2013 Investment Climate Statement - Latvia

2013 Investment Climate Statement
Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
April 2013

Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

The Latvian government actively encourages foreign direct investment and works with investors to improve the country's business climate. To strengthen these efforts, the Latvian government has introduced the POLARIS process, a mechanism designed to create an alliance between the public sector, including national and local governments; the private sector, covering both national and international companies; and major Latvian academic and research institutions to encourage foreign direct investment and spur economic growth. The Latvian government also meets annually with the Foreign Investors Council in Latvia (FICIL), which represents large foreign companies and chambers of commerce, with the express purposes of improving the business environment and encouraging foreign investment. The Coordination Council for Large and Strategically Important Investment Projects is chaired by the Prime Minister.

In keeping with European Union and World Trade Organization requirements, there is generally no screening of foreign investment. However, in cases of greenfield investment requiring licenses regulated by the Public Services Regulatory Commission, or when the state offers tax exemptions or other concessions, significant due diligence measures may be applied. Tender regulations for greenfield investment projects are prepared on a case-by-case basis.

Business activities are regulated by the Commercial Law, the latest version of which came into force on January 1, 2002. The Commercial Law serves as the legal framework for establishing, registering, operating, and closing a business in Latvia. The law specifies five possible business legal entities: individual merchants, partnerships (general and limited), and corporations (joint stock and limited liability companies). Legislation that went into effect in 2010 offers special tax treatment for qualifying “micro-enterprises.”

Physical and legal persons who are citizens of Latvia or of other EU countries may freely purchase real property. In general, physical and legal persons who are citizens of non-EU countries (“third-country nationals”) may also freely purchase developed real property. However, third-country nationals may not directly purchase certain types of agricultural, forest, and undeveloped land. Such persons may, however, acquire ownership interest in such land through a company registered in the Register of Enterprises of the Republic of Latvia, provided that more than 50 percent of the company is owned by: (a) Latvian citizens and/or Latvian governmental entities; and/or (b) physical or legal persons from countries with which Latvia signed and ratified an international agreement on the promotion and protection of investments on or before December 31, 1996; or for agreements concluded after this date, so long as such agreements provide for reciprocal rights to land acquisition. The United States and Latvia have such an agreement. In addition, foreign investors can lease land without restriction for up to 99 years.

Other restrictions apply (to both Latvian citizens and foreigners) to the acquisition of land in Latvia's border areas, Baltic Sea and Gulf of Riga dune areas, and other protected areas.

The Law on Privatization of State and Municipal Property governs the privatization process in Latvia. The Latvian Privatization Agency (LPA), established in 1994, uses a case-by-case approach to determine the method of privatization for each state enterprise. The three allowable methods are: public offering, auction for selected bidders, and international tender. For some of the largest privatized companies, a percentage of shares may be sold publicly on the NASDAQ OMX Riga Stock Exchange. The government may maintain shares in companies deemed important to the state's strategic interests. Privatization of small and medium-sized state enterprises is considered to be largely complete.

Latvian law designates six State Joint Stock Companies that cannot be privatized: Latvenergo (energy), Latvijas Pasts (post), International Airport Riga, Latvijas Dzelzceļš (railways), Latvijas Gaisa Satiksme (air traffic control), and Latvijas Valsts Meži (forests). Other large companies in which the Latvian government holds a controlling interest include airBaltic (air carrier), Lattelecom (land line and internet services provider), and Latvian Mobile Telephone (Latvia’s largest mobile phone operator).

The global recession of 2008-2009 was severe in Latvia, leading to a reduction in overall levels of FDI and a drop in GDP of almost 25 percent. As a result, the Latvian government turned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Commission for financial assistance. Latvia’s assistance program ended officially on December 22, 2011. In December 2012, the Latvian government announced its full repayment of the IMF loan ahead of schedule. The consolidation measures Latvia took in the wake of the crisis have led to increased competitiveness and stabilized the economy, as growth returned in the second half of 2010. Since then, the country has been recovering strongly. FDI flows have nearly returned to pre-crisis levels and the Latvian government expects to conclude 2012 with economic growth of 4.5 percent. The chart below shows Latvia's rank on several prominent international measures of interest to potential investors.




TI Corruption Index



Heritage Economic Freedom



World Bank Doing Business



Conversion and Transfer Policies

Since January 1, 20015, Latvia has pegged its national currency, the lat, to the euro at the rate 1 EUR = 0.702804 LVL. The Bank of Latvia unilaterally limits the lat’s exchange rate against the euro to ±1 percent of this central rate.

Latvia entered the EU’s Exchange Rate Mechanism II (ERM II) on May 2, 2005. The Latvian government is committed to pursuing membership in the euro zone, and currently is on track to adopt the euro on January 1, 2014, pending approval by the European Commission.

Latvian law provides for unrestricted repatriation of profits associated with an investment. Investors can freely convert local currency into foreign exchange at market rates, and have no difficulty obtaining foreign exchange from Latvian commercial banks for investment remittances. Exchange rates and other financial information can be obtained at the Central Bank of Latvia's web site: www.bank.lv.

Expropriation and Compensation

There have been no cases of arbitrary expropriation of private property by the Government of Latvia. Expropriation of foreign investment is possible in a very limited number of cases specified in the law on expropriation of real property. Compensation must be paid in full within three months of the date of expropriation. If the owner of the property claimed by the government deems the compensation inadequate, the owner has the right to appeal to a Latvian court.

Dispute Settlement

Investment disputes concerning U.S. or other foreign investors and Latvia are generally rare. Nevertheless, over the course of the year, there have been a number of disputes concerning major public procurements in the transportation and logistics sectors.

The 1993 Law on Judicial Power introduced a three-tier court system. Judicial power is exercised by town, city, and rural districts; regional courts; and the Supreme Court. In addition, the Constitutional Court reviews the compatibility of decrees and acts of the President of the Republic, the government, and local authorities with the constitution and the law. Unless otherwise stipulated by law, district courts are the courts of first instance in all civil, criminal, and administrative cases. Regional courts are vested with the authority of appellate review for district court verdicts. In addition, regional courts are courts of first instance for cases specified in the Civil Code. Such cases include claims exceeding LVL 150,000 (approximately USD 300,000); cases on the protection of patent rights, trademarks, and geographical indications; and cases on the insolvency and liquidation of credit institutions. The Supreme Court consists of the Senate and two Chambers of Court: the Civil Chamber of Court and the Criminal Chamber of Court.

City and regional courts are administered by the Ministry of Justice (www.tm.gov.lv). The Supreme Court and Constitutional Court are independent. However, improvements in the judicial system are needed to accelerate the adjudication of cases, to strengthen the enforcement of court decisions, and to upgrade professional standards. Significant backlogs exist, particularly in the lower courts.

A register of arbitration institutions was established in 2005. According to the information available in the register, there are 215 arbitration institutions registered in Latvia (www.ur.gov.lv). In most commercial agreements, parties opt to refer their disputes to arbitration rather than to the Latvian courts.

The Civil Procedure Law, which came into force on March 1, 1999, contains a section on arbitration courts. This section was drafted on the basis of the UNCITRAL model law, thus providing full compliance with international standards. The law also governs the enforcement of rulings of foreign non-arbitral courts and foreign arbitrations. The full text of the law in English can be found at: www.vvc.gov.lv.

Latvia has been a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) since 1997 and a member of the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards since 1992. Judgments of foreign arbitral courts that are made in accordance with either can therefore be enforced in Latvia. The Civil Procedure Law stipulates that the judgments of foreign non-arbitral courts can be enforced in Latvia.

There are two laws governing bankruptcy procedure: the Law on Insolvency, which came into force on January 1, 2008, amended in November 2010; and the Law on Credit Institutions (regulating bankruptcy procedures for banks and other financial sector companies), which came into effect in 1995. Recent changes to the Law on Insolvency were designed to make the process more efficient and accessible to physical persons.

Investment and commercial dispute resolution proceedings in Latvia typically take between two and three years, if the case is reviewed at all possible levels and the involved parties do not deliberately delay the proceedings. It should be noted that the length of these proceedings can differ significantly depending on the Latvian region in which the case is filed.

Performance Requirements/Incentives

The Latvian government extends national treatment to foreign investors. Therefore most investment incentives and requirements apply equally to local and foreign businesses.

The Latvian government offers incentive schemes for investment, both foreign and domestic, in several free ports, special economic zones, and in special support regions, as well as through the POLARIS process. For more information on these programs, see www.liaa.gov.lv and www.polarisprocess.com.

Except for specific requirements for investors acquiring former state enterprises through the privatization process, there are no performance requirements for a foreign investor to establish, maintain, or expand an investment in Latvia. In the privatization process, performance requirements for investors, both foreign and domestic, are determined on a case-by-case basis.

Under Latvian law, foreign citizens can enter Latvia for temporary business activities for up to three months in a half-year period. For longer periods of time, foreigners are required to obtain residence and work permits.

A physical third-country national may obtain a five-year temporary residence permit if he or she has made certain minimum equity investments in a Latvian company, certain subordinated investments in a Latvian credit institution, or purchased real estate for certain designated sums, subject to limitations in each case.

Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

The Latvian constitution guarantees the right to private ownership. Both domestic and foreign private entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of commercial activity, except those prohibited by the law. Private enterprises have competitive equality with public enterprises with respect to access to markets and business operations.

Protection of Property Rights

Latvia has full legal rights to property.

In an effort to harmonize its legislation with EU and WTO requirements, Latvia has established a legal framework for the protection of intellectual property. In 1993, the Latvian Parliament passed legislation to protect copyrights, trademarks, and patents. In 2000, the Parliament adopted a new Law on Copyrights. The law strengthens the protection of software copyrights and neighboring rights. Foreign owners may seek redress for violation of their intellectual property rights through the appellation council at the Latvian Patent Office; court action can also be sought in such cases. In copyright violation cases, the interested party can request that the use of the pirated works be prohibited, that pirated copies be destroyed, and that remuneration for losses be paid (including for lost profits). The criminal law stipulates penalties for copyright violations.

In July 1994, the United States signed a Trade and Intellectual Property Rights Agreement with Latvia. Latvia has been a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) since January 1993, the Paris Convention since September 1993, the Berne Convention since August 1995, and the Geneva Convention for the Protection of Producers of Phonograms against Unauthorized Duplication of their Phonograms since August 1997. In addition, the Latvian government has amended all relevant laws and regulations to comply with the requirements of the WTO TRIPS agreement (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), to which Latvia acceded by joining the WTO.

Latvia has also acceded to the following international treaties and agreements:

  • Patent Co-operation Treaty (September 1993);
  • Budapest Treaty on the International Recognition of the Deposit of Micro-organisms for the Purposes of Patent Procedure (December 1994);
  • Madrid Agreement on International Registration of Trade Marks (January 1995);
  • Nice Agreement on International Classification of Goods and Services for the Purposes of Trade Mark Registration (January 1995);
  • Rome Convention for the Protection of the Rights of Performers, Producers of Phonograms, and Broadcasting Organizations (with a note to not apply article 12 of the convention concerning phonograms of producers that are not nationals of contracting states) (August 1999); and
  • Geneva Agreement on Trade Marks (December 1999).

Concerns exist regarding the enforcement of these intellectual property protection standards in Latvia. As in much of Eastern and Central Europe, piracy rates are relatively high. Previously, there have been some reports of infringement of software licensing agreements by government offices.

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Latvian government has amended its laws and regulatory procedures in an effort to bring Latvia's legislation in compliance with the European Union and WTO GPA requirements. A number of legislative changes were aimed at increasing the transparency of the Latvian business environment and regulatory system. At the same time, the massive legislative changes carried out in a short period of time have led to some laws and regulations that could be subject to conflicting interpretations. The Latvian government has developed a good working relationship with the foreign business community (through FICIL) to streamline various bureaucratic procedures and to address legal and regulatory issues.

Efficient Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Latvian government policies do not interfere with the free flow of financial resources or the allocation of credit. Local bank loans are available to foreign investors.

The regulatory framework for commercial banking incorporates all principal requirements of European Union directives. A unified capital and financial markets regulator was launched on July 1, 2001, replacing the Securities Market Commission, the Insurance Inspectorate, and the Bank of Latvia's Banking Supervision Department. Existing banking legislation includes provisions on accounting and financial statements (strict adherence to international accounting standards is required), minimum initial capital requirements, capital adequacy requirements, large exposures, restrictions on insider lending, open foreign exchange positions, and loan-loss provisions. An Anti-Money Laundering Law came into effect in August 2008 and a Deposit Guarantee Law came into effect in January 2003. An independent anti-money laundering unit operates under the supervision of the Prosecutor General's Office. Some of the banking regulations, such as capital adequacy and loan-loss provisions, exceed EU requirements.

According to the Association of Commercial Banks of Latvia, total assets of the country’s banks at the end of Q3 2012 stood at approximately USD 36.7 billion (exchange rate: 1 USD=0.54 Lats). At the end of Q3 2012, 80.2 percent of total loans had no payment arrears.

Securities markets are regulated by the 2000 Law on the Consolidated Capital Markets Regulator, the 2004 Law on the Financial Instrument Market, and several other laws and regulations. Protection of investor interests is ensured by strict control over participants in the securities market.

The NASDAQ/OMX Riga Stock Exchange (RSE) (www.nasdaqomxbaltic.com) began operations in 1995. France assisted Latvia in setting up the securities market based on a continental European model. In 1997, the RSE was admitted to the International Federation of Stock Exchanges as a corresponding emerging market. The RSE was the first exchange in Eastern Europe to create an index in cooperation with Dow Jones.

In 2011, the Latvian government faced the first significant case of an attempted hostile takeover of a large, privately owned company by a foreign (Russian) private firm. To prevent the takeover, a Latvian government-owned enterprise purchased capital shares in the targeted company, thus acquiring preemptive rights to purchase shares in case any of the existing shareholders wanted to sell to the foreign firm.

Competition from State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs)

Private enterprises may compete with public enterprises on the same terms and conditions with respect to access to markets, credit, and other business operations such as licenses and supplies. The Latvian government is working to implement the requirements of the EU’s Third Energy Package, which would further open the electricity market to private power producers, allowing them to compete on an equal footing with Latvenergo, the state-owned power company.

SOEs are active in the energy, air transport, postal services, telecommunications, railway, and forestry sectors.

Senior managers of SOEs report to independent boards of directors, which in turn report to the line ministries. Many SOEs previously had a council in addition to a Board of Directors, but these councils were eliminated in 2009 due to widespread allegations that they provided little guidance and served only to provide jobs for politically connected individuals.

SOEs are required by law to publish an annual report and to submit their books to an independent audit.

Latvia does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

On January 9, 2004, Latvia joined the OECD Declaration on International Investment and Multinational Enterprises. Adherence to these OECD principles and standards reinforces the efforts of the Latvian government to pursue investment-friendly economic reforms. Awareness of and adherence to principles of corporate social responsibility is developing among producers and consumers. Two of the most active promoters of CSR are the American Chamber of Commerce in Latvia and the Employers’ Confederation of Latvia. The Latvian Ministry of Welfare has also taken an active part in promoting CSR. As a result, several initiatives have been developed. One of the most successful is the Sustainability Index. For more information on this program, see: www.ilgtspejasindekss.lv.

Political Violence

There have been no reports of political violence or politically motivated damage to foreign investors’ projects or installations. The likelihood of widespread civil disturbances is very low. Civil unrest is generally not a problem in Latvia. While Latvia has experienced peaceful demonstrations related to internal political issues, there have been rare incidents when peaceful demonstrations have devolved into crimes against property, such as breaking shop windows or damaging parked cars. U.S. citizens are cautioned to avoid any large public demonstrations, as even peaceful demonstrations can turn confrontational. The Embassy provides periodic notices to U.S. citizens in Latvia that can be found on the Embassy’s web site: riga.usembassy.gov.


Latvian law enforcement institutions, foreign business representatives, and non-governmental organizations, such as Transparency International, have identified corruption and the perception of corruption as persistent problems in Latvia. According to the 2012 Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International, Latvia ranks 54th out of 183 countries (in order from the lowest perceived level of public sector corruption to the highest). Among EU member states, Latvia ranks 22nd out of 27.

In an effort to strengthen its anti-corruption program, the Latvian government has adopted several laws and regulations, including the 1998 Law on Money Laundering (amended in 2009), and the 2002 Law on Conflicts of Interest (replacing the 1995 Anti-Corruption Law). The Conflicts of Interest Law imposes restrictions and requirements on public officials and their relatives. Several provisions of the law deal with the previously widespread practice of holding several positions simultaneously, often in both the public and private sector. The law includes a comprehensive list of state and municipal jobs that cannot be combined with additional employment. Moreover, the law expands the scope of the term “state official” to include members of boards and councils of companies with state or municipal capital exceeding 50 percent.

Latvia has signed the Criminal Convention on Corruption of the Council of Europe and the United Nations Convention against Corruption. Latvia has expressed interest in joining the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery.

Under Latvian law, it is a crime to offer or to accept a bribe or to facilitate an act of bribery. Although the law stipulates heavy penalties for bribery, there have been only a limited number of government officials prosecuted and convicted for corruption. In December 2012, the Latvian Parliament adopted new amendments to the Latvian Criminal Law broadening the definition of state and local government employees to enable wider anti-bribery enforcement. The amendments also create the possibility of withdrawing charges against a person giving a bribe in cases where the bribe has been extorted, or in cases where the person voluntarily reports these incidents and actively assists the investigation. These amendments enter into force on April 1, 2013.

The primary institution responsible for combating corruption is an independent anti-corruption agency -- the Anti-Corruption Bureau (known by its Latvian acronym KNAB) -- whose task is to carry out operational activities on fighting incidents of corruption. The Crime Prevention Council chaired by the Prime Minister is in charge of coordinating and supervising all state authorities’ activities to prevent crime and corruption. The Prosecutor General's Office also plays an important role in fighting corruption.

There is a perceived lack of fairness and transparency in the public procurement process in Latvia. A number of companies, including foreign companies, have complained that bidding requirements are sometimes written with the assistance of potential contractors or couched in terms that exclude all but “preferred” contractors.

A regulation of the Cabinet of Ministers provides for public access to government information, and the government generally provided citizens such access. There were no reports that noncitizens or the foreign media have been denied access.

Assistance for U.S. Businesses: The U.S. Department of Commerce offers services to U.S. businesses seeking to address business-related corruption issues. For example, the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service provides services that assist U.S. companies in conducting their due diligence as part of the company’s overarching compliance program when choosing business partners or agents overseas. The U.S. Foreign Commercial Service can be reached directly through its offices in every major U.S. and foreign city, or through its Website at www.trade.gov/cs.

Bilateral Investment Agreements

Latvia has concluded bilateral investment agreements with Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Korea, Kuwait, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. The agreement with the United States came into force in December 1996.

Latvia has concluded the Treaty on Avoidance of Double Taxation with the United States, which entered force on December 30, 1999.

OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) political risk insurance coverage is available for U.S. investments in Latvia. Latvia is a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).

Since January 1, 2005, the Latvian national currency, known as the lat, has been pegged to the euro at a rate 0.70284 lat per 1 euro.


The official rate of registered unemployment at the end of December 2012 was 10.5 percent. Unemployment is significantly higher in rural areas. A high percentage of the workforce has completed at least secondary or vocational education. Foreign managers agree that Latvians generally are hard working, reliable, and quick to learn. Foreign managers also praise the high degree of language skills, especially in Russian and English, among Latvian workers. However, there is a shortage of mid- and senior-level managers with western-style management skills.

Companies must keep wages above a legally specified minimum, which since January 1, 2011, is LVL 200 (approximately USD 400) per month. Union influence on the wage setting process is limited. Trade unions do not have significant influence on the labor market.

One challenge that employers have faced since Latvia joined the EU is that many skilled employees can find employment opportunities in other EU countries. Unofficial statistics suggest that more than 100,000 people have moved from Latvia to other EU countries since May 1, 2004. Despite the fact that the macroeconomic situation has stabilized, skilled and unskilled workers continue to emigrate.

In 2012, several reports indicated a shortage of available workers in the information, telecommunications, and construction sectors. The largest share of registered unemployment is comprised of persons with only primary or secondary education who do not have special skills.

The Labor Law addresses discrimination issues, provides detailed provisions on the rights and obligations of employees' representatives, and created the Conciliation Commission – an institution that can be established in any workplace.

Full-time employees in Latvia work 40 hours a week. Normally, there are five working days per week, but employers are allowed to schedule six working days per week. Employees are entitled to four calendar weeks of annual paid vacations per year. An employer is prohibited from entering into an employment contract with a foreign individual who does not have a valid work permit.

Latvia has committed to adhere to the ILO Convention protecting workers’ rights.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports

There are four free trade areas in Latvia. Free ports have been established in Riga and Ventspils, and special economic zones (SEZ) have been created in Liepaja, a port city in western Latvia, and Rezekne, a city in the center of an eastern Latvian region that borders Russia.

Somewhat different rules apply to each of the four zones. In general, the two free ports provide exemptions from indirect taxes, including customs duties, VAT, and excise tax. The SEZs offer additional incentives, such as an 80-100 percent reduction of corporate income taxes and real estate taxes. To qualify for tax relief and other benefits, companies must receive permits and sign agreements with the appropriate authorities: the Riga and the Ventspils Port Authorities, for the respective free ports; the Liepaja SEZ Administration; or the Rezekne SEZ Administration. The term for these special regimes is set to expire at the end of 2017, but the Latvian government is currently working to extend the term to 2035.

Foreign Direct Investment Statistics

Table 1: FDI Stock in Latvia, 2008-2011 (Closing positions in millions of USD)









Source: Bank of Latvia

Table 2: FDI in Latvia, 2008-2011 (Closing positions by investing country in millions of USD)









































Russian Federation










United States*





*These figures significantly underestimate the value of U.S. investment in Latvia due to the fact that these do not account for investments by U.S. firms through their European subsidiaries.

Source: Bank of Latvia

Table 3: Latvia's Direct Investment abroad by country, 2008-2011 (Closing positions, Millions of USD and lats)











In Lats










In Lats










In Lats










In Lats










In Lats





Source: Bank of Latvia

Table 4: Major foreign investment in companies by investment in stock (Situation as of December 18, 2012, in lats)




Swedbank AB






Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken AB



Rugby Holding B.V.



Ektornet Latvia AB



UniCredit Bank Austria AG



Tilts Communications A/S



Bite Lietuva UAB



Bergvik Skog AB



European Bank for Reconstruction and Development

United Kingdom


GE Capital International Financing Corporation



Palink Uždaroji Akcine Bendrove



Tele2 Sverige Aktiebolag



Linstow AS



Patras Holdings B.V.



Eurotank Holding Sarl



Transņefteprodukt AO



Euromin Holdings (Cyprus) Limited



Ojay Limited



Storebrand Livsforsikring AS



Source: Lursoft – Electronic Database of the Latvia's State Enterprise Register. Data are systemized according to the country of incorporation/registration of the investor.