Kuwait: Market Profile
Kuwait’s growth is projected to rebound to 3.5% in 2019 as OPEC+ production cuts taper off, and oil output and exports increase. Plans to invest USD115 billion in the oil sector over the next five years should also boost oil production. Additional support coming from public investment spending will support growth over the medium term. Current account and budgetary pressures are expected to continue easing on the back of a partial recovery in oil revenues, and as government spending is gradually trimmed. The baseline assumes gradual implementation of spending and revenue reforms including the introduction of a VAT in the second half of 2018 as part of efforts to diversify revenues. Inflation is expected to rise moderately during the implementation of the VAT, before easing in the medium term. Absolute poverty and involuntary unemployment are virtually nonexistent. 80% of employed Kuwaiti nationals work in the public sector. In contrast, expatriates, who make up two-thirds of the population, constitute the bulk of lower-income residents. Additional concerns for expatriate workers include unpaid or delayed wages and difficult working conditions.
Source: World Bank
2. Major Economic/Political Events and Upcoming Elections
Constitutional court rules women can obtain passports without the consent of their husbands.
Hundreds of young people demonstrate for reform, inspired by a wave of protests across the Arab world.
Emir dissolves parliament and replaces his prime minister following protests and a showdown over allegations of high-level corruption.
Islamist-led opposition wins majority in parliamentary elections.
Emir blocks proposal by MPs to make all legislation comply with Islamic law.
Constitutional Court ruling effectively dissolves Islamist-dominated parliament.
The Emir dissolves parliament, paving the way for snap elections. At least 5,000 protesters clash with security forces outside parliament over opposition fears that the government will try to redraw constituency boundaries.
Opposition leader Mussallam al-Barrak is sentenced to five years in jail for insulting the emir.
Constitutional court orders dissolution of parliament, effectively dismissing results of parliamentary polls.
Kuwait and four other Gulf states take part in Saudi-led air strikes on Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Sunni extremist carries out suicide attack on Shia mosque, killing 27 worshippers and injuring more than 200. Seven people are sentenced to death in connection with the attack.
Opposition groups and their allies in Kuwait win nearly half the fifty seats in parliament.
The Philippines bans its citizens from taking up jobs in Kuwait following reports of abuse and the deaths of their citizens there.
Source: BBC country profile – Timeline
3. Major Economic Indicators
Note: e = estimate, f = forecast
Sources: IMF, World Bank
4. External Trade
4.1 Merchandise Trade
Note: e = estimate
Sources: WTO, World Bank WITS database
4.2 Trade in Services
5. Trade Policies
- The country's Gulf Coperation Council (GCC) membership means that it is part of a single market and customs union with a common external tariff. A tariff of only 5% is imposed on the majority of items imported from non-GCC countries, and there is a single point of entry where tariffs are collected once imports enter the GCC. Only imports on certain sensitive goods from GCC countries will face tariffs, and there is freedom of movement between GCC countries without customs or non-customs restrictions.
- The State of Kuwait has been a WTO member since 1 January 1995 and a member of GATT since 3 May 1963.
- Overall the average applied import tariff for goods entering Kuwait is 3.9%. This is the fifth highest out of six GCC states. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain are just lower, with average applied import tariff rates of 3.6% and 3.7% respectively. Bahrain does not levy customs duties on any exports. Some further import trade barriers do exist for sensitive goods and prominent domestic industries, although the overall impact on these is fairly minimal.
- The most extensive non-tariff barrier for trade which mostly applies for non-GCC states is the extensive trade bureaucracy and associated costs that come with exporting and importing from and to Kuwait. On average the times and associated costs for border and documentary procedures (both for exports and imports) are some of the longest and highest in the GCC, which reduces country's competitiveness as a trading destination when compared to its regional peers.
- For cultural and religious regions an import ban is applicable for alcoholic drinks imports.
- Kuwait's main exporting partners are largely reflective of the economic bloc and free trade agreements (FTAs) which the country is party to.
Source: WTO – Trade Policy Review
6. Trade Agreement
6.1 Trade Updates
Gradual implementation of spending and revenue reforms including the introduction of a VAT in the second half of 2018 form part of efforts to diversify revenues, among GCC members.
6.2 Multinational Trade Agreements
- Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA) – The 17 members of GAFTA are: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the UAE and Yemen. GAFTA was declared within the Social and Economic Council of the Arab League as an executive programme to activate the Trade Facilitation and Development Agreement and the elimination of most tariffs among the GAFTA members. The GAFTA saw tariffs between 17 Arab states rapidly decline from an average 15% in 2002 to 6% in 2009.
- Member of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – other members are Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Kuwait's trade with these countries is tariff-free. The geographic proximity of these countries and their general adoption of free trade economic policies are factors that foster a competitive business environment. Trade between Kuwait and the GCC amounted to more than USD7.4 billion in 2014, with the bulk consisting of imports.
- GCC (member state) and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) – Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. EFTA, taken as a single entity, is one of Kuwait's largest import partners. The agreement covers the progressive elimination of tariffs in trade in services and manufactured goods as well as investment, and other trade-related issues such as protection of intellectual property, and is fully consistent with provisions of the World Trade Organization. In addition, bilateral arrangements on agricultural products between three individual EFTA states and the GCC form part of the instruments establishing the free-trade area between both sides.
- Singapore (via GCC) – This is a comprehensive agreement on trade in goods, rules of origin, customs procedures, trade in services and government procurement, among others. With tariff eliminations on 99% of Singaporean domestic exports to the GCC, importing companies will benefit from a more competitive position and manufacturing input costs are kept low. Key sectors that benefit include telecommunications, electrical and electronic equipment, petrochemicals, jewellery, machinery and iron and steel-related industry. The recognition of the Halal certification of Singapore's Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS) will also pave the way for trade in Halal-certified products to gain faster access to GCC countries.
- US-Middle East Free Trade Area Initiative (MEFTA) – In 2004, the US and Kuwait signed into force the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), with the aim of regulating all commercial matters between Kuwait and the US. The countries targeted to join MEFTA are Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Israel (and through Israel, the Palestinian Authority), Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen. This includes a wide range of trade and investment issues such as market access, intellectual property rights, and labour and environmental issues. MEFTA will help in growing commercial and investment opportunities by identifying and working to remove impediments to trade and investment flows between member states. This expands the scope of markets for businesses in Kuwait to export products to, and will significantly reduce trade costs.
- Australia (via GCC) – Australia and the GCC share a significant economic relationship, encompassing trade and investment across a broad range of goods and services. The GCC is a key market for agricultural exports such a livestock, meat, dairy products, vegetables, sugar, wheat and other grains. The agreement provides an opportunity to address a range of tariff and non-tariff barriers related to food exports that will benefit the food and drink sector in Kuwait. With a large proportion of the world's petroleum resources and a rapidly growing population, the GCC's prospects for continued economic growth are strong. The agreement will also help maintain a level playing field for automotive imports to the GCC market. These factors, along with a plurilateral FTA, will help sustain growth in Kuwait's trade and investment relations with the country.
- China (via GCC) – Kuwait is a net importer of Chinese goods, and trade liberalisation will help develop the industrial and service sectors. The value of imports from China stood at over USD4 billion in 2014 with emphasis on electrical goods and machinery. Kuwait mainly exports commodities such as oil to China; hence trade liberalisation with the GCC will help the group integrate and grow with mutual cooperation and comprehensive tariff reduction.
Sources: WTO Regional Trade Agreements database, BMI
7. Investment Policy
7.1 Foreign Direct Investment
7.2 Foreign Direct Investment Policy
- Kuwait continued to encourage foreign direct investment (FDI) with the implementation of Law No.116 of 2013 Regarding the Promotion of Direct Investment in the State of Kuwait (hereafter referred to as the FDI Law). With the decline in oil revenue and the need to diversify its economy, the government seeks increased foreign investments. The FDI Law established the Kuwait Direct Investment Promotion Authority (KDIPA) to solicit investment proposals, evaluate their potential, and assist in the licensing processes. In reviewing licensing requests, KDIPA places emphasis on creating jobs and training/education opportunities for Kuwaitis, technology transfer, diversification of national income sources, increasing exports, support for local SMEs, and utilization of Kuwaiti products and services.
- The Kuwait Investment Promotion Authority (KDIPA) is a specialized public authority that is responsible for promoting direct investment in Kuwait through developing, promoting, advocating, and regulating the environment. The Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA) is the oldest sovereign wealth fund in the world. KIA traces its roots to the Kuwait Investment Board, which was established in 1953, eight years before Kuwait's independence in 1961. In 1982, KIA was created by Law No. 47 as an autonomous governmental body responsible for the management of the assets of the country.
- While the FDI Law allows 100% foreign ownership in several industries, KDIPA excludes foreign firms from investment in national security and state-owned sectors. Opportunities may increase as KDIPA takes over the existing free-trade zone at Shuwaikh and creates two new zones at Al-Abdali and Al-Nuwaiseeb.
- Moves towards privatisation have continued in the stock exchange, as well as in the aviation, telecommunications and postal services sectors, potentially bringing increased opportunities for more competition in the coming years. In 2014, the Central Bank of Kuwait (CBK) announced that foreign banks could open multiple branches in Kuwait - before then, they could open only one branch - and this presents opportunities in the financial sector. Furthermore, the National Assembly established the cornerstones of the current KDP, with the intent to create a 'one-stop shop' designed to streamline and simplify investment procedures and thus attracting greater levels of FDI. Since 2015 the KDP has issued foreign ownership business licenses to the likes of IBM, Huawei, General Electric, and the Berkeley Research Group.
- Furthermore, in 2014 the country also passed new PPP legislation, which is leading the way for significantly increased private participation in Kuwait's construction sector. Kuwait's Law No. 116 streamlines existing laws and introduces new regulations which improve transparency and investor safeguards. This has been the catalyst for the rapid development of the country's PPP market, with it going from a single PPP project in 2013 to 17 in 2016 (the second most in the MENA region). Therefore, Kuwait's economy is slowly emerging as being more open to foreign and private investment. Meanwhile, Kuwait has limited free trade areas or Special Economic and Industrial Zones.
- Non-GCC nationals are not allowed to own land in Kuwait. The fact that in 2014 the top five sources of FDI to Kuwait were all other GCC states indicates that this is a significant barrier for investors from other countries. Furthermore foreign investment in the extractive and real estate sectors is not permitted. Prior to the coming into force of the FDI law in 2014, foreign businesses were highly restricted in how they conducted business in Kuwait. Foreign businesses were not allowed to open independently or even establish a branch office, without the appointment of a Kuwaiti partner or agent. This Kuwait partner or agent had to own 51% minimum of the business. Now under the new FDI law, 100% business ownership is permitted in a variety of sectors. However businesses must apply through the KDP for a foreign ownership license in order for this 100% ownership rule to apply.
- Given growing unemployment levels in the public and extractive sectors, the Kuwaiti government has started to impose stricter rules for the hiring of foreign workers since 2014.
- In 2014, the government issued regulations implementing a 2013 FDI law that aims to ease constraints on doing business in Kuwait. Under the Law for the Promotion of Direct Investment in the State of Kuwait (PDISK; Law No. 116 of 2013, which replaced the Direct Foreign Capital Investment Law, Law No. 8 of 2011) an investor can establish a 100% foreign-owned Kuwaiti company, a licensed branch or a representative office of a foreign entity. The Law is applicable for most sectors except for extraction of crude petroleum; manufacture and extraction of natural gas; and real estate. The incentives for investors under this law include, but are not limited to, tax exemptions for a maximum period of 10 years from the date of commencement of the licensed entity; customs duty exemptions for the importation of materials and equipment if the material and equipment is held for a period of five years from the date of obtaining the incentive; and protection from 'Kuwaitisation' requirements and allocation of land and real estate to investors. It also guarantees repatriation of profits and facilitates the entry of expatriate labour while protecting existing investors against any future changes to the law. However, investors must employ a certain number of Kuwaiti nationals and obtain governmental approval from the Council of Ministers to avail themselves of these incentives, which presents substantial labour risks. Companies may be obliged to take steps to preserve their local environment, public order and public health. Governmental tenders of a certain size will also incur mandatory social impact projects under the Kuwaiti offset programme, which can be costly and time-consuming to fulfil. While the country's offset programme has been temporarily suspended since November 2014, the recent transfer of the offset authority to the Kuwaiti Direct Investment Promotion Authority (KDP) suggests that it may be coming back online shortly, with new regulations to follow.
- During recent years, the government has taken several measures to address human trafficking and to improve protections for domestic workers. However, the labor law is not consistently enforced and disputes over the payment of salaries and contract switching are common, especially among unskilled workers.
Sources: WTO – Trade Policy Review, The International Trade Administration (ITA), U.S. Department of Commerce
7.3 Free Trade Zones and Investment Incentives
|Free Trade Zone/Incentive Programme||Main Incentives Available|
|Kuwait Free Trade Zone (KTFZ) at Shuwaikh port||– 100% foreign ownership is permitted|
– Improved access to work permits for expatriate staff
– Indefinite exemption from all income taxes
– Moderate utilities rates
– Low land rental and utilities rates
– Exemption from taxation on all imports and exports from the zone
– Modern infrastructure including IT and multimedia facilities
– Capital and profits are freely transferable outside the KFTZ and are not subject to any foreign exchange controls
Sources: BMI, Government sources
8. Taxation – 2017
- Value Added Tax: 5%
- Corporate Income Tax: 15%
Source: PwC Taxes at a Glance 2017
8.1 Important Updates to Taxation Information
Kuwait has postponed the planned introduction of a GCC-wide 5.00% value-added tax to 2019. There is scope for further delay, in our view, given the ongoing political tensions in the country and due to the government's strong fiscal position (which limits the need for rapid reform). We nevertheless expect VAT to eventually be implemented.
In January 2018, Kuwait's Legislative and Legal Affairs Committee unanimously rejected the proposed introduction of taxes on remittances out of the country. We see limited scope for such a tax to pass over the coming years, given Kuwait's need to attract foreign labour.
8.2 Business Taxes
|Type of Tax||Tax Rate and Base|
|Corporate Income Tax||15% on operating profits|
|Dividends||Generally not taxed; 15% if paid by investment funds, investment companies and banks |
|Capital Gains Tax||15% of net earnings|
|Value Added Tax (VAT)||0% (5% likely to be implemented from 2019)|
|Zakat||1% on operating profits (imposed on annual net profits of public and closed Kuwaiti shareholding companies)|
|Social security contributions||– Employer contribution of 11.5% and employee contribution of 8.5% on gross salaries|
– Social security contributions are levied only with respect to Kuwaiti employees and employees who are citizens of other GCC states
– Payable monthly by up to KWD2,250
|National Labour Support Tax||2.5% on operating profits (for listed companies)|
|Contribution to the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (KFAS)||1% on operating profits|
Sources: Government sources, PwC
9. Foreign Worker Requirements
9.1 Localisation Requirements
The Kuwaiti government is attempting to increase the employment of its citizens in the private sector.
The government has applied more stringent requirements for the employment of foreign workers in light of this since around 2014, as part as this "Kuwaitisation" policy. Kuwait made significant efforts to reduce the number of foreign workers in the domestic labour force over the course of 2016. In January 2017 it was reported that Kuwaiti authorities deported over 29,000 foreign workers throughout 2016 (an average of 80 per day) for reasons such as work permit violations, criminal activity and labour law violations. Kuwaiti MPs are continuing their clampdown of foreign workers in Kuwait by advocating for further restrictions on their employment and making Kuwait a more expensive relocation destination. The latest measure is an announcement that all non-Kuwaitis working for the government will be replaced by locals over the course of the next five years. This follows a range of proposals since a November 2016 election that led to a large increase in the number of seats held by the opposition in parliament. The majority of these opposition MPs are anti-austerity populists who have made a range of proposals targeting foreigners in the country, including the imposition of a 5% tax on all remittances being sent home by foreign workers and the removal of subsidised healthcare for non-Kuwaitis. Other proposals have included the introduction of nationality quotas and increasing charges for residency permits and visas for visiting family members.
9.2 Obtaining Foreign Worker Permits
To live and work in Kuwait, expatriates from outside the GCC must have iqama (a residence permit) which requires a Kuwaiti sponsor to obtain. The sponsoring employer must apply for a work permit from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour and acquire a no-objection certificate from the General Administration of Criminal Investigation at the Ministry of Interior.
For this, the employer will require the employee's details and a copy of their passport. The employee must then apply for an entry visa to Kuwait, using the endorsed work permit. The applicant is required at this stage to provide a medical certificate, obtained from a clinic recognised by the Kuwait embassy, stating that they are of general good health and free of certain contagious diseases. Some nationalities require a further good conduct certificate from their local police authority. An application form must also be filled out in Arabic, which may necessitate the hiring of a freelance typist, increasing costs.
9.3 Visa/Travel Restrictions
Business visitors from non-GCC states require a visa in order to obtain a one month visa for business or tourism purposes. British citizens can obtain a visa upon arrival. It is noted that Israeli passport holders or those with an Israeli stamp in their passport may be denied entry to Kuwait upon arrival.
9.4 The 'Kafala' Sponsorship System
While the 'Kafala' system has provided ease of access to inexpensive foreign labour imports for many businesses in Kuwait for years, this has also limited Kuwaiti employers from employing foreign labour who are already present in country.
This is because foreign workers currently employed under the 'Kafala system' in Kuwait, require the permission of their current employer (the 'sponsor' of their work permit) if they want to change employers. After receiving significant criticism from international human rights groups over the fact that the country has not made significant reforms to its 'Kafala system' as many other GCC states have done, the Kuwaiti government announced in February 2017 that it was considering the cancellation of this system. The government is currently considering a system where it would effectively be the sponsor of all foreign private sector employees, and where foreign workers (especially in low-skilled positions) would be accorded more rights. Such rights would include that employers would not be allowed to confiscate their workers' passports, and the protection of foreign employees' financial rights.
Women are still banned from doing certain types of work in Kuwait, for example they are not allowed to work in positions that require working between the hours of 7pm and 8am, doing jobs that are deemed 'hazardous, rough, and damaging to health', or 'immoral jobs that abuse women's femininity', and jobs in locations which are that solely serve men (such as certain clubs or restaurants).
10.1 Sovereign Credit Ratings
|Rating (Outlook)||Rating Date|
|Standard & Poor's||AA||20/07/2011|
Sources: Moody's, Standard & Poor's, Fitch Ratings
10.2 Competitiveness and Efficiency Indicators
|Ease of Doing Business Index ||101/189||102/190||96/190|
|Ease of Paying Taxes Index||11/189||6/190||6/190|
|Logistics Performance Index ||53/160||N/A||N/A|
|Corruption Perception Index||75/176||85/180||N/A|
|IMD World Competitiveness||N/A||N/A||N/A|
Sources: World Bank, IMD, Transparency International
10.3 BMI Risk Indices
|Economic Risk Index Rank||53/202|
|Short-Term Economic Risk Score||60.8||59.2 ||62.1 |
|Long-Term Economic Risk Score||60||59.4||64.2|
|Political Risk Index Rank||84/202|
|Short-Term Political Risk Score||80||73.8||73.8 |
|Long-Term Political Risk Score||68.4||66.4||66.4|
|Operational Risk Index Rank||71/201|
|Operational Risk Score||56.5||55.4||55.3 |
Source: BMI Research
10.4 BMI Political and Economic Risk Indices
BMI Risk Summary - Q2 2018
Kuwait is broadly stable: Islamism is present, but represented within the legal, democratic framework, which stands Kuwait in good stead vis-à-vis public levels of satisfaction. In general, dissent is expressed legally at the ballot box, reducing the risk of militancy or armed rebellion. Indeed, Kuwait's democratic credentials support its relatively elevated long-term political risk score, but have caused some instability in the short term, with 11 cabinets and seven parliament dissolutions since 2006, and a number of key reform plans derailed by the legislature.The succession of the current emir to bring about a period of heightened political tensions, as royal factions contest for the position of crown prince.
Kuwait has made substantial fiscal and structural progress but remains somewhat vulnerable to fluctuations in global energy markets. Despite efforts by the government to diversify, oil exports remain the backbone of Kuwait's economy, this process has been slow. If dependency on the energy sector is not reduced and substituted by non-oil industries substantially in the years ahead, threats could emerge to long-term economic sustainability.
Kuwait is reasonably attractive for commercial businesses as it offers one of the more secure operating environments in the region, along with its excellent availability of low-cost fuel and basic utilities. However, highly regulated foreign investment policies, poor economic diversity and an over-reliance on the hydrocarbon sector limit opportunities for investors, while extensive and time-consuming bureaucracy hinders many business operations.
10.5 BMI Operational Risk Index
|Operational Risk||Labour Market Risk||Logistics Risk||Trade and Investment Risk||Crime and Security Risk|
|Kuwait Score||55.3 ||52.3||51.1||51.7||66.2 |
|MENA Position (out of 18)||7||6||10||9||4|
|MENA Position (out of 18)||7||6||10||9||4|
|Global Position (out of 201)||71||84||90||91||49|
Note: 100 = Lowest risk, 0 = Highest risk
Source: BMI Operational Risk Index
|Country||Operational Risk Index||Labour Market Risk Index||Logistics Risk Index||Trade and Investment Risk Index||Crime and Secruity Risk Index|
|UAE||73.8 ||67.8||72.5 ||79.6||75.1|
|West Bank And Gaza||33.7||46.4||30.2||36.8||21.5|
|Emerging Markets Averages||46.8||48.0||45.8||47.5||46.1|
|Global Markets Averages||49.8||49.8 ||49.3||50.0||49.9 |
Note: Higher score = Lower risk
Source: BMI Operational Risk Index
11. Hong Kong Connection
11.1 Hong Kong’s Trade with Kuwait
|2016||Growth rate (%)|
|Number of Kuwaiti residents visiting Hong Kong||4,262||-0.88|
|Number of Kuwaiti residents in Hong Kong||N/A||N/A|
Sources: Hong Kong Tourism Board, Hong Kong Immigration Department
|2017||Growth rate (%)|
|Number of GCC residents visiting Hong Kong||38,629||-22.7%|
|Number of Kuwaiti residents in Hong Kong||N/A||N/A|
11.2 Commercial Presence in Hong Kong
|2016||Growth rate (%)|
|Number of Kuwaiti companies in Hong Kong|| N/A ||N/A|
|- Regional headquarters|
|- Regional offices|
|- Local offices|
11.3 Treaties and agreements between Hong Kong and Kuwait
The Double Taxation Agreement (DTA) between Hong Kong and Kuwait was signed by the two nations on 13th May 2010 and entered into force on 24th July 2013.
11.4 Chamber of Commerce (or Related Organisations) in Hong Kong
The Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry (ARABCCI)
The Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry (ARABCCI) was established in Hong Kong 2006 as a leading organization at promoting commercial ties between Hong Kong/Greater China and the Arab World. From a base of 8 founding member companies, ARABCCI has now evolved to include an ever-growing number of members. The Chamber is run by business experts for business professionals, dedicated to opening enormous trade opportunities by providing extensive information and professional services to our members.
Kuwaiti Consulate General in Hong Kong
Address: Unit 4502, Office Tower, Convention Plaza, 1 Harbour Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Hours of Business: 9:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Consul General: Khaled B. Al-Mutairi
Tel: (852) 2832 7028
Fax: (852) 2832 7028
11.5 Visa Requirements for Hong Kong Residents
People travelling on a Hong Kong passport need a visa to visit Kuwait – a normal entry visa is valid for 90 days.
Source: Visa on Demand