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Doing Business in Iceland

Contributed by Lex Law Offices

The business environment

Looking back to the autumn of 2008 who would have believed that in the beginning of the year 2017 Iceland would have a very positive looking economy and be in a very enviable position compared to many western economies. In March 2017 the government of Iceland declared that the currency controls, which have been in place since the global financial crisis in 2008, have been lifted and therefore making investments in Iceland even easier.

Although Iceland experienced a very hard landing in the global financial crisis in 2008, the flip side of the coin were that the dramatic response to the crisis has resulted in a very swift recovery. The sharp depreciation of the Icelandic currency (ISK) resulted in a very positive environment the Icelandic export industries, especially the fisheries and production of electricity which is exported via energy intensive industries such as aluminum smelters, ferrosilicon plants and data centers. On top of that both because of a weak currency and the attention Iceland got because the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010 tourism has grown at an unprecedented rate of more than 25% year on year from 2010 to 2016. This boom in tourism which is by almost all estimates likely to continue for a few years more, has significantly boosted the economy in Iceland but not without side effects that are associated with lots of opportunities for the investment community both locally in Iceland and globally as well.

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Legal market overview

Nearly ten years on from the start of the financial crisis and, while evidence of the banks’ collapse lingers in ongoing court cases, much of the restructuring and insolvency work that has for years occupied Icelandic law firms has now concluded. This has been replaced with an increase in commercial, corporate and financial work. The remaining capital controls were lifted in March 2017, and the updated rules on foreign exchange have alleviated restrictions on cross-border transactions and foreign investment. M&A activity has also increased, although the political uncertainty at the time of writing – with the second early election in 12 months held in October 2017 – has resulted in some deals being postponed.

The tourism industry continues to play a big part in the country’s recovery and is particularly evident in the growth of the construction, hospitality and retail industries. Major retailers, including Costco and H&M, have opened operations in Iceland and Iceland’s first Marriott International hotel is currently under construction.

The introduction of a middle-tier court, Landsr�ttur (or Land�s Court), has been in effect since 1 January 2018 and is intended to relieve some pressure of appeals from the Supreme Court. This has seen appointment of judges from top Icelandic law firms.

Lex Law Offices and LOGOS continue to be the leading full-service firms. Smaller firms Juris and BBA are also consistently highly ranked across several practice areas.

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