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Estonia: Market Profile

Picture: Estonia factsheet
Picture: Estonia factsheet

1. Overview

Estonia's political environment is characterised by consensus among major political parties towards liberal economic policy, conservative fiscal management and European Union (EU) convergence. This has helped to substantially mitigate policy risks through recession, preventing any major breakdown in leadership. Real GDP growth is expected to ease between 2019 and 2021, albeit remaining above the eurozone average. Post-2021, the economy will return to a more sustainable and stable rate of expansion. This, in turn, will ease supply-side constraints that have emerged over the past few years, namely labour shortages and capacity constraints.

Sources: World Bank, Fitch Solutions

2. Major Economic/Political Events and Upcoming Elections

March 2017
The first of about 800 British troops arrived in Estonia as part of a major NATO mission in the Baltic States.

February 2018
The Estonian government approved the spatial planning for the proposed Rail Baltica works in Estonia: a high-speed rail line which transects and connects three Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania). The rail link is proposed to run between Tallinn to Vilnius, via Riga.

February 2019
The government of Estonia cleared the Rail Infrastructure Fund Action Plan for 2019-2024, which calls for investments worth EUR431 million (USD490.3 million).

March 2019
The opposition Reform party won the parliamentary election, but fell short of a majority and was unable to put together a government.

The proposed high-speed rail-link tunnel between Finland and Estonia received EUR15 billion in funding. The 100km tunnel is proposed to run between Helsinki (Finland) and Tallinn (Estonia), under the Gulf of Finland.

April 2019
A coalition between the Centre Party, Pro Patria and the Conservative People’s Party was sworn into government on April 29, 2019. Juri Ratas remained as Prime Minister.

Sources: BBC country profile – Timeline, Fitch Solutions

3. Major Economic Indicators

Graph: Estonia real GDP and inflation
Graph: Estonia real GDP and inflation
Graph: Estonia GDP by sector (2017)
Graph: Estonia GDP by sector (2017)
Graph: Estonia unemployment rate
Graph: Estonia unemployment rate
Graph: Estonia current account balance
Graph: Estonia current account balance

f = forecast
Sources: IMF, World Bank
Date last reviewed: June 13, 2019

4. External Trade

4.1 Merchandise Trade

Graph: Estonia merchandise trade
Graph: Estonia merchandise trade

Sources: WTO, Fitch Solutions
Date last reviewed: June 13, 2019

Graph: Estonia major export commodities (2018)
Graph: Estonia major export commodities (2018)
Graph: Estonia major export markets (2018)
Graph: Estonia major export markets (2018)
Graph: Estonia major import commodities (2018)
Graph: Estonia major import commodities (2018)
Graph: Estonia major import markets (2018)
Graph: Estonia major import markets (2018)

Sources: Trade Map, Fitch Solutions
Date last reviewed: June 13, 2019

4.2 Trade in Services

Graph: Estonia trade in services
Graph: Estonia trade in services

e = estimate
Sources: WTO, Fitch Solutions
Date last reviewed: June 13, 2019

5. Trade Policies

  • Estonia joined the World Trade Organisztion (WTO) in November 1999, further joining the EU in May 2004. Estonia incorporates EU regulatory norms. As a eurozone member, it has adopted the euro as its legal tender.

  • Estonia applies the EU's Common External Tariff, which means goods manufactured and imported from within the EU are not subject to customs charges. Once goods are cleared by customs authorities upon entry into any EU member state, these imported goods can move freely among EU member states without any additional customs procedures. The EU updated its trade policy (and, by extension, its import tariffs, customs, duties and procedures) in 2017.

  • The EU has an overall simple tariff of 5.1%. The duties for non-European countries are also relatively low, especially for manufactured goods (4.2% on average). However, textile, clothing items (high duties and quota system) and food-processing industry sectors (average duties of 17.3% and numerous tariff quotas) still see protective measures. Most of Estonia's major trade partners are within the EU, hence risks are less pronounced.

  • The EU is party to some 50 free trade agreements (FTAs) and, consequently, access to other markets of the countries concerned is currently mediated through those agreements. The EU's scheme on generalised system of preferences (GSP) entered into effect on January 1, 2014. Under the scheme, tariff preferences have been removed for imports into the EU from countries where per capita income has exceeded USD4,000 for four years in a row. Regarding Hong Kong, the territory has been fully excluded from the EU's GSP scheme since May 1, 1998.

  • The EU has imposed various anti-dumping measures on a wide range of products, predominantly in the areas of textiles, machine parts, steel, iron and machinery on goods coming from Mainland China and a few other Asian nations to protect domestic industries. Currently, there are a number of Chinese mainland-origin products that are subject to the EU's anti-dumping duties, including bicycles, bicycle parts, ceramic tiles, ceramic tableware and kitchenware, fasteners, ironing boards and solar glass, which are of interest to Hong Kong and regional exporters. In November 2016, the EC imposed a provisional anti-dumping duty on imports of some primary and semi-processed metals from Mainland China. The rate of duty is between 43.5%-81.1% of the net free-at-Union-frontier price before duty depending on the company. As at end-April 2019, the EU did not apply any anti-dumping measures on imports from Hong Kong.

  • In 2016, the EC introduced an import licensing regime for steel products exceeding 2.5 tonnes. The regulation will be active until May 15, 2020.

  • In March 2016, the EC imposed a definitive countervailing duty (8.7% or 9%) on imports consisting largely of textile products originating in India.

  • In Q215, the EC issued regulations on trade restrictions on cattle, beef, watermelons and prepared tomatoes with Turkey. This will help to protect domestic agriculture and regional farming businesses.

  • On January 1, 2017, the EU imposed additional import duties on certain fruit and vegetables if the quantity of the goods exceeds the trigger volume level within the specified application period. On November 15, 2017, the EC allocated a total value of EUR62 million (USD74.4 million) for funding promotional campaigns of EU agricultural products implemented in the internal market for 2018. The budget consists of various promotional topics of EU goods in the internal market with an additional focus on the promotion of fruit, vegetables and sheep or goat meat.

Sources: WTO - Trade Policy Review, Fitch Solutions

6. Trade Agreement

6.1 Multinational Trade Agreements

Active

  1. The EU Common Market: The transfer of capital, goods, services and labour between member nations enjoy free movement. The common market extends to the 28 member nations of the EU, namely: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. As Estonia’s main trade partners are in the EU, the absence of customs charges with member countries greatly enhances its trade volumes.

  2. European Economic Area (EEA) European Free Trade Association (EFIA): The EEA unites the EU Member States and the EFTA States (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) into an Internal Market governed by the same basic rules. These rules aim to enable goods, services, capital, and persons to move freely about the EEA in an open and competitive environment, a concept referred to as the four freedoms. While it enhances trade flows between these countries and the EU, only Switzerland is a fairly major trading partner.

  3. EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA): The agreement entered into force on February 1, 2019, creating the largest open trade zone in the world. The EU and Japan trade deal promises to eliminate 99% of tariffs that cost businesses in the EU and Japan nearly EUR1 billion annually. According to the European Commission, the EU-Japan EPA creates a trade zone covering 600 million people and nearly a third of global GDP. The result of four years of negotiation, the EPA was finalised in late 2017. The total trade volume of goods and services between the EU and Japan is EUR86 billion. The key parts of the agreement cut duties on a wide range of agricultural products and it seeks to open up services markets, in particular financial services, e-commerce, telecommunications and transport. Japan is the EU's second largest trading partner in Asia after Mainland China. EU exports to Japan are dominated by motor vehicles, machinery, pharmaceuticals, optical and medical instruments and electrical machinery.

  4. EU-Turkey Customs Union: the EU and Turkey are linked by a Customs Union agreement, which came into force on December 31, 1995. Turkey has been a candidate country to join the EU since 1999, and is a member of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership. The customs union with the EU provides tariff-free access to the European market for Turkey, benefitting both exporters and importers. Turkey is the EU's fourth largest export market and fifth largest provider of imports. The EU is Turkey's largest import and export partner. Turkey's exports to the EU are mostly machinery and transport equipment, followed by manufactured goods. At present, the Customs Union agreement covers all industrial goods, but does not address agriculture (except processed agricultural products), services or public procurement. Bilateral trade concessions apply to agricultural as well as coal and steel products. In December 2016, the EC proposed the modernisation of the Customs Union and to further extend the bilateral trade relations to areas, such as services, public procurement and sustainable development.

  5. EU-Southern African Development Community (SADC) EPA: An agreement between the EU and the Southern African Development Community SADC states (Botswana, eSwatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Angola, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Seychelles, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe) was reached on 10 June 2016 with Botswana, eSwatini, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa. Mozambique joined in February 2018. The agreement became the first regional EPA in Africa to be fully operational. The other members of SADC are negotiating EPAs with the EU as part of other regional groupings.

Provisionally Active

EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA): CETA is expected to strengthen trade ties between the two regions, having provisionally entered into force in September 2017. Some 98% of trade between Canada and the EU is duty-free under CETA. The agreement is expected to boost trade between partners by more than 20%. CETA also opens up government procurement. Canadian companies will be able to bid on opportunities at all levels of the EU government procurement market and vice-versa. CETA means that Canadian provinces, territories and municipalities are opening their procurement to foreign entities for the first time, albeit with some limitations regarding energy utilities and public transport.

Ratification Pending

  1. EU-Central America Association Agreement (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Belize and the Dominican Republic): An agreement between the parties was reached in 2012 and is awaiting ratification (29 of the 34 parties have ratified the agreement as of April 2019). The agreement has been provisionally applied since 2013.

  2. EU-Singapore FTA (EUSFTA): On February 13, 2019, the European Parliament passed the agreement which would see the creation of the EUSFTA. However, before the agreement is implemented, all the states involved will need to ratify the agreement through their individual legislatures; in this case, the FTA may become provisionally active along the lines of states which have already ratified the agreement.

Under Negotiation

  1. EU-Australia: The EU, Australia's second largest trade partner, has launched negotiations for a comprehensive trade agreement with Australia. Bilateral trade in goods between the two partners has risen steadily in recent years, reaching almost EUR48 billion in 2017, and bilateral trade in services added an additional EUR27.0 billion. The negotiations aim to remove trade barriers, streamline standards and put European companies exporting to or doing business in Australia on equal footing with those from countries that have signed up to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership or other trade agreements with Australia. The Council of the EU authorised opening negotiations for a trade agreement between the EU and Australia on May 22, 2018.

  2. EU-United States (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership): This agreement was expected to increase trade and services, but it is unlikely to pass under the Trump administration in the United States against the backdrop of rising global trade tensions.

  3. EU-Vietnam FTA: In July 2018, the EU and Vietnam agreed on final texts for the EU-Vietnam FTA and the EU-Vietnam Investment Protection Agreement (IPA). As of June 2019, the text of the agreement has been finalised and is awaiting signature and conclusion.

Sources: WTO Regional Trade Agreements Database, Fitch Solutions

7. Investment Policy

7.1 Foreign Direct Investment

Graph: Estonia FDI stock
Graph: Estonia FDI stock
Graph: Estonia FDI flow
Graph: Estonia FDI flow

Sources: UNCTAD, Fitch Solutions
Date last reviewed: June 13, 2019

7.2 Foreign Direct Investment Policy

  1. The Estonian Investment Agency (EIA), a part of Enterprise Estonia, is a government agency promoting foreign investments in Estonia and assisting international companies in finding business opportunities in Estonia. EIA offers comprehensive, one-stop investment consultancy services free of charge. The agency's goal is to increase awareness of business opportunities in Estonia and promote the image of Estonia as an attractive country for investments.

  2. Estonia has developed three trade zones which are open to foreign direct investment (FDI). A range of incentives are applicable to the free trade zones, which are monitored by the Estonian Tax and Customs Board. Estonia has also set up a number of industrial parks with pre-developed infrastructure for manufacturing and logistics companies.

  3. Estonia's government has not set limitations on foreign ownership and it does not screen foreign investment.

  4. As an EU member, Estonia maintains liberal policies in order to attract investment and export-oriented companies. Creating favourable conditions for FDI and openness to foreign trade has been the foundation of Estonia's economic strategy. Existing requirements are not intended to restrict foreign ownership but rather to regulate it and establish clear ownership responsibilities.

  5. As a EU member, Estonia maintains liberal policies in order to attract investment and export-oriented companies. Creating favourable conditions for FDI and openness to foreign trade has been the foundation of Estonia's economic strategy. Existing requirements are not intended to restrict foreign ownership, but rather to regulate it and establish clear ownership responsibilities.

Sources: WTO – Trade Policy Review, Invest in Estonia, Fitch Solutions

7.3 Free Trade Zones and Investment Incentives

Free Trade Zone/Incentive ProgrammeMain Incentives Available
Three free trade zones: Muuga Free Zone (near Tallinn), Sillamäe Free Zone (north-east Estonia), Paldiski Free Zone (north-west Estonia)- All free trade zones are open for foreign direct investment on the same terms as Estonian investments

- Estonia's Customs Act permits the government to establish free trade zones

- Goods in a free trade zone are considered to be outside the customs territory

- Goods brought to the free zone for re-export later are not subject to VAT, excise or customs duties

- No tax on reinvested profits

Sources: US Department of Commerce, Invest in Estonia, Fitch Solutions

8. Taxation – 2019

  • Value Added Tax: 20%
  • Corporate Income Tax: 20%

Source: Ministry of Finance, Estonia

8.1 Important Updates to Taxation Information

  • There is no separate capital gains tax. Gains derived by resident companies or branches of foreign companies are exempt until a distribution is made.

  • Estonia is regarded as offering a relatively favourable income tax regime, as all undistributed corporate profits are tax exempt. Estonia levies a corporate income tax only on profits that are distributed as dividends, share buy-backs, capital reductions, liquidation proceeds, or deemed profit distributions. Distributed profits are generally subject to 20% corporate tax (20/80 on the net amount of the profit distribution).

  • Starting from 2019, a lower corporate income tax CIT rate of 14% is applicable to companies which regularly distribute profits. If taxable amount is less-than or equal to dividends paid throughout the preceding three years (set at 20%), the taxable rate will be set at 14%.

  • Effective January 1, 2019, amendments based on the anti-tax avoidance rules from the EU 2016/1164 Anti-Tax Avoidance Directive are disposed into Estonian legislation. These amendments will introduce controlled foreign company rules, a new general anti-abuse rule, and thin capitalisation rules in the form of taxation of 'exceeding borrowing costs'.

8.2 Business Taxes

Type of TaxTax Rate and Base
CIT- Standard rate: 20%
- 4% for companies making regular profit distributions
Branch Remittance TaxNone
Social Security Contributions- 33% (all employers)
- 20% is used for public financing of pensions
- 13% is used for fundig public health insurance

Unemployment insurance:
- Employer 1% of gross salary
- Employee 2% of gross salary
VAT/GST- 20% (standard)
- A lower rate of 9% applies to certain items such as books, newspapers and medicinal products
Withholding Tax (WHT)
- No WHT is applied to dividends or interest, with a few exceptions. As an exception, 7% WHT applies to dividends paid to resident and non-resident individuals if the distribution has been subject to the reduced CIT rate at the hands of the paying company.

- WHT on royalties are subject to a 10% rate
Transfer TaxNone
Land TaxAnnual tax rate of 0.1-2.5%, depending on the municipality, which is calculated on the assessed value of land

Source: Ministry of Finance, Estonia
Date last reviewed: June 13, 2019

9. Foreign Worker Requirements

9.1 Foreign Worker Permits

EU nationals, citizens of the EEA member states and citizens of Switzerland do not require a visa to enter, reside and work in the country. EU citizens can stay in Estonia for up to three months. After that, they are required to registered their place of residence.

Employers are required to apply for permission from the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund to hire foreign workers.

9.2 Blue Card

Intended for the stay of a highly qualified employee. A foreigner holding a blue card may reside in the country and work in the job for which the blue card was issued, or change that job under the conditions defined. High qualification means a duly completed university education or higher professional education which has lasted for at least three years. The blue card is issued with the term of validity three months longer than the term for which the employment contract has been concluded, however, for the maximum period of two years. The blue card can be extended. One of the conditions for issuing the blue card is a wage criterion - the employment contract must contain gross monthly or yearly wage at least at the rate of 1.5 multiple of the gross average annual wage.

9.3 Localisation Policies

Permission to hire a foreigner will only be granted by the Unemployment Insurance Fund on the condition that the position cannot be filled by an Estonian citizen, EU citizen or foreign national already living in Estonia.

9.4 Visa Requirements

Other than EU passport holders, Estonia waives visas for 62 other countries globally.

Sources: Work in Estonia, Fitch Solutions

10. Risks

10.1 Sovereign Credit Ratings


Rating (Outlook) Rating Date
Moody's
A1 (Stable)10/05/2019
Standard & Poor'sAA- (Stable)09/08/2011
Fitch Ratings
AA- (Stable)05/04/2019

Sources: Moody's, Standard & Poor's, Fitch Ratings

10.2 Competitiveness and Efficiency Indicators


World Ranking
201720182019
Ease of Doing Business Index
12/19012/19016/190
Ease of Paying Taxes Index
21/19014/19014/190
Logistics Performance Index
N/A36/160N/A
Corruption Perception Index
21/18018/180N/A
IMD World Competitiveness30/6331/6335/63

Sources: World Bank, IMD, Transparency International

10.3 Fitch Solutions Risk Indices


World Ranking
201720182019
Economic Risk Index RankN/A23/2027/202
Short-Term Economic Risk Score80.681.381.9
Long-Term Economic Risk Score7273.778.9
Political Risk Index RankN/A21/20220/202
Short-Term Political Risk Score84.484.484.4
Long-Term Political Risk Score83.383.383.3
Operational Risk Index RankN/A25/20125/201
Operational Risk Score70.471.372.1

Source: Fitch Solutions
Date last reviewed: June 13, 2019

10.4 Fitch Solutions Risk Summary

ECONOMIC RISK
The Estonian economy is on a path of sustainable growth. Although its rapid recovery from severe recession following the global economic downturn in 2008 was characterised by export-led growth, economic activity will be increasingly driven by domestic demand in coming years. Estonia aimed to increase its share of global trade on the back of strong competitiveness gains since 2010. In addition to a diversified manufacturing sector, the higher value-added services sectors will increase its presence in the economy.

OPERATIONAL RISK
Economic activity is expected to soften in 2019, against the backdrop of frailer external demand and as labour shortages curb activity growth. Nevertheless, the overall expansion should remain robust as the tight labour market bolsters household consumption, while EU-linked funds prop up fixed investment growth. While the broad consensus among political parties for responsible economic management and market liberalism is likely to remain in play, the potential for change in policies exists.

Source: Fitch Solutions
Date last reviewed: May 14, 2019

10.5 Fitch Solutions Political and Economic Risk Indices

Graph: Estonia short term political risk index
Graph: Estonia short term political risk index
Graph: Estonia long term political risk index
Graph: Estonia long term political risk index
Graph: Estonia short term economic risk index
Graph: Estonia short term economic risk index
Graph: Estonia long term economic risk index
Graph: Estonia long term economic risk index

100 = Lowest risk; 0 = Highest risk
Source: Fitch Solutions Economic and Political Risk Indices
Date last reviewed: June 13, 2019

10.6 Fitch Solutions Operational Risk Index


Operational RiskLabour Market RiskTrade and Investment RiskLogistics RiskCrime and Security Risk
Estonia Score72.162.976.372.177.0
Central and Eastern Europe Average62.4
57.5
63.5
66.3
62.5
Central and Eastern Europe Position (out of 11)1
2
1
4
3
Emerging Europe Average57.6
55.9
59.158.656.8
Emerging Europe Position (out of 31)1
4
1
54
Global Average49.750.3
49.849.049.8
Global Position (out of 201)2529
112928

100 = Lowest risk; 0 = Highest risk
Source: Fitch Solutions Operational Risk Index

Graph: Estonia vs global and regional averages
Graph: Estonia vs global and regional averages
Country
Operational Risk IndexLabour Market Risk Index
Trade and Investment Risk IndexLogistics Risk IndexCrime and Security Risk Index
Estonia72.1
62.9
76.3
72.1
77.0
Czech Republic71.5
60.0
67.8
73.7
84.5
Poland
70.3
58.4
69.3
75.0
78.4
Lithuania69.7
60.2
71.4
75.6
71.5
Latvia66.5
60.7
67.1
71.5
66.6
Hungary64.0
55.6
62.0
66.9
71.3
Slovakia63.8
51.8
66.5
63.4
73.5
Belarus57.7
58.7
58.6
63.4
49.9
Russia47.5
58.5
58.6
63.0
40.9
Ukraine47.5
58.5
49.0
52.0
30.5
Moldova47.241.7
51.7
52.2
43.4
Regional Averages62.4
57.5
63.5
66.3
62.5
Emerging Markets Averages46.0
48.1
46.5
44.7
44.8
Global Markets Averages49.7
50.3
49.8
49.0
49.8

100 = Lowest risk; 0 = Highest ris
Sources: Fitch Solutions Operational Risk Index
Date last reviewed: June 13, 2019

11. Hong Kong Connection

11.1 Hong Kong’s Trade with Estonia

Graph: Major export commodities to Estonia (2018)
Graph: Major export commodities to Estonia (2018)
Graph: Major import commodities from Estonia (2018)
Graph: Major import commodities from Estonia (2018)

Note: Graph shows the main Hong Kong exports to/imports from Estonia (by consignment)
Date last reviewed: June 13, 2019

Graph: Merchandise exports to Estonia
Graph: Merchandise exports to Estonia
Graph: Merchandise imports from Estonia
Graph: Merchandise imports from Estonia

Note: Graph shows Hong Kong exports to/import from Estonia (by consignment)
Exchange Rate HK$/US$, average
7.75 (2014)
7.75 (2015)
7.76 (2016)
7.79 (2017)
7.83 (2018)
Sources: Hong Kong Trade Statistics, Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department
Date last reviewed: June 13, 2018


2017
Growth rate (%)
Number of Estonian residents visiting Hong Kong3,902-21.1

Sources: Hong Kong Tourism Board, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs – Population Division, Fitch Solutions


2017
Growth rate (%)
Number of European residents visiting Hong Kong1,929,824-0.2
Number of developed states citizens residing in Hong Kong65,6801.6

Sources: Hong Kong Tourism Board, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs – Population Division, Fitch Solutions
Date last reviewed: June 13, 2018

11.2 Commercial Presence in Hong Kong


2017
Growth rate (%)
Number of EU companies in Hong Kong1,759
2.4
- Regional headquarters3772.7
- Regional offices572-3.1
- Local offices8106.6

Sources: Hong Kong Trade Statistics, Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department

11.3 Treaties and agreements between Hong Kong and Estonia

  • The Double Taxation Agreement (DTA) between China and Estonia was signed on May 12, 1998 and entered into force in both countries on January 8, 1999.
  • Estonia and China have a Bilateral Investment Treaty that entered into force in June 1994.

Sources: UNCTAD, Fitch Solutions

11.4 Chamber of Commerce (or Related Organisations) in Hong Kong

Estonian Honorary Consulate in Hong Kong
Address: Suite 3101, 31/F, 9 Queen's Road Central, Central, Hong Kong
Email: info@estoniaconsulate.com.hk
Tel: (852) 2868 3110
Fax: (852) 2868 5006

Source: Protocol Division Governmnet Secretariat

11.5 Visa Requirements for Hong Kong Residents

Hong Kong residents do not need a visa for Estonia for a period of up to 90 days.

Source: Hong Kong Immigration Department
Date last reviewed: June 13, 2018

Content provided by Picture: Fitch Solutions – BMI Research
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