New Zealand has an international reputation for an open and transparent economy where businesses and investors can make commercial transactions with ease. Major political parties are committed to an open trading regime and sound rule of law practices. This is regularly reflected in high global rankings in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report and Transparency International’s Perceptions of Corruption index.
Successive governments accept that foreign investment is an important source of financing for New Zealand and a means to gain access to foreign technology, expertise, and global markets. Some restrictions do apply in a few areas of critical interest including certain types of land, significant business assets, and fishing quotas. These restrictions are facilitated by a screening process conducted by the Overseas Investment Office (OIO).
The current government welcomes productive, sustainable, and inclusive foreign investment, but since elected in October 2017, there has been a modest shift in economic priorities to social initiatives while continuing to acknowledge New Zealand’s dependence on trade and foreign investment. The current focus is on securing foreign capital for investment in forestry and infrastructure, as well as securing multilateral agreements and rules for e-commerce in the evolving digital economy.
In 2019, the government initiated the second phase of its overseas investment law reform. This followed 2018’s tighter screening for residential housing and farmland and restrictions on the availability of permits for oil and gas exploration in 2018. The Government aims to align its overseas investment regime with international best practice by introducing a National Interest and Public Order test to certain assets of strategic and critical importance to New Zealand. The Government has accelerated this reform in 2020 to protect vulnerable businesses falling in value as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The implementation of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and imminent ratification of an upgrade to the New Zealand-China FTA has given those countries an advantage over others with which New Zealand does not have an agreement. The ten CPTPP countries, and in the future China, will not need to seek OIO approval for investments less than NZD 200 million (USD 130 million). These investments, however, are still subject to a National Interest and Public Order test. For other countries the default threshold is NZD 100 million (USD 65 million). CPTPP has triggered most-favored nation obligations New Zealand has under some agreements in addition to China, including bilateral FTAs with Australia and Singapore whose citizens are not subject to screening of residential property purchase or investment.
The Government has introduced a new infrastructure agency to administer a significant number of large projects following the announcement of funding equal to 5 percent of New Zealand’s GDP. While it has an established history of non-discriminatory practice in awarding contracts for procurement, it has nevertheless embarked on a reform of its public-private partnership (PPP) scheme.
The Government has sought to level the playing field for New Zealand business by requiring online businesses selling to New Zealanders to charge and submit the New Zealand 15 percent Goods and Services Tax (GST). In a similar populist move the Government continues to hint at the introduction of a digital services tax (DST) on the revenues earned by large multinational companies, despite the Government still participating in the OECD’s DST process.
The OIO approved many overseas applications, due in part to incentivized investment in the forestry sector and the restrictions on foreign buyers of residential property. In 2019 New Zealand successfully made their first conviction of an offence under the Overseas Investment Act in the 14 years the law has been in effect.
COVID-19 has and will continue to have a major impact on the Government’s approach. Ithas moved quickly to enhance businesses’ access to credit, to accelerate some legislation including overseas investment and privacy law, and to suspend provisions in other laws such as those related to business insolvency. New Zealand also closed its borders in March due to COVID-19 and as of early June 2020 was still deciding when to reopen. Non-citizens/residents must apply for a waiver to enter and although there are “significant economic value” waivers being issued they are limited and most businesses requiring travel to New Zealand must anticipate reduced access. Anyone entering New Zealand at this current time is subject to a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine at the expense of the New Zealand government. Any change in government after the September 2020 general election is unlikely to cause a major shift in policy during New Zealand’s economic recovery and reliance on trade to help buffer negative impacts.
The 2020 Investment Climate Statement for New Zealand uses the exchange rate of NZD 1 = USD 0.65
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Foreign investment in New Zealand is generally encouraged without discrimination. New Zealand has an open and transparent economy. Some restrictions do apply in a few areas of critical interest including certain types of land, significant business assets, and fishing quotas. These restrictions are facilitated by a screening process conducted by the Overseas Investment Office (OIO), described in the next section.
New Zealand has a rapidly expanding network of bilateral investment treaties and free trade agreements that include investment components. New Zealand also has a well-developed legal framework and regulatory system, and the judicial system is generally effective in enforcing property and contractual rights. Investment disputes are rare, and there have been no major disputes in recent years involving U.S. companies.
The Labour Party-led government elected in 2017 has continued its program of tighter screening of some forms of foreign investment and has moved to restrict the availability of permits for oil and gas exploration. It has also focused on different aspects of trade agreement negotiation compared with the previous government, such as an aversion to investor-state dispute settlement provisions.
The implementation of the CPTPP has eased the criteria for partner nations to seek approval for certain investments in New Zealand by increasing the monetary threshold when government approval is required. This has also been triggered by New Zealand’s ‘most favored nation’ obligation in their FTA with China once the upgrade to the 2008 agreement enters into force. A separate bilateral agreement with Australia allows for its threshold to be reviewed each year and is significantly higher before triggering the need for approval. Separate agreements with Australia and Singapore exempt their respective citizens from restrictions introduced in 2018 on the purchase of New Zealand residential property by non-residents. In this respect in the absence of a similar free-trade agreement with New Zealand, certain investments by United States citizens can be subject to higher scrutiny.
In 2019 the OIO approved 139 overseas investment applications, up from 94 the previous year. Net investment increased slightly from NZD 3.5 billion (USD 2.3 billion) to NZD 3.8 billion (USD 2.5 billion) while the total value of assets of approved applications more than doubled to NZD 2.3 billion (USD 1.5 billion) in 2018 to NZD 5.2 billion (USD 3.4 billion) in 2019. Over 22,000 hectares (86.7 square miles; 55,500 acres) of land was sold, leased, or granted forestry rights from 119 approvals. In 2018 there were fewer approvals (64) securing more land area of almost 50,000 hectares (193.1 square miles; 123,600 acres).
Crown entity New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) is New Zealand’s primary investment promotion agency. In addition to its New Zealand central and regional presence, it has 40 international locations, including four offices in the United States. Approximately half of the NZTE staff is based overseas. The NZTE helps investors develop their plans, access opportunities, and facilitate connections with New Zealand-based private sector advisors: https://www.nzte.govt.nz/investment-and-funding/how-we-help. Once investors independently complete their negotiations, due diligence, and receive confirmation of their investment, the NZTE offers aftercare advice. The NZTE aims to channel investment into regional areas of New Zealand to build capability and to promote opportunities outside of the country’s main cities.
Under certain conditions, foreign investors can bid alongside New Zealand businesses for contestable government funding for research and development (R&D) grants. For more see: https://www.mbie.govt.nz/science-and-technology/science-and-innovation/international-opportunities/new-zealand-r-d/. Most of the programs which are operated by NZTE, the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE), and Callaghan Innovation, provide financial assistance, and support through skills and knowledge, or supporting innovative business ventures in the early stages of operation. For more see: https://www.business.govt.nz/how-to-grow/getting-government-grants/what-can-i-get-help-with/.
The New Zealand-United States Council, established in 2001, is a non-partisan organization funded by business and the government. It fosters a strong and mutually beneficial relationship between New Zealand and the United States through both government-to-government contacts and business-to-business links. The American Chamber of Commerce in Auckland provides a platform for New Zealand and U.S. businesses to network among themselves and with government agencies.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
The New Zealand government does not discriminate against U.S. or other foreign investors in their rights to establish and own business enterprises. It has placed separate limitations on foreign ownership of airline Air New Zealand and telecommunications infrastructure provider Chorus Limited.
Air New Zealand’s constitution requires that no person who is not a New Zealand national may hold 10 percent or more of the voting rights without the consent of the Minister of Transport. There must be between five and eight board directors, at least three of which must reside in New Zealand. In 2013, the government sold a partial stake in Air New Zealand reducing its equity interest from 73 percent to 53 percent.
The establishment of telecommunications infrastructure provider Chorus resulted from a demerger of provider Spark New Zealand Limited (Spark) in 2011. In 2019, Spark amended its constitution removing the requirement that half of the Spark Board be New Zealand citizens and, in accordance with NZX Listing Rules, requires at least two directors be ordinarily resident in New Zealand.
Chorus owns most of the telephone infrastructure in New Zealand, and provides wholesale services to telecommunications retailers, including Spark. The demerger freed Spark from its foreign ownership restrictions allowing it to compete with other retail providers which do not have such restrictions. The foreign ownership restrictions apply to Chorus as a natural monopoly and infrastructure provider.
Chorus’s constitution requires at least half of its Board be New Zealand citizens. It provides that without the approval of the Minister of Finance, no single shareholder may own more than 10 percent of the shares and no person who is not a New Zealand national may own more than 49.9 percent of the shares. To date, approval has been granted to two private entities to exceed the 10 percent threshold, increasing their interest in Chorus up to 15 percent.
New Zealand otherwise screens overseas investment to ensure quality investments are made that benefit New Zealand. Failure to obtain government approval before purchase can lead to significant financial penalties. The Overseas Investment Office (OIO) is responsible for screening foreign investment that falls within certain criteria specified in the Overseas Investment Act 2005.
The OIO requires government approval be obtained by overseas persons wishing to acquire or invest in significant business assets, sensitive land, farmland, or fishing quota, as defined below.
Acquiring or investing in a “significant business asset” includes: acquiring 25 percent or more ownership or controlling interest in a New Zealand company with assets exceeding NZD 100 million (USD 65 million); establishing a business in New Zealand that will be operational more than 90 days per year and expected costs of establishing the business exceeds NZD 100 million; or acquiring business assets in New Zealand that exceed NZD 100 million.
OIO consent is required for overseas investors to purchase “sensitive land” either directly or acquiring a controlling interest of 25 percent or more in a person who owns the land. Non-residential sensitive land includes land that: is non-urban and exceeds five hectares (12.35 acres); is part of or adjoins the foreshore or seabed; exceeds 0.4 hectares (1 acre) and falls under of the Conservation Act of 1987 or it is land proposed for a reserve or public park; is subject to a Heritage Order, or is a historic or wahi tapu area (sacred Maori land); or is considered “special land” that is defined as including the foreshore, seabed, riverbed, or lakebed and must first be offered to the Crown. If the Crown accepts the offer, the Crown can only acquire the part of the “sensitive land” that is “special land,” and can acquire it only if the overseas person completes the process for acquisition of the sensitive land.
Where a proposed acquisition involves “farm land” (land used principally for agricultural, horticultural, or pastoral purposes, or for the keeping of bees, poultry, or livestock), the OIO can only grant approval if the land is first advertised and offered on the open market in New Zealand to citizens and residents. The Crown can waive this requirement in special circumstances at the discretion of the relevant government Minister.
Commercial fishing in New Zealand is controlled by the Fisheries Act, which sets out a quota management system that prohibits commercial fishing of certain species without the ownership of a fishing quota which specifies the quantity of fish that may be taken. OIO legislation, operating together with the Fisheries Act, requires consent from the relevant Ministers in order for an overseas person to obtain an interest in a fishing quota, or an interest of 25 percent or more in a business that owns or controls a fishing quota.
Investors subject to OIO screening must demonstrate in their application that they meet the criteria for the “Investor Test” and the “Benefit to New Zealand test.” The former requires the investor to display the necessary business experience and acumen to manage the investment, demonstrate financial commitment to the investment, and be of “good character” meaning a person who would be eligible for a permit under New Zealand immigration law.
The “Benefit to New Zealand test” requires the OIO to assess the investment against 21 factors, which are set out in the Overseas Investment Act and Regulations. The OIO applies a counterfactual analysis to benefit factors where such analysis can be applied, and the onus is upon the investor to consider the likely counterfactual if the overseas investment does not proceed. Economic factors are given weighting, particularly if the investment will create new job opportunities, retain existing jobs, and lead to greater efficiency or productivity domestically.
The screening thresholds are significantly higher for Australian investors and are reviewed each year in accordance with the 2013 Protocol on Investment to the New Zealand-Australia Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement. In the 2020 calendar year Australian non-government investors are screened at NZD 536 million (USD 348 million) and Australian government investors at NZD 112 million (USD 73 million).
New Zealand and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) concluded negotiations on an upgrade to their FTA in November 2019. A side letter confirms higher screening thresholds applicable to investments from the PRC in New Zealand significant business assets, following the entry into force of CPTPP. Due to New Zealand’s “Most Favored Nation” obligations in the existing 2008 bilateral FTA, the screening threshold for PRC non-government investments in New Zealand significant business assets is NZD 200 million (USD 130 million), while the threshold for PRC government investments in New Zealand significant business assets is NZD100 million (USD 65 million).
New Zealand screens overseas investment mainly for economic reasons but has legislation that outlines a framework to protect the national security of telecommunication networks. The Telecommunications (Interception and Security) Act 2013 (TICSA) sets out the process for network operators to work with the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) – in accordance with Section 7 – to prevent, sufficiently mitigate, or remove security risks arising from the design, build, or operation of public telecommunications networks and interconnections to or between public telecommunications networks in New Zealand or with networks overseas.
In 2019 as part of the second phase of overseas investment reform, the Government consulted on and released details for the addition of a National Interest test that will be added to the screening process to protect New Zealand assets deemed sensitive and “high-risk.” This will be discussed in the next chapter.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
New Zealand has not conducted an Investment Policy Review through the OECD or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in the past three years. New Zealand’s last Trade Policy Review was in 2015 and the next will take place in 2021: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp416_e.htm.
The New Zealand government has shown a strong commitment to continue efforts to streamline business facilitation. According to the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business 2020 report New Zealand is ranked first in “Starting a Business,” and “Getting Credit,” and is ranked second for “Registering Property.” Compared to 2019, New Zealand received a lower score for “Resolving Insolvency.”
There are no restrictions on the movement of funds into or out of New Zealand, or on the repatriation of profits. No additional performance measures are imposed on foreign-owned enterprises, other than those that require OIO approval. Overseas investors must adhere to the normal legislative business framework for New Zealand-based companies, which includes the Commerce Act 1986, the Companies Act 1993, the Financial Markets Conduct Act 2013, the Financial Reporting Act 2013, and the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act 2009 (AML/CFT). The Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017 was passed to modernize and consolidate existing legislation underpinning contracts and commercial transactions.
The tightening of anti-money laundering laws has impacted the cross-border movement of remittance orders from New Zealanders and migrant workers to the Pacific Islands. Banks, non-bank institutions, and people in occupations that typically handle large amounts of cash, are required to collect additional information about their customers and report any suspicious transactions to the New Zealand Police. If an entity is unable to comply with the AML/CFT in its dealings with a customer, it must not do business with that person. For banks, this would mean not processing certain transactions, withdrawing the banking products and services it offers, and choosing not to have that person as a customer. This has resulted in some banks charging higher fees for remittance services in order to reduce their exposure to risks, which has led to the forced closing of accounts held by some money transfer operators. Phase 1 sectors which include financial institutions, remitters, trust and company service providers, casinos, payment providers, and lenders have had to comply with the AML/CFT since 2013. Phase 2 sectors which include lawyers, conveyancers, accountants, bookkeepers, and realtors have had to comply from January 2019.
In order to combat the increasing use of New Zealand shell companies for illegal activities, the Companies Amendment Act 2014 and the Limited Partnerships Amendment Act 2014 introduced new requirements for companies registering in New Zealand. Companies must have at least one director that either lives in New Zealand or lives in Australia and is a director of a company incorporated in Australia. New companies incorporated must provide the date and place of birth of all directors and provide details of any ultimate holding company. The Acts introduced offences for serious misconduct by directors that results in serious losses to the company or its creditors and aligns the company reconstruction provisions in the Companies Act with the Takeovers Act 1993 and the Takeovers Code Approval Order 2000.
The Companies Office holds an overseas business-related register and provides that information to persons in New Zealand who intend to deal with the company or to creditors in New Zealand. The information provided includes where and when the company was incorporated, if there is any restriction on its ability to trade contained in its constitutional documents, names of the directors, its principal place of business in New Zealand, and where and on whom documents can be served in New Zealand. For further information on how overseas companies can register in New Zealand, see https://www.companiesoffice.govt.nz/companies/learn-about/starting-a-company/register-an-overseas-company-other
The New Zealand Business Number (NZBN) Act 2016 allows the allocation of unique identifiers to eligible entities to enable them to conduct business more efficiently, interact more easily with the government, and to protect the entity’s security and confidentiality of information. All companies registered in New Zealand have had NZBNs since 2013 and are also available to other types of businesses such as sole traders and partnerships.
Tax registration is recommended when the investor incorporates the company with the Companies Office, but is required if the company is registering as an employer and if it intends to register for New Zealand’s consumption tax, the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which is currently 15 percent. Companies importing into New Zealand or exporting to other countries which have a turnover exceeding NZD 60,000 (USD 39,000) over a 12-month period or expect to pass NZD 60,000 in the next 12 months, must register for GST. Non-resident businesses that conduct a taxable activity supplying goods or services in New Zealand and make taxable supplies in New Zealand, must register for GST: https://www.ird.govt.nz/index/all-tasks. From 2014, non-resident businesses that do not make taxable supplies in New Zealand have been able to claim GST if they meet certain criteria.
To comply with GST registration, overseas companies need two pieces of evidence to prove their customer is a resident in New Zealand, such as their billing address or IP address, and a GST return must be filed every quarter even if the company does not make any sales.
In 2016 mandatory GST registration was extended to non-resident suppliers of “remote services” to New Zealand customers, if they meet the NZD 60,000 annual sales threshold. In 2019, legislation was enacted that requires non-resident suppliers of “low-value” import goods destined for New Zealand to register for GST, if they meet the NZD 60,000 annual sales threshold. Both are discussed in a later section.
The New Zealand government does not place restrictions on domestic investors to invest abroad.
NZTE is the government’s international business development agency. It promotes outward investment and provides resources and services for New Zealand businesses to prepare for export and advice on how to grow internationally. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and Customs New Zealand each operates business outreach programs that advise businesses on how to maximize the benefit from FTAs to improve the competitiveness of their goods offshore, and provides information on how to meet requirements such as rules of origin.
2. Bilateral Investment and Taxation Treaties
New Zealand currently has signed bilateral investment treaties (BITs) with four partners: Argentina (August 1999), Chile (July 1999), China (November 1988), and Hong Kong (July 1995), but only the BITs with China and Hong Kong have entered into force. Besides these treaties, the country has concluded several economic agreements that also contain provisions on investment.
New Zealand has a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with the United States that entered into force on October 2, 1992. In July 2018 New Zealand and the United States resumed meetings under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), which had been suspended after the United States entered negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in 2008: https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2018/july/united-states-and-new-zealand-meet.
New Zealand and Australia trade through a Closer Economic Relationship (CER), which is a free trade agreement eliminating all tariffs between the two countries. However, the rules of origin under the CER do not permit products to enter Australia duty free from New Zealand unless the products are of at least 50 percent New Zealand origin. Additionally, the last manufacturing process must be carried out in New Zealand. The enactment of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Australia and the United States on January 1, 2005, removed any tariff disadvantage to U.S. firms that choose to re-export products from New Zealand to Australia.
New Zealand has a number of FTAs and other treaties with countries that contain investment provisions including Hong Kong (entry into force January 2011), Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu (December 2013), Malaysia (August 2010), the Republic of Korea (December 2015), Mexico (October 1996), Thailand (July 2005), Singapore (January 2001; upgrade in effect from January 1, 2020).
Multilateral treaties with investment provisions that New Zealand is a member of include the AANZFTA with Australia and ASEAN (January 2010); the P4 with Brunei, Chile, and Singapore (May 2006); and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) with Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam (December 2018).
New Zealand is a party to negotiations for FTAs with the European Union (EU), with India, the Pacific Alliance (Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru), and the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan bloc. New Zealand joined negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in November 2012 and entered negotiations to update the AANZFTA in May 2019.
New Zealand concluded work on an FTA with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in October 2009, but the agreement has not yet been signed. New Zealand signed the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Agreement (PACER Plus) with Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu in June 2017, and later ratified it in October 2018.
New Zealand has an FTA containing investment provisions with the PRC that entered into force on October 1, 2008. Negotiations for an upgrade of the agreement concluded in November 2019 but has not entered into force. The upgrade will be an amendment to the existing FTA, and a side letter confirms the monetary screening thresholds applicable to PRC investments in significant New Zealand business assets, following New Zealand’s implementation of the CPTPP. The letter confirms that PRC government investments in significant business assets are screened at NZD 100 million (USD 65 million), and non-government investments in significant business assets screened at NZD 200 million (USD 130 million), to the level consistent with the “Most Favored Nation” obligations within the existing New Zealand-China FTA.
New Zealand has concluded negotiations with Chile and Singapore on the on the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA) in January 2020. DEPA is designed to complement the WTO’s work on a set of E-Commerce rules, by helping SMEs within small trade-dependent economies take advantage of the opportunities from digital trade. DEPA aims to address emerging issues affecting the digital economy, such as governance for artificial intelligence, e-payments, e-invoicing, and digital identities. While it does not contain a specific chapter on investment, it sets standards that protect citizens’ privacy relating to cross-border data flows and the location of computer facilities.
In September 2019, New Zealand joined Fiji, Costa Rica, Iceland, and Norway to begin negotiations on the Agreement on Climate Change, Trade, and Sustainability (ACCTS). The agreement aims to set standards for nations to contribute to addressing climate change through trade policy. Key areas include the elimination of tariffs on environmental goods, and new commitments on environmental services, disciplines to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, and the development of guidelines for voluntary eco-labeling programs and their associated promotion and application.
New Zealand has 40 bilateral income tax treaties and 19 information exchange agreements currently in force. The Convention between the United States of America and New Zealand for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with Respect to Taxes on Income signed in 1982 was replaced by a new treaty signed in December 2008, which came into force on November 12, 2010. New Zealand has an intergovernmental agreement with the United States for their Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which entered into force on July 3, 2014.
In April 2019, an update to the existing 1986 NZ-China DTA was signed. With most provisions effective from April 2020, the upgrade aims to provide clarity on the tax treatment of investment flows, includes measures to prevent base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS), lowers withholding taxes, and clarifies methods to prevent double taxation. A similar update to the NZ-Hong Kong DTA entered into force in August 2018.
New Zealand is a party to the OECD’s Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters, and to the Multilateral Convention to Implement Tax Treaty Related Measures to Prevent Base Erosion and Profit-Shifting (MLI). In August 2018 New Zealand completed its treaty examination process and ratified the MLI which allows New Zealand to adjust its existing DTAs with other participating countries rather than renegotiate each DTA individually from October 1, 2018.
The Taxation (Neutralizing Base Erosion and Profit Shifting) Act 2018, referred to as the “BEPS Tax Act” is intended to address the ability of firms with presences in multiple countries from using (1) artificially high interest rates on loans from related parties to shift profits out of New Zealand (interest limitation rules); (2) artificial arrangements to avoid having a taxable presence in New Zealand; (3) transfer pricing payments to shift profits into their offshore group members that does not reflect the actual economic activities undertaken in New Zealand; and (4) hybrid and branch mismatches that exploit differences between countries’ tax rules to achieve an advantageous tax position. The Act also enhances the IRD’s ability to extract information from multinational firms held overseas to prevent firms from obstructing investigation through non-cooperation and retains the discretion to fine firms for failing to comply with a request for information.
In February 2019, following consultation with the IRD, the government announced they will begin work to introduce a digital services tax, and in June 2019 the IRD issued a discussion document in June: http://taxpolicy.ird.govt.nz/publications/2019-dd-digital-economy/overview. It asked for feedback on two broad questions: should there be a temporary 3 percent digital services tax on gross revenue attributable to New Zealand users of specified digital services; and should New Zealand continue to participate in the OECD’s search for an internationally agreed solution, and if so what is the solution for New Zealand. The value of cross-border digital services in New Zealand is estimated to be around NZD 2.7 billion (USD 1.8 billion).
Since 2016 non-resident suppliers of cross-border remote services and digital downloads are required by law to register with IRD to collect GST if their taxable supplies to New Zealand exceed – or are expected to exceed – NZD 60,000 (USD 39,000) in a 12-month period. Qualifying remote services include: e-books, movies and TV shows, online newspaper subscriptions, online supplies of games and software, webinars or distance learning courses, insurance services, gambling services, web design services, legal, accounting or consultancy services, among others. Separate conditions apply to cross-border suppliers of telecommunication services.
In response to New Zealand retailers’ claims of a competitive disadvantage resulting from the high volume of low-value imported goods purchased online by New Zealand consumers, non-resident suppliers of low-value goods are required by law from December 1, 2019 to register with IRD and collect GST at the point of sale. Non-resident suppliers of goods with sales to New Zealand customers that exceed – or are expected to exceed – NZD 60,000 in a 12-month period must charge GST on goods bought by a New Zealand customer that value NZD 1,000 (USD 650) or below. Previously, online purchases by New Zealand customers with a value of more than NZD 400 (USD 260) had GST and tariff duty collected at the border by Customs New Zealand. Customs New Zealand retains the responsibility to collect GST on goods valued at more than NZD 1,000.
As mentioned in the previous section, GST registration requires the overseas company to: provide two pieces of evidence to prove the customer is a resident in New Zealand, such as their billing address or IP address, and file a GST return every quarter even if the company does not make any sales.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
The New Zealand government policies and laws governing competition are transparent, non-discriminatory, and consistent with international norms. New Zealand ranks high on the World Bank’s Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance, scoring 4.25 out of a possible 5, but is marked down in part for a lack of transparency in some departments’ individual forward regulatory plans, and the development of the government’s annual legislative program (for primary laws), for which the Ministers responsible do not make public.
While regulations are not in a centralized location in a form similar to the United States Federal Register, the New Zealand government requires the major regulatory departments to publish an annual regulatory stewardship strategy.
Draft bills and regulations, including those relating to FTAs and investment law, are generally made available for public comment. In a few instances there has been criticism of the government using a “truncated” or shortened public consultation process or adding a substantive legislative change after public consultation through the process of adding a Supplementary Order Paper to the Bill.
The Regulatory Quality Team within the New Zealand Treasury is responsible for the strategic coordination of the Government’s regulatory management system. The Treasury exercises stewardship over the regulatory management system to maintain and enhance the quality of government-initiated regulation. The Treasury’s responsibilities include the oversight of the performance of the regulatory management system as a whole and making recommendations on changes to government and Parliamentary systems and processes. These functions complement the Treasury’s role as the government’s primary economic and fiscal advisor. New Zealand’s seven major regulatory departments are the Department of Internal Affairs, IRD, MBIE, Ministry for the Environment, Ministry of Justice, the Ministry for Primary Industries, and the Ministry of Transport.
In recent years there has been a revision to the Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) requirements in order to help New Zealand’s regulatory framework keep up with global standards. To improve transparency in the regulatory process, RIAs are published on the Treasury’s website at the time the relevant bill is introduced to Parliament or the regulation is published in the newspaper, or at the time of Ministerial release. An RIA provides a high-level summary of the problem being addressed, the options and their associated costs and benefits, the consultation undertaken, and the proposed arrangements for implementation and review.
MBIE is responsible for the stewardship of 16 regulatory systems covering about 140 statutes. In 2018 the government introduced three omnibus bills that contain amendments to legislation administered by MBIE, including economic development, employment relations, and housing: https://www.mbie.govt.nz/cross-government-functions/regulatory-stewardship/regulatory-systems-amendment-bills/. The government’s objective with this package of legislation is to ensure that they are effective, efficient, and accord with best regulatory practice by providing a process for making continuous improvements to regulatory systems that do not warrant standalone bills. In November 2019, the Regulatory Systems (Economic Development) Amendment Act 2019 passed and amended about 14 Acts including laws regarding business insolvency, takeovers, trademarks, and limited partnerships.
Most standards are developed through Standards New Zealand, which is a business unit within MBIE, operating on a cost-recovery basis rather than a membership subscription service as previously. The Standards and Accreditation Act 2015 set out the role and function of the Standards Approval Board which commenced from March 2016. Most standards in New Zealand are set in coordination with Australia.
The Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) has drawn criticism from foreign and domestic investors as a barrier to investment in New Zealand. The RMA regulates access to natural and physical resources such as land and water. Critics contend that the resource management process mandated by the law is unpredictable, protracted, and subject to undue influence from competitors and lobby groups. In some cases, companies have been found to exploit the RMA’s objections submission process to stifle competition. Investors have raised concerns that the law is unequally applied between jurisdictions because of the lack of implementing guidelines. The Resource Management Amendment Act 2013 and the Resource Management (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Act 2009 were passed to help address these concerns.
The Resource Legislation Amendment Act 2017 (RLAA) is considered the most comprehensive set of reforms to the RMA. It contains almost 40 amendments and makes significant changes to five different Acts including the RMA and the Public Works Act (PWA) 1981. Its aim is to balance environmental management with the need to increase capacity for housing development and to align resource consent processes in a consistent manner among New Zealand’s 78 local councils, by providing a stronger national direction, a more responsive planning process, and improved consistency with other legislation. Further amendments to the RMA are expected during 2020 to reduce regulatory barriers in order to reduce the time for significant infrastructure projects to gain approval.
The PWA enables the Crown to acquire land for public works by agreement or compulsory acquisition and prescribes landowner compensation. New Zealand continues to face a significant demand for large-scale infrastructure works and the PWA is designed to ensure project delivery and enable infrastructure development. In December 2019, a NZD 12 billion (USD 7.8 billion) upgrade fund was announced, amounting to 4 percent of New Zealand’s GDP. Further funding was added in the Government’s Budget delivered in May 2020. Compulsory acquisition of private land is exercised only after an acquiring authority has made all reasonable endeavors to negotiate in good faith the sale and purchase of the owner’s land, without reaching an agreement. The landowner retains the right to have his or her objection heard by the Environment Court, but only in relation to the taking of the land, not to the amount of compensation payable. The RLAA amendment to the PWA aims to improve the efficiency and fairness of the compensation, land acquisition, and Environment Court objection provisions.
The Land Transfer Act 2018 aims to simplify and modernize the law to make it more accessible and to add certainty around property rights. It empowers courts with limited discretion to restore a landowner’s registered title in cases of manifest injustice.
The Government of New Zealand is generally transparent about its public finances and debt obligations. The annual budget for the government and its departments publish assumptions, and implications of explicit and contingent liabilities on estimated government revenue and spending.
International Regulatory Considerations
In recent years, the Government of New Zealand has introduced laws to enhance regulatory coordination with Australia as part of their Single Economic Market agenda. In February 2017, the Patents (Trans-Tasman Patent Attorneys and Other Matters) Amendment Act took effect creating a single body to regulate patent attorneys in both countries. Other areas of regulatory coordination include insolvency law, financial reporting, food safety, competition policy, consumer policy and the 2013 Trans-Tasman Court Proceedings and Regulatory Enforcement Treaty, which allows the enforcement of civil judgements between both countries.
The Privacy Bill which, if enacted, would repeal the existing Privacy Act 1993, aims to bring New Zealand privacy law into line with international best practice, including the 2013 OECD Privacy Guidelines and the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
In 2016 the Financial Markets Authority issued the Disclosure Using Overseas Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) Exemption and the Overseas Registered Banks and Licensed Insurers Exemption Notice. They ease compliance costs on overseas entities by allowing them under certain circumstances to use United States statutory accounting principles (overseas GAAP) rather than New Zealand GAAP, and the opportunity to use an overseas approved auditor rather than a New Zealand qualified auditor.
In August 2019, the government passed the Financial Markets (Derivatives Margin and Benchmarking) Reform Amendment Act to better align New Zealand’s financial markets law with new international regulations, to help strengthen the resilience of global financial markets. The Act amended several pieces of legislation relating to financial market regulation to help financial institutions maintain access to offshore funding markets and help ensure institutions – that rely on derivatives to hedge against currency and other risks – can invest and raise funds efficiently.
New Zealand is a Party to the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). Standards New Zealand is responsible for operating the TBT Enquiry Point on behalf of MFAT. From 2016, Standards New Zealand became a business unit within MBIE administered under the Standards and Accreditation Act 2015. Standards New Zealand establishes techniques and processes built from requirements under the Act and from the International Organization for Standardization.
The Standards New Zealand TBT Enquiry Point operates as a service for producers and exporters to search for proposed TBT Notifications and associated documents such as draft or actual regulations or standards. They also provide contact details for the Trade Negotiations Division of MFAT to respond to businesses concerned about proposed measures. See https://www.standards.govt.nz/international-engagement/technical-barriers-to-trade/
The government has a dedicated website to provide a centralized point of contact for businesses to access information and support on non-tariff trade barriers (NTB). New Zealand exporters can report issues, seek government advice and assistance with NTBs and other export issues. Exporters can confidentially register a trade barrier, and the website serves to track and trace the assignment and resolution across agencies on their behalf. It also provides the government with an accurate and timely report of NTBs and other trade issues encountered by exporters, and involves the participation of Customs, MFAT, MPI, MBIE, and NZTE. See: https://tradebarriers.govt.nz/
New Zealand ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in 2015 and it entered into force in February 2017. New Zealand was already largely in compliance with the TFA which is expected to benefit New Zealand agricultural exporters and importers of perishable items to enhanced procedures for border clearances.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
New Zealand’s legal system is derived from the English system and comes from a mix of common law and statute law. The judicial system is independent of the executive branch and is generally transparent and effective in enforcing property and contractual rights. The highest appeals court is a domestic Supreme Court, which replaced the Privy Council in London and began hearing cases July 1, 2004. New Zealand courts can recognize and enforce a judgment of a foreign court if the foreign court is considered to have exercised proper jurisdiction over the defendant according to private international law rules. New Zealand has well defined and consistently applied commercial and bankruptcy laws. Arbitration is a widely used dispute resolution mechanism and is governed by the Arbitration Act of 1996, Arbitration (Foreign Agreements and Awards) Act of 1982, and the Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act 1979.
Legislation to modernize and consolidate laws underpinning contracts and commercial transactions came into effect in September 2017. The Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017 consolidates and repeals 12 acts that date between 1908 and 2002. The Private International Law (Choice of Law in Tort) Act, passed in December 2017, clarifies which jurisdiction’s law is applicable in actions of tort and abolishes certain common law rules, and establishes the general rule that the applicable law will be the law of the country in which the events constituting the tort in question occur.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
Overseas investments in New Zealand assets are screened only if they are defined as sensitive according to the definitions within the Overseas Investment Act 2005, as mentioned in the previous section. The OIO, a dedicated unit located within Land Information New Zealand (LINZ), administers the Act. The Overseas Investment Regulations 2005 set out the criteria for assessing applications, provide the framework for applicable fees, and criteria to determine if the investment will benefit New Zealand. Ministerial Directive Letters are issued by the Government to instruct the OIO on their general policy approach, their functions, powers, and duties as regulator. Letters have been issued in December 2010 and November 2017. Substantive changes, such as inclusion of another asset type within “sensitive land,” requires a legislative amendment to the Act. New Zealand companies seeking capital injections from overseas investors that require OIO approval must meet certain criteria regarding disclosure to shareholders and fulfil other responsibilities under the Companies Act 1993.
The government ministers for finance, land information, and primary industries (where applicable) are responsible for assessing OIO recommendations and can choose to override OIO recommendations on approved applications. Ministers’ decisions on OIO applications can be appealed by the applicant in the New Zealand High Court. Ministers have the power to confer a discretionary exemption from the requirement for a prospective investor to seek OIO consent under certain circumstances. For more see: http://www.linz.govt.nz/regulatory/overseas-investment
The OIO Regulations set out the fee schedule for lodging new applications which can be costly and current processing times regularly exceed six months. In recent years, some foreign investors have abandoned their applications, due to the costs and time frames involved in obtaining OIO consent.
The OIO monitors foreign investments after approval. All consents are granted with reporting conditions, which are generally standard in nature. Investors must report regularly on their compliance with the terms of the consent. Offenses include: defeating, evading, or circumventing the OIO Act; failure to comply with notices, requirements, or conditions; and making false or misleading statements or omissions. If an offense has been committed under the Act, the High Court has the power to impose penalties, including monetary fines, ordering compliance, and ordering the disposal of the investor’s New Zealand holdings.
The LINZ website reports on enforcement actions they have taken against foreign investors, including the number of compliance letters issued, the number of warnings and their circumstances, referrals to professional conduct body in relation to an OIO breach, and disposal of investments. For more see: https://www.linz.govt.nz/overseas-investment/enforcement/enforcement-action-taken.
In February 2020 New Zealand reported its first conviction under the Overseas Investment Act. The offender was charged for obstructing an OIO investigation which was initiated because he had not obtained OIO consent for his property purchase and for later submitting a fraudulent application.
In 2017 the Government announced a reform of the Overseas Investment Act shortly after being elected and has already implemented Phase 1 reforms with strengthened requirements for screening foreign investment in residential houses, building residential housing developments, and farmland acreage. Screening for investments in forestry were eased slightly to help meet the Government’s One Billion Tree policy. Phase 2 began in 2019 when the Government consulted on and released details for the introduction of a National Interest test to the screening process to protect New Zealand assets deemed sensitive and “high-risk.”
In December 2017, the government introduced regulatory changes that place greater emphasis on the assessment of significant economic benefits to New Zealand. For forestry investments, the OIO is required to place importance on investments that result in increased domestic processing of wood and advance government strategies. For rural land, importance is placed on the generation of economic benefits which were previously seldom applied for lifestyle rural property purchases that previously relied on non-economic benefits to gain OIO approval.
New rules reduced the area threshold for foreign purchases of rural land so that OIO approval is required for rural land of an area over five hectares, rather than the previous metric of farm land “more than ten times the average farm size,” which was about 7,146 hectares for sheep and beef farms, and 1,987 hectares for dairy farms. Foreign investors can still purchase rural land less than five hectares, but the government said it intends to introduce other measures to discourage “land bankers,” or investors holding onto land for speculative purposes.
The government issued new rules regarding residency for overseas investors intending to reside in New Zealand, that they move to New Zealand within 12 months and become ordinarily resident within 24 months.
In 2018, the Overseas Investment Amendment Act passed in order to help address housing affordability and reduce speculative behavior in the housing market. The 2005 Act was amended to bring residential land within the category of “sensitive land.” Residential land is defined as land that has a category of residential or lifestyle within the relevant district valuation roll; and includes a residential flat (apartment) in a building owned by a flat-owning company which could be on residential or non-residential land.
Since October 2018, the Overseas Investment Act generally requires persons who are not ordinarily resident in New Zealand to get OIO consent to purchase residential homes on residential land. Australian and Singaporean citizens are exempt due to existing bilateral trade agreements. To avoid breaching the Act, contracts to purchase residential land must be conditional on getting consent under the Act – entering into an unconditional contract will breach the Act. All purchasers of residential land (including New Zealanders) will need to complete a statement confirming whether the Act applies, and solicitors/conveyancers cannot lodge land transfer documents without that statement.
Overseas persons wishing to purchase one home on residential land will need to fulfill a “Commitment to Reside Test.” Applicants must hold the appropriate non-temporary visa (those on student visas, work visas, or visitor visas cannot apply), have lived in New Zealand for the immediate preceding 12 months and intend to reside in the property being purchased. If the applicant stops living in New Zealand they will have to sell the property. OIO applicants not intending to reside will generally need to show: (1) they will convert the land to another use and demonstrate this would have wider benefits to New Zealand; or (2) they will be adding to New Zealand’s housing supply. Applicants seeking approval under the latter – the “Increased Housing Test” – must intend to increase the number of dwellings on the property by one or more, and they cannot live in the dwelling/s once built (the “non-occupation condition”). Applicants must then on-sell the dwellings, unless they are building 20 or more new residential dwellings and they intend to provide a shared equity, rent-to-buy, or rental arrangement (the “On-Sale Condition”).
The Amendment also imposes restrictions on overseas persons buying into new residential property developments. Where pre-sales of the new residential dwellings are an essential aspect of the development funding, overseas purchasers may be able to rely on the “Increased Housing” Test, although they will be subject to the on-sale and non-occupation conditions. Otherwise, individual purchasers must apply for OIO consent and meet the “commitment to reside test,” or make their purchase conditional on receiving an “exemption certificate” held by an apartment developer. According to the OIO Regulations, developers can apply for an exemption certificate allowing them to sell 60 percent of the apartments “off the plan” to overseas buyers without those buyers requiring OIO consent but whom would have to meet the non-occupation condition.
Ministers may exercise discretion to waive the on-sale condition if an overseas person is applying for consent to acquire an ownership interest in an entity that holds residential land in New Zealand, if they are acquiring less than a 50 percent ownership interest, or if they are acquiring an indirect ownership interest. Exemptions can also apply for long-term accommodation facilities, hotel lease-back arrangements, retirement village developments, and for network utility companies needing to acquire residential land to provide essential services. In 2019 the OIO issued several warnings and fines to overseas buyers of residential property who had failed to apply for OIO consent.
The government coalition formed after the 2017 elections indicated that forestry would be a priority in boosting regional development. In March 2018, the government announced forestry cutting rights would be brought into the OIO screening regime, similar to the requirements for investment in leasehold and freehold forestry land. In addition to residential land, the Overseas Investment Amendment Act 2018 classified “forestry rights” within the asset class of “sensitive land.”
Overseas investments involving the purchase up to 1,000 hectares of forestry rights per year or any forestry right of less than three years duration do not generally require OIO approval.
Overseas investors can apply for consent to buy or lease land that is in forestry, or land to be used for forestry, or to buy forestry rights. In addition to meeting the “Benefit to New Zealand Test,” applicants wishing to buy or lease land for forestry purposes, convert farmland to forestry land, or purchase forestry rights, must meet either the “Special Forestry Test,” or the “Modified Benefits Test.”
The Special Forestry Test is the most streamlined test, and is used to buy forestry land and continue to operate it with existing arrangements remaining in place, such as public access, protection of habitat for indigenous plants and animals, and historic places, as well as log supply arrangements. The investor would be required to replant after harvest, unless exempted, and use the land exclusively or nearly exclusively for forestry activities. The land can be used for accommodation only to support forestry activities.
The Modified Benefits Test is suitable for investors who will use the land only for forestry activities, but who cannot maintain existing arrangements relating to the land, such as public access. The investor would need to pass the Benefit to New Zealand Test, replant after harvest, and use the land exclusively or nearly exclusively for forestry activities.
By 2019 the OIO issued several warnings and fines to overseas investors purchasing forestry rights for failing to comply with conditions or failing to apply for OIO approval.
Phase 2 Reforms
In April 2019, the government signaled it would consider a “national interest” restriction on foreign investment. It issued a document for public consultation and, in November 2019, decided on New Zealand’s most “strategically important assets.” The government aims to bring New Zealand in line with international best practice by applying a National Interest Test to overseas investors wishing to purchase New Zealand high-risk, sensitive or monopoly assets such as ports and airports, telecommunications infrastructure, electricity, and other critical infrastructure.
Current legislation does not provide for the review of National Security or Public Order investments under NZD 100 million (USD 65 million).
A “call in” power would apply to the sale of New Zealand’s most strategically important assets, such as firms developing military technology and direct suppliers to New Zealand defense and security agencies. This would apply to assets not currently screened under the Overseas Investment Act. The tests could also be used to control investments in significant media entities if they are likely to damage New Zealand security or democracy.
Phase 2 includes other measures to protect New Zealand’s interests announced in November 2019, such as equipping the OIO with enhanced enforcement powers and increasing the maximum penalties for non-compliance NZD 300,000 (USD 195,000) to NZD 10 million (USD 6.5 million) for corporates. The legislation will also include a requirement that overseas investors in farmland show substantial benefit to New Zealand, by adding something substantially new or creating additional value to the New Zealand economy. In recognition of complaints regarding cost and time to gain OIO consent, the government will set specific timeframes to give investors greater certainty and exempt a range of low risk transactions, such as some involving companies that are majority owned and controlled by New Zealanders.
There has been controversy and concern about water extraction investment by overseas investors in New Zealand, particularly water bottling to export, earning overseas companies profits from a high-value New Zealand resource without paying a charge. Under Phase 2 the Government will require overseas investors in water extraction take into consideration the environmental, economic, and cultural impact of their investment, and its effect on local water quality and the overall sustainability of a water bottling enterprise.
In February 2020, the Treasury released all documents online, including the Cabinet Paper that recommended the Phase 2 reform.
Phase 2 Reforms – Fast-Tracked Legislation
On May 14, 2020, the government fast-tracked those elements of Phase 2 deemed necessary to protect key New Zealand assets from falling into foreign ownership as business values suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic. It introduced the Overseas Investment Amendment Bill (No 3), which quickly passed its first reading and and then moved to the Select Committee stage with public submissions closing August 31. The Overseas Investment (Urgent Measures) Amendment Bill also moved quickly to the Select Committee stage with public submissions closing May 17. The Committee amended the bill so that 45 days after the emergency regime has been in force, the Government will consider the operation of the emergency power and if necessary, options to improve its efficiency and effectiveness. The bill passed its third reading on May 29, and once it receives Royal Assent it will become law after 14 days, around mid-June. For more see: https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/bills-and-laws/bills-proposed-laws/document/BILL_97807/overseas-investment-amendment-bill-no-3 and https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/bills-and-laws/bills-proposed-laws/document/BILL_97805/overseas-investment-urgent-measures-amendment-bill
The changes bring forward the introduction of a national interest test to strategically important assets, and the temporary application of that test to any foreign investments that result in more than a 25 percent ownership interest, or that increases an existing interest to or beyond 50 percent, 75 percent or 100 percent in a New Zealand business, in each case regardless of dollar value.
The temporary power will operate as a simple notification requirement and is designed to ensure investment is not unduly delayed while protecting New Zealand businesses during a vulnerable time. It will be reviewed every 90 days and remain in place as long as the pandemic and its economic aftermath continue to have significant impact. Certain other investments in strategically important assets will also have to be notified to protect New Zealand’s national security. Once the temporary measures end, a national interest test will remain for business transactions at a minimum threshold of NZD100 million (USD 65 million) (or higher for certain countries with which New Zealand has negotiated trade agreements), as well as investments in sensitive land and fishing quota.
The Bill and supporting regulations will help meet New Zealand businesses’ increased demand for capital and will also ensure that many low-risk transactions are no longer screened. This includes purchases by “fundamentally New Zealand companies” and small changes in existing shareholdings. In addition, the Government will use regulations to extend existing exemptions and remove screening from two further classes of low risk lending and portfolio management transactions.
Non-OIO Legislation Governing Foreign Investment
Outside of the OIO framework, the previous government passed the Taxation (Bright-line Test for Residential Land) Bill to apply to domestic and foreign purchasers of residential land in part to counter criticism that New Zealand’s lack of a tax on capital gains was fueling house price inflation. Under this Act, properties bought after October 1, 2015 will accrue tax on any gain earned if the house is bought and sold within two years, unless it is the owner’s main home. The bill requires foreign purchasers to have both a New Zealand bank account and an IRD tax number and will not be entitled to the “main home” exception. The purchaser will also need to submit other taxpayer identification number held in countries where they pay tax on income. To assist the IRD in ensuring investors – foreign and domestic – meet their tax obligations, legislation was passed in 2016 that empowered LINZ to collect additional information when residential property is bought and sold, and to pass this information to the IRD.
In March 2018, the new government passed legislation to extend the “bright-line test” from two to five years as a measure to further deter property speculation in the New Zealand housing market.
In November 2018, the government passed the Crown Minerals (Petroleum) Amendment Act, to stop new exploration permits being granted offshore and onshore outside of the Taranaki province on the west coast of the North Island. The policy is part of the government’s efforts to transition away from fossil fuels and achieve their goal to have net zero emissions by 2050. The annual Oil and Gas Block Offers program has been operational since 2012 to raise New Zealand’s profile among international investors in the energy and mining sector and has been a significant source of government revenue.
There are currently about 20 offshore permits covering 38,000 square miles that will have the same rights and privileges as before the law came into force and will continue operation until 2030. If those permit holders are successful in their exploration, the companies could extract oil and gas from the areas beyond 2030.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
The Commerce Act 1986 prohibits contracts, arrangements, or understandings that have the purpose, or effect, of substantially lessening competition in a market, unless authorized by the Commerce Commission, an independent Crown entity. Before granting such authorization, the Commerce Commission must be satisfied that the public benefit would outweigh the reduction of competition. The Commerce Commission has legislative power to deny an application for a merger or takeover if it would result in the new company gaining a dominant position in the New Zealand market.
In addition, the Commerce Commission enforces certain pieces of legislation that, through regulation, aim to provide the benefits of competition in markets with certain natural monopolies, such as the dairy, electricity, gas, airports, and telecommunications industries. In order to monitor the changing competitive landscapes in these industries, the Commerce Commission conducts independent studies, currently including fiber networks (https://comcom.govt.nz/regulated-industries/telecommunications/regulated-services/fibre-regulation/fibre-services-study), mobile phones (https://comcom.govt.nz/regulated-industries/telecommunications/projects/mobile-market-study), and retail petrol (https://comcom.govt.nz/about-us/our-role/competition-studies/market-study-into-retail-fuel).
The Commerce Amendment Act 2018 empowers the Commerce Commission to undertake market (“competition”) studies where this is in the public interest in order to improve the agency’s enforcement actions without having to go to court. The Government introduced a market studies power to align the Commerce Commission with competition authorities in similar jurisdictions. The Act allows settlements to be registered as enforceable undertakings so breaches can be quickly penalized by the courts and saves the Commission from the expense and uncertainty of litigation. The amendment also strengthens the information disclosure regulations for airports.
The Dairy Industry Restructuring Act of 2001 (DIR) established dairy co-operative Fonterra Co-operative Group Limited (Fonterra). The DIR is designed to manage Fonterra’s dominant position in the domestic dairy market, until sufficient competition has emerged. A review by the Commerce Commission in 2016 found competition insufficient, but the findings from a subsequent review in 2018 resulted in the introduction of the DIR Amendment Bill (No 3) which passed its first reading in August 2019, and was advanced to the Select Committee stage for scrutiny on March 20, 2020.
This amendment, if passed, will ease the requirement that Fonterra accept all milk from new suppliers, allowing the cooperative the option to refuse milk if it does not meet environmental standards or if it comes from newly converted dairy farms. The bill would also limit Fonterra’s discretion in calculating the base milk price.
The Commerce Commission is also charged with monitoring competition in the telecommunications sector. Under the 1997 WTO Basic Telecommunications Services Agreement, New Zealand has committed to the maintenance of an open, competitive environment in the telecommunications sector.
Following a four-year government review of the Telecommunications Act 2001, the Telecommunications (New Regulatory Framework) Amendment Act 2018 establishes a regulatory framework for fiber fixed line access services; removes unnecessary copper fixed line access service regulation in areas where fiber is available; streamline regulatory processes; and provides more regulatory oversight of retail service quality. The amendment requires the Commerce Commission to implement the new regulatory regime by January 2022.
Chorus won government contracts to build 70 percent of New Zealand’s new ultra-fast broadband fiber-optic cable network and has received subsidies. Chorus is listed on the NZX stock exchange and the Australian Stock Exchange but is subject to foreign investment restrictions. From 2020, Chorus and the local fiber companies are required under their open access deeds to offer an unbundled mass-market fiber service on commercial terms.
The telecommunications service obligations (TSO) regulatory framework established under the Telecommunications Act of 2001 enables certain telecommunications services to be available and affordable. A TSO is established through an agreement under the Telecommunications Act between the Crown and a TSO provider. Currently there are two TSOs. Spark (supported by Chorus) is the TSO Provider for the local residential telephone service, which includes charge-free local calling. Sprint International is the TSO Provider for the New Zealand relay service for deaf, hearing impaired and speech impaired people. Under the Telecommunications (New Regulatory Framework) Amendment Act, the TSOs which apply to Chorus and Spark will cease to apply in areas which have fiber. Consumers in these areas will have access to affordable fiber-based landline and broadband services.
Radio Spectrum Management (RSM) is a business unit within MBIE that is responsible for providing advice to the government on the allocation of radio frequencies to meet the demands of emerging technologies and services. Spectrum is allocated in a manner that ensures radio spectrum provides the greatest economic and social benefit to New Zealand society. The allocation of spectrum is a core regulatory issue for the deployment of 5G in New Zealand. The Commerce Commission completed a two-year study in September 2019 of mobile network operators (MNOs) in New Zealand in order to assess the process for 5G spectrum allocation and whether it will impact the ability of new mobile network operators to enter the market. It found no case to support regulatory intervention to promote a fourth national MNO to enter the market, but that the spectrum allocation process should not preclude new parties from obtaining spectrum.
In March 2019, the government announced it freed up space on the spectrum for a fourth mobile network operator to compete with the three existing ones. In order to do so, the three existing operators lost parts of their spectrum, for which sources criticized the government, claiming they supported competition in principle but questioned the ability of the New Zealand market to cope with another operator. The Government claims it needs to keep some of that spectrum in reserve to retain flexibility and it might be used for new technologies or by the emergency services network.
The Government’s first auction of 5G spectrum planned for 2020 – and ready for use by November 2022 – was cancelled in May due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government directly allocated spectrum to the three MNOs, with these rights expiring in October 2022 after which the scheme will switch to long-term rights that will be gained in a separate auction process. The government determined the allocations in such a way as to prevent a single operator to prevent monopolistic behavior, but it also to set aside spectrum to deal with potential Treaty of Waitangi issues.
The Commerce Commission has a regulatory role to promote competition within the electricity industry under the Commerce Act 1986 and the Fair Trading Act 1986. As natural monopolies, the electricity transmission and distribution businesses are subject to specific additional regulations, regarding pricing, sales techniques, and ensuring sufficient competition in the industry. The Commerce Commission completed a project in March 2020 that set the default price-quality path to determine the price caps that will apply to the 17 electricity distributors in New Zealand from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2025. Due to increased expenditure for distributors to accommodate new technology, the Commerce Commission also recommended new recoverable costs to incentivize ongoing innovation in the electricity sector.
The New Zealand motor fuel market became more concentrated after Shell New Zealand sold its transport fuels distribution business in 2010 and Chevron sold its retail brands Caltex and Challenge in 2016 to New Zealand fuel distributor Z-Energy. Z-Energy holds almost half of the market share in New Zealand. A two-year study by the Commerce Commission was completed in December 2019 that evaluated whether competition in the retail fuel market is promoting outcomes that benefit New Zealand consumers over the long-term. They found that the lack of an active wholesale market in New Zealand has weakened price competition in the retail market and that the major fuel companies’ joint infrastructure network and supply relationships gave them an advantage over other fuel importers. The wholesale supply relationships, including restrictive contract terms between the majors and resellers, limits the ability of resellers to switch supplier.
The Commerce (Cartels and Other Matters) Amendment Act 2017 empowers the Commerce Commission with easier enforcement action against international cartels. It created a new clearance regime allowing firms to test their proposed collaboration with the Commerce Commission and get greater legal certainty before they enter into the arrangements. It expanded prohibited conduct to include price fixing, restricting output, and allocating markets, and expands competition oversight to the international liner shipping industry. It empowers the Commerce Commission to apply to the New Zealand High Court for a declaration to determine if the acquisition of a controlling interest in a New Zealand company by an overseas person will have an effect of “substantially lessening” competition in a market in New Zealand.
The Commerce (Criminalization of Cartels) Amendment Act was passed in April 2019 to align New Zealand law with other jurisdictions – particularly Australia – by criminalizing cartel behavior. Individuals convicted of engaging in cartel conduct – price fixing, restricting output, or allocating markets – will face fines of up to NZD 500,000 (USD 325,000) and/or up to seven years imprisonment. For companies, the fines can be up to NZD 10 million (USD 6.5 million), or higher based on turnover. Business have been given two years to ensure compliance before the criminal sanctions enter into force. While not a significant issue in New Zealand, the government believes criminalizing cartel behavior provides a certain and stable operating environment for businesses to compete, and aligns New Zealand with overseas jurisdictions that impose criminal sanctions for cartel conduct, enhancing the ability of the Commerce Commission to cooperate with its overseas counterparts in investigations of international cartels.
In January 2019, the Government announced proposed amendments to section 36 of the Commerce Act, which relates to the misuse of market power. The government is seeking consultation on repealing sections of the Commerce Act that shield some intellectual property arrangements from competition law, in order to prevent dominant firms misusing market power by enforcing their patent rights in a way they would not do if it was in a more competitive market. It also seeks to strengthen laws and enforcement powers against the misuse of market power by aligning it with Australia and other developed economies, particularly because New Zealand competition law currently does not prohibit dominant firms from engaging in conduct with an anti-competitive effect. Section 36 of the Act only prohibits conduct with certain anti-competitive purposes.
The Commerce Commission has international cooperation arrangements with Australia since 2013 and Canada since 2016, to allow the sharing of compulsorily acquired information, and provide investigative assistance. The arrangements help effective enforcement of both competition and consumer law.
In May 2020, the Commerce Commission issued guidance easing restrictions on businesses to collaborate in order to ensure the provision of essential goods and services to New Zealand consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Expropriation and Compensation
Expropriation is generally not an issue in New Zealand, and there are no outstanding cases. New Zealand ranks second in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business report for “registering property” and third for “protecting minority investors.”
The government’s KiwiBuild program aims to build 100,000 affordable homes over ten years, with half being in Auckland. The government has indicated it will use compulsory acquisition under the PWA if necessary, to achieve planned government housing development.
The lack of precedent for due process in the treatment of residents affected by liquefaction of residential land caused by the Canterbury earthquake in 2011 resulted in prolonged court cases against the Government based largely on the amount of compensation offered to insured home and/or land owners and the lack of any compensation for uninsured owners. Several large areas of residential land in Christchurch were deemed Residential Red Zones (RRZ) meaning there had to be significant and extensive area wide land damage, the extent of the damage required an area-wide solution, engineering solutions would be uncertain, disruptive, not timely, and not cost-effective. One offer made by the government to uninsured Christchurch RRZ landowners for 50 percent of the rated value of their property was deemed unlawful in the Court of Appeal in 2013. A later offer was made by the government to uninsured residents, but only for the value of their land and not their house.
In 2018, the government opted to settle with a group of uninsured home and landowners, but some objected to the compensation because it was based on 2007/08 rating valuations. There were also reports some insurance companies paid out less to policy holders than the full value of some houses if they found based on the structural characteristics of the house that it was repairable, even though the repairs would be legally prohibited if in the RRZ.
LINZ currently manages Crown-owned land in the RRZ and can temporarily agree short-term leases of this land under the Greater Christchurch Regeneration Act 2016 but does not make offers to buy properties from RRZ residents. From June 2020 ownership and management of the land is progressively transitioning from the Crown back to the Christchurch City Council, according to the terms under an agreement made in September 2019 and to be legislated as an amendment to the 2016 Act. LINZ must review the interests of each of the 5,500 titles in the RRZ to check if anyone has rights to the land, such as an easement, a covenant, or a mortgage. For more see: https://www.linz.govt.nz/crown-property/types-crown-property/christchurch-residential-red-zone.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
New Zealand is a party to both the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (the Washington Convention), and to the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.
Proceedings taken under the Washington Convention are administered under the Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act 1979. Proceedings taken under the New York Convention are now administered under the Arbitration Act 1996.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Investment disputes are rare, and there have been no major disputes in recent years involving U.S. companies. The mechanism for handling disputes is the judicial system, which is generally open, transparent and effective in enforcing property and contractual rights.
Investment disputes brought against other foreigners by the New Zealand government have been largely due to investors failing to comply with the conditions of their OIO approval, failure to comply with the Overseas Investment Act, or failure to gain OIO approval before making their investment.
Most of New Zealand’s recently enacted FTAs contain Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions, and to date no claims have been filed against New Zealand. The current Government has signaled it will seek to remove ISDS from future FTAs, having secured exemptions with several CPTPP signatories in the form of side letters. ISDS claims challenging New Zealand’s tobacco control measures – under the Smoke-free Environments (Tobacco Standardized Packaging) Amendment Act 2016 – cannot be made against New Zealand under CPTPP.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Arbitrations taking place in New Zealand (including international arbitrations) are governed by the Arbitration Act 1996. The Arbitration Act includes rules based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) and its 2006 amendments. Parties to an international arbitration can opt out of some of the rules, but the Arbitration Act provides the default position.
The Arbitration Act also gives effect to the New Zealand government’s obligations under the Protocol on Arbitration Clauses (1923), the Convention on the Execution of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1927), and the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958). Obligations under the Washington Convention are administered under the Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act 1979.
The New Zealand Dispute Resolution Centre (NZDRC) is the leading independent, nationwide provider of private commercial, family and relationship dispute resolution services in New Zealand. It also provides international dispute resolution services through its related entity, the New Zealand International Arbitration Centre (NZIAC). The NZDRC is willing to act as an appointing authority, as is the Arbitrators’ and Mediators’ Association of New Zealand (AMINZ).
Forms of dispute resolution available in New Zealand include formal negotiations, mediation, expert determination, court proceedings, arbitration, or a combination of these methods. Arbitration methods include ‘ad hoc,’ which allows the parties to select their arbitrator and agree to a set of rules, or institutional arbitration, which is run according to procedures set by the institution. Institutions recommended by the New Zealand government include the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the American Arbitration Association (AAA), and the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA).
The Arbitration Amendment Act 2016 empowered the Minister of Justice to create an “appointed body” to exercise powers which were previously powers of the High Court. It also provides for the High Court to exercise the powers if the appointed body does not act, or there is a dispute about the process of the appointed body. The Minister of Justice has appointed the AMINZ the default authority for all arbitrations sited in New Zealand in place of the High Court. In 2017 AMINZ issued its own Arbitration Rules based on the latest editions of rules published in other Model Law jurisdictions, to be used in both domestic and international arbitrations, and consistent with the 1996 Act.
The Arbitration Amendment Act 2019 was passed to bring New Zealand’s policy of preserving the confidentiality of trust deed clauses in line with foreign arbitration legislation and case law. The amendment means arbitration clauses in trust deeds are given effect to extend the presumption of confidentiality in arbitration to the presumption of confidentiality in related court proceedings under the Act because often such cases arise from sensitive family disputes.
Bankruptcy is addressed in the Insolvency Act 2006, the Receiverships Act 1993, and the Companies Act 1993. The Insolvency (Cross-border) Act 2006 implements the Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency adopted by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law in 1997. It also provides the framework for facilitating insolvency proceedings when a person is subject to insolvency administration (whether personal or corporate) in one country, but has assets or debts in another country; or when more than one insolvency administration has commenced in more than one country in relation to a person. New Zealand bankrupts are subject to conditions on borrowing and international travel, and violations are considered offences and punishable by law.
The registration system operated by the Companies Office within MBIE, is designed to enable New Zealand creditors to sue an overseas company in New Zealand, rather than forcing them to sue in the country’s home jurisdiction. This avoids attendant costs, delays, possible language problems and uncertainty due to a different legal system. An overseas company’s assets in New Zealand can be liquidated for the benefit of creditors. All registered ‘large’ overseas companies are required to file financial statements under the Companies Act of 1993. See: https://www.companiesoffice.govt.nz/companies/learn-about/overseas-companies/managing-an-overseas-company-in-new-zealand
The Insolvency and Trustee Service (the Official Assignee’s Office) is a business unit of MBIE. The Official Assignee is appointed under the State Sector Act of 1988 to administer the Insolvency Act of 2006, the insolvency provisions of the Companies Act of 1993 and the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act of 2009. The Official Assignee administers all bankruptcies, No Asset Procedures, Summary Installment Orders, and some liquidations by collecting and selling assets to repay creditors. The bankrupt or company directors will be asked for information to help identify and deal with the assets. The money recovered is paid to creditors who have made a claim, in order according to the relevant Acts. Creditors can log in to the Insolvency and Trustee Service website to track the progress of their claim and how long it is likely to take.
In the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 Report New Zealand slipped in the rankings for “resolving insolvency” from 31st last year to 36th. Despite a high recovery rate (79.7 cents per dollar compared with 70.2 cents for the average across high-income OECD countries), New Zealand scores lower based on the strength of its insolvency framework. Specific weaknesses identified in the survey include the management of debtors’ assets, the reorganization proceedings, and the participation of creditors.
The government has recognized the need for more insolvency law reform beyond the 2006 Act which repealed the Insolvency Act 1967. The Regulatory Systems (Economic Development) Amendment Act which passed in November 2019 included amendments to the Insolvency Act that strengthened some regulations and assigned more powers to the Official Assignee. After the previous government established an Insolvency Working Group in 2015, MBIE published a proposed set of reforms in November 2019, based on the group’s recommendations from 2017. The current government plans to introduce an insolvency law reform bill in early 2020. The omnibus COVID-19 Response (Further Management Measures) Legislation Bill passed on May 15 included provisions to provide temporary relief for businesses facing insolvency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
4. Industrial Policies
New Zealand has no specific economic incentive regime because of its free trade policy. The New Zealand government, through its bodies such as Tourism New Zealand and NZTE, assists certain sectors such as tourism and the export of locally manufactured goods. The government generally does not have a practice of jointly financing foreign direct investment projects.
In the Media and Entertainment sector, the New Zealand Film Commission administers a grant for international film and television productions on behalf of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and MBIE. Established in 2014, the New Zealand Screen Production Grant provides rebates for international productions of 20 percent on specified goods and services purchased in New Zealand. An additional five percent is available for productions that meet a significant economic benefit points test for New Zealand.
Callaghan Innovation is a stand-alone Crown Entity established in February 2013. It connects businesses with research organizations offering services, and the opportunity to apply for government funding and grants that support business innovation and capability building. Callaghan Innovation requires businesses applying for any of their research and development grants to have at least one director who is resident in New Zealand and to have been incorporated in New Zealand, have a center of management in New Zealand, or have a head office in New Zealand. For more information see: http://www.business.govt.nz/support-and-advice/grants-incentives.
The government does not have a state policy on issuing guarantees on foreign direct investment projects. It provides some opportunities and initiatives for overseas investors to apply for joint financing mainly if the projects involve R&D, science and innovation that will ultimately benefit the New Zealand economy.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
New Zealand does not have any foreign trade zones or duty-free ports.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
The government of New Zealand does not maintain any measures that are alleged to violate the Trade Related Investment Measures text in the WTO. There are no government mandated requirements for company performance or local employment, and foreign investors that do not require OIO approval are treated equally with domestic investors. Overseas investors that require OIO approval must comply with legal obligations governing the OIO and the conditions of its approval including: satisfying the benefit to New Zealand test through local employment, using domestic content in goods, or promising the introduction of a new technology to New Zealand.
Investors requiring OIO approval also must maintain “good character”, and reporting requirements. Investors are generally required to report annually to the OIO for up to five years following approval, but if benefits are expected to occur after that five-year period, monitoring will reflect the time span within which benefits will occur. Failure to meet obligations under the investors’ consent can result in fines, court orders, or forced disposal of their investment. A government-commissioned independent review in 2016 found the good character test to be robust after questions were asked whether it was being used consistently and accurately
In 2019 the New Zealand High Court imposed civil penalties on a director for breaching the good character conditions of his company’s consent when it bought a controlling interest (50.2 percent) in New Zealand’s largest agricultural services company in 2011. The breach arose because the director was investigated by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and found to have violated United States securities law. As part of the settlement reached with the OIO, the director’s company agreed to divest its interest in the company below 50 percent (to 46.5 percent).
Businesses wanting to establish in New Zealand and seeking to relocate their employees to New Zealand will need to apply for and satisfy the conditions of the Employees of Relocating Business Resident Visa: https://www.immigration.govt.nz/new-zealand-visas/apply-for-a-visa/about-visa/relocating-with-an-employer-resident-visa. These conditions include providing evidence the business is up and running, have the support of NZTE, and provide a letter from the business CEO. Immigration New Zealand may grant temporary work visas to key employees to get the business established and resident visas once the business is operating. Applicants must provide evidence the business is up and running, such as a certificate of incorporation, tax records, and documents showing a business site has been purchased or leased. Immigration New Zealand also considers if the relocation benefits New Zealand, if the business is trading profitably (or has the potential to do so in the next 12 months), and contributing to economic growth by, for example introducing new technology, management or technical skills; enhancing existing technology, management or technical skills; introducing new products or services; enhancing existing products or services; creating new export markets; expanding existing export markets; creating at least one full-time job for a New Zealander. Visa holders can bring family, and after meeting conditions of the visa may be eligible to live and work in New Zealand indefinitely.
As part of the KIWI Act U.S. Public Law 115-226, enacted on August 1, 2018, accorded nationals of New Zealand to E-1 and E-2 status for treaty trader/treaty investor purposes if the Government of New Zealand provides similar nonimmigrant status to nationals of the United States. The State Department confirmed that New Zealand offers similar nonimmigrant status to U.S. nationals and E visas may be issued to nationals of New Zealand beginning on June 10, 2019. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/fees/treaty.html#16
New Zealand supports the ability to transfer data across borders, and to not force businesses to store their data within any particular jurisdiction. While data localization and cloud computing is not specifically legislated for, all businesses must comply with the Privacy Act 1993 to protect customers’ “personal information.” Under certain circumstances, however, approval is required from the Commissioner of Inland Revenue to store electronic business and tax records outside of New Zealand, and under Section 23 of the Tax Administration Act 1994. Alternatively, taxpayers can use an IRD authorized third party to store their information without having to seek individual approval. It remains the taxpayer’s responsibility to meet their obligations to retain business records for the retention period (usually seven years) required under the Act.
Under CPTPP the New Zealand government has retained the ability to maintain and amend regulations related to data flows with CPTPP countries, but in such a way that does not create barriers to trade. These rules come with a “public policy safeguard”, which gives CPTPP governments the discretion to control the movement and storage of data for legitimate public policy objectives to ensure governments can respond to the changing technology in areas such as privacy, data protection, and cybersecurity.
As part of CPTPP, New Zealand has committed not to impose ‘localization requirements’ that would force businesses to build data storage centers or use local computing facilities in CPTPP markets in order to provide certainty to businesses considering their investment choices. Another provision requires CPTPP countries not to impede companies delivering cloud computing and data storage services.
New Zealand is considering e-commerce issues in trade agreements beyond CPTPP, including upgrades of existing FTAs, and in January 2019 joined other WTO members to launch negotiations on E-Commerce.
The Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA) which is yet to enter into force for Singapore, New Zealand and Chile, includes a series of modules covering measures that affect the digital economy. Module 4 on Data Issues includes binding provisions on personal data protection and cross-border data flows that build on the CPTPP. In addition to the CPTPP obligations, DEPA encourages the adoption of data protection trust-marks for businesses to verify conformance with privacy standards. The agreement is an open plurilateral one that allows other countries to join the agreement as a whole, select specific modules to join, or replicate the modules in other trade agreements.
The Customs and Excise Act 2018 allows customers who are required to keep Customs-related records to apply to Customs New Zealand, to store their business records outside of New Zealand. Under the repealed 1996 Act it was an offence for businesses to not store physical records in New Zealand or their electronic records with a New Zealand-based cloud storage provider. Under the Act, a business can apply for permission to keep their Customs-related business records outside New Zealand, including in a cloud storage facility that is not based in New Zealand. Businesses denied permission must still be required to store business records in New Zealand, including with New Zealand-based cloud providers.
In March 2018, the government introduced the Privacy Bill to repeal and replace the Privacy Act 1993. The bill which passed its second reading in August 2019, aims to strengthen the protection of confidential and personal information and modernize privacy regulations. It also aims to incorporate provisions included in the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), however the select committee report on the bill released in March 2019 advised against strict alignment with the GDPR.
In its current form, the Bill would apply to all actions by a New Zealand agency regardless of where that agency is located, and would apply to all personal information collected or held by a New Zealand agency regardless of where that information is collected or held, or where the relevant individual is located.
The bill extends the current law to apply to agencies located outside of New Zealand as long as that agency is “carrying on business in New Zealand.” It would apply to personal information collected in the course of such business, again regardless of where the agency is located and where the information is held. Additionally, it will apply regardless of whether that agency charges monetary payment or makes a profit from its business in New Zealand. The intent is to ensure that global businesses doing business in New Zealand, irrespective of where the individual or the agency is located, comply with the new Privacy Act.
For most businesses, the most notable change in the new Act will be the introduction of a requirement to report serious privacy breaches. Notifiable privacy breaches will require organizations to notify the Privacy Commissioner and any affected individuals if there is a breach that has caused serious harm or poses a risk of causing someone serious harm. In March 2020, an amendment to the bill was proposed to all the new legislation apply from November 1, 2020.
A provision affecting cloud service providers places the onus of liability for privacy breaches on the customer, as long as the provider is not using or disclosing that customer’s information for its own purposes. The Search and Surveillance Act 2012 includes powers to search and notification requirements of search power in connection to a “remote access search” defined in the Act as a search of a thing such as an Internet data storage facility that does not have a physical address that a person can enter and search. Such mandatory demands as mentioned are legal obligations that must be complied with and are made under a search warrant. The Privacy Act permits disclosure in such a case. The organization can only disclose the information requested and any excess information provided will be in breach of the Privacy Act unless it is able to be provided as part of a voluntary request.
New Zealand does not have any requirements for foreign information technology (IT) providers to turn over source code or provide access to encryption. There may be obligations on individuals to assist authorities under Section 130 of the Search and Surveillance Act 2012. An agency with search authority in terms of data held in a computer system or other data storage device may require a specified person to provide access information that is reasonable to allow the agency exercising the search power to access that data. This could include a requirement that they decrypt information which is necessary to access a particular device. The search power cannot be used to require the specified person to give information intending to incriminate them. Failure to assist a person exercising a search power under section 130(1), without reasonable excuse, is a criminal offence punishable with imprisonment for up to three months.
The Customs and Excise Act 2018 sets specific legal thresholds for Customs officers to search passengers’ electronic devices and imposes a fine of NZD 5,000 (USD 3,250) if they refuse to hand over passwords, pins, or encryption keys to access the device. The officer must have “reasonable cause to suspect,” that the passenger has been or is about to be involved in the commission of relevant offending.
There is not a particular government agency that enforces all privacy law, however the Office of the Privacy Commissioner is empowered through the Privacy Act 1993 and has a wide ability to consider developments or actions that affect personal privacy. Separately, New Zealand courts have developed a privacy tort allowing individuals to sue another for breach of privacy.
5. Protection of Property Rights
New Zealand recognizes and enforces secured interest in property, both movable and real. Most privately owned land in New Zealand is regulated by the Land Transfer Act 2017. These provisions set forth the issuance of land titles, the registration of interest in land against land titles, and guarantee of title by the State. The Registrar-General of Land develops standards and sets an assurance program for the land rights registration system. New Zealand’s legal system protects and facilitates acquisition and disposition of all property rights.
The Land Transfer Act 2018 repealed law from 1952 but maintains the Torrens system of land title in which land ownership is transferred through registration of title instead of deeds, a system which has been in operation in New Zealand since the nineteenth century. The Act aims to improve the certainty of property rights, modernize, simplify and consolidate land transfer legislation. It empowers courts with limited discretion to restore a landowner’s registered title in rare cases, in the event of fraud or other illegality, where it is warranted to avoid a manifestly unjust result. The Act includes new provisions to prevent mortgage fraud, to protect Maori freehold land, and to extend the Registrar-General’s powers to withhold personal information to protect personal safety.
Land leasing by foreign or non-resident investors is governed by the OIO Act. About eight percent of New Zealand land is owned by the Crown. The Land Act 1948 created pastoral leases which run for 33 years and can be continually renewed. Rent is reviewed every 11 years, basing the rent on how much stock the land can carry for pastoral farming. The Crown Pastoral Land Act 1998 and its amendments contain provisions governing pastoral leases that apply to foreign and domestic lease holders. Holders of pastoral leases have exclusive possession of the land, and the right to graze the land, but require permission to carry out other activities on their lease.
Foreign and domestic lessees can gain freehold title over part of the land under a voluntary process known as tenure review. Under this process, specified land areas of the lease can be restored to full Crown ownership, usually to be managed by the Department of Conservation. In February 2019, however, the government announced an end to tenure review because it has resulted in more intensive farming and subdivision on the 353,000 hectares of freehold land which has been affecting the landscape and biodiversity of the land. With tenure review ending, the remaining Crown pastoral lease properties, currently 171 covering 1.2 million hectares of Crown pastoral land which is just under 5 percent of New Zealand’s land area, will continue to be managed under the regulatory system for Crown pastoral lands. In April 2019 there had been 2,500 submissions for feedback to the government on the future management of the South Island high country.
The types of land ownership in New Zealand are: Freehold title, Leasehold title, Unit title, Strata title, and cross-lease. The majority of land in New Zealand is freehold. LINZ holds property title records that show a property’s proprietors, legal description and the rights and restrictions registered against the property title, such as a mortgage, easement or covenant. A title plan is the plan deposited by LINZ when the title was created. Property titles do not contain information about the value of the property.
No land tax is payable, but the local government authorities are empowered to levy taxes, termed as “rates,” on all properties within their territorial boundaries. Rates are assessed on either assessed annual rental value, land value or capital value. There is no stamp duty in New Zealand.
Mortgages and liens are available in New Zealand. There is no permanent government policy as such that discriminates lending to foreigners. The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ), however, introduced a macro-prudential tool as a means to curb rising house prices. In October 2013, the RBNZ introduced temporary loan-to-valuation ratio restrictions on banks’ lending to (domestic and foreign) investors and owner-occupiers wanting to purchase residential housing. During 2018 and 2019 the RBNZ began easing these lending restrictions on banks.
In April 2020, the RBNZ announced a 12-month suspension of these restrictions on banks’ lending to investors and owner-occupiers to apply from May 1, in order to improve the equity positions of mortgage borrowers, so that fewer borrowers will have to sell their house or default on their mortgage as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
A registered memorandum of mortgage is the usual form used to create a lien on real estate to secure an indebtedness. There is no mortgage recording or mortgage tax in New Zealand. However, since October 2018 all non-resident purchasers must complete a Residential Land Statement declaring they are eligible to buy residential property in New Zealand, before signing any sale and purchase agreement.
There are some statutory controls imposed on the amount of interest which may be charged on a loan secured by real property (and private and government agencies that monitor and report on interest charges) that ensure that interest rates and costs are not excessive or illegal. There are no laws that that restrict the ability to make a borrower or guarantor personally liable for indebtedness secured by real property.
Property legally purchased but unoccupied can generally not revert to other owners. The Land Transfer Act 2017 repealed an Act from 1963 which previously outlined the process for cases of “adverse possession” or “squatters’ rights.” Under Section 155 of the Act, a person can apply to the Registrar-General of Land for a record of title in that person’s name as owner of the freehold estate in land if: a record of title has already been created for the estate; the person has been in adverse possession of the land for a continuous period of at least 20 years and continues in adverse possession of the land; and the possession would have entitled the person to apply for a title to the freehold estate in the land if the land were not subject to the Act. The section applies to diverse instances, such as the case where an entire section is being occupied by someone unconnected to the registered owner, or in the case of a “boundary adjustment” between two properties. Section 159 of the Act lists instances when applications may not be made, such as land owned by the Crown, Māori land, or land occupied by the applicant – where the applicant owns an adjoining property – because of a mistaken marking of a boundary.
Intellectual Property Rights
New Zealand has a generally strong record on intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and is an active participant in international efforts to strengthen IPR enforcement globally. It is a party to nine World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties and participates in the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council.
In March 2019, New Zealand entered into force the WIPO Copyright Treaty, the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty, the Budapest Treaty and the Berne Convention. It implemented the Madrid Treaty in December 2012, allowing New Zealand companies to file international trademarks through the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ). Since 2013, an online portal hosted on the IPONZ and IP Australia websites has allowed applicants to apply for patent protection simultaneously in Australia and New Zealand with a single examiner assessing both applications according to the respective countries’ laws.
The New Zealand Government announced its intention to join the Marrakesh Treaty in June 2017 and the Copyright (Marrakesh Treaty Implementation) Amendment Act entered into force January 4, 2020. It amends the Copyright Act 1994 and the Copyright (General Matters) Regulations 1995 to implement New Zealand’s obligations under the Marrakesh Treaty. The legislation is administered by MBIE.
There are about ten statutes that provide civil and criminal enforcement procedures for IPR owners in New Zealand. The Copyright Act 1994 and the Trade Marks Act 2002 impose civil liability for activities that constitute copyright and trademark infringement. Both Acts also contain criminal offences for the infringement of copyright works in the course of business and the counterfeiting of registered trademarks for trade purposes. The Fair Trading Act 1986 imposes criminal liability for the forging of a trademark, falsely using a trademark or sign in a way that is likely to mislead or deceive, and trading in products bearing misleading and deceptive trade descriptions.
The government is reviewing the Copyright Act 1994 in light of significant technological changes since the last review in 2004. New Zealand had agreed to tougher IPR and copyright protections under the TPP agreement, but the CPTPP suspended some of the original TPP copyright obligations, such as increasing rights protection from 50 years to 70 years; requiring stronger protection for technological protection measures (TPMs) which act as “digital locks” to protect copyright work; nor alter its internet service provider liability provisions for copyright infringement.
In November 2018, MBIE, which administers the Act, released a 135-page Issues Paper which summarizes the operation of the New Zealand copyright regime, its shortcomings, and the wide range of issues that need to be addressed. MBIE is reviewing the issues raised from the public consultation which closed in April 2019. For more see: https://www.mbie.govt.nz/business-and-employment/business/intellectual-property/copyright/review-of-the-copyright-act-1994/
New Zealand has amended some legislation to comply with obligations under CPTPP. Customs New Zealand has had its powers to act on its own initiative to temporarily detain imported or exported goods that it suspects infringe copyright or trademarks and to inspect and detain any goods in its control suspected of being pirated. The New Zealand High Court has been empowered to award additional damages for trademark infringement, and unless exceptional circumstances exist, the courts must order the destruction of counterfeit goods. This is in addition to the existing availability of compensatory damages under the Trade Marks Act 2002.
The CPTPP will require New Zealand to provide a 12-month grace period for patent applicants. Under this requirement, inventors will not be deprived of their ability to be granted a patent in New Zealand if an inventor makes their invention public, provided the inventor files the patent application within 12 months of disclosure. In addition, pharmaceutical patent holders (who have provided their details to Medsafe) will have to be informed of someone seeking to use their drug’s clinical trial data before marketing approval is granted.
The Copyright Tribunal hears disputes about copyright licensing agreements under the Act and applications about illegal uploading and downloading of copyrighted work. The Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Act 2011 put in place a three-notice regime, issuing alleged infringers up to three warnings within a nine-month period, before ruling that infringement has occurred. The legislation enables copyright owners to seek the suspension of the internet account for up to six months through the District Court.
The Smoke-free Environments (Tobacco Standardized Packaging) Amendment Act 2016 and from June 2018, all tobacco packets are required to be the same standard dark brown/green background color as Australia from June 2018. It requires the removal of all tobacco company marketing imagery. The Smoke-free Environments Regulations 2017 standardize the appearance of tobacco manufacturers’ brand names.
New Zealand meets the minimum requirements of the TRIPS Agreement, providing patent protection for 20 years from the date of filing. The Patents Act 2013 brought New Zealand patent law into substantial conformity with Australian law. Consistent with Australian patent law, an ‘absolute novelty’ standard is introduced as well as a requirement that all applications be examined for “obviousness” and utility. The Patents Act stops short of precluding from patentability all computer software and has a provision for patenting “embedded software.”
In June 2019, MBIE released a discussion paper regarding a proposed Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill. The omnibus bill intends to make technical amendments to the Patents Act 2013, the Trade Marks Act 2002, the Designs Act 1953, and their associated regulations. The Bill is not intended to be a full policy review of these Acts, or to review the criteria for granting patents, or registering trademarks and designs. For more see: https://www.mbie.govt.nz/business-and-employment/business/intellectual-property/proposed-intellectual-property-laws-amendment-bill
New Zealand currently provides data exclusivity of five years from the date of marketing approval for a new pharmaceutical under Section 23B of the Medicines Act 1981. Data protection on pharmaceuticals applies from the date of marketing approval, regardless of whether it is granted before or after the expiration of the 20-year patent.
From July 2017 New Zealand wine and spirit makers can register the geographical origins of their products under the Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Act 2006 allows New Zealand wine and spirit makers to register the geographical origins of their products. The 2006 Act and its amendments are administered by IPONZ and aims to protect wine and spirit markers’ products, to allow the registration of New Zealand geographical indications (GIs) overseas, and to enforce action for falsely claiming a product comes from a certain region.
In 2019, MFAT released a discussion paper on proposed changes to New Zealand’s regulatory framework for protecting GIs as part of New Zealand’s free trade agreement negotiations with the European Union (EU). The EU has proposed that New Zealand adopt a regulatory framework for protecting GIs that is similar to the existing EU framework. The discussion paper, jointly prepared by MFAT and MBIE, outlines the EU’s proposals for protecting GIs and seeks public submissions until March 27, 2020. IF the EU framework is accepted it would require significant changes to New Zealand’s existing laws protecting GIs. For more see: https://www.mfat.govt.nz/en/trade/free-trade-agreements/agreements-under-negotiation/eu-fta/geographical-indications/
The most commonly intercepted counterfeit item by Customs New Zealand is fake toys, according to an Official Information Act request. Electronics were the second most intercepted item, followed by clothing and accessories. Most items originate from China, the United Kingdom, Vietnam, and Hong Kong.
New Zealand is not listed on USTR’s Special 301 Report.
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/details.jsp?country_code=NZ
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
New Zealand policies generally facilitate the free flow of financial resources to support the flow of resources in the product and factor markets. Credit is generally allocated on market terms, and foreigners are able to obtain credit on the local market. The private sector has access to a limited variety of credit instruments. New Zealand has a strong infrastructure of statutory law, policy, contracts, codes of conduct, corporate governance, and dispute resolution that support financial activity. The banking system, mostly dominated by foreign banks, is rapidly moving New Zealand into a “cashless” society.
New Zealand adheres to International Monetary Fund (IMF) Article VIII and does not place restrictions on payments and transfers for international transactions.
New Zealand has a range of other financial institutions, including a securities exchange, investment firms and trusts, insurance firms and other non-bank lenders. Non-bank finance institutions experienced difficulties during the global financial crisis (GFC) due to risky lending practices, and the government of New Zealand subsequently introduced legal changes to bring them into the regulatory framework. This included the introduction of the Non-bank Deposit Takers Act 2013 and associated regulations which impose requirements on exposure limits, minimum capital ratios, and governance. It requires non-bank institutions be licensed and have suitable directors and senior officers. It also provides the RBNZ with powers to detect and intervene if a non-bank institution becomes distressed or fails.
The RBNZ is the prudential regulator and supervisor of all insurers carrying on insurance business in New Zealand and is responsible for administering the Insurance (Prudential Supervision) Act 2010. The RBNZ administers the Act to promote the maintenance of a sound and efficient insurance sector; and promoting public confidence in the insurance sector.
The GFC also prompted New Zealand to introduce broad-based financial market law reform which included the establishment of the Financial Markets Authority (FMA) in 2014. The Financial Markets Conduct Act (FMC) 2013 provided a new licensing regime to bring New Zealand financial market regulations in line with international standards. It expanded the role of the FMA as the primary regulator of fair dealing conduct in financial markets, provided enforcement for parts of the Financial Advisers Act 2008, and made the FMA one of the three supervisors for AML/CFT, alongside the RBNZ and the Department of Internal Affairs. The FMA supervises approximately 800 reporting entities.
Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent. Financial accounting standards are issued by the New Zealand Accounting Standards Board (NZASB), which is a committee of the External Reporting Board established under the Crown Entities Act 2004. The NZASB has the delegated authority to develop, adopt and issue accounting standards for general purpose financial reporting in New Zealand and are based largely on international accounting standards, and GAAP.
Smaller companies (except issuers of securities and overseas companies) that meet proscribed criteria face less stringent reporting requirements. Entities listed on the stock exchange are required to produce annual financial reports for shareholders. Stocks in a number of New Zealand listed firms are also traded in Australia and in the United States. Small, publicly held companies not listed on the NZX may include in their constitution measures to restrict hostile takeovers by outside interests, domestic, or foreign. However, NZX rules generally prohibit such measures by its listed companies.
In December 2019, the government introduced the Financial Market Infrastructure Bill to establish a new regulatory regime for financial market infrastructures (FMI), and to provide certain FMIs with legal protections relating to settlement finality, netting, and the enforceability of their rules. The bill aims to maintain a sound and efficient financial system; avoid significant damage to the financial system resulting from problems with an FMI, an operator of an FMI, or a participant of an FMI; promote the confident and informed participation of businesses, investors, and consumers in the financial markets; and promote and facilitate the development of fair, efficient, and transparent financial markets. The bill if passed would be administered jointly by the RBNZ and the FMA. The bill passed its first reading in February 2020 and is with the select committee.
In 2018, the market capitalization of listed domestic companies in New Zealand was 42 percent of GDP, at USD 86 billion. The small size of the market reflects in part the risk averse nature of New Zealand investors, preferring residential property and bank term deposits over equities or credit instruments for investment. New Zealand’s stock of investment in residential property is valued at NZD 1.19 trillion (USD 774 billion).
Money and Banking System
The Reserve Bank (RBNZ) regulates banks in New Zealand in accordance with the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act 1989. The RBNZ is statutorily independent and is responsible for conducting monetary policy and maintaining a sound and efficient financial system. The New Zealand banking system consists of 26 registered banks, and more than 90 percent of their combined assets are owned by foreign banks, mostly Australian. There is no requirement in New Zealand for financial institutions to be registered to provide banking services, but an institution must be registered to call itself a bank.
In November 2017, the government announced it would undertake the first ever review of the RBNZ Act. In December 2018, the government passed an amendment to the Act to broaden the legislated objective of monetary policy beyond price stability, to include supporting maximum sustainable employment. It also requires that monetary policy be decided by a consensus of a Monetary Policy Committee, which must also publish records of its meetings. While policy decisions at the RBNZ have been made by the Governing Committee for several years before the amendment, the Act had laid individual accountability with the Governor, who could be removed from office for inadequate performance according to the goals set through the Policy Targets Agreement.
Applicants for bank registration must meet qualitative and quantitative criteria set out in the RBNZ Act. Applicants who are incorporated overseas are required to have the approval of their home supervisor to conduct banking business in New Zealand, and the applicant must meet the ongoing prudential requirements imposed on it by the overseas supervisor. Accordingly, the conditions of registration that apply to branch banks mainly focus on compliance with the overseas supervisor’s regulatory requirements.
The RBNZ introduced a Dual Registration Policy for Small Foreign Banks in December 2016. Foreign-owned banks are permitted to apply for dual registration – operating both a branch and a locally incorporated subsidiary in New Zealand – provided both entities comply with relevant prudential requirements. Locally incorporated subsidiaries are separate legal entities from the parent bank. They are required, among other things, to maintain minimum capital requirements in New Zealand and have their own board of directors, including independent directors. In contrast, bank branches are essentially an extension of the parent bank with the ability to leverage the global bank balance sheet for larger lending transactions. Capital and governance requirements for branch banks are established by the home regulatory authority. There are no local capital or governance requirements for registered bank branches in New Zealand.
In addition to registered banks, the RBNZ supervises and regulates insurance companies in accordance with the Insurance (Prudential Supervision) Act 2010 and non-bank lending institutions. Non-bank deposit takers are regulated under the Non-bank Deposit Takers Act 2013.
New Zealand has no permanent deposit insurance scheme and the RBNZ has no requirement to guarantee the viability of a registered bank. The RBNZ operates the Open Bank Resolution (OBR) which allows a distressed bank to be kept open for business, while placing the cost of a bank failure primarily on the bank’s shareholders and creditors, rather than on taxpayers. While the scheme has been generally successful, in 2010 the government paid out NZD 1.6 billion (USD 1 billion) to cover investor losses when New Zealand’s largest locally-owned finance company at the time, went into receivership. There have since been bailouts of several insurance companies and other small finance companies.
New Zealand’s banking system relies on offshore wholesale funding markets as a result of low levels of domestic savings. Banks can raise funds in international markets relatively easily at reasonable cost, but are vulnerable to global market volatility, geopolitics, and domestic economic conditions. Domestically, banks face exposure due to the concentration of New Zealand exports in a small number of commodity-based sectors which can be subject to considerable price volatility. Residential mortgage and agricultural lending exposures have also presented risk.
The four largest banks (ASB, ANZ, BNZ and Westpac) control 88 percent of the retail and commercial banking market measured in terms of total banking assets. With the addition of Kiwibank, that rises to 91 percent. Kiwibank launched in 2002 and is majority owned by NZ Post (53 percent), with the NZ Superannuation Fund (25 percent), and the Accident Compensation Corporation (22 percent).
The RBNZ report the total assets of registered banks to be about NZD 631 billion (USD 410 billion) as of March 2020. Assets of insurance companies’ assets were valued at NZD 81 billion (USD 53 billion) and NZD 14.4 billion (USD 9.4 billion) for non-bank lending institutions. The RBNZ estimate approximately 0.6 percent of bank loans are non-performing. Agriculture loans make up about 13 percent of bank lending and has seen higher rates of non-performing loans – particularly dairy farms – in 2019. The RBNZ expect non-performing to rise again having recovered only in the past few years from the Global Financial Crisis.
The four banks have capital generally above the regulatory requirements. The initial findings from a RBNZ review of bank capital requirements released in March 2017 found New Zealand banks to be “in the pack” in terms of capital ratios relative to international peers. There have since been subsequently four rounds of consultations revisiting capital requirements after the Australian Financial System Inquiry made recommendations that were subsequently accepted by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority to improve the resilience of the Australian banks. While this contributes to the ultimate soundness of the New Zealand subsidiaries, it does not directly strengthen their balance sheets.
In February 2019, the RBNZ proposed to almost double capital requirements for the four big banks. The RBNZ proposed to require banks’ Tier 1 capital to be comprised solely of equity and to increase from the current minimum of 8.5 percent of total capital to 16 percent over five years. It also wants Tier 1 capital to be pure equity, rather than hybrid-type securities that usually behave as debt, but which can be converted into equity if required, and which are about a fifth of the cost of pure equity. Since the GFC, the minimum tier 1 capital has already been raised from 4 percent of risk-weighted assets to 8.5 percent.
In December 2019, the RBNZ announced the minimum total capital ratio will increase from 10.5 percent currently to 18 percent for the four largest banks, and 16 percent for the smaller local banks. For the largest banks, at least 16 percent must consist of tier 1 capital, and within this at least 13.5 percent must be common equity. For the small banks, the requirements are 14 percent and 11.5 percent respectively. Debt instruments that can be converted to equity will no longer count towards regulatory capital. However, banks will able to make greater use of redeemable preference shares. Initially in order to give the banks time to accumulate capital through retained earnings the changes were to be phased in over a seven-year period starting from July 2020. The RBNZ has delayed the introduction until July 1, 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The penetration of New Zealand’s major banks has improved since the introduction of the voluntary superannuation scheme, KiwiSaver in 2007. The increase in their market share is also a result of the appointment of three additional banks as default KiwiSaver providers in 2014. People who start a new job are automatically enrolled in KiwiSaver and must opt-out if they do not want to be a member. Contributions are made by the employee, the employer and if eligible from the government in the form of a tax credit. In 2019 there were over 2.9 million KiwiSaver members, and the amount invested in KiwiSaver schemes is estimated to be NZD 64 billion (USD 42 billion). The government spent NZD 778 million (USD 506 million) in the form of member tax credits in 2019. While funds can only be withdrawn at the age of 65 with very few exceptions, members can shift their funds. In March 2020 as markets dropped, KiwiSavers shifted NZD 1.4 billion (USD 910 million) from share-heavy funds to cash or conservative funds.
There are some restrictions on opening a bank account in New Zealand that include providing proof of income and needing to be a permanent New Zealand resident of 18 years old or above. Access to money in the account will not be granted until the individual presents one form of photo ID and a proof of address in-person at a branch of the bank in New Zealand. Some banks will require a copy of the applicant’s visa. If the applicant does not apply for an IRD number, the tax rate on income earned will default to the highest rate of 33 percent. New Zealand banks typically have a dedicated branch for migrants and businesses to set up banking arrangements.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
New Zealand has revoked all foreign exchange controls. Accordingly, there are no such restrictions – beyond those that seek to prevent money laundering and financing of terrorism – on the transfer of capital, profits, dividends, royalties or interest into or from New Zealand. Full remittance of profits and capital is permitted through normal banking channels and there is no difficulty in obtaining foreign exchange. However, withholding taxes can apply to certain payments out of New Zealand including dividends, interest, and royalties, and may apply to capital gains for non-residents and on the payment of profits to certain non-resident contractors.
New Zealand operates a free-floating currency. As a small nation that relies heavily on trade and global financial and geopolitical conditions, the New Zealand currency experiences more fluctuation when compared with other developed high-income countries.
The Pacific Islands are the main destination of New Zealand remittances from residents and from temporary workers participating in the Recognized Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme. The RSE allows the horticulture and viticulture industries to recruit workers from nine Pacific Island nations for seasonal work when there are not enough New Zealand workers. Other people who use remittance services include recently resettled refugees, and other migrant workers particularly in the hospitality and construction sectors.
Anti-money laundering and combatting terrorism financing laws have made access to cross-border financial services difficult for some Pacific island countries. Banks, non-bank institutions, and people in occupations that typically handle large amounts of cash, are required to collect additional information about their customers and report any suspicious transactions to the New Zealand Police.
Financial institutions have had to comply with the AML/CFT Act since 2013 including remitters, trust and company service providers, payment providers, and other lending institutions. If a bank is unable to comply with the Act in its dealings with a customer, it must not do business with that person. This would include not processing certain transactions, withdrawing the banking products and services it offers, and choosing not to have that person or entity as a customer. Since then New Zealand banks have been reducing their exposure to risks and charging higher fees for remittance services, which in some instances has led to the forced closing of accounts held by money transfer operators (MTOs).
The New Zealand government is working with banks to improve the bankability of small MTOs, and to develop low cost products for seasonal migrant workers in the RSE. New Zealand is also using its membership in global fora to encourage a coordinated approach to addressing high remittance costs, and is working with Pacific Island governments to find ways to lower costs in the receiving country, such as the adoption and use of an electronic payments systems infrastructure.
The New Zealand Treasury released a report in March 2017 to explore feasible policy options to address the issues in the New Zealand remittance market that would maintain access and reduce costs of remitting money from New Zealand to the Pacific.
In 2018, the New Zealand and Australian governments hosted a series of roundtable meetings in Auckland, Sydney, and Tonga, with the Asian Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund that included officials from banks, MTOs, and regulators from Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific, senior officials from international financial institutions, and training providers to discuss the issue and identify practical solutions to address the costs and risks of transferring remittances to Pacific countries and difficulties in undertaking cross-border transactions.
Barriers to remittances to Pacific nations remain a significant public policy issue during 2019, and work is underway led by MFAT and involving financial regulators in New Zealand and overseas, to address some of these barriers. A pilot of a Know Your Customer and Customer Due Diligence Utility is being planned for remittances between Samoa, Australia and New Zealand.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
The New Zealand Superannuation Fund was established in September 2003 under the New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income Act 2001. The fund was designed to partially provide for the future cost of New Zealand Superannuation, which is a universal benefit paid by the New Zealand government to eligible residents over the age of 65 years irrespective or income or asset levels.
The Act also created the Guardians of New Zealand Superannuation, a Crown entity charged with managing and administering the fund. It operates by investing government contributions and the associated returns in New Zealand and internationally, in order to grow the size of the fund over the long term. Between 2003 and 2009, the government contributed NZD 14.9 billion (USD 9.7 billion) to the fund, after which it temporarily halted contributions during the Global Financial Crisis. In December 2017, the newly elected government resumed contributions, with plans to resume contributions to the full amount according to the formula set out in the 2001 Act from 2022. The Fund received an estimated NZD 500 million (USD 325 million) payment in the year to June 2018, and a NZD 1 billion (USD 650 million) contribution in the year to June 2019.
Planned contributions for the year to June 2020 will be NZD 1.5 billion (USD 975 million) according to Budget 2020 announced in May. This increases to NZD 2.1 billion (USD 1.4 billion) in the year to June 2021 and NZD 2.4 billion (USD 1.6 billion) in the year to June 2022. The legislated formula suggests lower contributions be made due to the impact of COVID-19 on GDP forecasts. Between fiscal years 2019/20 and 2022/23, Budget 2020 transfers small amounts of the capital contributions to a new fund administered by the Guardians of New Zealand Superannuation, which will invest via the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund Limited (NZVIF). The government has not indicated it will suspend its contributions during the economic impact of the pandemic.
In June 2019, the fund was valued at NZD 43.1 billion (USD 28 billion) of which 48.8 percent was in North America, 17.3 percent in Europe, 12.9 percent in New Zealand, 10.9 percent in Asia excluding Japan, 6 percent in Japan, and 1.6 percent in Australia. During 2018/19 the fund earned a pre-tax return of 7 percent. In the first four months of 2020, the fund made losses of NZD 4.6 billion (USD 3 billion).
The guardians have a stated commitment to responsible investment, including environmental, social and governance factors, which is closely aligned to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment. It is a member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds and is signed up to the Santiago Principles.
The fund operates its own Environmental, Social, and Governance principles with a Responsible Investment Framework. Companies that are directly involved in the following activities are excluded from the Fund: the manufacture of cluster munitions, testing of nuclear explosive devices, and anti-personnel mines; the manufacture of tobacco; the processing of whale meat; recreational cannabis; and the manufacture of civilian automatic and semi-automatic firearms, magazines or parts. As of December 2019, the fund does not make investments in 14 countries, mainly located in Africa and the Middle East.
Following the attack on two Christchurch mosques by a gunman using legally obtained guns on March 15, the fund divested NZD 19 million (USD 13 million) from seven companies (including four U.S. companies), involved in the manufacture of civilian automatic and semi-automatic firearms, magazines or parts that are prohibited under recently enacted New Zealand law. Due to the live-stream of the attack the NZSF announced on March 20, 2019 it had joined up with other New Zealand wealth funds as a shareholder of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube owner Alphabet, to strengthen controls to prevent the live-streaming of objectionable content. The NZSF aims to achieve this from the collective action from New Zealand’s investor sector with a global coalition of shareholders as well as the pressure put on the companies by other stakeholder groups. The NZSF will undertake discussions with the companies concerned in confidence and will report on milestones achieved in future Annual Reports. For further information including a full list of participants see: https://nzsuperfund.nz/how-we-invest-responsible-investmentcollaboration/social-media-collaborative-engagement
In recent years the NZSF has explicitly excluded companies that are directly involved in the manufacture of: cluster munitions, testing of nuclear explosive devices, anti-personnel mines, tobacco, recreational cannabis, and the processing of whale meat. In 2013, the fund divested a group of five U.S. companies due to their involvement with nuclear weapons. In 2007, the fund divested NZD 37.6 million (USD 24.4 million) in 20 tobacco companies.
In June 2017, the fund transitioned NZD 14 billion (USD 9 billion) passive global equity portfolio (constituting 40 percent of the fund) to low carbon, selling passive holdings in 297 companies worth NZD 950 million (USD 617 million). The aim of the Climate Change Investment Strategy is to reduce exposure to investments in carbon and fossil fuels. The guardians applied their carbon exclusion methodology again in June 2018 and June 2019.
The government manages two other wealth funds that also aim to reduce future liability and burden on New Zealanders. The Government Superannuation Fund (GSF) aims to meet the cost of 57,000 state sector employees who worked between 1948 to 1995 and are entitled to an additional fixed retirement income. The GSF was valued at NZD 4.5 billion (USD 2.9 billion) in June 2019. The Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) covers all New Zealanders and visitors’ costs if they are injured in an accident under a no-fault scheme. In addition to ACC levies paid by workers and businesses, the ACC operates a fund to meet the future costs of injuries. As of June 2019, it was valued at NZD 44 billion (USD 29 billion), of which about 72 percent in New Zealand and 4 percent in Australia. Over 2018/19 the fund earned a return of 13.1 percent. ACC is one of the largest investors, owning about 2.6 percent of the market capitalization of the New Zealand share market, and directly owns 22 percent of Kiwibank.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
The Commercial Operations group in the New Zealand Treasury is responsible for monitoring the Crown’s interests as a shareholder in, or owner of organizations that are required to operate as successful businesses, or that have mixed commercial and social objectives. Each entity monitored by the Treasury has a primary legislation that defines its organizational framework, which include: State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), Crown-Owned Entity Companies, Crown Research Institutions, Crown Financial Institutions, Other Crown Entity Companies, and Mixed Ownership Model Companies.
SOEs are subject to the State-Owned Enterprises Act 1986, are registered as companies, and are bound by the provisions of the Companies Act 1993. The board of directors of each SOE reports to two ministers, the Minister of Finance and the relevant portfolio minister. A list of SOEs and information on the Crown’s financial interest in each SOE is made available in the financial statements of the government at the end of each fiscal year. For a list of the SOEs see: http://www.treasury.govt.nz/statesector/commercial/portfolio/bytype/soes
In the 12 months to June 30, 2019 New Zealand State-Owned Enterprises held NZD 70.8 billion (USD 46 billion) assets, earned NZD 18.6 billion (USD 12.1 billion) in revenue and yielded an operating gain of NZD 3.4 billion (USD 2.2 billion). Crown entities held NZD 166 billion (USD 108 billion) assets, earned NZD 43.3 billion (USD 28.1 billion) and yielded an operating loss of NZD 9.2 billion (USD 6 billion). KiwiRail Holdings Limited made the largest net gain for the financial year of NZD 2.6 billion (USD 1.7 billion).
Most of New Zealand’s SOEs are concentrated in the energy and transportation sectors. Private enterprises can compete with public enterprises under the same terms and conditions with respect to markets, credit, and other business operations. Under SOE Continuous Disclosure Rules, SOEs are required to continuously report on any matter that may materially affect their commercial value.
New Zealand governments have embarked on several privatization programs since the 1980s, to reduce government debt, move non-strategic businesses to the private sector to improve efficiency, and raise economic growth.
In 2014 the government completed a program of asset sales to raise funds to reduce public debt. It involved the partial sale of three energy companies and Air New Zealand, with the government retaining its majority share in each. The bulk of the initial share float was made available to New Zealand share brokers and international institutions, and unsold shares were made available to foreign investors. Foreign investors are free to purchase shares on the secondary market.
New Zealand has been using the public private partnership (PPP) method of procurement and increasingly so where the public sector seeks to complete needed infrastructure assets faster than conventional methods of procuring and financing would achieve.
The New Zealand Treasury was previously responsible for the PPP program. It lists the other agencies that are involved in the planning, implementing, and advising on infrastructure, including MBIE (telecommunications and energy infrastructure), Department of Corrections, and the Ministry of Defence among others. https://treasury.govt.nz/information-and-services/nz-economy/infrastructure/other-government-agencies
In 2019 the Infrastructure Transaction Unit was created within Treasury as an interim measure to provide support to agencies and local authorities in planning and delivering major infrastructure projects. This unit moved into the newly formed Crown entity the Infrastructure Commission (InfraCom) and provides the Major Projects function. The New Zealand Infrastructure Commission Act was passed in September 2019, to create Crown Entity InfraCom, and it will be responsible for delivering New Zealand’s Public Private Partnership (PPP) Program https://infracom.govt.nz/major-projects/public-private-partnerships/
The Infrastructure Commission will support government agencies, local authorities and others to procure and deliver major infrastructure projects, and it will be responsible for: developing PPP policy and processes; assisting agencies with PPP procurement; the Standard Form PPP Project Agreement; engaging with potential private sector participants; and monitoring the implementation of PPP projects. InfraCom is currently reviewing the Standard Form PPP Agreement. On its website InfraCom likens its establishment to those in Australia, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Hong Kong, and China’s National Development and Reform Commission. See https://infracom.govt.nz/strategy/international-context/
InfraCom will publish PPP guidance material and project information for businesses wanting to enter into a long term contract for the delivery of a service, where the provision of the service requires the construction of a new asset, or the enhancement of an existing asset, that is financed from external (private) sources on a non-recourse basis and where full legal ownership of the asset is retained by the Crown. The government is increasing its focus on PPP due to its significant NZD 15 billion (USD 9.8 billion) funding package announced in December 2019 and May 2020 which amounts to 5 percent of New Zealand’s GDP.
The government aims for its PPP procurement process will improve the delivery of service outcomes from major public infrastructure assets by: integrating asset and service design; incentivizing whole of life design and asset management; allocating risks to the parties who are best able to manage them; and only paying for services that meet pre-agreed performance standards.
In December 2019 the government introduced the Infrastructure Funding and Financing Bill which if passed will provide a funding and financing model to support the provision of infrastructure for housing and urban development that supports the functioning of urban land markets and reduces the impact of local authority financing and funding constraints. It makes several amendments to the Public Works Act 1981 and the Resource Management Act 1991. It also outlines the administration, obligations, and monitoring of Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) which are responsible for raising capital for a project, transferring the infrastructure to the relevant central or local government entity after completion, and its obligations to effectively and efficiently construct the infrastructure. The bill is with the select committee which is due to report back with recommendations on June 25. To see its progress: https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/bills-and-laws/bills-proposed-laws/document/BILL_93461/infrastructure-funding-and-financing-bill
MBIE administers the procurement process. In October 2019 MBIE issued substantive changes to the New Zealand Government’s Procurement Rules. The MBIE Guide to Mastering Procurement explains the eight stages of the procurement lifecycle. It is available at: www.procurement.govt.nz Contract opportunities must be listed on Government Electronic Tenders Service (GETS) at: https://www.gets.govt.nz/ExternalIndex.htm, publish a Notice of Procurement on GETS, and provide access to all relevant tender documents. The Notice of Procurement includes the request for a quote, a registration of interest, and requests for tender and for proposal. The New Zealand Government’s Procurement Rules contain a specific section on non-discrimination, which in part states “All suppliers must be given an equal opportunity to bid for contracts. Agencies must treat suppliers from another country no less favorably than New Zealand suppliers. Procurement decisions must be based on the best value for money, which isn’t always the cheapest price, over the whole-of-life of the goods, services or works. Suppliers must not be discriminated against because of the country the goods, services or works come from or their degree of foreign ownership or foreign business affiliations.”
Where applicable, foreign bidders who are ultimately successful may still be required to meet tax obligations and approval from the Overseas Investment Office. The New Zealand government has recently entered and completed infrastructure roading projects in partnership with companies from Australia, Japan, the United States, and China. New Zealand is one of several countries cooperating with China on infrastructure investment relating to their USD 2.5 trillion Belt and Road Initiative. Chinese banks with a presence in New Zealand use capital to invest in New Zealand infrastructure projects including infrastructure in the Christchurch rebuild and Wellington’s 17-mile Transmission Gully motorway.
The upgrade to the New Zealand-China FTA adds a Government Procurement chapter, which among other provisions, includes a built-in agreement to enter into market access negotiations with New Zealand once China completes its accession to the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement, or if it were to negotiate market access on government procurement with another country. This commitment puts New Zealand at the ‘front of the line’ if China were to open its government procurement market in the future.
Infrastructure New Zealand is an industry association founded in 2004, and addresses key strategic challenges including the reform of complex regulatory and environmental approval and the appropriate use of public and private sector debt to finance infrastructure investment opportunities. It is supported by a board of 12 members who are industry leaders in their professional fields.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
The New Zealand government actively promotes corporate social responsibility (CSR), which is widely practiced throughout the country. There are New Zealand NGOs dedicated to facilitating and strengthening CSR, including the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development, the Sustainable Business Network, and the American Chamber of Commerce in New Zealand.
New Zealand is committed to both the OECD due diligence guidance for responsible supply chains of minerals from conflict-affected and high-risk areas, and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Multi-national businesses are the main focus, such as a New Zealand company that operates overseas, or a foreign-owned company operating in New Zealand. The guidance can also be applied to businesses with only domestic operations that form part of an international supply chain. Individuals wishing to complain about the activity of a multi-national business that happened in another country, will need to contact the National Contact Points of that country. In New Zealand, MBIE is the NCP to carry out the government’s responsibilities under the guidelines.
To help businesses meet their responsibilities, MBIE has developed a short version of the guidelines to assess the social responsibility ‘health’ of enterprises, and for assessing the actions of governments adhering to the guidelines. If further action is needed, MBIE provide resolution assistance, such as mediation, but do not adjudicate or duplicate other tribunals that assess compliance with New Zealand law. MBIE is assisted by a liaison group that meets once a year, with representatives from other government agencies, industry associations, and NGOs.
U.S. firms have not identified corruption as an obstacle to investing in New Zealand. New Zealand is renowned for its efforts to ensure a transparent, competitive, and corruption-free government procurement system. Stiff penalties against bribery of government officials as well as those accepting bribes are strictly enforced. The Ministry of Justice provides guidance on its website for businesses to create their own anti-corruption policies, particularly improving understanding of the New Zealand laws on facilitation payments.
New Zealand consistently achieves top ratings in Transparency International’s Perceptions of Corruption Perception Index. In 2019 Transparency International ranked New Zealand 1st out of 183 countries and territories, scoring 87 out of 100. An area of concern noted by Transparency International is New Zealand being one of several top-ranking countries that conduct “moderate and limited enforcement of foreign bribery.”
Transparency International NZ has had concerns with the historical inconsistency in the level of public accessibility and Parliamentary oversight and application of secondary legislation which is law made under powers delegated by Parliament to 150 government agencies, entities, and local government. New Zealand hast 550 Acts, which delegate power to make secondary legislation.
In December 2019 the government introduced the Secondary Legislation Bill to improve and support the law relating to the making of secondary legislation by applying and adjusting the framework of access to, and Parliamentary oversight of, secondary legislation provided for in the Legislation Act 2019. It is currently with at the select committee stage: https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/bills-and-laws/bills-proposed-laws/document/BILL_93428/secondary-legislation-bill
New Zealand joined the WTO Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) in 2012, citing benefits for exporters, while noting that there would be little change for foreign companies bidding within New Zealand’s totally deregulated government procurement system. New Zealand’s accession to the GPA, came into effect in August 2015. New Zealand supports multilateral efforts to increase transparency of government procurement regimes. New Zealand also engages with Pacific island countries in capacity building projects to bolster transparency and anti-corruption efforts.
New Zealand has regulations to counter conflict-of-interest in awarding contracts and government procurement. As mentioned in the previous section, MBIE operates a transparent procurement process using the Government Electronic Tenders Service (GETS) platform and their revised Procurement Rules which must be followed by New Zealand government departments, the Police, the Defense Force, and most Crown entities. All other New Zealand government agencies are encouraged to follow the Rules.
New Zealand has signed and ratified the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, and the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. In 2003, New Zealand signed the UN Convention against Corruption and ratified it in 2015.
The legal framework for combating corruption in New Zealand consists of domestic and international legal and administrative methods. Domestically, New Zealand’s criminal offences related to bribery are contained in the Crimes Act 1961 and the Secret Commissions Act 1910. For the bribery offences under sections 99 to 106 of the Crimes Act, New Zealand authorities have jurisdiction where any act or omission takes place in New Zealand. If the acts or omissions alleged relate to Person of Position and occur outside New Zealand, proceedings may be brought against them under the Crimes Act if they are a New Zealand citizen, ordinarily resident in New Zealand, have been found in New Zealand and not been extradited, or are a body corporate incorporated under the law of New Zealand. Penalties include imprisonment up to 14 years and foreign bribery offences can incur fines up to the greater of NZD 5 million (USD 3.3 million) or three times the value of the commercial gain obtained.
The New Zealand government has a strong code of conduct, the Standards of Integrity and Conduct, which applies to all State Services employees and is rigorously enforced. The Independent Police Conduct Authority considers complaints against New Zealand Police and the Office of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner was established in August 2005 to deal with complaints about the conduct of judges. New Zealand’s Office of the Controller and Auditor-General and the Office of the Ombudsman take an active role in uncovering and exposing corrupt practices. The Protected Disclosures Act 2000 was enacted to protect public and private sector employees who engage in “whistleblowing.”
The Ministry of Justice is responsible for drafting and administering the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) legislation and regulations. It also provides guidance online to companies and NGOs in how to combat corruption and bribery. The New Zealand Police Financial Intelligence Unit collates information required under AML/CFT legislation.
The Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Amendment Act 2017 extends the 2009 Act to cover lawyers, conveyancers, accountants, real estate agents, and sports and racing betting. Businesses that deal in certain high-value goods, such as motor vehicles, jewelry and art, will also have obligations when they accept or make large cash transactions.
Businesses had two years to comply with the Act and compliance costs are estimated to be USD 554 million and USD 762 million over ten years. The New Zealand Police Financial Intelligence Unit estimate that NZD 1.35 billion (USD 878 million) of domestic criminal proceeds is generated for laundering in New Zealand each year, driven in part by New Zealand’s reputation as a safe and non-corrupt country. The Department of Internal Affairs is working on a solution for businesses that are facing difficulty meeting their AML/CFT obligations during COVID-19.
Following the “Panama Papers” incident in April 2016, an independent inquiry found New Zealand’s tax treatment of foreign trusts to be appropriate but recommended changes to the regime’s disclosure requirements, which were subsequently legislated to dispel concerns New Zealand was operating as a “tax haven.” The Taxation (Business Tax, Exchange of Information, and Remedial Matters) Act 2017 changed foreign trust registration and disclosure to deter offshore parties from misusing New Zealand foreign trusts, and to reaffirm New Zealand’s reputation as being free of corruption.
In July 2019, the government passed the Trusts Act and repealed the Trustee Act 1956 and the Perpetuities Act 1964 to make trust law more accessible, clarify and simplify core trust principles and essential obligations for trustees. It also aims to preserve the flexibility of the common law to allow trust law to continue to evolve through the courts. It applies to all trusts including family trusts and those for corporate structures. New Zealand has one of the highest per capita number of trusts in the world due to favorable tax treatment and the absence of estate duty, gift duty, stamp duty, or capital gains tax. It is estimated that there are between 300,000 and 500,000 trusts in New Zealand.
After a standard review of the 2017 general election and 2016 local body elections, the Justice Select Committee conducted an inquiry in 2019 of the issue of foreign interference through politicized social media campaigns and from foreign donations to political candidates standing in New Zealand elections. New Zealand intelligence agencies acknowledged political donations as a legally sanctioned form of participation in New Zealand politics, but raised concerns when aspects of a donation is obscured or is channeled in a way that prevents scrutiny of the origin of the donation, when the goal is to covertly build and project influence.
In December 2019 the government passed the Electoral Amendment Act under urgency to ban donations from overseas persons to political parties and candidates over NZD 50 (USD 32.50) down from the previous NZD 1,500 (USD 975) maximum, to reduce the risk of foreign money influencing the election process. It also introduces a requirement for party secretaries “to take all reasonable steps to satisfy themselves that a donation over NZD 50 is not from an overseas person.”
The Act requires party secretaries to reside in New Zealand, and extending the existing offense of promoting anonymous advertisements relating to an election “so that it applies to all advertising mediums, including online advertising, in order to deter misleading anonymous online advertisements.”
Resources to Report Corruption
The Serious Fraud Office and the New Zealand Police investigate bribery and corruption matters. Agencies such as the Office of the Controller and Auditor-General and the Office of the Ombudsmen act as watchdogs for public sector corruption. These agencies independently report on and investigate state sector activities.
Serious Fraud Office
P.O. Box 7124 – Wellesley Street
Transparency International New Zealand is the recognized New Zealand representative of Transparency International, the global civil society organization against corruption.
Transparency International New Zealand
P.O. Box 5248 – Lambton Quay
10. Political and Security Environment
New Zealand is a stable liberal democracy with almost no record of political violence.
The New Zealand government raised its national security threat level for the first time from “low” to “high” after the terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch on March 15, 2019. One month later it lowered the risk to “medium” where a “terrorist attack, or violent criminal behavior, or violent protest activity is assessed as feasible and could well occur.” The incident led to wide-ranging gun law reform that restricts semi-automatic firearms and magazines with a capacity of more than ten rounds. An amnesty buy-back scheme of prohibited firearms administered by the NZ Police ran until December 20, 2019.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
In 2019, the New Zealand labor market experienced a tightening in labor market conditions with the unemployment rate at historically low levels after a prolonged period of record population growth from record net migration. In the last quarter of 2019, the rate was 4 percent. The rise in net migration is comprised of international students, professionals, and returning New Zealand citizens. Youth unemployment has been a problem in New Zealand for at least a decade.
New Zealand operates a Recognized Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme that allows the horticulture and viticulture industry to recruit workers from the Pacific Islands for seasonal work to supplement the New Zealand workforce. There have been prosecutions and convictions for the exploitation of migrant workers, with reports that the hospitality, agriculture, viticulture, and construction industries are most effected. New Zealand recruitment agencies that recruit workers from abroad must use a licensed immigration adviser.
Some foreign migrant workers were reported to have been charged excessive recruitment fees, experienced unjustified salary deductions, nonpayment or underpayment of wages, excessively long working hours, and restrictions on their movement. Reportedly, some had their passports confiscated and contracts altered.
New Zealand has consistently maintained an active and visible presence in the International Labour Organization (ILO), being a founding member in 1919, and its representatives have attended the annual International Labour Conferences since 1935. The ILO and the government of New Zealand have collaborated on several initiatives, including the elimination of child labor in Fiji, employment creation in Indonesia, and the improvement of labor laws in Cambodia.
The government has taken a more proactive approach to enforcing employment law in New Zealand, because the migrant worker population has increased rapidly in recent years and the resources to protect those workers have not kept up with the increase. The government has been steadily increasing the number of labor inspectorates – situated within MBIE – to double the number in 2017.
Immigration NZ reports and updates three different lists of Essential Skills in Demand. If an occupation is on a shortage list a visa applicant is exempt from an individual labor market test, and the employer does not need to demonstrate that no suitable New Zealanders are available to fill or be trained for each individual position. The Long-Term Shortage List contains occupations experiencing a sustained shortage and offers visa holders a chance to apply for residency after two years. The Regional Skill Shortage List – which replaced the Immediate Skill Shortage List in 2019 – identifies the regions with occupations that have an immediate shortage of skilled workers by 15 regions. The Construction and Infrastructure Skill Shortage List contains immediate short-term skill shortages in the construction labor market that are designed to meet the industry’s labor requirements and is also split into 15 regions.
There is no stated government policy on the hiring of New Zealand nationals, however certain jobs within government agencies that handle sensitive information may have a citizenship requirement, minimum duration of residency, and require background checks.
Labor laws are generally well enforced, and disputes are usually handled by the New Zealand Employment Relations Authority. Its decisions may be appealed in an Employment Court. MBIE is responsible for enforcement of laws governing work conditions. A number of employment statutes govern the workplace in New Zealand, including the Employment Relations Act (ERA) 2000, the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, the Holidays Act 2003, Minimum Wage Act 1983, the Equal Pay Act 1972, the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 1987, and Wages Protection Act 1983.
MBIE provides guidance for employers on minimum standards of employment mandated by law, guidelines to help promote the employment relationship, and optional guidelines that are useful in some roles or industries. Agreements on severance and redundancy packages are usually negotiated in individual agreements. For more see: https://www.employment.govt.nz/
The Employment Relations Amendment Act 2018 repeals some laws made under the previous government, such as restricting the mandatory 90-day no-fault trial period to businesses with 19 employees or fewer and mandating set rest and meal breaks for employees based on the number of hours worked. The amendment also empowers contractors with more rights and allows employees in specified ‘vulnerable industries’ to transfer their existing terms and conditions in their employment contract if their work is restructured. If requested, reinstatement must be the first course of action considered by the Employment Relations Authority for employees who have found to be unfairly dismissed.
After a three-year review and consultation, the government introduced the Screen Industry Workers Bill in February 2020. The previous government passed the Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Act 2010 – commonly referred to as the “Hobbit law” -which put limits on the ability of workers on film productions to collective bargaining. The new bill if passed aims to provide clarity about the employment status of people doing screen production work, introduce a duty of good faith and mandatory terms for contracting relationships in the industry, allow collective bargaining at the occupation and enterprise levels, and create processes for resolving disputes arising from contracting relations or collective bargaining.
New Zealand law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements, to bargain collectively, and to conduct legal strikes, with some restrictions. Contractors cannot join unions, bargain collectively, or conduct strike action. Police have the right to organize and bargain collectively but sworn police officers do not have the right to strike or take any form of industrial action. In November 2019 MBIE sought feedback on a discussion document entitled “Better protections for contractors” to strengthen legal protections for contractors. They aim to ensure that contractors receive their minimum rights and entitlements, reduce the imbalance of bargaining power between firms and contractors who are vulnerable to poor outcomes, and ensure that system settings encourage inclusive economic growth and competition. Submissions closed in February 2020.
The ERA requires registered unions to file annual membership returns with the Companies Office. MBIE estimate total union membership at 399,800 for the September 2019 quarter, representing about 18.7 percent of all employees in New Zealand.
Industrial action by employees who work for providers of key services are subject to certain procedural requirements, such as mandatory notice of a period determined by the service. New Zealand considers a broader range of key “essential services” than international standards, including: the production and supply of petroleum products; utilities, emergency workers; the manufacture of certain pharmaceuticals, workers in corrections and penal institutions; airports; dairy production; and animal slaughtering, processing, and related inspection services.
The number of work stoppages has been on a downward trend until the Labour-led government took office in 2017. The number of work stoppages has increased from 3 in 2016 (involving 430 employees causing 195 lost work days), to 143 in 2018 (involving 11,109 employees causing 192 lost work days and NZD 1.2 million (USD 780,000) in lost wages), to 159 in 2019 (involving 53,771 employees causing 142,670 lost work days and NZD 9.2 million (USD 6 million) in lost wages).
Work stoppages include strikes initiated by unions and lockouts initiated by employers, compiled from the record of strike or lockout forms submitted to MBIE under the Employment Relations Act 2000. The data does not cover other forms of industrial action such as authorized stop-work meetings, strike notices, protest marches, and public rallies which have also increased in recent years. Several strikes during the year involved employees of United States businesses or franchises particularly within the fast food industry. The New Zealand government does not get involved in individual work disputes unless the striking employees violate their legislated responsibilities.
The Labour-led government campaigned on a promise to lift the minimum wage to NZD20 (USD 13) by April 2021. From April 1, 2020 the minimum wage for adult employees who are 16 and over and are not new entrants or trainees is NZD 18.90 (USD12.29) per hour. The new entrants and training minimum wage is NZD 15.12 (USD 9.83) per hour. In recent years some local government agencies have raised minimum wages for their staff up from the government mandated rate to a “living wage” estimated to be NZD 22.10 (USD 14.37) in 2020. All businesses in New Zealand affected by COVID-19 have been eligible to receive from the government a wage subsidy from March, to pay their employees 80 percent of their salary to stem job losses.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 sets out the health and safety duties for work carried out by a New Zealand business. The Act contains provisions that affect how duties apply where the work involves foreign vessels. These provisions take account of the international law principle that foreign vessels are subject to the law that applies in the flag state they are registered under. Generally New Zealand law does not apply to the management of a foreign-flagged vessel but does apply to a New Zealand business that does work on that vessel. Two exceptions when the law does apply, if the New Zealand business is operating a foreign-flagged vessel under a “demise charter” arrangement, or when the foreign flagged vessel is operating between New Zealand and a workplace in the New Zealand exclusive economic zone or on the continental shelf; and that workplace is carrying out an activity associated with mineral extraction (e.g. a drilling platform or fixed ship) that is regulated under the Exclusive Economic Zone (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 or the Crown Minerals Act 1991.
The Fisheries (Foreign Charter Vessels and Other Matters) Bill 2014 has required all foreign charter fishing vessels to reflag to New Zealand and operate under New Zealand’s full legal jurisdiction since May 2016. The legislation was part of a range of measures that followed a Ministerial inquiry in 2012 into questionable safety, labor and fishing practices on some foreign-owned vessels. Other measures the government introduced include: compulsory individual New Zealand bank accounts for crew members; observers on all foreign-owned fishing vessels; and independent audits of charter parties to ensure crew visa requirements – including wages – are being adhered to.
In March 2017, the New Zealand government’s ratification of the ILO’s Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) came into effect. While New Zealand law is already largely consistent with the MLC, ratification gives the Government jurisdiction to inspect and verify working conditions of crews on foreign ships in New Zealand waters. More than 99 percent of New Zealand’s export goods by volume are transported on foreign ships. About 890 foreign commercial cargo and cruise ships visit New Zealand each year.
The Maritime Transport Amendment Act 2017 implements New Zealand’s accession to the intergovernmental International Oil Pollution Compensation’s Supplementary Fund Protocol, 2003. The fund gives New Zealand access to compensation in the event of a major marine oil spill from an oil tanker, and exercises New Zealand’s right to exclude the costs of wreck removal, cargo removal and remediating damage due to hazardous substances from liability limits. Accession to the Protocol was prompted in part by New Zealand’s worst maritime environmental disaster in October 2011 when a Greek flagged cargo ship ran aground creating a 331 ton oil spill resulting in NZD 500 million (USD 300 million) in clean-up costs.
12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation and Other Investment Insurance Programs
As an OECD member country and developed nation, New Zealand is not eligible for DFC or OPIC programs. New Zealand has been a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) since 2008. As a member, New Zealand-based firms can access the range of insurance products provided by MIGA to invest equity into ventures in developing countries.
New Zealand’s membership complements the export insurance program administered under the New Zealand Export Credit Office (NZECO) within the New Zealand Treasury. Its purpose is to support the internationalization of New Zealand exporters through the provision of trade credit insurance and financial guarantees that cover a range of political and commercial risks associated with doing international business. NZECO’s financial guarantees and insurance policies are fully backed by the New Zealand Government through the Minister of Finance. The maximum aggregate liability under the scheme is NZD 740 million (USD 481 million).
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
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)
* Source for Host Country Data: Host country statistics differ from USG and international sources due to calculation methodologies, and timing of exchange rate conversions. Almost a third of inbound foreign direct investment in New Zealand is in the financial and insurance services sector. Foreign direct investment data for March 2019 was released in September 2019. Statistics New Zealand data available at www.stats.govt.nz
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
“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 Debt Securities
14. Contact for More Information
U.S. Embassy Wellington
PO Box 1190