiting is a costly problem for French companies, and the government of France maintains strong legal protections and a robust enforcement mechanism to combat trafficking in counterfeit goods — from copies of luxury goods to fake medications — as well as the theft and illegal use of IPR.  The French Intellectual Property Code has been updated repeatedly over the years to address this challenge, most recently in 2019 with the implementation of the so-called Action Plan for Business Growth and Transformation or PACTE Law (“Plan d’Action pour la Croissance et la Transformation des Entreprises”).  This law reinforcing France’s anti-counterfeiting legislation and implements EU Directive 2015/2436 of the Trademark Reform Package.  It increases the Euro amount for damages to companies that are victims of counterfeiting and extends trademark protection to smartcard technology, certain geographic indications, plants, and agricultural seeds.  The new legislation also increases the statute of limitations for civil suits from three to ten years and strengthens the powers of customs officials to seize fake goods sent by mail or express freight.  France also adopted legislation in 2019 to implement EU Directive 2019/790 on Copyright and Related Rights in the Digital Single Market.

The government also reports on seizures of counterfeit goods.  In 2018, French Customs seized 5.4 million counterfeited goods, down from 8.5 million counterfeited goods in 2017.  However, in 2019, seizures increased by 49 percent, according to the French Customs Office. Cigarettes represented 45 percent of all seized goods.  France’s top private sector anti-counterfeiting organization, UNIFAB, called on the government in 2018 to launch a national public awareness campaign.  The government has been working on a plan to improve the coordination between the Customs Office, which investigates fraud cases, and the National Institute of Industrial Property, which oversees patents, trademarks, and industrial design rights.

France has robust laws against online piracy.  A government agency called the High Authority for the Dissemination of Artistic Works and the Protection of Rights on Internet (Haute Autorite pour la Diffusion des Œuvres et la Protection des droits sur Internet – HADOPI) administers a “graduated response” system of warnings and fines.  It has taken enforcement action against several online pirate sites.  HADOPI cooperates closely with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) including pursuing voluntary arrangements that to single out awareness about intermediaries that facilitate or fund pirate sites. (Note that one of HADOPI’s tasks is to ensure that the technical measures used to protect works do not prevent the right of individuals to make personal copies of television programs for their private use.)  In December 2019, HADOPI released its yearly barometer of online cultural consumption showing that 26 percent of French people acquired and consumed music, films and television series through illegal sites (53 percent via streaming and 45 percent through direct or indirect download).  This figure has remained steady over the past few years.  Offenders risk fines of between €1,500 ($1,650) and €300,000 ($330,000) and/or up to three years imprisonment.

HADOPI was due to merge with France’s audiovisual watchdog CSA as part of a new draft law on audiovisual communication and cultural sovereignty in the digital age, tabled by the Minister of Culture in December 2019.  The reform was due in Parliament in March 2020 but was further delayed by the COVID-19 epidemic.

France does not appear on USTR’s 2020 Special 301 Report.  USTR’s 2019 Notorious Market report continues to list France as host to illicit streaming and copyright infringement websites.  The 2019 report also listed amazon.fr, based in France, noting alleged high levels of counterfeit goods on its platform (Note:  Other Amazon sites were also included in the report: amazon.ca in Canada, amazon.de in Germany, amazon.in in India, and amazon.co.uk in the United Kingdom.)

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 administrative restrictions on portfolio investment in France, and there is an effective regulatory system in place to facilitate portfolio investment.  France’s open financial market allows foreign firms easy access to a variety of financial products, both in France and internationally. France continues to modernize its marketplace; as markets expand, foreign and domestic portfolio investment has become increasingly important.  As in most EU countries, France’s listed companies are required to meet international accounting standards. Some aspects of French legal, regulatory, and accounting regimes are less transparent than U.S. systems, but they are consistent with international norms.  Foreign banks are allowed to establish branches and operations in France and are subject to international prudential measures.  Under IMF Article VIII, France may not impose restrictions on the making of payments and transfers for current international transactions without the (prior) approval of the Fund.

Foreign investors have access to all classic financing instruments, including short-, medium-, and long-term loans, short- and medium-term credit facilities, and secured and non-secured overdrafts offered by commercial banks.  These assist in public offerings of shares and corporate debt, as well as mergers, acquisitions and takeovers, and offer hedging services against interest rate and currency fluctuations.  Foreign companies have access to all banking services.  Most loans are provided at market rates, although subsidies are available for home mortgages and small business financing.

Euronext Paris (also known as Paris Bourse) is part of a regulated cross-border stock exchange located in six European countries.  Euronext Growth is an alternative exchange for medium-sized companies to list on a less regulated market (based on the legal definition of the European investment services directive), with more consumer protection than the Marché Libre still used by a couple hundred small businesses for their first stock listing.  A company seeking a listing on Euronext Growth must have a sponsor with status granted by Euronext and prepare a French language prospectus for a permit from the Autorite des Marchés Financiers (AMF or Financial Markets Authority), the French equivalent of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.  Small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) may also list on Enternext, a subsidiary of the Euronext Group created in 2013.  The bourse in Paris also offers Euronext Access, an unregulated exchange for Start-ups.

Money and Banking System

France’s banking system recovered gradually from the 2008-2009 global financial crises and passed the 2018 stress tests conducted by the European Banking Authority.  The French banking sector is healthy.  Non-performing loans were 2.8 percent in France in October 2019, compared to  3.1 percent in the EU.

Four French banks were ranked among the world’s 20 largest in 2019 (BNP Paribas SA; Crédit Agricole Group, Société Générale SA, Groupe BPCE). The assets of France’s top 5 banks totaled USD 8.68 trillion in 2019.  Acting on a proposal from the Banque de France in March 2020, the High Council for Financial Stability (HCSF) instructed the country’s largest banks to decrease the “countercyclical capital buffer” from 0.25 percent to zero of their bank’s risk-weighted assets.  HCSF cited a “rise in tensions and volatility on the financial markets in the context of the development of the coronavirus pandemic.”

France’s central bank, the Banque de France, is a member of the Eurosystem, which groups together the European Central Bank (ECB) and the national central banks of all countries that have adopted the euro.  The Banque de France is a public entity governed by the French Monetary and Financial Code.  The conditions whereby it conducts its missions on national territory are set out in its Public Service Contract.  The three main missions are monetary strategy, financial stability together with the High Council of financial stability (Haut Conseil de la Stabilite Financiere) which implements macroprudential policy, and the provision of economic services to the community.  In addition, it participates in the preparation and implementation of decisions taken centrally by the ECB Governing Council.

Foreign banks can operate in France either as subsidiaries or branches but need to obtain a license.  Credit institutions’ licenses are generally issued by France’s Prudential Authority (ACPR – Autorité de Contrôle Prudentiel et de Résolution) which reviews whether certain conditions are met (e.g. minimum capital requirement, sound and prudent management of the bank, compliance with balance sheet requirements, etc.).  Both EU law and French legislation apply to foreign banks.  Foreign banks or branches are additionally subject to prudential measures and must provide periodic reports to the ACPR regarding operations in France, including detailed reports on their financial situation. At the EU level, the ‘passporting right’ allows a foreign bank settled in any EU country to provide their services across the EU, including France.  There are about 1,031 credit institutions authorized to carry on banking activities in France; the list of foreign banks is available on this website: https://www.regafi.fr/spip.php?page=results&type=advanced&id_secteur=3&lang=en&denomination=&siren=&cib=&bic=&nom=&siren_agent=&num=&cat=01-TBR07&retrait=0 

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

France’s investment remittance policies are stable and transparent.  All inward and outward payments must be made through approved banking intermediaries by bank transfers.  There is no restriction on the repatriation of capital.  Similarly, there are no restrictions on transfers of profits, interest, royalties, or service fees.  Foreign-controlled French businesses are required to have a resident French bank account and are subject to the same regulations as other French legal entities.  The use of foreign bank accounts by residents is permitted.

For purposes of controlling exchange, the French government considers foreigners as residents from the time they arrive in France.  French and foreign residents are subject to the same rules; they are entitled to open an account in a foreign currency with a bank established in France, and to establish accounts abroad.  They must report all foreign accounts on their annual income tax returns, and money earned in France may be freely converted into dollars or any other currency and transferred abroad.

France is one of nineteen countries (known collectively as the Eurozone) that use the euro currency.  Exchange rate policy for the euro is handled by the European Central Bank, located in Frankfurt, Germany.  The average euro to USD exchange rate from April 1, 2019 to April 1, 2020 was 1 USD to 0.90 euro.

France is a founding member of the OECD-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF, a 39-member intergovernmental body).  As reported in the Department of State’s France Report on Terrorism, the French government has a comprehensive anti-money laundering/ counterterrorist financing (AML/CTF) regime and is an active partner in international efforts to control money laundering and terrorist financing.  Tracfin, the French government’s financial intelligence unit, is active within international organizations, and has signed new bilateral agreements with foreign countries.

Remittance Policies

–No additions for 2020–

Sovereign Wealth Funds

France has no sovereign wealth fund per se (none that use that nomenclature) but does operate funds with similar intent.  The Public Investment Bank (Bpifrance) supports small and medium enterprises (SMEs), larger enterprises (Entreprises de Taille Intermedaire), and innovating businesses.  The government strategy is defined at the national level and aims to fit with local strategies.  Bpifrance may hold direct stakes in companies, hold indirect stakes via generalist or sectorial funds, venture capital, development or transfer capital.  In 2019, Bpifrance had minority stakes in 244 firms and 62 investment funds that invest in businesses. It also provides export insurance.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The 11 listed entities in which the French State maintains stakes at the federal level are Aeroports de Paris (50.63 percent), Airbus Group (10.96 percent), Air France-KLM (14.29 percent), EDF (83.58 percent), ENGIE (23.64 percent), Eramet (25.57 percent), La Française des Jeux (FDJ) (21.91 percent), Orange (a direct 13.39 percent stake and a 9.60 percent stake through Bpifrance), Renault (15.01 percent), Safran (11.23 percent), and Thales 25.68 percent).  Unlisted companies owned by the State include SNCF (rail), RATP (public transport), CDC (Caisse des depots et consignations) and La Banque Postale (bank).  In all, the government has majority and minority stakes in 88 firms, in a variety of sectors.

Private enterprises have the same access to financing as SOEs, including from state-owned banks or other state-owned investment vehicles.  SOEs are subject to the same tax burden and tax rebate policies as their private sector competitors.  SOEs may get subsidies and other financial resources from the government.

France, as a member of the European Union, is party to the Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA) within the framework of the World Trade Organization.  Companies owned or controlled by the state behave largely like other companies in France and are subject to the same laws and tax code.  The Boards of SOEs operate according to accepted French corporate governance principles as set out in the (private sector) AFEP-MEDEF Code of Corporate Governance.  SOEs are required by law to publish an annual report, and the French Court of Audit conducts financial audits on all entities in which the state holds a majority interest.  The French government appoints representatives to the Boards of Directors of all companies in which it holds significant numbers of shares, and manages its portfolio through a special unit attached to the Ministry for the Economy and Finance Ministry, the shareholding agency APE (Agence de Participations de l’Etat).  The 2018-2019 APE annual report depicted a “State that invests in the future and protects its sovereignty.”  The State as a shareholder must set an example in terms of respect for the environment, gender equality and social responsibility. The report also highlighted that the State must protect its strategic assets and remain a shareholder in areas where the general interest is at stake.

Privatization Program

The government was due to privatize many large companies in 2019, including ADP and ENGIE in order to create a €10 billion ($11 billion) fund for innovation and research.  However, the program was delayed because of political opposition to the privatization of airport manager ADP, regarded as a strategic asset to be protected from foreign shareholders.  The government succeeded in selling in November 2019 a 52 percent stake in gambling firm FDJ.  The government continues to maintain a strong presence in some sectors, particularly power, public transport, and defense industries.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The business community has general awareness of standards for responsible business conduct (RBC) in France.  The country has established a National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, coordinated and chaired by the Directorate General of the Treasury in the Ministry for the Economy and Finance.  Its members represent State Administrations (Ministries in charge of Economy and Finance, Labor and Employment, Foreign Affairs, Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy), six French Trade Unions (CFDT, CGT, FO, CFE-CGC, CFTC, UNSA) and one employers’ organization, MEDEF.

The NCP promotes the OECD Guidelines in a manner that is relevant to specific sectors.  When specific instances are raised, the NCP offers its good offices to the parties (discussion, exchange of information) and may act as a mediator in disputes, if appropriate.  This can involve conducting fact-finding to assist parties in resolving disputes, and posting final statements on any recommendations for future action with regard to the Guidelines.  The NCP may also monitor how its recommendations are implemented by the business in question.  In April 2017, the French NCP signed a two-year partnership with Global Compact France to increase sharing of information and activity between the two organizations.

In France, corporate governance standards for publicly traded companies are the product of a combination of legislative provisions and the recommendations of the AFEP-MEDEF code (two employers’ organizations).  The code, which defines principles of corporate governance by outlining rules for corporate officers, controls and transparency, meets the expectations of shareholders and various stakeholders, as well as of the European Commission.  First introduced in September 2002, it is regularly updated, adding new principles for the determination of remuneration and independence of directors, and now includes corporate social and environmental responsibility standards.  The latest amendments in February 2019 tackle the remuneration and post-employment benefits of Chief Executive Officers and Executive Officers: 60 percent variable remuneration based on quantitative objectives and 40 percent on quality objectives, including efforts in the corporate social responsibility.

Also relating to transparency, the EU passed a new regulation in May 2017 to stem the trade in conflict minerals and, in particular, to stop conflict minerals and metals from being exported to the EU; to prevent global and EU smelters and refiners from using conflict minerals; and to protect mine workers from being abused.  The regulation goes into effect January 1, 2021, and will then apply directly to French law.

France has played an active role in negotiating the ISO 26000 standards, the International Finance Corporation Performance Standards, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.  France has signed on to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), although, it has not yet been fully implemented.  Since 2017, large companies based in France and having at least 5,000 employees are now required to establish and implement a corporate plan to identify and assess any risks to human rights, fundamental freedoms, workers’ health, safety, and risk to the environment from activities of their company and its affiliates.

9. Corruption

In line with President Macron’s campaign promise to clean up French politics, the French parliament adopted in September 2017 the law on “Restoring Confidence in Public Life.” The new law bans elected officials from employing family members, or working as a lobbyist or consultant while in office. It also bans lobbyists from paying parliamentary, ministerial, or presidential staff and requires parliamentarians to submit receipts for expenses.

France’s “Transparency, Anti-corruption, and Economic Modernization Law,” also known as the “Loi Sapin II,” came into effect on June 1, 2017.  It brought France’s legislation in line with European and international standards.  Key aspects of the law include: creating a new anti-corruption agency; establishing “deferred prosecution” for defendants in corruption cases and prosecuting companies (French or foreign) suspected of bribing foreign public officials abroad; requiring lobbyists to register with national institutions; and expanding legal protections for whistleblowers.  The Sapin II law also established a High Authority for Transparency in Public Life (HATVP).  The HATVP promotes transparency in public life by publishing the declarations of assets and interests it is legally authorized to share publicly.  After review, declarations of assets and statements of interests of members of the government are published on the High Authority’s website under open license.  The declarations of interests of members of Parliament and mayors of big cities and towns, but also of regions are also available on the website.  In addition, the declarations of assets of parliamentarians can be accessed in certain governmental buildings, though not published on the internet.

France is a signatory to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.  The U.S. embassy in Paris has received no specific complaints from U.S. firms of unfair competition in France in recent years. France ranked 23rd of 180 on Transparency International’s (TI) 2019 corruption perceptions index. See https://www.transparency.org/country/FRA .

Resources to Report Corruption

The Central Office for the Prevention of Corruption (Service Central de Prevention de la Corruption or SCPC) was replaced in 2017 by the new national anti-corruption agency – the Agence Francaise Anticorruption (AFA).  The AFA is charged with preventing corruption by establishing anti-corruption programs, making recommendations, and centralizing and disseminating information to prevent and detect corrupt officials and company executives.  The AFA will also administrative authority to review the anticorruption compliance mechanisms in the private sector, in local authorities and in other government agencies.

Contact information for Agence Française Anti-corruption (AFA):

Director: Charles Duchaine
23 avenue d’Italie
75013 Paris
Tel : (+33) 1 44 87 21 14
Email: charles.duchaine@afa.gouv.fr

Contact information for Transparency International’s French affiliate:

Transparency International France
14, passage Dubail
75010 Paris
Tel: (+33) 1 84 16 95 65;
Email: contact@transparency-france.org

10. Political and Security Environment

France is a politically stable country.  Occasionally, large demonstrations and protests occur (sometimes organized to occur simultaneously in multiple French cities); these normally do not result in violence.  When faced with imminent business closures, on rare occasions French trade unions have resorted to confrontational techniques such as setting plants on fire, planting bombs, or kidnapping executives or managers.

From mid-November 2018 through 2019, Paris and other cities in France faced regular protests and disruptions, including “Gilets Jaunes” (Yellow Vest) demonstrations, initiated by discontent over high cost of living, taxes, and social exclusion.  In the second half of 2019, most demonstrations were in response to President Macron’s proposed unemployment and pension reform.  Authorities permitted peaceful protests.  During some demonstrations, damage to property, including looting and arson, in popular tourist areas occurred with reckless disregard for public safety.  Police response included water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas.

On February 7, 2020, a survey produced by the American Chamber of Commerce in France and the consulting firm Bain & Company cited a renewed confidence of American companies regarding France’s attractiveness despite an outpouring of social unrest during the first half of 2019 and often violent protests throughout the whole year:  41 percent of the investors positive over the next two to three years (+ 11 points compared with 2018), and 51 percent expected to increase the number of their employees in France.  Furthermore, over 85 percent considered the impact of France’s reforms to be positive for investors.  France’s Yellow Vest movement rekindled class warfare in France and exemplified the existence of two Frances, putting on hold on-going economic and labor reforms such as cuts to unemployment benefits and pensions .

In recent years, more than 230 people have been killed in terrorist attacks in France, including the January 2015 assault on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the November 2015 Bataclan concert hall and national stadium attacks, and the 2016 Bastille Day truck attack in Nice.  While terrorists continue to target French interests, since July 2016 attacks have been smaller in scale and most often perpetrated by lone actors inspired by, but with little direct connection to, ISIS or other international terrorist organizations.  French security agencies continue to disrupt plots and cells, and their efforts have been aided by recent legislation and executive measures which strengthen search and detention authorities.  Despite the spate of recent small-scale attacks, France remains a strong, stable, democratic country with a vibrant economy and culture.  Americans and investors from all over the world continue to invest heavily in France.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

France’s private sector labor force is a major asset in attracting foreign investment.  With a return to growth (1.7 percent in 2018 and 1.2 percent in 2019) and a drop in unemployment to 8.1 percent in 2019 from 8.8 percent in 2018, President Macron launched a labor market reform to reduce regulations and spur new hiring.  Five ordinances (executive orders), which came into effect on January 1, 2018, introduced measures easing companies’ ability to fire workers including by capping potential damage claims in cases of wrongful dismissal, and a one-year time limit for making claims, which business organizations have requested for several decades.  In order to make these proposals acceptable to labor unions, Labor Minister Penicaud increased regular required severance pay by 25 percent.  For example, an employee paid a monthly €2,000 ($2,160) and fired after 10 years will be entitled to a severance pay of €5,000 ($5,400), instead of the previous €4,000 ($4,320).

Mandatory company employee councils for consultations on economic, social and public safety issues have been reduced from three to one participant. Companies of all sizes are now able to initiate wide-scale voluntary layoffs with severance provisions for employees for any reason without fear of lawsuit, but with the agreement of labor unions representing a majority of employees.  Finally, foreign-owned companies no longer have to justify job cuts in France on the basis of their global turnover, but can base them on poor performance in the French market alone.  These measures have been welcomed by the business community.

France’s has one of the lowest unionized work forces in the developed world (between 8-11 percent of the total work force).  However, unions have strong statutory protections under French law that give them the power to engage in sector- and industry-wide negotiations on behalf of all workers.  As a result, an estimated 98 percent of French workers are covered by union-negotiated collective bargaining agreements.  Any organizational change in the workplace must usually be presented to the unions for a formal consultation as part of the collective bargaining process.

The number of apprenticeships in France has increased by 16 percent in 2019 and now totals 491,000 in both the public and private sectors, according to Labor Ministry figures.  Apprenticeships, like vocational training, have been placed under the direct management of the government via a newly created agency called France Compétences.  Growth of apprenticeship and reform of vocational training help to explain the recent drop in the unemployment rate.

The unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019 from 8.8 percent in the previous quarter.  This was France’s lowest unemployment rate since the 2008 financial crisis.  However, youth unemployment remained high at 20 percent, from 20.8 percent in 2018 and 22.3 percent in 2017.  France’s partial unemployment scheme, which allows firms to retain their employees while the government continues to pay a portion of their wages, has expanded dramatically in scope and size during the Coronavirus epidemic.  Over half of France’s entire workforce was enrolled in the scheme at the end of April 2020.  The number of job seekers is likely to increase sharply if the government follows through with its plan to gradually taper off the scheme beginning in June 2020.

The COVID-19 crisis may cause the Macron Administration to delay or abandon two planned labor reforms on unemployment benefits and pensions.  Labor unions have asked the government to repeal its July 26, 2019 decrees gradually introducing tighter rules for unemployment benefit claims designed to encourage people to go back to work and save €3.4 billion ($3.75 billion) over three years.  The new rules reduce benefits for all unemployed people, especially the highest earners (above €4,500 / $4,950 a month).  Pension reform, approved by the government on January 24, 2020,  and opposed by all labor unions in its current form, is also unlikely to resurface in parliament as the government focuses on economic recovery.

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

Given France’s high per capita income, investments in France do not qualify for investment insurance or guarantees offered by the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC).

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
French Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2018 $2,780,644       2018        $2,777,535 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in France ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $55,518 2018 $86,863 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/
international/direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
France’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $244,655 2018 $292,721 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/
international/direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % French GDP 2018 30.6% 2018 29.7% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

* Source for Host Country Data: INSEE database for GDP figures and French Central Bank (Banque de France) for FDI figures. Accessed on April 27, 2020.

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in France Economy Data in 2018
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 825,023 100% Total Outward 1,507,926 100%
Luxembourg 184,489 22% United States 237,198 15%
United Kingdom 107,911 13% The Netherlands 177,372 12%
The Netherlands 107,576 13% Belgium 174,673 11%
Switzerland 93,313 11% United Kingdom 148,105 9%
Germany 72,607 8% Italy 104,196 7%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

The IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS) database is consistent with France’s Central Bank database.  The Netherlands appears as the second country destination for French FDI.  This could be related to the fact that a few big French companies (Danone, Total, Thalès, Airbus, Air Liquide) have their headquarters based in the Netherlands because of its attractive corporate tax policy.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Portfolio Investment Assets as of June 2019
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 2,986,638 100% All Countries 912,807 100% All Countries 2,073,832 100%
Luxembourg 526,602 17% Luxembourg 294,471 32% United States 256,496 12%
United States 354,640 12% United States 98,144 10% The Netherlands 243,098 11%
The Netherlands 306,534 10% Germany 85,594 9% Luxembourg 232,132 11%
Italy 234,998 7% Ireland 75,975 8% Italy 200,512 9%
United Kingdom 207,314 7% The Netherlands 63,436 7% United Kingdom 184,136 8%

The IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS) database is consistent with France’s Central Bank database.  Luxembourg is a very attractive hub for asset and investment management in Europe.

Gabon

Executive Summary

Gabon is a historically stable country located in a volatile region of the world and has significant economic advantages:  a small population (roughly 2 million), an abundance of natural resources, and a strategic location along the Gulf of Guinea.  After taking office in 2009, President Ali Bongo Ondimba introduced reforms to diversify Gabon’s economy away from oil and from traditional investment partners and to position Gabon as an emerging economy.  Gabon promotes foreign investment across a range of sectors, particularly in the oil and gas, infrastructure, timber, ecotourism, and mining sectors.  Despite these efforts, Gabon’s economy remains dependent on revenue generated by the exportation of hydrocarbons.  Gabon’s commercial ties with France remain very strong, but the government continues to seek to diversify its sources of investment by courting investors from the rest of the world.  In 2018, the Gabonese government lifted exit visa requirements for U.S. citizens.

Although Gabon is taking steps towards making the country a more attractive destination for foreign investment, it remains a difficult place to do business, especially without in-country or francophone experience.  Foreign firms are active in the country, particularly in the extractive industries, but the difficulty involved in establishing a new business and the time it takes to finalize deals are impediments to increased U.S. private sector investment.  In order to attract new investment into the country, Gabon adopted a new hydrocarbon code and a new Mining code in July, 2019. These laws will provide a modernized basis for the legal, institutional, technical, economic, customs and tax regimes of the Gabonese hydrocarbons and mining sector.

Corruption and lack of transparency remain an impediment to investment.   The Gabonese government inconsistently applies customs regulations. Economic conditions in Gabon weakened throughout 2017, 2018, and 2019.  In addition to budget constraints due to low oil prices, the government lacks fiscal transparency.  Many international companies, including U.S. firms, continue to have difficulties collecting timely payments from the Gabonese government, and some companies in the oil sector have closed down operations.  To address fiscal imbalances, Gabon signed in June of 2017 a three-year Extended Fund Facility arrangement of $642 million with the IMF, which has now expired.  While opportunities exist, the investment climate in Gabon will remain difficult as the government must have the political will to make prudent decisions.  In 2019, higher oil prices, new investments in the oil sector and export processing zones, and the increasing manganese production helped support a modest recovery of economic growth of about 2,8 percent (according to the IMF estimates).

Table 1
Measure Year Index/ Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 123 of 198 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2020 169 of 190 www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 N/A https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country (M USD, stock positions) 2019 USD
–172
https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/index.cfm
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 7210 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Gabon’s 1998 investment code conforms to Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) investment regulations and provides the same rights to foreign companies operating in Gabon as to domestic firms.  Businesses are protected from expropriation or nationalization without appropriate compensation, as determined by an independent third party.  Certain sectors, such as mining, forestry, petroleum, agriculture, and tourism have special specific investment codes, which encourage investment through customs and tax incentives. Since June 2019 Gabon, through the Investment Promotion Agency, started work on a new investment code.  The current Minister of Investment Promotion Carmen Nadaot has established a team to work on how to improve Gabon’s rank in the “Ease of Doing Business” report.

Gabon established the Investment Promotion Agency (ANPI-Gabon) with the assistance of the World Bank in April 2014.  The ANPI-Gabon’s mission is to promote investments and exports, support small and medium-sized enterprises, manage public-private partnerships, and help companies to get established.  The agency is designed to act as the gateway for investment into the country and reduce administrative procedures, costs, and waiting periods.

Gabonese authorities have made efforts to prioritize investment.  On March 7, 2017, the High Council for Investment was established to promote investment and boost the economy.  This body provides a platform for dialogue between the public and private sectors, and its main objectives are to improve the economy and create jobs.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

There are no limits on foreign ownership or control, except for discrete activities customarily reserved for the state, including military and paramilitary activities.

Foreign investors are largely treated in the same manner as their Gabonese counterparts regarding the purchase of real estate, negotiation of licenses, and entering into commercial agreements.  There is no general requirement for local participation in investments (see local labor requirements below).  Many businesses find it useful to have a local partner who can help navigate the subjective aspects of the business environment. 

Gabon Oil Company, a state-owned enterprise created in 2011, has an automatic right to purchase up to a 15 percent share in any hydrocarbon contract at market price.

The standard practice is for the Gabonese Presidency to review foreign investment contracts after ministerial-level negotiations are completed.  In certain cases, the Presidency has appeared to intervene to keep negotiations stalled at the ministerial level on track to a mutually satisfactory solution.  The Presidency takes an active interest in meeting with investors.  The lack of a standardized procedure for new entrants to negotiate deals with the government can lead to confusion and time-consuming negotiations.  Moreover, the centralization of decision-making by a few senior officials who are exceedingly busy can delay the process.  As a result, new entrants often find the process of finalizing deals time-consuming and difficult to navigate.

U.S. investors are not disadvantaged by ownership or control mechanisms, sector restrictions, or investment screening mechanisms.  However, French companies continue to dominate major sectors in Gabon.  Lack of French language skills can put American or non-Francophone firms at a disadvantage.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Gabon has been a World Trade Organization (WTO) member since 1995.  In June 2013, Gabon conducted an investment policy review with the WTO.  The government has not conducted any investment policy reviews through the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in the past four years.

Business Facilitation

The government encourages investments in Gabon’s sectors that contribute the greatest share to GNP, including oil and gas, mining, and timber through customs and tax incentives.  For example, oil and mining companies are exempt from customs duties on imported working equipment.  The Tourism Investment Code, enacted in 2000, provides tax incentives to foreign tourism investors during the first eight years of operation.  A special economic zone (SEZ) located at Nkok offers tax incentives to industrial investors; the government may increase the number of special economic zones in a move to attract investment.

ANPI-Gabon houses more than 20 public and private agencies, including the Chamber of Commerce, National Social Security Fund (CNSS), and National Health Insurance and Social Security (CNAMGS).  ANPI-Gabon aims to attract domestic and international investors through improved methods of approving and licensing procedures and support for public-private dialogue.  It has a single window registration process that allows domestic and foreign investors to register their business in 48 hours.  There are no special mechanisms for equitable treatment of women and underrepresented minorities in Gabon.

ANPI-Gabon’s website address is:
https://www.investingabon.ga/ 

Outward Investment

One of ANPI-Gabon’s primary goals is to promote outward investments and exports.  The Gabonese government does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Government policies and laws often do not establish clear rules of the game, and foreign firms can have difficulty navigating the bureaucracy.  Despite reform efforts, hurdles and red tape remain, especially at the lower and mid-levels of the ministries.  Lack of transparency in administrative processes and lengthy bureaucratic delays occasionally raise questions for companies about fair treatment and the sanctity of contracts.

Rule-making and regulatory authority rests at the ministerial level.  There are no nongovernmental organizations or private sector associations that manage informal regulatory processes.  The government of Gabon has not exhibited any recent tendency to discriminate against U.S. investments, companies, or representatives.

The government does not publish proposed laws and regulations in draft form for public comment.  There are no centralized online locations where key regulatory actions, nor are their summaries published.  Key regulatory actions are published in the government’s printed Official Journal.  It is not uncommon for legislative proposals to be provided “off the record” to the press.

In 2015, Gabon implemented a recommendation from CEMAC to program its budget by objectives.  Despite improvements, Gabon still does not have a fully transparent budget. No new regulatory systems have been announced in the last year, and no new reforms have been implemented in the last year.  Regulations are developed by the relevant ministry concerned, and regulatory enforcement is controlled by individual ministries.  There are no instances of regulations being reviewed on the basis of scientific or data-driven assessments.

International Regulatory Considerations

Gabon is a member of CEMAC, along with Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Chad.  Gabon is also member of a larger economic community: The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).  Headquartered in Gabon, ECCAS has 11 members: Gabon, Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, the Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Rwanda, and São Tomé and Príncipe.  Both CEMAC and ECCAS work to promote economic cooperation among members.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Gabon’s legal system is based on French Civil Law.  Regular courts handle commercial disputes in compliance with the Organization for Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA).  Courts do not apply the law consistently, and delays are frequent in the judicial system.  Lack of transparency in administrative processes and lengthy bureaucratic delays call into question the country’s commitment to fair treatment and the sanctity of contracts.  Judicial capacity is weak, and many government contacts underscore the need for specialized training in technical issues such as money laundering and environmental crimes.  Foreign court and international arbitration decisions are accepted, but enforcement may be difficult.

Gabon has a written code of commercial law.  Gabon is affiliated with OHADA and has been a WTO member since January 1, 1995.

The judicial system is not independent from the executive branch.  Gabon’s judicial bodies are subject to political influence, creating uncertainty concerning fair treatment and the sanctity of contracts.  Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable and are adjudicated in the national court system.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Gabon’s 1998 investment code, which gives foreign companies operating in Gabon the same rights as domestic firms, allows foreign investors to choose freely from a wide selection of legal business structures, such as a private limited liability company or public limited liability company.  The distinctions arise primarily from the minimum capital requirements and the conditions under which shares may be re-sold.  Foreign investment in Gabon is subject to local law that is in many instances unsettled or unclear, and in certain cases, Gabonese law may require local majority ownership of businesses.  The state reserves the right to invest in the equity capital of ventures established in certain sectors (e.g., petroleum and mining).  There are no known systemic practices by private firms to restrict foreign investment, participation, or control.

ANPI-Gabon’s website contains some information on investing in Gabon: https://www.investingabon.ga

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Gabonese Law No. 5/89 of July 6, 1989 on Competition covers all aspects of competition and anti-trust (http://www.wipo.int/wipolex/en/details.jsp?id=8814 ).  The relevant ministry for a given dispute reviews transactio