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Liechtenstein

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Editorial

Doing Business in … Liechtenstein

Contributed by Gasser Partner

A. Country report

Liechtenstein, being a tiny country located in the heart of Europe, is ready to provide an excellent business environment for foreign investors. Enclosed between Switzerland and Austria, Liechtenstein benefits from both neighbouring countries. It is a highly developed location both for specialised industries and for sophisticated banking and financial services for international clients.

Although well-known for its banking and financial sector, Liechtenstein is an innovative and export-oriented industrial location. Approximately 38% of the workforce is employed in industry, with 60% in the service sector. The share of national gross value-added is 40% from the industrial sector, 28% from other services and 24% from the financial sector, with a 2015 GNP of approximately CHF5.5bn. In times of global financial crises and ongoing debates regarding taxation, Liechtenstein is committed to making changes where required.

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Legal market overview

Liechtenstein is one of Europe’s financial centres, with a niche in private banking and life insurance services. Its economy is dominated by foreign investment trusts and foundations, which are catered to by the Principality’s highly specialised local law firms. The country acts as a bridge for financial institutions between Switzerland (with which it has a customs union) and the EU – based on a number of bilateral passporting, taxation and saving agreements. According to the Liechtenstein Office of Statistics, 61% of the local population are employed in the banking and financial services industries, and accounts for 24% of the jurisdiction’s gross output.

For the last decade, private-banking institutions have attracted increased scrutiny in the media and from financial regulators and governments, which was additionally fuelled by the Panama Papers and subsequent scandals, as well as a more critical public opinion throughout the EU. During this time, the number of foreign investors involved in Liechtenstein’s trusts is estimated to have halved. There has been a concerted effort by law-makers to reinvent the jurisdiction as a modern and transparent banking destination, through a ‘clean money’ strategy. As of 2009, Liechtenstein has initiated a network of double tax treaties, incorporating OECD and EEA standards on tax transparency and information exchange – notably with a number of other low-tax jurisdictions – that have tentatively renewed investor confidence, and satisfied global regulators.

Amongst the new regulatory measures is the OECD’s Common Reporting Standards agreement, which was signed into law in 2017, with the first exchange of information expected in 2019 for the reporting year starting on 1st January 2018. The EU/EEA’s General Data Protection Regulation will be implemented in 2018, with consequences for the way personal data is handled. Local law firms work closely with the domestic financial regulator and hence are well placed to advise clients on the rapidly changing regulatory environment.

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